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Obamas celebrate holidays in DC

Holiday gifts for tweens

Holiday gifts for the women in your life

White House Christmas honors military families

Sidewalk Santa Parade

Photo Gallery: Gaga's Workshop

Tip: Pack light for holiday travel

The holidays might bring joyful times, but traveling to your destination is usually nothing to get happy about. Crowds, flight delays and the occasional lost bag or two add up to one big buzzkill. This season, things are looking particularly bleak with many airlines shrinking flight schedules. And those pesky bag fees can pile up when you’re dealing with winter gear and gifts.

So if you’re planning to travel by air to your holiday destination, get ready to get in your zen zone before you go. We asked a few experts for tips on smart holiday packing for a weekend, a week or a two-week trip. 

A weekend

Atlanta-based style consultant and frequent traveler Robanne Schulman suggests packing a pair of dark straight-leg jeans, a cardigan, lightweight T-shirts for layering, a jersey dress (women), nice slacks (men), one pair of flat boots (wear these to the airport), one pair of heels or dress shoes for men. Don’t forget standards like pajamas and underwear. Stick to one color scheme such as black or brown and only take along simple, less expensive jewelry. If you take the good stuff, don’t take it off. Ever! Wear an all-weather trench coat and scarf to the airport. Pack your items in a carry-on size rolling suitcase or a hanging bag. When packing your bag, place harder to wrinkle items like jeans on bottom. Tuck shoes along the sides, says Schulman.

One week

Add a few more items to the above list such as cotton pants and turtlenecks or tops with a pop of color to break up the monotone look, Schulman said. You can also add a pair of flats depending on your itinerary. Put it all in a rolling suitcase, and pack smaller items such as lingerie, socks, etc., inside of shoes. It is also a good space-saving strategy to roll the thinner items, such as T-shirts. Make sure you pack enough clothing to give yourself a few options, but be ruthless. Over-packing was one of Schulman’s biggest mistakes. “That’s why I now just go with one color scheme,” she said.

Other travel tips: Schulman, who travels about once a month, swore she would never check another bag after her luggage was lost on consecutive trips. She keeps personal items in a giant tote that serves as her second carry-on. Fill it with a clutch purse, toiletries and other items such as a flat iron, extra shoes, etc.

Make sure your toiletries meet security standards by requesting samples of your favorite skincare and makeup when you buy your regular size products, Schulman said.

Two weeks

Rory Tahari, author of “Lists for Life,” (Simon and Schuster Adult, $19.99) offers an iPhone app with comprehensive packing lists (she even includes checklists for kids and a list of toiletries). For extended trips, her suggestions include the basics such as pajamas, underwear, socks and belts, as well as a cashmere blanket (1), jeans (3), long sleeve T-shirts (14), sweaters (3), nice outfits, tennis shoes, pants (5), raincoat, short sleeve T-shirts (8), and casual wear such as sweatpants. For trips to warmer destinations, don’t forget summer clothing such as shorts and sandals. For colder climates, pack a coat, glove, hat and scarf. Tahari uses her lists as a starting point to get her going, and then customizes them for each trip.

More holiday tips

● Weigh your luggage at home on a standard bathroom scale, then pack about 10 pounds under the known limit. Weight and size restrictions for luggage vary by airline as well as destination. Maximum bag weight can range from 50 to 100 pounds and fees vary.

● If you can, purchase holiday gifts upon arrival at your destination.

● If you decide to travel with your gifts, wrap expensive or fragile gifts in bubble wrap and carry them with you to make inspection easy. All other gifts should be packed in your luggage to make security check easier. Wait until you arrive at your destination to wrap your gifts.

● If you have a lot of gifts, ship them ahead. It might save you a lot of money (as well as your sanity).

Savory dishes add international flare to holiday menu

Instead of a ham or roasted turkey at the center of your Christmas dinner, what about pork ribs or spicy beef stew?

Just as Santa Claus looks and behaves a little differently than St. Nicholas and Papa Noel, Christmas dinners around the world are as varied as the way Christians and even non-Christians celebrate the holiday.

One of the universal truths of Christmas is that it inspires a sweet tooth in all of us, but instead of focusing on all the holiday cookies, puddings and fried doughs, let's take a tour of the variety of non-desserts found during Christmas dinner around the world.

Many traditional holiday dishes, like jellied pigs' feet in Sweden, herring salad in Finland, carp in aspic in Canada or goat pepper soup in Ghana, might not be as warmly embraced on American tables, but here are a few savory dishes similar enough to American favorites that you might consider incorporating them into your Christmas feast.

