Celebrating Seasonal Swings

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Learning Wisdom From Contrast

Winter holidays are often tinged with sorrow, since the dwindling year so often carries away the ill and elderly. This weekend, my family gathered to celebrate my mom’s passing with music and memories. She had carefully chosen the hymns she wanted, the anthem the choir should sing, and who would read the scriptures, so the event had a strong sense of Mom’s presence. Even in the short span of the service, I’d guess that all present experienced sadness and leaping joy, laughter and loss, tenderness and resolution. Afterward, the most common comment was that the service felt very ‘real’, offering as it did a portrait of our mother’s complex and often contradictory character. Contrast is a great teacher, and her offspring all called it out in our speaking and singing and reading and recollections.

I’ve always relished the high contrast winter holidays, balancing cold and warmth, austerity and abundance, white and colorful, matte and sparkling. If the wind is chill, the fire feels cozy. If the garden is bare, the house is full of fragrant greens. When snow blankets the earth, vivid decorations brighten our homes. In nature, fading foliage is lank and dull, but indoors is alight with brilliant ornaments. Though the sun rises ever later and slides ever sooner through the Western trees, the earth senses the turning of the year. New life emerges everywhere, brave green shoots poking through tangled heaps of decaying leaves. The longest night is coming, yes, but each subsequent day is just a little longer at both ends.

Piquant and Pleasing Contrast

Perhaps because of this teasing seasonal back-and-forth of opposites, I enjoy concocting holiday tidbits based on strong contrasts. To create an intriguing balance, blend the bland with the potent or pair soft and sticky with tart crunch. Make tiny batches during the experimental phase, since seemingly plausible combinations are not always successful. The good, though, are very good indeed!

Lightening Up Sticky Dates

Dates are a common holiday gift, and unless you adore their dense, sticky texture and rather cloying sweetness, it can be challenging to find just the right use for them. Here are a few of my current favorite treatments, all of which balance that intensity with lighter, fresher flavors and un-gooey textures. The result in each case is both pleasing and surprising and definitely more-ish.

Pomegranate Stuffed Dates  

12 plump dates
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
3 tablespoons soft goat cheese

Gently slip the pits from the dates and replace them with pomegranate seeds, plugging each end of the dates with a bit of goat cheese.

Satsuma Stuffed Dates

12 plump dates
2 satsumas, sectioned and peeled
24 toasted hazelnuts, skins rubbed off

Gently slip the pits from the dates and replace them with satsuma sections, plugging each end of the dates with a hazelnut.

Pickled Ginger Stuffed Dates

12 plump dates
3 tablespoons pickled sushi ginger
24 toasted walnut halves

Gently slip the pits from the dates and replace them with a teaspoon of pickled ginger, plugging each end of the dates with a walnut half.

Preserved Lemon Stuffed Dates

12 plump dates
12 slices preserved lemon
1/3 cup lightly toasted sesame seeds

Gently slip the pits from the dates and replace them with preserved lemon slices, then dip each end of the dates into the sesame seeds.

Zippier Roasted Winter Vegetables

Roasting brings out the best in pretty much all vegetables, and if you slice them thinly, the result can be caramelized or almost candied. To balance this effect, add a handful of raw cranberries for the last 20 minutes, or toss the veg with a brisk horseradish-infused dressing.

Roasted Roots With Horseradish Dressing

3 medium golden beets, thinly sliced
3 medium red beets, thinly sliced
2 cups cubed sweet potato (1-inch)
1 tablespoon avocado or any high-temp oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine vegetables in a rimmed baking sheet and gently toss with oil to coat. Spread in a single layer, sprinkle with sea salt and roast at 350 until well caramelized (50-60 minutes). Serve warm, drizzled generously with Horseradish Dressing (see below). Serves 4-6.

Horseradish, Anyone?

This lively dressing is fabulous with roasted carrots or Brussels sprouts, or on baked potatoes. It’s also good with grilled or baked fish or poultry, among many other things. Try it as a sandwich spread in place of mayo, or drizzle some over sliced avocados or…

Horseradish Dressing

1 cup plain yogurt
2-3 tablespoons horseradish
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days. Makes about 1 cup.

Vegan Horseradish Dressing

1/2 cup avocado or safflower oil
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2-3 tablespoons horseradish
1-2 teaspoons maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients and adjust seasonings to taste. Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days. Makes about 1 cup.

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2 Responses to Celebrating Seasonal Swings

  1. Today I made the dates with goat’s cheese and pomegranate seeds for a pre-Christmas ‘Pimms on the Patio’ get-together with girlfriends. They were great!

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