As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that less is more. In my home, quality trumps quantity every time, and that’s no exception during the holidays, from the gifts we exchange to the food that graces our table.
I’ve also learned that tradition is what you make it. When I was little and my grandmother was still alive, the holidays seemed to stretch for months; guests were a constant stream, and each recipe prepared was heirloom, all from Italy and passed through the generations.
I even recall my mother preparing her “Viennese Table” of desserts. There were no less than 17 different types of sweets on that buffet, from cookies and tarts to pies, cakes, pastry and soufflés. Each dessert was elegantly plated on special china or service ware or displayed on a warming table, if the dessert could not possibly be enjoyed at room temperature.
Looking back, I’m humbled by the skill, planning, time, effort and energy that went into orchestrating the monumental feat that was holiday entertaining at the Ruggiero’s.
While I do my best to keep family traditions alive by preparing some of those incredible meals, times have changed along with everyone’s tastes and priorities. The rich, decadent recipes we used to make are now taboo. Some family members are watching their weight, others are following special diets and still others have gone vegetarian. Health is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, so I’ve had to redefine the sumptuous holiday table.
Doing so wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I hold fast to my rule of quality – selecting the finest ingredients I can find – and I bring out the richness of dishes by using herbs, sauces and wines when cooking. This was the inspiration for my book, The Truly Healthy Family Cookbook. Family and friends are thankful for the guilt-free indulgences I serve, and I can’t say anyone misses the food coma. Of course, I still prepare a few recipes from Grandma’s treasure trove, but incorporating something old and something new on my holiday table has become our modern day tradition and one that’s embraced wholeheartedly.
This holiday season, take comfort in the familiar rituals of the past, but establish and celebrate modern traditions of your very own. They will add joy and magic to the season, uniting family and building memories that last a lifetime.
Merry Christmas, happy holidays and a healthy New Year!