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In The Family Stone, one scene reigns supreme. It’s a moment that combines messy family dynamics with the heartwarming potential of a baked dish. Drama and raw eggs collide, and we get a moment of cinematic bliss affectionately known as “the strata scene.”
By the time Christmas morning rolls around, Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker) has already endured the worst that the Stone family has to offer. She’s been called a racist by her future sister-in-law Amy (Rachel McAdams), deservedly berated by matriarch Sybil (Diane Keaton) after questioning whether she would accept a gay son, and mostly ignored by her boyfriend and would-be fiancé, Everett (Dermot Mulroney), who’s also been quite openly flirting with her sister (Claire Danes). Oh, and the night before, she may or may not have slept with Ben (Luke Wilson), Everett’s charming stoner younger brother.
Meredith is having a bad time, yet she still finds it in her heart to try to impress this intractable family with a fabulous Christmas brunch dish. Of course, that too quickly goes awry. After overhearing Sybil and Amy talking shit behind her back, Meredith heads into the kitchen to pull her piece de resistance — homemade strata, a Morton family tradition — out of the fridge. Right as she precariously balances the eggy dish on one arm, the two women burst in, hitting Meredith with the door and causing her to drop the strata all over herself and the floor. It’s the final straw — Meredith snaps and finally asks the question everyone in the audience has been thinking: “What’s so great about you guys?” To which Sybil responds: “We’re all we’ve got.”
The idea for the strata came from writer and director Thomas Bezucha’s own holiday memories. “My grandmother used to make it every Christmas morning,” he told Refinery29 in a phone call last month. “Then it became my mother’s job to make it. It has to soak overnight in the fridge, like in the movie. And so the deal was, mom would make it the day before, and we would travel to somebody else’s house. And you’d have to carry this tray of slippy milk. One of the kids had to hold uncooked strata on their lap, balancing it in the back of the car on the way to somebody else’s house in order to bake it. Inevitably, it spilled.”
In many ways, the strata is a perfect metaphor for the movie it so deliciously punctuates. While the end result may be layered and comforting, its early stages are gooey, slippery, and perilously fragile — much like brand new relationships. With egg dripping down her shirt, and tears in her eyes, Meredith’s uptight facade crumbles and the family finally realizes she is one of them.
Whether you’re spending Christmas alone and drama-free, or have been living with your parents for months, let your freak flag fly and treat yourself to The Family Stone with a side of (preferably cooked) strata, courtesy of Bezucha himself.
Meredith’s Strata: “A Morton family tradition.”
8 Slices White Bread
8 oz. Sliced Mozzarella Cheese
2 Cans (14 oz. Size) Sliced Tomatoes (or Sliced Fresh)
13 oz. Can Sliced Mushrooms, Drained (or Sautéed Fresh Mushrooms)
1 Medium Onion, Thinly Sliced into Rings
3 Cups Milk
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoon Oregano
Pinch of Garlic Salt
Some Parmesan Cheese
Some Sliced Black Olives
Using a cookie cutter, a doughnut cutter, or the lid from a jar, cut bread into shapes or circles. Set aside. Place bread scraps in bottom of buttered 13” by 9”baking dish.
Layer half of the cheese over the bread.
Arrange half of the tomatoes and all of the onion rings and mushrooms over the cheese.
Cover with the rest of the cheese. Arrange the bread shapes on the cheese. Put slices of the tomato in the center of each bread shape.
Combine slightly beaten eggs, milk, salt, oregano and garlic salt. Pour over the bread. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and dot with olives. Cover. Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. Bake 1 – 1 1/2 hours in a 325 degree oven, or until knife comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes to firm. Serves 8.
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