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Simple Ways to Celebrate the Sweetest Time of Year

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Posted: Sunday, November 3, 2013 10:00 pm | Updated: 1:32 am, Mon Nov 4, 2013.

(Family Features) Whether gathering to give thanks, observing time-honored traditions or simply toasting to the season, there's something extra festive about winter celebrations. Hectic schedules, however, make it easy to lose sight of what is important. This year, involve your loved ones in all the party preparations and make the season merrier.

As the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Hostess with the Mostess (HWTM), a hip and modern party planning resource, Jennifer Sbranti knows all about making the most of special celebrations - especially the holidays. With a fun and inspirational "how-to" approach, HWTM brings creative entertaining ideas to light and can help any hostess create the event of their dreams, ranging from special occasion showers and everyday get-togethers to large events. For more ideas, visit www.hwtm.com.

Seasoned tips from the party professional

With her many years of expertise, Sbranti is thrilled to share her insight on how to make your party shine this season. The first tip is to let nature be your guide while planning a winter soiree. There is no lack of inspiration in the beauty of multicolored leaves or freshly fallen snow, and it's easy to incorporate these visuals into any space. The fall-winter harvest provides an abundance of rich flavors that are the foundation of crowd-pleasing dishes.

Try these tips from Sbranti to create an impressive, but easy-to-do celebration:

1. Make it a family affair. Get the whole family involved in the party prep by asking them to help gather pinecones for creative decor. Add a bold splash of color or a metallic touch to the pinecones by dipping the bottom half of each pinecone in acrylic craft paint. String the painted pinecones into festive party garlands, or use them as holders for leaf-shaped place cards or food labels.

2. Add rustic charm. Give your dinner table a warm, rustic feel with linens and textures inspired by nature. Line the center of the table with a burlap runner and pretty seasonal leaves. Use wood boxes or decorative wood slices as centerpiece risers, and embellish guest chairs and mason jars with natural raffia and twine.

3. Serve smarter sweets. When it comes to holiday treats, opt for mini indulgences that won't leave guests feeling stuffed. Serve rich puddings or seasonal custards in mini cordial glasses instead of bowls, and bake your favorite cakes and pies in bite-sized versions instead of dishing out slices. For a healthier twist on the traditional holiday pie, try whipping up a batch of Apple Pie Pops. Made with NECTRESSE® Natural No Calorie Sweetener, an all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener, and perfectly portioned at just a few bites, these cute little pops offer a tasty treat without all the added sugar and calories of the original. For more great recipe ideas, visit www.nectresse.com.

4. Get everyone in a merry mood. Use music and lighting to quickly create a festive holiday atmosphere - at minimal cost. Ask guests to recommend their favorite songs for the playlist ahead of time, and add warmth to the festivities with lots of tea lights and votive candles displayed in glass jars. Hang white string lights throughout the party space, from stair banisters and doorways to the food and drink stations.

5. Add a special, personal touch. Personalize the celebration with pictures of family and friends. Your guests will love to see their likeness woven into the party décor. Print pictures out in black and white for an elegant feel, or use a photo-editing program to give them a sepia tone for a vintage-rustic vibe. Nestle the photos throughout your table centerpiece or use twine to string them into photo garlands and photo wreaths. You can also display them under clear glass plates to add a big dose of personality to each of your table settings.

6. Sip on the season's delicious flavors. Toast to the season with a pitcher of fruity and robust Sparkling Harvest Punch. Inspired by the rich flavors of sangria, this non-alcoholic drink is spiced with black tea and cinnamon, sweetened with NECTRESSE Sweetener, and filled to the brim with fruit - a bountiful harvest in every glass. The addition of club soda just before serving adds a little "holiday sparkle." For a more grown-up variation, use this recipe as a mixer.

Jennifer Sbranti is a compensated spokesperson for NECTRESSE Natural No Calorie Sweetener.
Sparkling Harvest Punch

Recipe: Sparkling Harvest Punch

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 spiced black tea bags
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tablespoons (12 packets) NECTRESSE Natural No Calorie Sweetener
  • 3 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 2 small oranges, sliced into wheels
  • 1 lemon, sliced into wheels
  • 1 red apple, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 3 cups club soda

Preparation:

  1. Boil water. Add tea bags and cinnamon sticks and steep for five minutes. Remove tea bags and cinnamon sticks and stir in NECTRESSE Natural No Calorie Sweetener until dissolved.
  2. In a large jar or pitcher, combine tea, pomegranate juice and orange juice. Next, stir in orange wheels, lemon rounds, and apple cubes. Refrigerate for a minimum of two hours, or preferably overnight.
  3. Just before serving, add club soda. Serve over ice.

Serves 8

Apple Pie Pops

Recipe: Apple Pie Pops

Ingredients:

  • 3 large apples, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1/4teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons (12 packets) NECTRESSE Natural No Calorie Sweetener
  • 2 packages refrigerated, rolled pie crust
  • Egg white wash (1 egg white)
  • NECTRESSE Natural No Calorie Sweetener for sprinkling (optional)
  • Tools
  • 2.5-inch circle cookie cutter
  • Parchment paper

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix together diced apples, melted butter, cinnamon, flour, salt and NECTRESSE Natural No Calorie Sweetener. Set aside.
  3. Using circular cookie cutter, cut out small circles from the refrigerated pie crust.
  4. Assemble pie pops using following steps: wet your finger with water and wet the edges of a dough circle, place a lollipop stick in the center of the circle, then top with 1 tablespoon of apple filling, wet the edges of a second circle, and place this circle on top of the first, wet edge down. Seal the two circles together by crimping all the way around with a short piece of a pie pop stick.
  5. Brush with egg wash. Sprinkle lightly with NECTRESSE Natural No Calorie Sweetener (optional).
  6. Place pops on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until golden, for approximately 12 minutes. Let cool.
  7. Tie a cute ribbon on the sticks, serve and enjoy.

Serves 22

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Should graduations return to the Grape Bowl?

Lodi Unified leaders are moving Lodi and Tokay high school graduations from the Grape Bowl to the Spanos Center at UOP in Stockton. They cite limited seating, costs and unpredictable weather at the Grape Bowl. But others say graduations at the Grape Bowl are an important Lodi tradition, and one reason many supported renovating the stadium. What do you think?

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