Until you’re confronted with a major change, you don’t generally analyse the “why” behind a lot of what we do as a human collective. I know I didn’t. However, afterwards? All you seem to do is compare and contrast what came before with what is happening now — hyper aware of the new reality in which you live. Sounds all philosophical and stuff, but it really does highlight for me (all this changing, thinking, and reflecting) just how much of our traditions and celebrations center around poor quality foods.
But we all gotta’ eat, right?
What I am about to suggest isn’t all that radical or earth shattering, but it does beg the question, “What should the focus be?” Seriously. Think about typical events for which large groups gather.
- A winter skating party? For most kids is 25% about the skating and 75% about the hot chocolate or pizza afterwards.
- A bonfire? 15% is about enjoying the great outdoors, 25% is about getting to set stuff on fire, and 60% is about getting to roast hotdogs and marshmallows on sticks.
- A birthday party? 10% is about the fact that you survived another year, 40% is about the gifts, and 50% is about the cake and other sugary treats.
- Halloween? 10% is about scaring the you-know-what out of your little brother or sister, 30% is about your carefully crafted costume, and 60% is about scoring pounds of free candy from strangers.
- A wedding? 10% is about seeing what the bridesmaids were forced to wear, 40% is about celebrating the happy couple, and 50% is about the buffet, cake and cocktails.
- A family reunion? 10% is about ducking awkward personal questions from relatives, 40% is about hugging cousins you haven’t seen in like a billion years, and 50% is about BBQ, soda, pies, and your grandma’s potato salad.
Hyperbolic? Sure, but you get the idea. At the heart of all of these gatherings and celebrations is processed, bad for your health, high fat, sugary, junky, so-called food. Now, that’s not to say that some folks aren’t trying, but I would argue that the ratio of fruit salad to potato chips at your typical summer cookout still leaves something to be desired.
My point? What if we, just for the sake of good health and longevity, started redefining our food-based traditions?
As you already know, Sam and I just hosted our Annual Holiday Open House two weekends ago. It has always had a potluck component and used to have a heavy focus on calorie-dense foods such as a variety of cheeses, dips, breads, nibblies, desserts, and rich pasta dishes. But this year, with some careful wording on the invitation, we switched the focus from a traditional buffet menu to an incredibly nutritious spread. Everyone ate really well, and there was none of that typical self-deprecating chatter about having to start a diet the next day to make up for that extra slice of cheesecake you just couldn’t say “no” to. In fact, the two pots of fresh soup my friend and I made (thanks again V!) instead of the usual lasagna went over so well, that we’ve already decided we’re definitely doing that again next year! It was truly a beautiful thing to behold.
Here’s a list of what we did serve (as a collective), as well as the recipe we used to create a festive Cranberry & Pear Punch!
gf = gluten-free psf = processed sugar-free df = dairy-free mf = meat-free
- An Assortment of Crackers, including Sweet Potato and Beet (gf, psf, df, mf)
- An Assortment of Pickles (gf, df, mf, and some were psf as well)
- 3 x Fruit Platter (gf, psf, df, mf)
- Veggie Platter with Homemade Ranch Dip (gf, psf, mf)
- Sweet Potato and Bean Salad with Cilantro (gf, psf, df, mf)
- Lentil Soup (gf, psf, df, mf)
- Minestrone Soup with Beef and Quinoa Pasta (gf, psf, df)
- Honey Mustard Dip (gf, psf, df, mf)
- On Sticks: Pineapple + Ham + Vietnamese Basil (gf, psf, df)
- On Sticks: Grape Tomatoes + Brocconcini Cheese + Italian Basil (gf, psf, mf)
- Oatmeal Almond Protein Bites — raw cookies with chia and hemp hearts (gf, psf, df, mf)
- Kale Salad (gf, psf, df, mf)
- 2 x Hummus (gf, psf, df, mf)
- Slow Cooker Apple Cider (gf, psf, df, mf)
- Pear & Cranberry Punch (gf, psf, df, mf)
- Pumpkin Mousse — more like pudding really, but tastes exactly like Pumpkin Pie (gf, mf, and if you leave out the chocolate shavings df, psf as well)
- Beef Meatballs with sauce (gf, df)
- Cheddar Cheese Plate (gf, psf, mf)
- Nutty Russians — contain vodka (gf, psf, df, mf)
- Pita Bread — very little was eaten (df, mf)
- Candy Cane Bark — very little was eaten (mf)
- 12 Chocolate Cookies — half were eaten (mf)
- Plain Potato Chips — half a bag was eaten (gf, psf, df, mf)
- A handful of Chocolate Covered Almonds — those disappeared (mf)
There are probably a few items I’ve missed, but you get the general idea. People stayed for hours, ate, drank, laughed and exchanged gifts. And while 30% of our celebration was about healthy foods, 70% of it was about reconnecting with friends, enjoying each other’s company, relaxing, sharing ideas, and catching up!
Now, for the Cranberry & Pear Punch recipe!
We followed the Dometic Geek’s recipe to the letter, but then added our own TDW spin by turning it into a refreshing sparkling punch! After we cooled the mixture out on the balcony and sieved it twice through cheesecloth, we poured the clear liquid that remained into a large punch bowl. Next, we added ice and a bottle of cold, ginger-infused sparkling water. Finally, we floated raspberries and star anise on top as the garnish. It was fabulous, it was healthy, and it completely disappeared before early evening!
Hot Cranberry & Pear Punch
- 6 pears, stems removed and cut into chunks (no need to core or peel)
- 250 grams fresh cranberries
- 3 generous slices of fresh ginger root
- half of a vanilla bean pod (sliced down the length)
- 2 litres of water
- real maple syrup, to taste (optional)
OPTIONAL (for cold, sparkling punch):
- ice cubes
- bottle of ginger-infused sparkling water
- 1/4 cup frozen or fresh raspberries
- 1/8 cup dried star anise
DIRECTIONS: Thoroughly wash all produce. Place pear chunks, cranberries, ginger slices, vanilla bean and water in a large pot on the stove. Boil on medium high for about 30 minutes. Give contents of pot a good mashing with a standard potato masher to release the flavours. If you wish add maple syrup, do so now. Put lid on pot and simmer on low for 2 hours. Next, remove large solids from mixture with a slotted spoon. Pour remaining contents of pot through a large, fine-mesh sieve, using the back of a large spoon to coax last bit of liquid from solids. To remove final traces of pulp, strain liquid a second time through fine-mesh sieve lined with a few layers of cheese cloth. Stores in the refrigerator for up to a week, and in the freezer for up to 6 months.
To turn this hot drink recipe into a cold, sparkling punch: Pour the clear liquid that remains after the second sieving into a large punch bowl. Next, add ice cubes and a bottle of cold, ginger-infused sparkling water to the mixture. Finally, float fresh or frozen raspberries and star anise on top as the garnish.
NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION: Unavailable.
- Warm or thaw over a low heat in large pot with lid on to retain all liquid.
- Serve in a slow cooker (on lowest setting) during a party or gathering to keep punch warm throughout the event.
- Flash cool your mixture (if turning it into a sparkling punch) by placing pot in the snow or make ahead and cool in the refrigerator.
- Turn this punch into a cocktail by adding spiced rum or brandy.
- Recipe doubles well — if you have a large enough pot.
- Source: The Domestic Geek (see YouTube video above).
Creative Commons Photo Credits:
“Cake based on an original design by Peggy Porschen” courtesy of Victoria Watkin-Jones