Christmas with Fanny Singer and Alice Waters
Illustrations by Fanny Singer
“Sometimes the best dishes are the simplest,” advises chef, restaurant owner, and slow-food pioneer Alice Waters in her latest book, a paean to the well-stocked pantry. The volume’s beautiful and delicious things—lentil soup, oat pancakes, crab apple jelly, “quick garlicky dill pickles”—are brought to life through the charming pen-and-ink illustrations of Fanny Singer, a Waters collaborator of longstanding who also happens to be her daughter. Based in London for the last decade, Singer, 33, is spending the holidays with her mother in Berkeley, California, where nuanced flavors and seasonal touches transform daily meals into ritual pleasures.
“Berkeley is really the place I feel most at home and settled,” says Singer, an art historian and the co-founder of Permanent Collection, a new line of clothing and accessories. “It’s always my favorite place to be for Christmas.” The main event is a Saturday evening Sicilian Feast of the Seven Fishes, hosted with the help of “blacksmith, hunter, and overall bon vivant” Angelo Garro of San Francisco’s Renaissance Forge.
“I have no idea if our version of the dinner is even remotely traditional,” she admits, “but I gather that Sicilians celebrate the birth of Christ with a fully pescatarian menu.” Among the options chez Waters: braised octopus, clam brodo, fresh farro linguine with local sardines, Dungeness crab, and a whole fish wrapped in lemon branches and fennel stalks, grilled over the open fire.
Christmas morning is a more intimate celebration. Waters makes soda bread—a favorite recipe (below) from Irish chef Darina Allen—and the two gather with fresh slices around the open fire (“the rosiest place to sit in the kitchen”) to enjoy smoked salmon toasts. “My mom and I have a very quiet moment together,” explains Singer, “just a few gifts, a small breakfast, and a glass of champagne.”
Darina Allen’s Soda Bread
1 pound (about 3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
13 to 16 ounces buttermilk (depending on consistency of buttermilk)
Preheat the oven to 450° F.
Mix the flour in a large, wide bowl, adding the salt and sieved baking soda. Lift flour up with your fingers to distribute salt and baking soda.
Make a well in the center and pour in all of the buttermilk. With your fingers stiff and outstretched, stir in a circular movement from the center to the outside of the bowl in increasing concentric circles. When you reach the outside of the bowl, seconds later the dough should be made.
Sprinkle a little flour on the worktop. Turn out the dough onto the floured worktop. (Fill the bowl with cold water so it will be easy to wash later.)
Sprinkle a little flour on your hands. Gently tidy the dough around the edges and transfer it to oven tray. Tuck the edges underneath with your hand; gently pat the dough with your fingers into a loaf about 1 1/2-inch thick. Now wash and dry your hands.
Cut a deep cross into the bread (this is called “blessing the bread”) and then prick it in the center of the four sections to let the fairies out of the bread.
Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400° F for a further 15 to 20 minutes. Turn the bread upside down and cook for a further 5 to 10 minutes until cooked (the bottom should sound hollow when tapped). Cool on a wire rack.
Explore a related chapter in The Stories:
The Holiday Table: A Festive Feast with Athena Calderone