An American-Italian Christmas Eve: The Seven Fishes

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

Guys. It’s about time that I share some photographs of what my Christmas Eve looks like. People (who know I have an Italian heritage) always ask if we do “the Seven Fishes” for Christmas Eve. And the answer is yes. Wikipedia tells me that, “the Feast of the Seven Fishes is thought to be a celebration of the story about a fisherman that could not catch any fish and then a fish came up to him and then seven types of fish were caught.” Who knew. All I know is that it’s flipping delicious.

Also, I have technically posted about this before. On January 1, 2012 to be exact. That said, since January 1, 2012 I have gotten a new camera, gotten a few new lenses, and had 4 more years of blogging experience. So we’re going to do a take two of this. (Go ahead, click through to that old post, I dare you. You’ll see why.)

Lucky for me my aunts humored me and helped me get photos of each part of the meal. A big thanks to Aunt J for being my own personal Vanna 75% of the time.

When we arrive at Aunt M’s the table is already set. With chocolates as nametags from one of the best chocolate shops in Connecticut, Munson’s Chocolates.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

The crab sauce had been on the stove for hours at this point, and Aunt L was given the job of constantly turning the lobster bisque (for at least 45 minutes) until it was served.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

Which was absolutely worth it. I mean, look at all that lobster. Wouldn’t want that to burn.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

Also. Just to clarify, Aunt M and Pop actually went crabbing for the crabs, months ago.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

The first course is shrimp cocktail. The shrimp are usually bought raw, cleaned, and steamed. And it is served with extra martini glasses full of cocktail sauce on the table.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve with Chrystina Noel

Lucky for Aunt L, course two is the lobster bisque. The key to this course is trying not to full up on bread because there is so much more to come. This year’s lobster bisque was extra fantastic.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

Onto course three. This is where you need the bread. (But still sparingly.) THIS IS THE COURSE WE WAIT ALL YEAR FOR. Pasta and crab sauce. And it’s incredible. So much so that I literally printed a picture of last year’s pasta and crab sauce course and put it on this year’s Christmas card for the family. Because it’s that good.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

Course four? Course three-and-a-half? This is where it gets iffy. It’s the crab course. There are a few cousins (and Pop) who love this course. For me personally I’ve found that the amount of work is not worth the reward. Also, my nails are usually pretty long so it gets really gross really fast. (I realize neither one of those is a good enough reason not to eat these delicious crabs, but you’ve really got to pick and choose this meal. Why? You ask. Because there’s still a heck of a lot more food.)

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

The biggest temptation this entire meal can be found in front of your face the whole time: the garlic bread. So good, so deadly when it comes to filling up all the space in your stomach before you get to the good stuff.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

Then comes the main course. (I feel the need to tell you now that I have no idea what the real names of these items are, I made them up. Dear family, please feel free to correct me. Mom, I’m expecting a text message.) It includes: breadcrumb-covered scallops,

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

stuffed clams,

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

lobster tails (the meet from the rest of the lobster was included in the bisque earlier),

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

stuffed shrimp,

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

fried shrimp,

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

broccoli (with options of both lemon and butter),

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

twice-baked potatoes,

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

and sauce-covered shrimp.

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

So what does that look like all together? Well, here’s Aunt J’s plate as an example:

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

My cousins will tell you that my plate during this particular course this year was a complete embarrassment. It had one piece of broccoli, a half a scoop of potatoes, a scallop that I didn’t ask for, and a piece of Alex’s lobster tail because she accidentally took too much food. Next year I’ll play my cards better. I think? That’s always the intention.

After all is said and done, we take some time to exchange presents, and then finally put the desserts out. Most of which nobody has any room for at this point:

An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel
An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel
An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel
An American-Italian Christmas Eve - The Seven Fishes via Chrystina Noel

Now, it is very clear that this takes an army. If you’ve been counting this whole time you know that there are four aunts to split the work for food preparation between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (yes, we eat all over again on Christmas Day). And by “split the work,” I mean the majority of Christmas Eve dinner is prepared by Aunt M (with a few sides and desserts made by other sisters). I’m not sure I will ever actually understand how much work goes into it. But we are all very, very appreciative of it.

So you may be asking yourself? Well, the seven fishes. Were there actually seven? Unclear. I don’t think we ever actually try to get to seven, it just happens sometimes. This year it appears we got to… shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, scallops, Alaska pollock in the stuffing… well, only six. But they were damn good.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

As promised, here’s a look at a simple Christmas table setting I put together. The past few table settings (Halloween, and Thanksgiving) I have been doing were for a full meal, but for Christmas I decided to go with a Christmas Tea Party table setting.

Instead of focusing on what items I started with before setting the table this time, I’m going to focus on the process.

Talk a walk around the house.

Get an idea of what you’re looking for in your head. I knew that I was looking for things that were red, green, and white. When I took a walk around the house I realized exactly how easy this was going to be. All of my kitchen accessories are red, and it was really easy to find red, green, white, silver, and gold teas to serve on the tray.

