26 December – Boxing Day

Wrapping it up

So here I am on Boxing Day, my second favourite day of the year, kicking back with a cup of tea and a cherry tart, thinking about what went wrong yesterday (which was quite a lot, but nobody cared) and what went right (which was that we were a happy family, celebrating together on a happy day), but I haven’t forgotten you, my dear readers. I was intending to finish this blog with multiple choice questions to test what you learned about Christmas during the year but I will instead list what I learned myself:[1]

  • Christmas is indeed for everyone but, even more importantly, Christmas should be by everyone: everyone should have a say; everyone should have a role; everyone should be part of the preparation. Let there be no spectators.
  • And this means that you can’t be dogmatic: Christmas should include all of the things that the people around you care about, even if they don’t fit your decoration scheme or menu.[2]
  • Planning is good, but be flexible.[3]
  • And make your crackers later in the year: you really don’t know in April how many people you’ll have for Christmas in December!
2016-12-26
The party’s over. (Till next year.)

Stop press: Hannah and Lachlan just came around to tell me that they’re getting married. Oh my goodness! I have a wedding to plan!

[1] Yes, I humbly concede that you can be an expert on Yule logs and Santa Claus and plum pudding and still not know everything.

[2] So pierogi are definitely in for me but I’d still like to draw the line at Brussels sprouts!

[3] This may be an excuse for over-catering (not that anyone in my family needs an excuse!)

24 December – Christmas Eve

Eve

Get up, open the last door on the Advent calendar, wolf down some toast and head off to the greengrocer! Be early to avoid the crowds (and to find the best cherries) and bear in mind that there are two attitudes you can take to this:

  • you can be grumpy that the shops are crowded and you can’t find the sugar snap peas and you’ve still got so much to do
  • you can enjoy the excitement in the kids and the tingle of anticipation in the adults around you and you can think of this preparation as a fun part of the feast.

You probably have quite a few things to cook today but you have good running sheets so, again, enjoy the preparation – and the flavours and the aromas. (My house smells like red wine and spices right now, because I’ve just been mulling the fruit for breakfast tomorrow.)

24 dec 2016
Throw open all the doors!

Matthew and Don and Jack came over early with the trailer and have been pushing tables around on the deck. They tried one long rectangle but it didn’t fit so now they’re toying with a U-shape, which they don’t have enough tablecloths for, and I’ve just heard Jack mention white sheets (!) and he said he’ll get some from home if Don will take the trailer back to pick up his magic apparatus. And you know what? I think they’re thoroughly enjoying themselves. (I hope it’s not me that ends up sitting on one of those folding picnic chairs though.)

Jeremy and Danni volunteered for the last-minute present shopping so I sent them off to the mall with my purse[1] and they came home with fancy candles! But I’ve never even met the boat people and for all I know they might like candles. Now the love birds are wrapping the gift wax in the lounge room – in birthday paper because I used up the last of the Christmas paper on Caitlin’s present. (I hope the boat people like dinosaurs in party hats because that’s the wrapping they’re getting.)

Then Ben and Cassidy came around with some of the stuff Wendy has cooked for tomorrow (I do not know why she thought it would fit in my fridge!) and, after Cassidy astonished me by telling me that she was looking forward to a slice of Wendy’s lemon meringue pie,[2] they decided to decorate the deck (which has plenty of fairy lights on it but they won’t be any good at midday). They used all the decorations I excluded from my decoration plan (mostly because I don’t like them – like the ceramic elf with the evil squint) and are now making paper chains from Christmas catalogues. Some would say the result is looking very gaudy but I’m willing to go with “festive”.

Auntie Gwen and Susan, who arrived at ten and are staying tonight and tomorrow night, are peeling potatoes for the potato salad (I was planning a German potato salad but Auntie Gwen is doing her own thing and I have no idea what it will be except that I think she said something about anchovies), and Gemma is folding napkins (they’re paper but I admit they’re looking very good) and has her husband Paul polishing glasses and cutlery ready for tomorrow.

Everyone’s getting in each other’s way but they don’t seem to mind. In fact, I absolutely think the word for today is “merry”.

[1] “We usually do our Christmas shopping in the Boxing Day sales,” said Danni. “There are a lot of advantages to being Serbian.”

[2] “Moderation is important,” she said earnestly. “Really?” I replied, trying very hard not to be sarcastic. “Oh yes. I’ve learned that a little bit of sugar can be a good thing.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” I said.

