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cookies(MCT)—Every kind of cookie was represented. And the rules were simple. Take home as many as you brought. But this was more than a cookie exchange. It was our yearly tradition when we ladies dress up in holiday attire for an evening of yummy appetizers and a fine dinner served by men dressed in white starched shirts and little red bow ties.

Not that I particularly noticed food values this fine evening, but I was impressed with the main course — lean pork tenderloin (one of the leanest of meats) served with fresh green beans and homemade mashed potatoes.

Green beans — aka “string beans” or “snap beans” — are rampant in holiday dishes this time of year. And contrary to what we may perceive as “common beans,” these slender green vegetables come from the same plant from which we get black, pinto and kidney beans, according to a recent article in Environmental Nutrition. They are “green” because they are picked when they are very young before their inner bean is fully formed.

And compared to Christmas cookies which are yummy and I’ll just stop at that, green beans are truly a “nutrient dense” food. For just 44 calories per cup, green beans nourish us with vitamins A and C plus beta carotene, lutein and other health-promoting antioxidant substances. Silicon — a mineral that supports healthy bones and connective tissue — is also found in the lowly green bean.

Aside from the tasty food, our cookie exchange was highlighted with letters from women missionaries around the world in which they described Christmas celebrations in their countries.

Brandi in Romania says that St. Nicholas leaves a note to children on December 6. He asks for them to help him distribute food and other needed items to less fortunate children in their community. And she tells how Christmas carolers in her country are thanked for their musical gifts with cookies, apples, pretzels, nuts and mulled wine.

Irina in Ukraine explains that families in her country gather together for dinner on Christmas Eve. One of their Christmas dishes is “kutya” –cooked wheat grain with honey, nuts, poppy seeds, raisins and cherries. Yum.

Traditional holiday foods in Hungary include grilled cinnamon rolls, chocolate with almond paste, mulled wine, and fish soup, says Debbie from Budapest. “And green bean casserole is a must for Christmas dinner!” she writes.

In Columbia, writes Helga, December 16 begins the “novena” (nine evenings) leading to Christmas Eve. Each evening is a time to meet with friends and share songs, Scriptures and food. On Christmas Eve, families go the church and then gather at midnight for a feast.

And in Columbia, says Helga, “Christmas gifts are brought to children by “Nino Jesus” instead of Santa Claus.” I like that.

I left the cookie exchange with a plateful of lovingly made cookies and a new look at the season ahead. And I thought about what Ronah in Romania said in her letter: “Joy is complete only when it is shared.”

How very true that is around the world.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of the Diabetes DTOUR Diet, Rodale, 2009. Email her at

©2012 The Monterey County Herald
Distributed by MCT Information Services