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Achieving Christmas Baking Success

Friends, if you don’t own any Post-Its, you better run out and get some if you plan on doing some Christmas baking. I don’t know about you, but I like having all the cookies and breads and fudge and whatnot when it’s Christmas season. I spread them to my neighbors and friends, so whether I actually host anyone or not it feels worth it. But, I have learned an important lesson since I had a kid – it has to be planned out. I can’t take fifty trips to the grocery store. I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to get to the oven when the timer goes off if my husband isn’t home. The mess is going to be, in a word, ginormous. So, if you are as obviously insane as I am, here’s my tips to getting your baking done:

Be organized.

Wondering what Post-Its have to do with baking? Well, after I pick what I want to make, I put a Post-It with a recipe name on a Tupperware container. When I get a chance, I start taking out my dry ingredients and measuring them for the appropriate Tupperware. If I’m lucky, I can get the amount of flour I need for each recipe in just one sitting, but if not, it doesn’t matter because I’m not cooking yet. Last year I did my ingredient sorting three days before I started baking, but you could take longer. The best part is you’ll know if you’re short on anything ahead of time and only need one trip to the store for forgotten items. It doesn’t work quite as well for wet ingredients, but it’s easier to eyeball vanilla and eggs than a bag of flour.

Don’t be difficult.

I mean, don’t pick things above your cooking ability! If you’re still at “easy,” then please, do not pick this particular extravaganza to up your game. It will only stress you out more.  Baking 5,000 cookies is stressful enough, isn’t it? Actually, even if you are a professional baker, would you really want to make a whole bunch of “difficult” recipes? I doubt it. Maybe one or two, but who has time for more? I like making multiple recipes because I’m insane (2 cookies, 2 fudge or brownie, and 1 bread), but there’s also the possibility of simply making a ton of one or two specific recipes. That’s actually my plan this year – I’m in a tiny kitchen at the moment, and I don’t know a lot of people here anyway, so I think it’s a good choice.

I also don’t recommend anything with frosting, unless you’re a pro. It’s just too time-consuming, so I definitely won’t add that to my list. I know there are so many options for frosting; here’s alternatives, here’s tips, here’s blah blah blah. There are so many recipes for cookies and sweets without frosting out in the world, I don’t know why a time-crunched person like myself would bother. If you’re looking for a new cookie, you can try my Lazy Cookies ‘N Cream Cookies. Yeah, the name is about as long as the recipe.

Don’t worry!

Christmas baking

So what if it takes you more than a day to get through your baking if you big? It might even take you another day or two to distribute the goods. Some of you perfectionists will worry about staleness, but how many recipients will eat everything at once? They will probably blame any staleness on themselves. How great is that? They’ll also be grateful that you thought of them, unless they know you are a terrible baker, in which case you obviously hate them. Kidding! I know it seems odd to let your recipients take the blame, but once you’ve finished, you have enough to deal with other than worrying. Look at your kitchen. It’s a disaster. You can clean that instead of thinking about the perfection -or lack thereof- of your baking. Of course, this is one caveat to this. Don’t serve stale baking at a party.

Don’t eat all your Christmas Baking!

Seriously, isn’t this the hardest one to follow? Now get out there and start baking!

Ugly Sweaters V. Tacky Sweaters

To Make a Tacky Sweater or buy an Ugly Sweater?

I can hear you already. No Beth! Not another tacky sweater party! I can’t handle it! Can’t we just wear something cute and be done with it? Well, sure. I’m not going to your party. I don’t care what your dress code is. I’m not even having an ugly sweater party myself, at least not this year. But there’s been a shift in recent years that’s driving me crazy, so I wanted to chat about it. Ugly sweaters have become tacky sweaters, and friends, I don’t have time for tacky. Literally, I don’t have time to make these crazy contraptions parading themselves as sweaters. So, humor me while I explain this evolution and which is easier for a time-crunched hostess.

The Ugly Sweater

When I first heard about an ugly sweater party, circa 2007ish, I was all in. The fad was a few years in, but it became trendy in Canada first, so cut me some slack. My friends and I had to throw an ugly sweater holiday party immediately.  We went on a sweater hunt to our favorite thrift store and in about thirty minutes we all came out with hideous, but amazing holiday sweaters. Now, thirty minutes may seem like a lot of time for a sweater hunt, but let’s be honest, there were five of us and we were in our twenties. We were easily distracted by other things the thrift store had to offer. I’d say thirty minutes is really a success. This is why I advocate for the ugly sweater over the tacky sweater, if you’re going to buy into this nonsense trend. It’s so much faster!

