Regardless of whether and how you celebrate the holidays just ahead, the festive spirit can wrap you up tighter than a parka in a snowstorm. That’s a healthy thing for the most part, in my opinion. Sure, the obsession with shopping, the carols playing nonstop on local radio stations and the sometimes gaudy holiday decorations can make you get your Grinch on, but focusing on fun with family and friends and being thankful for one’s health, home, communities and other blessings can keep things in proper perspective.
I also always find new things to delight me. It might be a new board game to play with my family, displays of lights around the neighborhood or the purple poinsettia I admired in my friend MJ’s office. I also was mightily impressed by the decorations I saw taped to DMU Professor Andrew Brittingham’s office door: research and instructional assistant (and obviously an utter artiste) Jennifer Giles’ amazing “Star Wars” snowflakes (find templates here).
I relish the tradition and task of making holiday treats, too. At least one good thing about getting older (well, other than it’s better than the alternative) is that I enjoy making goodies for others far more than actually eating them. Many of my tried-and-true holiday recipes spark treasured memories and make my loved ones feel even more loved. I mean, what says “I adore you” more than peanut butter fudge or Emeril Lagasse’s rum balls? (In moderation, of course!)
This being the treat season, I welcomed a recent Washington Post column by Casey Seidenberg, co-founder of Nourish Schools in Washington, DC, about two sweeteners that provide nutritional benefits as well as flavor: blackstrap molasses and grade B pure maple syrup. Now, that doesn’t mean you can glug down these syrups with abandon; blackstrap molasses, for example, has a similar calorie count and sugar content to white sugar, Seidenberg notes. They’re better, though, than refined white sugar with its high glycemic index and many agave syrups’ high fructose.
The benefits of grade B pure maple syrup (more nutrient-dense than grade A) include manganese and zinc. The columnist’s suggestions include using it to replace some of the white sugar in recipes and stirring it into your breakfast bowl of oatmeal, millet or quinoa. Break out the blackstrap to enhance baked beans, baste a turkey and rub on chicken before baking.
In celebration of these less-sinful sweeteners, below is my friend Kendall’s fabulous molasses cookies. I suggest you whip up a batch and, while they’re baking, keep your hands busy by snipping some paper snowflakes.
- 1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cloves
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cup large decorative sugar crystals or turbinado sugar for coating the dough
Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the molasses while mixing at a slow speed, then add the baking soda, salt and spices. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated. Stir in the flour. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two baking sheets or line them with parchment.
Shape or scoop the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Roll them in the decorative or turbinado sugar and put them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between them.
Bake the cookies for 10 minutes. The centers will look soft and puffy, which is okay. As long as the bottoms are set enough to lift partway off the baking sheet without bending or breaking, they’re ready to come out of the oven. Cool the cookies on the pans for 10 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Makes approximately 40 cookies.