The most wonderful time of the year is upon us! ’Tis the season to make new memories and amplify our gratitude. Here she is, beautiful autumn, ushering in a longing for those seasonal things we crave. We swoon over sweater weather, falling leaves, that cliché pumpkin spice latte that smartly matches our scarves, and holiday decor to shift our spirits from summer’s intensity. For me, she awakens my desire to gather all of my special humans around the table to share a beautiful meal I like to call a “togetherness dinner.” 

A togetherness dinner is about so much more than the meal itself. It’s about that magical first bite of the most delectable chocolate cayenne cheesecake that makes you forget about everything in that moment. It’s about heavy doses of laughter that pull us away from seasonal depression. But, more importantly, this kind of meal forms meaningful bonds between those we choose to invite to our communal table. I’ve made sure to make a togetherness dinner an integral part of my life because, as a child, dinners together were few and far between. 

A longing for community
As the youngest of six children, I didn’t experience fun family holidays. We didn’t play board games, decorate the Christmas tree with ornaments and paper chains, or wrap presents together. And we didn’t have a togetherness dinner. We fought. 

Every Thanksgiving, my assigned task was to set the table for our holiday feast. Unfortunately, as soon as it was time to eat, an argument would prevent us from ever making it to the table. To steer clear of all the bickering, I’d serve myself a plate of food and retreat to my room to eat alone. It didn’t take a genius to realize something was amiss. The repeated absence of connectedness made me long for the day I would create a togetherness dinner for my family. 

How to create a togetherness table
I’ve had many years to redesign how we share meals—not just for the holidays, but for every day of the year. I’ve learned that food connects us and is a universal language, while serving as the most intimate and direct connection we can have with nature. And it’s such a powerful medium to inspire us artistically and mindfully each time we cook. So, with the holidays fast approaching, it’s time to get excited about curating your very own togetherness dinner! Don’t let family disputes have a chair at your table. Here are a few ways to get inspired.

  • Make the dinner table your “happiness hub.” Let it be the place where you have fun conversations, make important decisions, and bond with your family and friends. 
  • View your table as a sacred place to gather. Keep it clean of stacks of mail, books or laundry. Instead, buy a bouquet of fresh flowers each week and place it in the center to be admired. It’s the little things that will inspire you to serve a beautifully plated meal to those you love. 
  • The most common excuse for not eating together is that there’s not enough time. I’m here to tell you: There’s time. All of us have the same 24 hours in the day. So why not make it a priority, no matter how busy your day becomes? Carve out at least one night a week to step into your kitchen and cook a fabulous meal with great music to keep you company. Nothing is stopping you from shimmy-shimmying as you sprinkle powdered sugar on that pumpkin roll! 
  • Take the traditional holiday menu on a new cultural journey with delightful twists. Create an “around the world” menu for your guests with dishes inspired by Indian, Spanish or Korean flavors: Try out a za’atar and garlic-rubbed roasted turkey, side dishes like cauliflower steaks with red pepper chimichurri, or garam masala-spiced acorn squash, massaged kale and edamame salad, and maybe a dulce de leche pumpkin pie for your grand finale. 
  • To ease your mind and workload in the kitchen, create a holiday potluck with your guests. I suggest assigning each traditional dish to the person who makes it best. I’m excited to drive more than seven hours just to taste my mother-in-law’s famous dinner rolls! 
  • Plan a fun dinner where you and your loved ones create a “food bar” to graze around for Christmas Eve. Burritos, tacos, or salads are great options. Or, to make things more interesting, build your plate and pass it to the person on your left. There may be laughs. There may be frowns. Either way, you’re creating memories that will most certainly not be forgotten!

Keep it real 
We all must eat, my friends. Enjoying a meal together is the framework of our society. When we eat, it makes us feel good, and if we are around the people we love, we have one badass recipe for happiness. So what are you waiting for? Get to planning that fabulous holiday feast. And don’t forget to send me an invite!

Holiday Gingerbread Trifle

For the cake:
2 ¾ cups flour 
1 ½ cups brown sugar 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
2 teaspoons ground ginger 
1 teaspoon nutmeg 
1 ½ cups oat milk 
¾ cup vegetable oil 
1 ½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar 

For the vanilla cream:
3 cups cold milk (2 percent, whole or oat) 
2 (3.4-ounce) boxes instant vanilla pudding mix 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened 
1 (16-ounce) container Cool Whip, slightly thawed 

To assemble:
1 cup mandarin orange slices, drained 
1 carton fresh blueberries 
12 Lotus Biscoff cookies, crushed

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit into a loaf pan. Set aside. 

Add all dry ingredients into large mixing bowl. Add wet ingredients into small mixing bowl; whisk together. Combine wet into dry ingredients; stir together until cake batter forms. Using rubber spatula, scrape batter into prepared loaf pan; bake for 1 hour. Check center with a toothpick. If it’s still wet, bake for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Once cake has cooled, cut into thick slices. 

Make vanilla pudding according to package instructions; set aside. Add cream cheese to bowl of stand mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix cream cheese until smooth. Add vanilla pudding, a little at a time, to cream cheese and blend until incorporated. Next, add container of Cool Whip, a large spoonful at a time, to mixture and continue mixing. The cream should be smooth and free of any lumps. Lastly, add vanilla and give it one last mix. 

Using a clear trifle bowl, place pieces of the cake around the edge of the bowl and a few pieces in the middle. Top with cream, fruit and crushed cookies. Repeat layers two or three more times, ending with fruit and cookies. Cover and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve. 

Author

  • Ruthie Landelius

    Ruthie owns Black Fig Food catering and is proprietor of the online cooking platform Elevated Plant Plate. Learn more at elevatedplantplate.com and blackfigfood.com.