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Everything Thanksgiving: Get all our Thanksgiving recipes, how-tos and more!
Look, making pie crust can be therapeutic and rewarding, and many bakers find comfort in the ritual of cutting cold butter into flour, gently working it into a ball and rolling it into a perfect disk. But for everyone else, making a pie crust from scratch can be a true nightmare.
If you love the flavors of pie but dread struggling with pie dough that breaks, shrinks and crumbles, fruit crisp is your new best friend. It’s essentially a great big pan full of your favorite pie filling, topped with a somewhat foolproof topping and completely void of pie crust. It’s delicious served warm or cold, and it’s especially good topped with a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.
Pro tip: Make your crisp topping in advance and store it in an airtight storage bag in the freezer. When you need to make a dessert in a hurry, you’ll be ready.
Check out some of our favorite crisps below, from apple to pear and even pumpkin ― they’re all perfect for Thanksgiving.
Everything Thanksgiving: Get all our Thanksgiving recipes, how-to’s and more!
Whipping up cookies, candy and other homemade goodies to send to loved ones is a holiday tradition for many families. This year, since the coronavirus pandemic will prevent some holiday get-togethers, we may be shipping even more treats to family and friends for Thanksgiving and the December holidays.
Every holiday season, Greg Gagnon, who owns UPS Store franchises in San Diego, helps people ship gifts, including food items, around the world. Cookies usually top the list, but he’s seen people send everything from cheesecakes and apple pies to cupcakes and burritos.
“And, the whole fruitcake joke is a real thing,” Gagnon said. “People do send fruitcake.”
While Gagnon expects the tradition to continue, 2020 has been full of unknowns, and shipping for the holidays is no exception. “We’re really aware that it’s going to probably be much bigger this year, and we’re preparing for that,” Gagnon told HuffPost.
Last year, the U.S. Postal Service planned to deliver 800 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This year will probably be even busier. COVID-19 has already overwhelmed shipping services, which have been dealing with more packages from an influx of online shopping. And reports have circulated of rotting food at postal facilities because of delays.
All this may have you wondering whether it’s safe to send homemade foods this holiday season. Food safety experts say it is, but they urge you to keep a few things in mind as you package items and send them on their way.
Is it safe to ship food?
“The technical answer for that would be if you do it right, it’s safe,” said Archie Magoulas, a technical information specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.
The USDA recommends shipping perishable items in a foam or corrugated cardboard box with a cold source, like dry ice or a frozen gel pack. Use a speedy shipping method and alert the person on the receiving end about the package so they can open and refrigerate it immediately.
“Ship early in the week: That reduces the risk of a package getting stuck at a shipping facility over a weekend, if weekend delivery isn’t available in the recipient’s area.”
Magoulas, who also helps answer the USDA’s food safety hotline, said he often receives calls about food packages that have been left at someone’s front door for hours, asking whether the contents are safe to eat. The answer depends on whether the item is perishable or nonperishable, and its temperature.
Perishable foods, like frosted cakes, pies, soft cookies, cookies with fillings, or other high-moisture items, should ideally stay at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below in transport. To keep it that cold, Magoulas suggests freezing homemade goodies before shipping, and then using insulated packaging and a cold source.
If foods reach the so-called danger zone, between 40 degrees and 140 degrees F, pathogenic bacteria can grow. Any food held in this range for two hours or longer is unsafe to eat and could cause foodborne illness, according to the USDA.
“Even if [the food] feels cool, that doesn’t mean it’s safe,” Magoulas said. But there’s a way you can test food’s safety once you’ve received it. “We say to put a thermometer near the surface and see how cold it is. It should still be 40 degrees or below. You’d be surprised how often people say it feels cold, and when they check it, it may not even be 40 at all.”
Foods may not look, smell or taste spoiled, but could still be dangerous and should be thrown away, Magoulas said. And, immediately toss any package that arrives damaged or opened.
