We started planning Christmas Eve dinner back in August. My husband had gone to Alaska for a business trip, and I met him at the tail end to spend a couple of weeks with our Alaska family in Fairbanks. Around several campfires, Josh and his other wife (my best friend Helen -- they are best cooking mates) planned out our menu for our return trip at Christmas.
What? You don't like to travel to the (sub) Arctic tundra for the holidays, and plan your menus for those trips months in advance? AMATEURS!
Josh was raving about his favorite new dish since moving to Texas -- chicken and waffles -- and he and Helen agreed that it would make the perfect Christmas Eve meal. Josh insisted that the chicken be fried outside, on the charcoal grill, and so it was. With help from our friend Bennish, Josh and Helen executed fried chicken and waffles at 30 degrees below zero. I drank a lot of wine and watched.
I should mention that when we go home to visit, our entire lives revolve around planning, prepping and cooking meals. When we wake up, we usually eat the previous night's leftovers for breakfast, start boozing, and set about the task of planning and preparing the rest of the meals for the day. We arrived in Fairbanks on December 19, and breakfast on December 20 was leftover turkey with homemade mole sauce and a fried egg:
It was Justin's second crack at mole, and it was absolutely divine.
After breakfast, Josh and Justin set out to Fred Meyer (West Coast Kroger) for chicken and waffle supplies, but seeing as it was 40 below zero that day, I stayed home, did the dishes and got drunk well before noon. Vacation.
I didn't get a picture of my birthday dinner, but just after breakfast on my birthday -- right after Josh went out and dumped scraps into the compost -- a moose came along and munched on them. Look! Birthday moose!
Come Christmas Eve, all of our best pals came over to Helen's for our traditional sleepover. Fourteen grown men and women drinking in their PJs -- that's what I call Christmas.
By December 24 the temperatures had warmed up a bit during the day -- about 10 below during the three hours and 45 minutes of daylight -- but unfortunately for Santa, by evening the temps had dipped back near 30 below. Bad news for the guys frying the chicken, too, but Josh and Bennish bundled up, fired up the coals and got to work on frying chicken for 14 people. It took about an hour to fry the chicken, which Josh prepped inside and then delivered to Bennish, who manned the operation outside.
By this time I was deep into the Lillet, to the point where the entire waffle-making process escaped me. I don't have one photo of waffle making, but frankly it was inside and not all that exciting. Sorry, waffle makers. But lest you judge me for being lazy, please note that I was in charge of ice production and procurement. Though Fairbanks winters are certainly harsh, they do have their benefits. You can store extra meat and booze outside when the fridge is full, and you can make all the ice you want just outside your front door.
This meal was actually my very first crack at eating chicken and waffles. I've had bites of Josh's here and there at various restaurants, but it's such an intimidating dish I never ordered it myself. Our Alaskan version was so supremely delicious that I returned to Texas with a real hankering to try it out around town. After all, if a bunch of New Yorkers and Midwesterners could produce something this amazing in Fairbanks, Alaska, I have to imagine a dish right here in Texas would knock my socks off. Any suggestions on the best FC&W around town? Leave them in the comments!
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.