17 December

Shop till you stop

Embrace the warmth and light of the summer morning and hit the supermarket early. Take your list and your green bags, and make sure you have a cool bag and some freezer bricks too.[1]

2016-12-17
Ship-shape shopping.

William and I met in the mall this afternoon[2] and went to the crystal section of the best department store. The moment we were within flailing distance of displays of china, William put his hands into his pockets and refused to take them out again.

“I’m not touching anything,” he said. “I can afford one vase but I can’t afford breakages.”

We found a vase I’m sure Jill will love but William wouldn’t handle it so I carried it to the service desk for him. And he wouldn’t even take his hands out of his pockets to liberate his wallet, so I paid for it too. (He transferred the cost to my bank account as soon as we left the shop and bumped into a shopper as he did so, so I understand his strategy.)

[1] In case the warmth of the summer morning is too warm.

[2] Which was Hell. Unless you’re lonesome for the peak-hour crowds of Tokyo, you should be glad you’ve finished your Christmas shopping.

 

16 December

In the running

You’ve got your menu, you’ve got your shopping lists and now it’s time to make a careful culinary running sheet[1] so write down the times you need to do each cooking task on Christmas Day. When are you putting the turkey in the oven? When do you need to get the water boiling for the pudding? When will you (or your helper) chop the onions for the salads?[2]

If there any other hectic cooking schedules in the next week,[3] do running sheets for those too, and if you find any tight spots (too much to do at once) you can see the problem now and can plan around it.

You could consider doing some preparation steps earlier[4] Or you could swap to a different dish, and even delegate!

2016-12-16
Lists – the Christmas angel’s best friend.

My friend Jill’s son William dropped in tonight and explained his predicament. He asked his mother what she wanted for Christmas and she told him in great detail and it was all about crystal. The problem is that he didn’t listen. Then he realised what he’d done and he asked her to tell him again and she did and he tuned out again.[5] William said he didn’t think he could ask her three times, so he’s turned to me instead.

And he’s in luck: Jill has often admired my big crystal vase, there are similar designs in the shops and it fits William’s budget. We’ll head out tomorrow.

[1] Those who make running sheets should be able to avoid running entirely.

[2] “When will you give up and get take-away?” is not likely to be an option on a day that most of the shops are closed.

[3] Although I’ve recommended two days for rainbow jelly, I can cut it down to one if the rest of my day is flexible. This came in handy when a tree fell on the roof of Hannah’s kinder and they had to move the break-up barbecue to the primary school and bring it forward three days to fit around the school schedule.

[4] Cheesecake, trifle and chocolate ripple cake are all best made a day or two ahead, and some biscuits can be made weeks ahead and then frozen. (Some biscuits can also be eaten frozen, but it won’t help your diet to know that.)

[5] I can’t blame him for this: I know men in their fifties who could not concentrate on a discussion about crystal, no matter what was at stake.

15 December

Berried treasure

Summer has come so late this year that I haven’t had enough raspberries to make jam yet, but here are my two favourite raspberry recipes, which I love not because they taste good (although they do!) but because if things are hectic, you just need to take the first step now (which is dumping the berries in the drink) and you can leave the next steps until the new year. (You can even wait till after Australia Day if you like.)

Here is my recipe for raspberry vinegar, which, although it sounds like a condiment, is actually a cordial. So dilute it with water and serve it cold.[1]

Raspberry Vinegar

2016-12-15A

Makes 1 litre

Preparation time 10 minutes

Start 1 day ahead

500g raspberries

2 cups white vinegar

2 cups caster sugar

Put the raspberries in a glass or china bowl and add vinegar. Cover the bowl and let stand overnight.

Strain out the berries and put the liquid in a saucepan. Add the sugar and stir over low heat until it is dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for 1 hour.

Pour into sterilised bottles, seal and keep in a cool, dark place.

Raspberry Vodka

A by-product of raspberry vodka is vodka raspberries, which are good with ice cream, in fruit salad and added to fruity cocktails.

Makes 750ml

Preparation time 10 minutes

Start 3 days ahead

750ml vodka

1 punnet raspberries

water

Garnish: a long string of fake pearls

Place berries and vodka in a large glass or china bowl. (Keep the bottle.) Cover the bowl tightly and leave for 3 days.

Strain the berries from the vodka and pour the vodka back into the bottle. Cap it tightly and place it in a clean milk carton. Fill the carton with water and drape a few strands of pearls around the bottle. Freeze.

Remove the vodka from the freezer and cut the milk carton away from the ice block before serving.

*

My friend Jill’s restless son William texted me (to my surprise) today. “Can you help me choose a present for Mum?” he said.

“Yes,” I answered. “Have you asked her what she wants?”

“Yes. And that’s the problem. Can I visit you tomorrow night?”

I was intrigued by this, but of course I said yes. Why would Jill not suggest a suitable present to her son? (Even if her heart’s desire is a lacy bra and a whizz-bang vibrator, surely she can think of something she’d be happy to put on William’s shopping list?)

[1] Jeremy tried it on chips once. It wasn’t nice.

