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.

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!)

10 December

The chop

If your Christmas tree is a lopped pine, you can buy it this weekend and it should still be fine for at least a few days beyond the 25th. They do best away from the heat so don’t put them too close to sunny windows.[1]

My council offers a free tree pick up service in January and yours may too but you might need to register beforehand.[2]

2016-12-10
Make a trunk call.

We had planned to undecorate the conference room today but first Adam and then Jessica and then Laura texted me to say that they were sick and wouldn’t be able to make it so I texted them all back and said that we’d reschedule to tomorrow. (Being hungover is a self-inflicted injury and I don’t think it should get you out of cleaning up.)

This left me with plenty of time to meet up with my book club friend Sharon to exchange presents. Hers was wrapped in paper covered with her own whimsical cat sketches and she said that a local craft shop had persuaded her to design some gift wrap. It had turned out very well but she was agonising about whether doing a series of greeting cards would be too commercial.

I don’t see why it’s considered unartistic to make art that appeals to the masses but perhaps that’s why I’m an office worker rather than an artist.

[1] And my niece Emma told her mother that you also shouldn’t take your eyes off the baby when she’s close to the tree: she knew little Mia would enjoy crawling under the piney splendour but she didn’t know that Mia could actually reach up to the lower branches until she found a golden star in her mouth. (Both the baby and the bauble survived the experience.)

[2] My colleague Murray mulches his tree each year and spreads it on his flowerbeds – where you can occasionally see a shard of glittery plastic from a decoration he missed.

 

7 December

Deck the cubicles

Some workplaces encourage their staff to decorate their workspaces – and some discourage it! If tinsel is forbidden to you but you’d like to decorate (and you don’t think it will get you sacked) put up Christmas cards because they’re difficult to object to and they do make a merry display. (Why not go out with your colleagues at lunchtime to a stationer or two-dollar shop to buy cards, and then come back and write them out for each other? You’ll bond like super glue.)

If there is a decoration competition, strategists often leave their display till the last minute so that they don’t tip their hand to their rivals, but I prefer beginning as soon as the season is declared open otherwise you don’t get the maximum enjoyment from your glitz.

Here’s a design I’ve won my sectional comps with. I called it “Cascade of Baubles”[1] and I put it together with a mountain of baubles (which I could buy for not much more than a dime a dozen by mid December), some bird netting I had at home and several boxes of paperclips I borrowed from the stationery cupboard (and returned in January).

2016-12-07
Cascade of baubles.

We’ve averted a last-minute office party crisis: Laura was supposed to organise a punch bowl for the wassail and had forgotten all about it. So she left work at 1pm and went to every op shop she passed on her way home until she encountered a capacious glass monstrosity in the sixth shop she tried, so all will be well. (Adam is quite certain that the magnificence of the wassail will blind everyone to the lack of beauty in the wassail bowl, but I think it’s more likely that the wassail will just blind them full stop.)

[1] My ex-colleague Donna called it “infestation of baubles” but she didn’t have an artistic bone in her body and was clearly jealous that her trite cardboard fireplace with slipshod cut-out stockings impressed no one.

3 December

The icing on the cake

If you’re into the icing arts,[1] a Christmas cake is a good platform for them so jump in soon so that you can use the cake as a table centrepiece throughout the festive season.

But if you’re not keen on piped lace and sugar angels, skip the icing.[2] You could put a cake frill around the edges (which is a good option if you decorated the top with almonds) or put an actual Christmas decoration on top[3] provided it’s not going to shed glitter or other inedible substances and that you’re going to be able to wash the cake crumbs off it later.

2016-12-03
Quite frilling.

Gemma at work mentioned that she and her husband Paul have decided not to go home to Western Australia for Christmas.[4] They do now have a social circle in Melbourne but, although you can celebrate your birthday with friends, they’re usually busy with their families at Christmas so she was asking me about very small turkeys. (“They’re called chickens,” I said.)

“Would you like to have Christmas with us?” I asked, and she would.

