If you are in charge of the kitchen, then you're probably experiencing some holiday jitters. So many things to remember and so many things to go wrong - no wonder we get stressed this time of year.
Today I thought I'd share some ideas to suck some of that stress right out of your house.
For those of you with little kids, you may be using the dining room table late into tonight. If there's any way to do it, however, I urge you to set the table right now. Nothing drives me crazier than having to wash infrequently used wine glasses or find the crystal pickle dish when the turkey is cooling on the counter.
If you're a list person, write down all the things you are going to need. For me, it's a leisurely walk through the meal in my head to check off everything as it is used.
If you always forget the Christmas crackers or water glasses or napkins, find them now. On the other hand, would your holiday dinner be ruined if you couldn't locate that special silver serving spoon? Don't try to be perfect - settle for organized. While cleaning up leftovers, I have discovered, among other things, the table centrepiece I'd paid a fortune for at a craft fair, pease pudding still in its bag, chunks of salt meat on a lovely serving plate, and cranberry sauce covered in plastic wrap with the spoon sticking out. Not one person at the table asked for any of these things, so perhaps they weren't nearly as critical as I had thought.
Think about what others can do to help you out, and be prepared to dole out the jobs when the time comes.
Peel vegetables today and put them, covered, in the cold porch. Prepare the roux for the gravy and make enough so you don't have to do it twice. I combine 1 cup of butter with 1 cup of flour and microwave until bubbling hot. Stir and put in the fridge. This will make enough for a huge pot of gravy, and whatever is left can be used up a week later, frozen or discarded if you just can't deal with another thing in the fridge. Dressing can be made ahead as well.
If you are planning on whipping the potatoes, put the milk-cream-butter mixture in a microwave-safe container in the fridge, ready to go.
If your turkey is fresh or already thawed, take out the giblets and neck and make the extra broth today. Cover with cold water, simmer together with a stalk of celery, an onion, salt and pepper; reduce it by at least half to concentrate the flavour and refrigerate.
Put the can opener next to the cranberry sauce, next to the bowl, next to the serving spoon. If you have space, put it in the bowl - along with pickles or beets or other condiments in their own bowls - covered - in the fridge.
Water chilling all morning means you don't have to scramble for ice, but at least take the jug out tonight and make sure it's not dusty.
Know what you are doing for breakfast so it's not another thing to think about in the morning. Go simple - toast and coffee or cereal with milk. Those people with fancy casseroles ready to pop in the oven are fortunate not to have anything else to worry about, but breakfast is not the meal your family will remember in two days.
Check now to make sure you have coffee creamer, sugar substitute, milk - whatever your family likes in tea or coffee to cap the meal. And don't forget to check for fresh bread and mayo, and maybe lettuce, to make the perfect turkey sandwich about 9 o'clock tomorrow night.
Run and empty the dishwasher right now - not tonight ... right now.
One more thing: a glass of wine before dinner won't relax you. It will make you feel flustered and out of control when you least need that feeling. Of course, several glasses and you won't really care, although any displaced stress will probably come back with the memories of burnt turnip.
If you're feeling overwhelmed and have no energy left to think about starters and finishers tomorrow, I offer a couple of suggestions.
If you really want to serve a salad, pick up a couple of bags of pre-washed greens and make a vinaigrette. Toasted pine nuts or pecans, and maybe orange segments or pineapple tidbits and thinly sliced red pepper make a festive but easy combination. For an even simpler appetizer, open a couple of cans of smoked oysters, drain and put on cocktail crackers.
Don't worry if you just can't deal with dessert; put out a box of chocolates and no one will complain. If, on the other hand, you are totally out of your mind trying to come up with a last-minute sweet, I've got an option.
White Chocolate Holiday Fudge
Make this tonight and put it right on a fancy serving plate. Substitute any dried fruit and nuts you happen to like.
24 oz. good white chocolate, chopped
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tsp. orange liqueur (optional)
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup dried orange-flavoured cranberries
1 cup coarsely chopped pistachios
Line a 9-inch square baking dish with parchment paper, leaving it to hang out over the sides. Coat lightly with non-stick cooking spray. Stir chocolate into condensed milk and microwave on high in short bursts until melted and smooth. Stir in liqueur, vanilla, salt, cranberries and pistachios and pour immediately into prepared pan. Chill 2 hours and cut into small - and I mean small - pieces. Fruit jelly candies and figs would look perfect on the plate with this confection. And that's all you need to do.
Happy holidays to you all.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.