Holiday Decorating & Meal Tips

Oh tis the season to decorate everything in glitter, tinsel, snowmen, and angels. Wait – that’s not how all houses look during Christmas? Well, I have to tell you that you could be missing out! Or maybe, you have some even cooler decorations than what my mom pulls out of the attic.

The tradition has always been the same for as long as I can remember. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving, my dad would bring down the Christmas tree from the attic. My mom would unpack all the boxes of decorations and ornaments, which she had carefully organized. While she did this, my dad would fight with the Christmas lights. He was very meticulous about these lights, and it wasn’t until I was an adult and had my own tree that I realized why. Before you even begin to place the strands on the tree, you have to carefully untangle them. Then, you have to plug each strand in and carefully examine the bulbs to be sure none are out. This was the part that always drove me nuts – how would you notice just one little bulb being burnt out? Well – if one goes out, there’s bound to be more that will go out and no one likes a dark spot on their tree!

My brother and I were typically the ones in charge of the non-breakable ornaments. My mom had these homemade pink and white ornaments that she’d made herself. There were dangling potpourri balls and upholstered balls, all in the shades of pink and white. Then there were the paper angels, which we got to help her decorate one year. She had purchased a book of cut out angels that you could decorate and then glue so they would stand on their own. And then there were the ornaments that my brother and I made each year when we were in school. I had a large wreath ornament that had my picture inside and a big bell. My brother had a neat sand dollar ornament that he got one of the years when we lived in Hawaii.

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The fragile ornaments were left to my mom. She was also the executive decision-maker in where each ornament was placed. She loves to tell the story about one of the first Christmases they spent with me and how I didn’t agree with her decorating skills. The story goes that one night as a toddler, I re-arranged all the Christmas ornaments on the bottom of our tree (which wasn’t a ton since I wasn’t that big). My mom came out the next morning and couldn’t figure out why the tree looked different! I’m just impressed that I put them all back up. Even at such a young age, I guess I had a knack for details.

My mom took this as a sign that my brother and I wanted more input. While we weren’t allowed to choose where everything went on the big tree, my parents did give us a little tree to decorate. We had all sorts of Disney and Winnie the Pooh ornaments, and we happily decorated our mini tree. I’m pretty sure we would change it every week (if not more), deciding that we didn’t like where this one hung or this one was blocking the light.

 

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Oh, and then came the house! My mom had so many decorations that there wasn’t an inch of our entire house that wasn’t touched by the Christmas spirit. Every room had it’s own set of decorations. The living and dining rooms were always decorated with angels and Victorian Santa Clauses, since the style of our tree was Victorian. We also had best snow scene that she set up every year on the coffee table. I thought the fake snow looked so neat as it lay around the mirror “pond” and the signing snow angel figurines. When it became my chore to dust, I wasn’t as impressed with the snow because it never stayed where it was supposed to!

Oh, and in the kitchen, we always had a display of nutcrackers and snowmen. The fun Santa Clauses and reindeer would hang out in this room as well. Because us kids were in this room so much, my mom made it more Santa-themed. She never placed that many decorations on the counters – those would’ve gotten in the way. During the holidays, the kitchen was an even more happening place to be. Growing up in North Carolina meant that we got to experience cold weather around Thanksgiving and it would continue through February or March. My mom was a big proponent of using the heat from the kitchen to warm up the house. So, if you were freezing in your room, you were usually forced to come socialize (or pitch in with the cooking) in order to enjoy the heat.

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I’m going to share with you today two of my mom’s best kept “secrets”.

  1. When dealing with kids, ALWAYS make sure to feed them a large and filling breakfast. We didn’t have big breakfasts that often, but when we did my parents would go all out. Typically this was only on the weekends (my dad was the waffle and pancake expert) or during the holidays. But on days where we really needed our strength my mom made sure to give us enough so we weren’t whining in an hour about being hungry. Pretty smart move when you can’t have the handy decorators quitting halfway through the job!
  2. When given the option between cooking for 4 hours or a slow cooker, ALWAYS choose the slow cooker. Trust me – no one will ever be the wiser! While we would be busy decorating the tree and the house (which you can tell was an all-day event), my mom would have dinner cooking in that crafty little crock. And while I wasn’t the biggest fan of turkey as a child, I’ve grown quite fond of it over the years. It’s one of my husband’s favorite dishes – so much, in fact, that we had turkey and stuffing for our rehearsal dinner.

I hope today’s menu inspires you to finish any last minute decorating or gift wrapping that you may have put off. I know I need to get cracking on my gifts!!

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Gingerbread Protein Pancakes

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Ingredients

  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 1 pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 scoop Shakeology®, vanilla flavor
  • ⅓ cup reduced-fat (1%) plain Greek yogurt
  • 4 large egg whites (½ cup)
  • 2 T coconut flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp molasses (Blackstrap if possible)
  • 2 T milk
  • ¼ medium pear, cut into bite-sized chunks (optional)

Preparation

  1. To make spice mix: combine cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in a small bowl. Mix well and set aside.
  2. Combine protein powder, yogurt, egg whites, oats, coconut flour, 1 tsp. spice mix, baking powder, molasses, and milk in a medium bowl; mix well. If batter is too thick, add more milk.
  3. Heat large nonstick skillet lightly coated with spray over medium heat.
  4. Ladle about ¼ cup batter for each pancake. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until bubbles form on top. Flip and cook for 1 to 2 minutes on the opposite side.
  5. Serve warm with pear and maple syrup.

