Christmas, Family Style

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Luster Kaboom
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

Growing up in a family that has had as much divorce and remarriage as my own, the saying "you can't pick and choose your family" hasn't carried that much weight.

Au contraire my committed absolutists, I always say, family law is booming, one-way tickets out of Dodge are readily available, and, if you feel so inclined, name changes are always a possibility.

But then I remember something my mom told me.

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The Ungrateful Child: A Christmas Tale

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Luster Kaboom
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

The Christmas after I graduated from college, I was living, if you can call it that, in London. I had arrived at the beginning of the summer, planning to stay for a few months and then go back to New York to find a real job. By December it was blindingly cold and I shivered even when I layered all my thin cotton clothes on top of each other. But I had found a poorly paid job as a bartender at a trendy night club I'd read about in FACE magazine, and I made enough money to pay the rent on a small, spare flat I shared with an Australian grad student and an English friend of a friend.

The three of us flatmates got along well, and I'm not sure why I didn't spend Christmas with them. Maybe because they were both Jewish. Maybe because my mother, who is originally from England and was raised Anglican, had a lovely vision of me spending Christmas with her childhood friend and urged me to go. In any case, I found myself on Christmas day at the comfortable, middle class home of people I had never met: my mother's old friend Anne, Anne's tweedy, bespectacled husband, and their two girls, who were much younger than me.

My mother had assured me I'd be welcome, but I had the feeling they were a little surprised I'd turned up. I think I was too.

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Dreaming of an Eggs Benedict Christmas

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Luster Kaboom
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

For the first 15 years of my life, the holidays were always an uncomfortable time.
My friends would spend Christmas with their families. My neighbors had Hanukkah with theirs. My family did neither.

We were too Jewish to do Christmas, but not enough to be accepted by anyone Jewish outside of my dad's family.


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Christmas Turkey Trot

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Luster Kaboom
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

The Kellers, like most people in Winifred, Kansas, in the 1940s, grew their own tomatoes, carrots and onions, milked their own cows and slaughtered their own pigs. When they set the turkey on the Christmas table, my mother, Jeannine, knew exactly where it had come from. She had a hand in raising it.

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Steak on Fry Bread and the Winslow Christmas Parade

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Luster Kaboom
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

I'd been talking up my hometown's Christmas Parade for years. After all, it was a holiday tradition. It took place every year the Saturday before Thanksgiving. "You've got to see it," I'd say to Liam, my boyfriend. We lived in Brooklyn over 2,000 miles away from Winslow, AZ where I'd grown up. He was skeptical. "How can they call it a Christmas Parade if it happens before Thanksgiving?" he asked.

But, when we moved to Phoenix, there was no getting out of it. We were going to the parade.

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Ingrate Pie

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Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

People are fiercely attached to their concept of Christmas food. Violate that notion, and they wail like orphans.

For about nine years, I worked for the government. Kind of an elite unit, but no weapons or anything even remotely interesting ever happening.

A workplace is like a family, maybe in more ways than you've considered. Relationships are for the most part random, mandatory, and anything but intentional. And conflicts escalate like a mofo around the holidays, when you're compelled to spend unstructured time with people you see rarely.

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Outback Tonight

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Luster Kaboom
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

My grandma is tired, she explains, and this Christmas it's going to be real easy: We're going out for Christmas Eve dinner.

My grandma announces this on Thanksgiving. We've cleared the table, dishes are soaking in the sink, and everyone is picking at their slices of pie. This is the traditional time for proclamations in my family. "No presents this year except for the kids," someone always says, but it never goes down, so I take this "out on Christmas Eve" thing as an empty threat. As the night creeps closer it becomes clear that grandma is not kidding. I hold out hope that someone is going to jerk the wheel, but no: We're going to Outback Steakhouse.

I don't wanna besmirch the place too much -- there are worse chain restaurants, and I'm not above the perverse charms of the "bloomin' onion" -- but the last place I want to spend Christmas Eve is Outback Steakhouse. I try reasoning. How bad could it be?
It is very bad.


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Zest for Life

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Luster Kaboom
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

Being a type-A psycho, I approach Christmas the same way a warlord might hope to vanquish an enemy: swiftly, emotionless, and with admirable precision.

Each winter I set out to conquer the holidays, checking items off lists that I have no intention of checking twice, attending an obscene number of parties, and almost always committing to one recipe whose ingredients list, steps, and photo-free instructions would make mere mortals quiver.

It's sort of like a game. Actually, it's sort of like Game of Thrones. Blood and tears will be shed. Yelling and betrayal are inevitable. And don't you dare make Khaleesi get the dragons. Though, if we're being practical, they might prove handy when it comes to the baking part.

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Glue Christmas

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Luster Kaboom
Chow Bella took a bite out of the holidays earlier this month with our annual "Eating Christmas" event at Crescent Ballroom. No worries if you missed it -- catch the essays here through the holiday season.

We've all seen them: Magazine photos of expertly iced Santa cookies, leaning jauntily against gorgeous crystal bowls of nut-megged eggnog. HGTV ads featuring chafing dishes heaped with glossy sweet potatoes. Internet banners depicting painstakingly styled cranberry relish. Billboard portraits of big, shiny turkeys, bursting with fluffy stuffing and wearing paper frills on their legs.

I love the holidays, but I hate photos of holiday food. They're all bullshit. And they've ruined me.

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Eating Christmas: Tonight, Dec. 16, at Crescent Ballroom -- True Stories, Hanukkah Lights and Burritos

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Luster Kaboom
Tonight's the night! Head downtown at 7 to Crescent Ballroom to hear some of the Valley's best writers bite down on the holidays, in the form of "Eating Christmas" -- our third annual Christmas/Food mash-up. We'll even light the menorah in honor of the first night of Hanukkah.

Here's the lineup:

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