First Christmas party of the season. Kara put on salmon, mussels, prawns, mountains of salad and we all brought wine. Sitting under the umbrella in the yard, the bougainvillea and bird of paradise in bloom and Marie making me laugh, three sweet little girls in nappies and nothing else, it was worth the the schlep over the bridge, I can tell you.
This one was actually a Monday. Sunday was Christmas Day, and I was too busy opening presents, eating ham and drinking wine by the pool to photograph or think of anything to write. It was another lovely and quiet one at ours, I managed a nap in the afternoon and we all swam before dinner since it was a hot one in Adelaide.
By the Monday the heat had dropped a little, and Victoria and I made the rounds of a few favourite pubs in true Boxing Day style (the Wheatsheaf and the Exeter), before fish and chips at the beach, right before the storm hit. Perfection, really.
Not terrible dramas, just kitchen ones mostly, though the whole thing can be a little exhausting. I like the calm of Christmas Eve best, everything wrapped and ready and a few wines with the family. I mean, I had a lovely time of it of course, once my health picked up and I could go for drinks and buy books for friends and wrap gifts in ribbons. But things never feel as 'just right' as I plan for. I made the Momofuku 'crack pie' for Christmas day, but failed miserably. After spending two days (biscuit prep for the base on Christmas Eve, filling on Christmas Day) and having it set poorly, the butter conversions obviously wrong, I had a bit of a cry. Or quite a cry. I'd double-checked everything, but knew as I was folding it through that it wasn't quite right.
It was my contribution to our family dinner but by 3 PM, all signs pointing towards a wreck of a pie, I had to pull myself together and used the leftover eggwhites for an emergency pavlova. Which turned out very nicely, two perfectly crisp bases which I sandwiched with thick cream and a bucket-load of fresh strawberries and blueberries. But I was nonetheless disappointed and emotional. Not to mention confused and mildly angry. As my cousin Lucy kindly pointed out, at least I'm the kind of person who can make an emergency pavlova, which I guess is something.
No qualms with the gift my father gave me though. We do a draw each year, and it's always a good year when he's buying for you, or in this case, making. We have a limit which he thoroughly disregards, making me two 18C gold fine bangles. They're delicate and just the right amount of clink as I walk or turn on the tap or, as of late, drink a glass of wine. I absolutely love them. Spoilt rotten, no question.
Each year I try and make some of my gifts. I keep meaning to make my own soap, but it takes a while to let it set and I never manage to think of it early enough in the year. So this year, baskets. I started them a while back, but kept getting distracted by real life. I've been home almost a week, but sick the whole time. Nothing like working all hours and stressing out to land you in a heap on your parents couch with a fever and a nasty virus for five long days. I had to cancel all my plans and slept it off, in between cups of ginger tea and a lot of British drama. I watched Gosford Park, Sense and Sensibility, Love Actually and several Jamie Oliver Christmas specials, and have emerged the other side feeling disappointed and pretty bored. No studio visits with friends, no McLaren Vale, no Mt Lofty hikes or wine tasting, no nights out and no baking.
A lot of time to craft and think about the last year though, and the new year ahead. I've been trying to order my ideas and resolutions, and reflect on what has made me happy this year. It feels like the years are going faster, the days too. I'm wondering quite how I'll keep up in 2015...
You know, sometimes you think you're doing OK in the world. Your nails aren't too chipped, you have less than 40 unread emails, the washing is folded, you can remember the last time you went for a run, you get to read a bit of your book on the weekend and maybe finish the paper, you haven't had wine every night, all the windows are open, life is good. You go for nice dinners with good friends, have drinks at the local and walk home in the light rain smiling, manage to stay out late mid-week, dancing your pants off to The Lemonheads, feeling a kind of 90s joy drinking Coopers in your Converse sneakers and singing along to all the words, you crawl out of bed for work thinking you might just get it all done, your last day for the year and pages of edits but you don't mind. You're happy about it. You love edits.
You have two small nieces to cuddle at the airport on Monday and nothing after that but bowls of cherries and afternoon naps. There'll be the smell of a real Christmas tree and laying in the shade by the pool, making Danish gingerbreads, white wine with lunch, presents to wrap. All of it.
*Picture by the magnificent Luisa Brimble.
I'm trying hard not to be overwhelmed by the season. Just a few days in and December might be wearing me down. Awake before 6 with one hundred things to do, at work by 7, long days, always something on, not enough yoga, too much wine. On Monday I stayed in to write cards and listen to Christmas carols - sitting on my bedroom floor, ribbons and paper everywhere, it felt like every other year. It felt like that delicate balance between sending out love all happy and festive, and being exhausted. Full of lists and obligations and a heavy sadness for another year gone by. I spoke to my sister yesterday, she'd been up baking gingerbread for her class till 11 PM the last three nights (because that's what teachers do). She was tired, she was stressed. Tonight I was early to meet friends and found myself with an hour at North Bondi. And sitting here just now writing this, watching the water and thinking about the month ahead, a school of dolphins came in and started diving by the rocks and close to shore. Actual dolphins. I don't know that I've seen dolphins in the wild before (or I can't remember when I have). I don't know that I've had quite such a resounding put-your-damn-worries-away-and-wake-up-to-the-moment in the wild before either. The silvery grey of the sky as the heat of the day slowed and the storm rolled in, their playful tails in the few soft waves, the nowhere to be for an hour and the thought that December just happens once a year all fell into place. It wasn't a bad Thursday.
