By Bea Lanzi
It’s November! I can finally drink my pumpkin spice latte proudly… and it’s the start of the holiday season, with Thanksgiving kicking it off. I’m a big fan of the colorful décor, tasty treats and having a whole day when we can hang out with loved ones and be intentional about giving thanks and expressing appreciation.
I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in all sorts of ways. I’ve hosted, been a guest at other homes, eaten at restaurants and been on holiday vacations in tropical locales and in super cold climates. This year I’m hosting and although I’d be happy with a pumpkin spice latte and a thin crust pizza, I realize most others would not. So, I’m stepping it up and really looking forward to being a bit creative with the menu.
I like having my loved ones over and I want it to be a fun, comfortable atmosphere. It doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. I’m a fan of Pinterest and I check out cooking magazines for inspiration. You can find me in the bookstore a few weeks before the holidays sitting on the floor with a pile of magazines around me. I like simple and I enjoy using my creative side to take ideas I’ve found and put my own spin on them.
I’m taking a casual, festive approach. After checking in with everyone and being mindful of the different eating preferences and food allergies, my plan is to offer a healthy menu with options. I’ll serve a variety of traditional items like turkey and stuffing with other, new dishes. I’ve found many holiday foods that are gluten-free, free of allergens and vegan. And because I recognize my cooking strengths and weaknesses, I buy a few items prepared and then join the rest of the holiday shoppers the weekend before to search out fresh, festive ingredients.
I favor unique and different, like rainbow potatoes that are a colorful, creative alternative to traditional mashed potatoes. Roast them with some spices and you have a vibrant, festive dish that is so very simple. In fact, you can roast almost any kind of vegetables- cauliflower, mushrooms, squash- and have a delicious, easy, vegan dish. If I want to get fancy, I might add a twig of rosemary for flair and for its holiday, festive aroma.
Adding to the casual element will be the cheese board and dessert table. They appear at every gathering I host because they provide options and create a way for guests to pick the items they want while chatting and interacting. We can actually look at each other, connect and talk. I like that I can make them small or big, and I don’t have to spend a lot of money or time on them. I stick to a few traditional items and then add in holiday, seasonal twists.
For the cheese board, a few cheeses, a cheese dip or spread and a cheese log. For the meat eaters, I select a simple meat and one with seasonal flavors like maple and spices. Apples or pears add crunch and a fig spread or pumpkin hummus is a good addition. I like to browse the market for different breads, crackers, olives, nuts or seeds and pick up a colorful selection of what looks good and maybe even catch a sale.
For the dessert table, some small pastries, like mini pumpkin cheesecakes, cookies and bite sized treats are always good. I’ll probably add a vegan pumpkin pie that was a hit last year and pumpkin spice gelato might make an appearance. Baked apples with cinnamon and nutmeg round out a nice fall selection. And, dessert drinks are easy to add, with festive pumpkin spice and caramel apple martinis the usual choice.
I am especially fond of the buffet style so guests can help themselves to what looks enticing and what they can eat. Thanks to Pinterest, I get a little crafty and put pumpkin shaped index cards next to each dish listing the ingredients for informed decision making. A few candles, fall flowers, mini pumpkins and decorative gourds found at the market make the table holiday ready.
My goal is to keep it simple and create a casual, happy, joyful space for us to connect. While the food is important and hopefully delicious, it’s the warm, welcoming vibe of the holiday season that I really want to take center stage. Quality time with loved ones is what makes the meal super awesome.