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Hard work, but worth it

The holidays can be an awkward time, socially, for many people. Seasonal parties and family gatherings are too often punctuated with moments of uncomfortable quiet around the dinner table or the kitchen counter.Liquor in abundant quantities is one way to lighten the mood, but it’s not a particularly healthy method. Another method, and one that is healthy in more than one way, is to give your guests and relatives something to do with their hands.Cracking walnuts is a traditional kitchen task, and one that anyone, even a small child, can perform with just a little bit of instruction and oversight.Of course, it’s so easy to find shelled walnuts at any grocery store, it raises the question of whether it’s worth the effort to crack them yourself. But new studies have found that the whitish waxy skin that sits between the nut and the shell is one of the healthist edible parts. It’s loaded with cancer-fighting phenols.Walnuts are astonishingly rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which lower cholesterol and keep your heart pumping smoothly. A quarter cup of walnuts has more than 90 percent of your daily recommended dose. Another super healthy but annoying and troublesome food to get at is the pomegranate. Peeling and seeding one of these red devils can be truly vexing. But if you’re at a party where you don’t know anyone well, taking apart a pomegranate might seem like good fun indeed.Be sure to ask for an apron and keep a damp cloth handy, to avoid staining your party outfit.No doubt your host or hostess will not mind if you pop a few seeds in your mouth or dribble a little juice into your cocktail, glass of wine or tumbler of club soda.And if you get the opportunity, that’s certainly what you should do. Pomegranates fall into the category of richly colored foods whose hue indicates a super abundance of cancer-fighting antioxidants. They are also supposed to be extraordinarily good for your entire cardiovascular system (they keep plaque from forming in your arteries). They help ward off Alzheimer’s disease, and protect the developing spine of an infant in utero thanks to all their folic acid. They have tons of fiber (if you eat the fruit, instead of drinking it), and they’re loaded with vitamin C (which is also one of the most powerful of all the antioxidants). They have a lot of potassium, which is good for your muscles (including your heart) and nerves.On the downside: They interact with some heart and blood pressure medications (as do grapefruits and grapefruit juice), so check with your pharmacist before you eat or drink them (you can still peel and seed them though).Once you have all those pomegranate seeds (because one piece of fruit yields quite a few edible little nuggets), you can toss them on salads or ice cream and into cocktails. Add the walnuts, too, they look beautiful with the pomegranate jewels.If you (or your holiday hostess) feels ambitious, try the traditional Persian lamb stew, or a variation. Most folks have a stew recipe or method they prefer to use; if you don’t, Jamie Oliver has a good one online that you can try. Essentially, you’re going to make your stew in the fashion that appeals to you but add pomegranate juice to the liquids in which your meat and veggies will stew. Add walnuts as a garnish just before serving (parsley will be a nice addition here as well).

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