Homemade Chex Mix has been a holiday tradition in my house for as long as I can remember. My mom gets out her old metal 13×9 pan–dented and seasoned from years of baking–melts the margarine, adds the seasonings, and tosses it with our choice of cereals: rice, wheat, and (my favorite) corn chex, Cheerios, and pretzel sticks. Nothing more. Absolutely no peanuts–this was a debate for years, but we’re finally all in peaceful agreement. Nuts are allowed in fudge only.

Oh, and her fudge is amazing.

But the Chex Mix. It’s taken me years to get it right, but this year, I got it. Yes, it’s the recipe on the cereal box, but when she makes it, it is so much more. So here it is: 6 tablespoons of salted butter, melted in the pan then mixed with 2 tablespoons (plus a few dashes) of Worcestershire sauce, 1 1/2+ teaspoons seasoned salt, 1 heaping
teaspoon garlic powder, and 3/4 heaping teaspoon of onion powder. Stir until blended, then add 10 cups of cereal, tossing well, a few handfuls of broken pretzel sticks, and bake at 300 F for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Don’t even think about using the microwave. It just wouldn’t be traditional.

Oh, and you need a Christmas canister to store it in. And if your kids are heading back to college, send the tin with them. You may think they don’t need a themed tins in their tiny dorm rooms, and you’d be right. But trust me: Every time they see that tin, even if it’s shoved to the back of a closet, they’ll pause for a moment and think of you. And they’ll smile.


This simple dish comes by way of my friend (and newest Alabama law student!) Ellie. She made it years ago for a casual dinner party and I’ve remembered it ever since. When she gave me the cookbook it came from–Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone–as a housewarming gift a few weeks ago, I knew this would be the first thing I made. Little did I know, however, that I would not whip it up for a festive tapas night, to be served with Spanish wine and candlelight. Nor would it be a first course to an elegant date night alongside Dan’s favorite mussels in white wine sauce. No, as life is ever-surprising, I made it one night while Waco was under a boil-water alert due to a broken water main near campus, while Dan’s leg hurt from running and my neck hurt from reading and the two of us limped and whined our way around a crowded grocery store at 5 pm trying to get beer and bottled water. Hardly elegant. But once the beer was chilled and the bread was warmed and we felt a little more human again, I realized that even on a busy, tired night like this, the vibrant orangey-red dip still retained a bit of the elegance I’d remembered at Ellie’s apartment. I don’t know if it was because I associated it with friends, or maybe just because it wasn’t leftovers, but it made the evening seem a little more special.

Note: This recipe only makes a small amount, enough for 2-3 people. It’s great to whip up using pantry items or that last bell pepper before you buy a new jar. But if you’re serving a crowd, double or even triple the recipe.

Roasted Red Pepper Spread

(adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1. In a food processor, blender, or mini-chopper, place one roasted red bell pepper (either from a jar or freshly roasted, skin removed–see below), one small clove of garlic (smashed), and about a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Process these until chopped, and add a pinch of salt, some ground black pepper, and a few drops of red wine vinegar. Process until coarsely blended. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with warm bread and enjoy!

Variation: This could also be an excellent sauce over linguine or fish, or even chicken. Try it out in different ways!

To roast a bell pepper: Place on a foil-lined baking sheet in the broiler, a few inches from the flames. Keep an eye on it; don’t leave the kitchen. When the skins get black–you should hear some popping–turn the pepper to blacken another side. Continue until all sides are darkened, then place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will help to loosen the skins. After 15 minutes, peel and discard the skins and seeds, and you’re ready to use the pepper!