24 April

Tagging along

Circle gift tags are a cinch and bauble-shaped gift tags are nearly as easy: again you draw a circle on a piece of coloured card but this time you add a small square on the side. Paint the square gold (or glue Easter egg foil onto it) and punch a hole into it.[1]

24 apr 2016.jpg
The loop of gold thread adds versimiltude (and pizazz).

Christmas 1970: Something Father Christmas gave us every year was a “stocking” which was a sock-shaped piece of red cardboard about the size of a loaf of bread covered with lollies and with a strange red mesh stapled over the top to keep everything in. We didn’t have sweets every day so this was quite a treat, but the red dye of the packaging came off on our hands, making us look way too piratical for Christmas Day.

[1] I did try actual baubles as gift tags one year. They looked pretty and it was quite easy to write on them with a gold pen but it was also quite easy to smash them to smithereens under the tree.

23 April

Snap, crack, trinket and motto

The classic components of a Christmas cracker are snap, cap, trinket and motto (and yes, they sound like a firm of lawyers).

Here’s the classic shape of a Christmas cracker: 23 apr 2016.jpg

To create it, you will need cardboard lunch wrap rolls,[1] pretty paper and some kind of ornament (which can be as simple as a bow of ribbon).

So here are some things to add to your scavenger list:

  • Cardboard tubes
  • Decorative paper. Perhaps:
    • Recycled wrapping paper from last year
    • Plain coloured paper[2] (Crepe paper wraps well but you’re unlikely to get any for free and the colour comes off on your fingers if it gets wet and that’s way too likely at a Christmas feast.)
  • Ribbons or anything else that might look good tying up the ends[3]
  • Decorations to garnish them with[4]


Christmas Day 1970: When Dad got up on that Christmas morning in 1970, he showed me how to use my camera. It was point-and-click so the technology was easy but he talked about shadows and framing shots and fingers over lenses. He also suggested that I resist putting in a film straight away and instead just practice across the morning. This was good advice but Bronwyn was not impressed when I said I’d take a picture of her and her stocking contents so she arranged them nicely and posed in front of them, and then found out there was no film in my camera.

[1] Cardboard toilet rolls would work in theory, but don’t work in practice because of the “yuk” factor.

[2] The year my friend Todd decorated with lilac crocodiles, his wife Claire used white paper around the crackers and got her kids to draw crocodiles on them in purple ink.

[3] My niece Emma used multiple strips of coloured cellophane one year. It looked brilliant – like rainbows in a blender – but she said it was a bugger to tie.

[4] If needed. Anything over Emma’s rainbows would have been over the top.


22 April

Dessert cheats

If there’s a time for dessert, it’s definitely Christmas Day – in fact, you should be spoiled for choice. So, if you love cooking desserts, the Christmas spread will be a piece of cake for you.[1] And you’ll also be fine if you can call upon the skills (be they culinary or marketing) of your guests to provide the sweet course.

But if you’ll be obliged to do sweets and if that’s not really your thing,[2] fear not: you can buy everything you need, ready to go, if you know where to shop.

However there is a middle way: easy desserts that you assemble from ready-made components (like meringues and lemon butter). This:

  • Is more creative that opening a box from a patisserie
  • May be cheaper than ready-made desserts (but is usually more expensive than desserts made from scratch)
  • Gives you cooking points, even if the only implement you needed was a spoon for ladling custard.

If this idea appeals, here are some suggestions:

  • Put a layer of custard (or whipped cream or chocolate mousse) into brandy snap baskets and pile sliced fruit on top. (Mango is great.)
  • Put a slice of banana into a chocolate cup, cover with caramel, add whipped cream if you like and sprinkle with chocolate hail.[3]
  • Buy a pav base and top it with cream and something pretty. (Lashings of fresh fruit always looks good but grated chocolate and/or smashed honeycomb are popular too)
  • Spread shortbread rounds with lemon butter and garnish with half a strawberry (or a sprig of red currants).[4]
  • Squash profiteroles[5] into a cake tin, pour melted chocolate over them and refrigerate. Scatter with raspberries (or macadamias) and slice into wedges to serve.[6]
  • Make a strüdel with puff pastry, tinned apple, sultanas (soaked in rum for extra impact) and cinnamon.
  • Thaw a frozen cheesecake and pile it with pineapple, passionfruit and pistachios.
22 apr 2016.jpg
Knock up a trifle cake in ten minutes with a sponge base, whatever liqueur you have in the cupboard, supermarket custard and an array of seasonal fruit (and then knock it down).

