All last month, I was undecided about which recipes and ideas to share in November. I was traveling in several regions and climates, wearing everything from four layers of long johns and raingear to tank tops and summer dresses. And meals featured the fresh strawberries I associate with spring, the Dungeness crab of fall and winter, and everything between.
Shortly after I returned home to Montana, Mother Nature decided the blog’s November theme for me. After just a couple of days in my own kitchen, snow began to fall and winter was suddenly upon us. Instead of digging the final carrots and potatoes and cleaning up garden beds, I was curled up by the woodstove, reading food books and thinking about the coming holiday season. For me, that means planning to gather with friends and family, making lists of gifts to create, and of course, deciding what we’ll eat.
No matter which holidays you celebrate in winter, food plays a central role. You gather with family and friends, enjoying one another’s company and catching up on the goings-on over the last year—and what better place to gather than around a table laden with warm, filling, savory and sweet dishes?
Unfortunately, preparing for such gatherings can be more stressful than enjoyable. You’re feeding more people at one time than you have all year. The pressure is on to create dishes you haven’t made since the last holiday—or perhaps to bring something new and untested to the table. As the big day approaches, your good intentions are swapped for commercially made pie crusts and cookie dough, tins of vegetables and cranberry sauce, boxes of stuffing mix, and other lackluster, easy-to-grab forms of expected foods.
The trifecta of holiday, people, and food falters when care isn’t taken with all three. So as the countdown begins, don’t give up on the food. Instead, give it some thought now so that you can make it the centerpiece of your dinner or party.
Make Your List
Any 4-year-old can tell you it’s never too early to start making your holiday list. Whether your hosting or attending, gifting or serving, planning party appetizers or building a dinner spread, think now about the projects that will be happening in your kitchen the next few weeks. If you’re like me, there are multiple ones: dishes for meals, sweets for parties, treats for gifts. Write them all down now.
Naughty or Nice?
Gather the recipes you’re considering. Some are items you must put on the table; otherwise, Grandpa Joe will call you out. But just because he expects Thanksgiving gravy, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole doesn’t mean you have to start them from packets, cans, and freezer bags. Grandma Jean will be pulling out her china and silver. Why shouldn’t you pull out recipes that let you make favorite dishes with the best ingredients from scratch?
If you’re trying new recipes, read them from top to bottom now so that you’re clear on what’s involved. If you’re concerned a new Christmas cookie, Hanukkah side dish, or Winter Solstice beverage may not turn out perfectly the first time, consider testing a half batch in the next week or so.
Check It Twice
Start opening cupboards and prepare your next list: groceries. One of the worst feelings as a host or hostess is to discover you forgot to buy a key ingredient—and guests will be arriving in 30 minutes. Even if you could rush to a store, last-minute holiday shopping does little to reduce your stress. By gathering your recipes and taking stock now, you’ll be well prepared long before you dirty a dish.
The master list is also useful in streamlining your food shopping. Many basic ingredients appear in multiple recipes and can be bought in bulk. Shopping can also be done in stages: pick up dry goods on your next trip to the store, and then just focus on the fresh ingredients when the countdown begins. Check your list again before you begin your kitchen sessions, just to be sure something hasn’t been coopted for another meal.
All Is Calm
A calm cook can have fun making good food. Think about how you want to wrap your kitchen time into your schedule. Perhaps you’ll set aside a full day or two to knock everything out. Maybe you’ll spread out the work: making doughs early and freezing them, then preparing sauces and spreads to refrigerate, and finally slicing and dicing the day before you need to cook fresh dishes. The choice is yours, but having a plan can be the difference between loving and hating the holiday season.
All Is Bright
Now that you have recipes, a shopping list, and a schedule in hand, you’re as prepared as you’ll ever be for your holiday food projects. But don’t be afraid to reassess as you implement your plan. You may find a new recipe you can’t pass up. Additional people may join your table. A surprise invite may have you whipping up double batches. Or you might realize you’ve bitten off more than you can chew and need to scale back. Being flexible will let you keep your star-bright outlook on the season.
Twice as Tasty
For November and December, I’ll be offering holiday workshops that can help you put your best dishes on the table or make your contribution the talk of the party. On the blog, I’ll be sharing some of my family’s favorite holiday recipes that you may want to try this season, along with some newer treasures. You’ll also find uses for late-season apples, squash, and root vegetables, as well as ideas for using up some typical holiday leftovers. Happy winter!
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