I’m feeling merrier already (and I think I can justify pudding and trifle and cheesecake and fruit salad for a table of six).

[1] Like Auntie Pat: she didn’t just ice mince tarts, she considered cakes mere vehicles for frosting and she would even ice plain biscuits, particularly if she was practising a new technique or a dicey colour scheme. (Her family forced her to draw the line at toast.)

[2] Because Cassidy is not the only person who thinks that’s too much sugar.

[3] Nanna had a plastic sleigh she saved for this purpose every year.

[4] New mortgage: no funds.

2 December

The queen of tarts

My turn-the-lights-on cocktail party went very well last night: it was a few friends, a few relatives, a few pretty drinks and a pretty good time. We finished up with mince tarts which I think are best when small, made with thin pastry, cooked in gem scone tins for a pleasing round shape and topped with a small star of pastry.[1] Or you can cover them completely or use a different Christmas shape.

Here’s my recipe – but you don’t really need one: just use your favourite pastry, be it homemade or store bought, and your best fruit mince (ditto), assemble the tarts and cook them.

Mince tarts

02 dec 2016.jpg

Makes 24

Preparation time 55 minutes

Start 90 minutes ahead

1 cup plain flour

1 cup self-raising flour

125g butter

¼ tsp lemon juice (or vinegar)

1/3 to ½ cup water

1½ cups fruit mince

Preheat the oven to 190˚C. Grease two 12-hole gem scone trays.

Sift the flours together and rub in the butter. Add the lemon juice to the water and mix enough into the flour mixture to make a firm dough. Knead the dough lightly until smooth and roll out very thin.

Cut circles out of the pastry that are slightly bigger than the diameters of the tart holes in the trays. Cut stars out of the pastry scraps that are slightly smaller than the diameters of the holes in the trays. Line the tart holes with the pastry circles, fill with fruit mince just short of the top, add pastry stars and bake for 25 minutes or until pastry is lightly browned. Cool in tins.

*

I decorated my dining room today. I used big swoops of fat green tinsel with a single red bauble hanging at each of the high points and it looked really good with the clover garden walls. (Mind you, with a mere four of us, we don’t have to use the dining room at all: we’d fit on the coffee table in the lounge room.)

[1] Auntie Pat used to ice them but this is extremely unusual, totally unnecessary (they are sweet enough already) and irritatingly confusing: people would think they were getting a flattish cupcake and would find themselves with a mouthful of raisins instead.

1 December

Deck the halls

Decorate! You can do it all in one big hit today (or later on) or you can do a little each day until you’re sufficiently festooned. Either way, remember that one tends to be more enthusiastic about putting decorations up than about taking them down, so be a little restrained.

If you want your de-decorating to be done with military precision, document each section as you finish it so that you can capture every ornament later.[1] The easiest way to document is to take photos but an actual list is the most effective tool in the removal phase. (Then again, it’s fun to spot a rogue decoration still up in February.)[2]

Today is also the first day for playing Christmas music[3] and here are my picks for the day:

  • “Deck the Halls”[4]
  • “O Christmas Tree”
  • “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”.

2016-12-01

I received lots of Christmas cards in my mailbox this evening – and they were all from me! I had used classy black envelopes and I wrote the addresses with a gold pen and stuck address stickers on the back, and the mail-sorting machines found it easier to read the labels than the gold ink and decided all the cards were to me! I’ll cover up the stickers and I’ll take the cards back to the post office tomorrow to dispatch them all over again but I am so annoyed: I timed these perfectly to arrive on 1 December and now they’ll be late, in spite of my best endeavours!

[1] My friend Jill used to pay a bounty to her kids for any decoration they spied after 7 January. She said they looked so hard that they found lost toys under seat cushions and stray socks behind bookcases, so it was worth every penny.

[2] There’s more than one way of having Christmas last all year!

[3] Unless you work in a shop, in which case you’ll already be sick of “White Christmas”.

[4] This is the least favourite carol of my friend Lisa Hall: she takes it to mean “Knock all of my family to the ground”.