This time of year, it’s easy to get lost in the glitz and glam of the holiday. Everywhere you look, there’s something new and special that you just have to have. I wonder if that’s why computers and phones are released later in the year – too boost the sales for the holidays? I, unfortunately, bought into that this year but more out of circumstance and need. My phone simply wasn’t functioning properly and my computer has been long overdue for a new model, so I decided it was time to upgrade. With my line of work, I have to be connected and able to access emails. And with my running, my phone is kind of a necessity so I can track and time myself.
As I’ve mentioned, I love shopping for people. Every year, I look for that perfect gift to give – the one that will bring absolute joy to their face and maybe even a tear to their eye. And every year, as the holidays approach, I get asked the same question – what do you want for Christmas? As the years have passed, I’ve noticed that I am less and less prepared for that question. I spend so much time worrying about others – finding the perfect gift; making the right wreath to set off the holiday theme for the house; gathering the best recipes to make Christmas cookies – that I forget all about myself. I work myself into such a state of festiveness that I wind up sick.
One year, it happened right on Christmas Eve. It was the year that I slaved away on a scrapbook for my then boyfriend. I had worked tirelessly on the weekends, nights, and wee hours of the morning to finish the scrapbook in time. I remember getting worried towards the end and buying extra gifts because I was so worried I wouldn’t have my masterpiece completed in time. That was the first year we chose to stay home for the holidays. Normally, we spent it with his mom or my parents. But this year, we had tickets to a concert the day after Christmas, so we stayed home. This meant I was in charge of the Christmas traditions – stuffing stockings, opening gifts, making Christmas dinner. But I was so sick, I didn’t even want to cook Christmas dinner or open my gifts. I just wanted him to open his gift so I could stop being worried he wouldn’t like it.
That’s another thing I do – I worry. I worry that my gift(s) won’t be great enough. You can thank the perfectionist streak in me for that fear. This is why I start planning my gifts so early – so I have time to really determine if it’s the best gift to give. And what’s sad is I’m always worried that I won’t do enough. It’s never about the money that someone else spends on me – you could give me flowers from the side of the road or a homemade cake and I’d be thrilled. No, my concern is that the recipient of the gift won’t think that I put enough money into it. See, to me, it’s the thought that counts. It’s not about the quantity, but the quality. You could give me ten gifts and they all be great, but then maybe one little gift is the best one of all. But for others, I’m positive that they look at the money standpoint.
Take for example last Christmas. My husband and I spent it with my parents, which very rarely happens. I was tickled just to be home with them and to see my grandparents for the holidays. Leading up to Christmas, I was so upset and worried that I hadn’t spent enough on my husband. I had been searching for THE gift and didn’t think what I had chosen was going to be enough. And then suddenly, in the final weeks, I came up with what I thought was the greatest idea. I found the items, shipped them to my parents’ house, and the minute we arrived I helped my mom put it together.
Christmas morning came and this was one of the first gifts he opened. It was large and bulky, but you could obviously tell from the shape that it was art. I crossed my fingers and prayed that he would like the gift. Now, he was never really picky about gifts, but I was so concerned that somehow what I had put together – something that took more time and thought than money – would somehow just not be enough. I grimaced deep down and prayed the entire time he carefully unwrapped the gift. I watched (as if in slow motion) his eyes light up and he turned the frame around and realized what was in it – a poster from the first and “best” (his words) Bonnaroo music festival. That was it – I had done it! Now I could relax.
See, as I grow older, I grow less focused on the receiving part of the holiday and more on the giving part. And maybe that makes me odd, but I really think my heart is in the right place. With everything going on, what I want people to give me is the furthest thing from my mind. What I’d really like to ask for is forgiveness, love, a fresh start, laughter, happiness… a chance to have all the memories from Christmas past to be relived again, just one more time. You get the picture: I want all the intangible things that can’t really be given, but only we can give ourselves.
So, since no one can really GIVE me these things, I decided to work on them for myself. When I was completing my Life Balance Wheel earlier this fall, I realized that I don’t spend enough time giving back in my community. I’ve always wanted to volunteer at a soup kitchen or food bank, and what better time to offer this than during the holidays? The only reason someone would possibly want to do this is because a) they need community service hours or b) they genuinely want to help out/give back. Well, I would be in the latter camp and I know that this simple act will give me some of things I so long for this Christmas. And so, I called and you are looking at the newest volunteer at the Albermarle Food Bank.
As we head into the final weeks before Christmas (yes, we are less than 10 days away), I want us each to take a moment to reflect on our lives and be thankful for everything that we have. This is the season of giving, not receiving. What can we do to help make someone’s life a little brighter? Maybe it’s baking some cookies for your crotchety neighbor that always growls at you (hello Mrs. McFarland from Prancer). Maybe you help to someone decorate their house or yard for the holidays. Maybe you could be a part of your company’s food drive or angel tree. Or maybe you just reach out to a family member you haven’t spoken to in ages and just wish them happy holidays. Whatever you choose to do, just do it with a happy heart and a smile!