Mix patterns with solids

Once I chose to use my Christmas dishes (which I’ve never actually) had the chance to use before, I knew that the cups needed to be pretty plain. A dark  green would have been best, but I decided that the white ones had a clean, sleek look.

Add some nature

Bringing the outdoors in is a great way to make your table feel balanced. There were excellent intentions of getting greenery for this table. I went to Trader Joe’s. I bought flowers and greenery. I left them at the office. Then I couldn’t find time to get back to the office before setting the table. It sounds a lot like what happens during a real party, not going to lie. So I decided to use the large pine cones that Ben got at Sequoia National Park. They’ve got a nice winter vibe to them.

Use what you already have

I didn’t buy very much for this table setting (only the flowers, which never made it home). I had the plates and the napkins downstairs. I used a few of the candy canes and Andes mints from the hot chocolate bar. I’m still using the nametags I made last year (and will continue to until I run out). When I went downstairs I found the tree stump serving platter that I’ve been looking for an excuse to use which nicely complements the pine cones. And the tea tray I had bought for afternoon tea; I just added a little bit of ribbon to it. (There’s a chance I need to work on my ribbon skills.

Make the table functional

After the last party I had where I decorated the table nicely and the second the party started we moved everything off the table I’ve been a little weary of going over the top again. I tried to keep the center of the table pretty clear so that all we needed to move was the pine cones to create some extra space. It also means that people can see each other easier.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

In my walk around the house I did pull out a few things to use that I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate. They were: a silver platter, Mardi Gras beads, candles, and a red vase.

I love this (fake) silver platter. I just wish it had more height to it. I may need to buy some of those small cake stands so that I can change the levels of my dishes to add more dimension to the table. Also, it kind of clashed with the rectangular white plate.

As for the Mardi Gras beads, I couldn’t figure out a pretty way to lay them down. If I had more or ones that matched I might have been able to put them in some vases or make a chain to drape them all the way across the table.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel
A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

I also tried to use both extra tall candles and super short candles. I couldn’t use the extra tall ones because they’re not white. (I should really buy some white candles, they seem like they would be useful.) And the short candles, yet again, didn’t seem to add enough height to the table. (And sometimes they still seem like a hazard.)

Also. My intention was totally to use this red vase. (Or at least a vase.) But then I forgot the flowers at the office and I couldn’t figure out what else to put in them. If I had branches I could cut off the bottom of a tree or sticks outside I think those would have worked nicely. Unfortunately, we got our tree about 6 hours too late and I live in the city.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel
A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

That said, I’m sure all of these items will get to be used soon. I’m excited to keep sharing these tables with you. I hope they inspire you to add a little festivity to your own Christmas parties this year. Can’t wait to start working on a New Year’s table for y’all. I hope not to forget the flowers this time.

PS. This table cloth situation. I actually can’t get the wrinkles out of it. My iron hates me and my dryer doesn’t get hot enough to produce steam. Anybody have any suggestions?

A Hot Chocolate Bar

Last weekend was the 14th Annual Christmas Cookie Swap. The guest list includes people from all different points of my life, and this year I took it to a new extreme. There were people with whom I went to middle school, high school, and college. There were some family members, some of my sister’s friends I’ve gotten to know over the years, and the lady who lives downstairs – and at one point my neighbors I have grown up with (all 6 of them) came over to crash the party (who were, of course, welcomed wholeheartedly). It was quite the crew.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been trying hard to step up my party game in the past few months. I’ve been working on setting the whole stage, putting consideration into decorating, and planning out activities for the party. That said, this party doesn’t take place at my house, I couldn’t find any flowers that felt Christmas-y enough at Trader Joe’s, and the activities for this party have always kind of been laid out: eat cookies and sing Christmas carols. Exhibit A:

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

Of course, y’all already knew about the party favor bags. I set those up in the entrance way so that people would see them before they left. In retrospect, I probably should have made a sign that said, “take one of these when you leave.” But they looked great, and the people I remembered to tell were excited to take a treat bag when they left.

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

The biggest addition to the party this year was a spiked hot chocolate bar. They’re all the rage on Pinterest these days. (Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E)

5 Steps to Make a Hot Chocolate Bar

  1. Lay out the mugs.
  2. Don’t forget to buy the hot chocolate.
  3. Make a sign. I found a chalk board in the children’s play drawer in my kitchen. It was hot pink so I covered the edges of it in green wrapping paper.
  4. Add in some flavors. Flavors can be alcoholic: godiva liquor, kahlua, baileys, vanilla vodka or non alcoholic: candy canes, peppermints, and marshmallows.
  5. Pour on the toppings. Don’t forget the whipped cream, but then remember that you can decorate the whipped cream with sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, or chocolate shavings.

Here’s how it turned out:

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

I’ve learned through the years that not everyone is going to want to use the hot chocolate bar. And not all of the toppings are going to get used – especially with wine to drink. So setting out only a few glasses was absolutely alright. One thing I would consider doing differently is having the hot chocolate pre-made as opposed to needing to turn the kettle on every time we wanted a cup, but I think it went well for the first year. Maybe next year I’ll get one of those pendant banners that are all the rage. We’ll see.

The food staple of this party is always the stuffed breads. The party starts at 7, so most people have eaten ahead of time, but the stuffed breads are a great way to tide people over and provide some balance to all of the cookies for the swap. Ben suggested getting pretzels in Philadelphia before we left to take to Connecticut. They were a big hit! That said, 21 pretzels was far too many, next year I would do 15. Yet again, not everybody wants a pretzel.

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

And then there were a few new additions to our line-up. I’ve been on a chili kick recently, so we had chili available for anybody who wanted it. Then I bought two cheeses (the delice de bourgogne was gone by the end of the night), carrots, and hummus.

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

The final touch I added this year was cookie name tags. Usually we just make people guess what type of cookies they are, but I think putting out the signs really helped this year. From year’s past I’ve learned that what happens is everybody brings about cookies, we all eat cookies while we are there, and then most people don’t take any cookies when they leave so I end up with a bunch. So this year I told everybody not to aim for only 30 cookies. (I still had a lot left over…)

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

I never actually took a picture of the table full of cookies because I was too caught up in the hustle and bustle of saying hello, getting people drinks, attempting to figure out what was wrong with the bottle of chardonnay I opened and offered to my friends fiancee that I met for the first time, and putting on a Christmas performance with Biz and Kerry (usually we have more than just 3 people around the piano, but this year it was 3 people around the piano and about 15 watching… it made me wish we had rehearsed…).

Anyway. That’s it. I hope you’re inspired to make your own hot chocolate bar! It was fun!

Sending Your Holiday Cards

It’s almost December, which means it’s time to start thinking about sending holiday cards this year. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how I was a little bit overwhelmed with all my greeting card sending, but I think I’ve got it under control for now. (Once I catch up on birthday cards again that is.)

So now that I’ve got a grasp on my own holiday card list, it’s time to help you get yours under wraps as well. Let’s do this –

Other Ways to Say Happy Holidays Other Ways to Say Happy Holidays

2011 Christmas Cards

Make Your List & Check It Twice

Decide who from your life is going to be getting a holiday card this year. Think about the people who have made an impact, the people you would like to stay in touch with, the people that always send you holiday cards, and your family members.

Choose Your Cards

There are so many great options for cards nowadays. You can order a box of cards. You can browse Etsy. You can make a photo card on one of multiple sites. You can design your own cards and print them. Or you can hand-make them. Decide what’s going to be easiest for you and pull the trigger. This is the most important part. Once you have the cards, you’re more likely to go through with sending it.

I decided a few years ago that each group of people in my life was going to get a different type of card (some of which I ordered). This mostly just makes things more interesting for me because I send so many. I have 58 more cards to make this year. It’s going to be a busy weekend.

Christmas and New Year's Cards 2012, front

2012 Christmas Cards

Buy Stamps

This is probably the second most important part. Once you have cards and stamps (especially if they’re holiday stamps) there’s no going back. Figure out when your local post office has no line and stop by then, or you can order them online by creating a USPS account and they’ll send them straight to your door. (They don’t usually fit in a mail slot though.)

Write the Envelopes First

This might seem counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that it really works for me. After I write all of the holiday cards there’s nothing I want to do less than write envelopes. It’s such a mindless task that it’s a great thing to do while you’re catching up on Netflix. I usually write the person’s name, the return address, and put the stamp, then I figure out the address later.

Chrystina Noel You're My Favorite Holiday Card
Chrystina Noel Believe Card
Chrystina Noel Merry Holiday Card
Chrystina Noel Ugly Sweater Card

2014 holiday cards

Personalize the Message

It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, just include a personalized message to the receiver. Throw on your favorite holiday album and start writing! Include their name, wish them a Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays / Happy New Year’s / Happy Hanukah / Happy Kwanza, and then include something specific to them i.e. it was so great to see you this year, thanks so much for helping me out, I’m so glad you were able to celebrate with me, have fun baking all your holiday cookies this year, can’t wait to see you soon, etc. I have a whole blog post about different ways to say happy holidays if you’re looking to expand your repertoire.

Gather Addresses

There’s a few way to do this. You can also create an online account at Postable to collect people’s physical addresses. (This is on my to-do list because it seems easier to maintain than my stack of index cards.) That said, I usually just end up texting or emailing people right after I finish writing their card asking what their address is unless I’m 100% sure they didn’t move.

Send Your Cards

If you’re lucky enough to live in the burbs with one of those fancy mailboxes that you put the red flag up and they take the mail you have, you don’t even need to leave your property to send your cards. Otherwise, find a blue mailbox on your walk to work, and call it a day. You’re all done!

Chrystina Noel Handmade Christmas Cards (4)Chrystina Noel Handmade Christmas Cards (3)

2015 Holiday Cards with Stamps from Hero Arts

Have you started on your holiday cards yet? Do you have any tips to make the process go better?.

PS. If you have any interest in playing Chrystina Noel Christmas BINGO, please let me know in an email or the comments below! (Essentially I will snail mail you a BINGO card and then post numbers on my blog. Whoever gets a whole row of numbers first wins.)