Just like in the United States, most holiday meals abroad are centered around a large cut of roasted lamb, pork, beef or fowl, the main course and side dishes reflecting the kinds of meat and produce available in local markets. Seafood is popular in many places, the most well-known tradition being the Feast of Seven Fishes in Italy.

Filipinos, 83 percent of whom are Catholic, have earned the reputation of having the world's longest Christmas celebration with Christmas decorations and carols filling many homes as early as September. Because the islands are in the middle of trade routes passing through the Pacific Ocean, the Filipinos celebrate a Spanish-influenced "Noche Buena" dinner on Christmas Eve, which features ham, "bola de queso" or Edam cheese, and a hot chocolate called tsokalate. Many families prepare their own version of caldereta, a tomato-based stew featuring beef, chicken, pork or even goat that is thickened with mashed cooked liver.

Even in countries where Christianity isn't the majority religion, Christmas is often celebrated with holiday displays and great feasts. In Ghana, families gather to kill a goat and make a spicy stew using every part of the animal.

Although ham graces many Christmas tables, in Norway, clove-dotted pork belly ribs are traditionally served on Christmas with lingonberry relish, potatoes and sauerkraut. Both roasted and caramelized potatoes are served alongside roasted pork or duck in Denmark, and Sweden has a special Christmas version of a smörgåsbord called julbord that features an array of meats, fish, cheeses, sausages and cold salads.

In Spain, where almond soup is a popular Christmas dish, vendors on the sidewalks throughout the holiday season roast chestnuts and serve them in paper cones to people who are strolling through the streets to look at the impressive light displays.

Wild mushrooms and herring are at the center of Polish Christmas Eve dinners called Wigilia. Many Russians in the Eastern Orthodox Church fast through the month of December until Jan. 6, when they celebrate with a multi-course meatless dinner that features a wheatberry porridge called kutya.

In Central and South America, tamales with every imaginable combination of filling and masa are served around the holiday season, usually with mole or a chile- or tomatillo-based sauce. In places like Australia in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas falls during one of the hottest months of the year, families often gather outside for barbecues and picnics.

Although the dishes served might vary, the spirit of getting people together to celebrate the goodwill associated with Christmas is the same from Ghana to Guatemala.; 912-2504

Christmas-Spiced Pork Ribs

In Norway, this dish is typically made with ribs that still have the pork belly attached. I used a rack of regular ribs that can be found at most grocery stores, but you could use the fragrant rub and cloves on pork chops or a pork roast as well. Don't have ground anise in your cupboard? Clean out your coffee grinder and pulverize anise, fennel or caraway seeds or star anise.


2 tsp. kosher salt

1/2 tsp. ground pepper

3/4 Tbsp. grated fresh ginger

1/2 tsp. ground anise seed

1 rack pork ribs, about 3 lb.

11/2 Tbsp. whole cloves

1 apple, cubed


Mix together salt, pepper, ginger and anise. Rub mixture all over the pork ribs. Press cloves into the meat, spacing the cloves about an inch apart. Place ribs in a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish, cover and refrigerate overnight or at least four hours.

Remove ribs from refrigerator and preheat oven to 500 degrees. Let meat rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water and apples to the dish, cover with aluminum foil and place in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. After half an hour, reduce heat to 250 and bake for another 30-40 minutes.

Remove foil cover and turn on the broiler. Move the oven rack to the top third of the oven and broil ribs for 5-7 minutes until meat is starting to brown and the internal temperature reaches 160 degress. Serve with lingonberry jam and cooked apples that have been strained from the pan juices. Serves 4.

- Addie Broyles

Russian Crab Salad

1 lb. picked crab meat

1 lb. new potatoes, boiled and diced

1/2 cup fine diced dill pickles

1 medium white onion, fine dice

1/4 cup green peas

2 Tbsp. fresh dill

1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Juice of one lemon

1 crisp sweet apple peeled, cored and fine diced

1/2 to 3/4 cup good mayonnaise

Salt and pepper to taste


Mix all ingredients together well, but gently, until evenly distributed and mayo lightly coats everything. Serve on individual small plates or (as I prefer) on one large platter, nicely decorated with parsley leaves, dill springs, edible flowers, olives, pickle slices, etc.

- Rob Moshein


This rich Filipino stew can be made with chicken, pork or goat instead of beef, and many recipes call for carrots, red bell peppers or other vegetables, so feel free to use what you have. Liverwurst can be substituted for the pâté or omitted altogether, but either makes the stew even more flavorful and thick.


1/4 cup white vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup minced garlic

2 lb. cubed beef round or stew meat

2 Tbsp. oil, divided

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

11/2 cups canned tomato sauce

2 cups beef stock

2 cups peeled and cubed potatoes

1/3 cup green olives, sliced

1 cup peas

1/4 cup liver pâté (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste


Mix together vinegar, soy sauce and garlic in a large bowl. Add beef to marinade and let sit in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Remove meat from the marinade and pat dry.