23 December

Fridge work

Today’s the last delivery day for the year, so leave the postie’s Small Present in the letterbox. (Clearly labelled – you don’t want them to assume it’s to you rather than from you.)

2016-12-23
Jam packed (and not just with jam).

Now you really need to get the fridge ready. Toss everything that you don’t need,[1] carefully consider what you’ll be storing and how you can fit it in and plan where everything will fit on Christmas Day. (I’m making extra room for a pre-cooked rolled pork loin and a supermarket quiche because I no longer have time to cook everything from scratch!)

Also fine-tune your Christmas Day food safety plan:

  • How will you cover food? Will you serve it in containers that have lids? Will you use plastic wrap and foil? (Put them on your shopping list for Christmas Eve if you don’t have enough.) Do you have your ham bag ready?
  • Remember to get all that food back into the fridge pronto and out of the danger zone.

You can cook frozen desserts and cheesecake today. Personally, I’m getting stuck into an ice cream plum pudding because there won’t be enough actual pudding to go around and no-one’s going to feel like waiting two months until something I whip up today has matured properly!

Wendy rang from Tullamarine and she said that they flew with a nice family who had also abandoned ship and don’t know what to do for Christmas because they were expecting to be on a cruise and now they’ve come home to an empty larder and an undecorated house so she invited them to my place, knowing that I always have plenty of everything!

So that’s twenty-five people for Christmas dinner! I’m going to have to buy some extra crackers and more wine and find some extra presents!

“Wendy,” I said, “do you think Gertruda would have time to cook a really big batch of sauerkraut pierogi for Christmas dinner?”

“I’m sure she’d love to,” she replied. “I’ll let her know straight away.”

“And something for dessert too?”

“Count on it,” she replied.

Then Gemma rang, checking if there was anything she could bring.

“Well,” I said cautiously, “how are you off for china?”

“We got a big dinner set for a wedding present that we hardly ever use!” she gushed. “I’ll bring it around!”

And she did. She’s got my sixteen-place white and gold plates and has added her twelve-place white and silver service and she’s currently bustling around, working out how to mix them together in a stylish way. She says she’ll bring glasses and cutlery tomorrow and now she’s talking about serviettes and centrepieces.

“I was going to do conifers and baubles,” I mentioned, “and I have big gold bowls for nuts and lollies.” (Note to self: will need more nuts and lollies.)

Gemma looked at me with my apron and oven mitts and said, “Please can I do it? I love this kind of thing and it was feeling so wrong to be sitting around on Christmas Eve Eve with nothing to do. I can do conifers and baubles and I’ll wrangle punch cups and serving spoons too. I promise it will look lovely.”

And that’s an offer too good to refuse.

By the time Hannah rang, I went to speaker phone straight away so that I could keep stirring.

“You need twenty-one crackers?” she asked.

“It’s twenty-five now,” I said. “Probably thirty tomorrow, the way things are going. And if you ask again on Christmas morning, I expect it will be a hundred.”

“How many crackers have you got?” she asked.

“Fourteen,” I replied.

“Pixie and Poppet are bouncing off the ceiling so we’ll sit down and make crackers together this afternoon and that might calm them down a bit. I’ll drop into the shops on my way over and get eleven trinkets. They won’t be up to your usual standard but I’ll find something.”

“Could you make the crackers silver?” I suggested, thinking of Gemma’s table décor. “And do you think we could have the girls in charge of the punch on the Day?”

“They’ll love it,” she assured me. “Should we start on the punch ice today?”

“Yes, please,” I replied.

[1] Like the leftover pasta from yesterday you thought you’d eat today but actually won’t because you’ll be too full of mince pies.

22 December

Uncrate the plates

If your good china is in a dark dungeon somewhere, it’s time to get it out. If you need to dust off your champagne flutes and get the spiders out of the punch bowl, do so. If your silver is tarnished, set your lackeys (or children) to polishing it. And iron your tablecloth (unless it’s plastic).

2016-12-22
Unpacks quite a punch.

Wendy just rang. In the two days since they set sail from Brisbane, half the passengers have come down with viral gastroenteritis and the other half with food poisoning and there’s a cyclone heading for Vanuatu. (Mind you, cyclones are nearly as devious as Gertruda, so who knows where it will actually land?)

“It was terrible!” Wendy said. “You’d walk around another corner and there would be another person spewing. And we didn’t dare eat anything from the buffet so we dined on the chocolates Ben had bought Getruda for Christmas and we’ve been hungry, utterly miserable and holed up in our cabins in the rain.”

