Wellness Wednesday: Good Relations with Family

Holidays bring family together and that is good. However, family issues that were never resolved may come to light. To help your family time during the holidays be peaceful and bright, I have collected a few insights and recommendations for your consideration. 

Accept that family relations are complex. Accept that high stress during holidays is real. It relates to the practical demands of decorations, gifts, entertaining, finances and family relations. It also has to do with the inevitable taking stock of the year in conversations in one’s own mind and over the holiday table. People inevitably present their year in holiday card humble-brag style, and it is difficult not to make comparisons between one family and the next. 

Establish a realistic idea about who you are going to see and how they are likely to interact with you. Behavior patterns (also called dynamics) between people are very durable. That is, they are challenging to change. If you have a dysfunctional or uncomfortable dynamic with someone you are likely to see, prepare for it. Consider developing responses in advance should difficult topics come up. Remember to make “ I statements ”, i.e., "I feel", "I think". 

Set your own boundaries and stay within them. Begin by going to a family gathering focusing on the positive about yourself. Hold to those positive beliefs. Likewise, be tolerant of others and their idiosyncrasies. Focus on the positive in others. 

When you are reconnecting with people, greet them directly and warmly. Ask simple open ended questions but don’t pry. There is often no need to evaluate what they say or respond, just to listen with empathy and understanding. 

Do not go outside of your boundaries. Do not defend yourself if challenged. Just agree to disagree. Do not try to control or persuade others about old or new issues. Do not get drawn into an argument in a family gathering even if you have stake in the issue. It is not the time or the place. 

Remember the reason you celebrate holidays. They should be a time to celebrate the wondrous healing power of hope for the future. Holidays should be about celebrating the value of relationships. If your family relationships have not been well cared for, holiday time is a good time to start your part in this. Medical science has shown that we are happiest and healthiest if our relationships are healthy. Attaining optimal nutrition, fitness, and physical health are not easy. These take considerable learning, patience, and routine. Relationship health is no different. 


Food Friday: Easter Lunch Planning 

Sorry, for some reason this did not go out as planned.... so here it is ! 

Every year we have a sizable party for friends and family. Every year I try to include some traditional dishes, but also some things to surprise and delight. Right now I am letting you in on the menu planning process. 

This year, Passover does not coincide with Easter. Most years, it seems like it does. Since I am Jewish we do not have leavened bread on those years. However, this year, we will be able to. 

Last week’s Food Friday went over many of the traditional foods from around the world. Because Easter occurs so early in the spring, it is before crops are really coming in. Thus even the festive menus include foods made from preserved things, like cured meats and fish. But, when you think about it, dried wheat ground into flour is a preserved thing, and so breads are among the traditional dishes, especially if they contain dried fruits and candied citrus peel.

For our bread this year, I am looking forward to a traditional Russian Easter Bread made by one of my Russian friends. My mother in law usually brings lamb, which is herb encrusted. My daughter is quite the chocolatiere, and I am going to try to persuade her to make a batch of handmade chocolates in fanciful shapes on Saturday. We like to make bugs and butterflies from molds. Her husband is the salad expert and produces an extraordinary spinach salad with candied walnuts and sliced strawberries. I will handle the new potatoes, smoked salmon with cream cheese and pickles, and new asparagus. Also I cannot resist making a meringue cookie in honor of one of the great grandmothers in the family. For them I will use only the whites of the egg, and so will liberate numerous yolks. To utilize these, I will make lemon curd. I have discovered that just about everyone in my family loves it. Few here in the states eat it. It is more popular in Britain. It is a rich lemony spread made with butter, sugar, yolks and lemon juice. You can even make it with lime juice. People use it like jam. It is a beautiful sunny color. 

And that is quite enough for the cooked sweets, since there will be the egg hunt in the nearby forest. There will be lots of treasures, such as spools of thread, coins, buttons, ribbon and more, but there will also be candy. Some of the eggs will be wooden and painted, and some will even be stone. In the past I found some that rang like bells. They went to the permanent egg collection. 

Make no mistake these gatherings are for more than fun and food. They forge the social bonds we need to be happy and healthy. So regardless of your religious , political, familial or cultural affiliations,  get together and make something nice. Renew old bonds and forge new friendships. 

Welcome to my spring holiday table. I would love to hear about yours. 






