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Want to take the hustle out of the holidays?

Here are a couple of suggestions to keep the upcoming season jolly
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO Many families use an Advent calendar or wreathes, like this one, to help focus their attention on the spirituality of Christmas.

Does the holiday hustle and bustle already have you feeling tuckered out? It's only Dec. 1: Will you last to Dec. 25? 'Tis the season to be jolly, but we all know little Cindy Lou Who and the Grinch were right. Christmas does means a little bit more than shopping, baking, wrapping and fa-la-la-ing. Want a couple of suggestions on how to make your holiday season more meaningful and hopefully, less stressful?

Make a gratitude list. What are you grateful or thankful for in your life? Make a list; each morning add one entry, and either keep the list in your pocket or post it where you will see it often during the day. Add other items as they come to mind throughout the day. At day's end, review the list and celebrate the joys of your life. If you add even just one item a day, by Dec. 25 you will have a lengthy list that should warm your heart.

Trim the preparation list. Nobody's waistline really needs 12 different kinds of cookies, candies and specialty foods, even if they are 'family traditions.' Get input from the family about what foods are absolute 'must haves' but what could be retired this year. Get more assistance from family and friends in preparing the items so that all the expense and work doesn't fall on one pair of shoulders.

Get help with shopping, wrapping and other errands. Though Emily Post and Miss Manners would probably not give it a thumbs up, those on your Christmas card list might enjoy getting an electronic greeting card this season.

Celebrate Advent this year. I can hear you saying: 'Wait a minute - you want me to add more celebrations at this time of year?' And yes, I do. Advent is a season of reflection, preparation and promise. I believe you would find including Advent's simple celebrations peaceful and meaningful.

Advent, which comes from the Latin word adventus meaning 'coming,' began last Sunday and will continue until Christmas Day. It's a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the birth of the Messiah. Christian families mark the passing of the time with Advent calendars and Advent wreaths, a practice evidently introduced by German Lutherans.

Advent calendars can be found today at just about any grocery store and finer stationery stores.

They are usually made of paper and are decorated with numbered doors that are opened one a day to reveal a surprise: A picture or perhaps even a treat - a piece of chocolate or other candy. Advent calendars can be elaborate and reusable or simple in nature. Children in particular enjoy seeing what surprises are revealed each day.

Advent wreaths are horizontal wreaths that are traditionally made of evergreens with four candles, usually three purple and one pink candle placed around the circle and one white candle, the Christ candle, in the center. Beginning the first Sunday of Advent, a purple candle is lit accompanied by a Bible reading and prayers (or read your gratitude list), usually at mealtime. An additional candle is lit each subsequent Sunday, with the pink candle being lit on the Third Sunday of Advent. The white candle is lit on Christmas Day.

You might also enjoy using Busted Halo's 2011 Advent Surprise Calendar at http://bustedhalo.com/features/advent-calendar-2011. The entries are quick, thought-provoking snippets that will add to your delight of the season.

The recipe provided today is for a simple but delicious Wassail, bourbon can be added if you wish.

Next week we'll learn about celebrating St. Nicholas Day, Dec. 6.

Bon Appetit! Eat something wonderful!

Ritterhouse Inn Wassail Punch

Serves 10-12

12 whole cloves

6 whole allspice

½ inch fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced

3 cinnamon sticks

12 whole white peppercorns

1 gallon fresh apple cider

6 ounces cranberry juice

¾ cup light brown sugar, packed

Optional: 10-12 ounces bourbon

To make the wassail, wrap the cloves, allspice, ginger, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie with kitchen string (or staple into a coffee filter). Combine the cider, cranberry juice, brown sugar and spice bag in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

If using the bourbon, put one ounce of bourbon into a mug and fill it with hot Wassail. Garnish with a dusting of nutmeg and a cinnamon stick.

The Wassail can be stored for several days in a covered container in the refrigerator. If you like lots of spice, you can make it a day ahead and leave the spice bag in the container overnight.

Preparing gifts from your kitchen is another way to reduce stress during the holidays. This recipe for Kentucky Eggnog Spike may be perfect for someone on your list who has been especially nice!

Kentucky Eggnogg Spike

Here is the perfect present for those who indulge in holiday eggnog - a mixture of spirit and spice to blend into the Christmas beverage. To make the gift complete, pour it into a beautiful bottle and tie a small nutmeg grater and some whole nutmegs around the neck with a festive ribbon.

Yield: Makes about 4 cups

2 cups bourbon

1 cup dark rum

1 cup brandy

1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise

1 whole nutmeg

2 large cinnamon sticks

7 whole cloves

Pour bourbon, rum and brandy into 1-quart bottle. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into bourbon mixture; add pod to bottle. Using mortar and pestle or bottom of heavy small skillet, crack whole nutmeg into 4 or 5 pieces. Add nutmeg pieces, cinnamon sticks and cloves to mixture. Cork bottle tightly. Let the mixture stand in cool, dark place for at least one week. (Can be prepared 3 months ahead.)

Recipes from Epicurious.com

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If you still want to pack in the fa-la-la-ing this holiday season be sure to attend the Holiday Ale Festival in Portland going on now through Dec. 4 in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

More than 40 breweries will be featured at this year's event, all of which are creating beverages specifically to bring warmth and cheer to the holiday season. These aren't beers you'll find in the supermarket. From Belgians and Barleywines to Porters and Stouts, these beers are rich, robust and full of complex flavors. And there will be 12 special tappings in celebration of the Ale Festival's 16th anniversary!

Tickets are now on sale - get yours now! General admission is $25 and VIP is $50. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit holidayale.com/index.php .

For even more fa-la-la-ing, which could be a great gift item, Red Ridge Farms in Dayton is hosting an Oregon Chardonnay Seminar and tasting event on Jan. 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. The educational event will be led by Erica Landon, wire director of the Heathman Restaurant and Bar, the Bruce Carey Restaurant Group and Walter Scott Wines. There will be a blind tasting and a talk about each of the wines. Cost is $20 per person and reservations are required.

For more information or to reserve seats call 503-864-8502 or visit www.redridgefarms.com.

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 101 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .