Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Would Someone Please Get Me Out of the Kitchen?!

this just speaks to me!

Is it just me, or do you feel like you are in the kitchen all the time? If you're not making something, you're cleaning it up, and then a small 2-legged creature under 42" whom we shall endearingly call a child ;) is in the kitchen again, rummaging around for something to feed his growing body.

With the holidays here and no extended family in town, feeding my family falls solely on me. I enjoy it, really I do. But sometimes preparing all these meals and snacks, plus extra baking for Christmas, gets quite overwhelming. For some mercy and advice in this area, I emailed Marybeth--a Southern cook who keeps quite busy feeding her family of 8.

Here is part of what I wrote:

I am reflecting on how to help next year's Christmas run smoother, mainly regarding all the food prep. We did not have any family in town, so it was just us (five of us, my three boys are under 5 so that in itself is busy!). I wanted to (and tried to) finish baking for neighbors (saving it for Dec. 23 and 24 was not the best idea). I planned to make appetizers for Christmas Eve dinner, and ham, cranberry fluff, hashbrown potato casserole from scratch (as in making my own hashbrowns), cherry cream pie, glazed baby carrots, and rolls. We had a sausage/pepper/cheese pie and Maple Apple nut bread for breakfast (which I did make the night before). Long story short, there was a lot of food prep and cooking; many, many dishes; and I found myself spending more time than I would have liked in the kitchen (and getting quite stressed about getting it all done and still enjoying time relaxing with my family).

I wanted to ask you--since you've been cooking and hosting longer than I--for your best tips on getting it all done and getting it done smoothly. I've heard for food safety, it is not a good idea to keep a dish longer than 3 days in the refrigerator, so it's a little tricky to make too many things too many days ahead of time. But how do you prepare your menu and prevent a major overhaul day in the kitchen?

If you were solely responsible for all the Christmas cooking, setting the table and cleaning up, what principles would you follow?

Preparing all the food takes a lot of time and hard work obviously! What tips have you found to get it done joyfully, and manage to also enjoy quality time with your family (instead of segregating yourself to the kitchen for several hours at a time)?
Here's what Marybeth said in response:
Cheryl, unfortunately I have no good tips for that... I find myself in the kitchen an awful lot during the days leading up to Christmas too! I think as women there is just no way around it. I try to take comfort in the knowledge that my kids will not remember all the gifts they got but they will remember my traditional foods I made year after year.

I would say simplify your menu some-- you don't have to have all those side dishes. On Christmas Eve we had meatball stew that I made that morning and put in the crockpot, some Sister Schubert's rolls and a brownie trifle that I made that afternoon. Everyone raved about the food and it was very simple to come home from church and serve quickly. So that's something to think about-- not doing so much and searching out simple alternatives. We did not do a meal on Christmas day-- we did do a big breakfast of egg casserole and cinnamon rolls. The rest of the day was leftover stew and some pasta I had made on the 23rd. The kids knew I was not cooking and was going to enjoy my day!!

Good advice!
All this brings me to the reminder of the once-a-month cooking festival right here on the 1st of every month. This month we'll be looking at ways to help get ourselves out of the kitchen for at least a few hours every day. :) We'll consider cooking co-ops: how do you start one, how do they work, and we'll also talk about ways to streamline holiday hosting. If you have any great tips, please let me know (ahem, Jodi!).

Happy New Year and see you January 1st!


  1. Nothing like being put on the spot, eh?

    As I have thought a little about this post, I think much has to do with perspective about our kitchens. For me, the kitchen area is my favorite place of the house. I know it's the one I am in most of the time, anyway. situation may be different from others. For one, it's open to 2 living areas. I can see front and back yard. My computer and desk are in in the kitchen, making multi-tasking very easy. I have a kitchen counter with stools so conversation with little (or big) people is very easy while I am preparing meals or cleaning up. I actually prefer to sit at the counter over a chair in the living area. Because of this (and probably my personality) I really do enjoy keeping it clean. It is sort of a haven for me. (Is that weird?)

    Most days it is not a burden to keep it cleaned the entire day. (Now the laundry room is a completely different story, right Liz?!).

    As far as "streamlining holiday hosting", I would suggest letting others help. Tonight is our annual New Year's Eve get together. I take care of paper products, drinks and a dish or 2, but everything else is brought by others. I think what Marybeth said is good advice about simplification, especially in these years that your children are so little, Cheryl. It has taken time for me to train my children to "help me in the kitchen", but also to "help me outside of the kitchen". This means not getting into something in another room while I am in the kitchen that creates a HUGE project for me later.

    I don't know if that answered your question fully, so come on over tonight, Cheryl, and we can chat :)!! Happy New Year.

  2. haha! I just read Jodi's comment. Yes, I am not a laundry kinda person. I feel like I am cleaning the kitchen all the time too! It takes discipline for me to clean up my mess when I make the mess. If I wait, it just gets larger, and I still have to clean it up! For holidays I make as much as I can ahead of time, ask others to bring other dishes. I dont think your ever going to get away from the mess! ha! I do have my kids help me with a lot of chores around the house, and they pick up their toys. Less work for me. If they want a treat snack then they better do their part!