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Holiday Feasts – Sumptuous Options That Won’t Break the Belt

By Andrew Witham

The holidays represent a time of getting together with family and friends and, more often than not, having big meals stacked with appetizers, drinks, and dessert.  Tell me you don’t go into the holiday season thinking – I’m going to have to hit the gym in January!  Historically, the holidays are about good comfort food and visiting with family – the beginning of cold weather and a lot of holiday time off usually means big meals and extra calories.  It doesn’t have to be that way!shutterstock_112609505

A few great recipe ideas demonstrate that you can eat great meals over the holidays without fearing that you will be “Jabba the Hutt” come January.  Here are a few nice options for your pleasure this holiday season.


Main Dishes

While turkey represents a fairly low fat staple during the holidays, there are some even better options for main dishes if you want to broaden your horizons and not your waistline.   Eggplant, and other root vegetables, offer hearty alternatives that can be prepared in many different ways and are  nutritious and filling.  The recipe below will add an “Italian” flavor to your table and is a great alternative to the ham, roast, or turkey staples that typically adorn holiday tables.


Zucchini Eggplant Lasagna


1 large eggplant, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

2 teaspoons olive oil

3/4 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)

3 garlic cloves, chopped

3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided

1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 cup (8 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese

Cooking spray

1 (8-ounce) package precooked lasagna noodles

2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese



1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer on several layers of paper towels. Sprinkle evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt; let stand 15 minutes.

3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic to pan; sauté 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, oregano, red pepper, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4. Combine basil, ricotta, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a small bowl. Spread 1/2 cup tomato mixture into the bottom of a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles over tomato mixture; top with half of eggplant and half of zucchini. Spread ricotta mixture over vegetables; cover with 4 noodles. Spread 1 cup tomato mixture over noodles; layer with remaining eggplant and zucchini slices. Arrange remaining 4 noodles over vegetables, and spread remaining tomato mixture over noodles. Top evenly with mozzarella. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 35 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 25 minutes or until browned. Cool for 5 minutes.



Farro ñ a wheat-based grain

(not gluten free) can serve as a great substitute to those bread heavy stuffings that are typically served during the holidays.  This particular recipe includes colorful butternut squash, red onions, carrots and almonds.  A true winner on any holiday dinner table.


4 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)

2 cups uncooked farro

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups diced peeled butternut squash

1 cup chopped red onion

1 cup thinly sliced carrot

3/4 cup thinly sliced celery

3/4 cup almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped

3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon minced fresh sage

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



1. Bring stock and farro to a boil in a large saucepan; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until farro is al dente. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add squash, onion, carrot, and celery; sauté 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup reserved cooking liquid. Reduce heat to low; cover and cook 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir squash mixture into farro mixture. Stir in almonds, parsley, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper. Spoon into an 11 x 7-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Cover and keep warm until ready to serve. Stir in additional reserved cooking liquid as needed just before serving.


Cauliflower-instead of Potatoes

Cauliflower offers a great substitute to potatoes and can be prepared in many different ways – including mixing half and half with potatoes to make mashers that are far less carbohydrate/calorie intensive.  This particular recipe – Gratin of Cauliflower with Gruyère – bursts with nice flavor.



1 medium head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets (about 2 pounds)

Cooking spray

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

2 teaspoons butter

1/3 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese, divided

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 garlic clove, minced

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups 2% reduced-fat milk

3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper



1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Place cauliflower in a 2-quart broiler-safe baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; coat cauliflower with cooking spray. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt; toss. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until almost tender. Cool 5 minutes.

3. Preheat broiler.

4. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Stir in panko. Stir in 1/4 cup cheese and chives.

5. Heat a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until almost tender, stirring frequently. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add flour; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes or until thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 1/4 cup cheese, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, parsley, and pepper. Pour milk mixture over cauliflower mixture; toss. Top evenly with cheese mixture. Broil 3 minutes or until golden brown and thoroughly heated.


The simplicity of this option is awesome.  Fresh fruit (which is available year round now in almost every grocery store) brings color and a lightness to the end of a holiday meal.  Add in some fresh yogurt, and you have a rich, healthy dessert alternative.


Fresh Fruit Yogurt Parfait


1/3 cup honey (original recipe specified 3/4 cup!)

3 cups plain yogurt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, peaches, cherries, etc.)

3/4 cup granola cereal
(I suggest Granola)


Slightly soften the honey in the microwave so that it is easier to stir. Cool.

In a bowl, combine the softened honey with the plain yogurt and vanilla extract.

Using parfait glasses, layer the honey mixture alternately with the fruit and granola, ending with granola on top.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.


These are just a small selection of many healthy options that you can bring to the table during the holiday season.  Look up some alternatives – you don’t have to end the holiday season feeling like a stuffed turkey!!

Andrew Witham is a cook who recently moved back to Northern Virginia after operating a food truck in Arizona for 15 years.  He currently is employed at Bernie’s Delicatessen and Gourmet Market in the City of Fairfax.


Before Things Get Crazy: Stress Management Advice for the Holidays

By JiJi Russell


As the holiday season picks up momentum, many people find that stress has a tendency to creep in (or blast through the door), revealing an underbelly to the “season of joy.”  Consider the landscape of copious social interactions; abundant beverages and food (much of it unhealthy); hyper-active shopping; and keeping pace with an unusually packed calendar. holidaystress

The more-of-everything norm that often characterizes this time of year can cause a hyper-stimulated state, amounting to an affront to your nervous system. Over-stimulation certainly can amplify stress.


