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.

 

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.

 

15 November

China check

How many people are you feeding at Christmas? Do you have enough plates? What will you do if not? Buy more? Borrow some?[1] Mix different sets? Is there anything you could adjust? Are the kids small enough to use salad plates? Would they prefer festive plastic plates?[2]

15 nov 2016
Christmas assortment.

Also check your cutlery, and glasses and if you don’t have enough, I can probably lend you some of mine, because Wendy rang me last night and said, “Janet, you know our cruise?”

Of course I do.

“We set sail on the twentieth. I’ve just found out.”

“The twentieth of January? How’s that going to get you back for first term?”

“The twentieth of December. We’ll be away for Christmas.”

I was aghast.

“I told you Gertruda was devious! And I can’t say no now. Everyone is looking forward to it so much – and it is a tropical cruise. I don’t want to miss it either.”

Do you know who that leaves on my guest list for Christmas dinner? Just Matthew and me. I confess I cried, but it wasn’t for the loss of the splendid Christmas I’ve been looking forward to, it was because my whole family seems quite happy to do without me. But crying doesn’t change anything, so I eventually pulled myself together and started to recut my plans. (We won’t need the extension for the dining table. In fact, we could use the little table on the porch and still have plenty of room for water jugs and walnuts. And crackers: I made fourteen, so we can have seven each. How festive.)

[1] My friend Fiona and her sisters couldn’t decide who should get their mother’s dinner service when she died, so they split it. This meant that none of them had enough dishes for even a weekday dinner so they all went out and bought more. Between them, they ended up with three dozen identical place settings so they all borrowed from each other whenever they had a big party. “The initial fight ended up with us working together,” says Jill. “I think my mother would have liked that.”

[2] They can be pretty gaudy, but kids usually like gaudy.