Every year my parents throw a huge holiday party. Come December, 50 people descend upon my familial abode to enjoy fantastic food, drinks and the guaranteed impromptu jam session. (My father is a musician and loves to keep the party raging into the wee hours...around 11 pm.) My mom, heaven love her, is a total control freak about the food (ahem!) and likes to make most of it herself. To see her in the kitchen is like watching Giada De Laurentis on fast forward. Flip the potato latkes, stir the ratatouille, check the frittata, knead the cookie dough. It is complete insanity and I love it! I love it now, I should say. In my late teens and early 20's holiday cheer was unfortunately mixed with a heavy dose of food anxiety. Fear of fat and caloric overload kept me from fully enjoying the bounty. "How much fat does the cranberry pear tart have?" I'd bemoan. "Jamie, RELAX." my mom would say. "Just have a little bit and enjoy." I could have slapped her in that moment. What do you mean just have a "little bit"? My mother, the queen of self control, could take just a sliver of each dessert and be perfectly satisfied. What the heck is that? Unlike my mother, I'm an all or nothing kinda girl. I'd either eat half the tart or none at all. No little slivers for me thank you! The most troubling of her holiday delectables were her spiced nuts. You could smell the spicy sugary goodness down the street and every year they did me in.
Walnuts and pecans cooked down with tons of sugar and spice to make an awesome holiday munchy...how could I resist? She'd spread them all over the house so no matter what room I entered, there they were starring at me, willing me to eat just one more. Of course, one more turned into another handful which turned into me nonchalantly grazing in every room so that our guests wouldn't catch on to my sugared nut frenzy!
Thankfully this all stopped when I cut white sugar out of my diet. It still amazes me how much less stress I experience by not freaking out over calories and fat during in the holidays (family freak outs are another issue, however). Instead, I look at how the food reacts in my body and I know white sugar is a definite no no. My compulsion around the nuts was not only about my fear of fat but also the biological reaction that when I eat sugar I NEEDED more of it. And yet, over the years I've realized you cannot be all or nothing about food, or life in general. Rigidity leads to compulsion which inevitably makes way for anxiety and self-criticism.
So what can we do about the holiday foods that do us in every year? Why make a Jamie|Living version, of course! Here is a delicious rendition of my mom's holiday nuts without the white sugar. And where did I get the recipe? From my mom! Over the last few years she too has jumped onto the no white sugar bandwagon and has altered a number of her recipes to make them a bit more healthy and just as divine. Now be careful, even without the white stuff it's hard to just have a few ;) Enjoy!
Maple & Spice Glazed Nuts
3 tablespoons real organic maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add a bit more if you like things spicy!)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
2 cups nuts (pecans, walnuts and cashews work best)
1 pinch of salt
Toss all ingredients together and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes. Allow to cool fully for the syrup to harden. Spread around the house so you are always within arms reach of this scrumptious treat :)