Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tradition is the Stuff that Makes Life Stable, Or why I want Clam Dip at a Christmas Party

Traditions are merely repetitive acts which come to represent something deeper and symbolize something important to us. They are a "remembering" and a "Hallmarking". Like rituals in religion, they help us in an outward manner, remember an inward feeling. A feeling we want, by marking it with a ritual, to always remember and never forget.

Unlike religious ritual, traditions can be for anything or any reason that means something personal or makes life easier and more livable for us. They can be simple like "where I always go to get my coffee", or complex like "how I remember a national tragedy. Traditional celebrations or gatherings usually are for this purpose and center around outwardly remembering and carrying on, what we remember about someone or celebrating something else.

Holidays are often times when we develop or adopt traditions. They can help us to celebrate the larger message of a holiday in a more personal way. Christmas being probably the chief holiday in that category. Celebrated and fussed over by people more than other holiday as they try imbue a personal value on the greater meaning of the God of love being born into the world on a night long ago.

Hence for many including myself, Christmas is about touching those around me whom I love in a special way. Gifts at this time of year as well as gatherings take a special place in the pantheon of celebrations our society fosters. Elevated and special, beyond Halloween, Thanksgiving, an Anniversary, a Birthday or even Easter, Christmas is the Queen of holidays. And as such should be celebrated as only a Queen can be!

I find I work a lot during the holiday season. But my one tradition is attending one and only one party for sure every year. Hosted by my some of my dearest friends,  Christmas for me would not be complete without it.    

Many, many, many years ago now ( somewhere between 20 and Death! ) I met my good friend John.  He and I met at the first music rehearsal for a production of "Little Me" in the Berkshire Mountains at a small summer repertory theater. In the play both of us played a variety of roles and had an absolute blast on and off the stage. His wit was ever sharp and his sense of humor always spot on. In other words, he was a lot of fun to hang out with.

We parted ways at the end of the production's run but like most actors in NYC we continued to see one another at auditions and get togethers for friends we had in common from the business of show. It was not until several years later, after both of us had somewhat lost touch, that I was coming out of the door of my apartment and I noticed that someone had moved into the vacant apartment next door. Well the door swung open and a fellow carrying a large moving box that completely blocked him from my view emerged. He started down the hall towards the elevators where I was standing and not seeing me almost ran me over. I exclaimed "hey watch out there!". The voice from behind the box said "oh I am so sorry I can't see a thing". There was a pause. I recognized the voice I thought. "John?" I queried? "Forrest?" came the response. He lowered the box and sure enough it was the John I knew! We both yelled and laughed and we went on laughing for about 4 years till he got married and moved back to Jersey and into a fabulous house.

So what has that got to do with Clam dip you might ask. Well John's family had a summer house up in Maine on a barrier island and every year his family would go up to the house and spend a month or so enjoying the summertime on the shore up there. Both his Mother and Father were teachers so they were lucky enough to have the time to do that. Well, when John moved into the building at some point we had a fete together. And as we were discussing the menu ( which would be mostly snacks) he suggested making a clam dip recipe, which had been in his family forever. I said that was great and really wanted to try it since I had actually never had clam dip. Being that in South Carolina, we make our traditional trashy cocktail party dips out of crabs and shrimp, but not clams. So he made it and let me tell you, that stuff is good! Cheesy and full of sea and dairy goodness it had the taste of the clams and the sea and the cow. Yum!

Well when John moved he continued to host parties out in New Jersey of course. One  party in particular, right before the holidays he called "Ho Mo For the Holidays". It became a Christmas tradition and is that awesome evening alluded to above that I spend with friends each year. No one does Christmas like John and Mike. I think it's a special gift. The house is decorated. The tree is lit. Wine is drunk. Bread is broken. Carols are sung. And everyone is caught up in the spirit of love, family and friends that is the hallmark of the Christmas season,. It's a homecoming of sorts and I see people there I only see there once a year. It's a lovely tradition.

Well along with the tradition of the event, there are also traditions with what is served.  There will always be the family recipe Lasagna or Mike's Meatballs and always Amy's Stromboli, and John's Clam dip served during cocktail hour. In fact the clam dip is so beloved that one year John did not make it and there was an uprising! So he threw it together and served it up. And that year just like the old Shake n Bake commercial, I helped! And so it was I learned how to make the famous Clam Dip!

Long live traditions I say. Whatever yours may be. They remind us of what is right and good with our world and let us share it with others.

So I recognized that we are no longer in the holiday season and winter is upon us. However, the super bowl is coming up and this dip is universal. So make it anytime. For any reason. But just make it cause it's good. So here is the recipe for clam dip without which my Christmas would seem a little dimmer. Thanks John, and enjoy Ya'll!

2 cans of clams (size of tuna cans)
1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter
1 med. onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. basil
1/2 cup italian seasoned bread crumbs
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tsps. lemon juice
dash of tobasco sauce
In one sauce pan combine clams (with juice) and lemon juice. Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes.
In other sauce pan: melt butter and sautee onions and garlic for 8 minutes. Add parsley flakes, oregano, pepper, basil, tabasco and simmer on low for another 7 minutes.
Combine ingredients of both sauce pans into a deep baking dish. Stir in bread crumbs, parmesan and 1/2 cup cheddar cheese until blended.
Sprinkle top with the remining 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.
Serve with crackers. 

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