Eat, Be Merry, and Mingle: Fill Your Holiday Parties With Good Times

December 14, 2019 by University District

Local mover and shaker shares holiday get together recipes and tips


If you keep track of University District community news, you may recognize Sam Lau’s name and smiling face. As one of the first people to move into the community, and as a person who happens to be exceptionally open and sociable, Sam has jumped into the U/D lifestyle and state of mind with both feet from the very start. 


Living as he does in the Ivy, Sam has access to the very roots of this community, so he is uniquely positioned to not only understand where University District is coming from, but also to shape the social fabric of this place and help to create some of the initial connections and conversations that fashion the social mosaic of the neighbourhood.


As one of the first residents of our thriving community, Sam shares his perspective into life at U/D and his views on downsizing. See what this long-time Northwest resident, University of Calgary alumni and passionate community member has to say. Read his story here



As a social butterfly and habitual connection maker, Sam was made for the holidays.


The darkest months are such a critical time for us Northerners to fight against the chill and make sure we foster our connections to family and friends, so people like Sam who take the time and effort to open their homes and spend their time to bring people together are so very integral to community building.


“At University District, we are building this community from the ground up,” he shares. “We have developments that are being constructed and people moving in all at the same time. People have a lot of the same wishes including wanting to know their neighbours and socialize more. We all just need a way to do it and often times someone to step up and lead the charge!  That’s something I’m willing to do in the community.”


“I’ve been hosting get togethers for my family and friends where I live at the Ivy, with my neighbours at the Ivy, and also people from other buildings. As I get to know people I see common interests for those who might get along, so then I introduce them to each other and they get to know each other, and that’s how it all starts.”



Connection Creation


Sam and his neighbours were the first generation of residents to call University District home, and as such they’ve pre-dated the arrival of some of the planned amenities and services that will define this future Northwest hub. Without the full gamut of retail and services in place, this plucky bunch have taken things into their own hands and found ways to build aspects of the community themselves as well!


“In the time that my neighbours and I have been here, we’ve created some more initiatives to get people to know each other better,” Sam shares. “We hosted a Neighbour Day in June, and about 50 people came out to this potluck we held. We also just started a social committee just recently for Northwestival, and we had around 20 people meet up here at the Ivy and head over to the festival and people met each other that way.”


Those kinds of efforts are the lifeblood of the non-physical connections a community is made of, and those links will not only grow over time, they will allow the fabric of the entire place to flourish into a multifaceted, fully fleshed home and thriving social network.



Hosting a holiday get-together? Spruce up your domestic game and make your home looks its best for your guests with these expert tips from resident interior designer with U/D builder partner Brookfield Residential. 


The Holiday Money Makers


The great equalizer of almost any social event is the food and drink we all share. Hanging out and chatting in a room or on a patio is great on its own, but one of the superpowers of good food is its ability to bond people together and create wonderful common experiences to share and grow from. 


Sam knows this as well as anybody, so he’s found a few surefire recipes over the years that friends and family just love to share and get excited about.


Stay warm, keep fresh, and don’t let the early night hours throw your off your health routine. These top tips, tricks and stretches from YYC Cycle will help you reclaim your motivation and keep the heat turned up on your workouts this season. Plus check out the smoothie bowl recipe. It’s not only delicious, but will power you through your day and workouts! 


Build a creative food sculpture!


Sam just found this adorable presentation method to turn fruit into either a faux-bouquet, or into a mini melon forest of delicious edible pine trees.



Get crafty with candy canes: Personalized name holders


Next is a school time classic that the kids will love, and gives you a chance to make some cute personalized name holders for your guests. Turn your candy canes into fun little buddies with some dollar store craft items and give people something to laugh about.



Must-try recipe: Simple almond butter cups


Most importantly though, a dead simple, smash hit dessert recipe from Sam’s reserve: super simple almond butter cups. Yes, they taste as good as they look.


Believe it or not, these decadent pieces can be made in 20 minutes or less, and they are a smash hit with not only the average holiday guest, but people with sugar or carb reduction priorities in mind! 



“These almond cups are a huge crowd pleaser because they look pretty, and they’re really easy to make,” Sam shares. “They turn out a  little different every time, because it’s just whatever you have available and whatever you feel like doing to them.”