Nonperishable items, like jams, hard cookies and most breads that don’t contain any fillings, are generally less risky to ship. “You can deliver those without even any refrigeration, just in a regular box,” Magoulas said.
How to package foods to ship
Most homemade holiday goodies are mailable, a Postal Service spokesperson told HuffPost, but it’s a good idea to check the USPS list of restrictions.
To keep your package’s contents safe and preserve freshness, wrap your treats well in an airtight container, such as a zip-top bag or plastic container. Choose a shipping box that’s larger than its contents to leave room for bubble wrap or other packing material to protect what’s inside.
UPS Stores and other shipping outlets accept pre-packaged parcels, but will usually pack items for you, too. Pre-pandemic, Gagnon said customers often brought in foods to ship that weren’t always sealed. This year, to limit contact, he urges anyone shipping homemade foods around the holidays to bring their goodies in a plastic container, sealed bag or wrapped well with foil or plastic wrap.
“Then, we’ll take the item and find the right box for it with enough packaging around it to make sure it’s not a mess by the time it arrives,” Gagnon said. “I know there’s a really good chance that there’s going to be a lot more of these custom shipments this year because people can’t (deliver goodies) in person as easily.”
Most UPS Stores have dry ice and other packaging available for shipping perishables. FedEx also recommends using insulated packaging and refrigerants, like dry ice or gel packs, and offers a cold-shipping package.
Gagnon suggests placing a label inside the package with the delivery and return addresses, in case the outside label gets ripped off or the package gets damaged.
The best way to send your goodies
When you’re sending foods, especially perishables, opt for the swiftest shipping method, Magoulas said, such as overnight or second-day shipping. The cost of shipping homemade goodies over the holidays will vary based on the size and weight of the package, shipping method and service, and the ZIP code where it’s going.
Another tip: Ship early in the week, Gagnon said. That reduces the risk of a package getting stuck at a shipping facility over a weekend, if weekend delivery isn’t available in the recipient’s area.
With the anticipated busier-than-usual holiday shipping season coming up, Gagnon also suggests sending any gifts, edible or otherwise, as early as you can.
“I’ve seen so many holiday seasons, they always are busy, but we’re very aware that it’s going to probably be much bigger this year,” he said.
The Postal Service expects traffic to increase starting Dec. 7, with Dec. 14 to Dec. 21 predicted to be the busiest mailing, shipping and delivery week, according to a spokesperson.
“Early is always the better thing,” Gagnon said. “You certainly don’t want to have stuff show up late.”
For many, coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures. Just thinking about that hot cup of joe or that iced latte is enough to get some people out of bed in the morning. But for the 40 million Americans who live with an anxiety disorder, a daily caffeine habit could be taking a toll on their mental health.
That’s because the stimulant effects of caffeine, especially when consumed in higher amounts, can mimic or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Think rapid heartbeat, restlessness, gastrointestinal upset and difficulty sleeping, said Mary Margaret Sweeney, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
In fact, research studies have used a moderate to high dose of caffeine “as a reliable way for experimenters to generate panic among persons with panic disorder, so that their symptoms can be studied in a safe and controlled setting,” Sweeney told HuffPost.
Reactions to caffeine vary widely from person to person. Some people can down a triple shot of espresso and lie down for a nap, while others would be on edge all day after doing the same. Generally, people with preexisting anxiety disorders tend to be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine.
“Some individuals may experience anxiety, nervousness and jitteriness at much lower doses than others,” said Laura Juliano, an American University psychology professor and caffeine researcher. “Some of this variability may be due to anxiety sensitivity, genetic differences, other drugs or medications — like oral contraceptives — as well as how much caffeine someone is used to having, causing tolerance.”
“Some people may be consuming much more caffeine than they realize.”
So why does coffee give you that jolt? In short, the caffeine binds to the receptors in your brain intended for adenosine. The latter is a chemical messenger that plays a role in a number of bodily processes, including sleep.
