Six ways to reduce Christmas induced Stress.

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December is upon us and as we all know it can be one of the busiest most stressful months of the year. Here in NZ it can be all the more complicated as we combine it with our summer holiday period and often the end of the working year – so lots to do! Here are a few tips to help things run smoothly so take a couple of minutes to read through.

Step 1. Have a planning meeting with yourself:First thing to do is to sit down with yourself and a piece of paper and write down all those things going round in your head that you keep remembering you are supposed to do but forget because another thing-to-do has taken its place.   What do you need to do this month? Just write it all down – doesn’t have to be in order. You can use headings if you like. Here are some that might be on your list.Christmas – Presents – Who?

Christmas – Cards – thankyou gifts etc – Who?

Christmas Dinner Menu – Guests

Christmas Hospitaltiy – who’s coming – beds etc.

Holiday /Camping

End of school year – prizegivings, gift for teachers etc

End of work year etc

Step 2. Eliminate or delegate.Take a look at your list and work out what you actually need to do, what you can delegate to others and what you can actually eliminate without hurting others.   Delegating who brings what for Christmas dinner for example –but you will need to make sure everyone is clear in what is expected of them. Don’t assume Aunty is going to bring the pudding if you haven’t asked her. You don’t have to go to every party or event if that is too much for you – choose which one. The early you can get in with your requests or apologies the better.

Step3. Put a time frame around it. Put actual dates into your calendar/phone/diary and work backwards from that date. For each event action or activity write down everything you need to do in order to make it on the date scheduled. This will become your plan of action and schedule this action into your diary and then follow the plan. Look for gaps where you can do the preperation work or make a phone call. What can I do now? Can I make things and put in the freezer? Do I need to organise a baby sitter for 3 weeks time? When do I need to post this parcel to Australia? Do I need to let my boss know I need to leave work early to make it to prize-giving on time? (Do I need to let my husband know weeks in advance so he can organise his life as well?) Pre-think, pre- plan and be pre-pared.

Step 4; Put a budget around your plan. Self expanatory –don’t get carried away but decide well before hand what you can spend. This is a whole big topic but in a nutshell – make stuff and if you buy gifts – buy local where you can and support our wonderful crafts, artisans and talented business women.

Step 5: Get your systems sorted. It’s often the small things that are stressful – not being able to find things such as addresses for cards, phone numbers, Christmas decorations or cookie cutters from last year. Make that the next thing you do. Collect together what you need to make those jobs run smoothly. Gift wrapping – make up a box full of gift wrapping tools. There are some good systems out there but get scissors, sellotape, paper, ribbon, bows – everything you think you will need all ready and together now.

Step 6. Learn from this year. And if your goal for next year is to be more organised and less stressed – then turn each of these exercises into a system that you can follow for next time.

 

How’s your emotional tank?

I was driving home from work the other day feeling quite stressed, half listening to the radio, when I caught a little segment about the importance of filling our own emotional tank. We can often be so busy doing everything and looking after everyone that we often neglect ourselves and end up running on empty. If we are not careful, our busy market-driven world will have us thinking that we are machines who can keep working at the same at rate all day and at all stages of out lives. The problem with the market driven world is that it doesn’t factor in our humanity or the way the natural world works.  We can’t keep giving out without putting something back. We can’t be great parents, partners, people, if we are constantly on the go doing things for everyone else without taking the time out to care for ourselves.

They don’t call it “recreation” for nothing – we need to take the time to re-create ourselves by doing something we love. Women especially can be guilty of putting ourselves last, feeling bad about saying what we need.  So don’t be a martyr. Take some time to go on a date with your mate and leave the kids at home. Book some regular time at the hairdresser. Get your nails done. Go for a walk. Read a book. Go and hang out with a friend. Whatever it is that you love to do that helps get your equilibrium back – take the time to do that.

Homework: Jot down in your journal 5 things you can do to re-fuel your emotional tank and then go out and do them.

Tip. Don’t fill your diary up with work and responsibilities without making room for recreation. It’s not a frivolity – it’s a necessity. A better quality life starts with a better quality you.

 

 

In the kitchen…Overrun with Apricots?

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Three quick ways with Apricots plus one not so quick…..

It’s been a great season for apricots this year. In fact we ended up forgoing our annual 500k round trip into Central Otago to buy apricots as our trees put on a good harvest this year.   Here are some ideas for good ways to deal with the abundance.

