5 Time-saving Holiday Shortcuts
‘Tis the season for out-of-town guests, dinner parties ... and stressed-out women. But the holidays don't have to be the craziest time of the year. To help you breeze through the season, we asked a chef, decorating guru and stress-management expert to share their smartest and simplest tips. Not only will you look like the perfect hostess, but you'll do it all with time to spare.
Decorate in Minutes
Having a dinner party? There's no need to make a trip to the florist or to glue together an elaborate tablescape. All you need for a festive centerpiece is a glass garden cloche, a bell-shaped cover for outdoor plants that's sold in gardening stores, says Jenn Andrlik, holidays and crafts editor for MarthaStewart.com. Turn it upside down and fill it with it ornaments or pinecones from your yard. Then invert a plate over the open end and turn it back over.
If you have leftover [holiday decorations] or you're swapping in new ornaments this year, this is a nice way to still keep the old ones on display," says Andrlik. "You can put any holiday decorations you have laying around in there and make them look beautiful.”
Keep Candles in Storage
Mood lighting is a must at festive events, but candles can burn out early. Instead, swap them for vases or frosted glass cylinders filled with white string lights, suggests Andrlik. Place them on a table near an outlet, and run the cord over the back lip of the vase -- or out the bottom if there's a hole. (Always check the label first to ensure that the lights have been tested for safety.)
Overwhelmed by the number of people on your gift list? Save yourself a trip to the mall and give presents that come from your heart -- and your kitchen. Baking may not seem like a timesaver, but if you can take an afternoon to churn out a few dozen cookies, you've got gifts for the whole family, says Colleen Covey, a chef and recipe developer (and new grandma!) in Orlando, Fla. Just divvy them up into pretty containers."We call my husband the "Cookie Man'," says Covey. "He makes 60 dozen in a variety of flavors.”
No time to bake? Buy some premade biscotti."You can dip them in melted white or dark chocolate to make them more festive," says Covey, "then put a few in a clear gift bag and tie them up with a holiday ribbon.”
Jazz up Simple Ingredients
To avoid extra trips to the store, look for ways to get the most out of the staples on hand, says Covey. She swears by herbed butter: a mixture of 2 teaspoons parsley, 1 teaspoon thyme, 1/2 teaspoon rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon sage mixed into 1 stick of softened, unsalted butter.
Covey cuts off half of the butter and rubs it under and on top of the skin of a raw turkey. She rolls up the other half in plastic wrap (twisting the ends to seal it) and puts it in the fridge to harden. Slice it into coins, and use it to make simple dishes seem gourmet."Mix it into gravy, place it on top of mashed potatoes, or melt a little over grilled steak," she says. The butter will keep in the fridge for seven days or in the freezer for two months.
Sneak in Some Silence
Part of what makes the holidays so stressful is that they seem to whiz by," says Kate Hanley, founder of MsMindBody.com and author of The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide: 77 Simple Strategies for Serenity. The cleaning, traveling, entertaining and cooking can run together in a blur.
No matter how busy you are, you can create a sense of calm by spending five minutes in silence each day, suggests Hanley. It could be the cup of tea you drink before the kids wake up, or the after-dinner time spent admiring the night sky with the family."Your kids may only last 30 seconds, but you'll be giving them the opportunity to learn how to quiet themselves," she says. "It'll also give you some time to savor the good part of the holidays instead of zooming from one thing to another."
Photo: Corbis Images