If it’s going to be a quiet Christmas, you might as well enjoy the preparations, however simple. Here are a few ideas for a no-rush run-up …
A surge in sales of pandemic-related ornaments might not influence your decorating theme this year. But for fun, you may want to add a Santa-with-a-face-mask ornament or quilted toilet paper roll ornaments to the tree for a nihilistic nod to the oddest of years. This year you will also find wholesome baubles reflecting comfort foods, wine and beer, gardening and household goods, reflecting our pandemic preoccupations. Perhaps nicer to add a beautifully designed Irish item for each member of the family. If you are thinking of eating outdoors – and it could be fun – give the garden shed a lick of paint and set your dinner table – and your tree – beside it. Black looks smart with greenery and white festoon or fairy lights. At Avoca, pick up a Paper Chains Kit (€8.95) – make-yourself chain links in a dark floral pattern – all proceeds go to Walk in My Shoes St Patrick’s mental health services. Making them is a nice old-fashioned way to while away a weekend afternoon with the kids.
Wreaths & Decorations
One of the little pleasures of local lockdown walks is scrutinising the stoops and front gardens of creatively-minded neighbours. A string of fairylights on a bay tree, a little bistro table and chairs, imaginative window boxes, all lift the spirits. As you get out for your daily walk, keep an eye out for the makings of a Christmas wreath, a big beautiful bunch of foraged foliage to hang upside-down on your door. You will have to endlessly refresh (but this year we may have time for this!). You could also craft a more elaborate wreath using a mix of fresh and dried elements like holly, ivy, eucalyptus, berries and pretty decorations. At www.flowerschoolireland.ie, you can order a Christmas Wreath Kit (from €75 + p&p) for delivery (complete with link to step-by-step tuition for four different types) or attend their live online wreath-making classes. Or, you can support Irish florists and order a lovely one to be delivered. At www.joeannacaffrey.ie (she has a shop at Avoca stores in Kilmacanogue, Dunboyne, Rathcoole and Ballsbridge also), order a bespoke fresh Christmas wreath by 12pm for next-day contactless delivery in the Dublin area, Monday to Saturday. Everlasting floral wreaths (from €45, lots of different palettes available) are available for next-day contactless delivery nationwide. It also makes a gorgeous give-ahead Christmas gift and can be delivered directly. Sprucing up the stoop can include potting a jolly holly tree, adding some tiny LEDs and replacing the doormat with something fresh and festive.
Now is the time to plant some bulbs for table centres. Pick up some charcoal and bulb planting and potting mix from the hardware shop or order online at www.mrmiddleton.com. Line the bottom of your pot or planter with some charcoal, add a further layer of bulb compost and dampen before adding the hyacinth bulbs and covering with a further layer. Leave in a dark place until Christmas. These also make an inventive gift idea – much of the impact is in the bowl – which can be planted with crocus, narcissi or snowdrops, depending on the colour combinations of your chosen china. One idea is offering an old crystal bowl planted with snowdrops in tandem with Jo Malone London’s new White Moss & Snowdrop Cologne, a Brown Thomas exclusive in a limited-edition Art Deco-inspired design flacon. We love the idea of offering something old and something new.
Take inspiration from The Dalloway Terrace at the Bloomsbury, a Doyle Hotel in London.
Whether you are planning to have a mulled wine and a sausage roll on the terrace, or actually brave Christmas dinner, or more sensibly, lunch, outdoors, take inspiration from your favourite hotel and restaurant terraces. Make use of existing trellis or add some new, and “green it” with whatever foliage you can get your hands on, from eucalyptus to Christmas tree trimmings to sustainable garlands – www.christmasland.ie have pre-lit garlands which can be used outside. A large mirror propped against a back wall can add drama to a small patio, as can an old door painted in a heritage hue. The next step in planning your party terrace is to decide on seating – wrought iron, bistro chairs, wicker, or benches? There’s enough time to get a set at a fraction of the normal price. Pick up second-hand items at a charity shop and upcycle. Embrace blue and green tones to prepare your home for the frosty season. At Avoca, there is a range of muted throws, cushions and ceramics that capture the cool tones of winter. Start planning your outdoor lighting. We’re talking proper cables, flexes and extension leads which don’t trip the switches in the entire house. And the nicest twinkly fairylights, from The White Company. News that Monty Don has a disco ball – hard to find when you go looking for them – makes them suddenly de rigueur. Even with the weakest of illumination, a disco ball will bounce enough magic around any terrace.
