Happy Feasting to All: Tasty Rituals that Deepen the Holiday Spirit
Nov 26, 2014 10:49AM
By Lane Vail
The holiday season is ripe with an array of spiritual, cultural and family rituals. We celebrate, reflect, give gifts and, of course, feast. Meanwhile, the media teems with tips on how to avoid high-calorie holiday goodies, says Dr. Michelle May, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. For our diet-driven culture to resolve its struggle with food, she says we must learn to honor its intrinsic value. Ritualized eating can help; a recent study published in the journal Psychological Science found that engaging in food rituals evokes mindfulness that enhances the enjoyment of eating.
Hunger, the body’s fuel gauge, manifests in physical symptoms like a growling stomach or low blood sugar, says May, citing a useful analogy. “You wouldn’t drive around and pull into every gas station you see; you’d check your fuel gauge first. Before filling up with food, pause and check your fuel gauge. Am I actually hungry, or is this desire coming from something else?”
May suggests practicing FEASTing: First, focus on physical sensations, thoughts and emotions; perhaps we’re thirsty, rather than hungry, rationalizing that holiday foods are special, or feeling stressed or lonely. Next, explore why the feelings or thoughts are present, and then accept them without judgment. Strategize ways of satisfying the need and take a small step toward change.
Complex preparations for a major holiday can provoke anxiety and impatience, and likewise, feelings of longing or disappointment when it’s over. Sarah Ban Breathnach, bestselling author of Simple Abundance and Peace and Plenty, recommends allowing Christmastide to unfold at its own pace and celebrating all of December with a homemade Advent calendar.
Craft a tree-shaped tower of tiny boxes or a garland of burlap mini-bags clipped with clothespins. Place an almond covered in organic dark chocolate in each container and use the treat as a daily mini-meditation. “Drop into the present moment, fully savor the luxurious, small bite and experience the pleasure of eating,” suggests May. Consider it symbolic of the season’s sweetness.
“Food connects us with one another, our heritage and our culture,” says May. Heather Evans, Ph.D., a Queen’s University professor and a holiday culinary history expert in Ontario, Canada, suggests creating a food diary of traditions to reinforce a connection with the past and support a holiday food legacy for the future. Ask grandparents about their childhood culinary memories, peruse family recipe books or discover new dishes that honor everyone’s ethnic heritage. Then create an heirloom holiday cookbook with handwritten recipes arranged alongside favorite photos and stories.
According to pagan philosophy, sharing seasonal food with loved ones during the winter solstice on December 21 symbolizes the shared trust that warmth and sunlight will return. Eating warm foods provides physical comfort and eating seasonally and locally connects us to the Earth, observes May.
Sync body and spirit with the season by stewing root vegetables, baking breads, sipping hot cider and tea, and nibbling on nuts and dried fruits. “The repetition of predictable foods is reassuring,” remarks Evans, and it celebrates nature’s transitions.
Stir-Up Sunday is a Victorian amusement filled with fun, mystery and mindfulness, says Ban Breathnach. Some December Sunday, have each family member help stir the batter of a special Christmas cake while stating a personal new year’s intention. Drop a clean coin, bean or trinket into the mix and bake. Serve it with a sprig of holly on Christmas Day, and the person with the piece containing the lucky charm will be rewarded with a prosperous, wholesome and positive new year, according to tradition. Evans remarks, “This is a wonderful ritual for nurturing the health and spirit of the family.”
Boxing Day offers something far more meaningful to celebrate than post-holiday sales. Originating as a tradition that thrived during the 19th century, “December 26 was a chance for landowners and homeowners to give back to household staff and local tradespeople,” says Evans. “It’s a tradition worth reviving to pause, reflect on our own good fortune and contribute to others’ comfort.”
Consider serving a meal at a local soup kitchen, collecting items for a food drive or offering a box of healthy culinary treats to community stewards at a fire station, post office or library. On Christmas Day, says Ban Breathnach, “Our kids have the world lying at their feet.” Boxing Day, she says, provides a natural transition to reach out in charity.
Lane Vail is a freelance writer and blogger at DiscoveringHomemaking.com.
