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I’m drowning in dates right now and not the good kind of dates a girl would like to be drowning in. Actual dates. Dried fruits. With pits. To start, there was nearly a pound sitting on my kitchen table, leftover from a project I finished just before the holidays. Before I’d even had a chance to register their presence, I got the email from my friend Michele that appears in my inbox every January. “Hi. Got the dates. Want them?” You see, every year her financial advisor sends her, and her mother, a tin of dates from California as a holiday present. She does not know why dates. Neither she, nor her mother, like dates. However she, and her mother, do not want to hurt the guy’s feelings so they don’t tell him and every year, the dates arrive. And I get an email and a subsequent delivery of said dates. Two two-pound tins. Every year. It’s a lot of dates.

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Freezing rain always makes me want soup. Hot, hearty, comforting bowls of soup that warm from the inside out are just the thing for these times. I live in a very old apartment with unpredictable radiator heat. Over the winter my apartment is either blazing hot or a bit chilly and I monitor the temperature through a series of simple steps honed over years of experience – open the window a smidge, close the window, put on socks, take off a sweatshirt, hide under a blanket. It’s a little involved but I’ve figured out how to make it work. In these instances, soup works very well too. As does a good supply of comfy loungewear and thick socks.

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I made cheese boereg over the weekend, delightful phyllo pastries filled with a mix of delicious, slightly salty cheeses. They were wonderful, perfect in this cold weather, but to make them a meal I needed something else. I’ve been trying to stick to a healthy eating regimen to start the new year and though these little pastries didn’t necessarily fit that bill, if I made a salad I could scoot it into that category with a little creative rationalization. So I made a good, chunky greek-type salad to go along with those little golden triangles. The salad, filled with fresh summery vegetables, may not the best choice for this time of year – it’s definitely more of a warmer season type dish – but I needed a little crunch, a little brightness in my gloomy day.

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I picked up this recipe from Chef Carrie Nahabedian, from a class I took years ago. I was attempting to “organize” my office recently to no avail and came across a thick stack of papers, recipes from classes I’d taken pre-culinary school. Most held little interest now but this one stuck out … as I recall, they were quite good. Crispy thin layers of phyllo filled with creamy, slightly salty cheese. No spinach, no vegetables just that gorgeously salty cheese with a little parsley for a bit of color. She called them Phyllo Cheese Triangles but being of Armenian descent, I suspect she calls them boeregs at home. Many Mediterranean cultures have something similar; the Greeks call them tiropitakia. Salty cheese wrapped in layers of crispy pastry have universal appeal.

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I am an unabashed condiment queen. It used to be that the extent of most of America’s condiment repertoire was the trinity of ketchup-mustard-relish with maybe mayonnaise and horseradish thrown in for good measure. But go take a look at the inside of your refrigerator door right now. Go ahead. I’ll wait. I bet you have a much wider variety than that. My refrigerator door is so packed with jars and bottles it actually groans in protest every time I open it. Sure, I have the basics but also: ginger paste, oyster sauce, two kinds of thai curry pastes, a few kinds of nut butters, fish sauce, kimchi, teriyaki, hoisin, sriracha, sambal, tubes of tomato and anchovy pastes, chutneys, key lime juice and various hot sauces. It’s a very Asian influenced assortment and reflects my eating/cooking style rather accurately. This doesn’t even take into consideration the large tub full of jars of pickles, jams and even more chutneys that lives on one of the shelves. And let’s not discuss the tower of miso containers residing in one corner. I have a lot of condiment type things. An ungodly amount.

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Thank god for 2017. What a universally shit year for us all (with the exception of the Chicago Cubs because really now, how amazing was that?!), and while there’s a lot to deal with on the horizon I feel better knowing that the dumpster fire of 2016 is done. But now you’re probably looking at the contents of your refrigerator and wondering what the hell happened. The holidays, that’s what. That intersection of Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years and a little leftover Thanksgiving that creates chaos for us all. Chances are also good that, like many of us, you’ve probably decided to try to go on a health kick of some sort to right the eating wrongs of the past 6 weeks. We all do it. The constant influx of butter, cheese, cream, meat, alcohol and chocolate come to a head on January 1 where the guilt kicks into overdrive. I’ve circled it a few years but I think this is the year I try the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse (from last year, or the year prior or the year before that or there’s a book too). Not a diet per se, god forbid, but recipes mostly devoid of the things I’ve overindulged in the last few weeks. And they sound really good too. So why not? My system could use a little cleansing.

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A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a New York Times article on cheese balls titled “To Find Out Who You Are, Peer Into the Cheese Ball”. I was delighted. One sentence in particular resonated with me, “December is the Olympics for cheese ball fans.” Truer words have never been spoken. Oh how I love a cheese ball, a cheese log or those wonderful tubs of crock cheese anytime really but especially around the holidays. On a cracker, or better yet a Triscuit, there are few better snacks. While I certainly favor some flavors over others, I’ve yet to meet a cheese ball I don’t like. That pink “port wine” crock cheese? One of my favorites. A cheese ball makes a party, my friends. True story.

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