I am not exactly sure what most people eat for breakfast on Christmas morning. There is often a lot of talk about dinner: roasts and hams, traditional side dishes, and glittering desserts. But the day has to start somehow; you can't dig through stockings and unwrap presents on an empty stomach. And it's Christmas, so it better be special. That means no bowls of cold cereal or skimpy slices of toast.
For as long as I can remember we have eaten the same breakfast every Christmas morning: my mother's savory egg strata, citrusy ambrosia made from my Southern Grandmother's recipe, and a wreath shaped bread stuffed with walnuts, cinnamon, and raisins, drizzled with vanilla glaze, and doused with red and green sprinkles, an annual gift from a dear friend.
My Mother prepares the strata, essentially a savory bread pudding with eggs, sausage, and cheddar cheese, the day before and bakes it on Christmas morning. My Dad wakes up early, lights a fire, and queues some holiday music. It is hard to say what wakes me first: the eggy, cheesy smell of the strata, the noise of coffee percolating, or music and the sounds of rustling paper as the dog pokes her nose into the presents.
As children we were encouraged to "eat a little something first" before starting to open the gifts. This didn't work then, and it doesn't now. Even as a group of adults, we still eat buffet style, loading up a plate in the dining room before sitting around the tree to poke through stockings and presents. We lounge and pick at the breakfast food all day. My brother eats seconds and thirds of the strata, I always have at least two hunks of the sweet holiday bread. And several cups of coffee. And, eventually, a big nap.
By the end of the morning it is usually afternoon. We marvel at the fact that the breakfast platters have been picked clean, stare at the papers and ribbons strewn across the living room, and ponder taking a walk in the snow. "Fresh air would be good, right?" someone always says. "After all, it will be time for dinner soon."
Christmas Breakfast Strata
Serves 4 to 6
slices bread, preferably a dense Italian style loaf, cut 3/4-inch thick
1 ample cup
shredded cheddar cheese (it's Christmas, go big with the cheese!)
eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 cups
half and half
Dash of nutmeg
Trim crust from bread and fit it into the bottom of a 10 by 16-inch baking pan. Brown sausage and drain off any excess fat. Stir mustard into sausage. Spoon sausage evenly over bread, and sprinkle with grated cheese. Combine remaining ingredients (eggs, milk, half and half, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and Worcestershire sauce) and then pour over cheese and sausage.
Bake at 350°F for 25 to 30 minutes.
This can be made the day before and kept in the refrigerator. Allow extra time for baking if it has been refrigerated.
• See more 2009 Holiday Guest Posts here
(Images: Anne Zimmerman)