Casey Colodny, otherwise known as The Mindful Hapa, grew up in a suburb outside of Orlando, where she experimented with cooking from a young age. One summer, she accepted a job as a nanny and found herself with spare time on her hands (the job ended around 3 p.m. each day).
“Because I had nothing to do for the rest of the day, I’d look up an appetizer, a main, and a dessert, and that’s what I’d do in the afternoons,” she says. Her family became the recipients of her newfound cooking prowess.
In college, Colodny studied abroad in France, extending her stay over the summer so that she could attend a three-month culinary program at Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu. After college, Colodny became a catering coordinator for an organic restaurant in the Twin Cities, until life with her then-boyfriend ( now husband) took her around the country, first for his surgical internship in Hawaii and then for his residency in Dallas. “I was like, ‘Okay, I can go back to what I was doing, or I can try starting something on my own,’” Colodny says.
The year was 2018. She toyed with pursuing her interest in food through blogging, but wasn’t sure if she could make a career out of it. She decided to give herself four months. By the end of the year, her recipe-filled healthy eating blog, The Mindful Hapa, had taken off, with a measurable uptick in Instagram followers and profitability. Now, five years later, Colodny is still doing her thing and making the Internet a tastier place.
Here, Colodny shares her best tips for hosting a casual, intimate fall get-together, along with one of her best recipes for the season.
Set the mood.
“Something I always like to do is candles, especially this time of year,” Colodny says. She favors the tapered variety in dining areas — unscented, so they don’t compete with the aromas coming from the kitchen — and scented candles in living spaces. For those with a fireplace, she recommends lighting that, too.
Prep the bar.
Colodny makes sure that both the food and the drinks are in order before guests arrive. For larger groups, she often prepares batched cocktails with pre-rimmed glasses. A welcome cocktail, she says, like a pear-ginger martini, is a great way to begin the evening. For the martini, she rims glassware with lime and coarse organic sugar.
“I have a bowl of ice out,” she says. “People can just serve themselves.”
Make it a buffet.
For dinner itself, a casual buffet line is just fine, Colodny says. She recommends keeping hot dishes like soup on the stove. “People can add their own toppings at the end of the line,” she says, naming toasted pumpkin seeds and fried sage as examples. She recommends placing a basket of griddled bread nearby for the guests to help themselves.
The Mindful Hapa’s Coziest Autumn Meal: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup
For a casual, autumnal dinner that also happens to be both vegetarian and vegan, Colodny brings on the soup — roasted butternut squash soup, to be exact. Her hack? Nutritional yeast, which adds a little “cheesiness,” as she puts it. This recipe makes four to six servings as an appetizer (but you can serve it as a larger entrée, too).
5 cups butternut squash, cut into 1-inch cubes (approximately 1 small butternut squash, cut in half and deseeded)
1 cup onion, cut into 1-inch cubes (approximately 1 small onion)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
5 sprigs fresh thyme, destemmed
2 tbsp nutritional yeast
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground sage
2 tbsp olive oil
½ cup cashews, soaked overnight or in hot water for 1 hour
2-3 cups vegetable broth, divided
Optional toppings for serving
Toasted pumpkin seeds
Fried sage leaves
Preheat the oven to 400℉ and line a large baking tray with parchment paper. Add the cubed butternut squash, onion, garlic cloves, thyme, nutritional yeast, salt, and ground sage to a large mixing bowl and stir to combine. Drizzle with olive oil and stir again until evenly coated.
Transfer the squash mixture to the parchment-lined baking tray and spread out in an even layer. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until squash is cooked through and the onions have started to caramelize.
Add the roasted squash mixture, soaked cashews, and 2 cups vegetable broth to a high-powered blender. Blend until smooth and creamy, adding additional veggie broth until desired consistency is reached.
Move from the blender to a large pot on the stove. Bring soup to a low simmer before serving. Set out your optional toppings to serve alongside the soup, and enjoy.