Eating Christmas: Kris Vera-Phillips on holidays spent in the newsroom

By KJZZ News
Published: Monday, December 18, 2023 - 12:18pm

Audio icon Download mp3 (6.34 MB)

This holiday season, This Show is bringing you true stories about — what else — food. And Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University Kris Vera-Phillips shares her own story of holidays spent in the newsroom. 

Vera-Phillips’ story was first performed onstage at Bar Flies’ "Eating Christmas" show earlier this month.

Cooked lumpia.
Kris Vera-Phillips
Cooked lumpia.

I thought working in newsrooms on a holiday would be an adventure. I had the graveyard shift on my first New Year's Eve in Topeka, Kansas. My husband joined me in the empty newsroom, bringing a meat and cheese plate styled by a factory and a bottle of Martinelli's sparkling apple cider.

Newsrooms pay you extra cash and serve food to work on holidays and you produce information, entertainment, and dining table fodder for other American families. After all the football games, they needed a palate cleanser of house explosions, tiger attacks and Black Friday madness.

The adventure became a hardship when I couldn't take a break from working Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve. My time-off rejections happened for more years than I can remember. It was hard for newsroom managers to green light time off requests for graveyard-shift journalists because we're used to reporting and writing while the rest of the world slept. It's hard to convert dayshift workers to these hours because they like to sleep at night. I told my managers that I also liked sleeping at night.

I missed my family on the holidays and their delicious tables piled with turkey, ham, rice, lechon, adobo, kare-kare, and dinuguan. There was always lumpia — my favorite.

I started making lumpia in 2009. It was part of a resolution to make more Filipino food for the new year. I thought about having kids. I wanted them to grow up with the same flavors and aromas I remember from childhood. Lumpia reminded me of times when I didn't have to worry about breaking news and paying bills. Lumpia rolled up my family's love, worry, and faith in one another inside a thin egg roll wrapper, fried to a crisp.

I fried ground beef with vegetables in a wok. The smell of garlic, soy sauce, and patis flooded my kitchen and brought me back to my parent’s house.

Lumpia waiting to be cooked.
Kris Vera-Phillips
Lumpia waiting to be cooked.

Making lumpia was rare for my parents. They had full-time jobs. My mom crunched numbers. My dad tested chemicals. My brother and I ate up the rest of their time and energy. They fried frozen rolls because my mom said they tasted just as good. When my parents had time to make a meal from scratch, I savored these rare moments that brought my family together. They didn’t have the patience to teach me, a kid with too many questions, too much energy, and not enough focus.

So, my husband, a white guy from Buffalo, and I started our own holiday tradition of making lumpia. We had to designate one of my days off as our holiday when I couldn't get the time off from the newsroom.

We learned how to roll lumpia together.

One lesson we learned: The egg roll wrapper could only handle a small amount of filling. Otherwise, that roll could burst open in the middle of frying.

I also learned my husband made better lumpia rolls. His rolls looked consistently small, neat, and tight. Some of my rolls looked like fat cigar rejects.

I fried the finished lumpia rolls in a pool of vegetable oil. Regardless of size and shape, they tasted like the ones I remember from home.

On Thanksgiving, we made a version with ground turkey — which impressed my parents.

We introduced our lumpia to my husband’s family in Buffalo. It was a crowd favorite.

When my kid was 3, he ran to the Christmas table, and he couldn’t stop shoving lumpia into his face. The lolos and lolas worried he would get a tummy ache.

Kris Vera-Phillips and family make lumpia.
Kris Vera-Phillips
Kris Vera-Phillips and family make lumpia.

He’s 7 now. We're teaching him how to roll lumpia. I have to walk him away from loading up on Flintstone-style filling and remind him to keep his rolls small, neat, and tight like his daddy.

I didn’t need a family recipe to remember the flavors of my childhood. I just needed my husband, who was willing to create a food tradition of our own.

More stories from KJZZ

The Show Arts + Entertainment