 

The Grinch Shake

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 scoop Vanilla Shakeology®
  • ¼ large banana or ½ medium banana
  • 1 T matcha green tea powder
  • 1 dash cinnamon
  • 1 dash nutmeg
  • 1 dash cloves
  • 1 cup ice

Preparation

  1. Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

Holiday Honeycrisp Salad

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened apple juice or apple cider
  • 2 to 3 T honey
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 medium Honeycrisp apples (about 1 pound), thinly sliced
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 12 ounces of your favorite salad greens (I like romaine and kale)
  • 1 cup pecan halves, toasted or candied
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries

Preparation

  1. To make the vinaigrette, pour oil, apple cider vinegar, apple juice/cider, honey, lemon juice, salt, and pepper into a mason jar. Tightly screw on lid and shake vigorously until everything is thoroughly combined.
  2. In a large salad bowl, layer salad greens, apple slices, pecans, and dried cranberries/cherries. You can add additional toppings like tomato and cucumber to increase you vegetables.
  3. Just before serving, pour on desired amount of vinaigrette and toss to evenly coat.

Slow Cooker Turkey  

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Ingredients

  • 1 boneless turkey breast (3 to 4 pounds), halved
  • 1 can (14 ounces) whole-berry cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Preparation

  1. Place the turkey skin side up in a 5-qt. slow cooker.
  2. Combine the cranberry sauce, sugar, apple juice, vinegar, garlic, mustard, cinnamon, cloves and allspice; pour over turkey.
  3. Cover and cook on low until a thermometer reads 170°, 3-1/2 to 4-1/2- hours.
  4. Remove turkey to a cutting board; carve and serve warm.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Butternut Squash with Cranberries

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, yellow leaves removed
  • 2 T olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 3 T maple syrup
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup roasted pumpkin seeds

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly grease.
  2. Make sure Brussels sprouts have trimmed ends and yellow leaves are removed.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine Brussels sprouts and 2 tablespoons of olive oil; toss to coat.
  4. Place onto baking sheet, cut side down, and sprinkle with salt.
  5. In a separate bowl, combine cubed butternut squash, remaining olive oil, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Toss to mix.
  6. Place butternut squash in a single layer on the baking sheet, next to Brussels sprouts.
  7. Roast in over for 30-35 minutes, turning once half-way through baking, until softened.
  8. Remove from oven and pour sprouts and squash into a greased casserole dish. Top with pumpkin seeds and cranberries, then return to oven for 10-15 minutes.

 

Sweet Potato Casserole

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Ingredients

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • ½ cup light coconut milk
  • 2 T pure maple syrup
  • 2 T coconut oil, melted
  • ½ T ground flaxseed
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ cup brown sugar or coconut sugar
  • ¼ cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ cup gluten-free old-fashioned oats
  • ¼ cup almond flour
  • 2 T coconut oil

Preparation

  1. Peel and dice sweet potatoes into chunks.
  2. Place the chunks in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer until fork tender, about 15 minutes. Once done, drain well and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350° and coat 8×8″ casserole or pie dish.
  4. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, pecans, oats, and flour. Cut in coconut oil with a fork until the oil is distributed evenly and looks like crumb topping.
  5. In a stand mixer, whip the sweet potatoes with coconut milk, maple syrup, oil, flaxseed, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Beat until everything is just combined and the chunks of sweet potato have disappeared. Be careful not to over-process or the mixture will become more like a puree!
  6. Pour the sweet potato mixtures into the prepared dish and sprinkle with the crumb topping mixture.
  7. Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden brown.
  8. Serve warm with your favorite entree!

Dessert: 1 Bowl Vegan Sugar Cookies

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Cookies

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) vegan butter (such as Earth Balance), softened (to speed softening, see note)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar + more for topping
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin puree* (acts as egg substitute | sub with unsweetened applesauce with varied results)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour + more for rolling into shapes
  • 1/2 T cornstarch or arrowroot powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1-2 tsp non-dairy milk

Frosting

  • 2/3 cups coconut milk
  • 1/3 cups dates (pitted and chopped, preferably Medjool dates)
  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preparation

  1. Cream softened butter in a large mixing bowl. Add sugars, vanilla, and pumpkin puree; beat for 1 minute.
  2. Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, cornstarch, salt, baking soda and baking powder).
  3. Use a spoon to briefly stir, then sift over butter-sugar mixture. Mix until just incorporated, but be careful not to over mix!
  4. Add almond milk and mix until a soft dough is formed.
  5. Cover and freeze dough for 15 minutes or refrigerate for 30-45 minutes (up to overnight).
  6. Five minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  7. Scoop out 1-tablespoon amounts of chilled dough and roll into balls. Arrange cookies on a clean baking sheet 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes for (8-10 for cutout shapes), or until very slightly golden brown.
  9. Remove from oven and let cookies cool on pan for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  10. While the cookies cool, make the frosting.
  11. Add softened butter to the mixer bowl and beat until light and fluffy. You can add vanilla (optional) and mix once more.
  12. Slowly add powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time and continue mixing until thick and creamy.
  13. Drizzle in a little non-dairy milk to thin, but remember that we want thicker frosting to go on top of these cookies.
  14. Once cooled, frost cookies and top with sprinkles!

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