Mid-December, I got a text from my mom: “This year I’m making Peanut Butter Balls, Pumpkin Cookies with Cream Cheese Frosting, Ginger Cookies, Cranberry Bars and dates and I was going to try to find some sort of eggnog cookie.”
There was a beat, then she sent a follow-up message.
“I don’t speak like dozens of each,” she wrote. “Just a small assortment of things.” (reader, there were still dozens of each). Meanwhile, his mother, my maternal grandmother, had already started making her own batches for the holidays: chocolate fudge, peanut butter fudge, sugar cookies, gingerbread and probably a few competing bars cranberries and dates and peanut butter balls.
If my dad’s mom were still alive, she would have added to the mix, including her chewy chocolate chip cookies, which she placed on the baking sheet with such exacting precision that they all looked incredibly uniform; my siblings and I used to lovingly joke that she rearranged the chocolate chips with tweezers so the end result was the same.
This is to say that I come from a line of women who cook – I mean, really cook – for the holidays. I picked up the habit too and found my way making miniature gingerbread cakes, homemade cinnamon rolls and assorted breads. If you’re curious, ask me about the year I made 72 miniature babka knots in my studio kitchen as Christmas gifts.
Like many people, the holidays have been a season of sugar highs and lows, and while I’m not one to equate food with guilt or shame, I politely, but quickly, unsubscribe from all those who post on the number of jumping jacks or sit-ups. ‘d to do to “work out” various holiday treats – the first of the year provides a time to rebalance my diet so it’s not 20% royal icing.
January is when I lean into beans and greens, so here are some of our favorite recipes and stories from the Salon archives that really make those ingredients shine. This list first appeared in Salon Food’s weekly food newsletter, “The Bite.” Be sure to subscribe to special recipes, trials, and tutorials that hit your inbox every weekend.
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Kale-ing this holiday season
Earlier this week, I made a twist on Molly Baz’s Crunchy Chicken Salad, which Mary Elizabeth Williams covered this summer in her weekly Quick and Dirty column. Typically, the recipe uses a head of Napa cabbage as a base, then adds flavor with brined cotija cheese, radishes, cilantro, garlic, lime, shredded roast chicken – and a little of healthy crunch from crushed corn nuts or Fritos.
My version involved saving a bunch of farmer’s market kale from the fridge and topping it with goat cheese, a stray handful of peppery arugula, corn nuts, roast chicken, and a few clementine segments and juice. While not completely faithful to the original, this version was incredibly flavorful, filling, and served as a great kitchen cleanup recipe that was heavy on the greens.
Use Molly and Mary Elizabeth’s recipe as a base for your winter salads, plus Maggie Hennessy’s guide to getting out of your next salad rut (plus, her perfect panzanella recipe for a hearty lunch).
Bean pies, gratins and love letters
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Frances Moore Lappé’s “Diet for a Small Planet”, Mary Elizabeth Williams has revisited her Autumn Bean Pie which, with its pleasant blend of corn, kidney beans and shredded cheddar cheese, is truly without season. This is a perfect dish for chilly winter evenings when you don’t want something too heavy, but still comforting.
For something a little more decadent, David Kinch’s Bean and Greens Gratin mixes a healthy amount of melty cheese with cannellini beans and torn kale, all covered in a crispy breadcrumb crust. Jackie Freeman’s Cauliflower and Lima Bean Gratin is a similar recipe – use either one as a starting point depending on what you have in your own fridge and pantry.
While you wait for your pies and gratins to bake, take a few moments to read Maggie Hennessy’s love letter to red beans, in which she “waxes[es] poetic about that special bean that is often, inconceivably, overlooked in many homes.”