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Holiday Food Faux Pas -- And How to Avoid Them

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It's starting to feel a lot like Christmas -- the 2009 version that is.

With stocks swooning, layoffs spreading, and visions of the Great Depression supplanting any thoughts of dancing sugar plums, this holiday seasoning is shaping up to be a sober one.

Even the time-honored corporate practice of bestowing employees with holiday turkeys is fading, according to a recent New York Times article. In 2008, "only 3 percent of employers nationwide plan to give turkeys to their workers this year, half as many as last year," the paper reported.

But festive foods can offer a good way to inject a little inexpensive seasonal cheer into holiday gatherings and gift-giving. Still, be careful which culinary offerings you choose. Gastronomic choices that were de rigueur in 2007 (pricey champagne, haute chocolates) could come off as ostentatious in these less affluent times.

But there's no need to plunk a can of Spam® down on Christmas table. While over-the-top foods may be out this year, there are some simple culinary steps you can take to avoid striking the wrong note during the upcoming holidays:

1. Forget extravagant foodie offerings. If you went out and purchased $150 worth of heritage turkey as a friend of mine did for Thanksgiving dinner, you might want to keep that fact under wraps. Sitting around your holiday table may be guests beset with economic woes that make that kind of splurge feel a bit extravagant. Even all the good intentions in the world -- my friend insisted that she only wanted to save the breed, while at the same time "helping small local farmers" -- can come off looking show-offy. This year, price trumps other considerations, even some green ones.

2. Keep traditional holiday foods simple. Nothing says Hanukkah -- the Jewish festival of lights which begins Dec. 21 -- like potato latkes. The recipe is straightforward -- eggs, grated potatoes, some onion and a bit of flour. Yet, every year there are efforts to turn this pristine dish into a gussied-up gourmet showstopper. This particular holiday period, simple says it best. So banish the carrot and broccoli latkes and opt for the traditional variety.

3. Stop trying to convert the fruit cake haters. When it comes to fruitcake, people either love it or hate it. This year, in the spirit of our president-elect's calls for unity, announce a truce and stop trying to foist the traditional seasonal sweet on non-believers. Well-meaning declarations of, "even if you don't like fruit cake you'll like this one" made with beer, bananas, chocolate or whatever, are just exercises in futility.

4. Give homemade foods as gifts. As the old Pillsbury advertising jingle went, "Nothin' says lovin' like somethin' from the oven." If Mom loves chocolates, make your own chocolate bark. Skip the pricey gift baskets and bake some holiday cookies. Homemade says love and caring in a way that doesn't bust budgets.

5. Give time to a food bank. While donations to hunger relief organizations are up 18-25 percent this year, demand has risen a staggering 40 percent, according to Feeding America, the nation's largest network of food banks. Spending a few hours helping to feed those less fortunate definitely is in the spirit of this particular holiday period.