Today a reader asks for tips on how to avoid eating the holiday candy that will make its way into their home via their children. My answer in the video, plus extra tips from friends. Special shout-out to Winter Redd of the podcast, Hungry Squared—check it out!
Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
I have had a difficult year. I switched jobs (not by choice), then a family member who I loved very much died. I can make it through Christmas, because there is a lot of holiday activity keeping me busy, but I’m dreading the post-holiday season. What do you recommend?
I’m so sorry to hear about your losses.
Changing jobs, even under the best of circumstances, also means changing daily routine, leaving people with whom you are comfortable, and becoming a beginner again (where you may have been an expert in your last position.) That can all be very unsettling, and when the change isn’t something you would have chosen, it can be even more stressful.
To then also lose a loved one, while in a time of higher stress, must feel overwhelming. Let me express my condolences. Grief takes time, and its path is unpredictable. I wish you much peace and support in this process.
You mentioned that you weren’t concerned about making it though the holidays, and I hope that they went as smoothly for you as possible. I know that missing someone who is knitted into your family holiday traditions can be very painful. I hope that you were able to remember your family member with some happy holiday memories, too.
It is completely understandable that, following holidays at which you miss your loved one, and return to a job that is still relatively new, and are in the doldrums of the darkest, coldest time of the year, you would feel blue. Who wouldn’t? I think the first thing you may want to do is to let yourself off the hook, and not judge yourself or feel guilty about being down.
If you have not already spoken with a therapist, your doctor, a grief counselor, or pastoral counselor to discuss your concerns, I urge you to do so. They can intervene with the additional help you may need as you work through this season in your life.
In the meantime, my best suggestion for you is to do everything you can to connect with and serve others. It seems like a trite recommendation, I know—just get out of the house and help others, then you can’t worry about yourself—but it is such a chestnut because there is truth in it.
You can find an organization who is looking for volunteer help, or you can simply reach out to friends, family, and neighbors and jump in where help is needed.
I think a lot of people believe that serving others who may be struggling more than you is therapeutic because it makes your own problems seem less consequential. I don’t know that this is the point, really. There is no hierarchy of pain and grief—you are fully able to be devastated with your own circumstances just as someone else is devastated with theirs. You don’t have to work to minimize your feelings in order to get through them.
I believe the joy that comes from service actually stems from two places. First off, it is distracting. You mention this yourself, actually, when you note that the holiday season will keep you busy. If you are serving food to 500 people, or volunteering with senior citizens at a nursing home, or cleaning out pet stalls at the local animal shelter, you can’t be in your head nearly as much. In essence, distraction is a mini-vacation from your own thoughts. There is a blessing to business.
Secondly, I think that connecting with others who are also struggling helps you to feel less alone. Empathy springs from knowing that we all have pain, and even while we are hurting, we can provide support and love to others who are also in pain. The circumstances may be different, but loss and grief are universal, and can be powerful tools for helping us to relate to others.
As for a recipe, I recommend something very simple: make your best dish, and share it with others. Cookies, salad, lasagna, a fantastic dip with some cut-up veggies—whatever you love to make and make well, MAKE. Bring it to your new job, bring it to a place where you are volunteering, bring it to friends and neighbors and honestly say, “I’m feeling down and needed to share some love.”
I hope these suggestions help. I know that there is no magic answer to your question, but I believe that reaching out and sharing yourself, your feelings, and your best dish with others can help. May your new year be a meaningful one for you, and may your joy increase each and every day.
Dear Misery Loves Cookery,
My spouse and I had a large number of relatives over for the Thanksgiving holiday. Hosting was fun, but we spent the day before prepping our house and meal. With Christmas coming, we’ll be doing the same thing again. Can you suggest something quick but still healthy and hearty that we can make for ourselves while prepping for a holiday? So we don’t have to eat take-out again?
‘Tis the season for making extravagant amounts of food for a holiday meal…and starving while preparing them.
I feel your pain, friend. We had the exact same situation this Thanksgiving, and will again this Christmas. As I mentioned in response to a reader looking for easy Christmas breakfast ideas, it isn’t unusual for everyone but the cook (who is tasting everything) to starve while awaiting a holiday meal.
