Over the years, the holidays have become synonymous with stress. Squeezing in thoughtful gift shopping time between work and family responsibilities, baking batches of gingerbread cookies for the kids and neighbors, and financing all the whole shebang is a bit of a juggling act.
This season, find ways to take it a little easier on yourself. You don't have to go the whole nine yards. Unless, of course, you want to! We've all experienced more stress than normal this year, so the holidays should be a time to unwind, relax, and be grateful for all the small wins we've had, even in the shadow of bigger, unsettling events.
If you'e planning a big dinner, whether by candlelight or against the backlight of your laptop open to Zoom, we have some highly useful tips to make the prep work a little less daunting. Tip #1: don't concentrate all your necessary cooking tasks into one day. Spread them out over a few days so you can enjoy more time with your family, sitting back with a glass of wine, or watching your favorite holiday movie.
Pre-prep the vegetables.
Peel and cut the potatoes. Cut the broccoli into edible chunks. Partition the cauliflower. Slice the carrots. Mix up that baked casserole or scalloped potatoes. Whip up the salad dressings too. You can do all those finicky little tasks the day before and squirrel them away in resealable food containers, such as mixing bowls with lids. Then, just pop them in the steamer or the oven when you'e ready to start cooking.
Move everything you need to the front of your fridge.
It's incredible how much time we waste rooting through the fridge looking for the soy sauce, the butter, the apple cider vinegar… you name it. At Thanksgiving, I had an epiphany: place every anticipated ingredient I would need for dinner preparation on the top shelf of the fridge for easy access. I saved oodles of time shifting stuff around or searching for that one obscure thing (garlic paste anyone?).
Pre-bake the desserts (or elect reliable others to bring them).
The obvious challenge here is delaying gratification to the big day. Batch cooking is the best! When you're crafting gingerbread cookies for the neighbors, make your own batch too so they're ready to go for post-dinner nibbles with coffee. Pies, Christmas cakes, nanaimo bars, and cookies all keep for several days if properly stored.
Clean up as you go.
My grandmother had two cooking mottos: Good cooks always clean up their own mess, and a stitch in time saves nine. Small, simple tasks prevent heavy lifting at the end of the night when you're stuffed, tired, and totally unwilling to put in the effort that kitchen clean-up requires. As you move from one prep or cooking task to another, wash and tidy as you go. Rinse the sauce spoons if you're done with them. Wipe down the cutting board to have it ready for the next task. Put all the ingredients you're finished with back in their rightful place. You'll be amazed at how much time and grumbling this saves you at the end of the day.
Lighten the mood.
The right scents and sounds can create a calming atmosphere for preparing your Christmas feast and cooking the beast. It doesn't need to be all business on the big day. Enjoy the process of preparing and cooking a big dinner for the family. Even if it's just the four of you this year, you'll want to make your time together extra special. Music calms the brain's circuitry and certain scents soothe a wired nervous system and bring it back to baseline.
Sip n' slice.
'Tis the season to be merry! We recommend waiting until after the cooking is done to have a second holiday spritzer, but why not enjoy a sip or three while you prepare the big meal? Rum and eggnog? Shiraz-Cabernet? A sweet, sultry sherry? Whatever your drink of choice is, fix yourself one to sip on as you slice, baste, mix, and mash. For non-alcoholic preferences, make something spritzy, like elderflower cordial with fresh lemon and a sprig of mint, or a mug of hot cocoa.
Set the table in advance.
Consider a pre-set table a suggestive environment. When you see the dining table all set out before you start to prepare the big feast, you'll be grateful for its influence. It's like a fresh, calming breath of air on an otherwise busy day spent coordinating tasks and cooking times. Plus, it stokes the festive mood to see the holiday table covering, the candles in their holders, the fragrant centerpiece, the fancy salt and pepper shakers, the beautiful dinnerware you rarely get to use, the festive napkins. (For decorative holiday tips, see 8 non-kitschy ways to transform your home for the holidays).
Use reliable kitchen tools.
Let's face it––the right cooking tools just make life easier, and couldn't we all use a little break this grand ‘ole year of 2020? (The right answer's yes!). This doesn't mean you have to buy a whole new set of cooking implements, you just have to ensure you have good quality basics on hand: a set of different sized mixing bowls with lids, a micro-fine colander, and a 4-stage knife sharpener to keep those blades honed for use (this is the gift that keeps on giving, by the way). A nifty potato richer & masher may seem like an frivolous extra, but trust us, it's not. After trying this out once, you'll never go back to manual mashing.
We love sharing tried and tested kitchen and cooking tips with our readers. From our kitchen to yours, we wish you a fun and stress-free holiday!