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Posts tagged with Holidays

Eat Your Vegetables: The beautiful tradition of holiday cookies

My mother's beautiful spritz.

My mother's beautiful spritz. by Sarah Henning

Yes, this space is called "Eat Your Vegetables" and we all know I implore y'all to do that as much as humanly possible.

But let's be real a second: The holiday season is most assuredly not about the vegetables.

If we're talking food, it's about the cookies.

Sugar cookies. Pinwheels. Spritz.

So many beautiful, sweet beauties. So, so little time.

OK, that's not true. We have a full month's run up of cookies from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day. Cookies, cookies every day.

Cookie decorating was always a huge deal in my house. My mother makes about 10 different types of cookies. Maybe more. Honestly, I've kind of lost track now that I don't get to see her make them over the course of a couple of weeks in early December. Macaroons, pecan pie bars, mint chocolate fudge and the aforementioned sugar cookies, pinwheels and spritz. There are others, to be sure, changing a bit each year, but those are the classics.

Since we've come to celebrate Christmas in Lawrence, we've come up with a new twist on the necessary cookie baking. My mom brings a sampling of the cookies she makes at home (see that pretty tin above). And then she makes and decorates sugar cookies with my son here.

The result is a family tradition that's been kept intact for 30 years.

My son's day of working the cookie line looks pretty delicious.

My son's day of working the cookie line looks pretty delicious. by Sarah Henning

I remember being in preschool, watching my mom cut and bake stars, trees, wreaths and candy canes. Then, once they were cool and we had a good chunk of time, we'd crank Mannheim Steamroller, huddle over the table, bowls of homemade icing thickly holding their appointed spoons, sprinkles at the ready and decorate until every last cookie was primped and primed into cookie stardom.

Well, my mother's sugar cookies were the stars. Mine were not.

Try as I might, I never — even as a teen or an adult — had the skill, patience and steady hand to properly decorate cookie after cookie without them turning into an accident at the Crayola factory.

My mother, on the other hand, could (and can) create endless little green sprinkle wreaths (each with their own bows), perfect red stripes to white-frosted candy canes and many other designs.

Time will tell if my son is more of a natural cookie decorator than I am. He probably will be, judging by the cookies he churned out for this Christmas (look at those pretty cookies above!).

Good thing we'll be decorating them again next year.

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No Tofurkey here. (Or: What vegetarians actually eat on Thanksgiving)

Our Thanksgiving table this year.

Our Thanksgiving table this year. by Sarah Henning

The most popular question I think nearly any vegan/vegetarian gets after the ubiquitous “But where do you get your protein???” question is this: “But don’t you miss _?” And, this time of year, that blank is more often than not filled with something related to holiday food.

“But don’t you miss turkey? Gravy? Pumpkin pie???”

Honestly? No.

I could say this is because there are vegan/vegetarian answers to pretty much anything that ends up on the table at Thanksgiving or Christmas. Which is totally true, but in my case I don’t miss any of those things because, I never really ate them in the first place.

Everyone is different, of course. That goes for you, too, omnivores! No one thinks to ask you, "But don't you miss _?" just because you don't eat something. Thus, not every omnivore eats every single thing on his or her Thanksgiving table. Example: Thanksgiving is my sister’s absolute favorite “food” holiday, but even she only eats turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy. No pie, no stuffing, no cranberry sauce. The woman likes what she likes, even if she could eat all of it.

The same thing goes for vegetarians. Just because we don’t choose to eat everything on the Thanksgiving table doesn’t mean we miss every single thing that won’t pass our lips.

Back when I ate animal products, my Thanksgiving meals were still vegetarian, if not vegan. I pretty much just at cranberry sauce, squash/sweet potatoes, rolls (yes, plural) and plain mashed potatoes. Yep. Pretty much from the time I have a memory on up until now. My favorite part of the holiday was always the family fun time and football, and never the food. In fact, I always wished there were some good restaurant open, so I could load up on anything BUT the normal holiday fare.

Of course, this isn’t true for every vegetarian or vegan out there. Some may sit through the whole dinner, pining away for a piece of dark meat beached in a pond of gravy or a slice (or three) of pie.

So, with all that in mind, I’m going to tell you exactly what I had for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not the norm, but it was fabulous and I didn’t feel the need to hop in the car for a last-minute Tofurkey (which, to be honest, I’ve never had and probably will never want to have).

This was my plate:

My Thanksgiving plate: Brussels and Butternut.

My Thanksgiving plate: Brussels and Butternut. by Sarah Henning

Yep. That’s it. Two things. My Butternut Squash with Pomegranate Seeds and Pecans and Real Simple’s yummy Sautéed Brussels With Poppy Seeds recipe.

No Tofurkey, mushroom gravy, vegan pumpkin pie. Though, I did have a massive amount of chocolate (Hey, I’ve got to get those guilt-laden holiday calories from somewhere.).

And, chances are, I’ll have something similar for Christmas. With a side of vegan Christmas cookies. Because, honestly, that’s one “But don’t you miss __?” blank that I must fill.

Therefore, next week, I’m planning on sharing a yummy holiday cookie recipe. Get excited!

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Are these cookies or rabbits? Sheesh.

This week it seems I can't twirl in place without stepping on a tray of holiday sweets.