The breakfast casserole I suggested may work well for you in this situation—it is certainly quick and hearty, and its healthiness is easily adjustable depending on which extras you put into it.
My usual go-to solution—when I actually think of it ahead of time—is to splurge on some good cold cuts, so family members can make a sandwich when they are hungry. Now, our family is not really a big sandwich-eating group, by nature, so this isn’t always welcomed.
My ugly confession: I am usually so focused and busy prepping holiday dishes, I bark something at them like, “Can you PLEASE just make a sandwich? I bought lunch meat…can’t you see how busy I am? I can’t cook a lunch and make this meal. Don’t you want [insert holiday meal?]” I then gripe that they are in my way while making the sandwiches they don’t really want but I guilted them into preparing.
Yeah, I’m not super proud of this behavior. Seems like I made need a better solution, too.
Here’s a brainstorm: how about crockpot chili? You could either make your favorite chili recipe the day before, then keep it warm throughout the holiday prep day in the slow cooker, or just dump all the ingredients in the slow cooker the night before your prep day, set it to low, and have chili ready (and simmering) by the morning.
Chili is quick, hearty, and healthy, especially if you load it with vegetables, and family members can serve themselves whenever they are feeling peckish without needing to get to the stove, fridge, etc.
As you do your holiday grocery shopping this week, think about picking up:
1 lb lean ground beef, turkey, or chicken
Chili seasonings (Whatever you like, whether pre-packed or your own mix; we always add extra cumin.)
Chopped veggies like onions, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, corn, etc.
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans kidney, pinto, or black beans
Throw everything but the beans into the crock pot in the order listed above (meat first, then seasonings, etc.), add 1-2 cups water or broth, and cook on high for 3-4 hours or low for 6-8. Add beans 1/2 hour before you’d like to serve.
If you want to be fancy, get accompaniments like cheese, sour cream, tortilla chips, oyster crackers, hot sauce, chopped jalapeño, etc. Be aware that your family retrieving these extras will mean they are likely to get in your cooking space. Try to be nicer than I am in this situation.
The slow cooker has its cooking foibles, but cooking chili (and keeping it warm for all day eating) is one of its strong suits. If you haven’t used your slow cooker in awhile, this is a great opportunity.
I hope this solution works for you. Heck, I hope this solution works for me, too! Family, if you are reading this, get ready for some Christmas chili.
What is an easy breakfast to have ready made for Christmas morning?
There is nothing better than waking up on a special day and knowing you can have a delicious breakfast without any real work. This is especially true on a morning in which you are pulled out of bed at an insanely early hour by tiny, excited children, typically after staying up until the wee hours helping Santa finish up some last-minute gift assembly and wrapping.
Our tradition is to have my family’s cinnamon rolls, a recipe brought over from Sweden by my great-grandmother. Before my snowbird parents headed back up north for the holidays, my daughter insisted we get together with my mom and make cinnamon rolls to give away to friends, teachers, and of course, to have for Christmas morning.
“But Kori,” you say, “I don’t have room in my schedule this week to make a time-consuming yeast dough, and I don’t want to turn my pre-holiday kitchen into a floury mess.”
Who doesn’t have copious amounts of free time the week before Christmas AND doesn’t want to be cleaning errant flour off the kitchen flour?
Don’t worry, I have a solution for you that only requires you take a few minutes from elf duties on Christmas Eve to be ready for a delicious breakfast on Christmas morning. Breakfast casserole!
If you do a quick google search for breakfast casserole, you will find thousands of recipes. 20 Crowd-Pleasing Breakfast Casseroles for Christmas Morning. 50 Best-Ever Breakfast Casserole Recipes. 14 Sweet Breakfast Casseroles. I could add link, after link, after link with ideas.
Please look at those recipes for inspiration. In the meantime, I’m going to simplify things by going all Michael Ruhlman on you, providing you with the basic ratios/temperature/method/timing you need to take just about anything you have on hand and turn it into a breakfast casserole. (Do you have his book, Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking? Amazon Affiliate Link It is a total game-changer.)
Here is really all you need to know:
4-6 eggs (I like mine eggier)
2 cups milk
Any herbs, flavors, seasonings (for savory or sweet)
Place in buttered casserole or 13×9 inch dish:
1 loaf of bread, preferably a bit stale, either layered with other ingredients (cheese, vegetables, meats, sautéed onions) or cut up in chunks and mixed with those other ingredients.
