Last year, the pace of the holiday season felt breakneck for me. I zoomed from meeting to meeting, one deadline to the next, attempting to get everything done before the world went dormant for Christmas Eve. Yet, the odds of doing so weren’t good.
I had family coming to town, cookies to bake for classroom parties, interminable online shopping to do, a choral concert to rehearse for and night after night of parties, celebrations and get-togethers. All good things! There were just too many things.
With the onset of December mayhem, the first thing to go was my diet. I’m blessed to write about food and drink for a living, so what and how I eat typically matters a lot. My shopping list usually skews “whole-centric” with whole fruits and vegetables, whole milk dairy, whole grain loaves of bread, whole chickens, etc. Ingredients are always as organic and locally-sourced as I can afford the time or money to buy.
As the season changed last year, so too did my eating. Convenience foods began to dominate. Dining out started to trump cooking in. As quality declined, quantity increased.
As quality declined, quantity increased.
Then, I came down with a cold. Like a really bad cold—the kind that forces even the most harried of go-getters to stay in bed. Instead of enjoying my family and our annual feast, I spent Christmas Day sneezing, surrounded by spent tissues, unable to taste much of anything.
The experience wasn’t a total loss, though. I learned an invaluable lesson: If I don’t build margins into my life, then my body will build them for me. I failed to make the time and effort to eat well and rest well. Thus, my body exacted payment by laying me out for several days, right when I most wanted to be present and engaged.
If I don’t build margins into my life, then my body will build them for me.
Preparing a whole food meal is one of the best ways to stay well through the holidays, but nourishment is much more than the nutrients we eat. It’s taking the time to write a conscious shopping list, to source the ingredients and patiently wash, trim, chop, steam, roast or braise them. To plate a dish lovingly, even if only for ourselves. To sit down and taste our meal consciously, with all our senses. To give it our total attention, even if briefly, between commitments.
Yes, doing so requires time—time we may believe impossible to sacrifice. What requires more time? Proactively preparing one meal each day or lying in bed for several days against our will? If we can’t protect the simple pleasures of the table, then how can we expect to protect anything at all?
Practicing nourishment can start slowly and in small ways. We need not clear the deck for three homemade, sit-down meals a day to reap its rewards. Toast a handful of walnuts and sprinkle them over a bowl of yogurt and drizzle it with honey. (Better yet, buy walnuts in the shell and sit down with a loved one to crack them, one by one! You’d be surprised how much fun you can have chatting, nutcrackers in hand.)
Practicing nourishment can start slowly and in small ways.
Peel sweet potatoes in silence, cubing them and tossing with trimmed green onions, sliced fennel and halved brussel sprouts (plus a glug of olive oil and dusting of salt and pepper), and roast it all in a hot oven.
Cook an ancient grain like barley, farro or quinoa and add a scoop to dark greens, dressed in peppery olive oil and cider vinegar.
Slice an apple and sauté it in butter and cinnamon. Then, layer it onto a slice of warm brioche for a decadent tartine. The options and pleasures are endless.
This year, I commit to building margins into my holiday season, food-wise and otherwise. I’ll politely decline to make the classroom cookies in favor of sitting with my family over a home-cooked meal. I’ll power down the computer at night in favor of getting seven or eight hours of sleep. Gasp! I’ll sleep in. I’ll pare down the “obligatory” social events in favor of connecting with my innermost self and those with whom I’m truly close.
All of this will take practice. I’m sure to make one commitment too many or eat a packaged salad from the gas station. By setting the intention to live within my means, I set myself up to enjoy the season and launch into a conscious and delicious new year.