Christmas across the ditch

With two weeks until Christmas the pressure is on to finish your shopping. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Melbourne, then you’ll be spoilt for choice! From department stores to pop-up shops, Melbourne’s CBD has something for everyone. 

Shop in one spot

If you don’t have time to traipse around the shops, then Melbourne’s department stores are the answer. Everything you need in one location.  Myer and David Jones have a fantastic selection - from designer labels to homewares, toys and technology.  I’m sure you’ll be dazzled by the fabulous Christmas window displays – whether you’re a child or an adult, the much-talked about store window displays will definitely impress you.

Melbourne department store giftorium

And Myer offers personalised shoppers too. So, if you are stuck for time you can just drop your Christmas gift list off at the store and a free personalised shopper will pick out your presents, wrap them and then deliver them to your hotel. Check out Myer’s gifticians.

Pop in to a pop-up

If department shopping is not for you then Melbourne is full of pop-up stores, especially at Christmas time. The best place to find a pop-up shop is in one of Melbourne’s many laneways. Tourists are drawn to the laneways because they offer something unique. You’ll find one-off boutiques, exclusive galleries, tiny cafés and hidden bars. Look at all the laneways Melbourne has to offer.

Melbourne shop window

It’s a wrap!

Sometimes it’s not the gift but the wrapping that makes the present special. Most places offer free gift-wrapping, so don’t forget to ask about this service. 

So while you’re gifts are being wrapped, take a moment to enjoy the festivities that this big city offers. Check out the Christmas window displays, walk along the Yarra, look around the cathedral … and enjoy the Christmas atmosphere.

Santa & his helper

And don't forget to take the children to see Santa too.

Happy shopping!


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Surviving the ‘Silly Season’

With only two weeks to go until Christmas, I have lost count of the number of times someone has said “we must catch up before Christmas”! You would think that one of us was leaving the country for good.  New Zealanders love to socialise - to bring together family and friends. We love BBQs - although December’s weather has been such a mixed bag - sharing an impromptu meal or simply coffee and a chat.  But this deadline-driven need to catch up can put people into a tailspin, especially if you’re the one organising the get-together.

Talking to a girlfriend last week, as we sat in the late afternoon sun sipping G&Ts in our respective backyards – her in Wellington and me in Auckland, we chatted about how best to survive the Christmas craziness, on top of the already busy lives we lead.  So here are a few ideas...

Bring a plate - when people ask “what can I bring”, be specific.  If you know you will need a green salad, say so. If they or their kids are fussy eaters, ask them to bring a dish they will eat. If they are great cooks, and are known for a particular dish, ask them to make it - they will be flattered and everyone will enjoy it.

Christmas Meringues

Keep things simple - unless it’s a formal event and let’s face it, do you really have time for these right now - you don’t need five different salads and three desserts.  Create shared platters and everyone can help themselves.

Don’t get stuck in the kitchen - if people ask if they can help, let them.  Give them a task: slice bread; put out the plates, cutlery and serviettes; toss the salads; man the BBQ - although there is never a shortage of volunteers for this one; top-up drinks; clear plates etc.  You don’t have to do it all yourself.

Keep the drinks list short - beer, wine and lots of non-alcoholic drinks.  If someone only drinks bubbly, ask them to bring some.

Lots of ice to keep the drinks cold - use oversized plastic baskets or the laundry tub comes in handy too.  This means the fridge can actually be used for food and get people out of the kitchen.

Ensure people can get out of the sun - a large pump bottle of sunblock is handy too. And if you’re planning on staying outside late, citronella candles to keep the mosquitoes in check and even a pile of blankets.

And the best idea of all - catch up in January, when everyone is more relaxed!



Christmas Cake – a Labour of Love

When it comes to food I love to experiment - from putting my spin on cookbook recipes to recreating restaurant dishes or simply making meals from scratch. Although if asked for the recipe, it’s always a challenge to recall exactly what went into the dish.  Family and friends are often unsuspecting recipe testers and I love to get their initial feedback and then, when you let them in on the secret, ask for any ideas for improvement.

But when it comes to Christmas cake, I’ve used the same recipe for more than 20 years, with a few minor tweaks every now and again – like this year, substituting cranberries for glace pineapple. I remember proudly baking my first Christmas cake when I went flatting but having to use Mum’s oven as our flat's oven was somewhat unreliable! 

christmas cake baking

I love the whole process – it’s more than baking the cake.  It’s writing the shopping list. The conversation I had with an elderly lady in the supermarket checkout queue.  When I said to her that every year I think it would be far easier and cheaper to buy one, she responded “My dear, everyone will appreciate all your efforts when they taste it”.  Time spent making my own fruitcake mix - with so much chopping that I’m left with a nasty and very tender welt on my index finger for days.  The homemade royal icing and staying up late to ice the cakes a few days before Christmas, just so they look perfect on the day.   And the bit I love most - delivering the finished cakes.

I’m often asked why I don’t make more cakes and sell them. The simple answer is that I think my love of Christmas cake making would soon disappear.  The lucky recipients of the handful of cakes I do make, know how much time and effort goes into baking their cake.

I’ve been working away while the first cake has been in the oven. Taking the cake out and brushing it with a few extra tablespoons of brandy, it has filled the kitchen with a wonderful spicy fruit aroma.  And while it smells absolutely divine, family tradition means it won’t be cut until Christmas Day. I can’t wait to taste that first piece.

christmas cake 2014

With only a month to go until Christmas, I’m looking forward to spending time trawling through recipe books and magazines deciding what is on this year’s festive menu. But there is one Christmas tradition our family definitely doesn’t do – there’s no roast turkey in sight!