From the Sober Kitchen: Holiday Food and Families

From the Sober Kitchen: Holiday Food and Families

Close-up of hands kneading dough by the light of Christmas treeI remember saying in my first year of recovery, “For this holiday season, I am actually going to cook Christmas dinner for my family for the first time in a long time!”

When the time came to prepare dinner, I warmed up a precooked prime rib, a premade frozen green bean casserole, frozen scalloped potatoes, and a frozen pie. It was the first meal I had cooked for anyone other than my son and myself. Because I have been a classically trained chef and have catered for thousands, some of my guests at dinner that year might have had higher expectations.

In a rare moment of silence, one dear family member said, “Nice, a frozen holiday dinner.” I love my little sister.

The truth was; I cared more about my serenity. It turned out well, and the family was grateful for the meal and time spent together.

When I quit drinking, I quit cooking. I used to make my own beer, and I had to stop that, too. I couldn’t even stand next to a grill without thinking about how much I would like a drink. I struggled with cooking without alcohol, both as an ingredient and as a beverage. Cooking recreationally or professionally has strong ties to drinking.

I was in a period of change. I figured this was just another unfortunate change. As I had become recently single, I did not really have a need to cook. I lived on peanut butter and pizza. I also found myself working in a field other than food for the first time in years. No cooking at home; no cooking at work.

Eventually my job evolved into a food job. It is funny how that happens to people with a background in food. This job had me working with kids. When you cook with and for kids, it is obvious that you do not use alcohol. I did this for about two years and absolutely loved it. I rekindled old recipes, came up with new ones, and got to see the kids grow and acquire a sense of accomplishment that was profound.

I then got to work with adults in addition to the kids. I got to teach people in recovery about nutrition as it pertains to recovery – especially early recover. I also got to bring them into the kitchen. When I heard a woman say, “I haven’t baked since before I started using, and I can’t wait to go home and bake with my children,” it was so satisfying. There is no room in my mind for thoughts of, “I miss alcohol in the kitchen.”

The next year I was excited to have a house full of people over for dinner. Actually, I was pretty happy to have a house! So the first family get together was more about the people, not the food. The next year was about progress. Now, eleven years later, I am amazed that everything I did that alcohol played a role in, I can do now without alcohol even crossing my mind.

They say if you choose not to drink enough days in a row, there will come a day when you prefer not to drink. That is my experience along with many of my peers.

This year, I will serve the prime rib again, but I am going to get the kind you roast for three hours. I will make the scalloped potatoes and green bean casserole from scratch, and if the pressure is not too much, two cranberry-pear pies.

Making a pieI also like to have one ‘wow factor’ dish, and this year it is going to be an old family tradition; Yorkshire pudding. It is very simple but also very easy to screw up. It contains flour, salt, milk, and a couple of eggs cooked in beef broth. When it is done right, the edges curl three inches up the side of the pan and it looks like a wave. When it is not done right, it just lays there, all wet and soggy, in a puddle of juice. I think this year I am up for the challenge.

As for the family part, family gatherings can be rough, both in recovery and out of it.

Reach out to people if it is a new experience. You may need to arrive late or early. One thing I do in the midst of all the chaos is focus on one thing, like baking a pie. Do it right during the get together. It can be a focal point to help you remember to stay in the moment, to be mindful.

When it gets rough in the house, go back to the pie. Focus on it, become one with it.

Enjoy the holiday!


Kevin McLaughlin is a CCAR Core Recovery Coach Trainer, owns his own training and coaching business, and is the current facilitator for the Pine Rest Recovery Connection Group.

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