As I write this, it is December 23rd. People will be here for Christmas in T minus18 hours, and I’m not doing anything about it. Looking around, there’s the basic clutter like always, but the whole place needs to be swept, mopped, vacuumed, straightened, washed, dried, and organized. I want the visiting family to be comfortable and have a good time, but I am Christmas-ed out.
I didn’t buy a tree, and I don’t plan to, even though I saw them for $10 at the store. We didn’t put any lights up outside. I have a wreath on the front door, but there are still skulls on the mantel from Halloween.
All my neighbors have lights up, some to the point of ridiculousness. TONS of my friends, even the single ones, have been mailing me Christmas cards. I just don’t know what to think about all this. Hubby and I have the most thoughtful, caring friends in the world, who have sent us gifts I didn’t expect, but completely love. I generally love Christmas, but for some reason this year I just want it all to be over.
Every year the Christmas season starts earlier. Right after Halloween now, stores have all the Christmas stuff up. Wait guys, there’s still Thanksgiving, remember? But no, they want to work us into a buying frenzy NOW, so we all feel like we’re getting a jump on it. When we start stressing and freaking out so early, it’s no wonder I’m sick of Christmas by the time it gets here. I know I’m not the only one. I heard someone at the store today on her cell phone say “I’m so over Christmas”, and it’s sad, because it should be about spending time with family, instead of dragging my ass all over the city looking for gifts for people. This is the one time of year we are all pretty likely to have coinciding time off. Let’s use it to chat, drink beer or cocoa, and watch movies or sit by a fire.
I have no idea what anyone owns, wants, or needs. I barely remember what I already own. I would almost rather hand out cash at Christmas because I know for sure it would get used. I love giving handmade gifts, but afghans take forever to make, and guys don’t generally wear jewelry, so it’s not a perfect solution. Plus, that’s like handing someone a baby of mine. How do I know they’re going to care for it properly?
I hate what Christmas has become; not just the complete and overwhelming commercialization, but the constant mental battle of “Will this be adequate for what that person is likely to get me? Is this an equal gift among the siblings/spouses/parents/etc? What about this person? I don’t like them, but they’ll be there and I haaaaavvee to get them something.” It makes me want to go to Europe so no one ever has to buy me anything ever again, and vice-versa.
Right now, I need to go lay down with a heating pad on my neck, because I woke up with a horrific crick in it which is making me hold my head funny, so it’s making the other side hurt too. To any of you who maybe coming over tomorrow: if the house isn’t clean, at least it will smell good, because I’ll be making a ham. If you want ham, you will keep your mouth shut about any mess. That’s right, I’m holding the ham hostage to guarantee good behavior!
I’m sure most of you have Thanksgiving plans in place by now, and if you’re the one in your family saddled with creating a feast, do I have a treat for you!! I made Christmas dinner for my family last year (albeit just 6 of us), and I would gladly do it again, it was so simple. My trick? Forget the turkey. That’s right!! They take forever to cook, never get even halfway eaten, and are (from what I hear), a pain to make. Why do I need to get up at five a.m. and baste the thing all day, when not much of it will get eaten, and I’ll be stuck with tons of leftovers I’d rather not eat?
Do we have a vegetarian Thanksgiving? Not by any means, but that’s not a bad idea. I just buy a fully cooked ham and heat it up instead. Ham stays moist, and is super popular in my family, plus the leftovers can be used in thousands of ways. Why be chained to tradition? If your family prefers brisket, or tofu, or deer meat, make that. There is no point to wasting a bunch of time and effort to cook something everyone feels obligated to eat, but would prefer not to. Of course, if your family likes turkey, buy a fully cooked turkey, and then follow the rest of my lazy-feast instructions.
There are tons of side dishes that are fantastic for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any pot-luck event, that are simple to make and super popular. If you’re having a vegetarian feast, most of these should still be right up your alley.
1) Green bean casserole: This simplest, yet most iconic Thanksgiving recipe. Go to the store. Buy 2 cans of green beans, 1 can cream of mushroom soup, and one large can of those french fried onions (which will usually have the recipe on the side of the can). Drain the green beans, mix in a bowl with the cream of mushroom, and about 2/3 of the fried onions. Hide remaining fried onions from spouse, as he regards them as a snack food. Buy more fried onions, after spouse has discovered can with blood hound-like accuracy. You can mix in a half cup of shredded cheese also, if spouse has not eaten all cheese in existence. Pour into a baking dish and smooth out with a spatula, then bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Pull the casserole out and scatter about 1/3 of the fried onions on top, and put it back in for 5-10 minutes, so the onions on top get golden. Retain any remaining fried onions to bribe spouse into doing manual labor, such as taking out the trash, or rearranging furniture. (After I read this aloud to Hubby, he laughed and said “Now I want fried onions”).
2) Stuffing – Yes, I use the box stuffing. I make it more realistic by sauteing celery and onions in butter and mixing them in, and using real chicken broth in the recipe. If you’re making it vegetarian, you can buy vegetable broth in the soup section of the grocery store, which will work well instead of chicken broth. If you have one of those family members who is picky about stuffing, ask if they would like to contribute theirs to the meal. These type of family get-togethers are often pot-luck, so it’s not unreasonable to ask someone to bring something. If you’re like me, you probably dread hearing complaints from That Person, so this can be a way to bypass any difficulties.
3) Sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes – to me, these things are kind of redundant, but some people get all antsy about having both. I almost never partake in sweet potato casserole, and I don’t get the point. Why take something as delicious and naturally sweet as sweet potatoes and add marshmallows and brown sugar and all that crap? I mean, sweet is in the name. But, whatever people want. You’re going to have to google that one. Last year, boxed mashed potatoes were requested, so that’s what I made. I love that my family is as accommodating of laziness as I am! You can use real potatoes, heavy cream, and loads of butter, or you can use this healthier alternative I got from the South Beach book. You take a whole head of cauliflower, clean, chop, and boil it until it’s mushy. Drain it well, then blend it smooth in your food processor. Use Land ‘o Lakes fat free creamer, and the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter spray, salt and pepper to flavor it. It comes out super creamy, and buttery tasting, but is much healthier for you. Hubby even likes this, and he doesn’t like cauliflower. It does not taste exactly like mashed potatoes, but it’s really good, and substitutes just fine for me.
4) Cranberry Sauce – canned is the preferred style in my family, but you can buy the bag of raw cranberries in the produce section at your grocery store, and it has the directions on the bag. This is a very cheap recipe, since it’s mostly just the cranberries, and some sugar, and it can be impressive to see homemade cranberry sauce on the table. Maybe it will distract from the box stuffing? The problem is it makes a LOT of this stuff, and honestly, it’s not all that popular, at least with anyone I know. Be prepared to have cranberry banana smoothies for a week or so after the holiday. The plus side is that cranberries are really good for you.
5) Gravy – If you aren’t making any meat, you probably don’t want gravy anyway. I’m assuming that most of the packet kinds have some meat products in them as well. The way we make gravy here in the south, is with some kind of meat dripping usually, so a ham is the perfect way to start gravy. For southern cream gravy, take the pan you made your ham in, and pour any drippings into a small frying pan. You can also add some pieces of fat from the ham to this, and saute it a little. If you’re making a turkey, I think this is where you use the bag of organs from inside the bird, like the kidneys and stuff. You may have to call an official grandma for that one. Once your drippings are boiling somewhat, scatter some flour into it. You want to scatter it as finely as possible to avoid clumps. I usually dust flour across the pan with my left hand, and stir the pan constantly with a whisk in my right hand. Remember to make the gravy thinner than you’ll want the final product to be, because it will thicken once it cools a bit. Add milk slowly, and continue stirring, letting it boil and thicken again. I usually end up tasting my gravy dozens of times, and adding garlic salt and pepper for flavor. If you don’t have any drippings or fat, you can use beef broth to start off. It’s easiest if you use bullion rather than canned broth, and make it at least double strength, so the flavor will be stronger. I haven’t tried this with vegetable broth yet, but they do make vegetable bullion, so it could be feasible. I’ll have to try it sometime.
6) Rolls – I LOOOOVE homemade bread, but I sadly have no idea how to make anything decent. I do have a recipe for beer bread which is pretty good, but not exactly Thanksgiving-y. I’ll probably write a post for that later. Since that’s the case, you can either rely on your own abilities, pawn it off on a family member, or buy some at the store. I usually get that Mother-o-Mine to make her yeast rolls, but otherwise I get some from the actual bakery at the store. I’m not really a fan of the frozen ones, and the pop cans ones don’t fit in with Thanksgiving, at least in my mind. Most of the people I was feeding last year are fairly carb-conscious, so not providing rolls was the perfect solution. I didn’t have to do extra work, they didn’t have to struggle with the temptation of my fantastic cooking, and I didn’t have tons of leftover bread products that would have led to my pants hating me.
7) Desserts – I know desserts are pretty iconic for this time of year, especially pumpkin pie, and pecan pie in the south. Unfortunately, I am dessert disabled at this time of year. I don’t like either of those things. I know! ME!! Turning down desserts! No, the world is not ending, hell has not frozen over, and pigs are not flying. Pumpkin pie has never tasted like anything but dirt to me, and I don’t like pecans, or really any nuts at all (that’s what she said), so I generally ignore the dessert table at family gatherings. I do like apple pie, which is appropriately traditional, and you can follow my recipe here, substituting apples for peaches. Just make sure to peel your apples, cut them into bite sized pieces, and coat them in cinnamon and sugar, vanilla extract, and maybe a little nutmeg.
Any type of assembly of family can lead to stress, unless your family is super-fantastically-sweet, in which case you are either lying, or too dumb to notice all the drama going on around you (just kidding! You were probably raised by a family of elves). Cooking for any number of people can be stressful by itself, and more so if you’re worried about complaints, or dissatisfied family members. Avoid as much drama as possible by sticking to what you know, and getting other people to contribute. There’s no reason why you should be the only one to shoulder all the cost and stress of the event, plus having to clean and organize your home. Maybe ask people if they want to bring something, without pressuring them, and many people will even offer without prompting. If there’s someone who can’t cook at ALL, maybe they can bring salad, wine, or a veggie tray, or anything your were going to buy at a store anyway. If Grandma always makes her super-delicious stuffing, ask if she’d like to bring it over. One less thing for you to plan and purchase will make a big difference to your stress level, and also prevent any “Where’s Grandma’s stuffing?” type issues. The less stress you have now, the more you can tolerate at Christmas. Or just start drinking now. Don’t forget that if you are going to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving, they would probably appreciate the reduced stress of you bringing something as well. I usually bring lots of alcohol, or just do several shots before arriving. Trust me, it makes life easier. Happy Holidays!