Like Pavlov’s dog, I used to salivate at the first ring of a holiday bell, anxious for November and December’s much anticipated comfort foods and holiday meals. We all tend to splurge with more reckless abandon from Thanksgiving through New Year’s and although my body never exactly thrived off double scoops of peppermint stick ice cream over warm molten chocolate cake, my inner fat kid certainly did. I used to be able to bounce back from holiday indulgence almost as fast as I could wipe the evidence off my sticky, soiled face with a holly embroidered napkin. Although I’m still waiting for the official memo (would have been nice to get a little warning,) I've begrudgingly accepted that atonement for a month or two of “who cares, it’s Christmas!” after the age of 30 is an uphill battle I don’t have the patience for. So, I've had to modify my approach a little to avoid the winter purgatory.
Even if we are trying to be mindful of lingering saddle bags, let’s be honest. Deprivation this time of year only results in a particularly ugly type of “hangry.” As it often is, the answer seems to be balance. I allow myself a few “screw it!” moments (Bubby’s legendary Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas morning brunch,) but in between I do my best to take care of myself and my husband. I fulfill the desire to fill our house with familiar smells and memories by making simple modifications to classic recipes, and by finding healthier or simplified versions of old favorites that I find equally satisfying. It took me a great deal of trial and error over the past few holiday seasons (I still don’t understand why people say things like “tastes JUST like a Pillsbury sugar cookie!” when it tastes like a macaroon scraped off the bottom of someone’s shoe). Bottom line: if the healthier versions feels like a sad-sack replacements of the real thing, you’ll likely wander back to the fridge a few hours later and end up eating what you were craving in the first place.
I’ve stumbled my way through dozens of allergen free, clean, paleo, etc versions of holiday treats and comfort foods and some of them (grain-free sugar cookies) made me want to throw a rolling pin against the wall. Others were so delicious (allergen free dark chocolate peppermint pretzels,) that the results called to me from the freezer with equally loud “eeeeeeat me” voices as the naughtier version. Allow me to save you the trouble of wasted hours and shelves full of expiring specialty ingredients and share a few recipes that anchor our holiday regimen.
I always know a “healthy spin” is successful when my husband loves it, craves it and asks for 2nd and 3rd batches long after it’s gone. This “granola” recipe is a favorite of his; and just this past weekend became a new favorite of a beloved childhood friend, my best girlfriends from college, and their charming better halves. It fills the house with sweet and comforting scents and is a far healthier start to cold winter mornings than pastries or French toast and bacon!
Cozy Winter Granola (dairy, gluten and grain free)
¼ cup (heaping) raw pumpkin seeds
¼ cup (heaping) raw sunflower seeds
3/4 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw cashews
½ cup raw pecans
¼ cup raw walnuts
¼ cup golden flax seeds
¾ Cup unsweetened shredded coconut
¼ cup honey
¼ cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Optional: ½ cup allergen free chocolate chips or raw cacao nibs
1/2 cup golden raisins
½ teaspoon sea salt
Parchment paper (don’t sub wax paper, trust me!)
- Rinse pumpkin and sunflower seeds in a fine mesh strainer. Put in a bowl and pour water over seeds with about ¼ inch to cover. Soak seeds for about an hour then drain and towel dry
- Preheat oven to 275 and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper
- Put nuts in a food processor or high speed blender and pulse a few times to chop the nuts into smaller pieces. (You don’t want the nuts to be ground to a powder; its ideal to have the pieces vary in sizes).
- Heat coconut oil, maple syrup, honey and vanilla in the microwave for 30 seconds, or on the stovetop on low for a few minutes, just until the coconut oil is melted and the liquids combine.
- Combine all ingredients, except the raisins and salt, in a large mixing bowl. Stir to coat.
- Spread the granola mixture evenly onto the cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring ½ way through cooking time. For a chewier granola, cook just under 25 minutes; for a crispy, crunchy granola, cook a few minutes longer but keep a close eye on it to prevent over-browning.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Add raisins and use a spatula to flatten them into the mixture. (Note: the mixture will not be crispy upon removing from oven, it will still be wet until the sugars cool and harden.)
- Allow to cool for 30 minutes to an hour (depending on the humidity of your kitchen!) Break apart and store in an airtight container, using parchment paper to separate layers.