“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and striving after wind.”
The holiday season is usually filled with expectation. We coddle visions of a Norman Rockwell setting with fresh-faced and rosy-cheeked children, joyful aunts and uncles graced with charming smiles, and extended family gazing upon a festive table. Many times though, we end up settling on a reality of splintered gatherings, gravy on the tablecloth and overcommitted families as we attempt to model our holiday meals on high hopes and waning wonder, striving for the perfect Christmas. This is not where our expectation and joy should be grounded. But what if there was a joyful solution, one that would offer all of the holiness of the season and uninterrupted by the regular holiday chaos?
Many years ago, I realized that I was striving for a Christmas ideal that just wouldn’t happen. Our family was spread out over New Jersey, Virginia, Maine, and Minnesota, which would make for a wicked-long drive, crabby children, and little rest for us. Trying to include everyone in our holiday get-togethers left my little family overwrought with expectations, but what to do? Tradition is so important, but all traditions have a starting point. I thought, “Why not start a tradition and make it our own?”
One crisp day in late fall, I decided to head off the coming chaos of the upcoming holiday season by claiming a day as our own. As I paged through a cooking magazine, I was captivated by an article about a little Italian town and all of the holy days that they celebrate — each one held in solemnity and joy, with hearts directed to the holiness of the day. And of course, no celebration is complete without wonderful dishes made with timeless recipes. Families gather around a table and pray, then eat, laugh, tell stories of bygone years, and the only thing missing is commercialism.
One feast day is Epiphany, January 6th, the feast in honor of the Three Kings who watched a bright star in wonder and followed it to find the infant Jesus. We were inspired and decided to embrace Epiphany as our new tradition — celebrating the season with family, friends, and traditional food — while imagining what wonders were beheld by the kings who sought after a wondrous star over 2,000 years ago.
This recipe for fennel and sausage pasta is the Italian dish that sets Epiphany apart from other holidays. One wonderful quality of Italian cooking is its ease and flexibility. The recipe is delicious made according to directions, but if your taste leans to more fennel, more sausage, more spice, less spice, an extra splash of cream, you can adjust the ingredients.
Perhaps this is the year when your routine is scuttled and you are not sure how you will make your holiday as special as in the past. Look at this year as a chance to start fresh! Begin with a cherished recipe, a food that reflects the heritage of your family, or something you have always dreamed of making, but never had the opportunity before. Then find a new day to celebrate during the holidays, perhaps Boxing Day or a holy day leading to Epiphany. Embrace the wonder of a new tradition that reflects your heart and can be joyfully shared with others.
Fennel and Sausage Pasta
What you need:
1 lb. mild or hot Italian sausage, your preference
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
¼ c. Pernod (licorice-flavored cordial, optional)
1 bunch fennel, entire bulb and fronded top, trimmed and coarsely chopped
½-1 c. strong beef stock
salt and crushed red pepper
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. farfalle (bow tie) pasta
½ c. heavy cream
How to prepare:
Remove and discard the casings from the sausage. Place sausage in a large skillet and chop while simmering over medium heat until browned.
Add garlic, stir and cook for another two minutes until garlic is fragrant.
Stir in Pernod, fennel, and stock, and cook until fennel is tender, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Season to taste with salt, red pepper, and black pepper. Turn to low simmer and cover.
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente, then drain. Stir the cooked pasta and cream into the sauce, season and stir gently. Serve on a shallow platter.
The featured image is courtesy of Annie Nardone and used with her kind permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Annie Nardone is a flannel-clad, cowboy boot-shod adventurer who seldom travels with a map because joy and surprise are discovered in the journey! Her sincere passion is the reintegration of the arts and humanities with theology and the Christian imagination. She holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University and writes for Literary Life and the quarterly magazine, An Unexpected Journal. Annie resides in Virginia with her Middle Earth/Narnia/Hogwarts-loving family, and an assemblage of sphynx cats and feline foundlings who read with her daily. In a poll taken among friends, six things that characterize her include: books, C.S. Lewis, spontaneous adventure, Shakespeare, caffeine, and cats.