Frenzied shopping excursions, crowded holiday parties, droning family get-togethers, and clumsy gift wrapping marathons at the eleventh hour. The holidays are fun and festive – and an absolutely exhausting time of year. Saturday afternoon I braved the mall for some holiday shopping, having forgotten to arm myself with elbow pads, a flask, and a supersonic force field to combat the repeated attacks on my personal space. Two weeks before Christmas, that place is a battlefield, and not for the weak of heart.
Making my way through the thronging crowds in an unsuccessful attempt at wrapping up my holiday shopping (pun intended), I made it home just in time to change clothes, put my face on and head to the evening’s first of two holiday parties. Before I knew it, I was crawling into bed at 2:00 a.m. with a bellyful of artisanal cheese, tinsel in my hair, and hoarse from singing too much karaoke… Hey, ’tis the season!
With as much fun as the holiday season brings, it’s important to take some time for yourself and step back from all the madness and melee, even if it’s just for an hour or so: quit looking at the growing to-do list, stop micromanaging the calendar and turn off the phone to avoid Mom’s calls about gingersnaps versus ginger creams (sorry, Mom). Sunday afternoon, I took such a timeout.
I didn’t completely block out the holiday theme, of course; in keeping with the season, I prepared two of my favorite treats from Christmastime in Germany. The famous Weihnachtsmärkte, or Christmas markets, of Germany boast beautiful decorations, one-of-a-kind gifts, plenty of snacks – and of course, plenty of booze.
Glühwein (roughly pronounced “glue-vine”) is a delicious, spicy mulled wine, scented with cinnamon, cloves, citrus and sugar, and is served hot and in abundance at Germany’s chilly Christmas markets. An appropriate pairing with a mug of Glühwein is a handful of glazed, spiced almonds called gebrannte Mandeln. Traditionally, these almonds are toasted and tossed in a sweet glaze of butter, sugar and cinnamon, creating a delicious, crunchy coating.
I used a bottle of cheap red wine as the base of my Glühwein, and added a few whole cloves, a cinnamon stick, a vanilla bean and some lemon and orange peel for a citrusy zing. Being careful not to bring the pot to a boil, I let the Glühwein slowly heat while its flavors mingled, and got to work on my mixed nuts.
A great thing about making your own mixed nuts is you can add more of your favorites, omit your least favorites, and easily control the amount of salt and spice. In my case, I love pecans and walnuts – with all their little nooks and crannies, they are ideal for getting glazed. After a quick toast in the skillet, I sautéed the nuts in butter, spices and sugar, until the sugar melted and the glaze adhered to the nuts. The flavor of these nuts is one part sweet, one part spicy, and all parts addictive. Feel free to play with the flavors – the spice combinations are virtually endless, so be adventurous!
For a few hours Sunday afternoon, I didn’t concern myself with shopping, baking, cleaning, menu planning or travel plans. With a bowl of sweet, spicy nuts, and a mug of heady Glühwein, The Laura Show took a well-deserved timeout. I highly recommend it, and you know you deserve it. Happy holidays!
1 bottle red wine
1/2 lemon peel
1/2 orange peel
3 Tbs. sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean (optional; if no vanilla bean,
add 1 Tbs. vanilla extract)
Add all ingredients in a large saucepan over low heat and cover. Allow to steep for at least half an hour and up to one hour, until the flavors have blended. (Make sure it doesn’t boil!) Strain the glühwein with a mesh sieve and return to the pot. Keep warm over very low heat while serving.
Sweet and Spicy Glazed Nuts
4 cups favorite mixed nuts, unsalted
4 Tbs. butter
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 orange, zested
6 Tbs. brown sugar
1 Tbs. water
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
In a large skillet, heat the nuts over medium heat until fragrant and beginning to toast, about 4 minutes. Add the butter and cook until the nuts begin to darken, about 1 minute. Add the spices, orange zest, sugar, salt, pepper and 1 Tbs. water and cook, stirring constantly, until the nuts are glazed and the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts to a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Separate any nuts stuck together and allow to stand until cool, at least 10 minutes. Store in an airtight container.
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Laura Hobbs is a guest contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, visit her author page.