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Comfort Food Pt. 2 : Christmas in New England

It’s been said that when you live somewhere long enough, it becomes a part of you. Sure, maybe it’s been four years since I returned to New York. Sure, maybe I live only five minutes from the suburb where I grew up. But after leaving New York at eighteen, I spent the better part of my adult life living in the little New England city of Providence, Rhode Island. After more than ten years there, it became a part of me, and it became more my home than New York was. So I was really excited to get some time off from work to spend Christmas there and have some real Rhode Island comfort food. Here are three of my favorites.

Tourtiere de Reveillon, or French Canadian Meat Pie

click on image for recipe

My boyfriend is a native of Rhode Island, and while we lived there, I spent many holidays with his family. This year, I received an email from his sister in Atlanta, requesting my recipe for Reveillon Tourtiere. It was going to be her first Christmas away from home, and Christmas Eve just wasn’t going to be the same without it. The traditional meat pie originated with 17th century French Acadian settlers of eastern Canada, some of whom migrated to various parts of New England, including Rhode Island. On Christmas eve, or Reveillon, the family would attend midnight mass together, then return home to open their presents and feast on the fragrant and savory meat pie. When the neighborhood market that sold the family’s favorite tourtiere closed a few years ago, my boyfriend and I embarked on a quest to re-create the pie of his childhood. There are a lot of recipes on the internet, and surely every French Canadian family has a meme with a closely guarded recipe of her own. Using the internet recipes as a starting point, we made variation after variation until we finally got the flavor and texture just right. We ate a lot of meat pie that winter.

Hot Weiners

A Rhode Island obsession. Unlike hot dogs, these are natural casing sausages that come in a continuous link that have to be cut, resulting in the signature stubby ends. A true connoisseur orders them “all the way,” or fully topped with greek-style meat chili, mustard, onions, and celery salt. I usually have two. My boyfriend usually downs four. Add a glass of coffee milk and a plate of french fries with salt and white vinegar for the complete Little Rhody experience. When we lived in Providence, my boyfriend and I were late night regulars at the original New York System on Smith Street, and when we visit Rhode Island we usually stop there before we leave. Still he would rave about the weiners he grew up with at Rod’s Grille in Warren. Finally this trip, we happened to be in the neighborhood and stopped into Rod’s Grille. Truth be told, though the New York System is more famous (thanks in part to “Providence” the T.V. show), the weiners at Rod’s Grille tasted fresher and were really delicious.

Littlenecks and other fresh New England seafood

Much of the seafood we consume here in New York, particularly the shellfish, comes from New England waters. If you’ve ever had fresh off the dock seafood straight from it’s source, it’s difficult to stomach anything less. It’s probably the seafood I miss most, and every time we visit Rhode Island, I take the opportunity to have some. In the summer it’s beer and littlenecks on the halfshell at Topside’s outdoor deck facing the bay, or chowder and clamcakes at Quitos. But in the winter, we go indoors to Jack’s Family Restaurant. We usually start with littlenecks on the halfshell then share the seafood pasta with Jack’s “special” sauce. Although the littleneck clam is named after Little Neck, NY where these clams were once abundant, the majority of these clams now come from Rhode Island shores. They don’t get any fresher than this – pink, plump, and sweet, and never rubbery.

Recipe Link:  Tourtiere de Reveillon

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