Saturday, September 20, 2014

Living the Pantry Lifestyle - Holiday cooking is just around the corner!

After mentioning that I was going to be writing about the beginning of the Holiday season, quite a number of people have said they didn't want to even think of it, yet.  And it is easy to put it off when you think of Christmas as being over 90 days away.

However, if you get paid once a week there are only 13 or 14 weeks before Christmas.  If you depend on a bi-monthly paycheck as so many do... there are approximately 6 paychecks until Christmas.  Monthly paycheck?  Well, you can do the math.

Which is why a very long time ago, I started counting paychecks instead of days or weeks until Christmas.  Then add the fact that most Holiday baking and shopping is done prior to the Big Day...

Which is why so many of us reach Thanksgiving and feel overwhelmed at the tasks in front of us, much less the budget.  So it may be a tad too soon for some to do gift shopping (although I tend to Christmas shop all year round since the Holiday season is also a big Birthday season in our home), it is not too early to start stocking the pantry.

The first thing I always do is to take the Index cards from the wooden recipe file box and peruse the pages of cookbooks for our most loved Holiday recipes.  I began to purchase extra butter, slip the boxes into Ziploc bags (a gallon size holds three comfortably) and place the bags in the freezer.

I watch for cream cheese to be at a good price as early as August since normally the use by date would be after December.  I still have not found a good sale yet but I check each week.  Other items purchased a little at a time that I always use... flour, sugar, honey, canned pumpkin, dried fruit of various kinds, bars of Crisco (I know, but when mixed with butter in the recipe it makes the best chocolate chip cookies!), ummm... chocolate chips, and a few other items unique to various recipes.

This is the time I always throw out the unused baking powder and purchase a couple new tins (even if we have not reached the use by date, yet... for it slowly degrades).  I check to see if the baking soda is fresh and any other ingredients I don't use often.  Although I keep the baking soda used for baking in a glass jar.

I read through all the recipes used during the Holidays, from October through New Year's Day to see if there is anything other than food items needed.  For instance, aluminum foil to cover the ham or turkey, parchment paper for the cookie sheet, gift bags for the cookies (should you use them), cupcake liners, candy liners, lollipop sticks, pretty sugar sprinkles, meringue powder, etcetera.

Whether you sip wine at special meals or sparkling cider, one can purchase a little at a time now.  I look for Holiday napkins, tablecloths, and such all year while thrifting.  As I do various Holiday decorations.  But there are times most people need to make a purchase for the table to look a special way or the front porch to sparkle.  Now is the time to think of those items.  For most stores have them available before November (for better or worse).

It is a very good idea to write out the menus for Holiday meals and any hospitality you plan to show now, before the true start of the Season.  For when you think it all through now, you are more likely to remember the more unusual items you may need.  For instance, that Bing Crosby Christmas CD you keep forgetting or a mix of tunes to download for a special Play List.

When my kids were still at home, I had a birthday just before (and sometimes on) Thanksgiving and one just after the calendar turned to December.  I now have a daughter-in-law with a birthday just days before Christmas.  So the budget needs to do some special planning!  As did the making of birthday cakes and seasonal goodies.

I love to do some autumnal and Christmas crafting as well as at times making the gifts.  Most of the gifts I give are baked goods and by shopping ahead for ingredients as well as ideas for packaging, the cost is never one large expenditure.

Jellies, jams, and many other food items can be created now.  I made vanilla extract one year and although the recipe said to give it only a few weeks to strengthen, I found it took much longer than that.  So starting early can be a good thing.

Needlework now?  Of course!  Creating Art early?  An excellent idea.  Getting the Christmas photo made while the leaves are in full color?  A beautiful idea.  Preparing a scrapbook ahead of time to be ready for photos in December?  A very wise idea.

Anything accomplished a little at a time... ahead of time... and spread out over weeks... will make your entire Holiday Season much less expensive (all at once) and less stressful.  And you will find yourself smiling as you listen to your favorite Christmas music while making cookies or quick breads or an afghan or basting the turkey.

The table will be set early with pretty dishes and sparkling candles and music in the background and nothing will be missing... because you thought ahead.

No running out at the last minute hoping to find a store open for that one ingredient you thought was on the shelf!  Because you wrote out your lists ahead of time and checked them not once but at least twice.  Checking off as you acquired (or had on hand) what was needed.

With your baking begun early and the freezer stuffed, perhaps you will be inspired to invite some friends over at the last minute or send a loaf of bread to the elderly neighbor.  Without stress.

And that is the real secret of why I like to think of Christmas while it is still September.  Less stress in November and December.  More Holly Jolly and morning quiet times by the tree.

So... how many pay days between now and the Big Holiday Days do you have?  It doesn't seem so far away now, does it?


Heather said...

I have already been working and planning for Christmas. We only have 5 paychecks left before then. The older I get the quicker it seems to come! :-)

Deanna Rabe - Creekside Cottage Blog said...

Yes! I love Christmas and for many years I have planned ahead. Mostly because I like to enjoy the season and not be too busy or too stressed. I plan and shop and prepare so that our family and guests can have an enjoyable time!

This year, I am on a tighter budget so the planning and gathering a bit at a time is so important. Also I am following the Trim Healthy Mama eating plan and so I am busy trying THM friendly recipes so I can have my holiday treats!

I love talking about the holidays! It's not a chore, or something to think of later. It's a joyous time of year!


Unknown said...

These are great ideas! Thank you for the reminders! I'm determined to have all of my Christmas gifts ready BEFORE December and now I'm inspired to get working on my menu also!

Vee said...

Well when you put it that way...paychecks until really is challenging. Yikes! I had my grands yesterday after school and for supper because their mom is organized and was off shopping for gal! I still am in the "I don't want to think about it" crowd. I always have been something of an ostrich. Thanks for starting me on the process...I did find butter on sale this week so that is one thing.

suzanne said...

The number of paychecks definately puts the reality of time into focus! Every year I promise myself that I will have ALL the Christmas shopping done by Oct.1. Ha! But..your blog post has given me a gentle reminder to get busy! Keep prodding and encouraging us, Brenda. I appreciate every word.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up. With the kids grown up and some of us on special diets, I don't do as much baking as I used to. Same with crafts.
Still- 5 paychecks. Yikes! said...

Oh yes, I agree...plan ahead!
I follow along with the organized Christmas group: with Cynthia Ewer. Most of the updates are sent on the 25th of each month, preparing you for the actual Day. She even has a house cleaning list!

Cheryl said...

Thanks for the nudge, Brenda! Family birthdays are frequent from July through the first of September...and then we "only" (ha!) have two or three per month until February, so if we don't get started early, December is cRaZy! Your suggestions are sensible and practical.

Anonymous said...

I have picked my recipes and started watching for sales. The other day I found canning lid at a really good price so i picked up 7 boxes. It's never to early to start planning for the holiday's. I have 2 scraves crocheted and working on another. Our budget is really tight this year.

Anonymous said...

Nice thought-provoking post ... you do have a nice way with words, my word-master friend! ; 0)

We have 3 pay periods until Christmas Day but only 2 until we actually celebrate with our children and grands as this year "our" holiday is Thanksgiving.

Pam (SD)

Sallie Borrink said...

I noticed that Meijer has started putting baking supplies on sale this week for those who are planning ahead. I'm expecting the shelving will expand upwards soon too. It always seems cozy when they expand the baking section in anticipation of the holidays. :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh Brenda, what a wonderful post. I'll be returning to read it is filled with so much sage advice! Thank you so much for sharing.