Holiday time machine; 12 vegetables of Christmas

This picture of my sister and myself makes me think of "A Christmas Story."
This picture of my sister and myself makes me think of “A Christmas Story.”

Is there any more effective time machine than a Christmas tree? The first ornament that was mine and only mine was given to me by my maternal grandmother, Christmas of 1952. I pull out that silver cardboard horse to hang it up and, bam!, I’m 7 years old in Watsontown, PA, waiting with dread for the first of many arguments sure to explode as soon as my father discovers attention is being paid to anyone besides himself. Yuck!

Then I hang up the porcelain gingerbread person from my sister and remember I can’t call her this year to talk about these complicated holiday memories. Sad.

And then it’s some glitter-spattered pieces of construction paper assembled by our youngest in pre-school 20 years or more ago. Sad but happy. She is a good, healthy adult.

And so it goes, through the boxes of unbreakable (new kitten) decorations. Sadness makes me want to eat, and I must not slip on the slippery slope of sugary treats. That will make me sad and mad at myself. So I got up this morning and fixed Sweet Heat Green Beans and Spice Roasted Baby Carrots for supper tonight. Vegetables. They’re the key to health and happiness, just as our moms said.

We don’t waste any time around here mourning the produce of summer — the vine-ripened tomatoes and locally grown lettuces. We have greens and cabbage and beets in the garden as I write, and we gathered bushels of butternut and spaghetti squashes (which I do not like, unfortunately. Butternut’s another story.)

Oven-roasting is what you’ll do a lot of when you’re eating root vegetables, sometimes even when you’re not, such as this amazing green bean recipe. For the butternut squash soup we’re also having tonight, the squash is oven-roasted in a wee bit of olive oil, garlic, onion and ginger as well as significant quantities of curry, cumin, coriander and cardamom. You toss this mixture by hand so I went for my mammogram appointment smelling like an Indian grocery and with yellow fingertips.

My 12 vegetables of the season would be green beans, beets, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, pumpkin, sweetpotatoes (it’s all one word in North Carolina), the oven-roasted tomatoes I froze in August and white potatoes. This, after all, is the season for “Close Encounters”-sized mountains of mashed potatoes. Add fresh sage, cream cheese and butter, and they are, indeed, celestial.

And cranberries. I know they’re not a vegetable, silly goose, but I love them and I’ve learned to cook them with a little bit of jalapeno. And they’re really good for us.

These should be the best beans you’ve ever eaten. Sambal oelek is a spicy red chili paste. You can substitute siracha, but it’s not quite the same. The sambal oelek jar will keep in the refrigerator like any preserves. Don’t increase the small amount in the recipe unless you like hellish heat levels.

Best beans ever!
Best beans ever!

Sweet heat green beans

1-1/2 tablespoons canola oil

2 teaspoons sambal oelek

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 minced garlic cloves

Dash of black pepper

10 ounces trimmed green beans

2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds

Find sambal oelek in international foods section of your supermarket.
Find sambal oelek in international foods section of your supermarket.

Heat over to 425°. Mix seasoning ingredients and toss with beans. Spread beans in an oil-sprayed jelly roll pan. Bake 18 to 20 minutes, stirring once. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. This is supposed to serve 4, but really, you shouldn’t have any problem eating the entire batch as you take it out of the oven. It’s that good.

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