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Diana Donlon's picture

December and baking go together. When the temperature drops outside, it’s nice to be inside baking something that warms up the house and fills the air with inviting smells. All too often, however, those lovely baked-goods mean extra empty calories for the whole family. And at a time when unsettling childhood obesity is on the rise, kids don’t need the extra weight the winter holidays can bring.

Fortunately, I’ve figured out a work-around, but sharing it with you involves “outing myself”; I am a sneaky baker. By that I mean I like to sneak a variety of fresh, healthy climate-friendly ingredients into the baked goods I make for my family. As a mom and a food activist, my goal in the kitchen is to do right by the kids and the planet. My rule of thumb? If it’s healthy for you, it’s healthy for the climate (and vice-versa!) So, during the holidays, I bake breads that highlight those health and climate-friendly local, seasonal and organic ingredients like persimmons or cranberries. In California, the Hachiya persimmons (the larger one that may only be eaten when very soft) are so plentiful in December that you see  deciduous trees laden with the orange globes just begging to be picked. The Hachiya is very rich and gooey and lends a delicious moisture to breads. And, like most fruit, persimmons are low in calories, but rich in dietary fiber and an array of healthy minerals. Once the persimmons are baked in the velvety bread, nothing is going to go to waste.

No matter what I’m baking, I always try to sneak in some walnuts. Harvested in the fall, walnuts are in-season right now -- and there’s nothing ‘empty’ about these calories. In fact, walnuts provide the healthy fats growing kids need and supply plenty of omega-3‘s (brain food!) they may aid satiety, an important factor in successful weight management, and are good for heart health. Even if you don’t have time to bake, fresh, organic walnuts makes a delicious, health and climate-friendly snack. Consider buying nuts that are still in their shells and placing them in a bowl alongside the proverbial “nutcracker,” so that kids have the fun of shelling themselves.

On to the humble cranberry. Don’t think this sour little red fruit is only good on Thanksgiving Day. Here is a recipe for cranberry bread that sneaks in lots of Vitamin C (from the cranberries, the orange and the rind) in with those über-healthy walnuts. Meanwhile, there is just enough sugar to sweeten the tartness of the cranberries, which, by the way, are loaded with phytonutrients that give the berries their festive color. In recipes such as this one, I often sneak in some whole wheat flour. For instance, this calls for “two cups of white flour.” What’s a sneaky baker like me to do, but put in one cup of white and one cup of whole wheat instead? Easy. Healthy. Sneaky!

Okay, I’ll admit it, after so many years, my kids, now lanky teenagers, are on to my sneaky ways. And, occasionally they are incredulous (You put flax seed in the chocolate chip cookies!). But it is only momentarily. That cranberry-walnut bread, I baked this afternoon to kick off the holidays at our house? Those healthy calories are long-gone.

Cranberry-Walnut Bread:

2 cups flour – one all-purpose white flour, one whole wheat*
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking power
½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup fresh orange juice
2 eggs, beaten slightly
3 tablespoons melted butter
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup cranberries
2 generous teaspoons of grated orange rind (use an organic orange so that there isn’t any wax on the rind)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8x 4 ½ x 3 inch loaf pan.
  2. Mix the two flours, sugar baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl
  3. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and pour in the orange juice, the melted butter and the slightly beaten eggs. Mix well. Fold in the walnuts, cranberries and orange rind.
  4. Pour batter into the prepared loaf-pan and set on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Remove bread from the oven and let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely before serving.

This bread is especially good toasted and served with a little butter (a “good” fat and a brain food).


Note: * Alternately, you could use 1 ½ cups of white flour and ½ cup ground flax seed which is full of Omega 3s

Adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook.

This post is part of the MomsRising Healthy Holiday Food Blog Carnival.

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