Add to the list of things “never to do again:” Never go to Fresh Market the day before Christmas Eve. Never.
We are having filets for Christmas Eve supper. The Mayhews have completely revamped our Christmas traditions in light of the fact that the boy is almost 20 and life in the twenty-first century is not what it was in the twentieth. I explain this to Noah. Back in the day, people actually waited to ask for presents during certain times of the year. They anticipated that new bike or the cashmere scarf. Now they just go buy it. My mother once waited five years for a Lincoln Continental. It was the car of her dreams and she was well into her 60s before it appeared in our driveway. It never occurred to our parents to make car payments. You saved up. You waited. You anticipated. And the reward was all the sweeter. So because that is just so 1965, we now have scaled back our Christmas to a few meaningful gift cards and a great Christmas Eve meal.
Which is why I am standing at the meat counter at Fresh Market surrounded by, no kidding, 50 other people who are clutching paper numbers as the digital counter flashes behind the butchers. The digital counter. I am 66. The counter is on 48. There are only two ways this can go. I can give in to my famous lack of patience at standing in line and try the Publix. Or I can just shoot myself full of Christmas spirit. And that is what I do. I just mainline some Christmas spirit. 49, 50. I inspect the fish counter nearby. Nineteen dollars a pound for Chilean Sea Bass? You’ve got to be kidding. 51, 52, 53. I sidle over to the bakery section and briefly consider buying an $18 yule log. We don’t even like cake, but I am battling my boredom. 54, 55, 56, 57. A woman shopper is apoplectic that she can’t find champagne mustard to rub on her standing rib roast. I do not tell her that the taste of the mustard actually disappears and that she might as well use French’s. Because I am imbued with the Christmas spirit. 58, 59, 60, 61, 62. The man who is 63 towers over the meat counter and zeros in on the filets. NO!!!!!! He picks four of the prettiest ones. Damn him. My Christmas spirit is fraying at the edges. A half hour later, finally, 66! I casually chat with the butcher as he bags my three almost perfect specimens. “Yea,” he says, “the managers told us that this is the busiest day of the year.”
I check out, briefly stopping to help an infirm older lady behind me slide her $15 cocoanut cake onto the counter. I offer to help her to her car. O.K. I’m good. I leave Fresh Market without wanting to punch anyone in the throat.
So tomorrow it is beautiful filets with baked potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Tonight it is comforting mushroom lasagna, inspired from a recipe by Ina Garten.
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound Portobello mushroom slices
1 pound sliced button mushrooms
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/3 cup Marsala
Béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
3 cups shredded Italian cheese blend or mozzarella
No-boil lasagna noodles
1 stick butter
½ cup flour
4 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a skillet and sauté the mushrooms until well browned and all the liquid has evaporated. Salt and pepper to taste and add the Marsala. Continue cooking until the wine has evaporated. Set aside.
For the Béchamel, melt the stick of butter and add the flour, whisking for a minute to cook out the raw taste of the flour. Slowly pour in the milk and continue whisking until a thick sauce forms. Add the nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a 9-by-13 casserole dish, put a layer of sauce on the bottom. Top with a layer of lasagna noodles. Add more sauce to cover the noodles, and top with a third of the mushrooms and a layer of shredded cheese. Continue in a like manner for two more layers, finishing with the last of the sauce and a final layer of cheese.
Bake for 40-45 minutes.