Food Friday: Holiday Menu Planning 

I don't know about you, but right now I am trying to figure out the menu for not one but several holiday dinners to come in the fairly near future. To try and minimize stress with these events which are supposed to be fun, I've decided to do a little advance planning and let you in on it too.

Sometimes it's best to stick to tradition, and include menu items you know are family favorites. But particularly when you have more than one meal to present during the holiday season, you can afford to be a little bit creative. Let's take a quick look at four different cuisines which you might consider. Christmas is really big in each of the five countries which I will present, but you can probably think of many more countries that cherish the holiday as well. You can explore their cuisines too. Suddenly there is no shortage of menu ideas when you consider it in this framework. The challenge will be choosing what to leave out ! 


A Mexican inspired Christmas “ Navidad” 


  • Virgin Margaritas
  • Quesadillas with fresh salsa for starters 
  • Ponche - a hot fruit and cider punch 
  • Mexican Christmas Eve Salad _ this is colorful salad mixture of lettuce, beets, apple carrot, pineapple, jicama, pecans and pomegranate seeds. 
  • Tamales with a chocolate chili mole sauce. 
  • Rosca dee Reyes- A sweet spicy fruity bread containing assorted dried  or candied fruits. 


A French Inspired Christmas “Noel” 


  • Champagne, Perrier
  • Amuse bouche ( hor d’oeuvres) - olives, seasoned nuts, vegetable platters with dips etc. 
  • Boeuf (beef) Bourguignon ( A thick stew made all day with red wine and meat cooked until fork tender eaten with crusty baguettes. ) 
  • Haricots Verts ( green beans roasted with olive oil) served with lemon 
  • Salade Nicoise - Tomatoes, boiled eggs, and tuna on a bed of greens 
  • Diverse fruit and cheese platter 
  • Buche de Noel- An amazing rolled chocolate sponge cake filled with mocha cream, frosted with chocolate buttercream to look like a log and garnished with meringue mushrooms
  • Sorbet 


An Italian Christmas “ Natale” 


  • Pellegrino 
  • Antipasti- tuna, fresh salmon, cured meats, olives, cheeses, bruschetta, crostini, Caprese salad- with fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes
  • Pasta, such as ravioli filled with extravagant fillings, such as meat, spinach, ricotta, figs, and even chocolate and candied citron. 
  • Parmesan chicken in red sauce 
  • Lemon tart 
  • Gelati


Scandinavian Christmas recipes “ Yul” 


Glogg- spiced mulled wine 

  • A “ julbord” , meaning a smorgasbord especially for Christmas
  • Cold foods like Gravlax ( salmon cured in sugar, salt and dill), cured meats, cheeses, pickles, beet salad, breads and butters
  • Warm foods like meatballs in berry sauce, potato dishes and cabbage dishes. 
  • Desserts like Pepparkakor ( gingerbread cookies) and saffransbullar ( sweet buns)



One traditional Christmas in America, with some twists


  • Turkey
  • Mash potatoes
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Green salad 
  • Asparagus
  • Pie À la mode


Turkeys is front and center at Christmas time as well as at Thanksgiving. But this time give it a little twist. Consider encrusting the bird with herbs, or having it smoked. For the stuffing, go beyond simple breadcrumbs and try wild rice stuffing. Try a twist on traditional cranberry sauce and add orange. For your salad, add every favorite salad ingredient you can think of from olives to capers, dried cranberries, two colors of tomatoes, and even candied nuts. For the mashed potatoes, consider the very exotic purple potato, or for a very healthy twist, sweet potatoes. If you really want some color on your table try all three. And whatever you do with the potatoes, flavor them well with olive oil, butter, sour cream, salt, pepper and even herbs, garlic, or cheese. Regarding your traditional pie, consider one two fruits not one. Great combinations are apple raspberry, or rhubarb strawberry.

Warning: Each of these menus require several days preparation and several people to accomplish. But, as I read through all my material about holiday and meal traditions the world over, I realized that the affectionate time and extra effort spent preparing these magnificent celebratory meals together is the essence of the holiday. 

Merry Christmas all week long to all the cooks ! 




Food Friday: Special Holiday Food

Holiday food is not just the food on the holiday table. It is two weeks from Christmas and in many families and in many workplaces it is like one long holiday. Food is front and central in many places at this time of year. Make yours special. 

