The countdown has started and now is the time to get the food ready for the Christmas holiday. I know not everyone celebrates Christmas, but everyone enjoys the festivities of a celebration and that’s what this Food for Thought is about: celebratory food. We can all relate to that!
Here’s a Christmas Morning Menu that’s a big hit at my house year after year. Something simple, easy and doable that you get ready in a snap the night before the big day. Here you go:
- Christmas Eve Shortcut Cinnamon Buns
- Christmas Morning Strata
- Chilled Tangerines
Christmas Eve Shortcut Cinnamon Buns
Makes 20 buns
These are made the night before and popped in the oven Christmas morning when the kids are attacking their stockings!
20 unbaked frozen dinner rolls (Bridgeport is a brand I have used)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup instant vanilla pudding mix
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter, melted
Lightly grease a 10 inch bundt cake pan. Place frozen rolls into the pan and sprinkle with brown sugar, the pudding mix, and cinnamon. Pour melted butter over the top. If you don’t have a bundt pan, you can use a muffin tin, but they turn out better in a bundt pan.
Cover with a clean, damp cloth and leave overnight at room temperature to rise.
In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake rolls for 25 minutes, until golden brown. Turn rolls out onto a serving plate and dig in!
Christmas Morning Strata
Serves 6-8 depending on how hungry you are!
1 loaf French bread, cubed (either by hand or with a knife)
2 (10-oz.) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3/4 pound Provolone, chopped
14 large eggs
2 1/2 cups milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons dry mustard (optional, but adds a nice little bite)
3/4 pound shredded Cheddar cheese
Grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.
Make a single layer of bread cubes in the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the bread evenly with the spinach. Then add the chopped Provolone cheese. Top with another layer of bread cubes.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and seasonings. Pour over the layers evenly making sure that all of the top layer of bread is moistened. At this point, you have two options: refrigerate it overnight or bake for 1 hour (350 degree preheated oven)
When you bake it, watch it starting at about 50 minutes. It shouldn’t be ready to pull until its puffed up a bit and just starting to get golden brown (you don’t want it too brown).
If you want to test it, a knife inserted in the center should come out clean. While it is cooling, top with the cheddar cheese and allow it to melt by itself. You might need to return itto the oven for just a minute to finish melting.
It’s only a few days until Christmas! Are you ready for your next big feast?
With all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it’s easy to forget that we could save ourselves a lot of work the day of by doing more prep leading up to the event.
Frankly, I think we should all spend more time putting our feet up on Christmas Day and less time slaving in the kitchen.
To start, if you haven’t already, you should call around to confirm who’s coming. You want to make sure you have that basic detail nailed down.
You should have all of your groceries (except the fresh stuff) in the house, and your special holiday linens should be freshly laundered and pressed.
Get all of your serving dishes and utensils washed and ready. You don’t want to discover on Christmas morning that you need a new soup tureen or that your use-once-a-year Christmas plates have a one-inch layer of dust on them!
This past weekend, I triple checked my grocery list and made sure I wasn’t missing anything. I also completely deep cleaned and scoured my fridge, so it’s ready for my fresh groceries and all those delicious leftovers.
So, what’s left to be done before Christmas?
Three days before the dinner, you should take out your serving dishes and label them with an index card or a piece of paper stating which meal item will go inside. In the bowl for potatoes, for instance, write a card that reads “mashed potatoes.”
Stack and place these dishes on the dining room table or a surface that won’t be used until your dinner. You can drape them with something to prevent them from getting dusty.
Two days before the meal, get all your fresh groceries and prep your dessert. I also like to do my cranberry sauce at this point. One less thing to worry about!
The day before your dinner, prep the veggies. Get them washed and ready, peeled and sliced for the pan, then place them in the fridge. That way, on the day of, you simply need to grab and go!
Now, finally, set the Christmas table, take a deep breath and enjoy having that much less to worry about on the day of!
I also have a schedule here that will make things go nice and smoothly for you on the day of!
Most important tip of the day: CLEAN UP AS YOU GO. Clean as you go. Clean as you go. Clean as you go. This step is going to save you a big headache later that night when you should be sipping a nice glass of wine or taking a bubble bath.
Morning of the feast
Start preparing dinner. Yes now! Get your veggies ready if you didn’t already take this step earlier this week. If you have a meat that takes a long time to roast, get it in the oven. Put your butter, salt and pepper on the dinner table, and make sure you have enough place settings.
Two and a half hours before meal time
Take care of those little things that need to be done for dinner. Make your whipped cream, set up the coffeemaker, get your gravy set up, start your salad prep, etcetera.
One hour before go time
Check the meat. Remember, it should sit for 15 to 30 minutes after you get it out of the oven! Get all your veggies and side dishes cooked. If you have a slow cooker (or multiple slow cookers), use them to keep your sides warm! Make your gravy, heat your rolls and carve your meat, placing it on the serving dish.
When it’s time to eat, put everything on the table, join hands with those you love and give thanks.
