MERRY CHRISTMAS EVE! Tomorrow is the big day. What are you doing today to prepare?
I always put a lot of planning into Christmas dinner, hoping to have next to nothing to do on the big day. That means the day or two before need to be simple. I could just order pizza or Chinese, but beside the cost, I’d rather have something light so we don’t feel so thick and heavy that we can’t enjoy the special dinner.
This year for Christmas Eve dinner I’m making a breakfast that my friend’s daughter asks for every morning. My friend Beth has lived in Spain for many years. As a teen she spent every summer on missions trips in different third world countries, and she knew she was going to be a full time missionary somewhere. I loved that she learned Spanish specifically because it was spoken in more countries than any other.
It was quite natural for her to join Youth With A Mission (YWAM) after high school. I don’t remember what year she went to Spain, but she met a gorgeous Spanish guy who was also with YWAM, they got married and have two really beautiful little girls. Of course, there’s more to the romance, but that’s her story to tell. They minister in a city on the coast of Spain, with its beautiful bright blue sea and distant mountains. On one very clear bright day, Beth was able to see Africa far off in the distance.
(Aaris and Emma, ready for school. Emma on a playground. I’m not kidding when I say they’re adorable!)
Her girls, Aaris and Emma, besides being adorable, have healthy appetites. She shares the local healthy food traditions with me and I’m always impressed with how simple but delicious their everyday diet is. So little red meat, lots of fresh vegetables and fish, and a moderate use of healthy oils. Both of her girls are growing up with this healthy eating as a cultural lifestyle. I’m jealous!
When Beth asks Emma, her two year old what she wants for breakfast, she says, “Toast, oil, cheese and ‘matoes.” Did your two year old ever ask for vegetables for breakfast? (Yes, I realize tomatoes are a fruit, but you know what I mean!)
(Doesn’t Beth take wonderful pictures?)
Her tomatoes are fresh from the market, the toast is crusty fresh bread from the bakery, and the cheese is semi curado, or semi cured. Look for something that is a little pungent, light yellow and between creamy and firm. Hard cheeses such as the Manchego I first tried for this are fully cured and are too pungent in my opinion. If you love to eat chunks of strong cheese, you would probably like it. My favorite for this little meal is Muenster. It’s not Spanish, or semi-cured, but it’s fantastically creamy with just the smallest hint of nutty flavor.
The oil Emma asks for isn’t just olive oil. I’m sure you’ve seen how we in America have finally caught on to the Italian custom of dipping bread in good quality olive oil; well in Spain it’s common to have garlic oil in the pantry. It’s super simple to make, and you’ll go through it so fast you won’t have to worry about it getting old. When Beth told me how to make it, I was sure she was leaving some step out. It couldn’t be this easy. It was, and I love to have it on hand. It’s wonderful on salad or drizzled on toasted crusty bread like in Emma’s breakfast, or just the bread alone. I’ve used it to dress pasta with great success, and it can’t be beat when it’s drizzled on top of soup.
Without further delay, now that hopefully I’ve gotten you craving a healthy, light meal, here are the recipes.
Garlic Olive Oil
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil (make sure it tastes good when tasted alone)
- 1 bulb fresh garlic (make sure it is tight, with no discolored marks on it)
- Remove 1/4 to 1/3 cup of oil and place in another bottle of olive oil or in an airtight container for later use.
- Place garlic on its side and gently but firmly press on it until it breaks apart. You may need to rock it back and forth to get it to break off the root end. Discard the extra skins, but do not peel the cloves!
- Drop the cloves, with skins intact, into the bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Set on a shelf in a cool, dark place for a week or so to allow the garlic to saturate the oil. I put mine in my pantry where it is far from the stove and other electric appliances.
- crusty fresh bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick (I used a whole wheat and it was wonderful)
- garlic olive oil
- a semi cured or soft cheese of choice, sliced (I use Muenster)
- cherry or plum tomatoes, quartered of halved
- fresh basil leaves, torn or stacked then rolled into a tube and sliced into ribbons (not at Emma’s request, but I love it, and the ribbons add another bright color)
- Preheat oven to 375° F
- Place 2 slices of bread per person on a cookie sheet and place in oven for 3 – 5 minutes, until just beginning to become golden
- Remove from oven and flip toasts over. Then, to each piece; drizzle with garlic oil, place a slice of cheese on top and sprinkle with tomatoes.
- Return to oven for another 3 – 5 minutes, until edges of bread are toasty and cheese melts.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle each piece with basil. Drizzle with just a little more garlic oil.
If you have big meat eaters in your family, you could add cooked, shredded chicken before the cheese, so it doesn’t dry out in the oven. Or serve it with pasta primavera, heavy on the veggies and light on the sauce.
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU AND YOURS!