Saturday, November 22, 2008

Surviving the holidays

It's that time of year again, when we are scrambling to figure out who is hosting what, where and when. When you find yourself pulling hosting duties there are easy ways of surviving with minimal damage. The key is preparation and get as much done early so that when the day arrives, you just have minimal things to do.

For instance, we are hosting Thanksgiving this year and are actually doing it on Thursday, which has been a rarity since my sister got married in '95. Ever since then she goes to her in-laws and we've put off turkey day feasting until the weekend. Which is fine, and kind of nice because then we can invite friends over that normally can't make it. But this year we're having it here at my folks' house. So to make it go easier since my mom and I both work, we're doing something I keep trying to get her to do, prep and get more done before d-day.

Last night I sat down with one of my recipes to see how much I needed of what. I know the ingredients, it's my hash brown casserole recipe that I got from my sister who got from her mother-in-law. I've had this recipe nearly as long as my sister has been married and it's the one thing I have made for gatherings that went in seconds. It's a super easy casserole to make and oh so good!

So I sat down and made a list of what I needed for that and anything else we were making. My mom has my brother's bringing desserts even though I wanted to make them. Ever since working at Cookies By Design a few years ago I haven't been able to bake around this time of year because I've always been swamped at work. That is the downside to working for companies that either have the bulk of their business for Christmas or are in general busy around the holidays. So now I finally have the time and energy to bake more and my mom has out sourced desserts. *sigh* But I'm still making two casseroles.

So today we did our grocery shopping. The list was a huge help, we spent less time wandering around the stores trying to figure out what we needed, and less money than we normally would have I'm sure. With one or two exceptions, we picked up nearly everything from the list so now we don't have to go grocery shopping after work Monday, like we originally planned. That now leaves us free to relax after work and either clean the house or just relax. Wednesday is the day I plan on getting as much cooked as I can. I already made the dip for the veggies when we came home from the store today. So that will be nice and flavorful by Thursday. Wednesday after work I will make both the green bean and hash brown casseroles. I don't know if we're going to do anything with the cranberry jelly, usually we just dump it out of the can. But after seeing the Neelys jazz it up a bit with orange juice and zest, I might do that for something different.

So we will be cooking as much as we can on Wednesday after work, leaving just the bird and rolls for Thursday. However, we will be prepping the bird ahead of time (of course). How that will be done isn't finalized. Aside from soaking it in buttermilk, I have no idea what else my mom is going to do to the bird.

Now you might be asking yourself where do you put all that food once it's cooked? Well, if you have a second refrigerator, use that. If not, make sure your fridge is as empty as you can get it the day you start all your cooking. This way you have more room to put your casseroles and other dishes. Leave the casseroles in their dishes, that's all part of their preparation. The other dishes are a different story. If you are like me, and live in an area where you get fall spring and winter, then take advantage of the cold garage and clear room on that junk table and place your well covered dishes in there overnight. It is cold enough in there that it is basically, a big refrigerator.

Ice is one of those things you don't think about until it's too late. Save your money and make it ahead of time, put them in ziplock bags to store until the day of the party. Of course, if you are using a cooler or something to keep drinks cold, then you're better off buying bags of ice. But if you can, just make them ahead. We have something like six ice cube trays and when I get off the computer, I will be filling them up.

Speaking of drinks, if you are planning on having pop, then skip the 2-liter bottles and just use cans. The reason being is you don't have these big bottles left either half full or unopened. Those bottles are not meant to keep the pop fresh, it goes flat in no time. If you use cans, you have less waste and they are easier to store.

Another helpful thing to do is empty the dishwasher before your guests arrive. Even if you have to run a small load, make sure there isn't one thing in there unless you are using it to store dirty pots and pans to free up the sink while your guests are over. The less in the dishwasher, the more you can fill it after dinner and wash in one load. If your friends or family aren't the kind of people to just get up and help you clean up, ask them. Don't be afraid to draft people to help. Makes things go by so much faster. Every time my sister has a gathering of some sort at her house, I always help clean up after dinner (at least), putting food away, getting dessert out. At my oldest brother's house, I always get drafted to help prep for the party. Something I always end up doing at my sister's as well.

I know there are people out there that hate going to bed with a messy kitchen, but you might want to consider it after a holiday gathering. It's taken me years to do that to my mom and she has finally given in and rested instead of killing herself to clean everything in the kitchen before bed. Why do that to yourself? Why not rest and then get back to the dishes the next day? After all, clean or dirty, they're not going anywhere. They will still be in the house when you wake up, so why not take a break after everyone leaves, then tackle the pots and pans once you've rested? Now granted, for me ever since getting mono 10 years ago I haven't been able to push myself like I used to. So when I finally get my own place and host my own holiday parties I will be doing just that. I know I can only push myself so far before my body shuts down and forces me to rest.

So there you have it, a few easy tips to surviving the holidays.

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