My Mother always said that Christmas would be easy if we didn’t have to eat in the weeks running up to the big day.
As I prepare for Christmas I often think about that – because of course, like all Irish Mothers, she was completely right. Is there anything more stressful than having to make a week of dinners when you’re completely focussed on keeping the cat out of the Christmas tree?
We’ve all seen the Christmas meltdowns – mountainous supermarket trollies at the check-out; wailing kids; stressed parents; Christmas shopping lists longer than War and Peace – hell, maybe we’ve even been the ones having the meltdown!
Well no more! Let me share my cunning scheme for making the Festive season a little more, well, Festive. Even if you only do some of this, it will take the pressure off next month.
Many years ago I had an idea in the middle of the night : What if I stocked up enough store-cupboard and freezer goods to see me into the middle of January?
Well, I thought about it; I tried it; it worked; and so, I kept on doing it, from that day to this. And it may well work for you too!
I’ve been doing this in November for years, and of course, this was long before you could order on-line or do the self-scan business! I know that delivery slots close to the big day fill up at lightning speed, but you should be able to get your ‘dry-goods’ delivery in November no problem – so get writing those lists!
If all goes to plan, then all you’ll have to buy during December is the fresh stuff.. Oh, and decorate the house, buy the presents, put up the tree, wrap the presents, make the dinner, attend Christmas plays, keep the cat off the tree.. need I go on?
Thankfully though, you’ll already have the cupboard ingredients where they belong – in the actual cupboard. Add a few already-made dinners in the freezer, for relaxed dinnertimes coming up to the big day.
First of all, you’re going to need space for all this stuff. How about these ideas? :
- You could try clearing a cupboard – I managed to clear a shelf in my tiny utility room last week. I’m pretty sure I won’t need those sun creams in November.
- Have you got a garage? Or a shed? – Tinned and dry goods will be fine out there for a few weeks – I use those large plastic storage boxes with clip-on lids, so no inquisitive wildlife can ruin my master plan. It’s really well worthwhile investing in/borrowing one or two (or reusing ones that hold the decorations)
- Have you got a cold back doorstep? – My back door faces North – it means my kitchen is freezing, but the doorstep comes into its own in the winter months – for well-wrapped vegetables, mineral water and even wine!
- Clear out your freezer. This has two advantages: firstly, you get to use up most of the meals that you’ve forgotten about. Try not to feed the family any antique food – if it’s more than 3 months old, get rid of it. Secondly, it leaves you space for new stuff! What could be better?
- Remember that stuff like toilet rolls, tissues etc. will live happily at the back (or on top) of the spare-room wardrobe, under beds, or in the cupboard under the stairs, until they’re needed.
When you’ve arranged space for your stockpile, you need to sit down and write a list – well ok, it’s not ‘a’ list, it’s a collection of lists. The on-line shopping lists can often help to remind you of things that you need too.
I’ve found that it helps to walk around and take a quick note of everything that’s in each kitchen cupboard. Then do the same for the bathroom, living room etc. I bought a cheap and cheerful notebook in Ikea, and I keep all the notes from one year to the next, crossing off things like nappies as the kids grew up /
- Think: Tinned food – tomatoes, beans, coconut milk, condensed milk..
- Think: Staples – tea, coffee, sugar, breakfast cereals
- Think: frozen food – petit pois and other veggies, garlic bread, ice-cream, frozen nibbles, ice cubes.
- Think: dried goods – rice, pasta, herbs, spices
- Think: paper goods – toilet rolls, kitchen roll, baking parchment, tin foil
- Think: cleaning products – bleach, washing powder, washing up liquid, dish-washer tablets, furniture polish.
- Think: condiments, sauces – Oil, tomato ketchup, mayo, maple syrup,
- Think: drinks – oh, I’m going to leave this one to you 😉 – but don’t forget mixers, fizzy water, etc!
- Think: Christmas-specific items – Trifle sponges, Bought mince-pies, puddings or cakes. Selection boxes, new twinkly lights, industrial quantities of batteries – all sizes (although I’ve started using rechargeable ones – I hope they’re better for the planet), cellotape, candles, Christmas crackers, seasonal sprinkles for cakes.
- Think: Entertaining – paper napkins, frozen nibbles, cocktails sticks, glasses, plates.
- Think: Baking – Dried fruit; flour, all kinds; icing sugar, baking powder, etc. Read your recipes to make sure you’ve got all the ingredients for baking cakes etc.
- Think: Fridge – butter, fresh stuff like Mascarpone, Yoghurt, Crème Fraiche – see if you can get long dates for coming up to Christmas, then replenish a week or so before the big day.
- Think Practical: Prescription medicines, headache tablets – you just might need them 😉 – petrol in the car, de-icer, firewood, fire lighters, matches, batteries (again)..
Just add your own topics, everyone’s Christmas is different
Other things you can do in November:
- Do a massive run to the local – ahem – Civic Amenity Centre, aka The Dump – and recycle as much as you can – old batteries, cardboards boxes, bottles and glass jars etc.
- Make or buy your Christmas pudding/ cake /mince pies
- If you make your own mince pies, freeze some so that you don’t discover on Christmas Eve that everyone’s eaten the ones you made. (I’ve been there..)
- If you buy your baked goodies, hide them in a cool spot, where the hungry hordes won’t think to look for them. Or, if you’re like me and have ZERO willpower, buy the sweetie stuff now, while it’s in stock and possibly reduced, and leave it (safely wrapped) in a trustworthy friend or relative’s garage.
- Think about or write out your menu. Have a look and decide what you can do to get ahead. For instance, every year I do Jamie Oliver’s Christmas gravy – or an approximation of it: https://eatingforireland.com/recipe/christmas-gravy-the-get-ahead-recipe/ towards the end of November, and it’s very nice to think of it sitting in the freezer, waiting for its moment of glory on Christmas day.
- Do you have soup as a starter? Is it the sort of soup that freezes well? Then get to it..
- Hit a couple of local Craft fairs and stock up on hand-made presents and cards. **Having first checked to see what you already have! **
- Decide when you’re going to put up your tree.
- Take a trip to buy present essentials such as wrapping paper, cellotape, gift bags, tags, ribbon. Check again to make sure you don’t have the world’s largest collection of present bags (I’ve been there too.)
- Buy stamps for posting cards. Or think about doing a hand-delivery run for the locals.
- Start planning your social events – you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself! Make time for the Christmas Market, the school play, taking a frosty walk – these are the things you – and the kids – will remember.
Check out Eating for Ireland for all your go-to Christmas recipes. I’ll be posting links to some hopefully useful blogs on a regular basis between now and Christmas week. Check out my everyday recipes as well for great Winter dinners for family and friends.
Most of what I’ll be talking about is already on the site, so give yourself what I call a ‘happy half-hour’ having a look and hopefully getting some ideas. We’re all in this together – and don’t forget – keep breathing!
Welcome to November!