Here are are some categories of holiday food to think about: 

  • Office food
  • Cookie exchanges 
  • Food Gifts
  • Hospitality Gifts to bring to a party
  • Potluck food to bring to a party 
  • Foods for the stocking 
  • Foods for the holiday table. 


Office Food

Office food at the holidays can be overwhelming. From deli and cheese plates to commercial thank you baskets to homemade confections and baked goods, it can really pack on the pounds. The best thing to do is to make sure to keep a good list to write thank you notes, have a small sample of one or two treats, then cover the rest up and put it in the office fridge until the end of the day when the food can be taken home to someone’s hungry adolescent horde. 


Cookie exchanges

These take the advance planning of someone with an MBA. The key is a good freezer. The other key is a source of good freezer friendly cookie recipes. For example, anything based in shortbread is good, whereas meringue cookies are right out, unless they are baked same day and carefully transported. Remember that there is good gluten free flour that is widely available that will bake up just like regular wheat flour. You may not know who you are feeding, and you want to be inclusive.

The idea is this: You bake a good sized batch of cookies every couple days starting a couple weeks before Christmas. You freeze each batch. You do at least 3 types of cookies but 5 is better. You make sure to vary the flavors and form factors, so they will look interesting on a gift platter. On the day before the exchange, or whatever activity demands batches of festive cookies, you bring them out and arrange assorted cookies on said gift platter, making sure to package and decorate them well. Voila, now you know you could run at least a small company. 


Food gifts

These have been addressed previously HERE.


Hospitality Gifts

When you are choosing your party outfit, chose your party gift. Some people call them hostess gifts. Think of it as an accessory to your outfit. It’s good form, breaks the ice, and makes everybody feel good right away at the front door.

If you are attending a potluck and are bringing a dish, it does NOT count as your hostess gift. Classic gifts are a wrapped bottle of wine or champagne, but can just as easily be Pellegrino, Perrier, or sparkling cider. Another route is cut flowers, but I myself prefer a live plant such as an orchid. 


Potluck food 


First rule is to ask the host what they would like you to bring, smile, say yes and do it. Second rule, is make an extra special version of whatever it is. Third rule: try to steer clear of common dietary intolerances. Fourth rule: make enough. Fifth rule: present it well. Sixth rule: observe standard food safety practices. 


Foods for the stocking


Filling stockings is one of my favorite things to do. I bet if you thought about it, you could list the favorite treats of everyone in your family, and maybe a few of your friends. Think a bit more broadly and cover spices and condiments; then consider food related items like pretty toothpicks, and soon your “ foodie “ stockings will be overflowing. Here are some ideas: Hard candy in pretty small tins, actual high end natural cough drops, favorite gum, of course chocolates, but make sure they are not crushed, candy canes or licorice (but only if people actually like them), bottles of culinary extracts for cooking like vanilla or lemon, exotics like pomegranates, star fruit, cumquats, fancy nuts, and their nutcrackers. Capers, tiny jars of indian chili paste, colored peppercorns, teas, tea infusers, jams, and hot sauces. You get the idea. Just troll through a nice organic store and santa’s little helper will find lots of stocking sized treasures. 


Foods for the holiday table

I have covered this a bit before, but the essence is this: Bring people together in a spirit of wonder, gratefulness and congeniality. If your cherry pie can help with this, by all means make it. As far as healthfulness is concerned, yes, there is a healthy hack to every traditional recipe. I would like to write a bit more about this, and so this will be my topic for next’s week’s Food Friday. 

My best wishes to all the busy elves. 

Wellness Wednesday: Holiday Wellness

Here are just a few tips to make this most intense part of the holiday season less stressful, more relaxing and more celebratory. 

1. Take a look at your calendar from now until New Years. Make sure you are neither overbooked, nor forgetting about events that are meaningful to you. Make sure the schedule is realistic and that your family members are all on board with the plan. 

2. Take a hard look at your budget and stick with it for your Holiday expenditures. A great source of holiday stress is financial. Reduce costs by decorating with natural elements, entertaining pot luck, and by making or baking homemade gifts. Consider also gifts of outings. For example, give a certificate good for “one Sunday afternoon walk in the park with me”. 

3. Ramp up the consistency of your workouts. You will feel better about yourself and avoid the Holiday weight gain. 

4. Be choosy about your indulgences. Eat slowly and savor your treats. Drink ample water through the day, and be sure to consume the sights and sounds of the season, not just the tastes. Consider being the amateur event photographer of the family. It takes your appreciation of the season far beyond the food. 

