A Winter’s Feast

The season of winter feasting creates a cornucopia of holidays: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, the New Year, plus birthdays and anniversaries. These celebrations inspire us to gather friends and family together for a memorable meal. But these days, with our busy lives and family and friends often flung to the far corners of the world, getting a dozen people around your table for a dinner party can present a challenge—along with a measure of intimidation.

Menu planning, creating or finding the right recipes and foods, setting a beautiful table, cooking and timing the courses all require considerable skill and energy. Additionally, there’s a feeling of vulnerability—having people in your house, seeing how you live. Entertaining and orchestrating a special meal takes the host through the whole gamut of human emotions.

Flavors of entertaining

Entertaining has many faces. It can be simple, like soup and bread, or a sumptuous banquet. It can be planned months in advance or spontaneous and spur of the moment. There are as many styles of entertaining and hosting as there are personalities.

And that’s what creates the individual flavor and enjoyment of it—visiting someone’s unique home and seeing how they live, along with the types of food they like, their décor, artwork, and lifestyle. The best meals and get-togethers focus on togetherness rather than technique or perfection. Having guests help with some of the preparation sets the tone—even if it’s minimal like slicing the bread, tossing the salad, or helping to set the table.

The very human act of gathering

What is the true meaning of gathering and entertaining, really? Again, there are as many reasons and styles as there are days in the year.

Gathering to celebrate special occasions, birthdays, holidays, family, and community rituals may prompt us to investigate the practical, traditional, philosophic, spiritual—and perhaps even mystical—nature of entertaining and hospitality. What are some of the deeper primal undertones of this very human act of gathering together?

Dongzhi, or the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival, celebrates the coming of the cold weather and the return of the sun with feasting and festivities. Originating with the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220), the Winter Festival pays homage to the ancient yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony in the cosmos. The philosophy holds that the yang, or muscular, positive energy, increases daily after the shortest day—so should be celebrated. Family get-togethers involve the making and eating of tangyuan, a sweet soup with balls of sticky rice, which symbolizes reunion.

Worldwide, changing seasons—the arrival of spring, midsummer, the autumn harvest, and especially the winter solstice—have historically been special times to celebrate and feast. Humankind has venerated the return of the sun’s light at the winter solstice throughout history and prehistory. Feasts have been held, and monuments have been painstakingly constructed and dedicated to it.

On a chilly night, we gathered for a winter feast that Colin and Sarah Kirby graciously hosted at their modern Boulder, Colorado, home to celebrate good food, camaraderie, and hospitality. According to Chef Colin, hospitality at its simplest is taking care of people, treating people well. The flavor of a host’s hospitality conveys a certain way of looking at the world, through food, drink, and its presentation.

"The flavor of a host’s hospitality conveys a certain way of looking at the world, through food, drink, and its presentation."

Perfect moments to remember

What happens when it all comes together? That moment when it all works really well? Reunion—as with the Chinese Dongzhi celebration. Communion. The creative and thoughtfully prepared meal is an emotional and spiritual experience. In addition to enjoying delicious food, guests feel a warm and deep appreciation for the host’s labors and generosity, and for each other. It’s truly a celebration and labor of love.

Some people, like our host, specifically design their homes with entertaining in mind. Colin’s cleverly repurposed and beautifully refinished Douglas fir floor joists–turned–dining table perfectly seats a dozen guests, as he intended. Set alongside an open kitchen, the broad table invites participation and observation.

As our host chef concludes, “Cooking is the only art form that engages all five senses.” And like any art form, an exquisitely conceived and executed meal inspires, elevates, educates, and enlivens.

In addition to the shared ritual of emotional and physical nourishment and sustenance, a special dinner or feast also offers the chance to learn about new foods and recipes, perhaps the favorites of the host. Special recipes from family or friends carry memories and significance, and enrich the experience of others who replicate them.

“Cooking is the only art form that engages all five senses.”

Recipes can hold special meanings for people, especially when passed down through generations or created for a unique event. Here, we are sharing some recipes our host, Colin Kirby, served at Alpine Modern’s Winter Feast that we hope will inspire you to take up the wooden spoon, start cooking, and gather some hungry souls around your table in celebration of togetherness. △

Recipes for a winter's feast

Tomato-Braised Leg of Lamb

The headliner. Braised in the oven for hours before your guests arrive, making this lamb dish will fill the house with a savory fragrance that will draw everyone into the kitchen. Go to recipe »

Tomato-Braised Leg of Lamb / Photo by Chris Mueller

Braised Leeks with Black Truffle

An elegantly simple vegetable side for any festive dinner. Go to recipe »

Leeks with black truffle butter / Photo by Chris Mueller

The Alpine Glissade

Luscious Holiday libation: A festive cocktail based on cold-drip coffee. Go to recipe »

Alpine Modern Cocktail Recipe: The Alpine Glissade