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.

20 December

At last I know

I’ve finally solved the mystery of whether garbos like to be given Christmas biscuits. I was up before the garbos came and the biscuits were still there so I knew they weren’t taken by anyone else, and the garbage truck honked as it left – I assume it was a honk of thanks. Then I found the bag a few metres down the road! Right about where you’d have finished the biscuits if you ate them as soon as you got them!

2016-12-20
What a surprise that a garbo would litter!

The department head called me into the office today to thank me for my role in saving the Christmas party.[1] He said he wanted to give me a token of his gratitude and he presented me with Laura’s huge, bulbous op-shop punch bowl. I smiled gracefully – and will return it to my nearest op shop as soon as it opens again in the New Year. But they say it’s the thought that counts and I do appreciate the appreciation.

[1] So I talked to the department head, and I shook the department hand.

18 December

Dishing it up

There’s one more thing to do with your menu and running sheets: work out which dishes you’ll be using for each dish so that you can be sure that you’re not planning to put the mousse in the same glasses as the jelly[1] and the mince tarts on the same plate as the gingerbread.[2]

And if you have any cooking tools that might be in contention (for example, the one favourite saucepan that you use for béchamel sauce and custard) check that you’re not overlapping with those too.[3]

18 dec 2016
Laying down the ladles.

William’s next problem is that his mother’s present was at my place but he needs it under his family tree and he still refuses to handle it himself. So he proposed that I drop around to his family home tonight, taking one of the small fruitcakes he saw in my kitchen as a present and an excuse. But this plan has three flaws before he’s finished with Step One: Jill doesn’t like fruitcake; I’ve only made enough for the people I was planning to give them to;[4] and since we don’t usually exchange presents, Jill will feel awkward that she has nothing to give me in return.

Step Two is that I bring the vase in my handbag (which is the next flaw: the package is so big I’d need an overnight bag and Jill would wonder if I intended to stay). Then William would create a distraction – he didn’t give details of this, but he did mention that his mother comes running when she hears something breaking! – so that I could slip the present under the tree.

“William,” I said, “does Allison still work in the city?”

She does and he’s given me her phone number and we’ll run with my plan instead: I’ll ring William’s sister, arrange to meet her at lunchtime and handover the gift, and she will put it under the tree when she visits her mother on the weekend. And neither Jill nor I will ever need to know how William was planning to create the sound of something breaking.

[1] I once found a mouse in a glass I was planning to use for jelly, and I can tell you that gave us both a fright.

[2] I’m sure you can improvise but it’s easier if you work it out now rather than at the last minute. My friend Jill’s daughter Allison went to kinder with my own daughter so Jill also had to do a dish at short notice when the branch fell on the kinder roof. All of her actual serving dishes were at her mother’s house (which Jill was using as a free storage locker while she painted her house, so she covered a pizza box in foil and put her cupcakes in that. It did look good but, unfortunately, it still smelled of garlic, which is not an appetising aroma for lemon coconut butterfly cakes).

[3] It’s too late to be practical to ask for a new saucepan for Christmas

[4] Inflict them on, says Jeremy. But he doesn’t like fruitcake.

9 December

Gingerly

Cook your gingerbread. It will easily last till Christmas[1] and it’s good to have some on hand for unannounced Christmas guests.[2] Also if you package some up now (in festive cellophane or whatever), you’ll have some Small Presents ready should you suddenly need them.

2016-12-09
We three stegosauruses.

The board room looked like a medieval forest and the astonishment on the party-goers’ faces as they walked through the door was worth all of the holly pricks. I’d just finished adjusting some shaky foliage when Mariella from Corporate Comms shouted out to me from the opposite corner of the room.

“Janet!” she cried. “There’s something I have to tell you!” And she broke away from Meredith and Murray and headed toward me.

“What is it?” I asked when she reached me.

“Nothing,” she replied. “But I had to escape from Meredith. She’d already told me about every azalea she has ever planted, and she was about to start on her compost secrets.”

“Glad to be of service,” I responded.

“No, wait, there is something after all: have you tried the cheese?”

I hadn’t. (I’d been too busy anchoring the shaky pine tree by the window, which was threatening to crush the guests and turn Merrie England into the tragic chapters of Seven Little Australians.)

“It’s awful,” she said.

Jessica organised a bulk discount on cheese, and I hadn’t thought to tell her that quality is still important, even when you’re negotiating on quantity.

“People who don’t like cheese are refusing to touch it, and people who do like cheese are taking one bite and then backing away.”

I looked around and saw that Mariella was right.

“Maybe they’ll fill up on bread and pickled onions,” I said, hopefully.

“I don’t think so,” said Mariella. “You’ve done a good job with the wassail, and they’ll fill up on that instead.”

And she was right, but everyone was seemed to have fun (and the shaky pine tree stayed in place) so I’m counting it as a successful party.

[1] Although my friend Jenny had to keep Christmas treats in the linen cupboard to stop her kids finding them and eating them all in one sitting.

[2] This is the excuse my colleague Murray uses for buying an entire trolley-load of shortbread each December.