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Culinary

Feeling the Holiday Crunch? Try These Cooking Escapes.

Posted on Monday, December 6th, 2021

Story by: Ken Lovering | Travel Writer


If you’re looking for a little retreat, might we suggest cooking? After all, cooking is a little like traveling with VBT. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Feeling the Holiday Crunch? Try These Cooking Escapes.

Let’s face it: For many of us, the holidays can be, shall we say, a bit stressful. Whether yours involves shopping for those perfect gifts, trimming the tree, pulling off a successful meal, or hosting or attending family gatherings, you could probably use a break here and there from these hectic days.

If you’re looking for a little retreat, might we suggest cooking? We’re not talking about Christmas cookies or holiday latkes, here. We’re talking about taking a break from it all to prepare dishes and meals that’ll help you forget about the demands of the season – even if just for a couple of hours.

After all, cooking is a little like traveling with VBT – it’s an immersive experience that engages all the senses! It’s the clatter of pans, the sizzle of butter, the aroma of garlic and herbs, and the rich flavors of the final glorious result. So fire up the oven. Put on some soothing music. And in the spirit of the holiday season, invite family and friends to pitch in. Here are some ideas to get you started:

 

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The meal from your travels 

What’s your favorite culinary experience from your travels? A buttery, flaky chocolate croissant and café au lait in a Parisian café? Bratwurst and beer in a tiny German village? A savory bowl of pho in Hanoi, Vietnam? Preparing food from places we’ve visited transports us back – in our minds and with our senses. What better way to leave the bustle of the holiday season behind?

Maybe you have fond memories of Northern Italy, home of Ragu alla Bolognese. Many at-home cooks like you have a version of their own, but nothing compares to the one that originated with the Bolognese chef who first made it for the King of France, Louis XIV. Or maybe you were in the Italian Appennines when you first tried sweet, moist Ciambella, a delicious ring-shaped cake. One traditional version is called brazadéla, which means “hug” in the local dialect. Now that’s comfort food we can get behind! Lucky for you, we share recipes for both of these delicious dishes in our exclusive cookbook, a compilation of favorites from VBT trip leaders.

The meal from the family archives

If you live close to your kids or grandkids – or if you plan to see them on the holiday – you can stretch their seasonal culinary palates beyond figgy pudding and fruitcake. Invite them into the kitchen to help you make a family recipe, perhaps just as your mother or grandmother did with you. You just might find that the joy of cooking is a long thread that ties generations together. If there’s a special cake or pastry, a casserole or side dish, a roast or poultry dish that stirs that warm sense of nostalgia for you, pass it on!

You get extra points if the recipe was handwritten by your mother, grandmother, or whomever brought it into the family. Better still if it the paper on which it’s printed still carries stains of a dripping spatula or splattered oil from that long-ago kitchen. And you’ll experience the true meaning of culinary heritage when you share that special touch that makes the recipe unique to your family, like, “It says to reduce the sauce for 2 minutes but Grandma did it for 4 because we all liked our sauces extra thick and rich.”

 

The meal for those who can’t join you

There are lots of people who might not be able to join us this holiday season. Maybe they’ve passed away. Maybe they’re deployed overseas or ill. Or maybe life has taken them in another direction: the kids are in college, newly married, or working far from home. Preparing their favorite meal – even in their absence – is a thoughtful, contemplative, and loving way to honor them. It’s also a constructive way to channel any sadness you feel that they can’t be with you for the holiday.

Enlist other family or friends to help, and the conversation is bound to circle around to the meal’s honoree. If you are so inspired, put on their favorite music so you can feel their presence a bit more. And if possible, grab your laptop and invite them into your kitchen via Zoom or some other video calling app.

 

The favorite family meal you’ve never made

Maybe you remember that one meal that a parent or grandparent made that you couldn’t wait to dig into – a birthday dinner, a holiday dish, or a “just because” meal that made the family feel especially loved. And in all these years, you’ve never attempted to make it yourself. Now, as the holiday season kicks into high gear, it’s the perfect project to take your mind off your December to-do list.

Don’t have the recipe? Improvise, or find a similar preparation in a cookbook or online. Too much fat or sugar in the original version? Adapt it into a healthier alternative. As with our other suggestions, invite family and friends to participate and let the ingredients – and the memories – guide you. The beauty of this meal is there is no right or wrong to it. Shape it to your own tastes and the tastes of your family. The finished plate will be your version of a treasured recipe.

And as with any family’s culinary heritage – whether in the hills of Italy or your own household – it will continue to evolve over time.

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