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Christmas brunch: A Schulman family tradition 15 years in the making


I can hear that deep resounding “Ho! Ho! Ho!” everywhere I turn. This is a sure sign that Christmas in quickly approaching. I was thinking about Christmas fare from a somewhat strange “Chef’s Perspective.” We all are aware of the feasting that takes place on Christmas Eve, especially among Italian Americans. In Italy, the Christmas Eve meal is somewhat more subdued in many of the regions across the country. We are all very much aware that the main event is the feast that takes place in the late afternoon or early evening on Christmas Day. This is the case both here in the United States and in Italy. My thoughts drifted to the question, “Well, what about breakfast?”

The fact is Christmas morning is an exciting, hectic, and high-energy time in nearly all households. This level of energy requires fuel, and where does that fuel come from? Exactly, from Christmas morning breakfast. I decided to check out what breakfast is all about on Christmas morning both here and in Italy.

What I discovered is that in Italy, the break-fast fare, depending what region you are in, is the leftovers from the Christmas Eve meal, sweets, lots of sweets, hot chocolate, and of course the typical milky morning coffee that is a staple in Italy. For breakfast, Italians are eating anything from pasta to assorted meat and fish. Christmas morning in Italy is all about panettone and pandoro. Sugar is known to generate energy. So, they may throw in some panforte to sweeten things up.

Here among Italian-Americans, many households will have a breakfast around the Christmas tree while the adults watch the young ones attack all those brightly wrapped surprises that magically appear under the tree at this special time of the year. Typically, breakfast will consist of coffee or hot chocolate with panettone, pandoro, or less often, panforte. Pretty much any pastry, muffin, or even a doughnut is the go-to breakfast. Here and there we find some families putting together a nice strata or frittata.

On the other hand, in some families, including my own family, Christmas morning takes place in three stages. Keep in mind that we have only breakfast and dinner on Christmas Day. Early in the morning, Liz and I bundle up and head over to one of our children’s homes to watch the youngest grands and great-grand get dazzled by what Santa had piled high under the tree. We each grab our cup of coffee and a piece of pastry and watch the spectacle unfold. By 9 in the morning we leave them to deal with the mountain of Christmas wrap and bows. We drive the few blocks back to my house where I begin to put together “Oopah’s Christmas Brunch.” This epic brunch has started at 11 a.m. for about the last 15 years since we moved close to the family. Very few changes are allowed, or I am in big trouble. So, the menu as you will see here has remained intact through the years. First, I want to give you a taste of the “must haves” according to my family.

• The world’s best thick-sliced challah French toast served with warm maple syrup and butter.
• The lightest fluffiest scrambled eggs you ever tasted.
• Perfectly crisp bacon.
• Oven roasted sausage.
• Either ham, Canadian bacon, pork roll, or scrapple (I’m permitted some leeway here).
• Roasted tiny white, gold, and new red potatoes. They must be cut in half and lightly seasoned with Kosher salt, black pepper, minced garlic, and paprika.
• Straight-out-of-the-oven biscuits and cinnamon rolls.

Challah french toast served with warm maple syrup and butter. | ADOBESTOCK.COM

• Beef tenderloin tips Bordelaise served with rice pilaf (most popular option).
• Pork tenderloin medallions glazed with honey mustard.
• Stacked Italian-style strata with provolone, mozzarella and Asiago cheese melted between each layer and finished with a light coating of red gravy and a sprinkle of shaved locatelli.

This was our stage 2 breakfast. Following all of this, the kids knock out all the dishes, so we don’t have to clean up later. Then Oopah dons his Santa hat, recruits one or two Santa’s helpers, and we pass out the massive number of gifts that flow from under the tree into the living room. It doesn’t take very long and before they know it, all the gifts have been opened. The room is filled with bright eyes and huge smiles. Once again, the kids jump in to clean up all the wrappings. Only then does stage 3 of Oopah’s brunch begin. The family members know to bring their containers with them. They load up on all the plentiful leftovers. By now, it is approaching 3 p.m. and everyone begins to load up their cars, say their goodbyes and head for their respective homes where they will rest up and prepare to visit the other side of the family for Christmas dinner.

I am told that Christmas both here and in Italy is a time of indulgence when it comes to food. Our family and many like us do indulge and make the most of this magical holiday.

From our home to yours, have a beautiful, happy, and healthy Christmas season.

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