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The Blonde Cucina: Eliminate Some Holiday Stress With These Tips

by and on December 30, 2014 3:45 PM

Holidays can be stressful.

I know with owning my own restaurant I'm already busy as it is. Then, I realize that I have to do shopping, decorate my restaurant and home, bake cookies and snacks, wrap gifts, attend holiday parties, and, most importantly, plan what type of food everyone will want to celebrate the holidays.

I don't know about everyone else, but this pushes me into panic mode, and not all of us have access to the "bat signal" to indicate we need help. I'm sure if you think about it, at one point during every holiday season there is that one thing you can pinpoint that pushes you into stress mode. And, we all know everybody has their own holiday horror stories.

I'm here to give you some tips on how we all can keep those holiday horror stories in the past. I'm also going to tell you about some snacks, drinks and other items to have in your arsenal that will guarantee you have a fun and stress-free holiday.

■Tip 1: It's perfectly acceptable to purchase cookies.

Take your holiday to-do list and prioritize. Decide what you want to do and can do, then accept what you, unfortunately, won't get done.

Know that it's perfectly acceptable to buy cookies. You can make some and buy some, if you want. You wouldn't believe the delicious cookies you can whip up with that pre-made cookie dough from the grocery store. Honestly, folks, that's what I do — I make and I buy. You wouldn't believe how your stress level goes down with this one little tip.

CIARA'S GO-TO HOLIDAY COOKIE BAR

1 box cake mix with holiday sprinkles

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 egg

1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk

1 cup white chocolate chips

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a 9 by 9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Set aside.

Using an electric mixer, beat the cake mix, butter and egg together on medium speed until a thick dough forms.

Press about two-thirds of the dough into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle with the white chocolate chips. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top. Separate the remaining dough into small balls and evenly space over the top.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until they just begin to brown. Cool overnight.

■Tip 2: You don't need a four-course meal —snacks are better and easier anyway.

You had that huge meal at Thanksgiving, and you need to make time to visit with people, open gifts, and, sometimes, travel. This is why snacks are better. They transport more easily, are much, much quicker, and people secretly love them more than a big meal.

Remember to let the grocery store and restaurants help you. I have people ordering appetizer and sandwich platters to help supplement what they made themselves. Once again, it reduces that pesky holiday stress level.

Here is one item you can make that is easy and that people will love.

HOMEMADE BEEF DIP

1 small jar dried beef
1/2 pint sour cream
8-ounce package cream cheese
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons green pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Put all items in a food processor and mix until combined. Transfer to serving bowl and chill for 2 hours.

Super simple and everyone will ask you to make it over and over!

■Tip 3: Make it fun for the kids.

Embrace the holiday energy and excitement children give off. It truly will get you through the holidays.

Make time to do something with your kids. These fun, exciting things are honestly what you're going to remember and what they will bring up years from now.

With my restaurant and the holidays, I really thought I didn't have the time, but, when it was my daughter's turn to bring the snack to preschool, I included her in the process and made it a holiday-themed treat. It was so simple and so fun!

SNOWMAN POPCORN CUP

Styrofoam cup with lid

Premade popcorn

Black permanent marker

Orange and pink crayons

Draw a cute little snowman face on the cup. Place the popcorn in the cup. Put the lid on.

How simple, right? My daughter loved making the faces with me and it took hardly any time at all. You always want to look for those fun and simple activities that have the biggest "wow" factor.

■Tip 4: Make it fun for the adults.

You don't need to have a fully stocked fridge overflowing with every type of soda, water, beer and wine. Just pick two beverages for your holiday party. (Remember, 2-liter bottles of soda might be cheaper, but in the long run, cans are better. You can store them for a later date if you don't use them all.)

Accept that you won't please everyone all the time, however, if you make my super-simple holiday punch, you just might. Every holiday, I make this go-to festive-looking punch that gets rave reviews. It's simple, inexpensive and it lasts.

CIARA'S HOLIDAY PUNCH

1 bottle chilled sparkling sweet wine (I use Elmo Pio asti.)

1 bottle chilled sweet wine (I use Elmo Pio moscato.)

1 can chunked pineapple

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup sugar

2 kiwis

1 pint strawberries

Slice strawberries; peel and slice kiwi.

Place all ingredients in large punch bowl and stir.

Once again, super simple and everyone will love it!

With these easy recipes and tips, you have new tricks in your arsenal that only you and I know about. Hopefully, your holiday stress level will go down considerably.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Ciara Semack is the owner of The Blonde Bistro in Bellefonte. She is the mother of one and a lifelong resident of Centre County. Her column appears every other week in the Gazette. Questions, suggestions and comments can be directed to [email protected]
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