A Day In The Life: Mike Cherepko

Monday, December 24

I woke up because I thought I heard a stink bug in my room. My morning weigh in was 186, only one pound more than when I arrived at my parents' house. Of course, I was wearing a shirt, sweater, and pants back then. I walk downstairs and the first (and only) thing my dad says to me is that he changed the water my baccalà is soaking in. I'm preparing the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve today.

I'm making stuffed peppers. In New York, I buy rice from the Chinese restaurant next door because I am very bad at making it or anything else that requires measurement. My parents live in the suburbs, so I'm reduced to doing this myself. This is the first time in years I've followed instructions for anything I've cooked. I'm not even sure what the full menu is today, but it's going to involve a lot of toast.

The peppers took longer to make than I expected, but I estimated my ingredients to barely have anything left over. They have crab and shrimp, mint and parsley, capers and black olives, spinach and rice, lemon juice, and olive oil. We're watching Rick Sebak's WQED special about holiday traditions in Pittsburgh. He should make a meta-update because watching this every year is a tradition itself.

I took a break from cooking while I waited for my brother to bring home some milk for my French toast (I take liberties with the Italianness. I didn't grow up with this meal). My mother's braising cabbage for tomorrow, so I'll let her have the kitchen for a while. I think Timmy's going to make us some martinis.

My cousin Jared showed up to drop off some food for tomorrow. Timmy made him a martini, which he hates. My dad started to get impatient, so he's cleaning the smelts now. That involves ripping out the backbones and back fins. That's always been my job, though when my grandmother was alive, she helped me. She's my Italian ancestor. A couple years after she died, I ran into her neighbor who told me my grandmother told her all about my Christmas Eves and that I'm a good cook. .

The french toast is done. While I wait for the water to boil for the baccalà, I can set the table with my mother. There's a dearth of napkin-folding knowledge this year because my sister couldn't come. This will be my second Christmas without her, and the first since 1982. She and my brother-in-law vowed to come next year. To fill their places, we invited my brother's friends Squish and Horse and Horse's mom. Art and Judy Bisig round out the table. They've been coming to Christmas Eve for years. (Art was my brother's substitute teacher in middle school and a friendship sprouted up.)

The appetizers are all on the table and guests are showing up. I have baccalà mantecato, salmon pâté (from Trader Joe's), ricotta with olive oil, white bean dip, anchovies with capers, bruschetta, some shrimp with garlic oil, tuna bean salad, and caviar. I better go stir my pungent pasta. I don't think I'm making anything tonight that anyone who has been to my apartment would be surprised by.

I'm surprised by how many people liked my pungent pasta. (I made it without fish so Horse would eat it.) Even my mom liked it. On the other hand, my stuffed peppers were really spicy. My dad and I were the only people who liked them. At least I have leftovers.

Three people said this was the best Christmas Eve they can remember. Art and Judy come here often. And my family. I don't want them to evaluate. Time to open presents soon. Colleen got me Airfoil, which I asked for, but Timmy said I could just click on the speaker icon and stream all sound. So I'm already defeated about presents, and this isn't even one I gave anyone.

We used Google+ hangouts to open presents with my sister and brother-in-law. The pink pants I gave her don't fit. Timmy gave me Halloween themed invitations and thank you cards. After opening gifts, he had to drive across town to let some dogs out that he's dog sitting for. If he doesn't go all hours of the day, they suffer.

We get back home and eat all the leftovers, then go to bed. At least I did. Timmy probably stayed up til 4 am shaking bones with his new subwoofer. .

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