quiet on Christmas eve.

Christmas pecans III

Life’s pretty quiet around here.

Oh, don’t misunderstand —there’s plenty to do. The Chef’s restaurant has been packed with people who leave the front door rubbing their bellies and proclaiming to the cold air how happily full they feel. I have been writing and planning and creating, to the point that it’s sometimes hard to find time to clean up the kitchen. We’ll have some lovely new developments to announce in the new year, about this site and writing. Life hasn’t slowed down that much since we returned from traipsing across the country, promoting the book.

But this time of year, for me, now brings out a lovely calm. All around us, hordes of people are rushing frantically down rainy sidewalks, desperate to reach the next store to plunder, in hopes of finding the gift that will release them from the list. Inside the few stores I have stepped foot in during the past week, hands reach for anything with a red sales tag, lines linger long past the point of patience, and every other person seems to be in angry tears.

Oh dear.

About a decade ago, I was the perfectionist Christmas fairy. I started mailing out cards before Thanksgiving. I made dozens of batches of rolled-out sugar cookies, so that I could choose the most symmetrically shaped ones, scraping off the excess frosting with the back of a spoon to keep it all smooth. And I spent so much money on gifts for everyone I had ever met —just to make sure I didn’t miss one — that I mostly ate rice and beans all of January.

One year, I baked and rolled cookies into balls and filled little green and red paper plates with powdered-sugar treats, for weeks on end. Every morning, I picked up the carefully arranged piles of goodies and handed them to friends or acquaintances at school, like I was the Christmas fairy dispensing sugar and sprinkles. I drove myself so hard, grading papers and making holiday goodness happen, that I sat in front of the fire at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve, wheezing and finding it hard to breathe. By the end of Christmas day, I lay on their couch, delirious with fever and mumbling lines from J.D. Salinger novellas through my blue-tinged lips. The next day, the doctor diagnosed me with double pneumonia —one lung completely infected, and the other one half-way there. Apparently, if I had waited three more days to come in, I would have been dead.

I learned to relax after that.

Turning 30 helped. So did turning 35, undergoing emergency surgery, surviving a car accident, and finally being diagnosed with celiac. Life throughout the year, the tiny miracles everywhere, feels more profound than Christmas ever did before.

The thing is — I didn’t really enjoy those Christmases past, when I gave my spirit to the season so entirely that I nearly passed out. It all felt so obligatory.

Besides, now those cookies would make me sick.

So, the Chef and I talked about sending out Christmas cards, before Thanksgiving. We have so many people in our lives now, and we would love to thank them all, profusely. I intended to make a few batches of gluten-free baked goods and send them to friends and family. Visions of mix cds and jars of pear butter danced in my head.

Life happened instead.

(Raise your hand if you didn’t send all the Christmas cards you intended. Raise your hand if you were still thinking of presents a few days ago. Raise your hand if you didn’t bake perfect cookies this year, all lined up and gleaming. Look around. That’s a lot of hands in the air.)

So we’re feeling pretty quiet around here. Within the hour, we’re leaving for two days of food, Elliott, and Nintendo Wii with my family. We have all bought or made one present for each person. Not one of those presents sums up how we feel about that person, distilled. But I think each will like that book or the photograph. The Chef has a couple of days off from the restaurant, so the only cooking he will be doing is making food for six people he loves. I’m certain we’ll all take time off for naps throughout the afternoons. (Well, maybe not Elliott. He’s too excited about Spiderman these days to sleep much.) This would never make a Hallmark special.

But the older I grow, the more I feel that this is what it’s all about. I’m a Buddhist, so this really isn’t about the birth of Jesus for me. As religious as I get is that moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Linus comes onstage to explain the meaning of Christmas. (“Lights, please?”) His simple story in that sweet little kid voice truly does tear me up every year.

In our busy lives, we rarely have the chance to spend two straight days with family, laughing and playing board games, sharing food together and teasing each other. Something about this feels more holy than any plate of baked goods or presents.

We have been blessed this year. This has, without a doubt, been the best year of our lives, for both of us. So much of that has to do with you, the one reading right now. Thank you.

Merry Christmas, everyone. We hope your days are filled with calm connection.

(And please don’t bake yourself unconscious. Take it from me —it’s not worth it.)

Christmas pecans I

Rose Ahern’s candied pecans

We won’t be bereft of baked goods this Christmas. The Chef is looking forward to eating my mother’s cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I can’t partake, but that’s okay. Everyone loves them, and I want them to be able to eat. And I can’t imagine eating anything with gluten anyway. My mother would tell you they aren’t that great, but that’s not true. Someday, I’ll adapt them.