Apricot Idea#1

First and foremost – let the freezer be your friend. Apricots freeze well and my mother now freezes most of her fruit rather than bottling. Apricots are one of those fruits whose flavour improves by going through the process of cooking so freezing is not going to harm them. You can either cut them half and take out the stones or feeze whole. Use clean unblemished fruit.

Apricot Idea #2

Roast apricots. You can do this while cooking dinner or pop into the oven once you are eating dinner. Prepare fruit by halving and removing stone. Place cut side up in a roasting dish and sprinkle over some sugar. Pop into the oven for half and hour or so at a medium temperature.   Roasting intensifies flavours – one reason being that you are not cooking with water so there is little dilution of flavour. Cool then freeze. A good time saving idea is to get out a couple of pie dishes and line with plastic wrap. Carefully place the cooled apricots into the dish, cover over with wrap and freeze. Once frozen you can remove the pie dish and pop the frozen apricots (still in their wrap) into a proper freezer bag. Then you have a disk of delicious roasted apricots ready to pop into pastry or crumble and cook!

Apricot Idea #3

Quick 2 step Apricot Jam. Another one for the busy PCW.  I prepped the fruit before work one morning and made it the following morning. Prepare your fruit as usual by splitting and taking out the stone. You can cut into smaller bits for this and just cut out any soft or rotten bits on your fruit. Sprinkle equal quantity of sugar over plus the juice of a couple of lemons. 1kg fruit – 1 kg sugar. Experiment with quantities if you want but start off this way. Leave for 24 hours. The next day, slowly bring up to cooking temp and simmer until fruit is cooked.   Then boil rapidly for 15-20 mins until it has reached setting stage. Add knob of butter (optional) and then bottle into sterilized jars.

 

Apricot Idea #4  This one is not necessarily quick but it’s a great recipe – good with cold meats (especially lamb) or with a any cheese.

Apricot and Walnut Relish.

Apricots – I used about 2 kilos. Stoned and chopped

3 large onions chopped finely

300mls vinegar.

Put into preserving pan and start to heat.

Add the following;

2 cups brown sugar

1 tsp ground cloves

few grinds of black peppercorns

1 tsp turmeric

3 tsps salt

2 tsps curry powder

½ tsp cayenne pepper

Bring to the boil then turn down and simmer for an hour or so.

Mix 2 tblsps flour with a little vinegar and carefully stir in to thicken.

Add couple of handfuls of chopped walnuts.

Bottle into sterilized jars.

 

 

 

 

 

In the kitchen – with the Professional Countrywoman

The busy Professional Countrywoman has a repertoire of recipes up her sleeve to feed hungry families, extra guests, a muster of musterers or a shed load of shearers. New Zealand is blessed with some fantastic kitchen whizzes such as Annabel Langbein, Nadia Lim and so on, so no way am I going to compete with them. However, I am a good country cook and there are a few recipes that are classics which I will be putting up in this space. My aim this year is to actually make some of those recipes in those beautiful books rather than just looking at them from time to time. I am not saying that I am going to do a Julie/Julia thing and try a new recipe every day but I think I will aim for one a week. (maybe.)

The honour of the first recipe on this page is going to the humble scone. I remember when I made my first batch of scones. My mother – a mother of seven- is still a fabulous cook and was pretty clever at being a resourceful meal maker. (She also worked as a Pharmacist and diversified into being a travel agent so I guess was a good role model for the Professional Countrywoman). So while she was busy making this new fangled thing called a “pizza pie” I was charged with making the scones for Saturday lunch. I had seen her knead bread dough so I started doing the same thing before she caught me and told me that overworking the scone dough would make it tough. Well those scones were pretty good and she pronounced those prophetic words over me – “you are going to be a cook!” and I am.

Scones

Preheat oven to 220c

Sift together 3 cups flour with 5 heaped tsps of baking powder

Put into large bowl and add 2 dessert spoons of sugar (optional)

Grate in about 50 grams of cold butter. (this is easier than rubbing in butter)

Mix with enough milk to make a soft dough. Probably about a cup and a half. You want the dough to be soft but not too sticky. Careful not to over mix or they will be too tough.

Put onto a floured board, shape into a rectangle, cut into squares and put onto oven tray.

Cook in hot oven until cooked – about 10 or 12 minutes.

To make date scones – soak a cup of dried dates in boiling water for a few minutes. Roll out dough, place dates on half then fold over and pat down. Continue as above.

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A batch of date scones ready to go into the oven.