I lost my Yuletide innocence at the age of five. A school friend said, “You know the tooth fairy? She’s not real. It’s just your mum and dad.”

I pondered this and, since the idea of a supernatural midget buying teeth for cash really didn’t add up, I accepted his thesis.

“And the Easter Bunny, that’s your mother and father too,” he added.

This idea I was less happy with but the reckoning was sound: if the tooth fairy was a fantasy, then the Easter Bunny wasn’t likely to be real either.

“And it’s the same with Father Christmas,” he concluded.

No! Not Father Christmas! But the logic was inescapable so I went home and asked my mother and she admitted the truth.

I was unhappy[7] but I discovered there was little difference. Father Christmas didn’t come any more but “Father Christmas” did[8] and it was nearly as good. (I feel much the same about Jesus, actually. I don’t believe in God but I do believe in humanity and kindness and forgiveness, and the quality of mercy is not strained if it’s human rather than divine.)

[1] Cheesecake, that is, and trifle and pav and lemon meringue pie.

[2] My cousin Peter hyperventilates in a kitchen but will tend a barbecue for hours. So he mostly cooks meat and charred vegies but he also does surprisingly good chocolate puddings baked in halved oranges (and unsurprisingly bad pineapple and marshmallow kebabs).

[3] You need to make these just before you serve them because time is not the friend of the cut banana.

[4] Are you seeing a pattern here? You can put fruit on anything because it’s delicious and colourful and, if you go for summer fruits like berries and cherries and tropical fruit, it’s also luxurious and festive.

[5] Theoretically, this is a useful recipe for leftover profiteroles. In real life, there’s no such thing as leftover profiteroles.

[6] This is my nephew Ben’s favourite. He tried making it when he was fifteen but failed miserably… because he ate too many profiteroles during the construction phase to have enough left over to fill the tin.

[7] I still think five’s too young, although I know that finding out too late is also a problem.

[8] I had a little sister and a little brother so I was set for years.

21 April

Doing your tables

Christmas is a time to take your table setting up a notch:

  • So that’s actually setting the table, if you don’t do so on a normal day[1]
  • Or adding napkins and flowers if your daily table setting is plainer[2]
  • Or, if napkins and flowers are part of your normal routine, adding really fancy linen[3] and spectacular centrepieces

But before you can get stuck into planning the setting, you need to plan the table itself, taking into account its length, the number of diners,[4] the quantity of chairs and the size of your dining room. If it’s not an easy fit, you may need to add trestle tables and borrowed chairs and move into the family room, onto the veranda or out to the backyard.[5]

21 apr 2016.jpg
Nice weather for it!

My table, when extended, seats fourteen comfortably, and sixteen if you put two chairs on each end. Now that we’re down to twelve for dinner, (including Emma’s baby who won’t need a chair) we should fit easily.

Wendy gave me an update on Emma (doing fine but sick of being pregnant) and also said that she’s confident that she’s worked out why Matthew is being cagey about his birthday.

“He doesn’t want to turn fifty,” she explained.

“He was fine with forty,” I objected. In fact, he had a picnic day at his favourite water slide (which disconcerted management because they assumed that a booking for thirty people for Matthew’s birthday party was going to be for children).

“I’m sure I’m right,” she said and we agreed that I’d try to wrangle the truth out of him.

[1] Jeremy says he’d like to live entirely on finger food because you don’t need to set a table, wash cutlery or even own a fork if your entire diet is canapes.

[2] Or based entirely on finger food.

[3] Like a double dozen double damask dinner napkins (which is a tongue twister from my mother’s youth).

[4] And maybe the size of the diners if any of them are as big as my friend Fiona’s brother-in-law Tim who, Fiona says, looks like he ate Santa Claus.

[5] Where you will need an adverse weather plan covering rain, high temperatures and wind. (There was a shower of fish in Atlanta on Christmas Day in 1910, but I think you can safely assume that won’t happen to you.)

20 April


I’m not fond of regifting (which is where you give person A a present that person B gave to you):

  • If B finds out, they could be quite insulted
  • If A finds out, they could be quite insulted
  • If you didn’t like the present in the first place, there’s a chance A won’t like it either

But if you can find a way of neutralising all three objections, it is both economical and environmentally sound.

