Holiday Tradition in a Changing World
Dreaming of setting a festive holiday table keeps holiday tradition alive and brings a promise of those in the future to come. While polishing the silver, pressing the linens, and arranging the tablescape all set the stage, it’s the menu that pulls me back and forth from tradition to contemporary.
Over the years, I’ve broken from our family holiday tradition and served a baked ham, a free-range turkey, a crown roast of pork, and even a goose. With the holiday nearly upon us, I’m faced yet again with a decision to choose the past or the present.
Holiday Tradition: Cynthia Graubart Style
Holiday tradition is a stabilizing force, and in these uncertain times, tradition will win my heart. So many of our traditions are upended in this pandemic and I feel the need to reach to the past for comfort.
I grew up in a household where children were to be seen, but not heard, the living room was off-limits unless an appearance was requested, and the dining room was never used except on holidays.
Maintenance of Memory
The holiday table was magical to me. The china displayed in the china cabinet came out to adorn the table and the silver was released from its chest. Candlesticks with long-burning wicks were part of the room decor year-round in the center of the table, along with the obligatory bowl of waxed fruit, only to be lit during a holiday meal. (I suspect that those same candles lasted for years.) The adults were served wine and water in gleaming crystal, and the stiff white linens completed the place settings. I loved everything about this moment of beauty and harmony, so different from our daily lives.
My mother and grandmother have passed on and my Christmas table is now set with my grandmother’s china and crystal, and my mother’s silver. My love of a candlelit holiday meal grew into using candles nightly at our table. I’ve added my own linens and treasured pieces of antique serving dishes collected on my various travels. It is a festive scene, and the life-affirming presence of children is always welcome.
The centerpiece of many a childhood Christmas dinners was a boneless lamb roast, a custom I carried into my adult life. It is my favorite main course full of holiday tradition and I hope it will become a favorite of yours.
Roast Herbed Leg of Lamb with New Potatoes
Redolent with the heady aroma of fresh herbs, this hearty roast is a stellar main course for any holiday menu. While new potatoes are a traditional element of the meal, substituting sweet potatoes or any winter squash can add a contemporary component to the dish.
♦ 2 pounds small new potatoes
♦ 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
♦ 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
♦ 1 (5-pound) boneless leg of lamb, rolled and tied
♦ 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
♦ 1⁄4 cup loosely packed fresh rosemary leaves
♦ 2⁄3 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
♦ 1⁄4 cup loosely packed fresh thyme leaves
♦ 2 shallots
♦ 6 garlic cloves
♦ 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Step 1: Heat oven to 450°F. Set aside a large roasting pan fitted with a rack, or a ring of crumbled aluminum foil.
Step 2: Toss potatoes in a medium bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and scatter around pan.
Step 3: Sprinkle roast with remaining salt and pepper.
Step 4: Finely chop rosemary, parsley, and thyme and add to bowl used for the potatoes. Roughly chop shallots and add to herbs. Finely chop garlic and stir along with the lemon juice into herbs. Whisk in olive oil until combined. Coat roast with this herb mixture and move roast to rack.
Step 5: Roast lamb for 50 to 60 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 125°F for rare, or longer for doneness to your liking. Allow roast to rest, tented with foil to keep warm, about 15 minutes before removing strings and carving. Move potatoes to a serving bowl, and capture pan juices to serve at the table.
Written By Cynthia Graubart
Cynthia Graubart is a James Beard Foundation Award-winning cookbook author and cooking teacher. She appears on television nationwide sharing her passion for helping families spend more time at the dinner table together on shows such as Fox & Friends, Hallmark’s Home & Family, NY1, and several syndicated daytime TV shows.
Her 11th and 12th cookbooks, Blueberry Love and Strawberry Love, will debut in Spring 2021. She and Nathalie Dupree wrote the best-selling (and James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence-winning) Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking. Cynthia received an M.F.K. Fisher Food Writing Award for her introduction to Chicken: A Savor the South Cookbook.
Cynthia is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a professional culinary organization with the mission to help foster the education of women in the culinary arts and related fields. She is a member of the Broadcast Committee for the James Beard Awards and is currently at work on two books in a new cookbook series for Storey Publishing, a division of Workman.