Under ordinary conditions, Christmas brings to mind images of a procession of loved ones filing through the front door, a tree swamped in presents, tables overflowing with food, and houses heaving with merriment.
This year might be a little different.
Yes, as a nation we've handled COVID extremely well. (Thank you everyone, but particularly Melburnians. I promise not to complain about football until at least the start of the next season.) It's likely our Christmas will look and feel a lot more normal than we thought it would six months ago.
But we still have to be wary. COVID is still affecting our lives in many ways. Restrictions are in effect for many home gatherings. Sydney's northern beaches region is under lockdown following a recent outbreak. International travel is still heavily restricted, and the cost of interstate travel and accommodation (or in some cases, compulsory hotel quarantine) is prohibitive for many.
Many people justifiably feel it sensible to have smaller Christmas gatherings this year, or sudden border closures may have forced their hand. Here are some ideas on how to do it well.
Adam Liaw's roast chicken with garlic brown butter (recipe here) Photo: William Meppem
Quality over quantity
And no, that doesn't mean expensive. Treat yourself to some good quality ingredients and treat them well. If there's no point cooking a whole turkey for four, go for a chicken instead and treat it the same. Add a nice, festive stuffing (try this Scarborough Fair stuffing but reduce the volume to match the size of the bird) and maybe roast it outside in the Weber instead of in the oven.
Or maybe try this festive roast salmon but change the fish to a few smaller trout, or whatever your fishmonger recommends.
If you can't be together with all your loved ones on the day, you can still share the experience. Put together a menu and share it around and then link up on video conferencing to compare the results.
During lockdown my uncles and aunts regularly went for hours-long Zoom sessions over meals, chatting away as if they were all in the same room when in reality they were spread out all over the world. They weren't even eating the same meal but they were still enjoying each other's company.
Even if it was just one menu item (perhaps even just this cranberry spritz for a Zoom toast), it might be fun to have something to share.
Turducken burgers with bacon and brown bread stuffing. Photo: William Meppem
Think outside the box
Don't feel like cooking a whole ham for two people, or a roast chook at lunchtime? There are plenty of other ways to bring the festive cheer to a smaller table.
Try these turducken burgers on for size. Perhaps get some good quality Australian prawns, cook them exactly how you like them and make that your Christmas lunch instead. A chilled bottle of something nice, crisp and celebratory would be a perfect accompaniment.
Make the cooking the occasion
If one person in your family usually does all the cooking, make Christmas Day the time when everyone is lending a hand. Plan the menu and assign tasks to each person and make an occasion out of it. Christmas doesn't have to be about sitting down to a meal. It can be about preparing one, too. If you really want to idiot-proof the process, the many meal kit delivery services around are all offering festive options.
Don't skimp on the decorations
There may just be a few of you around the table but don't give in to the temptation to treat it just like any other dinner. If you normally use the good china at Christmas, pull it out. If you normally have festive cloth napkins once a year, make sure you use them. Throw a tablecloth over the table, set it all nicely and scatter it with a few ornaments. An occasion is what you make it.
Don't forget the music and lighting
In any restaurant the music and lighting have set the tone even before you notice it. Christmas music and fairy lights makes for a festive atmosphere no matter how many people are around the table. Hang some lights, break out the Charlie Brown, Mariah, Bing or Bublé and Christmas is here.
Adam Liaw's individual peach and passionfruit pavlova pots (recipe here). Photo: William Meppem
Make a pav. It's just not Christmas without a pav, is it?