For many of us this holiday season is going to be difficult. It is a year of keeping our distance, unable to touch those we feel closest to. While it was easy to pretend that everything was fine during the warm summer months, Thanksgiving was hard. And the winter is going to be even harder.
Perhaps the most important family connection is sharing food. While it might not be possible to sit down to a shared meal this holiday season, it is still possible to connect over food.
Here are a few ideas that my mother and I are considering trying this season. (She is a therapist who is frequently called into hospitals and care homes to deal with individuals in a crisis. While she wears PPE for all interactions she also is very careful about potential COVID exposures outside of work.)
• Get take out coffee and go for a walk along the ocean.
• Order individual take out meals and eat outside.
• Cook a big turkey dinner and deliver portions to local family members.
• Share a big family meal over Zoom. My mother-in-law’s care home has set up special computers for family Zoom meetings, which is great because she wouldn’t be able to figure it out on her own.
• If your kids are squirrely at the dinner table, then have an appie hour on Zoom instead. Turn it into a fun event with a dance party or holiday quiz game.
• Send homemade treats in a care package. It’s like a long-distance hug.
• Give yourself a break. If it feels like too much to cook a big dinner, then just make spaghetti or ribollita (see the following below). As long as you serve it with some holiday music, your kids won’t notice that it’s not the usual turkey.
Here are two holiday treats that are easy send in the mail, along with a simple and delicious recipe for ribollita. Turn on “Jingle Bells” and get your kids to help in the kitchen. It’s the best way to get into the holiday spirit!
Pfeffernusse (German Gingerbread)
Pfeffernusse are deliciously spiced cookies that are fairly similar to gingerbread. They are ball shaped which means they are super simple to make and won’t break while shipping across the country. This recipe makes about 60 small cookies.
1 cup of flour
1⁄4 tsp baking powder
1⁄8 tsp baking soda
1⁄8 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp ground cardamon
1⁄4 tsp ground cloves
1⁄4 tsp ground nutmeg
1⁄8 tsp black pepper
1⁄4 cup of butter
1⁄2 cup of sugar
3 Tbsp molasses
1⁄4 cup ground almond
1 tsp lemon zest
1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and molasses.
3. Beat the egg into the melted butter mixture, then add the ground almond and lemon zest.
4. Mix with the dry ingredients, kneading to form a smooth dough.
5. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 or 2 days to blend the flavours.
6. When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350˚F and grease 2 cookie sheets.
7. Either roll individual balls about 2 cm in diameter, or roll the dough into a long log and use a butter knife to slice off a cookie every 2 cm.
8. Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, until lightly browned. Let them cool slightly then roll the still-warm cookies in icing sugar (about 1⁄2 cup for the whole batch).
I mailed bags of tea for my sister’s virtual baby shower this year. The bags are lightweight, flat and fit perfectly in an envelop. It’s also a great holiday treat for anyone who needs to stay away from sweets.
The zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
1 vanilla bean
100 g of tea (either black tea or rooibos)
1 tsp cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp ground cloves
1. Preheat the oven to 210˚F.
2. Zest the lemon and orange onto a small baking sheet.
3. Dry the zest in the oven for 20 minutes.
4. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, then cut it into 1 cm sections.
5. Mix the dried zest, vanilla bean, tea and spices in a bowl.
6. Use a funnel to fill small packages of tea.
7. Brew for 5 minutes using 1 Tbsp of tea for 1 cup of water.
This Tuscan tomato soup is rich and warming. It is traditionally served with croutons, but I prefer dipping slices of fresh bread. I recommend making a double batch because the leftovers are even more delicious.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion
1 fennel bulb
3 ribs of celery
28 oz can of chopped tomatoes
4 cups of water
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp thyme
2 bay leaves
2 tsp sugar
11⁄2 tsp salt, to taste
14 oz can of chickpeas
4 Tbsp of pesto
4 Tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese
1. Chop the onion, carrots, celery and fennel into small, bite-sized pieces.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Saute the onions, until starting to soften, then add the rest of the vegetables and saute for another 2 minutes.
3. Add the canned tomatoes, water, herbs, sugar and salt. Bring everything to a boil.
4. Once it is boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Then place them in a bowl and crush them slightly with the back of a rolling pin. Stir into the soup and cook for another 5 minutes.
6. Serve the soup with a spoonful of pesto and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.