My suitcase is packed to the brim. But despite the cold temperatures at home, my heavy coat and boots are staying behind: I'm headed south for the holidays.
My husband and I visit his parents at their beautiful home in Dallas, Texas, for Thanksgiving each year. I'll admit it's nice to soak in some Southern hospitality within their gorgeous home by feasting on delicious food and exploring their landscape in moderate temperatures.
I enjoy that long weekend with my in-laws, even though their Thanksgiving slightly differs from the celebrations I shared with my family as a child. For example, I question why my mother-in-law bakes a ham instead of a turkey and refuses to even consider making sweet potato casserole. But there is one thing we have always agreed upon: Pecan pie is the highlight of any Thanksgiving meal.
It's impossible to deny a slice of pecan pie in the official state of the pecan tree. The pecan's rich, bold flavor keeps me coming back to the dessert table for a second and, occasionally, third slice. But the pecan isn't the only star of the dessert lineup this holiday season. Several other tree nuts show off their delicious flavors and textures in a variety of sweet treats for our enjoyment at this time of year.
Pecan - At its average 70- to 80-foot height and 8-foot diameter at its base, the pecan tree stands out among other species as one of the most valuable North American nut-producing trees. Pecans are partially famous for their texture in Thanksgiving pies, and despite the calories, a piece is worth every bite.
Hazelnut - The hazelnut tree produces ½-inch diameter nuts that provide great flavor in a variety of dishes. Chocolate lovers might be familiar with a hazelnut spread that pairs well with several holiday snacks and desserts. Creamy holiday soups may benefit from some hazelnut flavor as well.
Walnut - Six different species of walnut trees exist in the U.S. alone, as do recipes for countless breads, muffins, cakes and dessert rolls that list walnuts as one of many ingredients. Regardless whether the walnuts are optional or not, they'll certainly add texture and flavor to any sweet treat - or even a festive fall salad - to ultimately satisfy your taste buds.
Almond - Almonds are a great crunchy addition to salads, stir-frys and other dishes year-round, but something I look forward to each December are the almond-flavored spritz cookies my mother bakes for Christmas. They're tiny but pack a lot of flavor. A few drops of almond extract blend within the batter and voila! It's a classic Christmas cookie flavor.
Pistachio - Although the pistachio tree takes several years to mature and produce nuts, the wait is worth it. Pistachios are healthy additions for trail mixes or general party table snacks for guests.
So after a long day of family, friends and food, I can finally slouch down into the comfy sofa - relaxed and aware of how full I really am. But I can also take this time to reflect on all the great desserts on which I gorged myself throughout all hours of the day. I already look forward to next year, when I can enjoy them all over again - with many thanks to the trees that bear fruit with such delicious, rich flavors.