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EdibWasa Winter 2013 : Page 14

16 edible W ASATCH Issue 13 • WINTER 2013

The Progressive Pioneer

Amy Thompson

illustration by Clayton Thompson

The lights are low, our meal is lit only by candles and the light of the tree. We are sprawled across a picnic blanket on the living room floor, which is dotted with platters of dried figs and dates, jewel-like pomegranate seeds and indulgently sweet citrus. Flat bread is dipped into spicy date spread and yogurt sauce. Olives and goat cheese are gathered with fingers. We use no utensils, none of the finery of a traditional Christmas Eve dinner. All the glitz, hurried holiday cheer and cacophony of advertisements and enticements are locked outside with the winter snow.

Inside we are deliberate and purposeful in our celebration, reinventing a tradition. We take the good from the surrounding festivities of the season: the drawing together of friends and family, the celebratory meal, the retelling of tales and truths. We set aside those things that don't suit us, and embrace those that do. It's easy to get swept up in traditions and celebrations that may or may not represent our own family's values and goals, and sometimes it takes a bit of effort to pull away and reflect for a moment, asking ourselves exactly what it is that we're celebrating and why.

For our family, Christmas Eve is our time to remember that humble birth far away in a land of olive groves, where travel was by foot or donkey, and shepherds watched their flocks. And so we look to the past and recreate –as best we can in our modern circumstances– the tastes and essence of that distant place and time. Our goal is not historical accuracy, but rather a stirring up of feelings and thoughts that inspire reflection on family, faith, gratitude and love. We tell stories of long ago and taste dishes that might have tempted the palate of a modest Hebrew family on their own day of celebration. We put ourselves in the shoes of a young man whose fiancé delivers surprising news. We wonder what it felt like to travel fifteen miles, pregnant and atop a donkey. It almost feels as if the dust of the road and the smell of straw become mingled with the meal.

We are still working toward creating traditions and rituals that represent and reinforce our values: simplicity, time spent together, peacefulness, good food and song. Most importantly, this evening is a time for us to draw closer as a family, to remember what things are truly important to us. Traditions are not merely about repetition, they are about the feelings and the values they invoke. They are expressions of who we are and what we believe in. The holiday season is the perfect time to invent or reinvent family traditions, asking ourselves what message we want to write across our memories. Many of our mainstream traditions are wonderful and worth continuing, and to divert ourselves from those that don't really suit us may require a little more from us as we plan our holiday gatherings. But when that extra effort results in celebrating the season in a way that is meaningful and memorable, then it is well worth that momentary reflection, the slight pause it takes to redirect and reinvent.

Peaceful Christmas Eve Menu
Flat bread (or try naan or pita)
with spicy date spread
Olives, nuts, and goat cheese
Dates and dried figs
Citrus and pomegranates
Baked fruit with yogurt and honey
Cous cous salad with nuts and raisins
Almond meal and sesame seed cookies
Herb salad

SESAME AND ALMOND COOKIES

Adapted from ElanasPantry.com

1 1/4 cups blanched almond flour
1/4 teaspoon real salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup smooth almond or peanut butter
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Preheat your oven to 350º. Stir together all dry ingredients except sesame seeds, then in a mixer cream together the wet ingredients. Pour the dry ingredients into the mixer and mix well. Use a regular teaspoon to scoop out bits of dough and roll them into 1" balls, then roll those in the sesame seeds. Place the cookie balls on a greased pan and pat down with your fingers to flatten into a disc, maybe ⅓" thick. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The cookies will be a light golden color with the bottoms a bit more brown. They'll puff in the oven, but then fall flat once you take them out. Once out of the oven, let them cool a bit, and then transfer to a cooling rack. They will keep well for a few days in a jar on the counter.

SPICY DATE SPREAD

Adapted from Party Like a Culinista

2 1/2 to 3 cups dates, pitted and chopped up
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups water
1 generous tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (less if you want it less spicy)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Flat bread for serving, warmed up is nice

Combine all your ingredients in a pan on medium heat. Don't boil, just get it simmering and simmer until almost all of the water is evaporated. It will get pretty thick, like a nice apple butter. The dates shouldn't be in chunks anymore, but all broken down. This takes about 30 minutes. If you still have some chunks, no biggie, you're going to run it through your food processor in a minute. Take your pan off the heat and let the mixture cool down a bit. Once it's not piping hot, pour it into your food processor. Puree mixture until smooth.

You can make this ahead of time and it will keep for four or five days in the fridge. It's very tasty warm though, so considering heating it up a bit before serving.

Read the full article at http://www.onlinedigeditions.com/article/The+Progressive+Pioneer/1265028/139620/article.html.

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