I love this time of year when the doldrums of cold days and dark nights are broken up by some of our favorite holidays. Thanksgiving gets things started and soon enough Christmas is on its heels. The various holiday foods are definitely one of my favorite parts. It’s typically but once a year I lay my eyes on pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, fruit cake, and other, well, not so healthy items. They say the average American gains 7-10 pounds during the holidays. It can be difficult to resist those extra calories, especially when Aunt Mae is pushing you to eat “just one more homemade holiday cookie.” That special holiday feeling can be quickly replaced by frustration, anger and resentment when willpower drops and the scale starts creeping up.
I am frequently asked what to do during the holidays to avoid packing on the pounds. I must admit I have no fool-proof answer. Everyone is different in how they handle food temptations. I also know “just eat less” is not an adequate answer. But what I do typically say is make a plan for the month, whatever that is for you, and then when the actual holiday day comes – ENJOY! Don’t stress about every morsel that crosses your lips. You did the hard work of making and sticking to a plan, now is the day to relax and indulge a little. The funny thing is, once you’ve given yourself permission to eat and enjoy, many of the foods that seemed to have their power over you quickly become less tempting. It is such a crazy mind thing.
The other thing I say? Indulge in a holiday tradition. Maybe that is wreath making, elaborate decorations, or special baking projects. Mine is the latter. I love baking, and I find it enjoyable to have a tradition that involves food. In fact, it helps other holiday treats become less tempting for some strange reason. Also, since it is just something done once a year I know it won’t be a temptation to have this food week after week. Once it’s done, it’s done. And definitely I make sure to share it with everyone around.
My tradition of choice is German Stollen bread. Why you might ask? I have no idea! About 8 years ago I thought it sounded like a fun tradition, especially since the Germans seem to be the kings of Christmas. Actually, the true story is that I bought a book from a German woman who ran a B&B in Eastern WA. In her book were several traditional Stollen recipes. I decided to give it a go that Christmas, and I have been making it ever since.
Stollen is a fruit bread, but don’t confuse it with nasty fruit cake. It is a sweet, moist bread pebbled with candied fruit, sometimes nuts, and loads of butter. Often it is made early in the season so that it can be wrapped and stored for 2-4 weeks before actually consuming. I read somewhere that the wrapped bread symbolized the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes. Whatever the case, I believe the incubation period helps the flavors meld and the bread to perfect its texture.
The neat thing about Stollen, besides the taste of course, is the history behind it. Apparently many towns in Germany have their own version of Stollen, so if you go there you might sample several different types of “traditional” Stollen bread. One of the most famous is the Dresden Stollen which is officially produced by only 150 Dresden bakers. Someday I would LOVE to visit and have a sampling of the various Stollens made in their respective towns.
Now it goes without saying, this bread isn’t “healthy” in any notable way. You might even wonder why as a Dietitian I would write about such a thing. To put it simply, I think it is important and fun to have food traditions. Despite what the food police might have told you, it’s ok. Many of these foods are a piece of our heritage or symbolize events in history or religion. What I would encourage you to do is set down that store bought cookie at your friend’s house. Set down that doughnut left in the break room. Instead, occasionally indulge in those foods that you truly love and were prepared with love and care. The rest of the time you eat healthy. Then when the holiday comes – you eat Stollen! One piece of course. Let’s not go crazy here.
If you are interested in starting a Stollen tradition of your own, or are simply curious about this fun process (and by fun I mean all-day fun), I have included a few recipes below. Enjoy!
For those of you who already have holiday traditions of your own, please share! I would love to know about special foods, trips, decorations, or other fun ways you celebrate. Celebrations, in their own mood-lifting way, help keep us healthy. So stay healthy, and celebrate!