Many of us wear our dietary preferences on our sleeves today. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can make people downright twitchy over the holidays, when celebratory meals need to be planned. “OMG – they’re omnivores. What can I make for them?”

To anyone who is fretting about how to feed “the others,” I recommend that you stop obsessing and take the long view. We’re talking about a meal or two. No one dies from starvation when visiting a household that eats lots of vegetables. And if you’re vegan and eating with omnivores, bring along a few fabulously hearty salads to set yourself up for a successful, delicious feast. Remember: Holidays, and all dinner parties really, are about much more than the food.

I’m on for cooking a meatless Christmas dinner. It’s one of my favorite meals to prepare. I don’t get stressed, I make what I want to, and I get lots of compliments — not just because of my famed vegan gravy recipe, which is included below these 10 steps. Year after year my family and friends, both omnivores and vegans, show up and eat for hours. It’s all good.

10 Steps to a Stress-Free Dinner Party for All
Holiday Drinks

1. Draw up a Menu. Write down everything you’ll make, and create a detailed shopping list so you never, ever have to dash out the door for a last-minute ingredient.

2. Tidy Up. Get every single thing you don’t need out of the kitchen and dining room. Fill boxes with stuff cluttering up your counters or table tops and stash them somewhere out of sight. Clean your refrigerator and get rid of anything past its prime.

3. Say Yes. If people ask what they can bring, suggest something like wine, hard cider, or a box of clementines. If you know they’re omnivores, suggest they bring a nice raw milk cheese or some fancy paté they can enjoy.

4. Plan the Music. Create a terrific playlist to keep it lively through the prep and cooking. (If your party is successful you don’t need music while you’re eating.) A few of my favorites inlcude The Rolling Stones, The Milk Carton Kids, The National, Bob Dylan, Andrew Bird, Miles Davis, and Lucinda Williams. Pull up a playlist of your favorite artists on Youtube or Spotify and get to partying!

ONE HolidayFruit Basket

5. Design a Buffet Meal. Plan to make a really fabulous spread, with a few cake stands to vary the height of the offerings.  Use a warming tray or two to keep hot things hot.

6. Cook Ahead. A day before the party, make a delicious soup. Put a pretty bowl at each place at the table, and serve your prepped soup as a first course. Make a few dishes ahead of time that can be reheated easily just before dinner. (Julie Hasson’s Vegan Casseroles has given me some great ideas.) Put together some really cool condiments and cold dishes like ginger-cranberry chutney, an olive salad, or fattoush salad.

7. Make a Tasty Gravy. Few things say tradition like hot gravy and you will find that no one misses the meat if they can spoon gravy on mashed potatoes, green beans, and grains. See the recipe below.

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8. Burn Candles, Lots of Candles. Turn off the lights and fill the kitchen and dining room with candles of all shapes and sizes. It’s so magical the food is beside the point.

9. Wisk Away Dirty Dishes. Have several large dish pans at the ready, put any dirty pots and pans in them immediately, and hide them on the back porch or in the bathtub. Get to them when you feel like it.

 10. Find Joy. Take a few deep breaths. Look around the table and think about what each person brings to your life. Give thanks. Call up some wonderful memories. Drink something fabulous. Savor your food. Eat dessert. Save room for peace.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

BONUS RECIPE: Georgia’s Famous Vegan Gravy

If you don’t have a high-speed blender, soak the cashews in water for about 4 hours. Then drain and proceed with the recipe.

⅓ cup raw cashews
3 tablespoons oats (not steel cut)
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 cups very hot water
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons soy sauce

Combine the cashews with the oats, nutritional yeast, and 1 cup hot water in a blender and blend until very smooth. Pour the mixture into a sauté pan. Add the remaining 1 cup water to the blender, turn it on for a few seconds to catch any last bits, and pour into the sauté pan. Add the curry power and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly for a few minutes, until the gravy thickens. Serve with mashed potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, and/or grain dishes.

Georgia Orcutt, Oldways Vegetarian Network program manager

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