This post is written by TwentiesHacker’s newest food writer, Brianne Schiebler:
In her trademark tiny script, Brianne Schiebler has been scribbling since preschool, where she discovered the “deliciously minty” taste of paste. Storming onto the literary scene at age 4 with the one-run My Pony Love Book, a thread-bound hardback publication inspired by “My Little Pony,” she since has switched out the pencil for the keyboard. Two years studying abroad cemented her passion for food and the ways we use it.She holds degrees in Film and Media Studies and Comparative Politics. Preferring comparative cuisines, she’s taken to exploring her culinary exploits, essays, and recipes on Dishes and Wishes. Brianne is highly suspicious of white pepper and people who don’t like garlic.
Tolstoy wrote that all happy families were alike, but each unhappy family has its unique brand of unhappiness. No one has convincingly disputed this. It’s winter in the Northern hemisphere, and the holidays are nigh upon us. We all know “quality time with the fam” is as much freakshow as photo-worthy. If we want to take part in cultural and religious traditions, each of us needs to find healthy ways for coping. We have a duty not to let what brings us together bring us apart.
Besides family, the holidays are a minefield of hazards and vices. Travel, traffic, weather, waiting and other hassles are met with small talk, awkward hellos, and managing loads of people, many of them family you’ve not seen in quite some time. Insert alcohol, overeating, tryptophan, consumerism, and Poinsettias, and you’re on the precipice of disaster. Home for the Holidays, Little Miss Sunshine, and Parenthood are some of our favorite films for depicting the humor, frustrations, and similarities we share with our families.
Follow these strategies for holiday sanity to err on the side of happiness this year.
1. You will probably regret that third glass of wine, et al.
When preparing for holiday parties and dinners, be mindful of your alcohol intake – especially if you’re the one cooking, because wine is the perfect dinner companion. Most have seen the sometimes ugly consequences of drinking before, during, and after meals. Keep in mind the one thing more irritating than family is family when you’re hungover. Even worse than that is travelling hungover. And the only worse thing topping that is travelling international hungover the morning after you had a Goan fish curry prepared by your Indian friend who’s warned you it’s spicy. (When brown people caution you about the heat in a dish, take it seriously.)
2. Do some of the cooking yourself
Believe it or not, cooking is good for weight control. When you taste every dish on its way to perfection, when dinner rolls around, your appetite is almost a memory. This is fortunate because all you want is a place to sit and talk to everyone you’ve neglected while cooking. Too bad they’re all eating. At least you can catch your breath.
3. Speaking of rolls
Be aware of the ratio of foods on your plate –don’t use “it’s the holidays” as an excuse to overeat. Avoiding bread is a great way to eschew unhealthy carbs. Be sure your plate contains about a third protein and two-thirds healthy carbs, which includes most vegetable preparations and minimally-processed whole grains. Don’t over-stuff your plate with food like you’re a teenage boy –unless you’re a teenage boy, in which case, eat away. Eat slowly. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to register fullness, so if you’re still hungry, hang out for a few minutes and catch up with Aunt Jean before returning for seconds. If there are seconds by that point.
4. Start a family soup tradition
As stated, the best way to control your and your family’s diet is to be the one cooking. In this case, you can monitor the amounts of fat, salt, and anything else that makes food taste good. Everything in moderation, you know. To that end, you can institute a soup course, which is a great way to fill your stomach on something healthy, naturally low in fat, and nutrient-rich. I knew a woman who would boil veggies to death, then take the immersion blender to them, and with some strategic salting, would serve the three men in her family a wonderful, fat-free, vegetable soup. It was brilliant. They didn’t even register that they were eating their veggies.
5. How to be a Party Asset
Know your limits – some people can’t be home with family for more than a few hours. That’s okay. Do it anyway, but don’t stay any longer than you can (or appear to) be totally pleasant and present. There are some definite unsaid gathering rules, different in each family. Most important is: no open hostility. Whatsoever. If you can’t look or pretend to look everyone in the eye, smile, and make some form of physical contact, you shouldn’t be there. If you’re unstable, you cease to be a party asset and you become a party liability. If you have to fake an emergency or illness to remove yourself, do it, because everyone should try his best to avoid adding potential drama to the gathering.
6. Divide to conquer
Remember the importance of small groups. If you don’t want to be in the mix of things, then gather your favorite family members and find something to do. Get engrossed in a board or video game. Walking together is a great way to catch up with a family member while satisfying the urge to get some distance from the gathering. Plus, bonus points for combining family time with exercise.
7. Don’t forget the ‘Me’ in Time
Alone time is essential, even for extroverts. Bring a book, magazine, or something else to hold your interest. Make sure to spend at least half an hour a day relaxing by yourself. Even if it’s under the guise of making a heroic grocery run for the family, just get away for a spell. Even if it’s a long shower. Everyone will be benefit.
8. Hitting the pavement
Exercise. Whether you get actually a guest pass at the gym, or just say you’re going to the gym when you’re really circumnavigating the mall, “powerwalking” (chain-smoking), exercise is key to sanity. If your family is driving you to the brink, the very best you can do is turn it into a force for self-betterment. And if they’re not driving you to the brink, consider your holiday an utter success. Now go home and celebrate a return to normalcy.