Healthier Holidays and Gail’s Crudité with chili and lime

The following is a true story that I am not in the least bit proud of but have decided to share anyway.

You see, last year’s extravagant holiday eating and drinking caught up with me in a bad way and the ensuing consequences left me with a resolve to do things differently this winter.

How did this happen? Well the parties started early in December and carried on until well after New Year’s, as they do every year. Many of them were mine, including my annual cookie swap, where rum-spiked eggnog and fruitcake truffles abounded. My Board Game Café party for New Year’s Eve included a pre-party, the main party, and an after party in the wee hours of the morning.

I’m the first to admit that I took things too far. For four straight weeks I said yes to all the decadence that the holiday season had to offer – and then some. Another bowl of trifle. An additional cookie or two. A second round of drinks. After all, it’s Christmas, right?

My body let me know that this was, in fact, not all right. For the first time in my life I wound up in the hospital for something other than childbirth. I was having chest pains so severe I thought I might be having a heart attack. The pain was so intense that my local clinic sent me straight to emergency in the hospital. There was bloodwork, tests, examinations.

The results showed no heart attack, thankfully, however the assessment was bloody embarrassing: severe heartburn, an aggravated lower esophagus and an unhappy gall bladder, all brought on by an excess of rich food.

Amidst my shame of literally eating myself sick, I was also relieved. I mean, I knew what I had to do to get better – exactly what I do the other eleven months of the year: eat wholesome foods with an emphasis on vegetables, cut out refined sugar and keep alcohol for special occasions.

Now I’ve never been one to diet or talk about calories, especially in this space. We don’t own a scale and I don’t ‘watch my weight’. Instead I pay close attention to how I feel and strive for balance, both in what I eat and in my lifestyle. If I have good energy, feel rested and my pants fit, I’m happy. Obviously I wasn’t paying any attention over the holidays last year, a mistake I won’t make again.

I spoke with another food writer recently who had made the switch to a vegan lifestyle. “What made you decide to go vegan?” I asked, curious. “It was right after the holidays.” He said bluntly. “I had binged on cheese and I thought I was going to die. I’ve been vegan ever since.” His story sounded all too familiar.

Here’s to a healthier holiday season

If you can relate to this even in the slightest, I hope it is encouraging to know you’re not alone. We’re bombarded by the media (and yes, food bloggers like myself) to cook up lavish feasts and bake extravagant desserts (I believe the term is ‘showstopper’) all December long. Bigger is better, more is more.

In light of my experience last Christmas, here’s what am going to do differently this holiday season. I’m sharing my intentions in case you want to be more mindful about what you eat over the next six weeks. Mindfulness is all we’re aiming for, nothing low-fat or ‘skinny’, just making smart food choices every day.

Dial down the dairy.

I won’t be going vegan, as my friend did post-holiday, but I do realize I can’t live off of fully loaded cheese boards and fondue all December long. I plan to use dairy to complement a dish or round out a salad instead featuring it as the main ingredient (such as a baked brie). Two good examples of that would be Warm spinach salad with salmon and Mediterranean stuffed mushrooms.

I know a cheese plate is an easy way to entertain but there are other simple options as well. Try a charcuterie board, rounded out with olives and pickles. Or arrange a platter of seasonal fruit and serve it with a dark chocolate dipping sauce. A bowl of whole nuts and a nutcracker is fun (especially for the kids!), served up alongside a basket of sweet mandarine oranges.

Ramp up the vegetables.

Vegetable don’t sneak their way into our diets the way sugar and carbs tend to do. Instead we have to be very intentional about getting our daily intake. In winter I roast up big batches of root vegetables and keep them on hand for adding to salads, wraps and omelettes. Today’s recipe for crudité with chili and lime is my simple strategy for dressing up a plate of fruits and vegetables for elegant snacking.

Slow down on sweets.

Easier said than done, especially when baking is so closely tied into the holiday magic. I intend to choose 2-3 favourite recipes (like my classic shortbread and rolled gingerbread) to bake with the kids, and then gravitate toward fruit desserts, dark chocolate and nuts. This citrus salad with honey-cinnamon syrup is good enough to be dessert, especially paired with a soft whipped cream or warm custard.

Limit the drinks.

We’re usually pretty good about this sort of thing, drinking responsibly and all that, but it wouldn’t hurt to be more intentional. I’ll be making a virgin version of party punch when entertaining, and providing plenty of sparkling water, too. This Vanilla-Scented Apple Cider Punch is excellent for winter; I’ll leave the addition of bourbon up to you. Adopt a great mocktail into your repertoire if you don’t have one already. Keep the ingredients on hand so you can whip one up if everyone around you is sipping wine.

Today’s recipe checks a lot of the boxes in the requirements above: it’s fresh and vibrant, simple yet flavourful, omits the heavier stuff and fully embraces fruits and vegetables. I’ve heaped a platter full of assorted raw crudité, as well as played around with a white and pale green version that is slightly more Christmassy (above).

