Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight. Do you know the story behind this light holiday? If you don’t, you need to read it. The story of Hanukkah is full of adventure and drama surrounding events leading up to a great miracle. It is a story of liberation, freedom, reclaiming what was lost and hope.
Who needs candied yams when there are so many other wonderful ways to prepare sweet potatoes? Sweet potatoes are loaded with so many wonderful nutrients it seems a shame to load them up with refined sugar.
So here are a few of my favorite ways to serve sweet taters:
Simple Sweet Potato Soup is a great way to start the holiday meal. Beginning a meal with a light soup makes you less likely to over eat and this just tastes good too. The recipe is available in my e-book Have Yourself a Healthy Little Holiday.
Sweet Potato Oven Fries are good any time, not just at the holidays. Cut a sweet potato into wedges. Coat with a little extra virgin olive oil and spices. I like to use what I call “sweet and heat” with sweet potatoes which is cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Go easy on the cayenne if you’re not used to it. Bake at 400 degrees until they are browned on the outside and fork tender. You will need to turn them over as they bake.
Baked Sweet Potatoes are great plain, with a little butter, sprinkled with a little cinnamon, or I like salsa on mine. Or you can get fancy and make them “twice baked” by scooping out the shell and mashing the pulp with a little milk or juice and putting it back in the shell. Of course you can fancy it up with cheese, nuts, dried fruit — whatever, just try to keep it reasonably healthy.
Orange Spice Sweet Potatoes are my fancy version of mashed sweet potatoes. The recipe is available in my e-book Have Yourself a Healthy Little Holiday.
Sweet Potato Apple Bake begins with layering cooked, sliced sweet potatoes and cored, sliced apples in a baking dish. Pour a mixture of 1/4 cup orange juice and 1 Tablespoon molasses over the top, Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake covered at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, until apples are tender. With the sweet taste of sweet potatoes, apples, orange juice and a hint of cinnamon, you won’t miss the marshmallows.
So go out there and enjoy your sweet potatoes, just be careful what other ingredients they associate with. Don’t worry, they can still taste wonderful.
Please feel free to leave your ideas for healthier sweet potatoes in the comments below.
Take time during the holiday to create a tangible reminder of the blessings in your life. A gratitude tree may be made using a tree branch you bring inside. Try to use a branch that that has fallen on it’s own. Write things you are grateful for on leaves cut from paper, create a hanger using yarn or string and hang from the branch. Or tie ribbons to a tree or branch.
You could also turn your Christmas tree into a gratitude tree. Or save a tree and tie your blessings to a live tree in your yard. You can add blessing as you think of them and see how they add up or create a special blessing ceremony with readings, songs, prayers, poems or other things you find meaningful.
Of course this is a good activity to use with children. But don’t we all need to stop and remember how blessed we truly are?
When you read todays topic you may have thought, REALLY? Do we need to be reminded of this during the holidays?
Well apparently we do. It seems that each year during November and December we start hearing about things like brawls at the mall with people fighting over particular items that may be in short supply. Or angry battles over nativity scenes being displayed on government property with both side being sure they are “right.” Then we have the annual brouhaha over what type of holiday greeting is proper to extend to people.
As I watch this unfolding year after year, I can’t help but wonder what all this has to do with what we say we are celebrating. If you are a Christian, does your holiday behavior reflect the life and teachings of the Master Teacher, the Price of Peace whose birth you say you are celebrating? If you celebrate a “secular” Christmas and say your celebrations are all about family, does your behavior reflect this? Do you want to pass down traditions that bring you closer as a family or that teach greed and selfishness? No matter what you celebrate during this time stop and ask if you behavior is reflecting what you say you are celebrating.
Okay so what can we do to make the holiday season a little kinder and gentler?
Remember this is a stressful time for many people. Retail workers in particular are working long hours and serving larger crowds. Tempers can be short and people can be easily provoked. Be patient with others and do not do anything to intentionally provoke another person during this time.
When someone gives you a holiday greeting accept it in the spirit in which it is intended. They are greeting you from their traditions and customs and may not even know that you believe or celebrate differently.
Focus on light, love and peace rather than who is right and who is wrong.
Buy an extra gift, pair of mittens, winter hat, etc. for charity.
Watch what you post on social media. Focus on the positive. Be the voice of love and light instead of discord and anger.
If you practice random acts of kindness, continue throughout the holiday season. If you don’t this is a good time to begin. These don’t have to be big and flashy. Something as simple as opening the door for someone with their arms full will be appreciated.
Each day think of one thing for which you are grateful. Speak it out loud. Come back to this throughout the day.
Finally take time to listen. I mean really listen to someone else. Give them your full attention. Look them in the eyes and listen. Don’t look at your cell phone or other distractions. Let the other person know you are present and you really hear them. Give the gift of listening — this could be the best gift someone receives this year.
Life is not always about who is right and who is wrong. Our life on this planet is a school. We are here to learn how to get along with each other. If we are ever going to learn this we need to start practicing. Isn’t this the perfect time to start?
Oh and one last thing… SMILE! But be careful. It’s contagious you know. 🙂
Yes, it’s National Cookie Day, just in time for the holidays. Time to get started or at least start planning your holiday cookie baking. Maybe even time to think about hosting a cookie exchange.