But I have fudge and holiday fruit and nut balls and candied pecans. The Chef’s mother sent out two packages of baked goods this year: glutenous cookies went to the restaurant, and the fudge and candied pecans went to our house. Believe me, I did not miss those cookies. We’re calling the pecans candied crack around here. They are that addictive. The Chef says you could put these candied pecans in a bowl and pour milk over them — they remind of him of eating cereal when he was a kid.

Luckily, the Chef’s mother shared her recipe with me this year, and this is our gift to you.

1 teaspoon cold water
1 egg white
1 pound large pecans (4 cups)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt

Beat water and egg white until frothy., Mix well with pecans. Combine sugar, salt and cinnamon. Mix well with pecans. Spread on a cookie sheet. Bake at 225 degrees for 1 hour. Still occasionally. ( I stir every 15 minutes).

46 comments on “quiet on Christmas eve.

  1. GInji9

    Your blog has been quite a gift this year – a million thanks for all of the inspiration.

    Happy merry to you and yours!

    Barrie (from the NYC Whole Foods demo)

  2. terry

    a few years ago, at a particularly lean time, i asked my family if we could skip the presents for christmas, and we could just focus on spending quality time together. that was the best christmas ever.

    we still don’t do much in the way of presents, and it makes the holidays so much nicer not to spend so much time and money on the trivial things.

    thank you, shauna, for your gift of words and knowledge. merry christmas!

  3. Lacey @ The Road is Life

    The spiced nuts…now that is perfectly yummy and perfectly realistic to make!!

    Merry Christmas!!!

  4. aubrey

    that was me this year, shauna. i’m afraid. i mailed out 15 packages. and delivered treats to even more people. i didn’t work myself sick, but close. all through this craziness, i have realized that i need to find a healthy balance of how i can give to those i love and care about. without running myself ragged. your quiet and calm sounds nice. and the wii. i plan on doing a lot of that this week. happy holidays!

  5. Jeanne

    Happy Christmas to you and the Chef! We will be bundled up at home, just the family, enjoying each other, too! Oh, and eating gluten-free yummies!

  6. cyberprof

    Shauna, Enjoy your holiday with The Chef, Elliott and all your loved ones. Happy New Year to y’all too. I can’t wait to hear about your surprises for the new year.

    Lots of love,


  7. fluff

    Thank you for sharing your life with us, and have a very Merry Christmas. I love your blog, and the recipes too.

  8. Allison the Meep

    Thanks so much for your bright attitude, fun recipes, and a valuable resource for gluten-free information. You have given so much to all of your readers, so I hope it gets returned to you tenfold next year. And have a great Christmas!

  9. KarenJoSeattle

    My MIL loves the fruit and nut balls and the Lemon Olive Oil Cookies (made with erythritol for her diabetes as well as celiac). They were the sum total of my baking and the only thing I felt I needed to do. Thanks.


  10. Kim

    I used raw almonds to make this cinnamon (pecan) recipe. They are all gone, every last bit. A nice treat! Thanks!

  11. michelle

    Merry Christmas and happy holidays to you, the Chef, and the rest of your lovely family. I raised my hand to everything – but I’ve also learned to relax (maybe because 30 is just around the corner…). You’re always an inspiration, a comfort and a reminder to seek out the joy in all the little things…thanks. Know you’re being thought of, even from miles away.

  12. jenA

    ohyes. I made the same nut-crack goodies this year, but with butter, without the egg white and using walnuts ‘sted pecans. They elicited the same love-hate response from co-workers.
    Glad you had such a refreshingly casual holiday – looking forward to hearing more of your adventures with food and family.

  13. la fourchette

    Oh my! I’d almost forgotten about these nuts…a favorite restaurant in my ‘other life’ used to serve them over baby greens tossed with a lovely balsamic vinaigrette then topped with chevre. Thanks for rattling my memory…they are definitely worth bringing into my ‘current life’!

    Sending wishes for good things unfolding in the new year…(sounds like they already are!)

  14. margot

    a belated merry christmas! santa apparently did not get my memo re: your book, so I went and picked up a copy today! already blowing through it 🙂

  15. Shelby

    Those nuts look absolutely stunning. Merry Christmas (a little late) and may 2008 bring only add more to the joy you’ve received in 2007.

  16. Deborah Dowd

    If only my actions matched my intentions! The number of cards I get dwindles each year because I am so sporadic on sending them out! But what good is all the prep if you are too exhausted to enjoy the friends and family that are the reason we work so hard?! The very best of the holiday season to you, the Chef and your family and I look forward to another year of heart-warming posts!