14 December

Gobble it all up

You’re going to need plenty of room in the fridge, so start clearing it out now. Perhaps you have some frozen food in the freezer that you could be eating over the next week? Then check out your half-eaten jars of sun-dried tomatoes and Cumberland sauce. Could you use them up in meals this week?[1] Should you dump them?[2] And when buying food for the next fortnight, be stingy rather than generous: you don’t want leftovers.[3]

2016-12-14
Running on empty.

The VCE results are out and Jack got 98, which is very good indeed.

I texted him my congratulations and then Wendy rang to tell me that, since Jack had reached the clearly-in score for the course he wanted, he was finally willing to reveal his selection.

“He chose law at Monash,” she said.

“Law!” I said. “He’s an argumentative trickster – I should have guessed.”

“And here’s a bigger surprise: Matthew has known all along. Apparently, he gave Jack a lot of career advice.”

“Why didn’t Matthew tell you?”

“He says he assumed we knew,” she replied.

[1] Nice meals, not the kind of melange my dad would make on the last night of a beach holiday when he’d throw everything in the fridge into one pot, add chilli and any other spices he could get hold of and call it “curry”.

[2] If you bought the Cumberland sauce two years ago for a specific recipe, and haven’t used it for anything else since, you probably should.

[3] In fact, still feeling a little hungry at the end of dinner may inspire you to find a use for Cumberland sauce.

13 December

Let’s wrap

Today is the start of the mid-winter month in Scandinavia, when gnomes and trolls run wild and no work is allowed. In Australia, we have schoolchildren running wild[1] and there’s plenty of work still to be done in workplaces around the country but it gets harder and harder to fit it around the end of year festivities.[2]

As with so many Christmas tasks, you might prefer to wrap all your presents in one big session, in which case you should schedule it appropriately into your (jam-packed) calendar now and, since this a good task for the whole household, you may need to find a mutually convenient time across everyone’s schedules. (This won’t be easy but my sister Wendy solved the problem a few years back by not allowing anyone to have breakfast until they’d wrapped a present first.)

Alternatively, if you like to wrap slowly, start now and do a few each night in front of the television (or in front of the fairy lights and Christmas carols).

2016-12-13
Tearing through the wrapping process.

My colleague Murray surprised me with a Christmas present at the HR morning tea today: a kitchen timer shaped like a cupcake. It was to thank me for the cooking lessons (and I so appreciated his appreciation that I felt like giving him a Christmas present too)[3] and he said that if he’d realised how much people like you when you put a torte on the table, he’d have gone straight to the cakes as a young man and would have left the curried sausages to his middle years.

[1] A few years back, my son Jeremy spent an entire winter holiday on the couch in a zebra onesie, drinking hot chocolate and watching wildlife documentaries. When I suggested that he get some fresh air, he sighed and asked me how long it was going to take for me to realise that we were now living in a virtual world.

[2] To the festive morning tea in the HR department this morning, Murray brought

  1. shortbread
  2. some documents that he needed signed by the HR director,

which, I feel, does not quite demonstrate the proper Christmas spirit.

[3] Maybe a kitchen timer shaped like a cupcake?

12 December

O Tannenbaum

You’ve got a tree, you’ve got a decoration plan – get busy!

2016-12-12
Deightful.

The topic of the day at work was, of course, Friday’s party. The consensus was that it was more fun than beer and sausages on the Yarra but that wassailing is a dangerous sport. (Thank the gods we avoided the mistletoe!)

11 December

Wrap party

If children are crafting your wrapping paper, they’re likely to make a mess, so dress them in aprons or sacrificial clothes,[1] spread newspapers out to billy-oh[2] and don’t let the kids out of the space until they’re scrubbed clean. (You don’t want scarlet handprints on the walls and glitter footprints in the carpet. Not even at Christmas.)

Start at least a few days before you plan to wrap the presents because if you’re using glue or paint, you’ll need time for it to dry.[3] You’ll also need a drying space: the clothesline will be fine if the weather is fine, otherwise you may need to set up clothes horses on the veranda or in the garage.[4]

2016-12-11
Sticky, but not tacky.

Although it’s Sunday, the party cubs and Gemma and I were in the office by 10am and we pulled down all the holly and the ivy and the pine boughs and gathered up all the punch cups and pickled onion jars and gradually turned a bacchanalian forest back into a conference room. When our colleagues come in on Monday, it will be as if the party never happened. (And from the amount of wassail consumed, it’s fair to bet it won’t even be a fond memory for some of them.)

[1] Old T-shirts that you’re happy to throw out if the paint won’t wash out, for example.

[2] Aren’t we going to miss the actual paper of newspapers when they’re finally all digital?

[3] You could argue that putting parcels with wet paint under your tree is a way to ensure that the carpet harmonises with the colour scheme of your wrapping, but it’s not a good way.

[4] But not in the kids’ rooms, even if you’re short of space. My friend Jill’s busy son William escaped from his cot one naptime and rolled in wet paintings until he looked like fairy bread and then cuddled up to every soft toy he had and gave them all multi-coloured measles.