As an athlete, I exist in an almost constant struggle between eating as clean as possible, and my overwhelming desire to bake (and eat!) treats by the dozen. I spend hours every weekend looking for healthy-ish cookies to bake, but they all fall worlds short of satisfying my cravings. That’s why I love the holidays — I love having a reason to bake cookies, wrap them in pretty paper and baking twine, and sharing them with people I love. But, as the years go on, these marathon baking sessions take a larger and larger toll on my joints. Rather than give up this tradition entirely, I’ve changed or scaled down the recipes over the years. These are my favorite RA-friendly baking projects.
Peppermint bark puppy chow
Over the years, my white chocolate peppermint bark has become one of my most requested recipes from friends and family. And, while the process of making bark is easy enough, the final step of breaking it down into pieces is extremely difficult on my hands. Peppermint bark puppy chow is a worthy alternative, and I love how the use of cereal gives it crunch! As an added bonus, this recipe introduced me to chopping candy canes in a blender instead of with a heavy, unwieldy meat mallet!
- Enlist a helper. I give my partner a bowl and a box of candy canes to unwrap while he watches TV.
- Use a microwave to melt the chocolate — you’ll have to adjust the settings on your microwave and stir in between, but sitting down while the microwave does its thing is much easier than standing over the stove stirring continuously.
Cookie press spritzes
My dear friend Jenny sent me a cookie press around the holidays last year, and it’s proven to be a life-changing kitchen gadget for me! In the past, my big batch cookie recipe was for peanut butter blossoms, and it would take me hours to make the dough, shape the cookies, bake, cool, perfectly time the addition of a chocolate kiss while rotating batches in and out of the fridge to reverse any melting of said kisses. This spritz recipe yields seven or eight dozen cookies in half the time. Plus these cookies provide endless possibilities for decoration or variation — use vanilla, lemon, or peppermint extract to switch up flavors or food color to change their color!
- Before making the cookie dough, set up cookie sheets, cookie press, and decorating supplies on your work surface, known as mise en place (basically “putting everything in its place” in French) in cooking. I use the kitchen table so I can sit while pressing the cookies.
- Enlist a helper — I call in my partner to insert/remove cookies from the oven as well as transfer them once they’ve cooled.
- Have a baking party with the littles in your life — depending on their ages, they can help with the baking/rotating responsibilities, or they can simply help decorate with icings and decorative sugars.
Everyday chocolate cake
I know that the holiday season tends to also be pie season, but I am a cake girl through and through. This rich chocolate cake from The Smitten Kitchen embodies the decadence that is indulging in treats around the holidays. It’s also my favorite hostess gift to bring to a party — it looks beautiful wrapped in plastic and adorned with a red ribbon and candy cane, but it also keeps well if your host chooses to keep it all to themselves. The best part of this recipe though is that it’s a one-bowl wonder – and that bowl is the one on your electric mixer! Measure, mix, pour in a pan, and bake!
- This cake pairs beautifully with a soft red wine. Bring this plus a bottle of wine and you’ll be everyone’s favorite party guest!
M&M cookie mix jar
Cookie ingredient jars are a great baking alternative that can be made as a single jar or as part of a larger batch. Every year I make a few of these jars to have on hand for unexpected guests or last minute party invites. It’s the perfect way to share a sweet treat with someone but is much less labor intensive than actually baking. Buying dry ingredients in bulk also makes this a very budget-friendly project. I like this recipe by Celebrating Sweets because it uses Christmas colored M&Ms, but there are hundreds of alternatives that can be customized throughout the year.
- Mason jars can be expensive, so I find it helpful to save quart sized jars throughout the year. Soak the labels off, send them through the dishwasher, and you’re good to go.
- I also save odds and ends of ribbon and twine throughout the year, so I almost never need to buy decorating supplies.
- Lastly, a wide mouthed funnel used for canning helps keep messes to a minimum.
While the holiday season puts a lot of pressure on everyone to create Pinterest-perfect holiday magic, it’s important not to allow these expectations to affect your health or aggravate RA symptoms. These recipes have helped me continue to share my love of baking in a way that respects and honors my body’s ever-changing needs and ability levels.
What are some of your favorite ways to share in the magic of the season?
Anna is a Social Ambassador for the RA Health Central community and resident bionic woman. She writes the successful blog Six Hips and Counting where she chronicles the reality of living with multiple hip replacements before her 30th birthday.