This year I considered crossing Christmas decorating off my to-do list.
I wondered, however, what I’d do with the time I usually spend driving around looking for the best Christmas tree, one that’s inexpensive yet full and with needles that look like they’d cling to the branches for at least three days.
I’ve always taken great care in decorating our tree. I’ll hang a few ornaments, step back, reassess and then totally reorganize everything I’ve hung. This includes redistributing the lights to hide the dead bulb — there’s always one — which also necessitates readjusting the mangled tinsel garlands we’ve used for 10 years.
After several hours of detailed tree decorating, I step back and admire my work. Everything looks perfect by the time my 9-year-old granddaughter, Rio, arrives to inspect the tree.
Rio is always certain about her artistic sense, and without even consulting me, she rearranges every ornament while inadvertently knocking needles to the floor. After appraising Rio’s work, cleaning up the broken decorations the cats knocked down, and cutting off the branches cracked by the whack of our dog’s tail, I retire to the kitchen.
I bellyache, but as usual, I did buy and decorate a tree. I recognize that, like holiday cooking, a Christmas tree is an essential ritual. Please add these recipes to your holiday repertoire, and oh yes, Happy Holidays to all.
Ronnie Paul is a freelance writer in Nevada City.
About 1 cup
While you put the finishing touches on dinner, guests can munch crackers topped with this exotic spread.
1 6-ounce can black olives
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon raw pine nuts
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 tablespoon chopped capers
1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup green olives with pimentos
In a Cuisinart, puree the black olives, oil, pine nuts and garlic until almost smooth. Stir in the capers, red onion, and green olives by hand. Chill the tapenade, but serve it at room temperature.
Prepare for “Wow, what is this?” comments.
This is our family’s signature Christmas Eve dinner, but also an appreciated dish for any occasion.
1 pound raw lasagna noodles
20 ounces of steamed fresh baby spinach leaves, or if you’re feeling lazy,
20 ounces of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed (I’m generally lazy)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound thinly sliced mushrooms
2 cups Ricotta
1/2 pound grated Mozzarella
2 beaten eggs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
3 cups of tomato sauce (Thanks to my husband, Jeff, for stocking our pantry with homemade sauce every year.)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
I use gluten-free noodles, which taste great, but tend to break up when handled. But, whatever noodles you prefer, cook them until just al dente.
Heat the olive oil, add the mushrooms, and sauté until tender. When done, put them in a strainer and press out all the liquid.
Mix together the Ricotta, Mozzarella, eggs, parsley, and salt and pepper until fairly smooth. Stir in the mushrooms.
Pour one cup of tomato sauce on the bottom of an unbuttered 9 by 13-inch glass pan.
Then layer on 1/3 of the noodles, followed by 1/2 the filling and finally 1/2 cup of sauce. Repeat the noodles/filling/sauce layer one more time.
Top with the remaining noodles, pour on the rest of the sauce, and sprinkle with the Parmesan.
Cover the casserole with foil, and bake covered for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Then uncover, and bake 10 minutes more.
Let it sit for about ten minutes before serving.
What to serve with Holiday Lasagna? Here’s your answer!
1 apple, cut in pieces
1 celery stalk, cut in pieces
1 cup broccoli florets, cooked until just tender
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoons grated lemon rind
To prevent apple pieces from discoloring, soak them in ice water while making the rest of the salad.
Then dry them, and toss with the other ingredients.
Mix everything together, chill, and serve.
Hearty Potato-Corn Chowder
6 generous servings
Slurp your way into the new year. Incidentally, this soup is terrific with Holiday Waldorf.
1 pound red potatoes, chopped
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 cup chopped red pepper
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 onion, chopped
2 cups veggie broth
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 cup evaporated milk
Salt and pepper
In a pot, combine the potatoes, corn, red pepper, celery, onion and broth. Simmer covered for 20 minutes until the veggies are tender.
Turn off the flame, and stir in the parsley and milk.
Puree about four cups of soup, then return it to the pot.
Stir in the salt and pepper, gently reheat, and serve.