Lo and Behold, in the blink of an eye, the holidays are upon us once again. And you know what that means…. excitement with hustle and bustle, time with family and friends, taking the time to be thankful, celebrating our Faiths and looking forward to a new year…..yes, yes, it means all of that. But the holidays also mean something else: Food. Lots and lots of food.
Sure, food is always important to us. But at this time of year, it is as if it becomes all consuming. It is on our minds ALL THE TIME. We start out with the grand-daddy of all food holidays, Thanksgiving. We literally will plan this giant meal for weeks in advance, and will spend hours preparing the traditional fare so we can all quite literally belly-up to the table together to indulge. Even the food prep itself can be a social occasion, with Real Women banding together in the kitchen to make the magic happen. (Yes, I realize that is a stereo-typical comment to make…yes, many men out there assist and participate in the cooking…but really, without R.W’s taking the lead, how likely is it that the meal would include multiple dishes, all ready at the same time?)
But this one day, this festival of turkey and pies, is not all to blame for our Food Fanaticism this time of year. No holiday social gathering, no matter how large or small, is complete without tasty nourishment. Social food is fun. It is festive. And, oh, boy, is it yummy. Combine that with the fact that we are spending more hours in the cold and dark, looking for ways to boost our moods, and we have the perfect gastronomic storm.
During this season, certain flavors and mixtures emerge, designed to communicate directly to our taste buds and our yearning for comfort food and calories. As a matter of fact, certain combinations suddenly seem appealing when at any other time of year we wouldn’t even consider them. “oooh, look, eggnog tea, that sounds good…..pumpkin bagels, sure!….cranberry and jalapeno relish, why not?” And some how, I swear food just looks more inviting. Walking through the grocery store, my head is turned every time I see cheerful packaging, and I’m tempted to buy anything that is a “limited time offer”. What if I won’t be able to get that flavor snack item in a couple of weeks? I better stock up now!
At restaurants, and even at home, cooked meals become colorful palates of steaming deliciousness and beverages turn either creamy or warm…and all together they shout “check me out! I taste even better than I look! Come and get it!”
Of course, let us not forget the other prominent ingredient this time of year: sugar. Like that mama bear fattening up for hibernation, we start piling on the sweets, bringing any willing accomplices with us. We use the excuse of Christmas cookies to splurge on confections with a bazillion calories and fat content — all in the name of holiday. Some of us who really enjoy baking gleefully pull out piles of cookie recipes weeks in advance to plan out what to create….there are the traditional treats that are requested by family members, then there are always a few new ones that just look so tantalizing on the cover of magazines at the check out counter that we’ve just GOT to try them.
Many of us believe we have a hidden Martha Stewart inside of us, aching to get out and create something amazing… a sumptuous meal to go down in family history, or incredibly beautiful and delicious pastries just waiting for ooh’s and aaah’s.
The one most beneficial aspect of this sordid love affair with holiday sustenance is that we all seem to realize the vital need to share with others less fortunate. Although Food Pantries need our help year round, we all kick into gear a bit more now, as we remember that there are so many out there who may go hungry without our help… and the thought that someone could NOT have a good hot meal for Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or Christmas is too horrifying to imagine. So we step up to the plate (pun intended) and donate our time, food and money so everyone can feel the joy and comfort of this time of year.
And those of us who have the ability to indulge too heavily – which I am guessing is the majority of us – wallow our way through the holidays, thankful that the winter season makes it more acceptable to wear stretchy pants and long sweaters to hide our resulting bulges. We vow each morning to have a healthier lighter eating day – until the first whiff of a nutmeg-cinnamon-eggnog latte or fresh baked cranberry–carrot-pecan-muffin reaches our nostrils, and we weaken and drop to our knees to pay homage to the culinary yumminess that is the holidays. Hey, after all, this season only happens once a year – why not splurge? After all, we know what comes next: New Years Resolutions.