Category Archives: Hanukkah

Tis the Season to Be Jolly (and Stressed)

Tis the season to be jolly . . .  yet, you may be asking, “Why am I not feeling great?” The holiday season is upon us – in full force. Everyone is looking forward to the festivities – and your stress level increases with every passing day The joy factor seems to be elusive.

It is an undeniable fact that stress has an impact on people and their lives. Most people are aware (at least to some degree) that stress can affect you emotionally and physically; but, are you aware that it can also affect your behavior.

Since you may be struggling with heavy stress right now, it would be wise to review the effects that stress can have on you and your life.

Emotional Effects

There are a variety of ways stress can impact your emotions, but the most common include:
•    Increased mood swings
•    Easily irritated
•    Easily angered
•    High anxiety, or worry
•    Constantly feeling overwhelmed
•    Depressed

Do any of those sound familiar?

When you consider the emotional reactions to stress described above it should be no surprise that stress can cause people to over-react to small issues. This also explains why tempers are short and family dissension is not uncommon during the holiday season.

Physical Effects

Physical effects of stress can be immediate and short-lived or develop into chronic conditions if the stress if not alleviated or at least managed.

With seasonal stress the most common effects would be:

  • Headaches – These are most commonly referred to as “tension headaches,” or TTH. They are thought to be the result of muscle tension and circulatory fluctuations within the body.
  • Digestive Disorders – When stressed out, people often say their stomach is “in knots.” If this goes on for long periods of time it can cause anything from abdominal pain and discomfort – and eventually to much worse with problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Sleep Disruption – This can create ongoing fatigue that contributes to more stress.

Longer term physical effects of chronic stress include:

  • Weight Gain – People deal with stress differently and while some people don’t eat when they are stressed, many people tend to eat and eat and eat, which can easily lead to weight gain.  The long-term consequence of this is unsightly fat around the abdominal area commonly referred to as “stress fat” that can be difficult to lose.
  • Insomnia – Stress can often lead to a lack of sleep, or insomnia, for many people.
  • Hair Loss – Believe it or not, chronic stress can lead to hair loss.
  • Heart Disease – The body’s heart and circulatory system can easily be disrupted by chronic stress. In extreme cases, it can cause dysfunction and even disease.
  • Chronic Pain – In addition to headaches mentioned above, common forms of stress-related chronic pain include: joint pain, back pain, and neck pain.
  • Weakened Immune System – Constant stress takes a huge toll on your body. It wears it out and can result in a weakened immune system, leaving you vulnerable to disease and multiple health problems.

Behavioral Effects

Most often, stress causes individuals to act differently, or change their normal behavior. This is true for both children and adults.

The most common changes include:

  • Verbal or physical abuse (toward humans and/or animals)
  • Excessive anger
  • Gambling
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Increased spending
  • Secluding oneself
  • Withdrawal from activities previously enjoyed
  • Staying up/Sleeping late

Stress is ever-present in our lives and during the holiday season it tends to increase. However, if you pay attention to how you are feeling (emotionally and physically) and how you are behaving, you can manage the effects of stress – if you choose to.

Don’t let it manage you and ruin the holidays for you and your family.

Happy Holidays!

Healthy Hanukkah Recipes – Latkes and Toppings

I thought it would be fun to share a few healthy Hanukkah recipes that you could use for Hanukkah 2014. Hanukkah is filled with feasting and wonderful traditional foods. This is a great year to think about how to honor the traditions and serve healthier dishes at the same time.  These four recipes (two latkes and two toppings) are a great way to start.

Image by Misskoco
Image by Misskoco

Olive Oil Baked Potato Latkes


  • 2 pounds Russet (baking) potatoes
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper


  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F.
  2. Peel and grate potatoes.
  3. Place grated potatoes in a bowl and cover with cold water and let sit for 15 minutes.
  4. Drain and place in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let stand for another 15 minutes.
  5. Pour potatoes onto a clean towel and squeeze out all the water – place in a large bowl.
  6. Add 2 teaspoons olive oil to the potatoes along with the remaining ingredients and stir until blended well.
  7. Use remaining olive oil to grease a baking sheet.
  8. Drop mixture by the spoonful onto the greased baking sheet,
  9. Flatten slightly with spoon. (Leave some space between the latkes)
  10. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes, or until browned; then, flip and bake another 10 minutes or until crispy and brown.
  11. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack slightly before serving.
  12. Top with applesauce topping and/or a creamy topping. (See recipes below)

