Cook up holiday memories this year
Yesterday while making a holiday wreath, I thought about some of the tables we’ve gathered around for Christmas dinner.
Our first Christmas together, Jeff and I dined on a thickly padded brown shag rug. We owned no furniture, so this springy area served as couch, guest bed, and dining table.
Balancing wine glasses on a padded carpet while protecting our plates from foraging cats eventually grew cumbersome, so Jeff strapped on his carpenter’s apron.
Our first dining table was a picnic-like structure that seated six adults plus our baby daughter, Alix.
The hours I spent carving flower vines along the base logarithmically exceeded those Jeff spent in building it. After years of faithful Christmas service, we finally banished the warped top and collapsing base to the woodpile.
Its successor, the antique ten-seater is now in the garage, along with the paint-peeling wrought iron and glass clunker: Merry Christmas to them all!
This year we’ll sit around our claw-footed oval, which when all the leaves are added, is longer than the dining room. I sheepishly admit that I bought it with a head full of fantasy grandchildren.
When you eat, nourish yourself with both food and memories. I’ll supply recipes for a cozy Christmas Eve dinner. The cooking and stories are up to you.
Relish this humble soup on a table set in front of the fireplace. I hear that Santa and Mrs. Claus eat this before holiday rounds.
1 large onion, chopped
7 cups water enriched with veggie bouillon cubes
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
5 cups potatoes, diced
1 bunch kale, chopped
6 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
2 teaspoons Dijon
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
In a soup pot, saute the onions until tender. Add the water and veggie cubes, celery, and potatoes and simmer.
When the veggies are almost done, add the kale and simmer until wilted. Puree the mixture and return it to the pot. Stir in the remaining ingredients and serve hot.
This may help use up the leftover Thanksgiving cranberries. The aromatic flavors of this bread will have diners dancing around the table. The taste will make them clamor for more.
2 cups white flour (or substitute 1 cup whole wheat)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Grated rind of 1 orange
3/4 cup orange juice
4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
Stir the dry ingredients together. Whisk the wet ingredients and mix with the dry until just blended.
Carefully fold in the cranberries and walnuts.
Pour batter into a greased 9×5-inch loaf pan and bake in a 350-degree oven for 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
For easy slicing, allow the bread to cool for about 20 minutes before serving.
Add and subtract whatever you like with this salad. However I make it, everyone dashes like a comet to fill their plates.
2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
2 bell peppers (Christmas colors here!), thickly sliced
1 stalk celery, thickly sliced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 6-ounce can small black olives
1 6-ounce jar marinated artichokes, rinsed with water and halved
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and pour on the dressing. This tastes even better if you have the will power to let it sit for 30 minutes before noshing.
I’m told that this total comfort-dessert is Rudolph’s reward for his long night of prancing, but this is also spectacular after a hard day of loafing.
1 12-ounce can low-fat evaporated milk
4 ounces regular low-fat milk
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon brown sugar for the top
Combine the milk, brown sugar, and vanilla in a pot. Over a medium flame, heat the mixture until it’s hot but not boiling.
In a separate bowl, mix the cornstarch with about 1cup of the milk mixture and whisk until it’s completely smooth.
Return it to the pot, bring everything to a simmer, and cook, whisking frequently, for about five minutes until the mixture becomes thick. Pour the pudding into a bowl and sprinkle the top with the remaining sugar.
Let the pudding come to room temperature, cover tightly, and refrigerate until cold.
Let’s turn off the lights now and listen for sugar plum fairies cavorting under the tree. I hope they leave joy and gourmet treats in your stocking.
Ronnie Paul is a cookbook reviewer, freelance writer, vegetarian chef and teacher at Wild Mountain Yoga Center. She can be reached at
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