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HOLIDAY TRADITIONS in the KITCHENBY KIRSTEN HOLDER. For most of us, even the mention of the phrase “holiday traditions” evokes warm, cinnamon-scented memories. Sweets and treats are near synonymous with togetherness and festive celebrations this time of year. Read on to learn how four local families incorporate holiday culinary traditions, why they matter and how they’re passing these recipes to the next generation. Bountiful break fast + HE ALTHY COMPE TITIONMadi Pontikes and her family enjoy a traditional Christmas morning with a little bit of competition! “Each year my parents, my in-laws, my sister and all the kids look forward to a gingerbread decorating contest,” said Madi. “It’s a really fun activity where the kids can get messy and enjoy togetherness. Each of the kids then gets to show off their creations and gets an award such as ‘most sprinkly, most colorful, most snowy;’ you get the idea!” The Pontikes family also enjoys stuffed French toast, a recipe passed down from Madi’s mom. “As soon as we had Christmas with our own family, we knew it was a tradition we wanted to incorporate,” said Madi. “Everyone looks forward to Christmas morning stuffed French toast for breakfast!” Readers might recognize Madi from her popular Instagram platform, Move by Madi. With her focus on health and fitness, we couldn’t help but wonder about her family celebrating with indulgent foods. “We mix real, energy-giving foods into our big meals,” said Madi. “The sweet, indulgent foods just taste so good, and a big part of life for us is enjoying food! We usually add some eggs to our breakfast so everyone feels good and big meltdowns don’t ensue. It’s all about balance, and we like to celebrate with butter and sugar around here!” MADI’S DAUGHTER ELLIS PARTICIPATES IN THE FAMILY GINGERBREAD DECORATING CONTEST. PHOTOS PROVIDED. Stuffed French Toast Ingredients • 8 slices of white bread, cut into substantial cubes • 2, 8-oz packages of cream cheese • 1 dozen eggs • 2 cups milk • 1/3 cup maple syrup • 2 teaspoons cinnamon • 2 teaspoons allspice Directions 1. Grease 9x13 casserole dish. 2. Whisk together eggs, milk, syrup and spices. 3. Place half of cubed bread in casserole dish. Cube the cream cheese and place it on top of the bread. Add remaining cubed bread to the dish. Pour egg mixture over bread and cheese. 4. Cover with Saran wrap and refrigerate overnight. 5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. 6. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes (or until egg is cooked through); then serve with powdered sugar and syrup. MAIN COURSE with family ties Simi John and her family are originally from India, and they reflect on their heritage through food every time there’s a celebration in their home. “In Indian culture, hospitality is a big deal, so even just having guests in our home is cause for celebration!” said Simi. The joy of cooking was passed to Simi from her mother, who is currently teaching Simi’s daughter, Moriah, to cook as well. “I love cooking; it’s so therapeutic for me … it’s my me-time!” said Simi. “Thankfully my mom has more patience for kids in the kitchen and I love watching her with Moriah just like she was with me when I was little.” The go-to meal for gathering is Biryani, an Indian casserole dish usually paired with nubian fried lentils and traditional Indian salads. “When I was a kid, it was my job to help with prep work, as well as taking charge of the side salads,” said Simi. “Having this responsibility and being part of creating a meal for our guests reminded me to be proud of my culture. To be surrounded by the aroma of these traditional foods – it was a reflection of who I am.” Simi feels strongly about intentionally celebrating her roots with her children. “Tradition is important because it connects you back to the core of who you are,” said Simi. “Preparing recipes like Biryani reminds me that traditions have been around much longer than I have, and if we don’t honor these roots, they will dissolve.” THE JOHN FAMILY ENJOYS CELEBRATING THEIR INDIAN HERITAGE THROUGH FOOD. SIMI’S MOTHER, SHIRLY, ENJOYS TEACHING HER GRANDDAUGHTER MORIAH TO COOK. Shrimp Biryani Ingredients • 1/2 pound jumbo shrimp • 2 cloves garlic, chopped • 3 cardamom pods • 1/2 stick cinnamon• 1 star anise• 2 green peppers, diced• 2 tablespoons ginger• 1/4 teaspoon turmeric• 1/4 fenugreek, optional • 1/4 cup plain yogurt• 6 tablespoons butter • 1/4 cup oil • chili pepper to taste • 7 cloves • 1/4 teaspoon fennel • 2 onions, diced • 2 tomatoes, diced • 2 teaspoons masala • 1 tablespoon coriander • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped • 2 cups basmati rice, cooked Directions1. Marinate shrimp in 1/8 cup oil, garlic and chili pepper. 2. Pour remaining 1/8 cup of the oil in a skillet; heat and then add shrimp. Cook over medium to high heat for 3 minutes until shrimp turns pink and opaque. Remove shrimp from oil and set aside. 3. In the same pan and oil, add cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, fennel and star anise. Add onion and peppers and cook until soft and onions are brown. Add ginger, masala, turmeric, coriander and fenugreek, if using. Stir. Add diced tomato. 4. Add shrimp and 1/3 cup of water back to the pan. Stir in cilantro and yogurt. 5. Place shrimp mixture in an 8x8 baking dish. Layer cooked basmati rice on top of the shrimp. Place 6 pats of butter, 1 tablespoon each, evenly spaced on top of rice. 6. Cook in 350 degrees F oven for 20-30 minutes. SWEET TREATS that give back JENNIFER AND HER HUSBAND, THAI, BAKE COOKIES WITH THEIR KIDS, MASON, ETHAN AND EVELYN. For the good days, the bad days and every day in between, let there be cookies! Jen Nguyen and her boys look forward to baking chocolate chip cookies each year around the holidays. This year they plan to include baby sister in the process, too! “There’s so many sensory aspects of cooking that we are excited to get Evelyn involved in this year,” said Jen. “My oldest, Mason, wasn’t always totally on board with baking together, but he watched his dad enjoy making cookies with the family. Now he’s the one who is calling all the aunts, uncles and cousins to come over and help!” Jen didn’t grow up with many holiday traditions. Both her parents and her in-laws