Vegan food can be viewed as suspicious and strange any time of the year, but especially so during the holidays, which is when many people seem to crave tradition and custom the most. How do we win over these ardent naysayers? Serve awesome food, keep your eyes on the fun details, and make everyone feel welcome—that’s how. Here are my top ten tips for creating an amazing vegan celebration, any day of the year.
1. Set the mood with music. Whether it’s albums played vintage-style on a record player, a playlist you’ve painstakingly curated on Spotify, a station you’ve built on Pandora, or just a CD you’ve burned, music enhances the atmosphere of every party. Be sure to find a good volume, though: too loud and it’s a conversation killer, too quiet and it’s an irritant. Figure out the tone you’d like to create at your party, and let the music work for you.
2. Create your own traditions. Part of the problem some people have with the concept of vegan holiday gatherings is all they can think about is the absence of “normal” and “expected.” Well, I am here to say that normal and expected can take a hike. Replace “normal” with fun (like an annual ugly sweater contest) and “expected” with levity (borrow or rent a karaoke machine), and your party suddenly not only has your own new tradition, but invites your guests to participate.
3. Give a little. You don’t have to be an Etsy superstar to make DIY gifts that will help your guests feel special. Plus, who doesn’t like a little prezzy? Everyone likes presents. Gifts can be edible, like giving your guests pretty Ball jars layered with flour and spices along with baking instructions attached (I highly recommend Joni Marie Newman’s Vegan Food Gifts for lots of clever ideas); crafts, such as orange pomander balls; or easy-to-make, cruelty-free body care products, like scented sugar scrubs.
4. Be scents-ible. Tempting aromas give us a little calorie-free feast even before we eat, so preparing great scents such as hot apple cider or even stovetop potpourri (just simmer water, chopped apples, cranberries, cinnamon sticks, and cloves together, and voila!) means that you will fill your home with an intoxicating, perfumed air that will greet your guests warmly as they first arrive.
5. Personal dishes can make a nice presentation. Individual pot pies, stuffed squashes, and personal savory tarts can be an elegant way to serve your guests. Your plate is like a canvas, so think in terms of color, texture, contrast, and composition.
6. Show off, and go big. Speaking of presentation, we are living in the era of smartphones, and people will want the whole world to know that they were at your fabulous party. Boost your soiree’s photogenic qualities by using lamps, Christmas lights, or candles, and offer ample visual flair with pretty centerpieces on your table, such as gourds and seasonal fruit.
7. Two words: Cheese platter. Granted, I came of age as a vegan in the mid-1990s, which means that dairy-free cheese was basically melted plastic, so maybe I’m not the best judge … but I am continually blown away by the artisan varieties available today, a selection that any haughty cheese connoisseur would eat up. Whether you buy something at the store (we are fond of anything from Miyoko’s Creamery) or make something at home from a cookbook such as Skye-Michael Conroy’s amazing Non-Dairy Evolution Cookbook (OMG, the brie!), get yourself some fancy crackers, fruit, and crusty bread, spread them around the cheese, and you’ve got a powerful vegan stereotype buster on a platter.
8. Know your crowd. Is your uncle who always teases you about being vegan going to love your grilled tempeh? Probably not. Is your brother-in-law who thinks vegans are weird going to love your nutritional yeast cheese sauce? Yeah, probably not. If you’re hosting a less adventurous crowd, focus on making familiar dishes without too many offbeat ingredients. Knowing your crowd also means making sure that kids don’t feel out of place at your party. If you have some children on the guest list, making eco-friendly goody bags means their parents will have a little extra time at the party without anyone whining about wanting to go home.
9. Consider some outsourcing. If you want to make everything homemade and from scratch, well, kudos to you, but I figure if I have made everything but the dessert, I’ve put in my time. If you know a great vegan baker, you can buy a gorgeous cake or cookie assortment instead of adding that to your list. Another simple and low-stress option would be an ice cream sundae bar.
10. Little delights everywhere! Placing plates and bowls here and there, full of appetizers and other little bites, means that you can roll out the main dish without feeling rushed and, and guests won’t be all hungry and cranky when you do. Make sure you’ve also got a variety of drinks—alcoholic, non-alcoholic, caffeinated and so on—for guests of every age and proclivity.
For more tips, check out Marla Rose’s brand new e-book, Fun, Festive and Fabulous Vegan Holidays for Everyone: Recipes, Puns, Historic Lore and More to Help You Celebrate Without Compromise, by visiting VeganStreet.com.