Lettuce Eat Local: The Holly and the Ivy and the Pears

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Amanda Miller
Columnist
Lettuce Eat Local

Benson dove into the gift bag, sending tissue paper flying. He came up with a crocheted cow stuffie clutched in his hands, exclaiming joyously, “It’s just like the one we already have!”

Well, yes, that’s because it is. I am enjoying indulging my son’s passion for opening presents, and also capitalizing on his two-year-old senses. I’m definitely taking advantage of his naivety this Christmas, especially since I know it won’t last. While he is distracted somewhere, I just refill a couple gift bags under the tree every day, looking around and seeing what I can stick in. The anticipation is half the joy with this boy, and the physical act of opening the present is sometimes as good as whatever is inside. 

I suppose that’s particularly true when what’s inside isn’t that exciting. But I figure he doesn’t know any better at this point, and we’re all having fun, so it’s perfect. He gets to open a couple presents a day and I get to “regift” a pair of his shoes, a book off the shelf, a stuffie someone gave his sister. 

But I also get to delight in this reminder of childlike enthusiasm and appreciation. One day I had wrapped up a clementine out of the fruit bowl, and he looked at me with such glee: “This is just for me?!” 

It’s easy for the celebration of Christmas to be cheapened by materialism. Bigger and better presents, parties, decorations. The lights get brighter, the holiday baking gets more elaborate, the music gets louder…and the joy dissipates. I love Christmas cheer, but we just have to remember what (who!) we’re celebrating. 

Don’t get me wrong, Benson isn’t a paragon of Christmas excellence. He has a thriving inborn need for more (particularly if it’s ice cream or candy), and if you’ve been around him recently, you know that phrases like “silent night” and “peace on earth” are not how anyone could describe him these days. 

But the way he’s enamored with baby Jesus does my heart good, and we could all use a fresh perspective like his on presents. Sometimes aren’t the very best, most important gifts the smallest, most daily ones? Can you believe this sunny day, call from a friend, or homemade cookie is “just for you”? Maybe this coffee maker you use each morning or favorite pair of jeans in your dresser is “just like the one you already have,” and maybe that’s the best part. 

Benson’s been delightfully exuberant about pears this week as well, even without me popping them in a gift bag. The way he talks about cutting up a pear, you would think he was talking about something much bigger and more special than some slices of a common winter fruit. I will say, they do seem particularly tasty recently, which makes sense because they are being harvested in some regions — ‘tis the season. Finding and affording fresh fruit is a gift in itself; we don’t have to save that luxury for our Christmas stocking. Benson is currently taking a now-uncommon but so-very-necessary nap, which is his (priceless) gift to me, and he will see the beautiful golden pear waiting on the cutting board as a gift of great value as well…because that’s how he chooses to see it, even if unconsciously. Let’s have those eyes this season.
Merry Christmas!

If you can find a good pear, it really needs no elaboration — just slice and eat. I’ve had a few ones so incredible that it feels like the very essence of Pear was concentrated and distilled into each bite. But it is almost Christmas, so it doesn’t hurt to get a little fancy sometimes. A friend gifted me a jar of Chinese 5 spice last week, and while it is “just like some I already have,” I’m looking at it with new eyes and trying it random places (triple-nut five-spice banana bars, anyone?)! 

Prep tips: pears are kind of tricky to monitor for ripeness; they are somewhat hearty, but also tend to go bad from the inside out, so you can’t always see if they are getting overripe. Five-spice is a combo of cinnamon, cloves, anise, fennel, and black pepper, so if you don’t have it, throw in whatever of those spices you do.

¼ cup turbinado sugar (or demerara or brown)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon Chinese 5-spice
pinch of coarse salt
optional: a couple drops of rum flavoring
a couple really good pears, any variety; unpeeled

Mix all ingredients together except pears, adjusting spice level to your taste. Slice pears and dip enthusiastically into sugar mix.

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