‘Tis the Season

Molasses cookies…for endless eating of sweets. And savories. And any food you can make red and green, or red and white, or any combination of those. Any food fit for sharing at gatherings. (Especially foods with enough butter and sugar involved that you’ll only make them to share with others.)  Any food that has nostalgic value, whether a cultural tradition or just something your family always had. Anything with a hint of peppermint. Or pumpkin. Or citrus.

Personally, I’m a big fan of how the holiday season becomes a frenzy of occasions to celebrate with friends and family and, inevitably, food. I appreciate the excuses to indulge and how much more acceptable it is to stock up on two or three pounds of butter in December. (In anticipation of baking tasty treats for those gatherings, or, “Oops! Guess we already had enough cookies to take… better just keep these.”)

I especially like how sharing traditional holiday foods allows us to share the traditions themselves—our heritage, our family stories. I might share a bottle of wine from the colli senesi, the hills of Siena, Italy, where I studied in college. Or the ungodly buttery, perfect molasses cookies made from my godmother’s recipe. (See above.) And I love finding out what foods are meaningful to others—and trying them! Delicious, crumbly almond cookies that were special for the Eid al-Adha holiday, when I was in Israel/Palestine in November. A friend’s homemade potstickers, with sauce that has a perfect amount of heat. Beautiful challah and drippy sweet baklava. Spicy Mexican chocolate cookies—or steaming hot chocolate–with cinnamon and cayenne. And of course, canned fruit and marshmallows mixed together and called salad. (You know you’re in Minnesota when…)  Frankly, I’m not sure how that last classic didn’t make it into Lerner’s Holiday Cooking Around the World, which is full of recipes for traditional dishes for a variety of holidays worldwide. How I’d love to have the good fortune of sharing paella for a Spanish Christmas, or ginger-fried fish for a West African naming ceremony, or ossi dei morti cookies for All Souls’ Day in Italy. The variety of foods and customs with which we humans celebrate is truly fascinating. . . . And mouthwatering.

Enjoy the many ways of celebrating that this time of year brings.  Tell us: what are your favorite holiday foods, and what traditions do they carry?