It’s one tantalizing aroma after another emanating from kitchens during the holidays. Between the holidays with Thanksgiving’s turkeys and pumpkin pies a-baking and New Year’s posole a-simmering, we reach the apex of edibles at Christmastime.
Alas, except for the posole, much of the fare during the holidays will increase our girth and health issues. Sugar is an ever-present culprit, in conspicuous and hidden forms, whether from canes or beets, corn, honey, or all the syrups and condiments. Sugar lurks everywhere, from the candied yams, glazed ham, jellies and jams, pies, ice cream, cookies, peppermint sticks, even fruit juices, soft drinks, and bubbly.
I finally have figured out one way to solve some of my own sugar issues by using Stevia instead of sugar in cooking. True, Stevia is more expensive than plain old sugar, but so are all the unhealthful junk foods we consume without giving them a second thought.
Another way to get around sugar problems is by adding spices and herbs to make them more appetizing. For instance, for breakfast instead of sweet rolls with frosting on top, I like a little curry in the scrambled eggs and eat them with a corn tortilla.
The choice for the main dish in our part of the country often is red or green, the Christmassy colors of the chilies that we so love. We usually like to also add some spices like oregano and cumin (comenos) that grow wild here, plus plenty of the garlic that hangs in braids in the kitchens.
Other blander veggies often require a little coaxing, especially for kids, to get such dishes eaten. Nutritionists tell us that they should occupy the largest section on our dinner plates, but how many of us actually eat that way? By the way, I love it that school gardens and community gardens like VEGI are getting kids enthusiastic about eating the good things that they themselves have grown.
To make veggies more interesting, we also can add dashes of spices and herbs to perk them up. Usually just a hint, instead of a wallop, is enough. Gather a supply at the grocery store and have them on hand on the shelf when needed.
Here are a few ideas from a list I copied years ago and still refer to when I am getting in a dull rut. A pinch of dried mint leaves in the cooking water will do wonders for peas or carrots. Marjoram or nutmeg does good things for green beans. Squash or sweet potatoes get a boost from ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, rosemary, or fennel. Tarragon on caulifiower. Dill on cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. Basil or sage in tomatoes. A dash of lemon juice on asparagus, broccoli, or green beans. A sprinkle of chives or hot sauce on just about anything.
Among our local, cherished Christmas traditions are bizcochitos. The magic ingredient in these delicious sugar cookies is anise, the spice that imparts their unique flavor, plus a sprinkle of cinnamon on top. But promise yourself to eat only one by remembering the sugar and the lard in them.
Forget the pies and fruit cake loaded with sugar for dessert. By then, everyone is already so stuffed that it’s better to just pass a bowl with fresh pears and tender, plump, dried apricots. Maybe another dish with shelled, unsalted almonds or Brazil nuts.
Just don’t make a big deal about the ubiquitous sugar in everything. Joy and gratitude, after all, are the main reasons for the whole shebang.