So they disembarked at Noumea (because none of them were willing to risk gastro mid-ocean) and they’re flying home and they’ll be here tomorrow.

Which means that they’ll be here for Christmas! Hooray! It really is the season of joy! But I’m going to have to go shopping tomorrow to get enough food (what looked like an abundance of potatoes on Saturday is an embarrassing dearth today) and suddenly I don’t have enough crackers!

I rang Matthew. “My table seats fourteen,” I said. “We can’t have seven people in other people’s laps and I don’t have time to work it out because I have to completely redraft the menu.”

“Leave it to me,” he said. “They’re predicting perfect weather for Christmas so we’ll carry your dining table out onto the deck and add my trestle table and that will give us… fourteen minus two plus six … eighteen. Hmm, we’ll need two trestle tables.”

“Chairs!” I said. “And my tablecloth isn’t big enough! And if it’s going to be sunny, won’t we need umbrellas?”

“I’ll sort it,” he said. “Save your fretting for the turkey.”

The turkey! The little free-range bird I ordered from the butcher and Hannah’s small turkey breast roast won’t be enough![1] I did see a few at the supermarket when I got my extra ham yesterday (not on the bone: it’s a gypsy ham in plastic, which will Have to Do) so I’ll go back this afternoon and hope I’m not too late.

[1] There’s a limit to how far you can stretch a turkey: they’re not elastic.

 

21 December

Getting your act together

People planning Christmas concerts should be rehearsing their acts by now. Those accompanying carols should be running through their music.[1] And if you’re planning some other kind of afternoon festivity, prepare as much as you can today: find a cricket ball, gather some pads and pencils, get out the dress-up box; whatever you need.

2016-12-21

It’s just as well we weren’t planning a concert at my house (if you do a double act with only two guests there’s no audience) because things have changed again!

“Caitlin has thrown Dad out,” Hannah told me. “She’s done it before but she’s always taken him back, so I didn’t want to mention it, but it’s been four weeks now and I think it’s sticking.”

“She’s thrown him out?” I repeated.

“He’s an unfaithful bastard and he doesn’t deserve her.”

Ha! I knew those business trips where he goes away and we all have dinner together were about the wrong kind of business!

“So Caitlin’s still a mess and she’s not very merry and I was wondering if it would be okay if we all spent Christmas with you?”

Of course it is! Hannah will be here for dinner after all! And Pixie and Poppet too, and it’s wonderful to have little children around at Christmas time! (I’ll make rainbow jelly – they’ll love it, although it won’t make them feel nearly as excited and happy as I felt at that moment, knowing that I’d share Christmas with both of my children after all.)

“I can bring my turkey breast and my pudding,” Hannah continued, “but I wasn’t going to do ham so I don’t think we’ll have enough. Is it too late to order another?”

Well, we can try but I’m pretty sure all of Bill’s premium, free-range hams are already spoken for. I’ll check what they have at the supermarket (if I can get a parking spot).

And I’ll have to brave the mall tomorrow to get a present for Caitlin and it’s bound to be mayhem. But I know just what I’ll get her – some of those really good herb snippers – so I should be able to execute it as a lightning raid.

[1] Although Nanna could play anything at sight better than most people could after a week’s rehearsal. (She was, however, unable to play pop songs without making digs about the inferiority of modern music.)

20 December

At last I know

I’ve finally solved the mystery of whether garbos like to be given Christmas biscuits. I was up before the garbos came and the biscuits were still there so I knew they weren’t taken by anyone else, and the garbage truck honked as it left – I assume it was a honk of thanks. Then I found the bag a few metres down the road! Right about where you’d have finished the biscuits if you ate them as soon as you got them!

2016-12-20
What a surprise that a garbo would litter!

The department head called me into the office today to thank me for my role in saving the Christmas party.[1] He said he wanted to give me a token of his gratitude and he presented me with Laura’s huge, bulbous op-shop punch bowl. I smiled gracefully – and will return it to my nearest op shop as soon as it opens again in the New Year. But they say it’s the thought that counts and I do appreciate the appreciation.

[1] So I talked to the department head, and I shook the department hand.