Pour egg/milk over bread.
Bake covered in 350 degrees for 35-45 minutes, until puffy and cooked through. Uncover and add cheese or sugary topping (if making sweet casserole), if you’d like, and brown for a few minutes.
While a holiday is certainly a great day to dedicate time and attention to a dish, let’s be honest: most of us are really busy prepping for other meals, taking care of presents, traveling, etc. Breakfast/brunch is not necessarily high on the priority list for the majority of us, and yet, we (ourselves and our families) really need that substantial breakfast to make the day a good one.
Evaluate ahead of time what you will be making for Christmas Eve/Christmas Day meals, and see what you can do to use leftovers in your breakfast casserole. I prefer savory casseroles, since there are so many sweets already associated with the holiday. Leftover turkey/beef/lamb, chunky roasted vegetables or thinly chopped raw versions from a relish tray, even potatoes can be thrown into this dish with gusto. Cheese from the cheese plate—all the little bits from all the different cheeses—work perfectly, no need to go out and buy a fancy cheese just for this dish. Jarred preserved vegetables, like artichoke hearts or roasted red peppers in oil, are a great addition.
Sure, you could also brown up breakfast sausage or cook bacon to add, and those are delicious, “breakfasty” choices. It just isn’t necessary, though, I promise. Find whatever economies in time and ingredients you can, and use what you’ve already got on hand.
And hey, for all those of you who are celebrating both Christmas and Chanukah in this unique, “everything happens on the 24th” year, you can skip the bread and…wait for it…use leftover latkes as your base.
I know, who has leftover latkes? Just humor me.
What I love about a good breakfast casserole is that it can last the whole day for nibbling, and is good either hot or at room temperature. It seems to always be true that, when you are prepping a big holiday meal, everyone but the cook (who is tasting everything) starves when there is nothing around to eat for the rest of the day’s meals. Breakfast casserole solves this problem.
I hope this helps to make your Christmas morning a filling and delicious one. Thanks for your letter! Let me know what you throw into your casserole, and how it turns out.
(As always, should you click on my Amazon Affiliate Link, above, and purchase items, I may receive a small portion of the sales price for those items. Thank you!)
Our first Misery Loves Cookery reader cookie submission comes from Laura, who sent this lovely email to me with a link to one of her favorite cookie recipes:
This is not going to be a popular cookie. This is the kind of cookie I think you need to grow up with to appreciate it. I once brought these to a cookie exchange and came home with most of them!
But I love them. They are an old world European cookie. No decorations. A bit of simple icing. And you have to find those weird candied fruits for them. But I love them. And my family loves them. And it’s an act of love for me to make them.
The best part? They get better with time! They mellow. So I try to make them just after Thanksgiving. But letting them hang around until Christmas is challenging for me. I love them that much.
Hope you are well. Merry Christmas!
Laura, I accept the challenge of loving these old-world cookies. I hope this means we are now family. That’s how this works, right?
Lebkuchen, the spice cookie she recommends (with accompanying Epicurious recipe) look like what a really nutty, delicious fruitcake would become if it wanted to show up at a holiday party dressed as a cookie. My nutty, fruitcake-loving husband will certainly love these, and I can’t wait to try to make them. You’ll have him at, “weird candied fruits,” especially if he gets hazelnuts, almonds, cocoa, cinnamon and ginger all at the same party.
The recipe notes that, traditionally, this cookie is made on edible rice paper rounds, which you would need to trace and cut out to size, but can be done simply on a buttered baking sheet. I’m guessing that’s how most of us will likely tackle them (that’s what Laura does), but should anyone want to go with rice paper (and reduce work), here’s a link to some pre-cut rounds (Amazon Affiliate Link) that could work well for you.
The label is in German, so they must be made for Lebkuchen, right?
Laura, thank you for sharing your favorite. I hope they will be other readers’ favorite soon, too.
Want to share your cookie recipe with the world? Please email me with your recipe, along with any photo or anecdote about it you’d like to share. I look forward to trying your recipes!
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(As always, if you click on a posted Amazon affiliate link and purchase something, I may receive a percentage of the sale price as compensation. Thank you!)