That’s the sweater I bought back in 2007. I still have it. Ugly right? Your great aunt Mildred probably turned it in to the thrift shop, but who can say for sure? Anyway, that’s another bonus to the ugly sweater. If you’re a costume hoarder like myself, you probably already have one. Do you think I’m ever going to find an uglier sweater than that? No! It’s an awful fabric with an awful color combination. It’s like the designer knew what it’s eventual purpose was going to be.  But, if I did want to go look for a new one, I’m pretty sure I could go down to Goodwill and find one in a matter of minutes, as could you. You might even need to head there anyway. It is Christmas after all. Donations run high this time of year. Now you’re done with your party prep. Easy, right?

The Tacky Sweater

Oh, the tacky sweater. How did it come to this? I admit, there has always been a crossover between ugly and tacky, but in recent years the tacky has soared to new heights. I don’t have one. I’m not going to make one. But I did borrow this image from my friend Allie, who was happy to share how ridiculous they’ve become:

tacky sweater

Do you see this? How do you even wear it? The worst part is this one isn’t even that crazy – and it still probably took awhile. And then if you’re hosting the party you still have to cook and clean and decorate? No thanks. Also, they seem a little wasteful, don’t they? I saw one a couple years ago on Live with Kelly and whoever else was hosting with a stuffed reindeer cut in half and glued on the front and back of the sweater. This is crazy to me. This could be a lot of fun if you aren’t time-crunched. I suppose you could even buy a whole bunch of supplies and decorate as a group, at the party. That might be an interesting take. But if you’re hosting it, just remember you get the cleanup.

The In-Between

There are, of course, ugly sweaters for sale just about everywhere. Here’s one on Amazon that crosses over between tacky and ugly. Tugly? I’ll work on it. The problem with buying ones like this instead of thrift store shopping is, obviously, the price tag. If your income is mostly disposable, this might be the way to go. It would be, in all honesty, the most time-saving. Ten minutes on your phone and bam! Your sweater is on the way, and you can get the fun of tacky with the real sweater feel.

To sum it all up, you have  few options in the ugly sweater department. The quickest way to go is to order it online. You don’t have to leave your house or get out the arts and crafts bucket for that. But, if you don’t want to spend the money on a sweater you can only guarantee you’ll wear once, the thrift store is going to be a lot less work than taking the time to DIY something so horrifying. Plus, what if all those lights and candy canes fall off your sweater and you have to do it all again next year? The horror! No matter what you choose, if you choose to celebrate the strange centennial creation that is the ugly sweater party, have fun, and look awful.

 

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Planning Parties Away from Home

I’ve lived in three different states in the past six years. That’s quite a bit of moving for a non-military family. As you can imagine, I’ve had plenty of friends come and go. But, my true friends and I will always be in touch. We try to get together at least once a year. That means that once a year, there’s a good chance I’m going to be hosting something in a place away from home. This might not happen frequently for you; maybe you and everyone you know live in one place, and it’s easy to gather at your home whenever you want. But there are still plenty of occasions to get out of the house, whether it’s to a restaurant or a rental house. When that’s the case, things can get…interesting.

Check out your Home Away from Home

I mean, check it out BEFORE you go shopping. This is pretty crucial. I’m going to use an example from when a bunch of friends and I stayed in the Smoky Mountains. Our first night I planned on having a big southern meal cooked up for everyone. They were all coming from much further away, so it made sense for me to get there first and be prepared. The problem was the house was really up in the mountains. We didn’t want to get up there, then have to come back down and go shopping, so we tried to do it all beforehand. It was not the best choice. We wound up missing all kinds of tools we thought the house would have, as well as a few crucial ingredients.

Luckily, in that case all our friends were arriving at various times, so we were able to send all of them to the store throughout the day before they headed up the mountain. It would have been a better idea for me to go first, see what we needed, then go shopping. Or, we could have had my husband stay down off the mountain until I could tell him what we needed. One other note about shopping – you’re obviously going to want the smallest size things you can get, since you’re either going to throw it away or have to drag it home.  So practice your recipes! Don’t waste what little you’ve got on a practice try.

You don’t know the kitchen

Remember this. I know in theory everything should cook the same, but we all know ovens are tricky. Things might take longer to cook than they do at your house – or they might burn! Elevation can change cooking times as well. Don’t stress about this , just remember you’re going to be even more frenzied than usual as you get to know your surroundings. If you’re really worried about elevation, you can check out this article for some help. As for oven times, you can always open it up and take a look.