Sweet Potato Zucchini Latkes


  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, grated
  • 2 medium baking potatoes, grated
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 to 2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour or panko
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil


  1. Prepare all the veggies as noted above.
  2. Place the grated potatoes and zucchini in a cheesecloth-lined colander and let drain for 20 minutes.
  3. Pour potatoes and zucchini onto a clean towel and squeeze as much liquid out as you can.
  4. Place in a large bowl.
  5. Add the next 4 ingredients to the veggies and stir to combine well.
  6. Place a large heavy skillet over medium heat and add olive oil.
  7. When the oil is hot, drop latke mixture into the oil one small spoonful at a time, flattening each one slightly with the back of the spoon.
  8. Allow the latkes to fry in the olive oil until browned on the bottom, then carefully flip and let fry until the other side is brown and crispy.
  9. Remove carefully with a spatula and continue frying latkes until all the batter is used.
  10. Serve warm with toppings.

Yield: 10 to 12 latkes (depending on size)

Healthy Applesauce Latke Topping


  • 5 pounds semi-tart apples
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Water
  • Natural honey or real maple syrup, to taste (optional)


  1. Peel and core the apples, cut in half, and place them in a large soup pot.
  2. Add the next 4 ingredients and stir.
  3. Cover with water half way up on the apples.
  4. Bring liquid to a boil.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, until apples are soft and liquid has reduced – stir frequently.
  6. Remove from heat and cool slightly.
  7. Remove cinnamon sticks and add honey or maple syrup to sweeten if desired – stir well.
  8. Mash the apples with a potato masher.
  9. Run the mixture through a sieve if you want to remove some of the pulp.
  10. Let cool and serve with hot latkes.

Yield: ~ 12 small portions

Creamy Caramelized Onion Latke Topping


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced into thin strips
  • 1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper


  1. Cut cream cheese into small chunks.
  2. Place a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add olive oil and onion.
  4. Fry, stirring often, just until onion starts to soften, then turn heat down to low and let cook for 20 to 30 minutes or until the onions are golden in color, soft, and “caramelized.”
  5. Add cream cheese chunks to the skillet with the onions, over low heat, and stir until the cream cheese melts.
  6. Remove the skillet from the heat and add the remaining ingredients, stirring well.
  7. Remove from heat; stir in mayonnaise and the remaining ingredients.
  8. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled as a topping for latkes

Note: Recipe can be easily doubled if needed.

Yield: ~ 6 topping size portions


Keep Little Ones Happy and Healthy This Holiday Season

Happy, Healthy Holiday Season for Little Ones

Image by MartaMaria Fontana
Image by MartaMaria Fontana

As the holiday season approaches, many of us think about our own need to stay healthy and active. As we think about the parties, the cookies, the candy, the eggnog and all the wonderful food … a small sigh escapes our lips …. There goes the diet!

Adults are not the only ones with sweet treats tempting us to dig in and enjoy. Our kids are also bombarded with goodies all season. From Thanksgiving to Hanukkah and Christmas – all the way through New Year’s, the availability of sweets, treats, and good food in abundance is difficult to resist.

We are celebrating the holidays, and food is certainly a big part of the festivities. As adults we can make some rational choices about our dietary intake (if we choose to), our kids do not have quite the same resolve. It is up to us to make healthy choices easier for them.

Let’s look at a few ideas for holiday fun without all the sweet temptations.

Play Outside

When a child is playing hard, there is little time to think about anything else. If you get your children away from the table, away from the kitchen, and away from the house, they will do what kids do – forget and focus on the here and now.

No matter where you live and what the climate is like, there are things to do outside during the holiday season. Depending on their ages, you may have to do some if not all of the work preparing, but it will be well worth it.

If you have leaves, rake them up and give them free reign to jump and play and scatter the leaves. Get out the sidewalk chalk and decorate for the season. If you have snow, build a fort or a snowman, or have a snowball fight. Your kids will forget that plate of cookies if they get to pelt pop square on the back with a snowball, I guarantee it.

Take a walk through the neighborhood to see the decorations. Sing songs. Window shop. Sit on a park bench and watch the people. Take turns making up stories about who the people are and where they are going. Feed the ducks. Remember – the goal is to take them away from the sweet temptations at home.

Play Inside

It can be more difficult to keep your little ones’ attention away from sweets when they are inside. The trick is to plan games that require some thought and even some action. The game Twister comes to mind for indoor action, but there are many games for all ages that are great for keeping kids busy.

