Tastes Like... December

In case you hadn't noticed, December is BUSY - and here's why (in chronological order): Hanukkah, St. Nicholas Day, St. Lucia Day, Simbang Gabi, Eid al-Adha, winter solstice, Christmas, Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve (please add to the list if I've missed some). The twelfth month of the year is jam-packed with reasons to eat, drink and be merry, regardless of one's faith or spot on the globe.

Survey ten people about what the holiday season means and in all likelihood you'll receive ten different interpretations. For me, this time of year means dark days and cold gusts of wind. Sorry, but a snowy white Christmas is far from my idea of fun. Take me to the beach instead; I'd much rather be singing carols in my bathing suit than in my woolies, which is exactly why the Appetites are headed to Key West this weekend for a tropical yuletide gathering.

Despite my fear and loathing of winter, I do look forward to this time of year if only for the food and drink. December doesn't taste quite like December without a nibble or whiff of the following edible notions and drinkable potions. So here's my list; please share what December tastes like to you in the comments area below.

December Tastes Like....

Pomegranates: There's nothing prettier than the glistening ruby-like tendrils of this fruit, now in season from California. They look great on rice (for a freshly fallen snow look) and taste great in a mixed green salad (don't forget to use the leftover juice for your vinaigrette). Pom seeds make wonderful garnish on a platter, particularly roast beast or a whole fish.

Clementines: One of life's greatest edible treasures, the portable Clementine can go in your purse, carry-on bag or school lunch, without the worry of where you'll spit the seeds. A wonderful jolt of Vitamin C for protection against those wintry gusts. I'm a fan of throwing peeled clem into salads as well.

Pecans: More than any other time of year, I have a hankering for a handful of this luscious nut, which makes its way into pies and crisps and on top of cakes. Here's a source that's done me well; I'm enjoying my five-pound zipper-style bag. Inevitably, I make a batch of spiced nuts, courtesy of Union Square Café in New York.

Rosemary figures into those nuts, but it also plays a part in roast chicken, with chopped apples or pears and in a pot of white beans. I am also a fan of sticking a sprig in the bath, when the pace of the season makes me want to run for the hills.

More than any other time of year, I turn to dried fruit - raisins, cherries, cranberries -- for fruitcake, chocolate bark, morning oatmeal or those gifts of granola.

Seeing red: Forget Rudolph's nose or Santa's suit; the ruby-red grapefruit is the red of my seasonal dreams, as is the drop-dead purple-y raspberry shade of the blood orange, here for a limited time only, so hurry! Both are dreamy eaten out of hand or as part of the dinner plate for antioxidants, fiber and yes, a splash of much-needed color.

Sipping pretty: Sooner rather than later, I'll be stirring up a pot of spiced hot chocolate, which makes the world stop just for a few minutes.
A little
homemade nog is equally fun, but because it's so rich I can only take it in small doses. In fact, I'm a fan of the soy nogs out on the market.

Candy girl: I have little interest in Halloween candy but become a bit crazed over confections at this time of year, particularly hand crafting them in the kitchen. Chocolate truffles, anyone? (P.S.: I'll be making some this week for my book signing this Thursday night at Tabletop in Dupont Circle!) And yes, I promise a peppermint patty experiment in coming days. Stay tuned...

Seeing Beans: White beans with roasted kale, black bean soup or chili, a midweek pot of lentils, and "Hoppin' John," the New Year's good-luck classic of black-eye peas and fixins -- they're all part of my December repertoire, and well through the winter. I cook beans about twice a week these days, and my favorite source is Rancho Gordo, the brainchild of heirloom bean hero Steve Sando.

Today is chat day: Talk to me today at Noon ET for another edition of What's Cooking.

By Kim ODonnel |  December 4, 2007; 8:58 AM ET Winter Holidays
Previous: Get Your Hanukkah Fry On | Next: Take Time to Smell the Onions


Please email us to report offensive comments.

For New Year's pork and sauerkraut for good luck.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 4, 2007 9:37 AM

This blog has made me so hungry - such good food reminders. Kim, can you tell a pom-novice how to tell when a pomegranate is ripe?

Also, to add to your list, peppermint everything - hot chocolate with pepp schnapps, candy canes in hot choc, Trader Joe's Candy Cane Joe Joe's, pepp oil in the bath. And English Toffee (not in the bath of course, just a favorite December food - though eating it while in a pepp/rosemary bath might be a definition of heaven).
And I agree with the anon poster - you can't have Jan 1 without Pork and Kraut, and homemade mashed potatoes.

Have fun in Key West - will you see any Blue Heaven love while you are down there?

Posted by: mdsails | December 4, 2007 9:57 AM


What about all those lovely and delectable Christmas Cookies!

Every item on your list is an absolute for December. Thanks for thinking of all the little nuances that make the season special.

Have a wonderful trip to the Keys!

Posted by: Cookie Monster | December 4, 2007 10:56 AM

Can't wait to try to make some chocolate truffles this season -- The linked recipe lists "espresso powder." Should it be instant or regular or does it matter? I finally found some instant after searching high and low this weekend for a different recipe, but not sure if I can use it ...
Thanks for all the holiday inspiration!

Posted by: truffle novice | December 4, 2007 12:47 PM

Kim, I just got a chance to look at today's discussion and saw the question about baking powder with no sodium. There is a store on the internet called the Healthy Heart Market:


that sells baking powder and baking soda with no sodium. I have been using these products for the past several months. When working with a recipe, you will need to add twice the amount of either powder or soda that the recipe calls for, but it seems to work OK ... and keeps the sodium down.

Posted by: peapod | December 4, 2007 1:25 PM

... to today's chat... not sure making your own baking powder out of soda and tartar will change the sodium content. Baking soda is sodium bicarbonate... which pretty much says it all.

Even so, if you use 2 tsp of baking powder in a baked item... say cornbread or a cake or whatever, that's only 110 mg per serving if you figure eight servings. And most often, I'd think you'd use smaller serving sizes than that if you are being nutrient conscious, as most baked goods would tend to be more calorie dense than nutrition dense...

Posted by: follow up... | December 4, 2007 1:31 PM

Follow-up, I typed too fast. You're absolutely right. and peapod, thanks for the link to the no-sodium source!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | December 4, 2007 1:34 PM

EGG NOG! I start bugging the stock clerks in local groceries in early November: "When are you getting Egg Nog?" "Have you ordered any made with Splenda?" " Will you have Turkey Hill?" ... I LOVE to put it in herb or regular teas instaed of cream or creamer!

Posted by: Gusto | December 4, 2007 2:32 PM

Definitely can't have December without Christmas cookies!!! My one roommate started bugging me for my peanut butter blossoms a month ago!!!

Enjoy Key West...wish I was going with!!

Posted by: slsde | December 4, 2007 2:57 PM

Is there any way we could coax you to share your black bean soup recipe? Is it vegetarian?

Posted by: Black bean soup | December 4, 2007 3:13 PM

It seems no one replied to the chat question you posed (at least not among the queries that were posted). YES we'd like a bonus round on the chats for the holidays.

Enjoy Key West, warm up and come back with your great ideas!

Posted by: Please chat | December 5, 2007 11:20 AM

Winter cravings:
Chai tea
Roasted butternut squash
Kale, chard
Homemade breads and muffins
Mulled wine

Posted by: Amanda | December 5, 2007 11:27 AM

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