By Amber Matheson
Mt. Rushmore has already seen snow this year, and my Pinterest feed is festooned with holiday decorations. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Are you ready?
- Set the mood. A lovely bed-and-breakfast owner I met recently signs her correspondence “with a sparkle.” The woman is renovating and running a small mansion, yet she’s always got that sparkle. Why? Because she’s having so much fun. She loves waking up at the crack of dawn to bake homemade pecan sticky buns, bicker with the contractor and repair broken coolers. Take a lesson from her: Set your attitude before you set your table. Pour yourself a glass of wine or a mug of tea, and try to enjoy preparing your home for the people you love and the events you’re anticipating.
- Audit your spices. This one is like taking a trip around the globe without leaving your kitchen. Settle in and open each of your spices. If you can’t smell them, toss them.
- Ditch expired food. After you’ve reacquainted yourself with that cache of cinnamon sticks you forgot you had, move on to the rest of your edibles. Clean out cans and boxes long past their prime, then take 10 minutes to clear out your freezer and fridge. When considering what to toss, ask yourself this vital question: “Would I rather have room for leftover pecan pie, or save this mysterious casserole of unknown provenance?”
- Prep your servingware. If your china or good flatware only graces the table a few times a year, chances are it’s spending the other 360 days gathering dust. Literally. Pull out your prettiest pieces to clean and shine now, before that dark day comes when the guests have arrived — and you can’t find grandma’s antique gravy boat (the horror).
AT THE STORE
- Commit to the thermometer. So you’ve always meant to buy an oven thermometer and double-check that your oven heats up properly, but you’ve just never gotten around to it? Make a deal with yourself: While you’re at the grocery store, buy the thermometer and a package of break-and-bake cookies. Use the temperature check as an excuse to bake and eat most of them before your family finds out.
- Stock up on baking staples. Whether you’re reading this in October or next July, now is the time to stock up on baking supplies (unless your tendencies lean mostly toward break-and-bake, I suppose). Butter can be frozen, and most pantry staples last a year. You’ve cleaned out the old, now bring in the new before the baking aisle starts to look like the baggage claim at O’Hare Airport.
- Remember the non-food necessities. Check out this great list from This Old House. More people and more food means more storage and more cleanup.
- Go semi-homemade. Stock up on some easy-to-serve snacks for impromptu guests; if you don’t have time to make these amazing Barefoot Contessa crackers from scratch, your friends and family will be just as happy noshing on store-bought munchies that you’ve stashed in your pantry.
THE FINAL TOUCHES
- Do a dry run. Go wild: subject your holiday guests to brand new recipes straight from your test kitchen. Or be a polite host and cook new dishes ahead of time to ensure everyone actually enjoys the meal.
- Steam and sanitize. You’ve sorted and stocked, now make your kitchen shine. Use the SteamScrub 2-in-1 to clean the most neglected corners and attack the nitty-gritty areas of your stove.
- Enjoy your company. Remember, these people like you. They’re your friends and family. Spend a little less time trying to impress them, and more time enjoying the time you’re spending with them.