In addition to the normal activities of life, somehow we must squeeze in holiday recitals and school programs, shopping, decorating, mailing cards and, oh yeah, gatherings with family and friends this time of year. At our house, we add two birthdays and an anniversary to the mix as well.
Despite my grumblings, I really do like the holidays. I look forward to putting up the decorations, visiting ornaments from Christmas past, driving around looking at lights, and especially sharing traditions with my girls. This really is the best time of year to be a kid. I need to take a page out of their book, and focus on the fun parts, not my ever-increasing to-do list.
I like to entertain. Whether it is my family or friends, I like to host holiday gatherings. Despite this, I can get caught up in the stress of preparing for these events, which really defeats the whole purpose, right? This is supposed to be fun! So, let’s really and truly enjoy this holiday season by planning ahead and finding ways to minimize what causes us stress. And, yes, friends, I am hoping you hold me accountable to my own advice!
Choose your event
What gatherings do you truly enjoy hosting? Thanksgiving, an open house, a cookie party for your kids, an evening during Hanukkah, Christmas Eve/Day, New Year’s?
If the answers to these are all “no,” then hopefully you are either a lucky guest of your family and friends, or a strong supporter of the food services industry, which is OK. Really, no judgment here. You are actually the person most likely to survive the season relatively intact with some actual opportunity for enjoyment along the way.
If you answered “yes” to every one of these events, then I hope you have some strong coffee, Diet Coke and wine to get you through the holidays (I know I will) and some counseling for the post-traumatic stress that will follow in January.
A more reasonable approach would be to pick one or two of the above-mentioned gatherings that are either your favorite, or your turn to inherit. If you are heading up more than one, don’t plan them back to back. Like any good athlete, you need some recovery time.
The ideal scenario is to experience the holidays from both sides of the kitchen counter. Be a hostess-with-the-mostest for one or two and a “lucky guest” at the rest.
Pick a reasonable amount of recipes to prepare. This is not the best time to try out five new recipes. Make sure you have some tried and true ones that you are comfortable preparing and turn out great! Don’t choose recipes that all require last-minute preparation. Make sure your menu includes some dishes that can be made ahead, particularly the day before. For the last-minute items, select dishes that have similar oven temperatures and cooking times. It is also helpful to have a combination of dishes that you prepare on the stove top and in the oven. You don’t want to run out of space in either place!
For you “lucky guests,” this is the time where you plan wardrobes that either dazzle and shine, or that maximize waistline stretchiness to accommodate the food fest you are about to partake in. You could also shop for a gift for your host, a small token of appreciation for relieving you of hosting said event. The gift does not have to be expensive; the acknowledgement is what really matters.
Divide and conquer
Do not try and do it all. Delegate! You are the one cleaning the house and coming up with the game-plan. There will be other able bodies in attendance that likely have a recipe they enjoy making this time of year. Delegate wisely and you can come out ahead. Between the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, friends, etc., you may only be responsible for a clean house and the turkey!
“Lucky guests” can have the “lucky” job of entering the grocery store during the most wonderful time of the year. Have them pick-up a tray with cheese and crackers or fruits and vegetables. Put them in charge of beverages. Or ask them to bring the ice cream or whipped cream for the desserts.
Note to “lucky guests:” Don’t forget to bring wine, coffee, Diet Coke for your host – see number one above.
Set the table
My Grandma June’s philosophy was to set the table first because it looked like you were making progress toward dinner, even if you had quite a ways to go. She was right. When guests walk in and see a set table, they think you have your act together, even if it looks like a bomb went off in the kitchen. If you are lucky enough to have a separate dining room, have everyone scoop off the belongings they have dumped on it for the last six months and set your table the night before. Imagine how ahead of the game you will feel when you wake up in the morning with that task completed. If you’re short on plates and bowls, feed the family breakfast on paper plates!
The day before or the morning of your gathering, lay out your dishes and casseroles to figure out which recipe is going in what dish. This will save you time later in the day.
If you are going to use a tablecloth, put it on at least a few hours ahead to give the creases some time to hang out. If this tablecloth hasn’t seen the light of day in quite awhile, you are probably going to need to iron it (I know, I hate ironing, too). Don’t save this job for the last minute either. If you need a quick fix, spray the tablecloth with water and toss it in the dryer for a few minutes.
Don’t sweat the small stuff!
I imagine that even Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray are thrown a few curve balls. Chances are good that not everything will go as planned (I am going to have to remind myself of that one on an hourly basis). Your gathering does not have to be a Hallmark or Folgers coffee commercial and no one expects it to be. Yes, people do enjoy eating good food, but the real reason we gather this time of year is to enjoy each other. Make sure that even if you are the one hosting, you are able to take time and enjoy who you are with – preferably with a glass of wine, or coffee or Diet Coke!
Mary Cornforth Cawood is a Fruita mom married with two daughters. Read her Tuesdays on fruitamoms.com.