If only each day between Thanksgiving and New Year's was 48 hours. But no matter how hard I wish for that, the days are as short as ever. Therefore, during the busy holiday season, we need to find other ways to squeeze in all of the to-do's with all of the merrymaking. Here are ways to maximize your entertaining impact with less effort - at least until the 48-hour day is invented.
Holiday Decorating Shortcuts
The purpose behind this list of shortcuts is to make you think about what you have around your home at the holidays, or what you can easily pick up as you run other errands while preparing for your party, and how they can quickly be employed as decorations before your guests arrive.
Easy Leftovers Centerpiece - I don't think we've ever brought home a Christmas tree that fits perfectly in our stand. Inevitably, my husband pulls out his trusty saw and cuts off enough bottom branches to make a tidy pile of tree trimmings. I pile those fragrant branches in a large, holiday bowl, spritz them daily with water to keep them fresh, and Voila! - instant centerpiece. Sometimes I'll dress them up with red bows, pine cones or small, shiny garland.
Low Tech Ambiance - There's nothing like the glow of candlelight to make you forget the glow of your computer screen. Suddenly, it's easy to tune out the beeps and messages calling from our electronic sidekicks when we focus on the soft glow of candles at the dinner table and the gentle illuminations of candles on the mantlepiece and side tables. The pace slows down, the conversation grows deeper, and suddenly your party feels extra special. If you have the funds to invest in special holiday candles, purchase them in red and greens for Christmas, or silvers and whites for New Year's celebrations. Group them together on a silver platter or mirror as a simple centerpiece. Purchase slow burning candles so they can be pulled out and reused at more than one party throughout the season.
Lots of Lights - It's a given that each year you'll discover one of your indoor or outdoor light strands need to be replaced (hopefully before you've decorated with them). When you head out to purchase replacements, stock up on mini twinkling lights that can be used indoors to decorate your party. Wrap them around your windows, your ceilings, your chandeliers, your centerpiece. The drama increases as the lights multiply around your party room.
Ornaments - This year, instead of hanging all of your ornaments on the tree, set some aside for an impromptu centerpiece. Mix colorful glass balls in a large clear bowl or tall glass vase. Add tinsel, beads, or garland to the mix for a very easy centerpiece.
Candy Shop Decor - It's easy to pick up a few bags of festive candy at this time of year. Red and white peppermints, candy in red and silver or red and blue wrappers will all look festive when strewn across your table as confetti, piled in tall vases, or mounded in silver or crystal bowls.
Veggie Toppers - Top your mashed potatoes with sauteed, diced red and green peppers for a festive touch.
Pepper Cups - Use red and green peppers as festive cups for party dips by cutting off the tops and removing the seeds and ribs. Place them snugly on a festive tray and fill with dips you were already planning to serve.
Red and Green Grapes - Just like peppers, grapes come in holiday colors! Fill a crystal bowl with these edible, seasonal accents.
Holiday Food Shortcuts
Half the Work, Double the Results - Weekends during the holiday season are often filled with back-to-back parties. You may host a Christmas tree trimming party on Saturday, then find yourself attending a Christmas potluck brunch on Sunday where you've been asked to bring a dish. Save time by doubling one of the dishes you prepare for Saturday, and save half of it to bring to Sunday's potluck brunch.
Freeze Your Cookies - Before the holiday season gets into full swing, bake and freeze holiday cookies that you can pull out a few hours before guests arrive. You can find time to pull things out of your freezer, can't you?
Make the Most of Convenience Food - There are plenty of convenience items at the supermarket that in no way sacrifice quality. You can purchase pre-cut vegetables of almost all varieties that can be used to create a delicious appetizer tray with dips such as hummus, or used in recipes to save you the time of prep work. Create a cheese board using delicious gourmet cheeses for the easiest of first course or dessert course offerings. Pre-cut fruit can be skewered with cheese for festive looking kebabs.
Hit the Olive Bar - If you have a gourmet market with an olive bar, look no further to put together an assortment of nibbles for a cocktail party or appetizer course. Olives, pickles, marinated artichokes, mushrooms are shortcuts without compromise. Add a tray of sliced, dried cured meats and it will be as good as if you had slaved for hours.
Use Pre-Made Shells - Both pre-made filo cups and pastry shells are a great base for appetizers and desserts that take slightly more effort such as filling a pastry cup with fresh fruit and topping with a dollop of whipped cream.