5. Relatives coming from out of town ? Make a sound plan for their accommodations. A little advance planing can save a lot of stress. 

6. Anticipating stressful interpersonal encounters ? Plan ahead and adjust your attitude. Try to see the good in everyone. Blessed are the peacemakers. 

7. Bon chic, bon genre - This is a French saying meaning that if you dress well, you bring your best self forward. Dress to present yourself thoughtfully, and to indicate your respect, enthusiasm and cheer. Never dress to impress. Dress to delight and to put others at ease. 

8. Consider the deeper meaning of the season. This is, of course, the best way to put the shine on the season. 


Happy Holidays from Dr. Gina 




A very nice reference for more reading :

Food Friday: Trick or Alternative Treats

Ever wonder what you could give out instead of just candy ? I have worked on this challenge before at Easter when filling eggs, but have not until now considered what alternatives I could do at Halloween. 

First of all your Halloween alternative offerings should not break the bank. Secondly they should be age specific. In my family and group of friends, everyone from young children to old adults go out for the holiday, usually in costume. Halloween has always been a big holiday for our family, but especially since our youngest child was born on that day 22 years ago. When he was tiny he used to think the whole town came out for his birthday. 

I am for a strategy where you actually hand out the treat rather than have people take it from an unattended bowl on your porch. You will see why when you see my list of alternatives. Some are definitely age specific. Plus you ought to get to know your neighbors.

I think it is important to have some candy at Halloween. Always choose something that is wrapped so that the parent or child can be sure that has not been handled. You might think that the candy would get cherry picked out. This will not be the case if you were the one doing the handing out. Moreover, at Easter, I have found that some of the other non-food items are actually more popular than the candy.

Here's the list:

  • Tiny boxes of raisins
  • Trinkets you've purchased for cheap at the thrift store
  • Interesting buttons purchased by the jar at garage sales or thrift stores
  • Tiny spools of thread purchased by the bag at the fabric store
  • Craft items such as decorative pipe cleaners or pom-poms
  • Glass “Jewels”, meaning the pretty glass rocks you put in the bottom of a vase of flowers, Usually available at the dollar store in a selection of sizes and colors.
  • Stickers
  • Glow bracelets usually available at the dollar store.
  • Poems quotes or sayings written decoratively and in tiny envelopes
  • My favorite: beads, especially large ones.
  • Tiny rolls of ribbon
  • Tiny toy soldiers or animals 
  • Office supplies such as decorative clips, rubber bands, tip erasers, or pencils
  • Tea light candles

Basically I pick things I would like to get. Speaking of me, as you can see from the picture, I am still working hard on my costume. Guess who I am going to be.  

Have a safe happy Halloween. 









Structure Sunday: Holidays, the Happy Disruption

I have been meaning to write a post about how routine is the basis of all health maintenance.  It has to do with how small simple tasks repeated over and over in time, create health. Or wealth, for that matter. Everyone knows that small consistent contributions to a savings account make large gains over time. One could also argue that consistent routine is the basis of most work or creative productivity. 

But health is our wealth, and what I want to emphasize is the regularity of just a couple things: nutrition in three healthy meals and snacks, and regular 6 days per week of exercise. If these could be done simply, moderately, and consistently, without a lot of stress or fanfare, it would be awesome.

However, it is the holiday season. Holidays can be disruptive, to health, wealth, nutrition, exercise and work. And as you have seen, I am a bit off schedule in certain things. For example, I took some time off from the blog due to sheer merriment and kids being home from college. But I have been thinking about you all, and how you are faring, during this festive and sometimes disruptive season. 

Here are my simple suggestions for keeping the happy in the holidays. Try to keep to your exercise above all, especially since you're perhaps eating richer food this season. Even if you eat treats, such as those on this holiday table, don't fret. Sample them in moderation, by all means, but be sure to include healthy holiday food in the menu. 

And since it is the holiday season, I feel I can ask for a few more things. Have ice water or plain club soda on every table, and ladies, no more than one 8 ounce glass of beer, wine, or champagne per day. Try to sleep at least 7 hours per night. Finally, develop a holiday month plan, right down to gifts, wrapping, invitations, and meals. I am a big advocate of plotting all this on a calendar, and refining what works bests year after year.

Routines, large and small, will help you keep the holidays merry and bright.