Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, and I’ve been whiling away my December afternoons by cooking. Whether I’m baking cookies and listening to Christmas music or preparing the Sunday roast while serenely sipping a glass of wine, the kitchen is the perfect place for reflecting on the joy of the season.
HA HA, JUST KIDDING. I’VE HAD THREE COLDS AND HAVE BEEN SO BUSY I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT DAY IT IS RIGHT NOW. I ONLY KNOW THAT I’M WICKED BEHIND ON EVERYTHING, AND PUTTERING AROUND IN THE KITCHEN LIKE A DERANGED JUNE CLEAVER IS ABOUT THE LAST DAMN THING ON MY MIND.
Seriously, though, how does this happen? I remember being a kid and feeling like Christmas would never arrive, and now I look at the calendar and just fucking panic because the time is flying by so quickly. This particular holiday season feels especially frenetic, as I’ll be singing on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year, so our big holiday home cooking extravaganza is likely not going to happen until New Year’s Eve. What to do in the meantime, then, for some festive (but low-maintenance) holiday treats? Well, below are some foodstuffs and libations that will spark the holiday spirit but which require little to no effort to throw together and may, in fact, inspire a night out on the town.
1. Appetizers for dinner. Swing into your corner store and pick up a couple of good cheeses (mix it up: try a cloth-bound cheddar and a soft, creamy blue or a nutty Parmigiano and silken triple-creme), some marinated olives, some sliced prosciutto or store-bought pâté, and a baguette, and voilà: an elegant, no-fuss repast that feels chic and celebratory. These noshes are perfect for when you’d love to have dinner with a friend but don’t want to spend a bunch of money at a restaurant or slave over a hot stove at home.
2. Eggnog. I know, it’s so obvious, so slow-and-over-the-center-of-the-plate, that I’m almost embarrassed to include eggnog on this list. But this wildly caloric holiday tipple is a classic for a reason. I tend to loathe mornings, but this time of year, I look forward to making an eggnog latte and sitting by the Christmas tree while I wake up and prepare to face the day. And, at the end of a long day battling crowded subways and an ever-expanding to-do list, a glass of eggnog dusted with a whisper of freshly grated nutmeg and bolstered by a shot of bourbon or dark rum (my favorite) is a balm for the spirit.
3. Clementines. I’ve never been a big fan of oranges, but last year at about this time, I was leaving an evening yoga class (insert “caricature of a Brooklynite” joke here), and the teacher offered me a clementine for the road, which I ate slowly as I walked home. The night air was still and icy, and each wedge of clementine seemed to contain a bright, intense burst of sunshine. Eating that clementine in that winter night air felt meditative and right; it was one of those food experiences that is memorable for its simplicity and clarity. I love to end my day with a cup of herbal tea and a clementine. (The shot of vitamin C feels restorative, too, as cold and flu bugs abound this time of year.)
4. Oysters. I know that it is now perfectly acceptable to consume oysters in the months without the letter “R” in their name—May, June, July, and August—but just as I only drink rosé in the warm months, I only eat oysters when there’s a chill in the air. For a decadent treat, I love to spontaneously duck into a charming bistro and enjoy a dozen oysters on the half-shell while I read a good book (it feels vaguely illicit and Parisian).
5. Bubbles. I couldn’t write about oysters (or the holidays, for that matter) without mentioning sparkling wine. Whether it’s champagne, prosecco, or cava, if it has bubbles, I want some. Just one bracing sip of ice-cold sparkling wine calls to mind the Benedictine monk Dom Perignon’s (likely apocryphal) exclamation upon discovering champagne: “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!” The holidays’ hectic pace notwithstanding, there is much to celebrate this time of year, and there’s really nothing more celebratory than a flute of bubbly.
If you’ve managed to keep your pantry as full as your calendar this holiday season, I salute you. For my part, though, I’m surrendering the notion that I can keep my sanity intact and spend leisurely hours in the kitchen this time of year. Until the holiday frenzy is past, I foresee a lot of catch-as-catch can meals and, yes, sparkling wine in my future. Cin-cin, santé, and happy holiday eating and drinking!