It’s really great to be alive at this time of technological breakthroughs, tremendous convenience, and working central heating! We have a lot to be thankful for and yet I see the stress on the faces all around me. For every smile there’s at least one frown. Some people truly delight in this time of year, they thrive on the planning and the busyness of the season. They appear to love the anticipation of friends and family during the festivities. For others it’s just a downright hassle. To the latter group I say “Let go and just make it easy on yourself this year. There are plenty of ways to do it”.
There are so many ways to simplify and enjoy and the first is to buy in what you need. I would urge everyone to take a look at www.jameswhelanbutchers.com or drop into the store to see how we can help you alleviate the stress. Besides looking after much of your own in house needs you could also do all of your Christmas shopping with us. From cookery books to jars of sauces, from vouchers to beef bonds – we definitely have something for everyone and a food gift is something everyone loves.
Food gifts are always welcome. I can’t help but notice that all over Ireland we’ve tended to suddenly embrace a more European vibe and approach to Christmas. Let’s face it, as the Celtic Tiger was roaring we leaned more towards the American Model. Year on year housing estates resembled the feverish lighting schemes of the hilarious National Lampoons’ Christmas movie as neighbours everywhere wanted to have the best dressed house. The downturn made us turn away from the more garish, we pared back the lights and the electricity bills to a more modest and pleasant appearance and turned to our European counterparts for inspiration. It wasn’t long before ‘European like’ shopping villages started to spring up everywhere in December. There’s not a town or a village in Ireland these days that doesn’t have some sort of Christmas festival and I think it’s marvelous.
Probably one of the bigger ones is Waterford’s Winterval. I popped down over the weekend and it really has grown over the past three years. There is a lovely buzz in the city with the bells of the Winterval train and the clip clop of the horse drawn carriage adding tremendously to the sound effects on the streets. While we still have a little bit to go to match the wonderful street food found in other countries there was plenty to try and taste on the streets of Waterford. From sweet things like cupcakes and cheesecakes to savoury sausages served in crusty bread. There is something magical about eating steaming food in the frosty air while soaking in the aromas of smoke and spices. The sauce dripped down faces and landed on scarves and gloves, but nothing that a proffered wet wipe couldn’t handle.
It got me thinking that if great and tasty food can be prepared in a tiny hut on the side of the street, then really we can keep things simple at home too. From food gifts to our own menus the key is definitely in stocking up on ingredients. Have lots of bread, sausages, cold meats, chutneys, spices and cheeses in the fridge and plenty of lettuce, spring onions and tomatoes to hand and you can have a rustic feast in an instant. It really is all about being organised ahead of time. There’s still time to make this the best Christmas ever. Here are my top tips.
- Don’t overcook the Turkey! It is the number one problem with Christmas cooking every year. If you bought your turkey from James Whelan Butchers then we will have inserted a little disposable thermometer in the bird. When this ‘pops’ your turkey is perfectly cooked. If you don’t have this advantage, buy an inexpensive meat thermometer. You will use it all year round and it will become one of your best tools for cooking any kind of meat or poultry. By all means follow guidelines on how to cook a turkey but the turkey is done when the internal temperature reaches 75 degrees C. Test the temperature by plunging the meat thermometer into the thigh of the turkey. Remember cold turkey and recipes for using it will be your best friend in the days after Christmas.
- If you are using recipes, and particularly ones that you aren’t overly familiar with. Gather them today! Get them all in the same place and read them over twice. Make sure you have all the ingredients necessary and ready to go.
- A friend of mine uses Post It notes when doing a lot of cooking. It’s a great idea. If you have different dishes at different times sticking little post it notes around you while you cook can be a really handy reference. My one rule is to remove all Post Its during clean up. Do not start another day’s cooking with old Post It notes still on the wall – it could lead to a mix up.
- Don’t put yourself under too much pressure. People need well cooked and tasty food. They do not need your failed attempt at being Nigella Lawson. Also don’t be a perfectionist! While this is similar to being over ambitious; there are subtle differences. Perfectionists are usually quite capable individuals but they tend to set the bar very high……for themselves. Tell them they have prepared a wonderful meal and they’ll lament the fact that the carved tomato was a tad uneven! Stop it.
- Use the internet. While I know everyone doesn’t have access, many people do. You can do plenty of research on line – there are literally thousands of tips, recipes, hints, how to lessons just waiting for you. Our own website is also great resource.
- You can only eat the same amount on Christmas Day as you can any other day of the year!
- Make time by planning. Twenty minutes spent making a plan for Christmas Day and any cooking on Christmas Eve will buy you hours – trust me. Whether you write a list or make a work of art with arrows and coloured pens or create a maze of Post It notes on the wall – a plan is a plan and it will help organize your mind as much as your time. It is very calming.
- Today, sort out the fridge. Just do it. Know what’s in it; lurking at the back and in the drawer. An organized fridge will lead to an organized mind. Do the same with the main food cupboard. It’s really not as bad a job as you think.
- Delegate. While you can get help from all the family I would also say let your butchers and local shops do as much work as they can to ease your burden. Value is not just about money. Often it is false economy to try and make everything from scratch. Do what you can and buy the rest! There are great deals to be had out there and don’t miss them.
- ENJOY! Don’t get stressed and remember what it is all about – spending time with family and friends while sharing good grub and warm drinks of all kinds. Whatever you do, keep it simple.
Enjoy & Happy Christmas.
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Food Market Monkstown, Rathcoole & Kilmacanogue. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers