Invite friends over, keep the menu simple and the hospitality warm, and renew your ties. Cookbook author Sarah Copeland shares just how easy it can be. 
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani

In our small corner of the world, 90 miles north of New York City, we're blessed with an amazing community—almost all city expats looking for a simpler, slower life for their families. We have our tree-trimming tradition to thank for bringing us together.

When we lived in New York City, I always dreamed of an evening with many hands filling our tree with our hodge-podge of ornaments, Bing Crosby's Christmas songs crooning from a record player in the background. One year, as my husband, András, our two young children, Greta and Mátyás, and I were making our own transition from city life, we decided to invite a few new acquaintances over to our home in Hurley, in the Hudson Valley, to join us for a fest, some carols, and treats—hoping everyone would get along. András had just launched a new furniture business (Hudson Workshop) and as an inaugural project, he built us a beautiful dining room table with room for eight, plus a half-dozen small kids squeezed in between. It felt like a sign. And with that one simple meal, we opened our home, our table, and our circle of friends a little wider.

It was magic: babies playing in the shadow of our freshly cut fir; little girls sneaking chocolate-stained hands into towers of treats stacked high on cake stands (my signature, no-fuss dessert for a crowd); and the guys, huddled in a corner by the coffee and beer, exchanging notes about house renovations, barn projects, and new businesses in the works.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani

Three years later, the same crew are our very dear friends, the ones we spend many holidays with throughout the year. The easy meal I serve for this now-annual gathering is roughly the same, with some tweaks as each member contributes something from their own artistic arsenal. This year, I slow-roasted the pork in Arrowood Farms brewery's smoked beer, brewed by our friend Tait. Dear buddy and chef Chris Lanier (of Ravenwood farm) and I cooked the plantains and beans side by side on the stove. To finish, Greta and I served our towering table of treats alongside The Ship and the Whale house-roasted coffee from our neighbor Chris Ruel. 

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani

After dinner, our kids circled us playing the piano and tiny guitars, begging for more chocolate while we discussed life, politics, business strategy, and local schools—enriching our families, while urging each other forward.

Somehow, the magic feeling never fades. At the holidays, but really any day, nothing feels quite like belonging—like feeling a part of something bigger than you. This crew, this meal, and the way it feeds our lives, all year long: They're one incredible gift.