Reviews | Why we feast on the holidays

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There is a pervasive need to reconnect with all the things that make life worth living, and what better time than now? What could be better than a feast?

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Now, it’s easy to become sententious and judgmental about the holiday season, even for an entirely non-religious person like myself. Does it have to be so much a question of consumption? Isn’t there something a little vulgar and indolent about all this frenzied feasting? What about the real meaning of Christmas and Chanukah? What about the life of the spirit?

I think it’s probably reading the story backwards. The human practice of feasting dates back at least to the dawn of the agricultural era. Some 12,000 years ago in a cave in what is now northern Israel, party humans left behind the remains of 71 turtles and three wild cattle. And the celebration of the winter solstice as an act of defiance against the cold and the dark certainly predates any organized religion. What better way to warm the bowels than with a sumptuous consumption? Dishes rich in fat and sugar, lubricated with glogg or mead, all nestled around a fire. The feast, the drink, the community and the warmth are the start of this holiday season.

Of course, for many around the world, feasting arm in arm will not be possible this year. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus and the rising tide of infections it has caused have thwarted hopes for a more normal holiday season, and people are reluctant to travel or gather around a table.

But remember, a feast doesn’t require a 16-pound roast turkey or a spit goat. Maybe all we can commit to this year is to do something special for ourselves, a feast for the spirit. It can be a meal, yes, but it can also be a long phone call with an old friend, both ready to be silly and have a lot of laughs. To get into a party mood, what matters is doing something that isn’t what you usually would, something that feels special and lavish to you.

Let me suggest an exquisite little treat: buy about half a pound of mild, flavorful cheese. (I like robiola or Taleggio or a ripe brie.) Cut it into pieces, about the size of the upper phalanx of your index finger, and place them in a shallow bowl. Finely chop two large peeled garlic cloves and add them to a cup of pleasant fruity olive oil, along with a teaspoon of lightly crushed peppercorns and two tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon or a other fresh grass. Stir in a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sherry or white wine vinegar and pour the mixture over the cheese. Refrigerate for four hours or overnight; take out the bowl an hour before you are ready to feast. Warm up a baguette or other crusty bread, pour yourself a glass of whatever you like to drink, and sit down to watch a good movie or listen to a beloved album while scooping up chunks of macerated cheese and olive oil. olive with garlic.

When the cheese is gone, you might be wondering if those garlic slices are worth a bite to eat. They are.


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