They're everywhere — in my fridge, in the office, even on a group run (What's a group training session without a giant cookie for a post-run snack?).

OK, so I'm partially to blame. I made a ton of cookies for a photo shoot or two. And even though I keep sending those cookies away ("To the trough with you!"), they always seem to pop up somewhere.

And, of course, I'm not the only one producing sweet treats. Above, I've pictured our trough, full of goodies like rum cake, spritz, white-chocolate-dipped pretzels and more.

So, I ask you: How do you handle a never-ending array of sweets?

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Buy?! I’ll make you an ornament wreath!

Honestly, this holiday ornament wreath was much easier to make than it appears.

Honestly, this holiday ornament wreath was much easier to make than it appears. by Mike Yoder

I have never been a crafty person. And by crafty, I mean in the Etsy sense, not the Tyrion Lannister sense.

Sure, I can sew, but it's never more than to fix a missing button. I don't paint, unless you count basic walls and trim. And whenever my son asks me to draw for him, the requested animal/shape/choo-choo train comes out looking like it has been forged by a Mack truck.

No, my "art" is most definitely in my writing (I hope). Though if you ever asked me to handwrite anything you'll wonder both how I escaped being drafted into medical school based on scrawl alone and how I finished school at all writing test papers by hand.

And yet, I do like the idea of being crafty. My mother is quite the crafter, though as a college professor, she barely has time to sit down at her pottery wheel (yes, she has one). When she does have time, she likes to paint, stamp, decoupage, sew and, yes, do pottery. She even had a loom in the ’80s. Cool, huh? She's also the first to admit that I have NONE of her skill despite my genes and my love of Pinterest.

So, she probably was surprised when I messaged her ahead of Thanksgiving, asking if she might be able to bring her glue gun with her while visiting for the holiday. I planned to make "the wreath" I told her.

"The wreath" is a project I'd had my eye on since last year. I'd seen on some site or another a picture of a holiday wreath made out of glass ball ornaments. It was unusual, cool, and if I wanted to buy one on Etsy, expensive as all get out. But with a simple search, I was able to find several different sets of directions on how to make my own out of shatter-proof ornaments. So, after the holidays last year, I bought some discount ornaments, with plans on making the wreath.

It never happened.

Problem No. 1: I couldn't decide on which method to use. You can make it with a foam wreath, string it on a bent hanger or cord of wire, or you could just buy an evergreen wreath and attach the ornaments to that. All the methods looked good, but they also yielded different types of wreaths. You could have a thin one made of wire (bent hanger or otherwise), you could have a slightly bigger one made with a foam wreath, or you could have a very "full" looking one by using the evergreen wreath method.

Problem No. 2: I was stuck with the hanger/cord method because I do not own a glue gun and I didn't want to buy one because, as I've said before, I'm not crafty at all. It would be a waste of money. I could've picked up a cheap one, I suppose, but I'm sure if that thing exploded and oozed hot glue all over me, I'd never attempt to craft again.

Problem No. 3: If I was going to attempt this wreath, I wanted it to look how it did in my brain. Which was full and big, gosh darn it. So, basically, I wanted to do something I couldn't do with a cord of wire or a hanger from the dry-cleaners.

So, I stowed the ornaments in the back of my guest closet and forgot about them ... until, I saw a cheap ornament wreath at Target in Novemeber. It was shiny and pretty, and exactly what I wanted, yet not at all. It was like one everyone could have. I didn't want that, I wanted the one I pictured in my head.

As I stood there, three feet from that pretty, easily obtainable wreath, I Googled the project I'd tossed aside last year. That search came up with this post, which featured the closest thing I could find to the wreath in my head.

Weeks later, when my mom arrived with her glue gun, we headed out to Michael's to look at more parts and pieces. We'd initially changed our minds and thought about using a foam wreath as the structure, but I still had that pretty wreath in my head, and decided in the end to go with an evergreen wreath as the base (bonus: the 18-inch evergreen was only $3.99, half of what a foam wreath would've cost). We bought some silver spray paint, too, and that night, I put on my husband's barbecue apron and stood in our garage, spray-painting the wreath on top of some flattened diaper boxes.

I let it air out for a day, and then, on Sunday morning, literally two hours before my parents had to leave for the airport, my mom and I warmed up the glue gun. At first, it was helpful to have two of us working on it — one to place glue on the ornaments and one to hold the glued ornament flush to the wreath — as we went around the outside edge with large ornaments. By the time we started around the inside (following the directions in this post), I was working alone, no help needed. My mom backed away to finish packing — the training wheels had officially come off.

In about an hour, I had a big, totally unique wreath exactly like I'd pictured in my head last year. It is fat, colorful and shiny and exactly what I wanted.

One project does not a crafter make, it's true. But this single project sure went a long way toward convincing me that I might have a crafty bone in my body after all. A bone that is absolutely terrified to actually hang my pretty ornament wreath for fear it might shatter like a pearl necklace. So, rather than hanging it in my dining room window as planned, I have it sitting sentry on my dining room table as a sort of holiday centerpiece.

And I kind of like it like that — just sitting there as a reminder of spending time with my mom, doing something she likes to do. Maybe next time I see her, we'll try another craft. Of course, I'm not going to start saving up for my own pottery wheel anytime soon, but at least I now own a (hand-me-down) glue gun.

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