Should you wish to put yourself at even greater increased risk for pain and suffering, volunteer to host festivities. Your stress level could increase tenfold. Your consumption of chocolate and wine surely will. Entertaining is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. Fortunately for us all, whether you fall in the host or the hosted category, there are some things that can be done to mitigate the risks involved.
Kneale Ewing, licensed professional counselor at Improving Lives Counseling Services, Inc., specializes in areas of relationships, depression, and anger management -- all potential issues when one's family is involved. Ewing offered some tips for navigating even the most precarious of situations.
Many of the disagreements or uncomfortable situations that could potentially arise are due to an overall increase in stress during the holiday season making us more apt to be disagreeable towards the ones we love.
"People feel stress during the holidays because they want to present a certain image to their relatives and they often run out to time to complete everything on their list of what they want to accomplish. Other reasons people feel stress during the holidays include tight finances, spending time with relatives they find annoying and missing lost loved ones," Ewing said.
But we are not without hope, he reassured.
"Healthy ways to manage holiday stress include heeding the HALT acronym used in 12-step programs, which warns people of not becoming too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired," Ewing said. "People tend to think of special foods that they may eat only once a year during the holidays. However, making healthy eating choices is important in order to feel good and maintain overall health. Taking time to exercise during the holidays, when one's day is often different than the regular routine also helps people to manage stress levels."
If you've committed to hosting, don't freak out just yet.
Audrey Beckert, the wife half of the husband and wife co-owners of the much anticipated downtown destination Social Food and Drink -- soon to be at 624 S. Boston Ave. -- and overall catering and operations guru, has some tips.
"Don't do more than you really have time for. Nobody wants to come to your home and see you stressed. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help. Ask people to bring something, especially if they offer," Beckert said. "Be realistic in planning the size of your menu. As a host, realize that not everyone likes everything. Don't feel compelled to make every single guest's favorite dish ... People tend to bring what they think best represents them. Just be clear to outline who is bringing what so you end up with a well-rounded meal and not 10 different kinds of green bean casserole!"
So how much food should you prepare?
Audrey's husband and culinary co-conspirator, Chef Marcus Vause, recommended six to eight ounces of protein per person. "But buy a turkey twice as big as this figure," Vause said. "As the turkey cooks, it loses a portion of its weight in water, and a good amount is the bones. So you essentially yield 50 percent on a turkey."
And as for that Griswold Family Vacation moment when the turkey is on the table, is carved and then dries to a shriveling, hissing carcass, well, you want to avoid that. "Do not overcook the turkey," Beckert said. "Actually, Chef likes to cook the white meat separately from the dark meat, since the cooking times are so different. If you really want to have that big bird on display, roast it whole, but pull it out of the oven at 155 degrees Fahrenheit. It will keep cooking as it rests, at least 15 minutes. And it's important to let it rest, so the natural juices re-distribute and the meat is not dry."
As for sides, "People tend to eat three or four sides, but small portions," Vause said. "Bread or rolls, about 1-2 per person. If you have no self control and cook way too much, send leftovers home with your guests. Ask everyone to bring a container from home. Does everyone really eat dessert? We do, but hours after the actual meal. Sometimes the next day. We're usually already full when we sit down after cooking, as we've been tasting that whole time anyway."
In the event that you aren't exactly sure how to turn on your cook top and you've never opened your oven door, there is no shame in calling in the pros to cater your meal. In fact, if you transfer everything to your own dishware and stash the rest of the evidence in the garage, your family might be none the wiser. With the right caterers, not only can you kick back and let them handle the food, you can also let them handle the worry.
Having orchestrated hundreds of parties from a planning and catering perspective, Beckert has picked up some tips along the way.
"Establish a firm budget with your caterer from the start," she said. "Last minute changes are hard on everyone. If you have contacted your favorite chef, trust in him enough to allow him to wow your guests. It's his reputation that's on the line whenever he serves food. Any good caterer would never send anything out of their kitchen that was substandard."
Careful planning and preparation aside, things still might fall apart. Turkeys get dropped, relatives get tipsy, and someone breaks out with a peanut allergy. Things happen and you will survive. Take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember the reason for the season. Any catastrophe, whether culinary or otherwise, is always overcomable and most certainly makes for a great story to reminisce about when you all get together at Easter.
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