Ronnie Paul: ’Tis the season |

Ronnie Paul: ’Tis the season

If you were low on gratitude when you sat down to dinner, this salad should boost your spirits as well as your immune system.
Photo by Jeff Kane

December is the season of pine needles and holiday expectations. I continuously honor the former by grabbing a rake, but because it was pandemically uncertain if we’d celebrate Christmas with family, I didn’t want to decorate a tree. One day, however, the holiday muse — who sounded uncannily like my husband Jeff — inspired me.

Our tree ritual has changed. For years we trooped into the woods in search of the scrawniest tree standing on a northern slope. We’d tinsel and decorate the almost branchless conifer, feeling saintly that we’d honored such a pitiful specimen. Then several years ago, I broke my I’ll-never-buy-a-fake-tree vow.

Our artificial tree slumbers in pieces for most of the year. Ahhh — the ease of screwing branches together without having to sweep needles and mop puddles.

The pre-strung lights are plug-in ready, so in minutes, I’m ready to decorate. A clay angel with a broken wing that our daughter made in kindergarten, a macrame snowflake chewed ragged by a cat: the decades-old ornaments aren’t glamorous, but remind me that although our tree is artificial, my love of family tradition is genuine.

To linger in these memories, I’ve decided to leave the tree standing until I rake up all the pine needles on the property. At the rate I’m going, it looks like I’ll be adding Valentine hearts and Easter eggs as ornaments.

However you celebrate the season, please treat yourself to these recipes.


Gratitude Salad

Serves 3-4

If you were low on gratitude when you sat down to dinner, this salad should boost your spirits as well as your immune system.

¾ cups well-chopped red cabbage

¾ cups well-chopped green cabbage

¼ cup dried cranberries

½ cup apple pieces

¼ cup toasted walnuts


Whisk until smooth:

3 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (regular balsamic turns everything brown)

3 tablespoons maple syrup

1 tablespoon mayonnaise or dairy-free substitute

Salt and pepper

Toss the cabbage and cranberries together and chill for at least one hour. I make this early in the day, so that the cabbage softens for hours. When you serve, toss in the walnuts and apple pieces.


Black Bean Soup

Serves 4

Eating this soup is as cozy as sitting by the fire and may well become a family tradition.

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup corn kernels (frozen’s my choice)

2 large garlic cloves, pressed

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped tomatoes with their juice

2 15-ounce cans black beans with their liquid

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 teaspoon lime juice

2 cups veggie broth

Salt and pepper


Mix together:

½ cup chopped red onion

1 avocado cut in small pieces

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 lime, cut in wedges

In a soup pot, sauté the onion, corn, garlic, cumin and bay leaf in olive oil until the onion is soft. Add the remaining soup ingredients and simmer until you get the desired thickness. If it looks too thick or if unexpected guests show up, add a little water.

Dollop a splotch of topping on each bowl. Serve with extra lime wedges.

Ronnie Paul is a Nevada County freelance writer.

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