The bounty of seasonal offerings that come out in full force after Thanksgiving can’t help but put me into the winter holiday mood. The annual explosion of festivity has become all the more welcoming the past few years to distract me from the stress of finals. From the plethora of uplifting movie-viewing selections to the whimsical decorations to the sentimental traditions, I welcome all this season has to offer. And at the center of all the fanfare are all the special seasonal foods and flavors that fellow foodies like myself can’t wait to indulge in come the chilling temperatures – I was never one for patience. For my last official column of the semester, I’ll be sharing my favorite holiday fare.
Peppermint Mocha (Starbucks)
I did not become a fan of peppermint or mint flavors until a few years ago, but I’m glad my palette has progressed to that point. Sure, it’s not for everyone nor is it a flavor I will crave all the time, but that’s the beauty of a seasonal offering. There’s something so refreshing about the sharpness of bright peppermint cutting through the richness of chocolate, all steeped into a heartwarming drink. Starbucks offers a great rendition of a peppermint mocha; however, a peppermint hot chocolate similarly suffices a non-caffeinated craving. Not a peppermint fan? Starbucks and other local coffee places have other wonderful concoctions they roll out every year, including a toasted white chocolate mocha (saccharinely sweet if you need a sugar rush) or a chestnut praline latte I’m intrigued to try.
Jingle Jangle (Trader Joe’s)
My obsession with Trader Joe’s has already been given its time in the sun, but the store truly does reign supreme when it comes to seasonal offerings. It manages to release innovative and delicious products every year, but Jingle Jangle is a TJ’s holiday staple, and rightly so. This glorious tin of delectable goodness contains all that is chocolatey: mini pretzels coated in milk and dark chocolate and drizzled with white chocolate; dark chocolate-covered caramel popcorn; dark chocolate-covered Joe-Joe’s cookies (a.k.a., Oreos); milk chocolate “gems” with a red candy coating and milk and dark chocolate mini peanut butter cups. No, it’s not for the faint of heart.
In high school, I would be showered with baked goods during the holidays, gifted from talented friends and available at the different events I would attend. From the ol’ reliable (but my favorite!) chocolate chip to Italian wedding cookies to peanut butter blossoms to shortbread, there is no shortage of what cookie could be included in a holiday platter line-up. Of course, a crunchier exterior that gave way to a chewy interior was always the height of cookie perfection in my eyes; however, I couldn’t help but try at least every single kind I could get my hands on. This year, my cookie selection may not be quite as expansive, but maybe Santa could send some more my way, if he’s reading this. New York Times Cooking offers a devour-worthy array of recipes to try if you’re looking to spice up your seasonal cookie line-up, à la the Covey sisters in “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.”
Gingerbread men, houses and cookies, oh my!
You might be thinking I’ve forgotten any mention of gingerbread so far in my entries. I was just saving the iconic flavor for its own section, which doubles as a delicious treat and sturdy foundation for a quaint holiday house. I love spice flavors all year round (I’m looking at you, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom), but gingerbread has to take the cake (or the cookie) in the winter. And frosted cookies wouldn’t usually be my first pick, but there’s something so quaint about biting a (gingerbread) man’s head off. Beware.
I’m certainly not the best gingerbread house creator – I’ll defer to my friend, Rebecca, and stick to traditional art, thank you very much – but I love the creativity and fun that comes with the activity. You get to pipe frosting and place gumdrops on a little baked roof with friends and family, and isn’t that what the season is all about?
Listen, I’ve never actually been gifted an advent calendar of treats, but the whole concept seems so joyful and right up my alley. I would love a surprise to eat and look forward to every single day! And places are now beginning to offer all kinds of advent calendars, from wine to coffee, so there’s no reason for us to jump on the bandwagon (sleigh) this year.
I used to complain about all the chocolate we were gifted during the holidays because there was no way I would be able to eat through all of it in a timely manner (since it was mostly me in the family handling the herculean task), but now that we won’t be convening with family and friends this year, I would rather have the excess. From Godiva to Lindt to that exquisite box of chocolate from Lake Champlain my sister’s boyfriend gifted her last year, I’ve only grown to love chocolate more as the years have gone on. I would admit I’m a dark chocolate snob, but I’m willing to lower my standards for the joy of opening a box of precious morsels.
Main dishes: pancit, paella and lechon
I’ve just realized everything I’ve listed are basically desserts … but what about it? That’s basically the diet up in the North Pole, right? Okay, if I had to name a few foods that I look forward to having in the holidays, I look to the assorted menu of Filipino and Chinese foods we usually have at our holiday gatherings. Pancit, our classic noodle dish, always makes a welcome appearance, as does a luxurious pot of paella, with all my favorite kinds of seafood. And of course, there’s always the centerpiece lechon, which is usually presented as a whole roast pig. I prefer when it’s chopped and fried up as lechon kawali, a.k.a., tender, melty and crunchy bites of pork belly.