How to Entertain a Healthy Holiday Season

How to Entertain a Healthy Holiday Season

Ah, once again it's that special time of year. when the sun lowers a bit too early, the air gets crisp, and loved ones cuddle together for warmth and celebration of another beautiful year down, and with any luck, another beautiful year to come. It is, as they say, the most wonderful time of the year. 

Then there are the people, or the years, where the season casts a light on what's "wrong" with your life; some years, if we're honest, are better than others. but let me challenge you to own your holiday experience: whether you find the season hopeful or depressing is all within your design. The energy and presence you bring to the season will make all the difference, even if you're having an "off" year.

Here are a few tips to help you make the most of the season, that aim to meet you wherever you are:

Remember that the holidays are about celebrating divinity and gratitude, whatever that may mean to you. To me it means making sure that I take some time in solitude to meditate on my year, both the great times and the lessons learned, and that I take some time to pray to God, give thanks, and surrender to what He has in store for me in the upcoming year. I like to do this in my home, which is where I spend most of my time, looking out into nature through a window if possible. I'll also do this while on long walks into nature, the same paths I usually travel on dog walks on a daily basis. For you this may be better expressed in Church, in the yoga studio, during your metro commute... whatever feels right.

The holidays are also about celebrating union with our fellow earth-dwellers. Show gratitude and love to the people, and animals, around you who have contributed to your joy this year. For me that means my parents, my companion dog, my work staff, my customers, my professional partners, and my vast array of friends. Bring gifts to these people, even if what you can afford is a hand-written note that says "Thank you, I love you" - sharing your love with those who lift you up will make a difference in your world and theirs, and it will invite even more love into your life in the future. 

Make the holidays about who you want to spend it with, not who you have to spend it with. While you can send love and good tidings to toxic people in your life, do not feel obligated to spend time or energy on them during what should be a loving and happy time of year. Too many people fall prey to bad relationships because they think they must continue them out of some sense of obligation; if someone decreases your energy and spirit, feel free to skip the invite or to graciously decline their invite.

Give gifts for the other, not for yourself. When you select a gift, do it with love and understanding for the other's position. If that person loves loves champagne, but you abstain from alcohol, buy them a nice bottle anyways. The gift is for the other, not for you to convince them you're correct. When I receive gifts that are random and unthoughtful, it shows me a lack of mutual understanding - for example, the person who buys me gloves every year - how many pairs do you think I need? Do you even remember you gave me the same thing last year? Also, i never wear gloves... I am thankful for the effort, but the gift feels hollow.

Dress up. If you decide to host an event, encourage your guests to dress festively, whatever that may mean to them. Metallic gold and navy blue sequins are welcome here. 

Create ambiance. Perhaps the best gift you can give yourself, and anyone else who enters your space, is a sense of presence and atmosphere. Enjoy the fact that evening comes earlier by lighting your home with twinkling lights and pine-scented candles. Celebrate waking up early in darkness by warming the home with a fresh pot of coffee or a boiling tea kettle and a special collection of flavors to choose from. Fill the air with music that's calming and resonates with your guests, for me that's usually old-american, like Frank Sinatra-style stuff; if you have extended-stay company, I also love Diana Krall, Brazilian-style jazz, classical music like Yo Yo Ma, even opera for the more dramatic holiday moments.

Offer an inclusive menu. from snacks to dinners, think about what your guests would prefer. If you're not sure, ask them! As a vegan, there's nothing less welcoming than showing up to a dinner party where every course includes meat, dairy, gluten, or alcohol. I don't blame the host, I'm thankful for the invite, but I'm also very unlikely to return. In a new situation, I usually bring my own food for backup, or eat before I go, but it's always a bit awkward that way... many people don't know how to accommodate different ways of eating - with more and more young people choosing vegan diets, let me offer the following advice: when you invite people ask them if they have any special dietary needs. Even if you don't receive anything in particular, try to separate sauces/dressings/courses so people can add their own or not - many people may not say they are vegan, but given the option, they'd prefer not to feel gassy and bloated after their meal, so they'd steer clear of trigger foods like dairy, if possible. This is a bit more difficult to manage as a host, but I promise the good-will it will create in your guests will be well-worth the effort. Here's a game-day menu i might offer guests:

- Arrival: Self-serve gluten-free crackers, cashew-based cheese (home-made), cured warmed olives, marinated artichokes, cranberry cocktail with optional champagne or sparkling apple cider topper in champagne glasses kept on ice.

- Lunch/while waiting for the early evening supper: Large warmed, marinated mushroom and massaged kale salad. I would serve this casually with a buffet-style setup on the kitchen island, so people can add their own greens, mushrooms, dressing, in whatever proportions they like. This also keeps people in the kitchen while you're finishing prep for the main meal. Ask people to help if you need it - it's fun to have a job and contribute to the cooking process - it feels inclusive.

- Main meal: I prefer a more formal meal where you serve each course to seated guests. I'm a happy server on the holidays, it's also less confusing for guests, and makes the event feel a bit more special. Enlist one of your guests to help you serve and plate if you have a large group. Say grace, or ask a guest to say grace - do this in advance so you don't catch them unprepared. Communally offer a matching wine with each course, but don't fuss too much with clean glasses for each course unless you have the resources to easily do so.

- First course (at least an hour after the salad): Warmed velvety-soup. my perennial favorite for the season is cauliflower spiced with a bit of cinnamon, made creamy simply by cooking then blending in a blender (i like it REALLY smooth!), but this year i'm really feeling sunchoke and apple flavors. These can be made ahead and simply warmed on the day of. Always finish your soups with bit of olive oil and a sprinkle of pink himalayan salt, and taste test after you've warmed it up because the flavors will change if you heat, cool, then reheat - you want to make sure it's well-seasoned, not bland.

- Second/main course: Don't overdo it on this course. Keep it simple, keep it focused on seasonal vegetables. This year i plan to make roasted moroccan spaghetti squash and spiced chickpeas, but I've also loved the years where I've done huge communal bowls of pasta (gluten-free) with different sauces for guests to choose from, and years where I've done fondue pots with veggies instead of meat and a variety of dipping sauces. If you have guests you know would be disappointed to have a meal without meat, you can offer a complementary cooked or cured option on the side, which they can add to their preference. I also like to plate and serve the main course, and put any optional toppings/sauces in a communal space on the table.

- Third/dessert course: Offer at least two versions of dessert that are focused on cooked, seasonal produce. Warm apple cobbler with gluten-free crust (I prefer organic brown rice flour) and gluten-free pumpkin pie made from actual pumpkins, not the stuff out of the cans - come on, you're better than that. Sweeten your desserts with either dried fruit, like dates, or more nutrient-dense sweeteners like organic coconut sugar - your guests will feel more nourished, and they won't know the difference unless you want them to.

- Make a little serving for your pet. Animals love people food, and it's way better for them than the hyper-processed pet food they usually eat. It'll make the day more special for both of you and contribute to the good-will. Just make sure you don't feed them anything they shouldn't eat, e.g. most dogs cannot tolerate raisins or chocolate, which can be plentiful during the holidays.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself. Support your own self and your happiness first. If entertaining stresses you out, then don't! Accept an invitation to another's home, or simply stay home and bask in the warmth and quietude of your own private sanctuary. Make a small but special four-course meal for yourself, and savor every bite! Nothing is expected of you, except what serves your highest good, makes you feel loved, and makes you feel free.

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy New Year, As-salamu alaykum, Namaste, and everything in between. 

Much love to you this holiday season. God bless.

Feel free to reach out to denise@postmodernfoods.com for recipe suggestions.