I’ve had a similar dish in Mexico, but it was Gail Simmons’ recipe for Crunchy Fruit and Veg with Chili and Lime that caught my eye. It was one of many recipes to I was drawn to make from her beautiful new cookbook, Bringing It Home. I’ve loved Gail’s work for years and this book is an absolute gem.

This crudité is going to be my go-to party appetizer this holiday season. At lest we’ll start things off on a healthy note!

Gail's Fruit and Vegetable Crudité with chili and lime
5.0 from 1 reviews
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Recipe type: Appetiser
Author:
Prep time:
Total time:
Serves/Yield: Serves 4-6
Feel free to change up the fruits and vegetables to suit your taste. Bell peppers, green apple or pineapple would be delicious. Also, cilantro is great with the lime, but mint is lovely and tarragon quite unique.
Ingredients
  • 3-4 mini cucumbers
  • 1 semi-ripe pear
  • 1/2 bulb fennel
  • 3-4 stalks celery
  • 4-5 radishes
  • 1 medium jicama OR 1/2 small daikon radish
  • 1 large mango
  • 1 large lime
  • 1/2 teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sumac
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Wash the cucumbers, pear, fennel, celery and radishes. Dry thoroughly,
  2. Slice the cucumber, celery, fennel and jicama into two-bite sized strips. Cut the pear and radishes into small wedges.
  3. Arrange the fruits and vegetables on a large platter or divide between two medium plates.
  4. Zest the lime into a small bowl. Add the salt, chili powder, sumac and cilantro. Mix well.
  5. Slice the lime in half and squeeze both over the fruits and vegetables. Sprinkle generously with the lime chili-salt. Serve immediately.

Do you practice mindful eating over the holidays? In what way?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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Comments

  1. Honestly, I am a bit thankful I have celiac when it’s around the holidays. So much of the holiday foods from Thanksgiving to New Years, is full of gluten so it’s easy to opt out. I’m definitely in the camp of ‘if it’s not an option it’s not tempting’ so while I choose to usually make 3 christmas-related items (German almond cookies, white-dipped pretzels, and knockoff Cranberry Bliss Bars) only two are gluten-free and I only usually make them when we’re entertaining so I can indulge, but ….not eat the whole pan.

    Like yours our family doesn’t own a scale but after Halloween my kids and I decided they could have 3 items per day…after about 5 days they were hyper, overly emotional, bickery, and we decided a ‘fast’ from the Halloween candy was due. I couldn’t believe it, after a day or two they were back to normal. I didn’t think that small amount would truly effect them the way it did! It is crazy.

  2. I love the fact that you have shared your holiday intentions. So much easier to hold yourself accountable once someone else knows what you intend to accomplish!

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience, Aimée. You are not alone; not coincidentally, I’m sure, the episodes I’ve experienced have all been during the holiday season. Much as I love my Christmas baking, I either need to do less or give most of it away … maybe a combination of the two. I love the idea of this vegetable platter. I need to bring something to a holiday party and this might be it!

    • Thanks, Marlene. Giving the baking away is a smart move. And we do that too! Last year we had the fun of decorating a gingerbread house – and then we donated it to a charity bake sale!

  4. I’m definitely going to make this for our Thanksgiving! How in the world do you find good mangos in Canada? Sounds like you made your gall bladder mad, but I’m no doctor. Cheese, dairy and grains are worse than most people think.
    Love your new Cookbook!

    • Dana, I tend to find the bets mangos in an Asian grocery store. It’s hard to find good ones here in Canada, true. But for this dish, it’s actually better if they are still semi firm.
      Glad you are enjoying the cookbook!

  5. What a scary experience! I’m so glad you’re listening to your body this holiday season!

  6. Thank you for sharing the mindful eating reminder. My favorite street food in Mexico is jicama with lime juice and chile!

  7. I just can’t love this post enough! One year ago I went gluten free, then refined sugar free and mostly dairy free. It’s depressing to LOVE all these food bloggers so much and then not be able to make all the things they are posting. It also gets depressing when I think ‘why can they eat ALL these things and they seem to be enjoying great health and I’m over here trying to reclaim my health…’.
    Thanks for being so honest about your personal life. I admire your sharing!

    • Kristi thanks for your honesty. I totally get where you are coming from – and that would be incredibly frustrating. Good for you for following your own path and making smart decisions for your health.

  8. So glad you mentioned the citrus salad. It’s become a family favorite when we feel the need for light and fresh this time of year.
    Thanks for sharing!

  9. Rachel (greedyinmontreal) says:

    Thank you for this perfectly timed, frank reminder. I totally relate, towards the end of January last year I was so bloated, had bad skin and my work uniform was uncomfortably tight. I totally overhauled my habits, adopted the 5:2 diet and am -15 kilos down. What a difference! Thank you for sharing Aimée, it’s so easy to get carried away when surrounded by so much excess and temptation.

  10. Can’t wait to see what you come up with!I started adding things like homemade sushi and lentil olive tapenade ,things less rich to our holiday table.We always have the same old veg tray so will give this recipe a try !

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