The holidays are here, and so are holiday foods. One classic holiday food: roasted chestnuts. I attempted to recreate this classic, first boiling the chestnuts a bit to soften the skins, then scoring them (so as to prevent oven explosions), then roasting them in a 425 oven for 10-15 minutes. They were...pretty gross. One member of our little party might even say "REALLY gross, yuck, yuck, yuck." I think perhaps the boiling was not the best idea, as the predominate flavor I identified was "boiled peanuts." But how else can you score them? Etc. I now have a pan of badly roasted chestnuts demanding a purpose. Ideas thus far include chestnut pancakes, chestnut sauce for (soy) ice cream, chestnut sauce for my vegetable galettes, and chestnuts-in-the-garbage.
Other mainstream holiday foods include ham, fruitcake, egg nog, potato pancakes, plum pudding, Yorkshire pudding, almond roca, Ferrero Rocher, creamed vegetables, green bean casserole, truffles, and champagne.
Few of these foods are included in my own alimentary associations with the holidays. I think of grapefruits, shipped every year from Texas by Aunt Lucille (who was really great-Aunt Lucille). Colin Street Bakery fruit cake from Aunt Barbara (a legitimate aunt), and Harry and David pears for grandma, from my dad (which would reach the pinnacle of their ripeness simultaneously, necessitating a deluge of pear-eating over the 48-hour window of pear perfection). Uncle Terry's ubiquitous snacks of salami, cheese, crackers, olives, and mixed nuts (on the good years, just cashews). My father's stocking stuffers of Power Bars, which would actually be palatable after hanging in the stockings above the fire; my grandmother's more traditional stocking stuffers of clementines and Hershey's kisses (and, fittingly, toothbrushes). A. laughed at me this year when I cracked open a bottle of Johnny Walker, inhaled the alcoholic fumes, and reported, "This smells like Christmas!"--a byproduct of years of sniffing, disdainfully, grandma's somewhat related scotch-on-the-rocks.
Last year I was in southern California with A., and we had a proper southern Californian Christmas weekend, complete with fish tacos; this year fish tacos were one of the few things she mentioned missing. My roommate, from western Pennsylvania, has mentioned sundry gelatin-based salads and desserts, which she defended rather forcefully. My favorite little jew mentioned potato pancakes, unsurprising after her enthusiasm throughout our expedition to Zabar's in NYC.
I suppose the ultimate rubric for a "holiday food" relates to your memories of the holidays: personal meaning, tradition, ritual, and the like. And I think this might be why holiday foods hold such a dear place in so many of our hearts and palates--I think in many ways Americans are ritual-starved, and we cherish and savor those we do have, particularly those that are enforced in our national culture (but don't get me started on how exclusive and oppressive Christmas-as-a-national-holiday is in my eyes). Despite my opposition, the traditions of Christmas still remind me of home, comfort, community, and sharing. Which may actually be part of the opposition. Ah well, there's plenty of good food.