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.

27 November

Playing cards

If your children will be making cards, the last weekend in November is a good time to begin. Set small children up with crayons and be ready to snatch the cards away when they look good and to write a description of the drawing on the inside.[1] Middle-sized children often like to add shiny things[2] and to cut and paste. Older, less artistic children who feel shy about their skills or short of ideas can adopt any of my adult suggestions from previous weeks.[3]

Grandparents usually like homemade cards and so do crafty people. Some teachers appreciate them. Children of the same age as the artist usually don’t.

2016-11-27
Shine on.

My cousin Bronwyn invited me around for lunch and we had a fragrant, vegetable-rich curry and a nut cake sprinkled with shredded coconut.

“You were right,” she said as she served me cake.[4] “Getting on top of pre-diabetes is about exercise, healthy eating and GI, and sugar is just a part of that.”

“Life is better with a little bit of sweetness,” I agreed.

“Life is better when your blood glucose levels are down, you’re feeling good and you’ve lost enough weight to fit into the trousers stashed at the back of the wardrobe,” corrected Bronwyn. “I’d think I was lucky to be diagnosed with pre-diabetes … but then I remember the nerve damage and the kidney failure and the blindness. They trump trousers.”

[1] My friend Jill advises against a method she tried when her son William was a toddler: she let him step in trays of paint and then run over a sheet of paper and she cut out the best footprints and pasted them onto card blanks. The cards they produced were sweet and quirky but Jill says the mess reached biblical proportions.

[2] I am fond of shiny things myself, and this is one of the 217 reasons I like Christmas.

[3] It’s quite safe: my adult cards are devoid of adult content.

[4] A small slice of nut cake, and it had no icing under the coconut.

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.