So if you are given something that you think would suit someone else better than you, put it in your present box but do attach a label listing the donor: you don’t want to give it back to the person who gave it to you, or even to anyone they’re close to.[1]

20 apr 2016.jpg
Candles! Just what I wanted! (To give to someone else.)

Christmas Day 1970: The adults quickly made their way to the lounge room on Christmas morning because they wanted to be in on the fun too. So there we all were in our pyjamas, with parents saying artfully “What did Father Christmas bring you?” and little kids excitedly telling all and big kids giving knowing winks to the grown-ups.[2] There was a moment of suspense when Uncle Jim staggered backwards onto Michelle’s Santa sack and we all heard an ominous crunch… but it turned out to be a stray Christmas decoration and so Uncle Jim and Michelle were both quite relieved (but Nanna was a little annoyed).

[1] Although my colleague Murray gave his wife a book on bonsai (which is something he thought she’d like because she appreciates picturesque trees) and she (who loves strolling around gardens but doesn’t read at all) put it in her present box and then gave it back to him for his birthday and Murray was actually quite pleased. He’d chosen the best bonsai book in the shop and he’d been looking forward to reading it himself.

[2] If you sneer at conspiracy theorists, do remember that there is a huge conspiracy to mislead children about the bearded guy in red and everyone’s in on it. So if that’s possible, maybe the CIA really did shoot JFK and maybe Harold Holt really was taken by aliens. (But I doubt it!)

19 April

Say it with cinnamon

Food makes good Small Presents because:

  • Everyone eats
  • Most people enjoy delicious things
  • It takes up no space[1]

Homemade food makes even better Small Presents because:

  • It feels personal[2]
  • Those who don’t cook much generally appreciate home cooking
  • You can produce quality goods for quantity prices

So here are some suggestions for edible Small Presents:

  • Festive biscuits (all one kind[3] or a collection)
  • Fancy truffles
  • A little Christmas pudding
  • A little Christmas cake
  • Relishes, sauces
  • Pickles, flavoured oils and vinegars
  • Jams, cordials
  • Classic confectionery (fudge, coconut ice, toffee)[4]
19 apr 2016.jpg
Trifling truffles.

Christmas Day 1970: Father Christmas left me a camera: an Instamatic with a smart vinyl case and a few rolls of film. I also got a set of textas and a Knitting Nancy[5] and a kite and a Narnia book. I was delighted.

[1] Once it’s eaten, that is.

[2] Maybe too personal if, like my friend Jill, you make a batch of fortune cookies for each of your friends and tailor the fortunes rather too closely to their personal lives.

[3] Eg: hedgehog. (See 19 February.)

[4] My friend Fiona’s mother used to make toffee apples saying that they were cheap, the kids loved them and she was getting fibre into them along with the sugar. However giving a small child a lolly on a stick is surefire way to cover your whole house in stickiness so I don’t recommend this one myself.

[5] My first few attempts were more like the products of a Knotting Nancy, but that would be a few days later.

18 April


One year, I was browsing through the Christmas paraphernalia at Ikea and noticed that all of it – decorations, trees, wrapping paper, cards – was labelled “snömys” so I tried to translate that from Swedish to English… and stumped Google. Next, I emailed an Australian friend who had lived in Sweden for many years and this is what she said:

  • Snö = snow
  • Mys is probably related to “mysig” which means something like cosy, pleasant, nice.  Close to gemuetlich, I think, in German.
  • So I’d guess overall something like “snow fun” or “the joy of snow”.
18 apr 2016 A.jpg
18 apr 2016 B.jpg The original snömys.

You have, no doubt, noticed that a lot of Christmas is based on winter and I now think of this as “snömys” (which I treat as a plural because it works for me but I know that’s not a fair translation of the Swedish) and here is a list of very common snömys you’re likely to see:

  • snowflakes[1]
  • bulk snow and icicles
  • reindeer
  • sleighs
  • Santa suits trimmed with fur[2]

They don’t actually work in Australia’s summery Christmasses so I avoid them but there’s no harm in them and they’re religion-free and hence inoffensive to all. So go ahead and ice up our summerfest with winter imagery if you think it’s cool.

[1] And snowmen. The worst Christmas of my life was the year that my brother Matthew was seven and would not stop playing “Frosty the Snowman”. Eventually, I hid the tape but then he started playing it on the recorder which was worse.

[2] Fir is also a snömy but is usually seen in pots rather than on Santas.

18 apr 2016 B.jpg