I can hardly believe that, less than a week ago, I was rambling through Carmel, Monterey and Point Lobos, almost without a care in the world. To put it mildly, all of that seems like a lifetime ago. The Greek and I returned to various tasks in Berkeley last Tuesday evening and now, one Greek final and several spurts of cleaning and cooking later, I’m sitting on the floor of the SFO airport, where, as one might expect during the biggest travel season of the year, the flight the Greek and I are taking to Pittsburgh is now officially three hours late. I hope it’s not too cruel of me to wish that all the airlines find huge lumps of coal in their holiday stockings.

To avoid feeling too bah-humbuggy and Scrooge-like (this is mainly because I don’t see why flying has to be such an ordeal), I’m going to tell you about happy things instead–treats that practically scream happy holidays and in the best way possible. The first came to me via 101 CookbooksBlack Sticky Gingerbread. Heidi’s post reminded me of how glorious gingerbread can be; looking at her pictures, I couldn’t help but long for the simple days of childhood, when all you had to worry about during the holidays was what size gingerbread house you might make (and then have the pleasure of dismantling one crunchy piece at a time) with your family. Oh, yes, I have made a few fine and tasty gingerbread houses in my day. And the second came from the cookbook I’ve been not so secretly coveting since I went to an event at Omnivore Books back in October: Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume. Through a preview on my Kindle, which is a surprisingly pleasant way to look at cookbooks, although I do miss both the color and the weight of them in their e-book form, I found a deliciously simple dip recipe that I had been wanting to make. What better time than December since, if dip doesn’t represent a necessary part of a holiday spread, then I don’t know what does.

After the Greek final on Friday, which was much easier than I expected given all the grammar and vocabulary we’ve learned in the past five months, my chance to cook to my heart’s content was upon me.  I had returned home to a clean apartment (if only I could say that the apartment just turned itself into the spic and span vision you’ll find in the image below; sadly, life doesn’t work that way, but after several nights of painstakingly placing all the books I’ve both shipped to and accumulated in California, we could see the floor). There was food in the fridge and time suddenly seemed, if not endlessly abundant, then much more open to be filled with relaxing hobbies. Plus, if these weren’t reasons enough, the apartment’s oven needed to be broken in. A girl likes to know, after all, how her tools are working.

After I took the gingerbread out of the oven and was instantly thrilled with its fragrantly spicy aroma and spongy texture (I was also eager to taste it since I had added some candied ginger to the cake batter. Candied ginger makes everything better), I turned my attention to the simple, yet decadent combination of chopped mint leaves, feta cheese, Greek yogurt and minced garlic.

Barely any work to assemble at all, I would highly recommend Silvena Rowe’s Haydari-Yogurt and Feta Dip. While the original recipe calls for Süzme, a thick strained yogurt with a creamy texture from Turkey (Rowe is half-Turkish and half-Bulgarian), Rowe suggests that Greek yogurt will be an adequate substitute for those of us not making our own yogurt at home (I have yet to experiment with dairy products. Maybe in a few years I’ll make my own cheese, but not quite yet. For now, the dissertation comes first). I can safely say that the Greek yogurt I used worked beautifully, which was surprising given that it was fat free (i.e. limp and flavorless). To make up for this lack of texture, I added a little extra garlic and a little extra feta, sweet paprika and olive oil. When you can’t win with texture, you have nothing to do but fight (and hopefully win) the flavor war.

It was a welcome addition to the table and one that I think I’ll be making again and again. It took barely any time at all and, once sprinkled with walnuts and the appropriate garnishes, was everything I could have hoped for in one bowl. If you’re in a bind for the holidays and want to try something new either to expand your own palate or to pleasantly surprise your guests, try this dip. Nobody will go to bed disappointed.

Greek Yogurt and Feta Dip
Slightly adapted from Silvena Rowe’s Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume
Yields an awful lot of creamy goodness in a bowl

4-5 ounces feta, crumbled
1 cup Greek yogurt or, if you have it on hand (lucky you), Süzme
4 garlic cloves, minced
6-8 mint leaves, chopped finely
3 Tbsp. chopped walnuts
About 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 – 1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil

-Place the feta in a large serving bowl and mash it with a fork. 
-Add the minced garlic, yogurt and chopped mint and stir until well combined. 
-Season with black pepper (and, depending on the saltiness of your feta, some salt to taste). 
-Sprinkle with sweet paprika and then drizzle with olive oil. 
-Place in the refrigerator to chill. 
-Garnish with chopped walnuts and serve. 
-Enjoy with warm pita and savor the cheesy, garlicky perfection!

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