Each year, as I unwrap precious ornaments from my childhood, I am reminded of family holidays and traditions past. My father immigrated to the US from Naples, Italy. I find it ironic that I now live twenty minutes from Naples, Florida.
Southern Italians, especially Neapolitans, begin their holiday on Christmas Eve with a very special meal, The Feast of The Seven Fishes. Growing up in New Jersey, I remember my mother and father taking me to my Aunt Maggie’s (Michelina’s) on Christmas Eve to celebrate with cousins, aunts and uncles. As we walked through light snow, past bushes filled with colored lights, to climb the two steps up to her back door, aromas of fresh bread, sauces, and homemade desserts greeted us from her kitchen.
Once everyone arrived, we gathered in her dining room. Laughter, homemade wine and animated conversations soon filled the room. An ecru lace tablecloth crocheted by my grandmother covered her long dining room table. Red Poinsettias and a special paper mache nativity from Italy decorated her mahogany sideboard. All the children gasped when we saw her Christmas tree with all the colorful packages underneath through the doorway to her living room. She always had a present for each of her nieces and nephews to open after dinner.
This night was very special. All of our problems were left at the door. Only love and happy thoughts of Christmas filled the minds of guests eagerly anticipating dinner, not just any dinner, but a dinner to remember. My aunt and grandmother cooked all day. My mother brought her homemade biscotti, some almond, some anise, for dessert to be served with homemade cannoli (pastry).
Soon, the oohs and aahs were so loud they could be heard on the street. My aunt and uncle carried in the china platters of food. The Feast of The Seven Fishes was about to begin. The menu was the same each year: calamari, baccala (salt cod), clams with linguini, crab (a N.J. delicacy) in a tomato sauce with angel hair pasta, anchovies, baked flounder, and shrimp cooked in olive oil with lemon butter. I’ve watched the Feast presented on the cooking channel by professional chefs, but believe me when I say that none could ever compare with Aunt Maggie’s labor of love.
Living by the sea, I keep the tradition of serving fresh seafood on Christmas Eve. Not as big as the Feast but one that fits our smaller gathering: New England Clam Chowder, Baked stuffed shrimp or Shrimp Scampi, Parmesan Crusted Grouper and, of course, I bake my mother’s homemade biscotti.
Here’s my recipe for Shrimp Scampi!
1 POUND OF LARGE SHRIMP (16-20), peeled and de-veined
3 GARLIC CLOVES CHOPPED– OR MINCED (1 TABLESPOON)
2 TABLESPOONS FRESHLY CHOPPED PARSLEY
2 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL
3 TABLESPOONS BUTTER
½ CUP WHITE WINE
RED PEPPER FLAKES TO TASTE-at least ¼ teaspoon
FRESH GROUND PEPPER
1 ½ TABLESPOONS OF LEMON JUICE
Heat sauté pan on high. Reduce heat to medium. Add olive oil and butter. The butter should melt, and foam before reducing. At that point, add the garlic, red pepper flakes. Stir until edges of garlic turn brown.
Once the garlic cooks, add the shrimp and the white wine. Stir to blend the shrimp with the butter, olive oil and wine while continuing to coat the shrimp with the mixture. Spread the shrimp evenly in the pan before increasing the heat to the highest setting. The wine should boil for 2-3 minutes.
Turn the shrimp over so the cooked sides are facing up. Boil the wine for another minute before removing from heat. Add parsley, lemon juice and black pepper. Toss to combine. Salt to taste.
Serve over rice or, my favorite, angel hair pasta. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!
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About the Author:Mariah Lynne always had writing on her radar but it took her a while to get there. Growing up in New Jersey, she graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in English education. After teaching junior high for two years, she went to work for a small daily paper as a copy- reader in the newsroom. She and her husband decided to move to a Florida Gulf coast island while they were still young enough to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle. Jobs were scarce on their island so they each went into business. Mariah opened a video and home entertainment center. She was active in her national trade association serving as a regional chapter president for six years. During that time, she wrote weekly entertainment columns and reviews for two of the island’s newspapers. She also freelanced, ghostwriting autobiographies of successful realtors for a national yearbook.
She loves where she lives and enjoys watching the dolphin and manatees frolic in the lagoon behind the island home she shares with her husband and ten year old shelter adoptee Max. THE LOVE GYPSY published by The Wild Rose Press, a time travel romance, is her first book.
Florida homicide detective Brianna Breeze can't seem to catch a man unless she handcuffs him. So her best friend decides to take matters into her own hands and tricks Brianna into seeing the Love Gypsy, a time traveler's friend noted for her extraordinary matchmaking skills.
When a tall, muscular man wearing jeans, a black leather jacket, and slicked-back 50s hair bursts in on her first visit, Brianna is bewitched. Despite the gypsy's warning not to get involved with him, Brianna can't get him out of her mind—even though she, more than anyone, knows the pitfalls of romancing a stranger.
A present-day murder, a mysterious vintage car registered in the distant past, and a smoking gun complicate the puzzle. Brianna doesn't know if her lover from the past is a murderer or a savior, but she's willing to risk time travel to find out.