A Sweet Holiday Season

A Sweet Holiday Season

Our holiday plans may look different this year because of the pandemic, but we can still keep our spirits high through traditions like baking special family recipes.

From our kitchens to yours, here are a few of our staff’s favorite holiday baked goods:

Please stay safe this holiday season and keep our community healthy by wearing a mask outside your home, limiting indoor socializing, maintaining 6 feet of distance from others, and washing your hands often. Happy baking!


Alis making pakhlava with her mom

“Pakhlava (or baklava/baghlava) is a delightful crunchy sweet dessert that is enjoyed (and claimed!) across the borders throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and of course, by the millions of immigrants that make up the quilt of cultures in the United States. We may have many strong cultural differences, rivalries, and territorial feuds, yet we are all united by pakhlava. Making pakhlava in my Armenian family has become an annual tradition during the holidays. My mom made it and gifted it to her spiritual friends and teachers as a “thank you” every year when we lived in Argentina, putting her special magic into it. I continue sharing that tradition (albeit only in December!) with my close friends and colleagues at Mary’s Center, and when I get compliments or recipe requests, I remind them that…the secret’s in the magic you put in the syrup!! I hope you add your own magic and tradition onward! Pari Akhorjag (Enjoy!)”

— Alis Marachelian, Senior Director, Community Health Initiatives & Strategic Alliances


  • 1 box of filo dough (approximately 18 sheets per box, found in frozen dessert aisle in supermarket next to puff pastry)
  • Bag of nuts of choice – walnuts, almonds, pistachios are usually the ones used (please be mindful of nut allergies of the recipients!)
  • Sugar – the healthier (cane, coconut, brown unrefined) the better
  • Unsweetened Butter – yes, the best you can find…you will need a lot of butter, almost one box per tray!


  1. First, prepare the syrup. Melt 2 cups of sugar per 1 cup of water and bring to a boil in medium heat and slowly stirring.
  2. Add a cinnamon stick broken up, a palm full of cloves, and cardamom seeds to infuse with flavor. You will need to add a tablespoon of lemon as soon as you start seeing the boiling bubbles turn big in size. That’s when you know it’s done!
  3. Next, prepare the nut mixture. In a food processor, chop the nut or nut mixture of choice from above list with 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tsp of cinnamon and clove.  Set aside.
  4. Divide the filo dough into 2 equal parts (if 18 sheets, 9 for top layer and 9 for bottom layer).
  5. Melt the butter on a slow heat until liquified.
  6. On an oven tray, start layering each filo dough and brushing each layer added with butter. Dough and butter, dough and butter until you finish the bottom layer. 
  7. Add the entire chopped nut mixture and start the layering process alternating with the butter for the entire top layer.
  8. Make sure the top layer is lathered generously with butter and with a good knife, start cutting into diamonds or squares prior to baking
  9. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes at 350°F or until the top layers starts showing the golden look
  10. As soon as it comes out of the hot oven, with a ladle, generously pour the magical syrup!
  11. Let it cool (if you can handle the wait) for 30 minutes before tasting!


Cookies freshly coated in powdered sugar

“My husband Miachel’s grandmother who was Greek made these cookies for him when he was a young boy. Miachel taught my Colombian mother how to make them and she made them for the holidays while she was with us on this earth. For the last 15 years, Miachel makes them four to five times a year on special occasions. Our daughter Amalia has learned how to make them and is keeping this recipe in a special file to continue the tradition. In the meantime, she and I enjoy sitting down and savoring these delicious cookies with coffee whenever Miachel makes them for us.”

— Maria Gomez, President and CEO


  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature but not melted
  • ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ¼ cup brandy
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup sliced blanched almonds (crush these slices into small pieces)
  • ¼ cup rosewater (if you can’t find this don’t worry)


  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Place rack on the lower half of oven.
  2. Beat the soft butter until pale and fluffy.
  3. Add confectioners’ sugar and egg yolk to butter and beat until creamy.
  4. Beat in the brandy and vanilla.
  5. Mix the flour and baking powder together in a separate bowl and set aside.
  6. Mix the butter mixture at low speed, and add flour mixture in small amounts. The dough will be soft and will leave the side of the bowl.
  7. Mix in the granulated sugar and almonds until blended.
  8. Take about a tablespoon full of dough, roll into a ball and flatten between the palms of your hands to make a 1/2 inch thick disk. Place on ungreased baking sheet.
  9. Take your finger and make an indentation on each cookie.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes. Cookies will just begin to look colored.
  11. When cookies are ready remove from the oven, add a drop of rose water to the indentation (if you can’t find rose water the cookies will still be good).
  12. Let cookies cool. Roll in confectioners’ sugar and store in closed container.

Grandma’s Banana Bread

Grandma’s banana bread right out of the oven

“This is a mildly sweet and moist quick bread that everyone loves. On top of being delicious, Grandma’s banana bread represents family tradition, connection, and love as I learned to bake with my grandma and mom. This is a recipe that has been passed down 4 generations starting with my great grandma, who I was named after. Enjoy!”

— Michelle Maxberry, Assistant Director, Corporate Partnerships and Events


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup butter or vegetable oil
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 ⅓ cups mashed bananas (about 4 small)
  • Optional add-ins: Toasted walnuts or pecans, chocolate or peanut butter chips, blueberries (Note: Toss with a bit of flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom of the loaf)


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour (or line with parchment paper) a 9×5 loaf pan.
  2. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Whisk to combine.
  3. With a hand mixer on medium, combine butter and sugars in a medium bowl until fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well. Stir in mashed bananas.
  4. Add dry ingredients and mix just until combined.
  5. If using any add-ins, mix gently into the batter.
  6. Pour into prepared loaf pan and bake 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Do not overbake.
  7. Cool in the pan 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on a rack.

Peanut Clusters

Judy baking with her children

“My mom made these peanut clusters for our cookie platter every year, and no matter how busy I am, these are the one cookie I make every year too, because they are so easy. And my kids always love to help (and lick the bowl 🙂 ) Once my mom put a pan of these on top of our car in the garage to cool faster and got halfway down the driveway before she remembered them!”

— Judy Kittleson, Adult Education Coordinator and NEDP Manager, Briya Public Charter School


  • 1 bag of semisweet chocolate chips (could also substitute milk chocolate chips)
  • ½ bag of butterscotch chips (could also mix in some peanut butter chips)
  • 1 bag of peanuts (any kind is fine, but my mom always used Spanish peanuts)


  1. Melt chocolate chips and butterscotch chips in a double boiler or in the microwave.
  2. Add peanuts and mix until they are coated with chocolate.
  3. Drop by teaspoonful onto a cookie sheet or waxed paper. (If you have some chocolate left in the bowl at the end, you can toss in some Cheerios or puffed wheat or anything else you would like to eat covered with chocolate!)
  4. The clusters will harden as they cool. Keep refrigerated and enjoy!