By Betsy Bruns
My childhood holidays were filled with sweet memories. My mother, Bunny, made sure we were indulged in every way. She was an only child of Irish descent who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. She was born to parents of “The Greatest Generation” who never forgot the lessons of the Great Wall Street Crash. My mother’s father, who we called Poppy, worked on Wall Street in 1929 and witnessed the devastation firsthand.
Because of this, my grandparents never invested their money in markets or in a home. My mother grew up in a one-bedroom flat with very few frills or holiday trimmings. When she became a mom, she decided to celebrate in a very different way.
Back to the sweet memories. I mean, literally sweet. The celebrations started with St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6, when Bunny would wake us to Christmas stockings filled with candy and gifts. That was just after we were given our own Christmas Chocolate Advent Countdown Calendars. Remember those? Twenty-four days of being rewarded with chocolate candy while you ticked away the days until the motherload. And, of course, there were Christmas cookie baking extravaganzas and overflowing candy dishes.
When Christmas morning came, I’d lick a candy cane or two while waiting for the family tradition to be served, Petits Fours from Kirschbaum’s Bakery. This was the beginning of a two-week feast of sweets!
Now that I am more than grownup, and admittedly growing older, I’ve decided to celebrate in a different way—a healthier way. Living a whole-food plant-based lifestyle doesn’t mean sweets are shunned, but it’s not so nice to your body to overindulge in refined sugar. Sweet treats can still be enjoyed but with more healthful ingredients.
I’ve used substitutions to “plantify” the goodies I’ve been making for years, such as banana bread, pancakes and cookies. Perhaps you can enjoy some of your traditional sweets with plant-based ingredients so you can, as they say, have your cake and eat it too! The accompanying chart will guide you in making healthier swaps while still enjoying holiday sweets and baked goods.
Two goodies that I’ll be serving a lot of this season are made mostly with shelf-stable ingredients. This means they require no refrigeration and can be whipped up quickly.
Ideally, a food processor and high-speed blender are needed to make these recipes work. *See note on high-speed blender in the Chocolate Nirvana Crème Recipe.
Vegan Coconut Bliss Balls
Makes 16 large bliss balls
These vegan coconut bliss balls, which my sister insists I call “Betsy Balls,” are always devoured. I’ve become known for them in my community and corporate workshops and have made many friends by serving them. They are a whole food breakfast, snack, dessert or any time of day kind of treat that fill you with wonder that they are actually healthful.
1 ½ cups sunflower seeds
½ cup walnuts
¼ cup shredded coconut
½ teaspoon sea salt
5 pitted dates
½ cup grade A maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a food processor cup fitted with the s-blade, grind the sunflower seeds, walnuts, coconut and sea salt to a crumbly consistency while leaving some chunks of nuts. Add in the remaining ingredients and process until the mixture forms into a sticky dough. Remove the lid and scrape it out into a bowl. Form into balls and roll in shredded coconut. Store in refrigerator or freezer.
Chocolate Nirvana Crème
This crème is heavenly warm or cold. You can adjust the sweetness to your preference. Serve it as a dip with fruit, over pancakes or waffles, with sundaes, or lick the spoon to your heart’s content. This is a decadent treat that you can eat without regret.
2 cups rolled oats
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
5 oz. Medjool dates (about 10 large) soaked in hot water
from 10 minutes to an hour
¼ to ½ cup grade A maple syrup
4 cups warm water
Using a high-speed blender* with a heating element and the ability to cook food, add all ingredients to blender and blend on high for 5 minutes, or until crème begins to thicken. You will hear the motor slow down and the sound get louder as the crème gets to the right thickness. Once thick, stop the blender and quickly transfer to a large container. It will thicken more as it cools. Store in refrigerator.
*If you don’t have a high-speed blender, you can use a standard blender, transferring mixture to a medium to large saucepan once blended. Stir over medium to high heat until desired thickness is reached.
Betsy Bruns is a plant-based health coach, “Food for Life” instructor with the “Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,” as well as an Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) practitioner. When she isn’t making healing food taste like comfort food or helping clients tap away stress and cravings with EFT, she’s soaking up nature and dreaming of ways to make life more delicious for all beings. Visit Vegsetter.com.