Intensity Rising

If you jump right into the holiday season with a faster-better-more mentality, you might be setting yourself up for elevated stress levels. When our bodies perceive stress, our nervous system triggers the “fight or flight” response. This “signals a cascade of events to help us survive a life-threatening situation,” says Geo Derick Giordano, MSc, a registered medical herbalist.

Our heartrate and blood pressure rise; our blood vessels constrict; and we become hyper alert,” says Giordano, who teaches workshops and coaches individuals on dealing with stress naturally.

Ok, so maybe we’re a little amped up. Any harm in that? According to Giordano, yes, because in this state, “Our adrenal glands produce adrenaline, norepinephrine, cortisol and aldosterone, all of which allow us to respond to emergencies swiftly, to maintain homeostasis of our critical body functions, and to perform in a crisis. In small doses it is good and necessary as a survival tool and learning mechanism. In continual excess, it can be damaging, causing chronic and acute health issues ranging from heart disease to cancer.”

Consider This

The decibel level of parties, musical events, and kid-related activities; the visual stimuli that we take in when we shop or attend social events; the pressure to entertain; socialize; or eat party foods — it can all add up quickly.

If you’re overwhelmed just from reading this, take heart. There is good news: A little awareness and change of habit might create more meaning and eliminate the need to clean up the mess (you!) in the wake of the holiday season. Here are some ideas to consider before saying “yes to everything.”


Give yourself permission to say no. Ask yourself if a proposed party or event will provide both strength (cohesion with your colleagues, for example) and levity. Ideally, it should be both fun and meaningful. It should build you up rather than break you down. If you think it will drain you, opt out.

Limit the to and fro. Choose to shop locally, in your own town or nearby, where you can walk outdoors from store to store. Fill in the gaps with online purchases. Forget the shopping malls. They can be highly overstimulating for the eyes, ears, nose (that perfume lady will get you!), all the while challenging you to be meek and mild as someone steals your parking space.


Ask for collaboration. If you are planning an event; helping out with your child’s event at school; hosting a meal, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If everyone brings a dish, for example, no one person gets stuck in the kitchen. If everyone hangs one snowflake, your arms won’t be as tired as if you had hung 20.


Take a time-out for you. While a “spa day” might have to wait until January, think of creating a habit of re-sets where you physically turn off external stimulation and take a few deep breaths. If you are inclined to stretch or practice a contemplative movement like yoga or tai chi, then make your practice a habit as well. As for two minutes of only breathing, though, you might be surprised by the benefits it can bestow.


Steady On

While party foods tend to harbor excessive sugar, salt, and heavy ingredients like butter, which are better in smaller amounts, healthy eating during the holidays can provide a source of strength and resilience. Giordano suggests that “maintaining good blood sugar regulation by eating a breakfast with protein, good fats, and plenty of fruits and vegetables goes a long way to stabilizing our stress response.” Fuel up properly before the long, busy days.

Giordano also says using adaptogenic herbs like “ginsengs, rehmannia, holy basil, schisandra, ashwaganda, and licorice root help modulate our internal stress response and strengthen our adrenal glands.” These can be found in teas; tinctures; and even edible powders or capsules.

When the party cocktails flow, and the tendency to become ever more mirthful emerges, do yourself a favor and drink a glass of water or seltzer after each alcoholic beverage. Perhaps this will slow your consumption, and also keep you better hydrated.

This holiday season, choose your activities and involvements consciously and judiciously. Set yourself up to mitigate stress and cultivate the energy and attentiveness so that you can enjoy the people and events that truly make for joyful moments.


Three More Tips for Staving off Stress

Consider giving up or reducing ìC.A.T.S.î which are known to cause fluctuations in energy and mood.
C=caffeine  A=alcohol  T=tobacco  S=sugar

Make a goal of seven to nine hours of sleep a night.

Sleep is a necessary event for emotional health and for keeping stress hormones at bay.

Make a cut-off time for all electronic communications, and stick to it!

Bringing your attention inward helps with resiliency; while constant communication with others interrupts attention on yourself.


JiJi Russell is a corporate wellness coordinator and a yoga instructor, specializing in stress management.


13th Annual Golf Tournament

13th Logo


Corral your colleagues, clients, and “fellow cowboys” for DATA’s 13th Annual Golf Tournament, Friday, September 19 at Westfields Golf Club.  Click here for more information on the event.  For sponsorship information click here, or call 703.817.1307, ext. 2. 


Live More Challenge Sponsorship Program Unveiled

The Live More Commute Less team at the Dulles Area Transportation Association has unveiled a sponsorship program to underwrite the Live More Challenge, a program set for October 1–17 to inspire people in the greater Dulles area discover more time live by changing the way they think about their commute.

If your business would like to know more about sponsoring the Live More Challenge, contact Kelly Woodward.


Live More Challenge Announced for October

Let’s face it. To live more by commuting less, you have to focus on the Live More part! This is change that is going to alter more than your commute. That’s why we developed the Live More Challenge. It’s an inspiration to take the time to do something you really want to do. So, if you’ve been putting off that first guitar lesson until you “have more time,” or waiting to try your hand at baking the perfect sourdough loaf, or–you fill in the blank!–the Live More Challenge is your chance to do it.

It’s also the time to try something new in your commute, to take transit or try carpooling, or flextime. Whatever is available to you.

The Live More team is working with employers in the Dulles area to encourage them to sign up for the Challenge, too. When employers sign up, they’re pledging to support your efforts to change your commute so that you can Live More!