The Austin Chronicle

Dear Glutton: Alone for the Holidays

The least sad way to spend Christmas solo

By Emily Beyda, December 23, 2016, Food

Dear Glutton,

Any ideas about the least sad ways to spend Christmas alone? I don't get enough time off this year to go home, all my friends are leaving town, and, oh yeah, my girlfriend broke up with me right before Thanksgiving. Is there any way this isn't going to be the worst holiday ever?

– Blue Christmas

Oh Blue, I'm sorry to hear you've had such a tough few months. 2016 pretty much kicked all of us in the teeth, and 2017, unfortunately, promises more of the same. Rather than being bummed out about your solo Christmas, see this as a unique opportunity to spend a season which, unfortunately, can be a period of thoughtless, exteriorly focused consumption as a time for personal reflection and self-care, looking forward to the changes you want to make, both in your own life and practice, and on a larger cultural level, in the new year.

In the next few weeks, devote your time and energy to giving back to your community. You may not have your friends and family around you this year, but you are still part of our city, a city full of people looking for understanding and comfort, people who may not be as lucky as you are, to have work, people who love you (even if they're far away), and a place to live. A great place to start helping is the Central Texas Food Bank, which always needs help and donations this time of year. I'm also a big fan of the amazing work done by the folks out at Casa Marianella, who serve recently arrived immigrants and asylum seekers, two populations that we should be especially striving to keep in our thoughts and help with our actions as 2017 unfolds.

What I want you to do next is go out and get yourself some presents. Assemble an expensive, impractical, perfect little feast for yourself, based entirely around your own idiosyncratic tastes, haphazardly mixing genres and types of food, creating the kind of messy little picnic you'd never dream of serving your guests. Something totally selfish. Something that's just for you.

Take yourself to Antonelli's and get a chunk of something expensive and smelly and French, goat cheese with lavender honey, some really nice smoked almonds. Phoenicia has the best fresh olives in town; go there, and get the green kalamatas with garlic and lemon, a few packages of their fresh-baked pita bread, a little gold-lidded jar of taramosalata. Go to your closest farmers' market, and get yourself some tender little fresh-caught squid; a slab of smoked salmon; some fine, sharp, bitter winter greens; a little paper bag of wild mushrooms. Buy quail eggs and a bouquet of bright orange and pink flowers from your favorite fancy grocery store. Quack's makes the most darling little cupcakes; I like the chocolate with chocolate cream cheese frosting, but you, of course, should follow your heart. And the fine people at the Austin Wine Merchant can recommend a demi-bouteille of some nice Champagne, or, heck, a full bottle of anything you like, whatever will go best with your odd little picnic.

Buy a jar of really nice kimchi, some really good truffles (chocolate or otherwise), a golden tangle of fresh pasta, a box of gas-station kolaches, a soft roll of really nice white bread, torn off in great chunks, slathered with salted butter and chocolate sprinkles. Whatever it is that makes your heart slow down, just a little, that makes you step back and take notice of what's going on around you. If you're feeling generous, you can even pick up a few extra items for your faraway friends who are also spending Christmas alone.

At home, turn your phone off. Properly plate your bounty; don't just eat things out of their respective containers, get out your nice dishes, your cloth napkins, a proper wineglass. Put on some nice music; light some candles. Read a book. Enjoy having the rare, selfish chance to spend some time making choices that are entirely based on your own needs and wants, to check in with yourself and see how you're really doing. Being alone doesn't have to be a bad thing, even on Christmas.

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