Photo: ©Sally Pasley Vargas
You’re probably going to be reading a lot about how to manage holiday stress, as in, more stuff you can do to drive yourself nuts. Not to be a Scrooge, but wake me when it’s over.
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST SALLY PASLEY VARGAS
Out there in Consumerland, aka Target, where one must venture forth for toilet paper, laundry soap, and other mundane necessities of life, I spotted signs pointing to impending anxiety. As I added the bags of Halloween candy to my cart, I averted my eyes from the snow globes and ornaments. The holidays are coming! The holidays are coming! This glimpse of the approaching madness of the season made me break into a cold sweat. I vowed to stay out of the stores until January, but I know that won’t be entirely possible. (I forgot the Kleenex.)
Still, I realized it is time to start planning to ward off the stress that will inevitably arise if my mind is not in pre-emptive mode. So I am making my list and checking it twice. I’ll start the list with all the crazy stuff I think I should do in the next month or two. Then I’ll go over it and cross at least half of it out. Wow, that’s efficient. Only a few days into November, and look how much I’ve accomplished!
You are probably going to be reading a lot about how to manage holiday stress. Those articles will be mixed in with special projects and recipes to brighten the season, as in, more stuff you can do to drive yourself nuts. While managing your stress.
Not to be a Scrooge, but wake me when it’s over
So I’ll share my special holiday plans and projects with you here, in the form of another kind of list:
Breathe That’s kind of a given, since we all need air to stay alive, but I’m planning to remember to breathe consciously at every stop light and in every line, to try and center myself and feel what’s going on inside, while noticing my thoughts and feelings without judgment. That’s a tall order, but it doesn’t take more than a few seconds of my ‘precious time.’
Practice Speaking of time, I am going to commit to fifteen minutes of practice a day. That’s a commitment I know I can keep. For me, practice means simply to sit quietly and tune in. If I start with the fifteen minutes I know I can do, I may extend it, but I’m not going to go all nutty and achievement-oriented on this.
Unplug I am scheduling some unplugged time every day. I want to see if the world goes away if I’m not watching or plugging in. I am pretty confident of the outcome of that experiment.
Forget multitasking Since I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time anyway, I am not worried about this project. Still, I want to focus on one thing at a time while noticing my mind racing on to the next thing, so I can pull myself back to the task at hand. Um, is that multitasking?
Put a little distance between self and family dynamics Boy, this is a killer challenge, since the holidays potentially bring up plenty of old stuff. The key is to watch and learn. Maintaining a teeny bit of detachment from emotions and reactions to situations is healthy and necessary anytime, but especially during the holidays when the past jumps up and tries to grab you. Keep your head when family members make unreasonable demands and you start feeling guilty because they really, really annoy the bejeepers out of you, and you’re trying ever so hard to be loving and kind. Of course, this is general advice—I’m not talking about my own family here.
Look at the light I am enthralled by Christmas tree lights and must remind myself to spend a few quiet moments staring at them when the dark closes in. Even one candle in the evening is symbolic to me of how little it takes to lift oneself out of the darkness we all experience, especially noticeable at this time of year.
Stay balanced With so much activity in the next few months, I have to make a special effort to keep up exercise routines and eat well.
The holiday balancing act: an apple tart that’s off the butter chart
Which brings me to the following apple tart. I am not a vegan, but the thought of how much butter I usually consume from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve is a scary one. That led me to experiment with this olive oil pastry crust. It has a hefty amount of whole wheat flour, but paired with walnuts and apples, it is quite good in an earthy, crunchy sort of way. As a butter-trained pastry chef, I needed to mentally prepare myself for a different experience, and I was quite pleased with the result. I can tell you, it goes down a lot easier, with fewer regrets, than the buttah-fied version.
Apple Tart with Olive Oil Pastry (Vegan)
Makes one 9-inch tart
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Whir the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, chopped walnuts, and salt together in a food processor for a few seconds, until mixed. Gradually pour the olive oil through the feed tube while pulsing the machine, until the flour absorbs the oil. Add the lemon juice and 1/4 cup water, and pulse until mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to form a ball. Add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the dough seems dry.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured countertop and shape it into a flat disk. Roll it into an 11-inch circle. Don’t be afraid to use ample flour on the cutting board if the dough is sticky. Keep sliding an offset spatula under the dough as you roll it, or roll it between 2 sheets of plastic wrap if it that will be easier for you.
4. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch tart pan with a removable rim. Lift the sides of the dough to ease it into the pan so that it fits snugly, pressing it gently into the bottom and sides of the pan. Trim the top edge of the dough so that it overhangs the rim by 1/4 inch. Fold it under itself, with the flap against the sides of the pan, so that it is even with the top of the pan rim. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
3 to 4 apples, peeled, cored and cut in thick slices
1/3 cup dark moscovado sugar or brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 to 3 tablespoons apple cider
1. Starting at the outside edge, arrange the apples in the pan, overlapping them slightly. Mix sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a bowl. Sprinkle over the apples.
2. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove tart from the oven and brush the apples with cider. Bake for 15 minutes longer, or until apples are soft and crust is browned. Serve warm.
Boston Globe writer Sally Pasley Vargas runs a Zen kitchen. “Cooking, it turns out, is a fantastic way of cultivating awareness and presence and somehow the two seemed to stick with me.” Cook with Sally here in her monthly column for The Magazine of Yoga, and make yourself at home on her blog Cooking Lessons.
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