The Key To Surviving A Hectic Holiday

As we find ourselves in the holiday season, too many of us find that we are in a time of year when rushing around with too much to do is commonplace. We are working, running errands, dropping off kids and grandkids (even dogs at ‘doggy daycare’) all the while answering cell phones with computers blinking at us in the background. It’s exhausting!

If we listen, life’s messages to slow down purposefully, meditatively takes on new meaning during this time of year. Let’s use it as an opportunity.

So often, we women focus on everyone else’s needs, neglecting our own and being unfaithful, in a sense, to ourselves. Finding and connecting with your spiritual core is both intensely personal to your beliefs, needs and outlook as well as deeply necessary for strength and replenishment. We need to find time every day to stop, detach momentarily from the hectic pace of ticking things off the to do lists, and take part in a relaxing or meditative activity.

With everything we have to do, one might think that finding time for meditation is impossible. Here are three things to remember about daily meditative time:

• It doesn’t have to take hours. Try meditation for just three to five minutes at a time.

• You can create your own meditative moments, in the style and at the time that pleases and suits you. This is not someone else’s scripted protocol.

• Quiet, meditative time is just as important to your health as good food, rest and exercise.

Where and when you choose to take this time is up to you. I frequently hear, “I can’t turn off the chatter in my mind.” If a thought or worry threatens to intrude on your few moments of peace, picture yourself placing those thoughts into a box labeled NOT NOW. Remember, your meditation doesn’t have to be silent if you don’t want it to. Is there a genre of music that helps you connect with the part of your being that is joyful and creative? Try playing it while keeping the volume fairly low and let your mind relax and declutter. Or, imagine (just for 1 to 2 minutes) sitting on a beach alone while you count the waves slowly washing in to the shore.

Women often say flat out, “I can’t do this.” Some say that they can’t shut off the noise in their minds, or that this kind of quiet time makes them feel anxious or perhaps even sad. It may seem a bit scary at first, to take this absolute time for yourself, brief as it may be, to listen to the language of the spirit. Remember that there are no shoulds when it comes to experiencing a meditative time — simply making the decision to stop for a few minutes every day is healthy and restorative. If you find yourself wrestling with feelings of sorrow or nervousness during a more quiet time, practice simply taking a few deep breaths. Observe what you are feeling without trying to judge the emotion or make it go away.

If you are the type of person who keeps very busy, so much that a few unscheduled moments become unsettling, you may want to take this as your cue that you need more, not less, of this kind of uninterrupted, tranquil interlude.

Meditative time recharges our commitment to our health and renews our focus on the spirit. As a daily habit, meditation allows a reflective, thoughtful, or even prayerful time — whichever is most comfortable and familiar to you — that subtly shifts you from rushing around to a more deliberate way of thinking about what you are doing and why. When you meditate, you replenish the well that allows you to flourish in the fullness of all your experiences, both the positive and the not so great.

The holidays can be (and frequently are) hectic with finding the perfect gift for someone else. It’s time we consider giving ourselves the gift of learning the language of the spirit — our spirit. Happy Holidays!

Author:  Stephanie Bender.


Cranberry Sauce


cranberries: candied, fruity and drunk

cranberry sauce with port and dried figs

Don’t laugh, but I think this post might be the closest I have come to service journalism on this site. I say this because, honestly, I have no idea what I am going to do with three batches of cranberry sauce I’ve cooked over the last week, but if at least one them makes it home with you, I suppose this effort won’t be a waste after all. Is this as noble and un-self-serving of me as it sounds? Of course not — I love cranberry sauce — I just have a little bit more than a two-person household should ever need.

classic cranberry sauce with orange peel

I’m not sure if it was because I was a vegetarian and without the turkey, the cranberry sauce made no sense, because I thought it always came from a can in a fun-to-play-with but terrifying-to-eat cylinder, or because I just didn’t like it, but I never ate cranberry sauce growing up. It wasn’t until my first year in New York when I lived in a worn and infested fourth-floor walkup on Avenue B with my friend Dan that I had the real deal, and completely fell in love. Dan’s from Massachusetts and from what I understand, they take cranberry sauce pretty seriously up there, or at least he did, simmering, zesting oranges and carefully sifting through the rinsed bag for deflated or still stem-attached berries. This classic cranberry sauce recipe (which I am sure he’ll tell me I’m getting wrong) will always be my favorite, stirred into plain or vanilla yogurt or simply taken spoon-to-mouth. I hedge on the sugar a little, preferring it on the tart side, but I never skimp on the orange peel, as there’s a reason it is so often paired with cranberries: they bring out the best in each other. A few julienned or thick-zested strips in the sauce is one of my favorite parts; simmered in the stunning rouge syrup, they candy like an orangette, and are a fantastic surprise when you run across them in your hungry tasting. Lest you need any more evidence of its greatness, look how little we have left from a week ago.

mixed-berry quick cranberry sauce

The second cranberry sauce is Alex’s mother’s recipe and his family’s absolute favorite, despite my efforts to convert them to the back-of-the-bag classic. It’s terrifyingly simple (I’ll let you find out for yourself at the end, but promise that you’ll laugh), but I’m warning you, addictive. With mixed berries and walnuts, it seems more dessert than dinner, in my opinion, and the spoonful we had over vanilla gelato two nights ago was almost unbearably delicious. Alex’s mother told him she had a new recipe to try this year – something with jalapenos and ingredients that scare me – and he said, “sure, sounds good, but only if you make the other one, too.”

well ain't you the prettiest thing

The final recipe is a new one and for the record, my husband was absolutely horrified at the thought of it, but I persevered. I mean, port? Love it. Balsamic? Ditto. Dried figs? Yum. Black pepper? Intriguing. Rosemary? Could be. Brown sugar? Hells yeah. All together with cranberries? Er, ah, …it took me an hour to even try it and even now, I’m just not sure I fell in love. (Right now, Alex is biting his tongue, but I’m sure it won’t be long until he says “told you so!”). It’s … (hang on, let me try it again) … wine-y. I think it would go well with turkey, or even some roasted potatoes. I’m just not sure it’s good for spooning, and if there’s anything the above two recipes should hint to you, it’s that I like the stand-alone cranberry sauce. At your Thanksgiving table, however, I’m sure it will get no complaints, a sauce for the sauced grownups, if you will.

roses, even prettier on their way out

Homemade Whole Cranberry Sauce
Adapted from the back of the Ocean Spray cranberry bag, and my friend Dan

Makes 2 1/4 cups

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 (12-ounce) package fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed, drained and sorted through, removing any stems or deflated ones
Several julienned strips of orange peel, or thick pieces of zest
A few squeezes of orange juice

Combine water and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil; add cranberries and zest, return to boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10-14 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a few squeezes of fresh orange juice. Cover and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time.

Alex’s Mother’s Cranberry Sauce

1 15-ounce can jellied cranberry sauce
1 15-ounce can whole-berry cranberry sauce
1 bag frozen mixed berries, not defrosted
1 handful chopped walnuts

Break up the jellied cranberry sauce into chunks in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients. Stir. Frozen berries will melt as it sits.

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Dried Figs
Adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2001

Makes about 3 1/2 cups

1 2/3 cups ruby Port
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
8 dried black Mission figs, stemmed, chopped
1 6-inch-long sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar

Combine first 6 ingredients in medium saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes. Discard rosemary. Mix in cranberries and 3/4 cup sugar. Cook over medium heat until liquid is slightly reduced and berries burst, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Cool. Transfer sauce to bowl; chill until cold.

Do ahead: Cranberry sauce can be prepared 1 week ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.