UPDATE 30 May 2012 – One of the judo moms asked me to bring this to a BBQ last weekend. I took the leftovers to work today. One of the new Japanese teachers asked me what it was called, and “Spiced Nut Mix” did not properly convey the addictive, everyone-rush-at-the-bowl quality these nuts have. Our entire office smelled like cinnamon and every teacher was positively groaning with delight. So we quickly decided that “Cinnamon Crack” was a much better name. Careful, it requires a lot of will power to stop eating this one!
This year I’ve crystallized my holiday tradition: bake til you drop. I can’t help myself ~ I love giving food and I imagine one day I’ll become artsy enough to package it up cutely and get it to people before December 25th. But who doesn’t like a little holiday cheer in January too?
I like to give gifts that have meaning, ones that give people real happiness, ones that are actually useful. I can’t stand giving gifts that no one needs, made cheaply from poor quality materials that will just end up in a landfill. So if you are still scrambling for ideas like me (what do you give a 19 year old college kid?!), here is a reference of references and a simple, fast recipe that is perfect for holiday parties or a homemade gift.
Eco-Friendly Christmas Gift Ideas from Elana’s Pantry. I also want to try her DIY Foot & Lip Balm…but I think I have to prioritize sleep before another round of baking & giving begins. Elana also has great Hanukkah recipes and ideas on her site.
Elana talks about Etsy in her gift ideas, and I love the idea of supporting local artists. One Wintry Night Pottery is. simply.phenomenal.
Gifts That Say You Care from Nicholas Kristof. Also his book, Half the Sky, co-authored by Cheryl Wu-Dunn, is an amazing read on the empowerment of women as a solution to the problems of the 21st century. A great gift for anyone.
Sustainable Gift Ideas from The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen. A favorite blog PLUS fabulous ideas for Christmas: especially for kids, all things eco-friendly, and food-lovers! I really like her point about giving experiences. Recently someone asked me what my favorite present was as a child…and of all the Christmases and presents I received, I only remember a few distinctly: a red fire truck when I was 5, a CD player at 12, and some spatulas and recipe cards when I was….22 🙂 I remember playing an awesome game on our kitchen floor Christmas morning with a cardboard box, not the toy that it came in, when I was 9 or so. Kids don’t always need things. In the end lots of toys get junked and we realize all we needed to begin with were opportunities to create memories.
(And along those lines, Gluten-Free Girl has put up a few posts about homemade ornaments, decorating, and gift ideas. Plus the most epic post about every gluten-free holiday cookie you could ever want. And her cookbooks would make great gifts.)
With that said, here are a list of organizations I regularly donate to. Along the lines of Mr. Kristof’s article, giving to improve the world, or true selflessness, is one of the best ways to show you care about someone.
Oceana.org: Contrary to popular belief, the ocean is not our liquid landfill but the lifeblood of the Earth. Donate, adopt a creature, or just give yourself the gift of education.
World Wildlife Fund: a favorite since childhood. Adopt an animal or check out their gift store. I’ve been known to give things to myself!
The Central Asia Institute: Despite all the controversy, I still believe in education, especially for girls and especially in this part of the world.
Concern Worldwide: Working to alleviate extreme poverty, send disaster aid, and get kids out of the workplace and into school. Support through a donation or gifts in kind. I gave my parents six chickens one year – super fun! I think I’d like a goat this year.
Wisconsin Environment: save our lakes!
For any cynics, Scrooges, or Grinches out there: Oceana and WWF are accredited by Charity Navigator. All of these organizations are registered non-profits. I hope those of you with hearts two-sizes-too-small can find some inspiration from this list and learn the greatest gift you can receive is giving to others.
If you are anywhere near Appleton, WI, I did almost all my holiday shopping at Just Act Natural or local stores downtown last year. If you aren’t in the Fox Valley, check out the 3/50 Project for how to support local communities instead of big chain or box stores, especially with so many suffering from economic inequality and unemployment. Give gifts and save your local economy!!!
And if you don’t like ANY of these – find something you want to support! Local artists, charities, organizations. Volunteer your time; volunteer with others; bring a plate of cookies to the Boys & Girls club. And don’t stop at Christmas! Food pantries often suffer shortages in the early spring and summer. Every month I give 10% of what I spend on myself to “charity”. I don’t really like that word, because people don’t need a handout. They need the same opportunities we fortunate ones have, many times simply by luck and birthplace, and forget so often. Giving or volunteering is a way to remind yourself of all the important things that come without a price tag: gratitude, friendship, happiness, affection, love, community, family.
And now…to food! This spicy sweet nut mix is highly addictive and ever popular. I’ve taste- tested it with snowcross racers, junk-food-junkie English teachers, and recently Japanese judo students. Now I have to figure out how to write this recipe in Japanese so I can share it with them at practice next week!
Holiday Nut Mix
makes about 6 cups
200g walnuts, broken into pieces (about 2 cups)
150g almonds, cut in half lengthwise (a little more than a cup)
50g pumpkin seeds (maybe 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup, sorry I couldn’t find a conversion)
200g peanuts (1 1/3 c)
1 large egg white, lightly beaten
50g coconut palm sugar or brown sugar (1/4 cup)
2 Tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon vanilla salt, optional
Mix nuts and seeds together. Add egg white and toss to coat. Add sugar, honey/maple syrup, spices, vanilla, and salt if using, and mix well. Spread onto parchment-lined baking sheet in one single layer. Bake at 325 F for 40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. Baking times will vary with each oven, so watch carefully and don’t let the nuts get too brown! They will crisp up as they cool.
There are so many variations to this: try pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds or any other type of crunchy goodness. You can add dried fruit or sweet potato chips after baking if you wish. I’d also like to try a batch with different spices: allspice, star anise, garam masala, cayenne. If you make it let me know what you come up with!
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Winter, Happy Holidays!