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Your holiday dinner party survival guide

The holidays can be a smorgasbord of stress; good thing Pique is here to help

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When Andy Williams sang that Christmas is "the most wonderful time of the year," you've got to wonder if the pop crooner would've felt the same way if he were the one slaving over a 10-pound bird.

It's no grand revelation that the festive season can be a smorgasbord of stress, especially if you're foolish enough to host the family dinner. On top of the organizational anxiety that comes with preparing an epic holiday feast, you've got to contend with all the familial tension simmering under the surface, a ticking time bomb waiting for the right mixture of alcohol and stress to explode in your face.

While we can't promise grandma will lay off the boozy eggnog, Pique is here to help, offering you a few survival tips for the sometimes cheery, always dreaded holiday dinner party season.

For Whistler Cooks Catering chef Dustin Harkness, the biggest gift home cooks can give themselves this Christmas is the one thing most of us never have enough of: time.

"You should allow enough prep time to make sure you have enough leeway to get everything done," he said, recommending at least six hours of preparation time for the average turkey dinner with all the fixings.

Nobody likes a dry turkey, so Harkness had some advice for the intrepid chef looking for the juiciest bird possible.

"Keep on basting to keep it moist and make sure it doesn't get overcooked," he said. "Also, if you brine the turkey, that goes a long way to keeping it juicy."

For a less traditional approach, Harkness suggested deboning your festive fowl, making for a moister turkey you can slice as smoothly as a terrine.

And for those of you looking for an alternative to turkey, Harkness said many of his clients are turning to relatively easy-to-make comfort foods, like lasagna, shepherd's pie and hearty stews, as a way to mix things up. Of course, the No. 1 piece of advice Harkness offered was to let him do the cooking for you: "My main tip would be to order a turkey dinner from us," he laughed. Whistler Cooks is serving up a variety of pre-cooked seasonal dinner options that they'll deliver right to your door on Christmas Eve. Visit www.whistlercooks.com for more.

Of course, this sage wisdom only gets you to the dinner table; what happens after that is anyone's guess. Thankfully local clinical counselor Cheryl Bate offered some guidance to get through those awkward family moments without incident.

First and foremost, she suggested following that old adage of avoiding any talk of politics, religion or, for that matter, any topic that will only lead to conflict — at least for now. "If there is a family matter or a personal matter that's volatile, then it's most wise to flag it, set it aside and acknowledge it as something to come back to in a different setting," Bate said.

Instead, Bate suggested focusing on the deeper ties that bind you, making time to connect with loved ones and tell them how important they are in your life — even if you don't always see eye to eye.

"If the holidays are rife with tension and conflict, it interrupts people's ability to benefit from what should be a time of unconditional acceptance," she added.

In a place like Whistler, Bate said it's also important to remember that many of us don't have the usual family support networks available to us at this time of year.

"Homesickness is a real thing," she said. "There will be times when (people) feel quite empty and the risk is that it can get compensated for with partying that goes too far. It's great to celebrate, and there's no question; enjoy your time with friends and do celebrate, but pay attention to when it starts to go too far."

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