Christmas, New Year, and Hanukkah Dinners

Holiday dinners are highly orchestrated events.  They requires the skills of a top chef and the timing of a miracle.

“Why are we having turkey again?  We had it for Thanksgiving.”  Truth?  Because Bob Cratchit got the last Christmas goose, and turkeys are on sale in the fall.  I buy two.  When the beer fridge in the garage was alive I bought four–in-season turkeys cut my annual grocery bill in half.  If we must have meat in the house, let it be on sale or local.  My mom used to stockpile chickens until my dad told her he was going to start clucking.

Turkeys don’t cluck.  They gobble and walk in front of my car while I’m rushing to work, so the more I have in my freezer, the safer my morning commute.

This year it’s sixty degrees in New England.  I’m eating out of my garden for the holidays. I have Swiss chard, parsley, dill, cilantro, sage, rosemary, carrots, onions, and a few odds and ends that risk their life peeking up–no freeze in sight, just herb scissors.

New Year’s guacamole, here we come!

The key to not ruining holiday dinners is simplicity.  I used to try making something for everyone.  Half gets wasted.  Now, I pare it down to the essentials.  Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, yams, my friend Cheryl’s famous spinach and artichoke dip, my famous New York cheesecake with some blueberry sauce from berries I picked this summer.

Planning is the key to good food.  I ruined my vegetarian dinner entrée–stuffed mushrooms.  I rushed them.  I knew I was cutting corners but I wanted to sit, rest, and have tea.  “Tea now, crappy food later.”  That’s a tweetable quote.  Never rush mushrooms.  Nobody wants a bad mushroom.

The day before, I ruined Martha Stewart’s gluten-free shortbread.  I was curious as to whether gluten-free shortbread could replicate the real deal.  The answer is no.  Since every holiday dinner requires one sacrifice to the Gods, it’s best to get the sacrificial dish out of the way early as possible, no harm no foul.  Martha would not be pleased it was her recipe but she might not notice because she’d be busy pointing out it’s not proper to use paper plates for holiday dinners or serve Merlot with turkey.

Turns out, Santa doesn’t like gluten-free cookies, so Declan and I whipped up some chocolate chip.  It was the only cookie we baked.

The key to having a successful holidays is simplicity.

I can’t say this enough.  Simplicity.  Cookies are half the headache of holidays.  I made none.  I realized something.  I’m the adult.  I can make and eat as much junk as I want any time the idea surfaces.  I don’t,  but I can.  Why suffer making fifteen recipes that’ll go stale on my counter?  The Law of Cookie Attraction says cookies will come to you during the holidays whether you make them or not.  Therefore, I can relax and let everyone else go insane with their mixing bowls.

I don’t eat many sweets, but in the spirit of the holidays, I ate a couple pieces of Liz’ Grandmother’s Famous Caramel for dessert, waxed paper and all.

Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance

The secret to a successful Christmas dinner–or any big event–is planning backwards–knowing what delicate operations must be done last, and what can be prepped ahead of time.  I know how many burners must be reserved for what stage of cooking and when things must be at that certain point in their preparation.  It’s a symphony of food.  I learned that working in restaurants.  If I plan well, I don’t end up with slimy green beans or vats of extra potatoes.

That said, unless I chart out a menu on paper, I mess something up.  When it happens–and it will–the key to an enjoyable dinner is not to worry.  No one will starve if I run out of egg nog.  Relax more, clean and worry less.

This is how we got our horrific tablescape.  My parents gave me a lifetime supply of Thanksgiving paper plates when they moved.  We’ve used them for holiday dinners for three years now.  I never buy paper products, but since I have them through no fault of my own,  I get an environmental pass and can rationalize their use.

Cleanup done, cheesecake out, dinner success.  Except for my mushrooms, which I hated and left on the plate.

How many hours have I spent worrying about the dip, whether prime rib’s going to go on sale for New Years or whether there are spots on the glasses?

No more:)

These days, my goal is to relax, have tea, and give myself the gift I want most–time and sanity, so I can save up patience for when I have to figure out the directions to Declan’s new toys all week long.

That’s a story for another day…


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