“Adenosine builds up in our brains during waking hours and causes us to feel sleepy and less alert,” Juliano said. “When caffeine blocks the receptors intended for adenosine, it causes us to feel more awake and alert.”
How much caffeine is too much?
Guidance from the Food and Drug Administration says that up to 400 milligrams per day — equivalent to about four 8-ounce cups of home-brewed coffee — is unlikely to have dangerous negative effects on healthy adults. (The recommendation for pregnant individuals is lower.) But even consuming half that amount — 200 mg or more — has been shown to increase anxiety among those with anxiety disorders and others sensitive to caffeine, Juliano said.
“Low doses of caffeine do not typically cause anxiety and extremely high doses will likely cause any individual to feel anxious,” she said. “It generally takes a higher dose of caffeine to produce anxiety in someone who is not normally anxious compared to someone who is anxiety-prone.”
Unfortunately, many people don’t have an accurate sense of their daily caffeine intake.
“A serving of coffee can contain anywhere from 50 mg to 500 mg of caffeine, depending on the type of coffee beans, serving size, and brewing method,” Juliano said. A Starbucks venti Pike Place Roast coffee, for example, contains a whopping 410 mg of caffeine.
And, of course, coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine. Consider sodas, energy drinks, tea, chocolate and certain medications, like Excedrin Migraine. (You can find the caffeine content of some popular foods and beverages on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s website).
“Some people may be consuming much more caffeine than they realize,” said Juliano.
How to tell if caffeine is increasing your anxiety
Not sure if your coffee habit is affecting your anxiety levels? Keep a diary to track your caffeine consumption and your anxiety symptoms, Sweeney suggested. Then see if any patterns emerge.
“For example, on a day when they felt particularly anxious or had more trouble sleeping, was that the same day they had an extra cup of coffee?” she said. “[You] could also tell whether the pattern of caffeine consumption relates to anxiety symptoms, such as whether having two cups one right after the other results in greater anxiety than two cups spread across the morning, or whether consuming caffeine later in the day coincides with greater trouble sleeping.”
How to cut back on caffeine
Do it gradually.
Experts recommend reducing your intake slowly over the course of two to three weeks. If you go cold turkey, you’re more likely to deal with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue and mood disturbances.
“Caffeine withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable but usually go away within the first week of stopping,” Juliano noted.
It may also be useful to track your anxiety levels in a journal throughout the weaning process, Sweeney said.
Change up your coffee order.
Some may be surprised to learn that one shot of espresso actually contains less caffeine than one cup of drip coffee.
“A 1.5-ounce shot of espresso only contains about 75 to 90 mg of caffeine compared to a 12-ounce drip coffee that may contain 200 to 300 mg of caffeine,” Juliano said.
If you like tea, you’ll be glad to know that even caffeinated varieties — such as green tea or black tea — tend to have less caffeine per serving than brewed coffee. In an 8-ounce cup, green tea has about 25 mg of caffeine and black tea has about 50 mg, according to the Mayo Clinic. But again, caffeine content can vary based on the brewing time, temperature and other factors.
Supposing, however, you consumed the same amount of caffeine from coffee as you did from black tea, would the beverages have different effects on your anxiety levels? According to Juliano, there isn’t sufficient data to say.
“I am not aware of any research that has kept caffeine constant and compared reactions to coffee vs. tea,” she said. “Theoretically a dose of caffeine should have similar effects across different vehicles, but it is possible that other factors could interact with the effects of caffeine — including expectancy and other components of the beverage. It hasn’t been directly tested as far as I know.”
Switch to decaffeinated coffee or herbal tea.
Decaf still contains some caffeine but much less than its caffeinated counterparts — usually less than 15 mg in an 8-ounce cup. By going the decaf route, you can enjoy your morning ritual without stoking your anxiety.
“Someone could also mix caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee to reduce caffeine exposure,” Juliano said.
And herbal teas — such as chamomile, peppermint and ginger — are naturally free of caffeine.