This past weekend, I spent a fantastic afternoon with 60 high-spirited grade-schoolers — most under the age of 7 — at a holiday kickoff party to benefit the charity God’s Love We Deliver. There was guacamole making, cookie decorating and fruit tart assembling. Kids ricocheted from one activity to the next in crayon-colored aprons, like a rainbow whirlwind trailing icing and gummy worms. As the parent of a too-cool-for-school teenager, I’d forgotten about that kind of full-body effervescence. There’s no holiday excitement like little-kid excitement. Their energy is contagious, but so is their sudden and urgent need for a nap.
Even without small kids, the holidays can still be exhausting. One way I keep from crashing during these crazy weeks is to cook the simplest, most basic and restorative meals possible. Now is the time to give yourself permission to eat a plate of sunny-side-up eggs, avocado toast or a big, sour cream-dolloped baked potato for dinner — side salad optional. And don’t forget about cereal: I’m partial to a nice bowl of oatmeal, either savory, with greens and yogurt, or sweet, with chocolate and brown butter.
If you have the energy to take things up a notch, you could make a big pot of easy lentil soup (above), then eat it all week long with different toppings to keep things interesting. Pair it with a plate of sliced oranges topped with olive oil and sea salt, a basic version of David Tanis’s stunning Sicilian-style orange salad with olives, onions and thinly sliced fennel. And Kay Chun’s chicken miso meatballs, so flavorful for so little work, can be made with ground turkey if that’s what you have on hand.
Of course, there’s always pasta, a boon to busy, tired people all year long. There are dozens of speedy, satisfying recipes on New York Times Cooking that will never fail you, like Marcella Hazan’s perfect tomato sauce, which I think is even more perfect over gnocchi; Sue Li’s gorgeous, golden creamy turmeric pasta; or Ali Slagle’s pantry-friendly pasta with brown butter and Parmesan.
You’ll need a subscription for all our recipes. Pro tip: Subscriptions make excellent holiday gifts that will keep giving all year long. You can also check us out on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, where it’s our annual epic cookie week, and you can watch Sue Li make her supremely buttery orange-scented pistachio chocolate shortbread.
Now, as I mentioned on Monday, I’m knee-deep into my holiday cookie baking frenzy (my happy place is in the kitchen, licking the batter bowl). Many people wrote in asking about best practices for making cookies and doughs in advance. You can generally make cookie dough at least a week ahead and store it in the fridge. Most baked cookies will freeze well for at least a month (brownies and bar cookies do particularly well). Pack them between layers of parchment paper in airtight tins or containers. And note that crisp cookies like gingerbread, sugar cookies, and shortbread can last for weeks at room temperature — if you don’t eat them immediately.
Another way I’m coping with holiday mayhem is with the music of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. My husband picked up a CD by this “93-year-old Ethiopian composer-pianist-nun” back in the heyday of handpicked record store tips, and since then we have played her music whenever we need deep, joyful calm in our house. To me, she’s a kind of bluesy Debussy (others might say a modal Duke Ellington), but her music is as undefinable and radiant as her epic life story. Tempting as it is, one oughtn’t listen solely to Vince Guaraldi for an entire month.
Sam’s back on Friday, and I’ll see you on Monday.