Somewhere 30,000 feet over the country on our way to California for the holidays, I am reminded of how I want to be in the world. The weekend before Christmas and we are facing a 6 hour layover (initially 2 1/2), cutting way into family time and the amazing dinner that we had planned in San Francisco. This is the news just before boarding the plane…uggg.

One always has choices on how to react to things. My first reaction…ugly. Upon breathing (and a desperate call to my mother to try and re-rout us) I have settled in the knowing, all is as it should be and I am grateful for the luxury of even getting on a plane to see loved ones. I will not dwell, I will not lament, I will not bitch out the poor and defenseless person at the counter. I will however begin festivating early with a few cocktails and perhaps we will jet into this unknown city, buy a coat and grab an amazing bite to eat. Roll with the punches cause if you let ‘em get you down, you just may never get back up again.

This cheerful optimism could perhaps be in the spirit of the season, or it could be inspiration from the friendly folks at the airport who made the first part of the passage so smooth. It could be the winter solstice or the fact that the end of the Mayan calendar has arrived and we are, so far, still here. Possibly (and most likely) it is just that I have learned some lessons along the way and getting too wrapped up in “tragedy” is a waste of precious energy that we need to stay vibrant and healthy. Either way I feel good…bring on the layover!

And bring on the eating! I don’t know about you but our holidays are always foodcentric (food obsessed is more like it) and I am looking forward to eating and drinking in style. I also have not had a chance to make any Christmas cookies this year and I intend to! So I thought that I would share this fun and easy semi-cookie recipe that is vaguely healthy as well as a neat appetizer that is super easy and perfect for little bites or even bigger slices.

Happy Holidays and HAPPY Eating!

(Wouldn’t you know that by the time I am finishing this post we got on standby on another flight and are almost arriving at the same time planned…cheerful optimism pays, and you better believe that the lady who put us on the flight will be getting a nice care package of these little treats!)

Chocolate & Dried Cherry Peanut Butter Balls  (Vegan & Gluten Free)

1/2 cup smooth all-natural peanut butter (unsweetened)
1/3 cup organic honey, maple syrup or brown rice syrup
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (you can also use regular)
2 cups Crisp Rice cereal
3/4 cup dried cherries, chopped (optional)
pinch of salt

Makes about 16 small balls

Place a medium sauce pot with about 3 inches of water on the stove and bring to a simmer. In a medium sized bowl, stir together the peanut butter, desired sweetener, coconut oil, chocolate chips, and vanilla extract. Set the bowl over the pot of water and allow it to sit and melt; stirring a few times with a rubber spatula. When well melted; add in the cocoa powder and stir until well incorporated. Immediately add the rice cereal and the cherries and mix well until all the crispies are coated.

Place a little bit of coconut oil in bowl next to the mixture and lightly coat the palms of your hands and shape the mixture into little balls. Roll and press together firmly so that they will hold. Re-oil your hands periodically so the mixture will not stick to your hands. Lay the balls onto a plate or a baking sheet and place in refrigerator. You can also store the balls in the freezer in an airtight container or ziplock bag. Let them sit at room temperature for about 5-10 minutes before eating, if you can help yourself!

* some chopped nuts such as pistachios, peanut, almonds or walnuts
* chopped dried fruit like cherries, apricots or cranberries
* toasted flaked coconut, cinnamon

* Peanut Butter for smooth almond or cashew butter
* almond extract for the vanilla

Winter Squash and Goat Cheese Flatbread with Pistachios

1 pound store-bought pizza dough, preferably wheat, thawed if frozen
cornmeal for the pan
1 pound delicata or butternut squash, seeded, and sliced 1/4 inch thick (if using butternut be sure to peel it)
1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped
6-8 large fresh sage leaves
a few Tablespoons good olive oil
8 oz of goat cheese, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste

Servings varied

Heat oven to 425° F. Place the dough on a flour dusted work surface and roll out into a large oval, rolling as thinly as you can. Sprinkle the back side of a baking sheet with the cornmeal. Lay the dough on top of the cornmeal and brush the dough with olive oil.

In a large bowl, toss the squash, onion, pistachios, sage and a drizzle of olive oil. Scatter over the dough and top evenly with the cheese. Sprinkle salt and fresh cracked pepper evenly and bake until golden brown and crisp, 20 to 25 minutes.

Tips & Notes~

Pine nuts, walnuts, pecan or hazelnuts make a good substitute for the pistachios.

Blue cheese, fontina, pecorino and even an Emmentaler works very well with these flavors.

If you are feeling fancy, use the whole onion (sliced of course) and caramelize it with a bit of olive oil and some balsamic vinegar. Or maybe even some roasted garlic, go crazy!