  17. Kelly

    My mom made those nuts every year when we were growing up. They make such nice gifts to give – people look forward to them every year.

    I never appreciated them until I made them and gave them as gifts too. Now my kitchen gives me that nostalgic smell.

    Great post, Shauna. Thanks for a year of fabulous stories and inspiration!

  18. Anonymous

    First, I want to thank you for your inspiring blog and insight into your life.

    Have you ever read, Simplify Your Christmas by Elaine St. James? I don’t agree with all of her suggestions, but I do agree with the suggestions she puts forth in general…refocusing on what’s most important about the holidays.

    PS – I have a recipes for a gluten free, very low fat, refined sugar free gingerbread recipe if you are interested. Our family is gluten free, but on top of that my daughter is senstive to refined sugar and most fats, so I managed to figure out a gingerbread recipe that she could have over the holidays. It’s wonderful, if I may say so myself. 🙂

  19. momchick

    Got your book as a gift from my sweet son, Tim, and I love it. Thanks for sharing your story (and the recipes!)

  20. chicketychun

    Holy smokes!! Thanks for the candied pecan recipe. I made them on Tuesday and they are GONE! Loved them…

  21. The SCD girl

    LOL! Let’s hear it for imperfect Christmases!

    I didn’t send ONE Christmas card, but I cleaned my stove. I didn’t dust or vacuum, but I made meringue cookies for my little boy. My bathroom was clean, my bedroom was NOT!

    It was a very Merry Christmas! 🙂

  22. Anonymous

    I just finished your book (great Christmas present!) and I loved every page! Thanks for everything, Shauna… (look your book even inspired me to come out of lurk mode. 🙂


  23. Keveney

    Thank you for sharing your passion and love for good quality, mouth watering food! You’ve inspired me to cook more without holding back. I’ve realized that I can in fact cook yummy food that’s GF! Yah! I’m newly diagnosed so for a bit I was seeing a bleak future of rice cakes and tasteless food…but that’s not the case! Your book is my new best friend…thank you! Have a restful and relaxing holiday! Thanks again for reaching out and sharing your passion!

  24. Ju

    Hi, I’ve just found your site and its great! I have just become something similar (www.glutenfreetart.com) and hope one day to have something as helpful as your site.
    Its nice to know us gluten free bloggers aren’t alone in the world 🙂

  25. *earth girl*

    Shauna, I am trying not to eat refined sugar. I have a hypersensitivity to it just like I do with wheat. I have also been reading your book and was wondering how to substitute honey in your recipes. Or, are there any other sugar substitutes I could use??

  26. Betsy

    Hi Shauna,
    These are a family favorite too and no one believes they have no oil or butter… Can I suggest a variation? If you add a tsp of cracked black pepper or west african red pepper (hot!) it gives them a nifty little zing.

    Happy new year!

  27. Shauna

    Thank you, everyone. It seems we all long for permission to have an imperfect holiday season. I don’t know why they have become so stressful, but you can certainly feel the collective sigh of relief that they are finally done.

    But now we’re in the grip of New Year’s resolutions. Argh.

    one thing’s for sure — those candied pecans are addictive!

  28. Anonymous

    I love that the recipe reads “Still occasionally.” The parenthetical gets the idea across and keeps the nuts from burning, while the typo gives wonderful advice that we can’t hear enough 🙂

  29. Emily

    Just wanted to say thanks – not only did I love your blog (can’t imagine trying to live gluten-free, but you seem to have a handle on it) – but I was particularly thrilled about the candied pecans recipe. My grandmother used to make these every Christmas. She passed away a couple of years ago without passing this recipe on, and I’ve really been missing them. Thanks again, and good luck!

  30. etaisback

    I was pleased to see the “mexican” food info. We lived in Texas, Arizona and California and as a consultant in NYC I enjoyed “mexican” lunches many times. Holay!

  31. Anonymous

    I love your outlook on living gluten free! Thanks for sharing your recipes. I can’t wait to try them on Rudolph Days this year (on the 25th of each month) so I’ll be prepared for Chrismtas this year.

    I do something Christmas every month on Rudy Day. Check out one of the Christmas sites such as http://magicalholidayhome.com/ for great help with preparing for Christmas. Ahorsesoul

  32. Mel

    I made this recipe years ago and was pleased to find it again so easily when I popped onto your website. I especially enjoyed reading your post that accompanied the recipe. Great perspective on a busy time of year.

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