Traditions are celebrated all over the world during this time of year. Memories of the perfectly set dining room table, “Mom’s home cooking” and spending time with our loved ones are forever etched in our hearts. In preparation, we often revel in the debate of which family recipes are deserving of the coveted spot of real estate on the buffet sideboard. Each year I find myself trying to sneak in a special dish, confection, or drink that reminds me of my travels. That smell or flavor that seems to take me back to those special places that my family wasn’t able to experience. Over the years I’ve found my own holiday table has increasingly become a melting pot of delicious samplings of many countries’ cuisines and with complex flavors and smells to a point it may suffer from a bit of identity disorientation.
Instead of creating a digital collage of the year’s events, my end-of-the-year photo album is represented by food on my table. My senses of sight, smell and taste bring my travel experiences back to those special places I experienced over the year. A plate of Irish cheeses, cold cuts, and soda bread will remind me of the lunch my husband and I ate on our anniversary trip to Ireland; a brief flash-back to the Ring of Kerry, sitting on an old stone wall looking out to the North Atlantic. A taste of Jamaican Chocolate Tea made with cinnamon, nutmeg, and sweetened with condensed milk takes me back to a conversation with a Jamaican bartender expressing his frustration of the difficulty and the expense of getting a visa to enter to the United States to visit his family. My coffee pot will brew Blue Jamaican and Costa Rican coffee and once again we can contemplate which has the best flavor, intensity, and aroma.
These items are new to our table this year in addition to the staples that have been there for years: Caribbean fried plantains, Mexican margaritas, Cuban rice and beans, spiced slow-roasted pork, Bahamian Mac-n-Cheese, and a tart of Mango and Ginger. In my opinion, a traveler is not a good traveler if they forget their own origins and beginnings. I always make sure and reserve a place for my Mom’s recipe of sausage stuffing, my Dad’s favorite seafood pasta salad, and my auntie’s rice ambrosia. I even find room for my favorite “sauce-popcorn”.
So, whatever wonderful food is on your table this year, I hope it brings joyful memories and helps you relive your travel tales with loved ones. Sure, while we eat the Irish cheese and soda bread and are thinking of that beautiful view of the ocean, we’ll also be talking about the white-knuckle moments of driving on those narrow- winding roads on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula and the exhilaration of thinking our lives could end with any misstep in steering around tour buses. We’ll also be talking about my husband’s fear of heights as he reminded me that he did not pack a body bag as I inched toward the edge of the Cliffs of Moher with a mischievous grin.
For me traveling is not only a passion, but almost a religion. I’d feel lost without it and I make sacrifices for it. Traveling helps us to learn and understand one another. As experiencing other cultures inspires me and others, this and every year I hope to look ahead to the future and dream about the new delectable that will be on my next Christmas table. Cheers to all this holiday season!