Finding a balance this holiday season

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Now that the weather is cold and I am inside more, I find myself reminiscing about the joys of gardening and growing my own food. 

For the second winter, I have been experimenting with growing food inside, specifically sprouts. Sprouts are very young plants that are harvested for eating just days after germination. 

The natural process called sprouting refers to the time when seeds or spores germinate and put out sprouts. We have tried many different seeds, grains and lentils. 

Windowsill farm

It turns out, I can have a mini windowsill farm bursting with freshness. They provide an exotic flare to food at a fraction of the cost of upscale restaurants. 

The process is relatively simple. The first step is to soak 1-2 teaspoons of seeds in fresh, cool water for 8-12 hours in a wide-mouth mason jar. Place cheesecloth secured with a rubber band over the jar. Then, drain and rinse two times a day for 3-5 days depending on the variety of the seeds. 

When the sprouts are growing yellow leaves, drain and rinse one more time and then set the jar in sunlight. The sprouts will naturally turn green from the sun. The sprouts need to be spun in a salad spinner or dried in a towel before storing in the refrigerator. 

Sprouts provide many nutritional benefits like vitamins, minerals and fiber. They are also a good source of antioxidants. The tiny plants add crunch and flavor to salads, sandwiches and stir-fries. They can also be blended into smoothies. 

The moist environment used to grow sprouts does create some concern. Bacteria can grow in the seeds while they are sprouting. People with compromised immune systems are discouraged from eating sprouts. However, for most people, they are safe to eat and can be cooked to ensure safety. 

Balance

It’s not all sprouts and vegetables in my kitchen. I like to maintain at least a 90:10 ratio with food choices. Ninety percent of the time I make healthy choices and focus on nutrients and beneficial proteins.

However, I have found that I am less likely to go off track if I allow myself treats part of the time, roughly 10%. During December, that means an occasional peppermint mocha latte and a few classic Christmas cookies. 

My mom had a talent for baking that reached superhero status during the holidays. She kept scores of Tupperware containers filled with endless varieties of cookies tucked away in the dining room or deep freezer. Teachers, neighbors and our bus drivers all received a plate of these nuggets worth their weight in gold. 

The cookie-baking gene skipped a generation when it came to me. I can bake many desserts but lack the attention span and desire for checking the oven every 7-10 minutes for cookies. I can bake pies, apple crisp and sheet cakes with sweet success. 

Playing favorites

However, I have burned too many cookies and learned my limitations. Instead of stressing about duplicating my mom’s baking abilities, I pick a couple of favorites and call it a success. 

Topping my list is the buckeye, the perfect combination of sweet and salty flavors. With peanut butter wrapped in chocolate, it’s a clear winner. Plus, I don’t have to bake them in the oven, just mix, chill, roll and dip. 

The only tricky part of making buckeyes is watching the melting chocolate in the double boiler. The chocolate has to melt slowly and then simmer. There’s no rushing the process; in my book, melting the chocolate in the microwave is blasphemy. 

I made buckeyes with my grandma many times. I decided that keeping melted chocolate the right consistency is like holding dowsing rods and looking for water. It takes a little bit of know-how, but more instinct. I fidget with the temperature, dancing around somewhere between a low simmer and shutting the heat off. I also keep stirring which keeps the chocolate smooth. 

My other childhood favorite was clothespin cookies, also called lady locks or cream horns. They were the stars of many wedding cookie tables and a true midwestern treat. Tubes of pastry were filled with the creamiest sweet frosting, made with powdered sugar and marshmallow fluff. 

Oleo

I have always been intimidated by my family’s recipe. It takes three days to make the dough alone. Each day more oleo is added to the mixture. I assumed oleo was another form of margarine, but I had to Google the word just to make sure. 

It’s a shortened version of the word oleomargarine, aka fake butter. Once thought to be a healthier and cheaper alternative to butter, margarine’s popularity has plummeted over the last decade. 

Glancing through old family recipes written in slanted cursive writing, adorned with drops of vanilla, I realize oleo was in almost everything. My research confirms my suspicion that I could recreate the same recipe using butter. 

Lately, balance is a trendy word. A goal this holiday season is to find the balance between indulgence and eating for fuel. It’s fun to try new things, but keep old traditions alive.

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