Monday, November 18, 2013

Because, Really, How Much Can You Eat, Anyway?

Pressure Busting Tip #16
For years and years my sister Patti, mother St. Patsy, and I used to hold what we called the yearly Bake-Off at my house during the first week of December.  I'd take the day off of school for it, and Patti would schedule her day off from the bank.  St. Patsy was just damn happy to be there any old day.  I'd get all my supplies out: cooky sheets, mixers, bowls, flour, sugar, nuts, and all the other necessaries the night before.  Patti and Mom would, too, but they'd pack them all up in boxes and load them into their cars.  They'd drive over to my house by eight or nine in the morning, and we'd start mixing dough for Christmas cookies.  Most times, one or all of us would have at least one type of cookie dough already mixed and ready to go into the oven.  We did not believe in wasting time, especially oven time.  All the batches were tripled, and all of us made whatever we wanted.  St. Patsy always made her more traditional Old World cookies, left over from the days of making Croatian recipes for Dad and the aunts.  We baked and mixed and talked and laughed.  We started having Themed Bake-Offs when we had one Bake-Off on Pearl Harbor Day.  One year, so many things kept going wrong, and we kept reassuring each other that "It was okay."  That was our Stuart Smalley Bake-Off.  We'd break at noon and I'd go get Chinese food for lunch.  And all along, we'd save the Mistake Cookies so that when Jared and Sam came home, they could have them for a snack.  We had a great time.

Little by little, life would get in the way.  Patti would have to leave early for an appointment or a kid emergency.  One year, I was too seriously ill to have the Bake-Off.  Another year, there simply wasn't a day we all could do it together.  Finally, we all realized that we were giving away the cookies instead of eating them.  None of us was really eating that many sweets anymore.  The Bake-Off days were, sadly, over.  Of course, the person that misses them most is St. Patsy.  But she really did used to make far too many cookies and nut rolls and poppyseed rolls and butterballs and nut horns and cheese rolls and...see what I mean?  And then Patti would make four kinds of cookies and I would make four kinds plus my Christmas cake and pretty soon it was Cooky Armageddon.  NO ONE can eat that many cookies, ever.  Plus Susan and her pastry chef husband Paul would bring approximately eleven thousand cookies as well. It was overwhelming.  And a little shameful.  Pressure Busting Tip #16 reminds me of the wise words of Coco Chanel who said, "The last thing you should do before you go out the door is glance back at yourself in the mirror and take something away."    Streamline and simplify your holiday meal, especially if it is a buffet.  I'm also going to steal a line from the movie Sabrina and say as a backup here, "Sometimes more isn't better; it's just more."  Stick with just a couple of tried-and-true, very good dishes, and add very little.  Once in a while, add back a heretofore missing dish, but take something else away.  People are there for the food, yes, but it's the fellowship, mostly.  They will eat, but not as much as you think.  Don't you always have plenty? Make easy things that are easy to keep warm or cold, easy to eat, and that you make well.  If anyone wants to bring something, and you'd be okay with it, tell them, "Bring your specialty! Or, just bring yourselves. I have everything. We're having a simple dinner."  Then do that, and enjoy it!

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  1. Very good advice. For Thanksgiving, we do the opposite. We have 2 turkeys, one for the 12 of us to eat, the other to divide up into leftovers. And leftovers going home need side dishes, right? It doesn't go to waste, because we eat the leftovers the next day.

    We also have cookie day...we bake and bake and drink wine and laugh, and when the sugar gets to be too much, someone runs out for KFC. It's maybe my favorite holiday of the year, because it's SO LOW KEY. Of course, we never do know what to do with all of those cookies at the end. Maya took some to her teachers last year, as Christmas gifts. I may do that this year, for family that lives far away. We don't tend to eat much of it ourselves. Though, some, definitely some.

    Ted's youngest cousin (he has a big family, and his 1st cousins range in age from 22 to about 60) is very sad this year. She's in her second year of graduate school in Los Angeles, and baking day is during finals. I wonder if we should push it back a bit, for her? Then again, that would mean it's after school gets out, so Maya couldn't bring hers to school, and I couldn't mail them to Alaska. What a conundrum.

    Your point, though, is a good one, even if we're clearly ignoring it around here. :)

  2. I am loving these November tips so much - but usually read them on the iPad where Google jerks me around when I try to comment.
    You are a star.

  3. Anonymous10:16 AM

    I agree with you and Sabrina. "Sometimes more isn't better; it's just more."

    I do much less for every holiday than I did even 5 years ago. At first I thought that it was because I was getting older, but now I've come to think that it's because excess exhausts me. Simplicity rocks.

  4. Now that my mom is gone the food insanity has mostly ceased for us. My dad's new wife likes to bake, but she doesn't get out of control. And of course I don't cook -ha!.

    My sister-in-law has inherited my mom's COOKIES & ALL THE THINGS mojo - but since I don't stay at her house it's not that big a deal for me (it's all about me - right?).

  5. Bug--Not cooking is still no excuse for No Cookies. Not with roll and bake tubes of sugar cooky dough. That stuff is pretty good and pretty addictive. But that's not a criticism. It's safer to be just the way you are!

    Ally--What a great comment, and I couldn't agree more. I find that the excess exhausts me too. I enjoy the initial luxe of Christmas and the opulence and bounty. But after the holiday is over, I crave the quiet simplicity of my home, back the way it was, and back to normalcy. I don't like all the indulgence and overdo, the glimmer and velvet. Once a year is more than ample.

    Mary G--Oh, you are such a dear heart. I love being anyone's "star." I'll bet you are already simplified, holiday-style. I had to take a long time and a lot of lessons from people far wiser than me to finally Get It. I hope I'm not telling Everyone things they all already know. If so, please be smug and treat them as Affirmations.

    j@jj--I think that you should ignore me as long as it works for you. Patti, St. Patsy, and I certainly did. We loved it and did it and had fun, fun, fun. Hell, we might just get together and NOT BAKE, just hang out, eat Chinese food, and relax at my house for the day! And...even when I went to Patti's for family Thanksgiving, I still roasted a turkey for us to have at home. Everyone loves turkey and stuffing and turkey sandwiches. But as long as it remains fun and useful and lighthearted, DO IT. When it stops serving a purpose or reeks of Obligation or a Chore, that's when it's time to re-evaluate.

  6. I have never participated in any of the epic cooking events, but they always sounded like a lot of fun. Your event sounded like it was amazing for many years. That's a great thing. I think this discussion also goes back to one of your other tips ... flexibility. When things no longer work we move on. My family makes far less in the dessert department than we used to and none of us feel deprived. Of course, that's probably because there are still plenty of delicious choices. ;-)


  7. Shirley--I think you're right. Things change; we move on. Memories are made and celebrated. It's all part of the holiday.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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