Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beating Holiday Stress

The holiday season usually implies fun and festivity, tasty food, and cozy times with family and friends. Wow, that sounds great! However, all the expectations that come with the holidays - perfect meals, perfect decorations, perfect presents, etc. - can contribute to stress levels in a not so fun way. Of course, it's great to take the emphasis off of superficial ideals and silly gifts that we don't really need and to bring our focus back to relationships with our loved ones; however, that does not mean that any Christmas magic has to be lost.

What makes a perfect meal? When food is cooked with love, care, and enjoyment rather than worry it tastes better! Cooking for someone is a powerful way of showing your love for them. Not only is it special because you've done something just for them, but by feeding someone you're nurturing them in a very direct way. Of course, it helps if the meal tastes good too :)

To help with that, choose a recipe that you're comfortable with - it doesn't have to be fussy and pretentious to taste fantastic! Get all your ingredients prepared, and if you can, do some of the cooking ahead of time. For example, if your starter is a soup, then make that a day ahead. Then there's less work on the big day, and many soups taste even better once they've had some time to settle.

If you feel comfortable with other people's help in the kitchen, then why not ask someone to help with chopping veggies, greasing muffin pans, keeping an eye on the oven, etc. Having company in the kitchen can be fun, and it makes the work load less daunting if you have to cook quite a lot of food.

My last cooking tip is to trust your own instincts and to taste your food as you go, rather than following recipes religiously. Cooking is an art, and it makes more sense to make it your own and to use flavours that excite you rather than to worry about following the perfect recipe. Substituting ingredients, using less or more spices, adding something extra can work very well most of the time and is not something to be afraid of. Baking is a bit different as it is like chemistry, but even then you can usually make some changes, such as substituting some whole grain flour for the white. The key is to do only what you feel comfortable with. If you're trying out a recipe for the first time and don't want to risk it by changing anything, then follow the recipe, taste the result, and then decide if you'd like to make any changes next time. Just remember, cooking is a fun creative act and you are the master of the kitchen, capable of creating the most delicious dishes that will feed you and your loved ones in a deeply nourishing way :)

As for decorations and presentation, I think it makes more sense to once again go with your own instincts and to follow your personal creative impulses than to copy pages out of a magazine. Whatever warms you heart, makes you feel cozy, makes the room feel special and welcoming - that is what works. Presenting someone else's idea of Christmas will never have that special touch. And there's no pressure when you're just doing your own thing and expressing your own soul :)

Whether you're cooking in the kitchen, putting up decorations, or thinking up a gift for someone you love, just do what feels right and toss out any preconceived idealized images of what things are supposed to look like.

Also, don't forget that exercise is a great stress-buster too :)

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