I just asked my cat if he would like to curl up in my lap and act inspirational while I write. He replied by knocking my pen off the table.

cat in Santa costume looking sour

That’s the great thing about being a cat: you somehow manage to be charming by failing to fulfill any social obligations. Humans do not have this luxury, especially during the current extreme sports season of gathering and gifting. Everyone is competing in at least a heptathlon—sending cards, buying presents, attending parties, caroling, baking.

I’ve found that the key to an enjoyable holiday season is focusing on the aspects that you’re really good at. For me, one shining skill stands out above all the others: eating.

In these health conscious days, where would all the cookie bakers be without people like me to consume their wares? Who would support the red and green sprinkle industry and ensure the Red No. 5 factories stayed open?

And imagine a holiday party at which no one touched the spinach dip. Don’t linger on that thought lest you lose your good cheer.

In fact, an expert eater may be the person most likely to go the distance. Consider: the season starts with the biggest feast day of the year, Thanksgiving, the one day of the American calendar devoted solely to cooking and eating. Then as soon as you’ve finished the leftovers, the first party arrives. Hanukkah gelt fills in any momentary gaps, and even the decorations are edible—gingerbread houses, candy canes.

So though my Christmas cards remain scanty and my shopping last minute, I think I’m sitting right at the heart of the season.

Dig In

This may change in a few months, but right now, summer is my favorite season. It has earned this accolade by mastering the most important criteria of all: food.

produce at a farmer's marketThe August issue of Bon Appetit arrived sporting a picture of an heirloom tomato sandwich so drool-inducing that any sane person must have been tempted to eat the cover. When I made their tomato, raw corn, avocado salsa (with lime juice and, if you insist on ruining it, cilantro and serrano chilies), it looked just like the picture. I do not make food that looks like pictures. Martha Stewart crosses the street when she sees me coming. The food this time of year is just that beautiful.

In summer you can make things like buckwheat pancakes with fresh peaches and cardamom cream syrup, if you have cream, which I didn’t, so I can’t report on them. But just saying fresh peaches, cardamom, and cream in the same sentence lifts my heart (recipe from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark).

This evening I was slicing some squash for future use (don’t worry, I won’t let this one, ecstatic moment of advance preparation go to my head). The deep yellow of the squash was such a clear, visual sign of overflowing goodness that I had to eat one of the raw spears even though I was in the middle of my third chocolate chip cookie.

Last weekend I spent way too much money at the farmer’s market; way too much is the amount that buys more food than I can eat before it goes bad. But how do you choose among raspberries, peaches, Santa Rosa plums, Early Girl tomatoes, and fresh corn? That’s right, you don’t. Yum!

Plus I have these amazing friends who, unlike me, grow things. The sunshine-in-flesh-form squash mentioned above came from a coworker’s mini-farm. Another friend grows scarlet runner beans, which are green on the outside, pink on the inside, and more delicious than any other green bean ever. Yes, ever.

To top it off, while entertaining your tastebuds, you can also sit outside and be warm (except maybe in certain parts of northern California). So rejoice! Summer is celebrating and we’re invited.

A Little Help

Hypothesis: Self-medication through stress eating, shopping therapy, and the like are seriously underrated.

You may have guessed that I have undertaken some such behaviors recently. Specifically, I don’t want to know how many grams of sugar I consumed yesterday—please no illustrations about the size of a sugar cube and the distance between the earth and the moon.

The cause of said consumption is The Visit, which is two weeks away and breeds details at the rate of particularly fervent bunnies. I’m beginning to suspect that my to-do list contains some sort of feedback loop that adds two items to the bottom when I cross one off. Though meditation might be more effective, eating sugar allows me to treat my officemates with some modicum of kindness.

The wisdom of this choice perhaps depends, as do so many things, on the degree and duration of the practice. A couple glasses of wine to unwind after a stressful day—fine; a couple bottles—not so good. A couple of extra cookies for a few weeks—OK. Excess sugar for the foreseeable future—diabetes.

It’s almost more annoying for things to be sometimes OK. It requires us to exercise real judgment, to recognize when a behavior has crossed the line from helpful to harmful, and to muster the self-discipline to stop. It’s much easier to designate something as right or wrong, no self-regulation or decision making required. The rigidity we impose on our lives if we go that route, though, can be just as harmful as whatever we’re trying to avoid.

Or maybe I choose to believe this because I am really bad at sticking to any self-prescribed course of action. The proof will be in the post-visit pudding, or lack thereof.