Choose thoughtful games such as charades, drawing games, or word games. Games that make your kids think and give them some good belly-laughs are perfect for keeping their minds off the sweets. Treasure hunts are especially engaging and can be played by all ages, with a little help. Be sure to have the treasure a non-food related treat and something everyone will enjoy.

You can easily play I Spy games indoors, or hide-and-seek, or other easy games with a variety of ages. Card games are versatile, too. There are so many options it is hard to choose sometimes. Challenge your kids to create their own games – in fact, play with them and make up some of your own.

Don’t forget crafts. Get out the bin of odds and ends and let their imagination run wild. Or plan a specific craft to make a product to give as a gift to a relative or friend of the family. Of course, video games are fun and certainly an option for some families. But, remember, they must be engaging for the whole family and keep little fingers and minds busy. I am not an advocate of letting them sit alone and play video games all day under any circumstances.

After a day of fun activities both outdoors and indoors, when it comes time to enjoy a sweet treat, they will enjoy it even more.

Happy Holidays!

The Hanukkah Miracle – Celebrate in Good Health

Celebrate the Hanukkah Miracle and Good Health with Olive Oil

Image by AngelSimon
Image by AngelSimon

During Hanukkah we remember the miracle of the menorah, when one small flask of olive oil burned for eight days. One way to honor and celebrate this miracle is to use olive oil in many of the dishes that are prepared

It is common knowledge today that  olive oil is not only a delicious way to celebrate Hanukkah, it is also one of the healthiest oils available for cooking. Let’s take a look at this special oil to learn more.

What is Olive Oil

Simply stated, olive oil is derived from olives. It can be consumed without any processing at all; just pressed from the olive. If you took a handful of olives and squeezed them, you would get olive oil. No other vegetable oil can claim that distinction. In its most natural form, olive oil is resplendent in flavor and nutrition.

Of course, refining the process has created many other varieties of olive oil. We have listed some general categories of olive oil, but each category will also contain other variations. Here are the basics you would find in a grocery store:

  • Extra Virgin – This oil is from the first pressing of the olives and is not processed or refined, and is probably unfiltered. You will notice a very ‘olive’ taste and a rich color.
  • Virgin – This olive oil would be from the second pressing and is most likely filtered, and may be somewhat processed.
  • Pure – You will find this oil to have less flavor and will be lighter in color since it has been through more filtering and refining. If you don’t want an olive taste to your olive oil, this is probably what you would want to use.
  • Extra Light – This category encompasses a great deal of processing, refining, and blending. You will find most olive oil with this label to be a mix of highly processed olive oil and a vegetable oil. Some people like this variety for cooking.

Now that you are familiar with the varieties of olive oil, let’s take a look at some of the health benefits. This may give you even more reason to olive oil in celebration of Hanukkah.

Health Benefits of Olive Oil

All olive oil contains those desirable mono-unsaturated omega-9 fatty acids and are rich in antioxidants. However, if you want the greatest boost of antioxidants, choose extra virgin olive oil. This is the oil that is from the first pressing of the olives so it is loaded with the most concentrated amounts of phyto-nutrients, which are known for having anti-inflammatory properties.

Olive oil has been shown to help lower LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) while raising HDL cholesterol (the good stuff). This benefit helps protect against heart disease by regulating cholesterol levels. In addition, further studies show the mono-unsaturated fatty acid of olive oil also helps lower blood pressure. Extra virgin olive oil provides high concentrations of vitamin E and beta-carotene, keeping the circulatory system healthy and pumping strong.

Although studies regarding the role of olive oil in reducing cancer are inconclusive, there are interesting data. Research has shown some effects of reducing risks in the development of cancers of the digestive tract, respiratory tract, and breasts when subjects use olive oil routinely in their diet. These regular olive oil eaters are compared to non-olive oil eaters and people who more often consume saturated fat and butter. There could be other risk factors involved so the results of the studies are still mixed, although promising.

Other benefits associated with consuming olive oil include naturally healing stomach ulcers, gastritis, and other digestive tract disorders. Still more studies are starting to uncover a possible connection between olive oil consumption and improved blood calcium levels. This could point to the eventual link between overall bone health and olive oil consumption.

