Healthy Eating: Savor richness of holiday season — in moderation — with Choco-Chewy Scotch Bars

As I get older, I seem to be more sentimental and nostalgic–especially in the kitchen around the holidays.  I grew up in the Midwest and every year my mother and I would start baking cookies right after Thanksgiving. We would make at least 12 different types of cookies or bars and by Christmas we had boxes of cookies stored in our freezer and ready for gifting. We made of plates of assorted cookies for  my teachers, doctors, neighbors and friends. It meant lots of work but I loved every minute of it. I loved baking with my mother–especially because it meant spending time with her doing something fun and tasty. We enjoyed trying new recipes and had at least six recipes that we did every single year. Some of the recipes came from her little recipe box (that I cherish as a keepsake in my own kitchen now). She had 3 x 5 cards with handwritten and carefully typed recipes from friends and family.
I often bring out the little box when I yearn for something from my childhood–Margie’s famous chili, Nana’s hot fudge sauce, Ruthie’s chocolate cake, Myra’s noodle kugel–they all bring me instantly back to my home on Buckingham Drive! So it makes sense that during the holidays I still enjoy making baked goods for gifts. I am especially fond of making miniature loaves of pumpkin bread to welcome the winter season–full of warm spices and perfect with a cup of tea on a chilly Pacific Northwest day. This year I am part of a baking brigade making cookie platters to raise money for Ovarian Cancer Research (a cause important to me as a survivor).
I’m sure each of you can think of some treat (savory or sweet) that you loved as a child and perhaps still make at least once of year. Doesn’t just making it bring you instantly back to the past? Hopefully it’s a good memory. Food memories can be very powerful. They certainly make me wish that my folks were still around to join me at the holiday table. I invite you to share one of your favorite “recipe box” treats in the comments.
I understand that many sweet and savory holiday treats are decadent and rich. In fact, I wouldn’t describe them as appropriate for a “healthy eating” column.  But as many of you know I am not a member of the food police. My food philosophy is “everything in moderation including moderation.”  It’s important to understand that so much of what we eat and especially how we eat during the holidays is tied to food memories as well as our emotions. If you know that you are going to attend a holiday party, consider eating a healthy snack or a light meal before going to the gathering — that way, when you arrive you are not ravenous. Listen to your body, eat slowly and stop when you feel full. “Hara hachi bu” is a Japanese term meaning “Eat until you’re 80% full.” It originated in the city of Okinawa, where people use this advice as a way to control their eating habits. Interestingly, they have one of the lowest rates of illness from heart disease, cancer and stroke, and a fairly long life expectancy. When you eat rich foods, eat slowly. Savor each bite. Allow the food to nourish you rather than feel guilty for eating it. In eating mindfully, you allow yourself to savor and enjoy the food.  
One of my mother’s favorite holiday treats were her Choco-Chewy Scotch Bars. When I moved to Edmonds, she would bring a tin of them with her every time she came out to visit.  Their “ooey gooey” deliciousness is perfect for a holiday gift or when you have guests visiting. They don’t last long in our house. They freeze well too in case you want to pace yourself. This is a lovely holiday recipe for sharing with your family, friends and neighbors. Even though I consider this a decadent treat, please remember that you don’t have to eat the entire pan. Cut them into small bites and savor it when you eat them.

Choco-Chewy Scotch Bars

2 cups chocolate chips
1 can (15 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp. butter
1 c. butter
2 1/4 c. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. chopped pecans or walnuts
1/2 c. flaked coconut
1 tsp. vanilla
  • Melt chocolate chips, condensed milk and 2 tablespoons butter; set aside. 
  • Melt 1 cup butter. Beat in brown sugar and eggs. 
  • Stir in remaining ingredients. 
  • Spread half of mixture in ungreased jelly roll pan (10″ x 15″)
  • Drizzle chocolate mixture over batter in pan. 
  • Dot top with remaining batter. 
  • Twirl knife through to marble. 
  • Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown at 350 degrees.
  • Allow them to cool before cutting into bars 

—  By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in Edmonds with her family. She is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share her experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted

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