In a large pot, heat 1 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat. Brown the beef cubes in two batches. Once all the beef is browned, remove meat from pot and add the rest of the oil. Turn down heat to medium and sauté onions and peppers until the onions are translucent, about 12 minutes.

Return beef to the pan and add tomato sauce and beef stock. Bring to a boil and then cover. Reduce heat and simmer stew for 30 minutes. Add potatoes and cook until softened, about 20 minutes. Add olives, peas and pâté. Stew should be relatively thick. Season to taste and serve over rice. Serves 8.

- Addie Broyles

Caramelized Potatoes

A Danish Christmas dinner usually features both roasted and caramelized potatoes. The salted butter takes away some of the sweetness of this dish, but think of it as an alternative to sweet yam casserole.


11/2 lb. small round potatoes (or 1 large can of canned whole potatoes)

5 Tbsp. sugar

2 Tbsp. salted butter


If using raw potatoes, wash and peel them. Place potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, until soft. Drain potatoes and pat dry. (If using canned potatoes, drain and pat dry.)

In a nonstick skillet, heat sugar over medium heat until it begins to melt. Stir sugar frequently as it liquifies and starts to caramelize. When the caramel turns a golden brown, stir in butter until well combined. Add potatoes and stir until coated and potatoes are heated through. Serves 4.

- Addie Broyles

For fresh holiday decor, step outside and gather

Looking for a fresh look for holiday decor? Step outdoors and take stock of Mother Nature.

"I try to use materials you can get from your yard or your neighbor's yard," explains Justin Branton, garden center manager at Habersham Gardens in Atlanta.

His go-to decorative embellishments include holly sprigs, branches sprayed a snowy white, in bloom leatherleaf mahonia and, of course, fresh green wreaths.

Branton is leading a series of free holiday decor classes this Saturday and next at Habersham, focusing on creating fresh pine wreaths, succulent wreaths and holiday container plantings. He shares these easy tips for creating seasonal magic at home.

Indoor holiday container:

Materials: English ivy topiary, poinsettia, Maidenhair fern, Christmas cactus, ornaments of choosing, decorative moss

How: Choose a sturdy, attractive indoor container in a holiday color. Fill with styrofoam popcorn if the container doesn't have holes for drainage; if it does, place a saucer underneath to capture moisture. Fill three-quarters of the pot with a basic potting soil. Place tallest plant, such as the English ivy topiary, in center or side. Next, place poinsettia beside the topiary. Fill in remaining space with ferns, Christmas cactus and other indoor-appropriate plants. Interesting objects, such as ornaments, can be placed throughout for holiday interest. Cover soil line with moss.

Maintenance: This indoor container needs bright, indirect light to thrive. Water only when soil feels dry to the touch when placing finger one inch into pot.

Tips: If you prefer, many of the plants can be left in their individual containers. For an instant arrangement, place them inside the soil-filled container and hide plastic containers with decorative moss. After the holiday season, transplant the plants to a permanent home.

DIY wreath

Materials: Basic wreath of your choosing, such as Fraser fir or boxwood, holly sprigs, colorful plant cuttings such as leatherleaf mahonia, sticks sprayed to color of your choosing, found objects such as faux birds, ribbon, floral wire, water picks (tubes that hold a stem in water) and whatever else you'd like to use for decoration.

How: For live plants such as the leatherleaf mahonia, use water picks to keep the cuttings fresh throughout the season. Use floral wire to secure larger elements into place in the wreath. Next, place in holly and small branches and secure if necessary. Ribbon and found objects, such as Branton's woodland owl, should be placed on the wreath last.

Maintenance: Live wreaths should be spritzed daily to combat drying out. Branton also suggests refilling the water picks daily for the first week to ensure the cuttings are thoroughly saturated.

Easy centerpiece

Materials: 16-inch wreath, floral foam, water picks, saucer, poinsettia and holly sprigs or other plant materials for embellishment. You may also use a gazing ball, oranges or candles for the centerpiece.

How: This easy-to-make centerpiece begins by placing a small live wreath atop a saucer. After soaking floral foam (cut to the size of the center of the wreath) in water, place foam in the center of the wreath. Candles may be placed into the foam, followed by live plant materials such as poinsettia or holly. Branton suggests to place the poinsettia stems in water picks. Fill in the open space with evergreen cuttings or moss. The center may also be filled with ornaments or a gazing ball for holiday shine, or oranges with cloves for a natural, scented statement.

Maintenance: This centerpiece may only look its best for a few days, Branton says, but should be spritzed to prolong its life.

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