Still more research has provoked interest in the link between cognitive health and the use of olive oil. In older adults, both visual and verbal responses improved after the subjects increased their olive oil intake aggressively throughout the day. Laboratory research is also being done which is showing increased cognitive activity when animals are fed olive oil. The ability to protect the brain during times of stress may be one of the most amazing benefits this delicious oil has to offer.

Which brings us back to Hanukkah and the tradition of olive oil. The health benefits of olive oil are so expansive, it is hard to believe that the use of olive oil during Hanukkah ever strayed so far from what most of us would consider healthy foods.

Now we have the wisdom to know better! You do not have to indulge in fat soaked donuts and latkes to celebrate the miracle of the oil. Instead, pay homage to the true miracle – the olive oil that has been revered through the ages is the same olive oil that is today known as one of the healthiest foods for your body, which is even more reason to celebrate.

Happy Hanukkah!

Hanukkah Food Traditions

Food Traditions that Honor Hanukkah

Image by schtroumpf2510
Image by schtroumpf2510

If you are unfamiliar with the food traditions of Hanukkah, you might be interested to know that the typical menu for this celebration isn’t really all about keeping kids happy. Of course, it’s true that stacks of crispy deep-fried potato latkes, sweet cream cheese rugelach, jam filled donuts, and cheese blintzes will tend to keep kids gathered around the menorah, but there is still more to the story.

There are reasons why certain dishes are on the table during Hanukkah. Foods served during this celebration are meant to remind us of the miracles of Hanukkah. Let’s take a look at some simple explanations of the source of the traditions and a few ways meals were created to use these foods.

Olive Oil

The miracle of the oil and the menorah are familiar to many of us. Hanukkah celebrates Jewish freedom over religious persecution. The eight days of celebration and the menorah honor the miracle of the olive oil. Upon returning to the temple after victory over Greek oppression, there was found only one small flask of olive oil to burn, which should have lasted one day. However, the oil lasted eight days, giving us the miracle of the menorah. This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and why olive oil is used at great liberty in foods during this holiday.


We also honor the memory of a young woman by the name of Yehudis, who devised a plan to kill a Greek general during the war. The story tells us she fed the general a great deal of  cheese, followed by enough wine to make him fall into a deep sleep, at which time she bravely killed him. When word of his death reached the general’s army, they fled. We remember this woman’s bravery and celebrate the freedom gained by her act by serving many delicious cheese filled treats.

Olive Oil and Cheese Food Traditions

From these two basic foods used during the Hanukkah celebration come specific dishes that are staples within many Jewish communities. The traditional foods may vary slightly, but finding ways to incorporate olive oil and dairy products connects Jewish people around the world.

Pastries known as sufganiyot are very well known. They are quite absorbent, soaking in lots of the olive oil they are cooked in. They may be sweetened and filled with fruit jellies or honey, making them quite popular and a staple in many Jewish homes today.

Adding cheese to these pastries was a natural choice, celebrating two traditions at once. Cheese filled pastries were a standard Hanukkah treat throughout central Europe, while in Germany the pastries were more often filled with jellies and jams. The Indian version of this pastry combined sugar, honey, milk, and butter with the yeast and flour to create another nod to dairy.

Where olive oil was scarce, in the northern climates, goose or chicken fat was used for frying. Also in these colder climates, potatoes and apples were abundant, making potato latkes and apple fritters a staple during Hanukkah. Along with potatoes and apples, dairy products were plentiful in these colder regions. Out of these foods grew the tradition of serving sour cream and applesauce over the potato latkes. Jewish families would use what was available to best honor the teachings and the stories of the battle for religious freedom.

Deep fried latkes are served in practically every Jewish home during Hanukkah. Whether as a main dish or as crispy little appetizers, they are definitely a favorite dish for many. The tradition of serving latkes is based on the assumption they are fried in olive oil, symbolizing  the miracle of the oil in the Temple.

Of course, olive oil, cheese, and any dairy product can be served in ways that are healthier. You don’t need to drop potatoes into a vat of olive oil to honor the miracle. You can, instead, dress a fresh salad with pure pressed extra virgin olive oil. Perhaps, you can replace the  sugary cream cheese filled pastries with a mixture of cream cheese with fresh fruit and serve as a spread. You can even still enjoy your pastries, just pan fry them quickly to limit the amount of olive oil they absorb.

Fill your Hanukkah buffet with all the traditional foods your family loves, but remember; the Hanukkah food traditions are about honoring the memories and the miracles. A little bit of pure olive oil and fresh cheese served in healthy combinations is a lovely way to remember.

Happy Hanukkah!