Oh – and enjoy these yummy recipes afterwards. I promise, you’ll feel so happy inside that you’ll want to burst!
Maple Sweet Potato Oatmeal
- ½ cup oatmeal, old fashioned or quick
- 1 cup non-fat milk, or water – whatever you prefer to cook your oatmeal in
- pinch of salt
- ⅓ cup cooked sweet potato, mashed
- ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 1-2 tsp brown sugar (I used coconut sugar)
- 1 T maple syrup
- 1/2 T chopped almonds
- Mix the oats, milk, and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Meanwhile, make sure your sweet potato is warm and mashed completely.
- Once the oats have come to a boil, lower heat. Add sweet potato and pumpkin pie spice. Stir until thoroughly heated, about 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and serve in a bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, drizzle with maple syrup, add the chopped almonds. Serve immediately!
Gingerbread Man Shake
- 1 scoop Chocolate Shakeology
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp ginger
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
- Blend to perfection
Rudolph’s Rocket Fuel
- 6 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
- 1 parsnip, chopped
- 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
- 1 leek, washed and chopped
- 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
- 1 eating apple, cored and chopped (I left my skin on)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- 5 cups of water
- Heat the oil in a large sauce pan and add garlic. Sauté about a minute until fragrant, then add the vegetables and apple.
- Season to taste with sweet paprika, salt, and pepper.
- Cook on a medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add water and bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool (I cooled mine overnight in the fridge). Using an immersion blender or standard blender, process until smooth.
- Serve warm with your favorite crusty bread or crackers.
Butternut Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
- 1 lb. boneless pork tenderloin
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 T light olive oil
- 1/3 cup chopped shallots
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 1/4 cups diced butternut squash, 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
- 2 T pure maple syrup (replace with honey for Paleo, omit Whole30)
- 1 cup baby spinach or kale
- 3 sage leaves, chopped
- 2 T chopped pecans
- 1/4 tsp crushed black pepper
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a casserole dish and set aside.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil.
- Add shallots and garlic and sauté over medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes, or until golden.
- Add butternut squash, cranberries, maple syrup, and 1 tablespoon water and cover. Cook on low for 10 minutes.
- Remove lid and add greens, salt, sage, and pepper. Cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
- Set aside to cool and mix in pecans.
- Meanwhile, cut a pocket into the sides of the tenderloin, careful not to cut all the way through at the ends. Season the inside and outside of the turkey with salt and pepper.
- Stuff the tenderloin with the squash mixture. .
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and carefully sear the tenderloin on each side about 2 minutes.
- Place the tenderloin in the greased casserole dish with 1 tablespoon of water. Cover tight with foil and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes.
- Allow to sit 5 minutes before slicing into 4 slices. Spoon any pan juices over the pork and serve.
Apple Pecan Stuffing
- 4 slices whole wheat bread, cubed (3/4″-1″)
- 1/4 cup chopped pecans (about 2 oz)
- 1 T unsalted grassfed butter
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions (I used leeks)
- 1 /2 large or 1 small golden delicious apple, chopped
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp dried, rubbed sage (or 1 tbs fresh, finely chopped)
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1 tbs fresh)
- Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Place fresh bread cubes on a baking sheet and dry them out in the oven for about 25 minutes. When the bread cubes are done, remove them and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
- While the bread cubes are toasting, toast your pecans. You can heat them in a dry skillet until they become aromatic or you can heat them on a plate in the microwave.
- In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add celery, green onions, apple and some black pepper to taste. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add broth, salt, sage, and thyme. Cover with a lid on and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn off heat and stir in bread cubes and pecans.
- Pour this mixture into either a greased 8X8 square baking dish (or similarly sized casserole dish) and bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes or until the top starts to brown and get slightly crispy.
Brown Butter Peas
- 12 oz bag frozen peas
- 3 T butter
- 1/4 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 2 tsp garlic cloves, minced
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Melt the butter in a skillet until it’s just turning brown then remove from the heat.
- Put the peas on a baking sheet with an edge to it (so the butter doesn’t drip) and pour the butter over the top.
- Add the garlic and toss to coat the peas in the butter.
- Roast for 10-15 minutes, toss once more then serve immediately.
Gingerbread Ice Cream
- 4-5 frozen bananas
- 2 T molasses
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 1/2 cups Gingerbread Cookies, crumbled
- Blend everything except the cookies in a high speed blender or food processor until creamy and smooth.
- Add 1/3 cup of the cookie crumbles. Blend briefly to combine.
- Spread into a shallow pan or loaf pan. Sprinkle more cookie crumbles on top.
- Freeze for at least 2 hours.
- Scoop into bowls, top with more cookie crumbles, enjoy!
Note: Keep in the freezer for up to 2-3 days.
Tis the season….