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The BBQ Exchange.

Well Christmas is over and the tedious task of coiling up lights has begun. I spent the week after Christmas comatose, some days never leaving my bathrobe, eating sweets and watching “That’s Entertainment” reruns on TMC. I was spent. My friend Melissa compares Christmas prep to The Amazing Race, and Miss Thing is right. I feel like I’ve raced through 20 countries in 8 days.

But it was a stellar Christmas, more special than in recent years. Because of various circumstances, my lovely niece Amanda spent the holiday with us, taking the train down Christmas Eve. She’s 19 and studious, quiet, with a funny, dry wit I adore. I was thrilled she’d be spending Christmas with us, as it’s usually just The Hubby and I stuffing our faces for 2 weeks straight. Now we’d have a comrade to help.

Since we’d just landed from our 10th anniversary trip to Rome the week before, and I knew we’d be traveling to Richmond to visit my sister Christmas Day, I began a new holiday tradition – I BOUGHT Christmas dinner from The BBQ Exchange. Now my grandmammas would slap their foreheads at the sacrilege, but I didn’t want that worry on top of everything else, plus I knew we’d be getting back from Richmond late. Immediately step into the kitchen, tie on an apron, and whip up holiday favorites with a snap of my fingers after a day with family? Um, I don’t think so. So I took a chance and ordered.

Now BBQ Exchange is one of those restaurants I love. In fact, I love them so much I’ve neglected to review them. Not once. Not ever! Oh the Hogmanity! (As Chef Craig Hartman would say). Not once have I waxed poetic about their mouthwatering pork belly barbecue, their tangy and addicting green tomato pickles, their sweet cornbread that I dream about. I’ve only had cornbread once that was better. And that was in Georgia. And she brought it to the table in a cast iron skillet that weighed 200 pounds.

But I digress. After looking at their menu and the price, I ordered. Twenty-five dollars a person?! Seriously? I couldn’t buy the ingredients for that much. You mean, for $50 I could have a gourmet Christmas dinner I didn’t have to prepare? Yes, please. And yes, I only ordered for 2 people, because knowing Craig, there would be mountains of food. I was right. Enough for 2 days of leftovers.

The crab bisque was a creamy, dreamy delight and the smoked turkey? Unbelievable. Juicy, with a smoky undertone that went gorgeously well with the velvety giblet gravy. The spice of the cornbread stuffing paired well with the sweet crawfish, and the eggnog cheesecake? Officially my new favorite dessert. When it was gone I was sad, thinking I might have to wait another year to have it again.

What I loved best is Craig’s Christmas dinner has that deep, umami, “Christmasy/Thanksgiving-ey” taste you expect from a homemade holiday meal. That satisfying full feeling which lingers when it’s over. That need for seconds, thirds, fourths.

So during Amanda’s visit, we stuffed our faces Christmas Eve with all our favorites – all the goodies we deny ourselves the rest of the year: country ham, smoked fish, crab, country paté, port wine cheese dip. Then watched a little Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on TV (since we were there A WEEK AGO), then off to bed. Next day, stockings filled with chocolate, a trip to Richmond for more sweets and country ham biscuits, then a lazy trip home down Preddy Creek Road to look at all the lovely tacky lights. They really do it up over there in Ruckersville!

Home at 6:30, and by 7:15pm, we were enjoying a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. My niece hates stuffing, but she ate two helpings of Craig’s. Then pouted because there wasn’t more. I pouted because there wasn’t more smoked turkey for sandwiches. Might just have to place an order for FOUR people next year. I still couldn’t buy all those ingredients for $100, and have a fine dining chef prepare them in my living room. What a steal! And just maybe, a new Christmas tradition.

It wasn’t until I dropped Amanda off at Amtrak that I realized the enormity of the weekend. She hugged me, told me she loved me, then thanked me for her first-ever Christmas (she’s Jewish). I gasped. Seriously? I had no idea she’d never experienced what I take for granted every year. My Type-A personality went into overdrive for a minute, imagining all the teaching moments I could’ve had. Then I relaxed, laughed, and hugged her back. In a way, it’s better it happened organically. And it explains all the questions she asked during Mass :D And to think, her first-ever Christmas dinner came from The BBQ Exchange. Not a bad way to start if you ask me. . .

Christmas Dinner Menu
The BBQ Exchange
Roasted Red Pepper Cream Cheese with Homemade Crackers
(this was delicious on my bagel Christmas morning)
Virginia Crab Bisque
Caesar Salad with Eggless Caesar Dressing
Sliced Cider-Cured Ham with Raisin Sauce
Sliced Smoked Turkey Breast With Traditional Giblet Gravy
Cajun Crawfish Cornbread Stuffing
Succotash With Sweet Onions
Sweet Potato With Walnut Casserole
Parmesan-Chive Biscuits Served With Whipped Butter
Pumpkin Muffins Served With Whipped Butter
Eggnog Cheesecake
Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie

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