Decorations mean cleanup

If you’re going to be decorating this joint, remember that you’re also responsible for cleaning it, and it will have to be done right away. You can’t leave it for a week like you could at your own house. I personally skip decorating, but a few signs might go a long way. If you have a couple of small chalkboards lying around, it wouldn’t take long to scribble something out. Plus it’ll be just as fast to load them up as it was to bring them out. No tape or tacks required!

Things will definitely be different when you host away from home, but it can still be really fun. I hope one day you get to try it!

 

 

MAN PARTY

The Difficulties of Throwing a Man Party

Have you ever had a hard time coming up with a theme for a man party? I mean, a party for an adult male. I have, and I know I’m not the only one. My husband notoriously doesn’t care about parties, doesn’t want to decorate for anything, doesn’t care if there’s a theme, and basically just doesn’t care what I do as long as there are people there he enjoys and food he wants to eat. So why bother with him at all? Well friends, he still wants to have a good time. He just doesn’t want to participate in planning it.

I personally love birthdays. I know they come around every year and every person has them, but celebrating anything is fun and birthdays allow each person one day to feel special. That’s why I make a big deal out of all my family’s, including my husband’s. Most of the time, we don’t throw parties; we go on trips. Those are fun too, and maybe I’ll talk about how to host a vacation sometimes, but until then, let’s talk about the years I do throw a party. Here are my basic rules for throwing a man party when you don’t have time to make everything perfect:

Cut the Decorations.

I will almost always cut the decorations before I cut anything else, but that’s especially the case in a man party. If you do decorate, your husband/boyfriend/brother/whoever is probably going to say, oh, that looks nice. But he won’t notice the painstaking detail you put into every single hand-painted plate or the three weeks of calligraphy chalkboard lessons you took. Here’s my decorations for my husband’s thirtieth booze an bacon party:

See that? That’s a bacon bouquet in half a wine bottle. Know how long it took me to do all of that? Not including cooking the bacon, ten minutes. (Here’s a good tutorial for the bouquet; I do the wine bottles the dangerous way with flames and nail polisher remover. I won’t be responsible for sharing that with you.) He loved it. He actually looked at it – and eventually he ate it. And I didn’t have to do anything else.

Man Party, Man Chooses Guests.

It’s the one time where you have to like his friends. You don’t have to invite the alcoholic one who’s going to hit on everyone then barf in your kitchen, unless he’s your husband’s best friend, but you should invite the ones he likes, whether you do or not. Don’t spend much time on this. Either get him to tell you the list or pick however many you need if it’s a surprise. But, the guest list is going to help you decide what comes next so it is important. Are these guys/gals gamers? Drinkers? Outdoorsmen?

Food, Drinks, or Activities?

Pick what’s most important to the guy and focus on that – for my husband, it’s always food or drink, but for yours perhaps it’s what you’re going to do at the party. Remember, I’m not talking about an offsite event here. I’m only talking about a things you can do at your house. Perhaps you have a cornhole set. Would it be more important that you set up a tournament, complete with brackets and trophies, instead of serving something time-consuming? Or would he be more insistent that you have a special whiskey cocktail prepared and he and his friends can deal with the cornhole on their own? Once you decide what aspect of the party is the most important, it’s time to focus. If it’s food, you probably have the most work ahead of you, so get started planning asap.

Focus on One Thing.

You know what’s the most important, so you work on that. Let’s go back to my husband’s thirtieth. I chose booze and bacon as a theme, but I don’t want you to think that I put a lot of effort into both food and drinks. We had Bud Light and whiskey in the alcohol department. That was it. My efforts were solely on food; it’s just that I put booze in the food. Here’s a little sample of my menu: beer-candied bacon, wine bundt cakes, BLT cups, and bacon whiskey brownies. I included links, but you’ll notice there’s no bacon in the brownie recipe. Just add chopped up, cooked bacon. Done. I think my next attempt is going to be barbecue based. Good grief does that man like barbecue. He’ll be so excited for that, he won’t care what he’s doing or drinking.

I imagine that most men will be similar to my husband; if you make their favorite party of the party the best part of the party, you can skimp on the effort everywhere else. Actually, most women are probably that way too – except you might also want to consider decorations, unless the woman in question is me. 🙂 One day, when your kids are grown up a little bit, or you’re no longer working 80 hours a week to become a partner, you’ll have time to throw a party that’s fabulous in every single way. Until then, pick what the gentleman likes best and work on that!