For as long as I can remember we have given homemade gifts from the kitchen in our family. Jams, preserves, pickles, herb infused oils, brandies and homemade baked goods have all graced gift packages to friends and family. This year I've compiled an assortment of cookies, confections and desserts that lend themselves to gifting, whether it's a care package sent afar or a hostess gift for a neighbor. Holiday Baking From the Whole Foods, Gluten Free, Grain Free and Vegan Kitchens gives ideas for a wide range of appetites, including the hard-to-please. Happy holidays!
One of my fondest memories of the holiday season is of a trip to Florence, Italy at Christmas time many years ago. I stayed in a pensione run by two elderly sisters who spent the week before Christmas baking up a storm and preparing their home for holiday guests. On Christmas eve they welcomed all of us into the private area of their home where they laid out a banquet of home baked goods that included an extraordinary selection of biscotti. Bottles of Moscato, Vin Santo and Malvasia (Italian dessert wines) accompanied this sweet feast. To this day I am moved by the warmth and care of their energy, as they gave a house full of strangers their homemade love. Cherry, Almond, and Orange Biscotti are a tribute to the memory of these beautiful elders.
Biscotti are a holiday favorite in my family, and depending on who I'm baking for, I'll make either an extra healthy version or a more traditional one. Chocolate Walnut Biscotti are made with whole wheat pastry flour, almond meal, sesame oil, and are sweetened with maple syrup. Double Chocolate Ginger Walnut Biscotti are made with organic white flour, organic cane sugar, a bit of organic butter, and dark chocolate. They are a bit more decadent and oh so delicious!
And if you'd like to undertake the traditional Siennese sweetmeat Panforte, this gluten free chocolate version is sure to please you.
St Lucia Day is the "opening day" of Christmas in Sweden. It traditionally falls on December 13th. St Lucia was the saint of light, and tradition dictates that the oldest daughter would don a wreath of candles and sing to her family while bringing them food in the pre-dawn hours. Saffron scented St Lucia Buns -otherwise known as Lassekatter- are part of that tradition, and these slightly sweet, tender and simply delicious little breads are a fond player in my holiday traditions even though I'm not remotely Scandinavian. I've included instructions for dairy free and gluten free versions as well, so most of us can enjoy these holiday treats.
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The average American consumes an extra 600 calories per day between Thanksgiving and New Year's, which can translate into quite a few pounds and inches. That's a lot of food, the equivalent of at least one extra meal every day. By the time 5 weeks pass, we have effectively created new -and unhealthy- eating habits, and are faced with an uphill climb to undo the damage. So what if we create strategies to help us? Navigating the Holiday Food Circuit: Is Excess Really Inevitable? offers some thoughts about the coming weeks.
Too much of a good thing? The holidays often land hard in our bellies and it's great to balance the excess with cleansing tonics. It's always good to practice moderation, but if you need a little help on the cleansing side, try Pineapple, Coconut Water, Lime and Mint Detox Tonic for a gentle and refreshing, cleansing and detoxifying boost.
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10 years ago I let myself off the hook. No more stressed out holiday seasons, no more frantic forays into last minute shopping. The holiday season returned to what I remember as a child: wonderful music, the smells of spices and baking, homemade ornaments, mulled cider, and gathering. I'm sure my mom did her share of stressing about how to manage keeping us all happy, but Christmas was never a time of excess. My best and deepest memories are sensory ones; smells, sounds, warmth, the fire crackling, dogs and cats curled up together in front of the hearth, and my mother singing Christmas carols while she baked.
Now we celebrate the season in a looser fashion. A quiet nod to Christmas is followed by a ceremonial Buddhist ritual to usher in the new year. Gifts are for our kids, who even as young adults are still very attached to the rituals of childhood. My husband and I celebrate by taking a weekend together, a gift of time, intimacy and exploring new places.
The most striking part of it all is that I feel remarkably calm and still, while witnessing lots of stress around me. Sometimes it feels like I'm standing at the edge of a giant pressure cooker, looking in. I choose the things I love to do: stringing twinkle lights feeds the child in me; baking feeds generations of tradition; "breaking bread" with friends and loved ones is a reminder of how much love and wonder I have in my world.
How do you celebrate? Are you running yourself ragged? Are you holding your balance? Do you give yourself permission to be still and listen? I see so much stress and strain in my office this time of year that I have a small but universal list of recommendations:
*Get touched (healing, loving, nurturing)
*Eat well between parties
*Sleep well between parties
*Give yourself permission to do less (spending, stressing, traveling, socializing, eating, drinking)
*Give yourself permission to do what really matters to you, whatever it may (or may not) be
*Breathe some more
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I love leftovers from Thanksgiving, but after the second round it's time to get creative. Do you need to use up leftover veggies and that magnificent carcass still clinging to abundant meat? Have a look at Ideas for Thanksgiving Turkey Leftovers for plenty of up-cycled dishes for the holiday weekend.
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Yukon Gold potatoes make excellent latkes. They have a lovely yellow color and buttery flavor that other potatoes simply don't possess, and consequently make an excellent latke or potato pancake. Garnet sweet potatoes and Japanese yams also make wonderful (although very different) versions of the same recipe. No need to be Jewish (or be celebrating Hanukkah) to enjoy these crisp and savory treats. They make great party food, brunch side dishes, appetizers and accompaniments for entrees. Both Yukon Gold Potato Latkes and Sweet Potato Latkes are well worth the effort of making them. And there is nothing like homemade Natural Applesauce to accompany them.
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With more and more people going low-grain or no-grain, it made sense to translate the trend into viable holiday menus. A Paleo Thanksgiving Dinner offers delicious and healthy ways to celebrate your Thanksgiving feast.
The caveman, paleolithic or paleo diet has morphed and evolved over the years in both good ways and questionable ones. Today we'll take a look at a purely whole foods approach to The Evolving Paleo Diet and consider the pros and cons of this grain-free way of eating.