I can’t say just how the tradition began. But every year at Christmas, my family would gather twice. First on Christmas Eve for shrimp louie and clam chowder, and second on Christmas Day for a Thanksgiving-like feast.
My heart swells to ten times its size at just the thought of my grandparents’ home in those days… warm, inviting, and filled with the scent of freshly-baked pie, with appetizers at the ready and grandpa at the counter mixing singapore slings.
Sure, none of our traditions made sense and sure, on more than one occasion that epic meal was followed by an equally-epic storming out of one relative or another, egged on by my grandfather, left giggling in the corner, so tickled by his own tomfoolery…
“What?!” would be his response to any question or comment directed his way. With a wink in my or my father’s direction a split second later…
He played deaf for years before anyone ever caught on — and by then he really was.
As a kid, I just barely made it through my clam chowder on Christmas Eve… so excited to get to the important part. Handing out presents, opening them one by one, slowly seeing my little pile build… then heading off to sleep with the anticipation of what Santa might bring.
I feel lucky to have such good memories of my family in those years… of my grandparents, who no longer bake pies or mix singapore slings, but who live on in my heart every day, and whose presence is never stronger than in the holiday traditions we keep.
Every year on Christmas Eve, Mark and I make clam chowder and shrimp louie and mix our own singapore slings… it still doesn’t make sense, but there’s nothing that feels more like Christmas than shrimp.
So this year, rather than just ramble on about the shrimp… I thought I’d share this amazing little recipe, which is also a nod to my family in that today, my sister lives in New Orleans, and Mark was inspired to create this dish shortly after our last trip.
… around Christmas, she might supplement it with jambalaya, but my sister makes our clam chowder too. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a little seafood.
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup cream
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 cup stone ground grits
1/3 cup cream cheese
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Bring milk and butter to a simmer in a large saucepan. Over low heat, add your grits, whisking to combine with milk and butter. Stir frequently for 20 minutes. Grits should begin to thicken.
Add cream, then stir for an additional 5 minutes. In the meantime, cube your cream cheese. When your grits have reached the desired thickness (I like them around the 25 minute mark) add your cream cheese and stir to incorporate. Finish with salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
1 cup maple syrup (we use a local syrup that has been lightly smoked!)
4 teaspoons Old Bay (I mean you just can’t make seafood in Maryland without it…)
Combine ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat and reduce the mixture to half its original volume, or to your desired consistency.
Add shrimp, toss, and serve over grits.