Cat tension at Christmastime has to be the tensest tension of all, don't you think? No-one does room-filling awkward silence and passive-aggressive stares and face-clawing like two mistrustful cats.
I mean these days for me Christmas is a time to be grateful above all for family and food and love, but one must also be realistic. So my ultimate Christmas tip is that if you're feeling like your family Christmas isn't going to be the smoothest day, for whatever reason - breakups, extreme political differences, old feuds, control issues - find two cats who don't like each other, put them in the room and their belly-deep snarls and fixed hateful gazes may well help make the humans in the room seem quite mellow in comparison. Bonus: if they settle down, they may then go nuzzle people and no-one can be angry or critical of your roast while patting a cat.
Also: Hasn't Poppy grown since we first saw her? She's the one on the right, Roger's on the left.
It is Christmas Eve in New Zealand, which means it's the 23rd up in the northern Hemisphere. I love Christmas Eve most of all - the anticipation, the midnight baking, the present wrapping, the sellotape in the hair, the crying over a cake that just will not bake, the weird feeling watching the news and seeing that horrible things happen no matter what time of year it is, the Rock'n'Roll Christmas cassette with Australian session singers singing Do They Know It's Christmas turned up just a little too loud, seeing your parents' impressed faces when you organisedly place your presents under the tree, singing God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen to the cats who are suddenly united by their distinct unimpressedness for you.
Yes, midnight baking. It started off as disorganisation, now it's practically a tradition. But still disorganisation. I'm not saying you HAVE to do the homemade present thing, but if you're looking for something to make yourself feel less laid-back today; if you're wanting to supplement what's already under the tree; if your aunty or dad or whoever doesn't need any more stuff taking up space in the house; if you want to get someone a present but don't know them well enough to commit to buying them something; if you suddenly got a call from Great-Granny Mildred saying she's descending upon your home for Christmas and you have to provide her a gift - look, there's enough reasons to want to make someone food as a gift. Scorched almonds for all is also completely fine and takes up a lot less administration in the brain, but if you're feeling some last-minute frantic commitment, then read on, friends.
The HungryandFrozen List Of Last-minute, 11th Hour, Easy Homemade Christmas Presents That Won't Make You Cry If You Start Them After 11pm And Will Also Make You Look Quite Good In The Eye Of The Receiver.
First: White Chocolate Candy Cane Hearts. Slice the tails off two candy canes if you want them to be nice squat little love hearts like here, make them face each other, fill the cavity with melted chocolate and sprinkle over edible glitter, 100s and 1000s or your decoration of choice. Refrigerate, and give a couple to anyone under 10 (or under 10 at...heart!)
This list contains such wonders as Orange Confit and the easiest fruitcake...
...Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake....
Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies....
.... and Coconut Condensed Milk Brownies.
Jams and Sauces and Things In Jars But Are Actually Pretty Easy Despite Looking Fancy:
Orange Confit (sliced oranges in syrup. They'll find things to do with it. Bonus: is cheap!)
Cranberry Sauce (So, so fast.)
Bacon Jam (The best to make at the last minute, because it needs refrigerating. Please tell the recipient this, please.)
Red Chilli Nahm Jim (for your cool relative, esp if accompanied by a jar of cashew butter.)
Cranberry (or any-berry) Curd (slightly more effort, so I'd do this before midnight - but so pretty.)
Rhubarb-Fig Jam (Easier than it sounds)
Baked Things, The Classic Choice:
Christmas-Spiced Chocolate Cake (This is also excellent for pudding on the day itself. Yes, you'll have to dash to the supermarket to get almonds but it's really easy and it doesn't matter if it sinks in the middle.)
Chocolate Orange Loaf Cake
Vegan Chocolate Cake (It's good! It's easy!)
Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies (Dairy free!)
Chocolate Macaroons (These two macaroons aren't the fancy French kind, but they're amazingly easy, travel well, and are both delicious and gluten free. With the Coconut macaroon recipe, if you don't have the time/money/energy for ground almonds, just use the same quantity of dessicated coconut.)
Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies (vegan, hey-ohh!)
Christmas Cake (I know, what? But I ate this the very next day and it tasted great. If you gently microwave the fruit in the ginger beer and then stir in the liquor it should do the trick. The rest is just stirring!)
Coconut Condensed Milk Brownies
Salted Caramel Slice (This is a food blog, I have to use the words "salted caramel" once every post. It's a rule!)
Also, if you click on the link to the Orange Confit above, you'll see a recipe for the easiest, fastest fruit loaf, which is a GREAT present to give away to those in your family who you know actually eat fruitcake. It's dairy-free, too!
Moonshine Biffs (like homemade Milk Bottles!)
Raw Vegan Chocolate Cookie Dough Truffles (Actually just look through Hannah's wonderful wonderful archives if this isn't enough for you, she'll see you right.
I Am Already Asleep But Need A Present For That Person Who Needs A Present:
Candy Cane Chocolate Thing (No effort, vegan - well, I think candy canes are vegan - gluten free, amazingly delicious, just store it carefully so it doesn't melt)
White Chocolate Coco Pops Slice (Even less effort! Maybe try adding a little oil to the white chocolate so it doesn't sieze up like mine did.)
Merriest of merry Christmasses to you all - whatever you do or don't celebrate at this time of year, I hope that plenty of love and good things come your way. I'm currently at home with the whanau and it feels good. Yesterday at the airport while waiting for my flight the news came in of another big earthquake in Christchurch - followed by a sickening and unfair wave after wave of huge aftershocks. Thinking of you all in Canterbury, and hoping the earth settles down already. Seriously. Whether Christmas is your thing or not, some peace on earth and goodwill to (hu)mankind is top of my wishlist right now.
Enoch the Christmas Skeleton says Merry Christmas too. (Oh, those parents of mine...)
Title via: Nothing speaks of Christmas Festivity like Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked, sung by the magical Idina Menzel. Nothing. (I'm sure I've said this before but even if you hate all musicals stick around to the end, it's spectacular spectacular.)
So one of our Christmas traditions chez moi is listening every year to the same old Christmas cassettes. One such cassette is the amazing Tin Lids (ie Jimmy Barnes' kids) "Hey Rudolph" tape, which has the kind of exuberant 90s production that's good to hear at this excessive time of year. Another one is this really old Disney Christmas tape which features a (pre CGI) Chipmunks Christmas Song, strangely appealing and horribly catchy. Bringing a little much-needed classiness to our collection, is Bing Crosby and his rich handsome voice.