Valentine’s Trees and “Junk” Dip

Yes, it’s the beginning of February and the “Tree Formerly Known as Christmas” is still up in all its glory. Although I know you would NEVER judge this slight holiday oversight (in the midst of a pandemic, mind you…), but I somehow still feel the need to make excuses and explain myself. Here goes…

My partner in crime in all walks of life, my husband, has been stuck overseas since Thanksgiving and we missed out on spending Christmas together–hence the presents underneath the tree that are patiently awaiting his arrival. This tree is currently at my parents’ (along with myself) as we have been in the midst of moving house and country. My mother, bless her heart, is the queen of unconventional holidays. She’s also the queen of sentimental hoarding (albeit the collection is very well organized and somehow hasn’t exponentially accrued mass over the years) and in doing so has saved old valentines from my dad’s childhood and my brother’s and mine. As a way to display these cherished drawings, notes, and vintage cards, she has used them to redecorate and transform the Christmas tree in January as a Valentine’s tree.

I come from a long line of teachers, and holidays were a BIG deal in my house. Let me tell you, teachers work their patooties off to get holiday decorations set up and taken down in faster turn-around times than your local craft store. These dates were like markers in my life, making the school-year pass with the excitement of themed parties. Remember back when you could celebrate Halloween with costume parades around the neighborhood and decorate tissue boxes to make a mailbox for valentines from classmates? As someone who has taught in multiple elementary and primary schools over the years, holidays are an extremely dividing topic. Some schools don’t allow any talk of upcoming holidays: no candy, no costumes, no nothin’. Some go all-out with every teacher boldly facing the day in a onesie. It was always hard to know which extreme I would be walking into or where on the spectrum one particular school would fall.

This is partly why I have chosen the current format for kodomo kids. I love learning about how different cultures around the world celebrate…..well, anything! Holidays for me have always been a source of happiness, an excess of food, love, and laughter. They show what we value collectively and what we value individually. We cook food that comforts us and wear clothes that reflect the occasion. I believe people are at their best (or at least try to be) during the holidays, and positivity always deserves to be shared. When I was homesick for the States while living abroad, I looked for any excuse to throw a party and make my famous “junk dip”. It was how I tried to make friends in a city and culture that I didn’t grow up in. When we share recipes and traditions with one another, it is as if we are inviting that person into the most intimate part of our lives. Into our family. Into our home. So let’s all sit down at the proverbial family dinner table, swap stories, and listen to each other. I’ll go first….

The following recipe has travelled with me around the world. In Japan, I had to go to the foreign imports store to find tortilla chips and black olives, and one batch cost me about 2000 yen (roughly $17). In England it was impossible to find canned green chiles (though Mexican food is slowly making its way across the Pond), so I had to settle for our nearest Turkish market’s assortment of hot peppers. No matter the substitutions or taste discrepancy, the effort was always worth it to me. Heck, I even made it for my wedding reception…on the day of the party. I told you. We’re a bit unconventional in my family. Welcome. 🙂

Courtney’s World-Famous “Junk” Dip


4 – large, ripe tomatoes (on the vine, preferably)

1 – bunch green onions (approx. 7-10 onions)

1 – 4oz. can diced green chiles

1 – can large black olives

2 – tbsp apple cider vinegar

2 – tbsp olive oil 

1 – tsp coarse sea salt

1 – tsp garlic salt


Roughly chop tomatoes, black olives, and green onions and combine into large bowl. Add chiles, oil, vinegar, salt and garlic salt. Stir gently and allow to sit for 5 – 10 minutes. Add salt(s) and/or vinegar to taste. Serve with favorite tortilla chips. Make friends and laugh until it hurts.

With love, Courtney. xx

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