“I’m meeting a friend this week, and she’s on a  keto diet which means no sugar and no carbs, so she craves chocolate and generally can’t have it. I found this sugarless chocolate and I’m going to make these almond butter cups for her. She made a comment last year, she was like “People on the keto diet would pay for this stuff!”


Here’s how he does it:




  • Chocolate chips
  • Natural almond butter
  • Any toppings you want (sliced almonds, coconut flakes, dried fruit, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, toffee bits and candy cane bits)


Kitchen tools


  • Mini muffin cups – paper or silicone
  • Mini muffin tray is optional
  • Bowl
  • Spoons



Step 1: Get prepped


Lay out a bunch of mini muffin cups.  If you’re using paper cups, a mini muffin tray will help them keep their shape.  Silicone cups are a great alternative and are thick enough that a muffin tray isn’t required.


Step 2: Melt your chocolate


Melt the chocolate chips.  Put the chocolate chips into a microwave safe bowl and microwave it in 30 second intervals until the chocolate melts or make your own double boiler by putting a large bowl on a saucepan filled with water on the stove.


Then using a small spoon, fill the bottom of the cups with chocolate.  Put the cups in the freezer for two minutes to quickly set the chocolate or wait until it naturally sets.  If the chocolate doesn’t set first, the next layer (almond butter) will mix together with the chocolate. 



Step 3: Add your almond butter


Once the chocolate has set, use a small spoon to put a dab of almond butter in the centre of the cup.  To better control, use a second spoon to push the almond butter off the first spoon. Put the cups in the freezer for a few minutes to set the almond butter. 


Once set, use a small spoon to cover the almond butter with melted chocolate..  If the chocolate doesn’t sit flat, you can tap the cup against the counter a few times to make it settle.  You’ll also be covering the cups with toppings to hide imperfections.


Step 4: Now come the toppings!


Add the toppings before the top layer of chocolate sets.  Buy your toppings in small quantities from bulk bins and aim for a variety of colours, shapes and textures.


Once the chocolate has set either in the freezer for two minutes or naturally, peel the mini muffin cups away and they’re ready to serve.



Stay Sane and Sociable: Sam’s Quick Tips


With a couple of delicious tricks up your sleeve, you’re well on your way to hosting and getting that warm holiday glow from putting smiles on your friends’ faces. However, the pressure of creating social spaces can get to people some times, and stress can sometimes mean the best intentions of fun and happiness don’t always happen for the host and/or hostess who has taken the time to open their home.

To that end, Sam shared some of this thoughts on how to make your holiday get together as relaxed and energizing for you as it is for your comfortable, warm guests. Let’s take a look!


Tip 1: Have a plan


Always plan your menu ahead of time and make sure you have all of the ingredients, including extras or substitutes.


Tip 2: Have a schedule


Try working backwards with your schedule. If you’re planning to host dinner at 6:30pm, that’s when the food must be ready. Therefore, work backwards in time to figure out when you need to start every step.  The schedule can also help you see whether your plan is feasible or whether adjustments need to be made.


Tip 3: Always have a back up


It’s important when playing host to always have a back up plan. Have ingredients handy to make quick dishes in case the original plan doesn’t succeed.  For instance, if you’re making a pie for dessert and it doesn’t work out, you can still build a dessert using the ice cream that was going to be used as a pie topping.  Simply dice up some fruit, add pantry ingredients such as nuts, chocolate chips, coconut flakes and icing sugar, and voila, you have a dessert that’s going to look pleasing and taste satisfying.



Tip 4: Familiarize yourself with the community


Get to know your community. If you need to buy food or craft items at the last minute, it’s good to explore ahead of time to know what’s available nearby.  That way, you’re not running around during the Christmas rush any more than necessary.


Tip 5: Decide whether to try new recipes


Whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned host, keep things simple and try to avoid new recipes for the first time.  At the very least, try to make it for yourself beforehand as an experiment before preparing it for guests.


Tip 6: Have fun!


Enjoy yourself.  Hosting should be fun, not stressful.  If you’re not having fun, then it’s time to make some changes.


The holidays have all the potential to be the most fulfilling and enriching time of the year, so be sure to follow the advice of an experienced superhost like Sam and make the most of this festive season!


Do you have any holiday hosting tips to share? Have a tried and true recipe that’s a fan favourite at all your seasonal get-togethers? We would love to hear your suggestions. Share them with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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