Christmas and New Years seem to automatically produce the desire to entertain at home more than usual. The holiday decorations make us want to show off our homes, our versions of the traditional foods are the special ones we want to share, and Christmas always means coming home family and friends together.
All of this means a lot of work planning, cleaning, shopping, cooking; often it leaves us too exhausted to really enjoy everything. I offer a few organizing tips you know the ones we always say we are going to do next year!
First do the major part of the shopping NOW. Most of us are already conditioned to early shopping because many items disappear quickly. Aside from the special items, you can lay in all the bulk items that dont need to be refrigerated the same way you stock for hurricane. Drinks, candies, chips, canned and dry goods, paper goods, and decorations the majority of what you need can be stored without any problem. You may want to purchase some of the special items that go quickly like chocolate, candied fruits, nuts, smoked ham, and coconut. Now all you need to buy the week before Christmas are the refrigerated items and produce.
Do all the decorating early, the tree, the outside lights, the door swags, and even plan and collect the table decorations. Check the candles and lanterns that can create such a warm atmosphere. Buy timers, extension cords, electric tape, and extra bulbs now.
Plan the menus and grocery lists early. This is probably the most important part of the preparation. If you are sharing the cooking with other family members, decide now who makes what so everyone has a chance to be prepared. Dont forget to ask everyone in the family what their favorite foods are so they can be part of the planning.
The menu should have several dishes that can be prepared ahead and frozen. It may also include items that are purchased ready to serve. Make your deli and bakery orders NOW. Even dishes that need to be prepared the day they are served can be "prepped" the day before. You can wash and chop fresh vegetables and pre-measure dry ingredients and put them in plastic bags so at the last minute the putting together goes quickly.
Usually we have a lot of different entertaining to do. If you have guests that stay for the week you need to plan easy meals that can be served quickly because you want to spend your time with them. Breakfast is a must and I like to bake and freeze several kinds of healthy muffins that can be heated and served with coffee, fruit and cheese.
It makes more sense to pick up a light lunch when you are moving around the island and then come home for a dinner that everyone can share in the preparation. Pre-prepared lasagna, meatloaf, roast chicken and casseroles supplemented with easy stir-fries, pasta with salad and leftover buffets are favorites.
Traditionally Christmas and New Years Day bring a steady stream of family and friends as everyone makes the pilgrimage from house to house. Buffet entertaining is the best way to serve an open house. Frequently this kind of entertaining means that several cooks bring their own contributions. It may be necessary to refrigerate some dishes after the first hour or re-heat other ones to avoid spoilage. Persons who make this tour will be thrilled to see a fresh salad and fruit added in the late afternoon.
A formal buffet party is a very nice way to entertain friends, employees and co-workers over the holidays. The food should include a balanced array of meat, fish, poultry, vegetables and desserts prepared in mini delicacies that are easy to serve and consume with limited utensils and seating. Shrimp, smoked salmon, chicken wings, skewered chicken with grilled peppers, meatballs, stuffed mushrooms, celery and eggs, cheeses, crackers/breads/chips, dips, spreads, tarts, brownies, cookies and nuts make an excellent offering.
Make sure your table is easily accessible on all sides, separate from the bar and not blocking the entrance. I usually set up the drinks as far from the food as possible to insure that people will move around. Depending on the menu, you may want to pass the hot dishes among the guests and place chip/dips on side tables throughout.
The buffet table covering should not come over the edge of the table. As guests and small children move around the table a longer table covering can become dangerous. Also do not use open flame candles on a buffet table. I like oil lamps and flowers or plants to decorate the center of the table.
The sit-down dinner, is a luxury that works best with less than ten family and friends. This allows that everyone will participate in the conversation and get to know one another better. The menu should be equally special and carefully planned with three or four courses. Unless you have help in the kitchen, plan a menu that can be prepared well before the guests arrive.
Planning and pre-preparation can make it possible for you to enjoy the holiday. Remember the reason we celebrate this holiday is about caring for other people, about love and sharing; not about stress and exhaustion.
I hope these ideas help you to find time for Christmas Eve services, the Choir Caroling in Emancipation Park early Christmas morning, the concert at Reichhold on Christmas night and the very special shared traditions that make the holidays so significant for family and friends. Best wishes for a truly Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.