The unconventional Christmas has been my convention--my Dad was always a proponent of getting out of town during the holiday blur and Christmas at my moms was always lighthearted and casual with new recipes. We rarely ate the same thing year over year, choosing to test out creativity with ingredients like kuri squash, maple syrup, or ginger.
The first year we left the country for Christmas I was probably eleven. We headed south, to Cuba, where the weather is hot and humid. The climate was so unlike the winter I knew that it was easy to forget what time of year it was all together. It felt like a surprise when Christmas day finally arrived and the plaza surged with people. Christmas in Cuba came and went without warning, though the people were jolly, and the festivities left a looming smell of tobacco on everything.
Christmas in Vietnam was even more jumbled. On the coast it was again hot and humid, but with no national religion there were zero signs of silver bells or holly. Distracted by the sites, we barely noticed, until Christmas Day arrived, and children and adults alike crowded the streets wearing red Santa Claus hats. It was a confusing site to be honest: was this an expression of skepticism, celebration, or some of both? The next day all traces were gone.
Two years later Christmas came and went without much more than a bat of an eye. I can't even tell you where in India we were on that day-- perhaps in a train car, or eating in a roof-top restaurant. The next week we went and saw the Dalai Lama speak and that was our gift, though the thought of presents was far out of mind. Perhaps that trip is part of why ginger is now nestled so close to my heart.
The next year I spent Christmas at home. The snow came. We decorated our small tree. My mom got a coupon to The Honey Ham Store and we went and stood in line (for what felt like hours). My dad and I went to Christmas dinner and there were hand knitted sweaters, stockings, and snowy family hikes. I spent the week mystified. I guess people really do these things? These...Christmas things? Ugly sweaters? Those aren't just in movies? It was as if I had never experienced a Christmas before in my life though I most certainly had--and not just abroad, but back home, before the traveling began. Still, there was something about my age that left me with a little culture shock.
I still shy away from the whimsy: flashing lights, long lines of people, shopping malls. Perhaps it's because of those years abroad or maybe I was never cut out for it (I do hate shopping). What I do love is bringing everyone together over a meal in the middle of an otherwise frosty winter. Touches of green (pine branches, eucalyptus wreaths, rosemary trees), glowing candles, and cozy dishes that warm your soul. Maple syrup is an ingredient that does that, don't you think?
Serves: 4 | Total Time:
- 1 red kuri squash
- 1 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger (grated on microplane)
- Sprinkle of sea salt flakes
- Preheat over to 350° Half the squash and remove the seeds. Then, cut into wedges. Place in baking dish.
- Melt butter in small dish. Stir in ginger and maple syrup. Using a brush, spread mixture over squash wedges. Sprinkle with salt.
- Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until squash is cooked through and crisp on edges.