I love cookie exchanges because you can get as simple or fancy with this as you want. The basics are that everyone brings a set number of cookies, the recipe and a container to bring their cookies home in. The cookies are set out on the table and there is sampling, conversation and cookies to take home.
The cookie exchanges I have attended we each brought one dozen cookies and we took one dozen cookies. I don’t know where the six dozen cookies that seems to be common now came from. You could adjust the number to fit the number of participants if you wish. You could also decide on 2 or 3 dozen cookies if you wish, which is an average size for a batch of cookies. We also took enough copies of our recipe for everyone. That’s the basics. Now if you want to provide containers for guests to take their cookies home in or have a craft time and decorate boxes or provide decorative envelopes for people to put the recipes they collect in that is totally up to you.
What I like about this idea is that it can be customized for special dietary needs and would be great for a support group meeting. You can invite all people who are gluten free, dairy free, vegan, allergic to nuts — whatever your need may be.
Try not to get too obsessed with the details. The point of this is to hang out with friends, enjoy a few cookies and recipes, relax and most of all have fun! Group activities are always good at the holidays. You never know who may need a little bit of light in their lives. You could be the one who brings it and not even know.
A word of advice here. Don’t just give that old can of lima beans no one really likes anyway. First think of practical needs. Items always needed at food pantries include:
*Shelf stable proteins — Canned tuna or salmon, Canned chicken or other meats, Canned beans, Dried beans, Canned soups and stews, Peanut butter, Nuts, Canned chili, Trail mix
* Pantry staples such as Rice (especially whole grain), Oatmeal, Pasta (especially whole grain), Diced tomatoes, Tomato sauce, Canned vegetables, Cooking oils (such as olive oil or canola oil), Flour
*Holiday Ingredients and Side Dishes, Canned pumpkin, canned yams, cranberry sauce, boxed stuffing, dried macaroni, canned vegetables.
Think about healthy foods you like to eat. Hold off on the snacks and junk foods. Most food banks get more than enough of these. What they need is good food to fill people up. Some food pantries like to have juice boxes for children, but real juice only please. If you have special dietary needs think about picking up an extra when you buy your special foods. People in need also have health conditions requiring special diets. If in doubt call the food pantry and ask what they need.
Finally, remember there are hungry people every day of the year. Contribute to food pantries throughout the year, especially in the summer.
We create our reality with our thoughts, so make them good ones. You have to work at this folks, but it is well worth the effort. Remember it’s not what happens to us, it’s how we think about and react to it that matters. We make our world heaven or hell through our thoughts. Wouldn’t you rather live in heaven? Wouldn’t you rather be an example to others that they can live in heaven?
I love to get cards, but when someone makes a card or adds an extra touch to a purchased card, I feel special. If you usually buy cards this year try something different. Create your own cards. This is a great project to get the kids involved. Look online for ideas of handmade cards. Send them to friends and family. Think of hospitalized children, nursing home residents, solders or others who might enjoy receiving a card. I’m mentioning this early, because it takes time to make and mail cards.
Need ideas? Here are a few links to get you started. Pinterest is also a good source of ideas.
But shining our light in the world can be difficult, especially during the often frantic holiday season, can’t it? Could you use a few ideas for fun and easy ways to let your light shine during the holidays?
Well, I’ve got them.
From now until the end of December I will feature fun and easy ways to shine your light. There will be family friendly activities you can do alone or with friends, family, co-workers or another type of group. There won’t be set days for these posts, you’ll have to watch for them.
In a world with so much darkness it may be difficult to celebrate during the holiday season. But celebrate we must. Not in an all out go for broke material sort of way, but by letting the light of God living through and as us shine.
As the holidays approach many of us will start planning holiday meals. If one of your holiday traditions is spending three days in a “food coma” from overindulging stop and think, is it really worth it? Is it really enough fun, to make yourself sick over?
This year I would like to offer a few alternatives and substitutions that are just as good without all the fat and sugar. Trust me, they may be different but they still taste very good.
Begin your meal with a salad or a light soup. I like to begin with a salad of spring greens, walnuts, dried cranberries and maybe a little goat cheese with a light vinaigrette dressing or a light and easy sweet potato soup made with sweet potatoes and onion cooked in water or veggie broth, with cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper and puree until smooth in the blender. Sometimes we have both.
Cook your turkey in a healthy way. Don’t add extra fat by stuffing the cavity with butter or frying it. Season the bird well and bake in the oven.
Make your own cranberry sauce. If you can boil water, you can do this. You can control what goes into it, including what you use for sweetener.
Forget the green bean casserole and serve lightly steamed fresh green beans. Add some sliced almonds and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Leave the “candy” out of the yams. I like to serve fresh sweet potatoes. There are many ways to do this. First there is baked. You can fancy them up a bit by making them “twice baked” either sweet or savory by what you add to them. You can mash them. You can cook them with apples and spice them up with cinnamon and nutmeg. Follow this link to my recipe for Orange Spice Sweet Potatoes.
Serve a healthy relish tray. This was always included in the holiday meal when I was growing up and is still best part of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for me. Include lots of raw fresh veggies and fruit with a few of your favorite pickles and olives if desired. If you want dip, consider making one without cream cheese or sour cream. This may be done using white beans or mashed cauliflower.
How about ice cream for dessert? I like to serve pumpkin fruit cream made from frozen bananas, pumpkin puree, almond milk, pumpkin pie spices and a wee bit of molasses.