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.

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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 December

In the running

You’ve got your menu, you’ve got your shopping lists and now it’s time to make a careful culinary running sheet[1] so write down the times you need to do each cooking task on Christmas Day. When are you putting the turkey in the oven? When do you need to get the water boiling for the pudding? When will you (or your helper) chop the onions for the salads?[2]

If there any other hectic cooking schedules in the next week,[3] do running sheets for those too, and if you find any tight spots (too much to do at once) you can see the problem now and can plan around it.

You could consider doing some preparation steps earlier[4] Or you could swap to a different dish, and even delegate!

2016-12-16
Lists – the Christmas angel’s best friend.

My friend Jill’s son William dropped in tonight and explained his predicament. He asked his mother what she wanted for Christmas and she told him in great detail and it was all about crystal. The problem is that he didn’t listen. Then he realised what he’d done and he asked her to tell him again and she did and he tuned out again.[5] William said he didn’t think he could ask her three times, so he’s turned to me instead.

And he’s in luck: Jill has often admired my big crystal vase, there are similar designs in the shops and it fits William’s budget. We’ll head out tomorrow.

[1] Those who make running sheets should be able to avoid running entirely.

[2] “When will you give up and get take-away?” is not likely to be an option on a day that most of the shops are closed.

[3] Although I’ve recommended two days for rainbow jelly, I can cut it down to one if the rest of my day is flexible. This came in handy when a tree fell on the roof of Hannah’s kinder and they had to move the break-up barbecue to the primary school and bring it forward three days to fit around the school schedule.

[4] Cheesecake, trifle and chocolate ripple cake are all best made a day or two ahead, and some biscuits can be made weeks ahead and then frozen. (Some biscuits can also be eaten frozen, but it won’t help your diet to know that.)

[5] I can’t blame him for this: I know men in their fifties who could not concentrate on a discussion about crystal, no matter what was at stake.

5 November

Rainbow jelly

Here’s my (underage) crowd-pleasing rainbow jelly recipe[1].

You need:

  • 1 packet each of red, orange, yellow, green and purple jelly crystals[2]
  • a packet of chocolate coins
  • water and kettle (or anything else that boils water)
  • a mixing bowl and spoon
  • a measuring cup
  • a lot of small,[3] straight-sided[4] drinking glasses[5]
  • a ruler
  • 2 days

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And here’s what you do:

  1. Make up the purple jelly according to the directions on the packet and leave it to cool to room temperature[6] on the kitchen bench.

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  1. In the meantime, make sure you have plenty of room in the fridge.
  2. Use the ruler to measure how thick each of the jelly stripes should be. For example, if you have 10cm of space inside your glasses, since you have 6 colours of jelly, if you make each stripe 1.5cm high, you’ll have a centimetre of space left at the top which is about perfect. If you’re mathematically inclined, the formula is:

StripeHeight = (GlassHeight – GapAtTop)/6

  1. When the jelly is cool, pour some into the first glass, using the ruler to get it just the right height, and then do the other glasses, matching them to the first by eye.

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  1. Carefully drop a chocolate coin[7] into each glass.[8]
  2. Put the glasses into the fridge to set the jelly.
  3. Rinse your bowl and spoon, make the blue jelly and leave it on the bench to come to room temperature.
  4. Pour the blue jelly into the first glass,[9] again using the ruler to get it to the right height.

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  1. Then add a blue stripe to each of the other glasses, matching them to the first blue stripe by eye.
  2. Put the glasses back in the fridge.

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  1. Repeat steps 7 to 10 with the green, yellow, orange and red jellies.

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Some adults will find this irresistible too.

*

 “Mum,” said Jeremy, “I’m going to spend Christmas with Danni.”

I knew the day would come eventually but I didn’t know it would be this year.

“But you only met her a few months ago,” I peeped.

“That’s long enough to know that she’s the one and I want to be with her always.”

“You could both come here.”

“Christmas is really important to her and she wants to spend it with her family.”

I didn’t say that Christmas is really important to me, and I want to spend it with my family because that’s not likely to persuade a young man in love. I guess my best chance is to wait till next year and then propose that they alternate between the two households (and I should count myself lucky that Danni’s parents are still together, which means that they won’t have to alternate between three households).

A colleague once told me that when your daughter marries, you gain a son but when your son marries, you lose a son. But I’m reminding myself that this isn’t that bad, of course. It’s only Christmas.

[1] I promise you that proper rainbow jelly will knock the socks off three-year-old guests.

[2] It’s definitely colour rather than flavour that’s important here and I recommend Aeroplane Jelly’s raspberry, orange, lemon, lime, berry blue and purple grape.

[3] Because nobody needs a lot of jelly.

[4] If the glasses taper (like classic parfait glasses), you need more jelly for the top layers than in the bottom layers.

[5] They don’t have to match.

[6] It won’t set at room temperature unless your kitchen is quite cold (and you can microwave the jelly to liquefy it again if it does set).

[7] This is the gold at the end of the rainbow and is a big part of the appeal.

[8] This is the first reason that the jelly needs to be cool: so that you don’t melt the chocolate.

[9] This is the other reason the jelly needs to be cool: if you pour hot jelly on top of cold jelly, you melt it a little and the colours get murky.