Although we’re still a couple weeks away from Thanksgiving, “that holiday feeling” is slowing but surely creeping in. Black Friday sales are already in the news. Christmas commercials have started popping up on TV. And Starbucks has rolled out their seasonal red cups. (If THAT isn’t a sign of the season nowadays, I don’t know what is!) I used to surge into the end-of-the-year holidays like a steamroller on red and green steroids, but my tsunami of cheer has lost much of its will, having been eroded away by time and commitments and life in general. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t look forward to a few holiday indulgences, especially when it comes to one of the biggest joys in life: food.
Every year between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, a number of odd and unusual foodstuff infiltrates my kitchen. Like the siren’s voice, these items call out to me once holidaytime is in full swing. The season just wouldn’t be the same without them. Though they are available year-round (mostly) and some might consider them far from special, they remain invisible to me until the air chills and peppermint and cinnamon scents begin wafting around every corner. Without further pomp and hyperbole, here’s a list of some of my favorite “holiday” foods that help make the end of the year feel a little more special than usual.
There’s no middle ground when it comes to eggnog. On one side are the people who warmly welcome in this viscous dairy mixture of sweet and spice (and perhaps a little choice liquor) as the holidays approach. On the other side are those who despise the very thought of “egg” and “nog” with each and every fiber of their beings. Eggnog has been, for me, a holiday staple since I can remember. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, my parents always kept some around, and I especially loved having it with my Dad’s special pancake breakfasts of the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nowadays, I can’t quite indulge in it the same way as I used to. Spiked or not, I have to ease it down with a little milk, or coffee. Because OF COURSE COFFEE.
I’ll admit it — we keep a small candy stash at the house. It’s a year-round thing that helps allay the occasionally sugar craving. But only at the holidays, and I mean only, do M&Ms make it into the mix. Specifically peanut M&Ms, because they are the best. (Followed by almond and then peanut butter, because that’s the order.) For ten months out of the year, the little multi-colored rounds of chocolate mean nothing to me. I don’t buy them to eat, add to cookies, or admire as colorful decoration in a dusty crystal dish. But once I see the bags of red and green M&Ms in the stores, I must have them. They don’t look, feel, or taste any different from non-holiday M&Ms, but they do have an aura about them of happiness and cheer. It’s all about the AURA, that’s what I’m saying. Shut up.
Pillsbury cinnamon rolls
You can chalk this one up to childhood because I’m not a huge fan of Pillsbury’s pervasive line of “poppin’ fresh” “bread.” My Mom wasn’t either, except at the holidays when she allowed Pillsbury cinnamon rolls into the house. On Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings, after church, presents, or whatever else early stuff was going on, my Mom would bake a round of these super-sweet cinnamon rolls for breakfast. (While I’ve never broached this subject with her, I suspect now that she used the cinnamon rolls because they were an easy breakfast fix as she required the kitchen for the day’s major meals.) The smell is what I remember the most, and I heartily devoured this special treat without dismay as a child. With my adult taste buds, well…these rolls leave much to be desired. However, I still bake them every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning — their fragrant, cinnamon-y scent always brings back a tons of memories.
Port wine cheese
Because the holidays allow for some wiggle room when it comes to diets, cheese always seems to make a big comeback as the end of the year is nigh. Though for some of us, cheese worship is just a normal part life — that’s how it is for me. But come December, I seek out one cheese in particular that just “tastes” like the holidays: port wine cheddar. The stuff I know and love heralds from upstate New York, and comes in small, beautifully-marbled bricks. Harder than brie but softer than traditional cheddar cheese, port wine cheese revels in crimson and gold coloring, and has a rich, creamy, cheddar taste that’s only slightly spiked with a wine-scented bouquet. Best on sturdy wheat crackers or melba toast, once you taste port wine cheddar, there’s no going back.
Outside of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and maybe Easter, the thought of making stuffing (or dressing, if you prefer) never, ever crosses my mind. Wads of seasoned bread mashed together with some vegetables to accompany your autumn pork roast or summery barbequed chicken? It just doesn’t make any sense. Stuffing goes with holiday turkey and ham, and that’s it. And I don’t even eat turkey or ham! But I do make a pretty mean vegetarian stuffing. Years ago my mother and I adapted her traditional cornbread-sausage stuffing recipe into something less meaty but no less savory. It’s hard for me to put into the words the whole experience of the stuffing – from the assembly to the baking it’s just…so…delicious. Every year I have to stop myself from devouring the stuffing all in one sitting, which I could easily accomplish, believe you me.
Do you have any holiday food favorites of your own? Are there any year-round foods that you completely ignore for most of the year but become “musts” during the winter holidays?
Like what you’ve just read? Cary posts to Geek Force Network every Friday; and you can also find more words that she put together in paragraphs at Recollections of Play, United We Game, and 8bit Kitchen.