Turkey Roasting on an Open … Barbecue
Lots of us are going to be roasting the bird on the Weber kettle, Big Green Egg or barrel smoker this year, for a bit of fun. Get your timings right by practising on a few Sunday roasts in the run-up to Christmas. The most important thing is to not rely on the thermometer on your barbecue – these are usually not reliable. Rely on your digital meat thermometer instead (ask for one for Christmas!) and plunge it into the thickest part of the breast. Add butter, duck fat, etc under the skin of the bird. Make sure the coals are white-hot before putting on the bird on indirect heat – ie hot coals to either side, or bird to one side, coals on the other, depending on the set-up of your barbecue. Put a tray of water underneath the turkey to prevent it drying out and refill as the steam dissipates. When the meat thermometer reaches 65 ?C, take the turkey off and let it rest for at least 45 minutes before carving.
Pies de Resistance
There’s a perfect pie for all Twelve Days of Christmas: fish pie, Guinness pie, apple pie, mince pie – the list is endless. Stock up with a few to get you through: the M&S Parsnip and Camembert pie with savoury mushrooms is a creamy, totally indulgent, veggie masterpiece, €25. If grown-up kids are quarantining they might treat Mum or Dad to a night off courtesy of The Butler’s Pantry who will deliver a family pack of meals to include classics like Shepherds Pie or Fish Pie, from €75. We always love Avoca’s mince pies with their signature star on top, but head chef Simon Flood is baking them with a delicious twist this year: Chocolate and Orange, €10.25 for six.
The Power Picnic (With Blankets)
Winter isn’t going to bring picnic season to an end this year. Most of us actually like to be outdoors: we just need to gear up with the right clothes, the right cover, a firepit or outdoor heater and seriously warming fare. We recommend lunch, not dinner – considerably warmer. A bare table, lots of lanterns (candles don’t love Irish weather) rugs on laps; hot water bottles are a nice touch! Serve a Bullshot (beef broth, vodka and tomato juice) to start, followed by a hot soup or stew, a hot crumbly pie, one board each of cheese and charcuterie, an easy dessert. Serve it all in compostable bamboo bowls and plates and save on the washing-up. We do like a nice glass though – bring the Waterford out. It’s Christmas, after all.
The Hot Toddy
The Hot Toddy, or whiskey with hot water, honey and fresh lemon studded with cloves, is practically a medicine. It’s one of those drinks that best enjoyed at home – you’d rarely order one in a restaurant or pub. So enjoy the ritual of making and drinking. Use a cinnamon stick as a stirrer, for a Christmassy touch.
The Micro Christmas
Table for two? With only yourselves to please, this could be the nicest Christmas ever … A long lie-in, your choice of movie, a bottle of bubbly … Order the Ultimate Christmas Dinner for Two at The Butler’s Pantry (€79) before December 13, and enjoy a smoked salmon starter, Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, and a selection of desserts. See www.butlerspantry.ie. A lovely gift for newlyweds, cocooners, or anyone who’s just had a baby … Add a bottle of Piper Hiedsieck, from €36.
Christmas Day will be a quiet affair this year so having an intriguingly stuffed stocking to unpack will certainly add to the limited excitement. Socks, tablet screen-cleaners, hair clips, chopsticks, fun face masks, card games, sanitiser holders, velvet scrunchies, finger puppets, decent soap, good coffee, portable chargers, interesting ice cube shapes, reusable shopping bags (the ones that scrunch up to nothing) collapsible coffee cups, monogrammed pencil pots, hair-drying turbans, lip balms, mascara and flower and vegetable seeds are just some ideas.
It’s Only a Game
This Christmas, plan to put a stop to solitary screen-surfing by pre-ordering a few really entertaining board games including the curiously prescient Pandemic (“only through teamwork will you find a cure”); Cards Against Humanity (“a party game for horrible people”) or favourites like Word Slam, Trivial Pursuit, Troll and Dragon or Luxor. From €30. Delivery to your door by www.boardgames.ie.
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