Nigella Lawson
Photo: Lis Parsons

Christine M. Paik: In Nigella Christmas, you talk a lot about how Christmas is the one time of year when people who aren't party-givers give parties. What advice do you have for those who are really intimidated by throwing a great bash?

Nigella Lawson: In cooking and party giving, but also just in living generally, you have to have such an odd mixture between a firm structure and flexibility because you've got to obey the rules, but you've got to go with the flow as well. I always think it's really important to write a list of what you're proposing to do. But then I think you have to go through the list and probably cross about half the things out. Because it's in all of our natures to overreach and to want to do much more than is either feasible or really desirable. … Settle on three or four things you want to give people to eat. I tend to settle [for] just one alcoholic cocktail and one mocktail, as well as water. You're not an octopus—there are only two pitchers of drinks you can carry around!

My other tip is I cook … everything in those throwaway foil tins because the washing up is a huge stress. And if you're cooking something quite liquid, you just double up so it's firmer. And I used to feel slightly guilty about this, but [I] used to say to people, "If you have to choose between saving the environment and saving all sanity, go for your sanity." A friend of mine who is very active in the green movement says actually those aluminum trays are very eco-friendly because the foil recycles so well. And it's probably more eco-friendly than washing detergent. So you can feel lazy and virtuous, which is a good start to the holidays!

CP: I happen to be one of those people who only throw parties during the holidays. And no matter how much in advance I prepare, I'm still completely overwhelmed and worried that people won't like the food or will be bored. You make it look so easy!

NL: The holidays can be so overwhelming! I'm a home cook. I'm never going to be cook things that you need a brigade to help you with. Particularly at this time of year—holidays is about home. It's not even appropriate to eat fancy restaurant food. Somehow there is something in us—the winteriness, the family feeling—it's not about the fancy. So I think in a way, people should stop berating themselves for not being able to do something that would be served in an expensive restaurant, because that wouldn't be wanted.

I think to some extent—although I've been a judge in reality cooking shows—I do think they probably to some extent do a disservice to the home cook because it makes us all imagine we're a part of those shows and people will come and make comments when, of course, we're just inviting our friends. And no one has the sort of friends who are looking to see whether you overcooked or undercooked. It's about sort of feelings and relationships this time of year. I think that [as] women we all have this terrible tendency to judge ourselves and beat ourselves about our shortcomings and be ever ready to dwell on our flaws. And I think maybe one should be generous to other people at this time of year, but perhaps a bit more generous to one's self. And just think: "I'm doing the best I can. I'm not having these marked up. It's my own kitchen and my own home, and I'm going to enjoy myself, and I know everyone else will too." And I think that's probably the most important thing to say.