HEALTHY HOLIDAY TOPPERS
Creating a repertoire of delicious wintery foods can help evoke health, mindfulness and delight during the holiday season. Dr. Michelle May advises approaching the entire process of eating, including the menu planning, shopping and food preparation, with a spirit of mindfulness, which adds a deeper dimension of pleasure to the experience. “Cake becomes more than just cake,” she says. “It becomes something the family creates and enjoys together.” Savor these rituals and recipes with loved ones.
Memory-Making Christmas Cake
This nontraditional, healthy Christmas cake is alcohol-, sugar- and gluten-free. It relies on fruit for sweetness, almond meal for moistness and vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange essences for a perfect mingling of flavors. Prepare the cake with the whole family as a Stir-Up Sunday ritual, and keep it tightly sealed in the refrigerator until Christmas Day. Serve in small portions at room temperature or warmed in the oven and alongside vanilla bean custard or plain yogurt swirled with orange blossom honey.
Yields 20 servings
2½ cups (600 grams) mixed and chopped dried fruit (raisins, prunes, figs, apricots, currants, sultanas and/or dates)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla bean extract
Zest and juice from 1 organic orange
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 organic free-range eggs
2 cups (200 gm) ground almonds (almond flour)
¼ cup (50 gm) walnuts
Preheat the oven to 300° F. Line the sides and base of a 7-inch round cake tin with parchment paper.
Combine the dried fruit, spices, vanilla, orange zest and juice, olive oil and eggs. Mix in the almond flour and walnuts, then spoon the batter into the baking tin.
Bake for an hour-and-a-half. Insert a skewer or toothpick to see if it comes out moist, but clean; if not, bake for up to 30 minutes more. (Cover the top if necessary to prevent over-browning.) After cooling, remove from the tin and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to one month.
Courtesy of Teresa Cutter, author of The 80/20 Diet and founder of TheHealthyChef.com.
The Perfect Custard
Yields 6 servings
A velvety-smooth custard, also called crème anglaise, may be used as a foundation of many desserts. It can be flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, citrus, coffee or pistachio. Pour this vanilla bean custard over a warm Christmas cake or serve it straight up as eggnog, adding a touch of brandy and dusting of nutmeg.
2 cups milk of choice (organic, almond, coconut, soy or rice)
2 organic free-range eggs
2 tsp vanilla bean extract
2 Tbsp organic maple syrup or 1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp cornflour or kudzu Pinch nutmeg
Heat milk in a saucepan with vanilla and honey and bring to near boiling, then remove from heat.
Beat eggs and cornflour in a stainless steel mixing bowl until combined.
Pour the hot milk over the eggs and whisk in well.
Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a gentle heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon.
Remove from the heat quickly and pour back into the mixing bowl.
Whisk well to slightly cool and smooth it out. If any lumps appear, strain the mixture through a sieve.
Serve hot or cold. To warm up cold custard, put in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water; stir and heat through gently.
NOTE: For an egg-free custard, heat 17 oz almond milk with 2 Tbsp honey or 100 percent maple syrup and 2 tsp vanilla extract until near boiling. Thicken with a slurry made from 2 Tbsp cornflour, arrowroot or kudzu. Finish with a sprinkling of nutmeg.
Courtesy of Teresa Cutter, author of The 80/20 Diet and founder of TheHealthyChef.com.
Melody Moonlight’s Magical Monster Loving Potion
Yields 4 servings
Melody Moonlight’s story, which birthed the potion
32 oz apple juice
½ cup dried holy basil leaf
2 Tbsp dried orange peel
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
1½ Tbsp crushed cardamom
1½ Tbsp dried ginger root
1 Tbsp dried peppermint leaves
½ Tbsp ground nutmeg
1½ cinnamon sticks
13 drops each of essences of chicory flower, beech flower and rose quartz (all available at natural grocers)
In a large pot, bring the apple juice to a near boil.
Add all the other ingredients and turn off the heat.
Read Melody Moonlight’s story at Tinyurl.com/LovePotionStory to infuse it all with magic and meaning.
Courtesy of Andy Bottagaro, potion maker at Shine Restaurant & Gathering Place, in Boulder, CO.