The experts' guide to surviving Christmas

Esther N McCarthy gathers some insider information to get you through to the new year.

The experts' guide to surviving Christmas

Esther N McCarthy gathers some insider information to get you through to the new year.


Deirdre Whelan pictured at Meadows and Byrne. Photo: Paul Sherwood.
Deirdre Whelan pictured at Meadows and Byrne. Photo: Paul Sherwood.

“Keep things simple and don’t overcrowd the room. Apart from a tree (ideally it’s got to be real — the smell is what makes the room feel special) create little zones in the room.

Be it the mantel over the fireplace — a shelf on a bookcase — or the coffee table. It can be as simple as the placing of a Christmas cactus, a bunch of Christmas baubles in a large vase, or tree branches in a vase that are decorated with tiny decorations. It doesn’t have to be fancy.

Sometimes the simpler the better. It allows those items to stand out rather than overcrowding the room. When it comes to decorating the Christmas tree I have to say you can’t go wrong with silver or gold baubles in any style of room, mixed with a little red to bring a layer of warmth and Christmas cheer.

Candles are another great way of adding to the Christmas atmosphere — put these in jars to keep them safe and if candles are not your thing use strings of battery operated lights and place these in jars or tall vases.

If you have young kids get them to make some paper decorations or a garland that can be strung across a bookshelf. It makes it all the more special and they feel they are contributing.”

Deirdre Whelan, Consultant Designer with Meadows & Byrne.


“The effects of a great skincare routine will carry you through the odd late night and food coma so remember to prioritise yourself for those five minutes morning and evening.

With a few tricks of the trade, you should be able to.

There are ways to fake an eight-hour sleep and keep your glow all the way through to new year.

To avoid waking up with ‘hangover face’ (puffy eyes, dull, dehydrated, chapped lips) as a super cheat I love the Cleanse wipes from New York based makeup artist Lauren Napier.

Unlike traditional makeup wipes they are soaked in calming ingredients like aloe and cucumber.

Undereye masks are essential for tired eyes and the Shangpree Gold eye masks are brilliant for brightening. They are hydrogel so they should be left on until they dry in. I’ve been known to sleep in them to get the full effects the next morning.

Use this time as a skin reboot and leave on a mask or treatment. I love the All-Day Mask from Allies of Skin.”

Lucy McPhail is founder of an Irish website that curate’s beauty brands from all over the world.


Paul Bloomer, general manager The River Club with the winter cocktail 'Patridge in a Pear Tree'. Photo: Eddie O'Hare.
Paul Bloomer, general manager The River Club with the winter cocktail 'Patridge in a Pear Tree'. Photo: Eddie O'Hare.

“Stock up on some good quality basics like whiskey, gin and vodka. We work really closely with World Class Drinks who have really accessible products such as Roe & Co Blended Irish Whiskey.

This is a versatile drink that works equally well for a hot toddy, or an Irish Coffee as well as on its own or in a mixed cocktail. For garnishes this time of year, dried fruit works amazingly.

Slice some lemons, oranges and apples, pop them in the oven on a low heat and once cooled, store in an airtight container for a few days.

For the non-drinkers, it’s always nice to have something a little bit different. You can easily swap out the vodka in this recipe with Seedlip — the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirit.

At the end of the day, it’s not what’s on the table, it’s who is around it. Prep your ingredients in advance and batch-make these ahead of time so you can focus on those catch-ups you’ve been waiting all year for.”

Paul’s Christmas ‘Partridge in a Pear Tree’ Cocktail

This cocktail is an elegant and impressive addition to your festive drinks offering. Squeeze the limes in advance and store this juice in the fridge — this will last for up to three days.

Make your spiced pear syrup by boiling pears with white sugar and star anise until all the sugar has dissolved.

Let this sit for about 12 hours, and then fine strain. For the apple and rosemary tincture, just soak a spring of rosemary in some freshly pressed apple juice and let it sit overnight. Double strain before serving.

Preparation: Glass: Martini (chilled) Ice: Cubed for shaker

Ingredients: 40ml Ketel One Vodka 15ml; fresh lime juice 20ml; spiced pear syrup 20ml; apple & rosemary tincture; garnish: quarter of a poached pear

Method: Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker with cubed ice. Shake for 20 seconds, double strain over a fine mesh strainer.

Serve garnished with a quarter of a poached pear.

Paul Bloomer, General Manager from The River Club, River Lee Hotel, Cork.


Paula Stakelum, Head Pastry Chef at Ashford Castle.
Paula Stakelum, Head Pastry Chef at Ashford Castle.

“As we often say in the pastry kitchen in Ashford; “If you want to make gold, you have to use gold!”

Start with the very best of ingredients, this doesn’t mean they have to be expensive, just at their very best. Christmas morning is often full of excitement, so we have created the perfect “Christmas Cereal”. After all, who doesn’t like eating chocolate for breakfast? You can prepare this recipe one week in advance. When the fudge is dry, cut into ½ cm square pieces and add to your cereal mix.”

Christmas Cereal:

500g oat flakes 75g sunflower seeds 75g pumpkin seeds 75g flax seeds 75g flaked almonds 75g pecan nuts 75g walnuts 5g salt 55g brown sugar 30g maple syrup 90g honey 110g rapeseed oil 1tsp ground cinnamon ¼ vanilla pod (seeds) 100g raisins 100g Cranberries. Place all the ingredients except the cranberries and raisins on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and cook at 140°C for 30 minutes.

Make sure to stir in between. The cranberries and raisins, add after cooking.

The fudge: 170g dark chocolate Valrhona Illanka 63% 200g caster sugar 100g glucose 80g cream 25g salted butter. Cook the caster sugar/glucose/cream and butter to 117°C. Add the chocolate and mix thoroughly, pour onto tray and leave set at room temp for 2 days. Do not refrigerate.


Chef Paula Stakelum is the Head Pastry Chef at Ashford Castle and the only Irish chef to make the final of the 2018 Valrhona International C3 Competition.


Richard Hogan. Photo: Nick Bradshaw
Richard Hogan. Photo: Nick Bradshaw

“We are rapidly moving towards Christmas. Everywhere we are surrounded with cloyingly sweet songs of happiness.

It is, after all; ‘the most wonderful time of the year.’ However, for many families the pressure that this season places on them is unbearable.

I see it in my own practice, families coming into therapy at this time of year labouring under the stress of it all.

When someone passes away or there is a rupture in the family system, like a separation; the year that follows is punctuated by a series of firsts, like the first birthday without dad in the house.

Those firsts are significant milestones. And nothing illuminates this difference more than how the family now celebrates Christmas.

I have been struck by the sadness in the therapeutic setting, listening to children describe how they would like Christmas to be.

Knowing that what they are describing is placing such pressure on the separated parents, because it is now impossible.

But it is about making this new normal work. It won’t be the same as it has always been. Don’t beat yourself up about that.

This Christmas, give yourself a break, try to see it for what it is, just another moment in time that will inevitably pass. And you will survive it.”

Richard Hogan is author of the forthcoming book ‘From Teenager to Screenager.’

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