Christmas in my family means, mostly, spoiling and eating. We have a habit of getting out of hand with the presents, or our mother does, even though we keep telling her we’re grown-ups. But mostly it is the food that we love to indulge in. this year we had a whole trout cooked on the BBQ, a few kilos of prawns, smoked salmon, twice-cooked potatoes with a garlic-y, lemon and parsley dressing, a cabbage and apple slaw with buttermilk dressing, a mountain of green salad from the garden, blueberry pudding and, of course, a pavlova. We drank light French rose, Pol Roger champagne and Tolpuddle chardonnay then quite a few bottles of Shaw and Smith pinot noir. We had it good.
Since we’re all grown, and prefer instead to spoil my nieces, we adults do a draw for gifts each year. It is so much easier, and nice to think about just one person. I got my sister-in-law and bought her a Comme des Garcons clutch purse, all tan and soft leather, and my big sister gifted me the Kate Miss necklace I had been lusting after for months – her stuff is a real dream. And, as promised, I spent the week before Christmas making my nieces the placemats I had bookmarked from Lena Corwin’s Made by Hand. My old man helped me make the loom (shown above) and I bought some Liberty fabric from the oldest haberdashery in the world - Fleur’s of Stirling - where I’ve been buying ribbon since I was a child. I actually found the weaving kind of lovely. Calming. They didn’t work out as neat as I’d hoped, but still looked good. And I ended up sewing a quick hem along each length to give them a bit more hold (my nieces are not 'sit-quietly' kind of girls). They actually loved them, boring as they might have seemed to any other three and six year old.
This guy is not only an amazing photographer, but one of the best chefs I know. And he makes a mean drink. I spent last October swooning over his homemade hibiscus cider in the LA sunshine. And the Christmas before, took his detailed instructions for a gin, mint and cucmber drink for my family Christmas. I'll be home in Adelaide again this year (hurrah), and think this delicious grapefruit number might be just right for a late afternoon festive drink by the pool , before all the madness of our seafood feast happens.
I love that he pulled out all the stops for this one, these sweet gold-rimmed vintage champagne glasses and the soft kicks of light on the shaker - beautiful work Jesse!
It's getting festive around here and I couldn't be happier. It really is my favourite time of year. I spent yesterday marking policy edits while listening to Charlie Brown Christmas (as you do), and last night Tola made egg nog. I mean, egg nog! That's not really a thing here in Australia, though lord knows why, it's damn amazing. We're having a Christmas get-together tonight and it seemed appropriate. And being the wonderful and intelligent person she is, she was up till midnight making pavlova too. Having used all the yolks for the egg nog, she thought nothing of it to just go ahead and use the whites to make one of her famous brown sugar pavlovas. This is my kind of logic. This is why we have been friends for seven years. I spent the evening hanging fairy lights and decorations along the stair rail and curtain rods. I've been inspired by all the wonderful wreaths I've been seeing around the place. This one is from SF designer Silvia Song and just so simple and fresh looking. I'm hoping my mother will help me pull one together when I'm in Adelaide. Her garden is epic and she's patient and crafty - she was the mother that spent hours with my sister and I when we were younger, carefully choosing cheesy Christmas fabric and helping us sew our own decorations.
Lots of other festive ideas over here if you're interested / crazy-excited about Christmas like I am...
Much as I miss my loved ones, it’s nice spending Christmas with someone else’s family and experiencing all of their traditions. Jordy’s family puts on a European seafood feast every year on Christmas eve. Aside from the spectacular food, I love that the three days prior are spent mostly in the kitchen, shelling prawns, cleaning squid, preparing octopus and shucking oysters – for me joy really is in the making. I spent two hours at the sink on the 23rd, shelling prawns, smiling at the snow in the fields beyond and listening to Christmas carols with Jordy’s mother. It was a pretty lovely way to spend an afternoon. And since I love to bake, I put together a favourite strawberry cake the morning of Christmas eve, with a little help from Jordy and Bing Crosby. By the afternoon, once the cake was baked and the dishes done, Jordy insisted we get outside in the cold and have a little fun. And my goodness, we really did.
Jordy’s family have an enormous property outside of town where you can see for miles. Last summer his brother Jesse planted apple, pear, cherry and peach trees which thankfully look good, their second winter in. There is new ground set aside for a greenhouse and tractor shed, an icy creek and some very frosty dams at one end, and then nothing but fields of prairie grass and thick snow. It’s actually one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
And one of the best ways to see it, I have to say, is screaming around on the back of a four wheeler at 40 miles an hour. I squealed and laughed and clung on to Jordy’s back as my hands slowly froze up and my thighs raged against the cold wind rushing towards us. It was exhilarating and amazing and probably my new favourite pastime. They also have a thing called a ‘mule’, which is kind of like an off-road golf cart that seats up to five and can go on all terrains. Jesse raced it up hills and along the bank of the river, across patchy fields and through banks of trees, branches hitting the sides and snapping beneath the tough wheels. I was terrified and cold and couldn’t stop smiling.