Mid-December, I got a text from my mother: "This year, I'm making peanut butter balls, pumpkin cookies with cream cheese icing, ginger cookies, cranberry-date bars and I was going to try to come up with some kind of eggnog cookie."
There was a beat, then she sent a follow-up message.
"I am not talking like dozens of each," she wrote. "Just a little assortment of things." (Reader, there were still dozens of each). Meanwhile, her mother, my maternal grandmother, had already embarked on her own batches for the holidays: chocolate fudge, peanut butter fudge, sugar cookies, gingerbread and likely some competing cranberry-date bars and peanut butter balls.
If my dad's mother were still alive, she'd have added to the mix, most notably with her pillowy-soft chocolate chip cookies, which she placed on the baking sheet with such exacting precision that they all looked shockingly uniform; my siblings and I used to lovingly joke that she rearranged the chocolate chips with a pair of tweezers so that the end result would be identical.
This to say, I come from a line of women who bake — I mean, really bake — for the holidays. I've picked up the habit, too, and found my lane making miniature gingerbread cloud cakes, homemade cinnamon rolls and assorted breads. If you're curious, ask me sometime about the year I made 72 miniature babka knots in my studio apartment galley kitchen as Christmas gifts.
Like many people, the holidays were a season of sugar surges and dips, and while I'm not one for equating food with guilt or shame — I politely, but promptly, unfollow anyone who posts about how many jumping jacks or sit-ups you'd have to do to "work off" various holiday treats — the first of the year offers a time to rebalance my diet so it's not 20% royal icing.
January is when I lean on beans and greens, so here are some of our favorite recipes and stories from the Salon archives that really let those ingredients shine. This list first appeared on Salon Food's weekly food newsletter, "The Bite." Be sure to subscribe for special recipes, essays and how-tos that come straight to your inbox every weekend.
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Kale-ing it this holiday season
Earlier this week, I made a variation of Molly Baz's crunchy chicken salad, which Mary Elizabeth Williams covered this summer in her weekly column Quick and Dirty. Typically, the recipe uses a head of Napa cabbage as the base, then builds flavor with briny cotija cheese, radishes, cilantro, garlic, lime, shredded rotisserie chicken — and a healthy bit of crunch from crushed corn nuts or Fritos.
My version involved rescuing a bunch of farmer's market kale from the refrigerator and topping it with goat cheese, an errant handful of peppery arugula, corn nuts, rotisserie chicken and some clementine segments and juice. While it wasn't completely true to the original, this version was incredibly flavorful, filling and served as a nice kitchen clean-out recipe that was heavy on the greens.
Use Molly and Mary Elizabeth's recipe as a base for your winter salads, along with Maggie Hennessy's guide for digging out of your next salad rut (plus, her panzanella recipe fit for a hearty lunch).
Bean pies, gratins and love letters
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Frances Moore Lappé's "Diet for a Small Planet," Mary Elizabeth Williams revisited her fall bean pie which — with its pleasant mix of corn, kidney beans and grated cheddar cheese — is really seasonless. It's a perfect dish for cool winter evenings when you don't want something too heavy, but still comforting.
For something a little more decadent, David Kinch's beans and greens gratin blends a healthy amount of melting cheese with cannellini beans and torn kale, all topped with a crispy breadcrumb crust. Jackie Freeman's cauliflower and lima bean gratin is a similar recipe — use either as a jumping-off point based on what you have in your own fridge and pantry.
While you're waiting for your pies and gratins to bake, take a few moments to read Maggie Hennessy's love letter to kidney beans, in which she "wax[es] poetic on this special bean that is often, inconceivably, overlooked in a lot of households."