Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Countdown to Christmas: Planning or Panicking?

It's coming. And there's nothing you can do about it. Inevitably, those little Advent calendar windows open one after one and before you know it, it'll be Christmas Eve.
There are the planners and then there are the panickers. There are also those who are firmly confident in both their traditions and their capabilities that they fall into neither category. They will calmly stroll through the Market on December 24, picking up a goose here, a box of cherries there, sublimely content in the knowledge that it will All Be Fine.

Most people are not like that though. The first step is to figure out which one category you fall into and take it from there. (Am not writing for the Firmly Confident, they know what they're doing .... ).

The Planning Type

Numbers. Menu. Sort out who's coming and who's bringing each dish. Unless you are a culinary martyr, do not take on the entire job yourself. Christmas is about sharing and what better way than to sweetly ask Dear Cousin Lucy to bring her beloved braised sprouts?

It's also a time of tradition. There's something enchanting about the familiarity of certain dishes appearing on the table year after year. I remember fondly the uproar that occurred when my mother decided to take her icecream pudding recipe and "mix it up a bit". Her children were as wounded and distraught adults as could ever be imagined.  Trust me, she will never, ever do that again.

So if someone has a particularly deft touch with a salad or side dish, ask them to bring it along. People love it when their speciality is noted and remembered. And one or two dishes is not much for anyone to put together for The Big Day.


If you want to be specific about the turkey or the ham you are ordering, free-range, rare-breed, from a particular farm, called Julian, you need to get in early. For many of these small producers, Christmas is their largest delivery however, they do have a limited stock. And you can wail and throw yourself on the tiles of Bracher Arcade all you like, Royce Hagen is not going to be able to magic up an organic turkey for you at 4pm on December 24. And nor will the folks at Kevin's Poultry, John Cesters, Arthur's Poultry or D & J Poultry.

Talk to your traders.  Michael Mow has been anticipating that the King Island garlic (the best in his opinion) will be in just prior to Christmas. Certain varieties of cherries and raspberries often only appear a few days before. Find out what's arriving and place your order. People who plan ahead Get Dibs.

Mud Bakers from The Essential Ingredient

Take Stock
The Night Before Christmas is not the time to discover that you are 3 chairs short or make a dash to the milk bar for paper plates. Map out your seating plan and take stock of tables, chairs, glasses, cutlery and crockery. Serving dishes are often left behind at home - many people pack food in storage containers for car travel and on arrival find their host has run out of platters.  One option is to buy everyone one of these stunning Mud dishes for Christmas so that you can fossick under the tree for servingware if necessary. A simpler, and less expensive option is to pick up a sturdy plastic platter from Donnallys Party Supplies. This costs a couple of dollars, can be jazzed up with laser-cut paper or whole fresh herbs and left behind at the host house without a care.


Many people leave setting the table to the last minute but not you planners. You will have looked through Christmas boards on Pinterest, ripped pages from interiors magazines and stocked up on table decorations at last year's Boxing Day sales.  One suggestion that does lead to calm on Christmas Day is to clear the table and set it for the main meal after breakfast. This means that even if guests arrive as you are cursing the bread sauce, the house is welcoming. The table (and the music you have cued up) set the scene. Pull some sparkling wine from the fridge and take a moment to enjoy before you saunter back into the kitchen.

Australian Sparkling Wine from Swords Select Wines

Start saving the tubes from paper towel rolls now. These, with cracker snaps and a bit of leftover wrapping paper make wonderful homemade Christmas crackers and there is nothing more special than being handed one with your own name on it, a handful of small goodies inside, chosen exactly for you. There are plenty of little treats, particularly from our delicatessens and Ripe the Organic Grocer, that will slide inside a beautiful handmade bonbon.


This is Melbourne. About all I can suggest is - pray.

Even if you are hoping for an al fresco festive dinner, make backup plans that include an indoor space. (Possibly also oil heaters, cardigans, sandbags and sunscreen. One never knows.)

So there we have it planners. Of course, you already know all this. You no doubt have a Christmas Folder with dog-eared recipes, seating plans and a laminated running sheet for 25 December 2012.  But we can all learn something from your type. If only one of the panickers takes something from this, it will have been worthwhile.

But don't worry last-minute Lukes. There'll be a guide to a No Hassles Last Minute Christmas on here soon. Of course, it'll probably only be posted on Christmas Eve ....

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