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.)

16 November

Ginger bread beer

In my opinion, soft drink comes straight from Satan: the only thing in it that could be considered food is sugar – and we all get too much of that – and there’s quite strong evidence that sweet drinks contribute significantly to obesity[1] but if there’s a time it’s appropriate to drink pop, it must be Christmas.

You could consider making your own ginger beer. It doesn’t have significantly more food value[2] but you can at least avoid the foam inhibitors and artificial flavourings of commercial soft drink. Children will usually find this fun (and you can turn it into a science lesson) and the ginger beer is good as a mixer, both in punch (see 16 July) and in cocktails.[3] In fact, it’s useful enough to be a good addition to a hamper.  So here’s my father’s recipe:

Ginger beer

2016-11-16

Makes 10 litres

Preparation time 1 hour

Start 1 to 2 weeks ahead

2 lemons

1 knob of ginger (approx. 120g)

10 litres water

1 kg sugar

3.5g dried yeast

Peel the lemons and slice them thinly. Cut the ginger into thin slices and bruise with a rolling pin.

Put the sugar in a large vat and add the lemons and ginger.

Boil 1 to 2 litres of water, pour into the vat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.

When cool, add enough cold water to make the volume up to about 10 litres. Sprinkle the yeast on top, cover with a clean tea towel and leave it at room temperature to ferment.

The ginger beer will be ready to bottle when the fermentation has caused all of the solids to float to the top, and the drink is peppered with small bubbles. (This takes about a day in summer, and about a week in winter.)

Strain the ginger beer into plastic soft drink bottles[4] and let stand again. When the bottles are tight (after about 3 days in summer), open a bottle carefully and taste the product. If the flavour is right, refrigerate all the bottles and then drink your delicious ginger beer at your leisure.

*

I rang Matthew yesterday, once I got myself back together.

“It’s just going to be you and me for Christmas,” I explained.

“We could go to a restaurant if you like,” he said.

“Over my dead body!” I replied.

“Then we’ll stay home and be merry anyway,” he said.

But I don’t know how I’m going to reorganise the menu. I rang my butcher and said. “Bill, cancel those two size thirty-six turkeys and put me down for one size twenty.”

“How many are you feeding?” he asked.

“Two,” I said.

“I could do you a nice turkey breast roast,” he said.

“It’s a whole bird or nothing,” I replied. “Don’t worry, I have plenty of recipes for leftover turkey. And please swap my four-kilogram ham for the smallest you’ve got.”

He offered me pre-sliced ham, but I wasn’t having any of that. Not for Christmas!

So that’s the meat sorted (all the way through to February, I think!) but I currently have five desserts on the list and you just can’t justify that for two people, but how can we not have pudding and trifle and cheesecake and fruit salad? It’s still Christmas, even if there are only two of us.

[1] Even the ones with low-cal sweeteners.

[2] It does have lemon in it but not enough to stop you getting scurvy.

[3] Moscow mule = vodka + ginger beer + mint leaves + lime wedges (and absolutely nothing equine).

[4] The plastic can take a surprising amount of pressure, thus avoiding the back-cupboard explosions that were all too common in the days that my father kept his ginger beer in glass. The bangs startled guests and were a waste of bottles, soft drink and time (because it took a while to clean up the mess) but Dad said he enjoyed the frisson of danger he felt whenever he approached the cupboard.