Aine McAteer
This time last year, I was combing the beaches of Kauai, searching for treasures that had drifted in from the ocean—little heart-shaped coral pieces, interestingly shaped pieces of driftwood, shells, water-worn colored glass—my favorite version of Christmas shopping. I was getting ready for a Christmas celebration with my close friends on lovely Tunnels Beach and wanted to be prepared with little gifts to offer. I had already made my annual Christmas card—a laminated recipe—and distributed it among my friends.

Christmas Day was spent lounging in a bikini on the most beautiful beach, sharing food and fun. It wasn't the traditional Christmas dinner in any sense of the word, but it still had that festive feeling of coming together to celebrate a holiday that has different meaning to different people and cultures.

For me, any excuse to come together and enjoy good food and friendship is a welcome one. I have celebrated Christmases all over the world, some memorable, some forgotten. I remember another Christmas on Kauai where a group of us decided that we would host different courses of the Christmas meal in different houses, ending up with dessert and gift exchange in one of the larger and more luxurious homes. Everyone brought a gift, which was put into a big sack, and we all picked one. It was a really fun day and made less stressful for everyone, as each household just had one course to prepare. At this stage, I would really like to be able to say "and every year I work in a soup kitchen and feed hundreds of homeless people and those less fortunate than myself." I would be lying however, as for the most part, until now, I've been feeding people who can afford to have the best of everything and for whom no expense need be spared in creating the most magnificent feast imaginable. Of course, for my creative soul and to indulge my love for cooking, this is a most rewarding experience. However, I'm at a point in my life where I feel so blessed and fortunate that I know it's time to give back. This is the kind of reward I'm more drawn to these days. I see the world and the imbalance that's the result of greed and excess, and I know that I can play my part, however small, in creating balance by sharing some of my blessings with others.

For the past three months, I've come home to spend time with my elderly parents in Ireland. This has been a humbling and rewarding experience and one that has given me a lot of perspective on life. On one hand, I see how much I've grown from all my travels and experiences and interactions with people from all walks of life and all levels of success. My friends and acquaintances range from Hollywood stars to people with beautiful souls but little means. Coming back home at this stage in my life has shown me that I have grown so much, but at the same time I'm still the exact same person. When we step back from our lives as we know them and connect with the simplicity of who we are and our roots, it's both humbling and rewarding. In a small way, its given me an opportunity to give back to those who've given me the most—the parents who gave birth to me and who continue to nurture and support me in all my endeavors. They're my biggest cheerleaders.

This year, I'll be enjoying a more traditional Christmas celebration with my family. I, of course, will be at the helm in the kitchen and have already been busy with preparations. My puddings are made and stored so the flavors can mature and they'll be steamed up again to be enjoyed on Christmas Day with some homemade vanilla-cashew ice cream.

Get Aine's healthy holiday recipes