As much as I like to pretend to be a hard-ass, sarcastic, cynical little crab, movies can really do a number on my emotional system. For instance, Apollo 13 is so effective that whenever I feel the need for a good cry-out, I pop it in, knowing exactly when I can expect the cathartic tears to brim over.
(Of course, it's one of those things where it's not effective unless I watch the WHOLE movie. I can't just fast-forward to the scene where Tom Hanks' voice finally crackles through to Mission Control after over four minutes of silence and expect to feel the full impact of it all.)
It's no surprise that with the excessive amounts of cooking, cleaning, wrapping, and holiday stress that comes from missing family and friends, Christmas movies can really sock it to your emotional core. Give yourself a night off and huddle up with some classic homey movies, some comforting local take-out, and several boxes of Kleenexes.
A Christmas Story
Even though I have the whole thing on tape already, when TBS starts showing this on Christmas Eve for 24 hours straight, my television will be on the entire time. I never get tired of any little bit of it, but I especially love the snow scenes. Ever since I moved to California, the scenes of Ralphie waking up Christmas morning to a backyard coated in freshly fallen snow and the parents quietly closing out Christmas night with glasses of wine and another snowfall hit me hardest.
Christmas Story Take-Out Menu
Randy's Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes: In my Midwestern opinion, the best Bay Area version of this homey food can be found at any of the Chow outposts. However, Blue Plate's version is also pretty tasty (if a bit salty), and I've recently learned that a Fra'mani meatloaf can be found at Costco?! Heavenly.
Just make sure you eat your meatloaf and mashed potatoes exactly like Randy: face first.
Chow delivery available through Waiters on Wheels, take-out available from the Church Street location. Blue Plate offers take-out.
Roast Turkey: In order to avoid any possible disastrous interactions with ravenous neighborhood dogs, swap the stress of a home-roasted turkey for Zuni Cafe's celebrated chicken and bread salad. (Frankly, we just had Thanksgiving, so aren't we a bit turkey'd out?) Zuni doesn't do take-out, but if you do what we do, it's just as good.
Go in, order a complete meal. Halfway through the meal, ask for the chicken and bread salad. At the end of the meal, profess to be too full for the chicken and bread salad, have their always-accommodating staff wrap up your spoils for you to bring home to your couch and TV. (It's the upgraded version of the two-fer we used pull at Olive Garden when I was a poor college student. We'd gorge ourselves on bottomless breadsticks and salad and then bring our entrees home. Two meals for the price of one!)
Peking Duck: I suggest you bypass the drama of having the poor thing decapitated at the table, so call up Ton Kiang for their conveniently pre-hacked version resplendent with crispy, lacquered skin and accompanied by soft puffy buns, plum sauce, and scallion brushes.
Ton Kiang delivers to some neighborhoods, otherwise do take-out
Ah, singing, dancing, and schmaltz! This Christmas classic is full of Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby, and my eternal favorite, Danny Kaye. Great songs, great gags, great dancing, and I challenge even the hardest-bittenest Grinch around not to sob when Vermont innkeeper General Waverley walks out to see his old troops standing at attention. (Criminy, I choked myself up there just by WRITING about it!)
Never in my life do I crave liverwurst sandwiches except when watching old movies that feature them (they play a role in White Christmas, Charade, and Spellbound), so for this movie menu, think about getting in a nice spread of deli sandwiches, some choice Vermont cheeses, and a cocktail or two.
White Christmas Take-Out Menu
Ham and Cheese on Rye, Liverwurst, and Turkey Sandwiches: Miller's East Coast Delicatessen on Polk and Clay is THE place for authentic deli treats. All the sandwiches Bing offered Rosemary, including the dream-inducing liverwurst, can be made fresh here and taken home to your television set.
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar: Created by Cabot but aged on spruce by Jasper Hill Farm, this cheddar is wonderfully sharp and rich. Look for it at Cowgirl Creamery's retail stores or the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley.
Hot Buttered Cider-Rum
In the movie, Danny Kaye looks forward to having one of these before they get to their destination and discover Vermont is rather short of snow that year. This is a recipe my husband developed in Boston by piecing a few recipes together.
Makes: 1 cocktail
1-2 oz dark rum
6 oz mulled cider
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 tsp brown sugar
Freshly grated nutmeg
Cinnamon stick, for garnish
Combine the rum and hot cider in a heatproof glass or mug. Stir in the sugar and float the butter on top. Grate the nutmeg over the top and garnish with a single cinnamon stick.
Waverly Place Echo
Not named for the general in the movie as far as I know, but fitting nonetheless, don't you think? This recipe comes from the December issue of Imbibe.
Makes: 1 cocktail
1/4 oz Hangar One Mandarin Blossom Vodka
1/4 oz vodka
6 Chinese Five-Spice-marinated Mandarin orange segments
1 oz Meyer lemon juice
5 to 6 candied Meyer lemon peels
1/2 oz Chinese Five-Spice Syrup (recipe follows)
3 Kaffir lime leaves, cut into long chiffonade
3/4 oz seltzer
Combine ingredients in a mixing glass. Stir, add ice, cover and shake a few times. Pour into a glass and serve.
To make the mandarin orange segments, simply peel and separate the segments of a mandarin, cover with Chinese Five-Spice syrup, and marinate for at least 15 minutes.
For candied Meyer lemon peel, add strips of zest from 1 Meyer lemon to 1/2 cup of boiling simple syrup, reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature before using.
Chinese Five-Spice Syrup
Makes: 2 2/3 cups
5 whole star anise
1 Tb fennel seed
1 3-inch stick cinnamon, broken up
1 tsp whole cloves
1 Tb Szechuan peppercorns
2-2/3 cup simple syrup (dissolve 2 2/3 cups granulated white sugar into 2 2/3 cups hot water and let cool)
2 tsp honey
Process all spices to a coarse powder in a spice or coffee grinder. Heat a stainless steel pot over medium heat and toast the spices. Once fragrant, add the simple syrup to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the honey. Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat. Let the mixture cool to room temperature and strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Will keep up to one month in the refrigerator.