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We are completely entrenched in the Christmas season and for so many, also completely entrenched in holiday depression. Having gone through holiday bouts of depression myself, I will never discount anyone’s depression. I will tell you however, there are things you can do to fight the oppression of depression. Even if you don’t “feel” like it, you can take action against it.
One of the most effective things in battling any sort of depression (and it is a FIGHT!) is feeding yourself right. Poor eating actually helps fuel depression. In the midst of all the scurrying around during the holidays, we end up shortchanging ourselves and eating poorly. We “save up” for the Big Feasts or parties and starve ourselves or eat fast food because we’re too busy.
Having a plan really does make a difference. We have a great Christmas menu that gives you a menu for the big meal, recipes and the itemized grocery list to keep the panic level at bay. But even with lists and plans, there’s still a lot to do that can cause stress, which only contributes to that downward spiral.
Add poor eating to that and you’re going to be struggling big time to keep your chin above water.
To fend off bad eating, make yourself a big pot of soup (in your large crock cooker) to keep yourself from “going there.” You need something easy, delicious and nutritious to get you through.
Below is a recipe for a major crock cooker full of phytochemically rich veggie soup that you can tweak here and there with the variations I have added to keep you from getting bored. Once the soup has been initially cooked, put it in the fridge and heat up what you need in a small saucepan. The soup is vegetarian and low-carb friendly, too.
And while you’re running around over the next few days finishing up your last-minute shopping, remember to drink your water. Water is a nutrient, not a beverage. Drink a lot of water and keep yourself hydrated.
Leanne's Basic Vegetable Soup
In a large soup pot, heat the one tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high heat.
Add the onion and cook till nearly translucent, now add the garlic. Don’t let the garlic brown and saute another couple of minutes.
Add the rest of the chopped veggies, sauteing for just a minute or two; use extra olive oil if you need it for the rest of the veggies. Remember–you’re not cooking them– just sauteing them for the wonderful flavor this quick step will infuse in your soup.
Add the thyme and salt and pepper while sauteing.
Now put the veggies in the crock cooker, add the tomatoes and broth.
Cook on low 7-9 hours (depending on your crock cooker) or high 4-6 hours.
Just before serving, gently mash some of the potato chunks against the side of the crock-pot to thicken the soup, give it a stir and serve.
Nutrition Per Serving: 94 Calories; 3g Fat; 7g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 286mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain(Starch); 1/2 Lean Meat; 2 Vegetable; 1/2 Fat. Points: 2
SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Grilled cheese sandwiches on whole grain bread and a spinach salad.
Quick Fixes for Variations on the Basic Veggie Soup
Now remember, don’t do these to the whole pot of soup! Just the little bit you pull out to fix yourself for lunch, etc. so that you can do all the Quick Fixes.
Quick Fix #1: Tex Mex Veggie Soup. Add some (eyeball it–how much do you want?) black beans (drained and rinsed), a little bit of cumin and chopped cilantro. Top with some tortilla chips and cheese, or serve with a quesadilla.
Quick Fix #2: Tuscan Veggie Soup. Add some (eyeball it again) cannellini (white kidney beans) or white beans (drained and rinsed), a little bit of Italian seasoning and some chopped kale. Cook till heated through and the kale is tender.
Quick Fix #3: Minestrone Veggie Soup. Add some cooked pasta, a little dried basil and top with a fresh grating of Parmesan cheese.
Quick Fix #4: Autumn Veggie Soup. Add some diced acorn squash or butternut squash, a handful of cooked brown rice, a sprinkling of nutmeg and some chopped parsley.
This morning, I received an email ad from a kitchen supply store telling me to “savor the holidays.” As I was about to delete it, I started thinking about the word “savor” and what it means. What I aim for in my life is to live in such a way that I savor ALL days, not just the holidays. Isn’t that what it’s all truly about? Not just holidays and celebrations—but everything, from the mundane tasks to the more difficult aspects of living–everything. ALL of life is meant to be savored—not just the holidays.
The dictionary defines savor (the verb) as: to give flavor to, to have experience of, to taste or smell with pleasure, to delight in. Other words or phrases would be season, taste, relish, appreciate, enjoy, and luxuriate in.
We can do that—savor our lives, when we let go of our perfectionism. Have you ever noticed perfectionism doesn’t live in the here and now? Instead, it looks back wistfully at another time and place remembering when things were (in our skewed thinking) “perfect” (or pretty close to it). Perfectionism looks ahead at what could be “if only I could (fill in the blank)”.
Perfectionism refuses to live in today because today is a mess. There are clothes that need washing, noses that need wiping and food that needs preparing. We have body clutter issues, husbands who don’t understand, children that won’t obey and even the dog messes stuff up. CALGON TAKE ME AWAY, we holler, like that erstwhile television commercial with the distraught Mom thinking the only escape in her way less than perfect life was a bubble bath.
So how on EARTH can you savor the above scenario?? The answer is going to sound simplistic and overly Pollyann-ish but I’m going to spout off anyway. You live in the moment, you savor those little runny noses because in a few years, your teenagers will barely let you hug them let alone wipe their noses. Those clothes that need washing? You have a FAMILY that loves you and depends on you—there are legions of single women who wish they lived in your lace up shoes. Bless each one of them as you turn their dirty socks right side out again for the millionth time as you’re doing the wash. Turn on the honey and sweetness with your sweet darling husband—love him up “real good”, with affection, a good meal, clean underwear and a pleasant smile and see if he doesn’t suddenly start to understand a little bit more.
