Daisy Martinez Enjoys Christmas, Latin-Style

TV chef and cookbook author Daisy Martinez’s New York Navidad is three generations old.

By Kate Sonders

Daisy Martinez’s Christmas memories of her grandparents are plentiful and cherished, including Puerto Rican Christmas carols, family, and of course, lavish meals. Growing up on Staten Island, Martinez, hostess of the PBS series Daisy Cooks! and the upcoming 2009 Food Network series Viva Daisy, witnessed her mami (mother) and her abuela (grandmother), Valentina Perez, prepare the Noche Buena meal (the Christmas Eve feast). 

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Martinez, a 50-year-old Brooklyn resident, fondly recalls her maternal grandparents Clotilde Gonzalez and Juan Rodriguez and her paternal grandmother, Valentina Perez’s obsession with the kitchen. The room signified a nurturing, happy place, a location in the home that forged togetherness, memories, and mouthwatering Latin cuisine, especially around the holidays.

"Aunts, uncles, cousins would all descend to partake in the festivities. Always there would be music and dancing." She also recalls celebrations in Puerto Rico. “My family would go on parrandas, where caravans of cars would spend the night going from house to house with people playing guitars, shaking maracas, stroking guiros, and singing the Christmas songs," she says. "The homeowners would invite everyone in to enjoy steaming plates of pasteles, roast pork, and arroz con gandules, or coquito and rice pudding."

"The lessons I learned at my grandparents' table were that even though our means were modest, the care and love they put into preparing those holiday meals, upholding those traditions, and creating those experiences for their family was the greatest inheritance they could leave us," she says. "The memory of past holidays and meals shared at their table with the rest of my family is at the very core of who I am and the mother that I’ve become."

The traditional Christmas Eve meal got a bit complicated when Ms. Martinez married her husband Jerry. "Puerto Rican roast pork has pride of place on the dinner table on Christmas Eve, but my husband is Italian, and his family had the Feast of the Seven Fishes," says Martinez. "I make sure that my children have always been provided with the best of both worlds and I make sure that it all finds its way to my table."

The Christmas tree is also an important tradition in Martinez’s home. After chopping down their own tree, the family has a little tailgate party, complete with sandwiches, thermoses filled with hot chocolate and hot soup and apple cider. The following day they host a tree party, where friends and family decorate the tree together, feast on holiday treats, and sing Christmas carols.

"It's always great to hear my kids talking about past Christmas tree trips, and all the funny memories that go along with a trek through a Christmas tree farm," she says.

Today, she hosts large Christmas meals, as her mother and grandmothers did. She invites family and friends, and relishes creating new memories for her children, ones she hopes they will want to recreate with their own families, while maintaining the beloved traditions passed down from her grandparents.

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