Holidays are time’s anchors. No matter how topsy-turvy a year might have been, they give us an opportunity to ground ourselves in familiarity, take comfort from sameness.
Only — whoops — it’s 2020! And if ever there’s been a year hell-bent on upending our most reliable sources of familiarity and comfort, this has been it.
I know many of you have been forced to make major adjustments to your Thanksgiving traditions. I have, too. I’m already feeling pangs of sadness for the people we won’t be celebrating with, the dishes we won’t be sharing.
But, just between us, I also feel a wee smidgen of relief. Because the Thanksgiving feast is an exhausting meal to prepare, and the workload doubles if your house (like ours) is the place where folks gather. So even though our annual guest list has never included the proverbial blowhard uncle who picks political fights at the table; the maudlin, tipsy aunt; or the surly punk-rock cousin, I’m going to appreciate the chance for a quieter celebration.
At least that’s what I keep telling myself.
The truth is, whenever I convince myself that I’ve adjusted to some big idea, I still find myself constantly tripping over its small, unexpected implications.
For example, I sat down to write this column last Monday, confident that I’d be sharing one of my favorite, go-to Thanksgiving side dishes. The story was already half-written in my head; all I had to do was bang it out. But midway through the first paragraph, I realized: If ever there were a year when no one needs a new Thanksgiving side dish, this is it. We have our hands full managing the old ones.
Instead, I’m sharing a favorite recipe for something small but mighty: Spiced pumpkin seeds, which are quick, delicious and versatile. Perfect as a pre-meal nibble, they are also wonderful sprinkled over a roasted sweet potato or squash dish, a soup or a salad. And they’re accommodating: You can make a batch now and store them until Thursday — or better yet, make a double batch, store half and nibble on the rest as you plan your new-old holiday. Doing so may even help you thrive this week.
Pumpkin seeds (or pepitas) are full of chlorophyll and polyunsaturated fat, and have zero starch and as much as 35 percent protein. And the chili pepper in this recipe is a superstar. According to brand-new research from the American Heart Association, “chili pepper consumption was associated with a 25 percent reduction in death from any cause and 23 percent fewer cancer deaths, compared to people who never or only rarely consumed chili pepper.”
On top of all that, this recipe befits the season, since the main ingredients — pumpkin seeds, chili peppers (in the form of paprika and cayenne) and maple syrup — are all native to the New World, a land that continues to nurture and sustain us, despite the fact that so many of our forebears showed up uninvited to partake of its bounty all those centuries ago.
Hopefully, these seeds will add a little zest and joy to your holidays, as they often do to mine, and still leave you with time and energy to focus on what matters most: Supporting and connecting with people you love — whether via Zoom, around an outdoor fire pit or by quarantining before gathering in person. At the very least, may they help you find a spot of sweet-and-spicy calm amidst all that overwhelms you.
Spicy Maple-Ginger Pumpkin Seeds
If you already have the oven going, you can also combine all the ingredients in a bowl, spread on a sheet pan, and bake at 325 for 15 to 20 minutes.
1½ teaspoons smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon ginger (or to taste)
¼ teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
2 teaspoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons butter
½ cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
2 teaspoons sugar
Stir together the paprika, ginger, cayenne and maple syrup in a small dish; set aside.
In a skillet over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the pumpkin seeds, raise the heat to medium, and add the sugar and a generous sprinkling of salt, and stir to coat thoroughly. Spread the seeds evenly in the pan, and cook without stirring until the seeds just start to pop, about 1 to 2 minutes. (As you cook, watch the heat closely so the sugar doesn’t burn). Reduce the heat and cook another 30 to 40 seconds, until most seeds are puffed and golden-brown.
Remove pan from heat and allow to cool 1 minute. Stir in the maple-paprika mixture, and transfer to a plate to cool thoroughly. When completely cool, store in an airtight container up to one week.