Letting go of perfectionism means savoring our everyday lives with all their messes and imperfections. It means making a conscious decision to become a real blessing in our families lives by appreciating, delighting in, relishing, enjoying and actually LUXURIATING in their presence. Savoring them by giving flavor to our families with our changed attitudes and loving them with our whole hearts.
So go ahead and savor your holidays by being prepared. But don’t forget to keep TODAY in mind as you prepare for Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever holiday you happen to be celebrating. Every day is worthy of celebration.
Winter is here, and baby, it’s cold outside! Everyone enjoys a cup of something warm but you know the drill–most of the time, these things are calorie bombs in a cup! So how do we navigate this desire for warm beverages vs. the stuff out there that will pack on the pounds and make your thighs expand?
Let’s start with some tea, shall we? Is anyone out there a tea drinker? I have English bones, and was raised in a regular tea-sipping home. The only challenge with tea is that it’s hard to break the English tea habit of adding milk or sugar. But I’ve come across a tea that doesn’t need a thing. Good Earth is the brand and the tea that I especially love is the original Sweet and Spicy. It’s a deep red color, with a rich cinnamon taste with sweet tones, leaving the drinker’s tongue infatuated with flavor and subtle sweetness. Give it a try, it’s low in the calorie department and tastes like Christmas in a cup!
For an occasional treat, like after you go cross country skiing or other winter sport (think TREAT!) you can make your own drinks that you would usually buy mixes for: hot chocolate for example.
Hot chocolate is especially easy to make. All you need is unsweetened cocoa baking powder, sugar to taste (be mindful or use a little xylitol insted), a splash of vanilla extract, and a cup of hot milk. In measuring out your own ingredients you don’t have to worry as much about any mysterious additives that tend to increase that calorie count we’re all so cautious of.
Or you can use this Paleo Hot Chocolate recipe, but remember this is a TREAT, not something to drink all the time:
Paleo Hot Chocolate
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 to 3 tablespoons raw honey (to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a heavy bottom sauce pan, heat almond milk over medium high heat. Remove from heat before milk boils. Whisk remaining ingredients together with milk and voila! Add a dash of cinnamon if you’re an adventurous cocoa consumer 😉
For More Fun Winter Sips, try these:
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Anti-Inflammatory Magical Midas Milk
Paleo Cocoa and Coconut Whipped Cream
Paleo Pumpkin Spiced Latte
Today we’re not talking about food. Don’t worry— as we approach the holidays, there’s going to be plenty of food talk. But, there’s more to the holidays than food . . . like the decorations! And I don’t know about you, but factory-made plastic doesn’t really say Christmas to me.
Now, we all have our favorite holiday ornaments and trinkets that we take out every year, but it’s also nice to get outside and forage for beautiful (free) stuff to decorate with. This is a great thing to do with kids, by the way! Much nicer to take them outside to scavenge for decorations than to haul them through crazy lineups at those big-box stores for more stuff that’s going to eventually end up in a landfill.
If you haven’t foraged for holiday decorations before, you’re going to love this. No matter where you live, I’m sure you’ll be able to find some great free stuff right outside your front door (or at least not too far away!).
The following are some decorative items you may have right outside your home that won’t cost you a penny:
1. Pine cones. Pine cones look perfectly festive without any adornment at all, though some enjoy dipping them in glitter or spraying them with fake snow. Tie them from the Christmas tree or use as a centerpiece. Use your imagination!
2. Fresh tree boughs. Take some branches from the cedar, pine, or fir trees growing in your yard. This is the time to bring them inside so they’re fresh for Christmas. You can use these for garlands, wreaths, swags . . . whatever you like! Pound the cut ends with a hammer—they’ll absorb more water this way. Then, soak them overnight in the tub to allow them to become as hydrated as possible.
3. Twigs. Twigs and boughs look beautiful with cut flowers, so look around for a perfect collection of twigs and slender branches. Again, you can keep them au natural or dip them in glitter.
4. Bark and moss. Birch bark is gorgeous, and I’m sure you’ll find a use for it. If you can find some moss, bring it in and use it to top the soil in your potted plants. This will make them look all dressed up for the holidays.
Look around and see if there are some dried flowers in the yard. If you dried your hydrangeas this fall, now would be the time to take them out and put them on display!
Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a holly bush in the garden! Or some bayberry bushes—those will smell wonderful in the house! Search for items that look and smell beautiful and haul them inside. (Caution: Do be careful with bringing berries inside if you have pets—some varieties of berries (including holly) are poisonous to dogs and cats.)
Dust off your large garden urns and start putting some arrangements together! If you have no urns, buckets wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine will do just fine.
Safety tip: No candles in the twigs and bark, okay? If you want to add lights to your fresh greens, use LED—they’re not as hot as the older style lights.
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