19 December

For you

Here’s my Christmas present to you: yuletide gift-bringer selection tool

And this is what you do with it:

  • Print it out, double-sided. (Flip it on the short-edge if your printer gives you that option.) This should give you a page with doors on one side and green text boxes on the other, and a second page with pictures on one side and nothing on the other.
  • Cut around 3 of the 4 sides of each door, but don’t cut the left sides of the doors. (A Stanley knife[1] is a good tool for this, and a steel ruler will help you get it very straight.)
  • Put glue on the page with the green text boxes, but don’t put any on any of the green parts. Make sure you glue the edges well.
  • Carefully put the picture sheet on top of the green sheet, lining up the edges well, to make a sandwich:
    • The door sheet will be on the bottom, facing down.
    • The green text box sheet will be on the back of that.
    • The pictures will be the start of the next layer, facing down.
    • The top of the sandwich will be the blank page.
  • Now wait for the glue to dry.

Then you will have something that opens like an advent calendar but will explain the difference between the guys in red to your visitors. (You, of course, already know the difference between Sinterklaas and Father Christmas!)

2016-12-19

Jeremy was helping me cook dinner when Danni asked, “What are we doing on Sunday?”

“You should know – we’ll be at your parents’ house,” said Jeremy.

“Not on Sunday,” said Danni. “We’re Serbian.”

“You are?” I said. “That’s wonderful!”

“What’s so good about being Serbian?” asked Jeremy, and then he added, “Is it racist to think that all Serbians are good?”

“Serbians celebrate Orthodox Christmas,” I explained, “and that’s on the 7th of January.”

“That’s right,” said Danni, “so what are we doing on Sunday?”

“Hey Mum, we can come to Christmas after all!” said Jeremy when he finally worked it out.

“That’s really, really good news,” I replied. (I felt like a two-tonne hat had just been taken off my head, and my eyes teared up, but I blamed the latter on the onions.)

I’ll have to extend the table after all. “Cosy” just doesn’t feel like Christmas to me. And I can justify making cherry tarts now, which is even better!

Mind you, it does mean I’m heading back to the supermarket tomorrow for mascarpone. And I’ll have to see if there’s any chance my butcher can upgrade me from that size twenty turkey. (We’ll have enough for dinner but there wouldn’t be much left over for tea and that’s not the way we roll in my house!)

[1] Also known as a retractable safety knife, or a box-cutter. (Yes, that’s the tool that brought down planes on 9/11, but it can be used for good as well as for evil.)

18 December

Dishing it up

There’s one more thing to do with your menu and running sheets: work out which dishes you’ll be using for each dish so that you can be sure that you’re not planning to put the mousse in the same glasses as the jelly[1] and the mince tarts on the same plate as the gingerbread.[2]

And if you have any cooking tools that might be in contention (for example, the one favourite saucepan that you use for béchamel sauce and custard) check that you’re not overlapping with those too.[3]

18 dec 2016
Laying down the ladles.

William’s next problem is that his mother’s present was at my place but he needs it under his family tree and he still refuses to handle it himself. So he proposed that I drop around to his family home tonight, taking one of the small fruitcakes he saw in my kitchen as a present and an excuse. But this plan has three flaws before he’s finished with Step One: Jill doesn’t like fruitcake; I’ve only made enough for the people I was planning to give them to;[4] and since we don’t usually exchange presents, Jill will feel awkward that she has nothing to give me in return.

Step Two is that I bring the vase in my handbag (which is the next flaw: the package is so big I’d need an overnight bag and Jill would wonder if I intended to stay). Then William would create a distraction – he didn’t give details of this, but he did mention that his mother comes running when she hears something breaking! – so that I could slip the present under the tree.

“William,” I said, “does Allison still work in the city?”

She does and he’s given me her phone number and we’ll run with my plan instead: I’ll ring William’s sister, arrange to meet her at lunchtime and handover the gift, and she will put it under the tree when she visits her mother on the weekend. And neither Jill nor I will ever need to know how William was planning to create the sound of something breaking.

[1] I once found a mouse in a glass I was planning to use for jelly, and I can tell you that gave us both a fright.

[2] I’m sure you can improvise but it’s easier if you work it out now rather than at the last minute. My friend Jill’s daughter Allison went to kinder with my own daughter so Jill also had to do a dish at short notice when the branch fell on the kinder roof. All of her actual serving dishes were at her mother’s house (which Jill was using as a free storage locker while she painted her house, so she covered a pizza box in foil and put her cupcakes in that. It did look good but, unfortunately, it still smelled of garlic, which is not an appetising aroma for lemon coconut butterfly cakes).

[3] It’s too late to be practical to ask for a new saucepan for Christmas

[4] Inflict them on, says Jeremy. But he doesn’t like fruitcake.

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.