One of my most fond holiday memories was the year my family did not give traditional gifts to each other. Instead, we focused on being fully present.

We rented a cabin at a state park that was large enough to accommodate all of the immediate family plus my aunt and uncle. No one family bore the brunt of having to get their home ready for company. With all there is to do this time of year, it can be one more brick in the already heavy load.

Once we were all together, we cut a small cedar tree from a neighbor’s property – with permission, of course. We used glitter and glue to create whimsical ornaments from pine cones and seed pods. We laughed and told stories while stringing cranberries and popcorn into strands of garland.

The one thing we didn’t do was worry about wrapping gifts and wondering if they were on someone’s list or if they would even like it. We kept it an electronics-free holiday, other than a festive holiday playlist.

I know this sounds extreme, but trust me, we not only survived but we thrived.

Each family brought food to share for our family celebration, keeping it simple and uncomplicated. This is not always an easy task, given the high standards we set for ourselves when it comes to trying to please everyone.

Not wanting to forego the tradition of baking cookies with our mom, we opted for a three-ingredient peanut butter cookie.

Getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season can sometimes be part of the fun, but let’s not forget the priceless legacy of “presence” is a one-size-fits-all gift. By diminishing the focal point of this season from gifts, food and decorations, we can turn our attention to the basics such as time, attention and presence to those around us.

Grandparents will have stories to tell if we take the time to ask and listen. Children will use their imaginations to create hilarious productions (my sisters and I still do this) if given the chance. These will become the nostalgic stories of future gatherings, not the gifts under the tree.

Long after the light up sweater for your sister has become yard sale fodder, the story about the best holiday gathering ever, where laughter and togetherness along with those delicious peanut butter cookies will live on.

The peanut butter cookie recipe we used is marvelous for kids to make, with little supervision needed. To give these oh-so-easy cookies holiday flair, add red and green sprinkles, chocolate chips or even transform them into a delightful PB&J thumb-print cookie by making an indentation and adding a dollop of strawberry or raspberry jam.

Three-ingredient Peanut Butter cookies

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup white sugar

1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

With an electric mixer (mixing with a fork also will work, but the cookies will be more dense), mix peanut butter, sugar and egg until smooth. Roll into teaspoon-sized balls and arrange on a cookie sheet two inches apart. Dip fork tines into sugar and make a crisscross pattern on the top to flatten each cookie. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Kathy Nicarry is the former chef at Bernheim’s Isaac’s Cafe. Her healthy cooking style joins her passion for cooking with her love of the natural world. She can be reached at

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