A Christmas to Remember

Simple holiday fare for two famished travelers

OUR childhood Christmas Days were loaded with considerable eating. I should probably be abashed about this today in an era of fastidious consumption. I have the impression that the enjoyment of sugar and cream, not to mention cakes and turkey and roast potatoes and bread sauce and rolls of bacon and sausages and sprouts and trifle and nuts and plum pudding and more cakes and just one more helping of trifle thank-you-very-much are viewed by the rising generation as tantamount to crime.

I am not ashamed. Indeed, I recall all that guzzling with a foolish kind of nostalgia. It was actually very nice being spoiled silly - a glorious treat for ravenous youngsters. Christmas Days since, however generous, have never quite measured up.

But there is one Christmas that was, for completely different reasons, just as splendid.

My wife and I spent that holiday in Crete. It was off-season, and our forays into the island's hills in a ``miniature'' rented Fiat entailed no encounters with other visitors and few even with Cretans.

I don't know why, but we chose Christmas Day for a drive to the plains of Lasithi. Admittedly, we had tried to reach this flat plateau full of windmills some days earlier. But halfway up the winding mountainside, night had fallen, quite suddenly. We had miscalculated; on the map it looked short. We had turned back, groping our way with candle-power headlights.

On Christmas Day we set off in plenty of time. The windmills were all present, correct, and picturesque in full daylight. And we decided to continue on a round trip, returning via various villages not yet seen. And in one of them, we hoped, we would get some food....

It took ages.

An unaccustomed degree of famishment started laying hold of us. By late afternoon, we began to think we would have no food before nightfall.

I don't want to exaggerate. Our hunger was certainly relative. However, when we did at long last find an apparently uninhabited cafe, we were desperate. It looked shut. But the door pushed open.

We managed finally to convey to the man who had crept out of some dim recess that we would willingly eat just about anything.And that is why I often say that the best Christmas dinner I ever had was a potato omelette. I firmly believe this. It was magnificent.

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