I’ve almost finished all my Christmas shopping, and am nearing the best bit – encasing them in paper, cellotape and bows. Mind you, I’m not a careful wrapper. Where I used to want everything in neat square or rectangular shapes, these days I’m embracing the defiant nature of a box-less bottle, or a pair of sparkly pink fairy wings. It’s almost a cosmic existentialist question of how exactly do you wrap a football?
The build up to my present-wrapping day usually starts with the arrival of Christmas catalogues in the mailbox, or the publication of Christmas wishlists in the magazines I read (like the Good Weekend or Gourmet Traveller); both of which I love flipping through though I invariably never find any of the suggestions useful. This year I thought I’d come up with my own equally useless list. It’s a collection of things I’ve either come across this year that I’ve loved, or things that have really made their mark in my mind in the past year, and that I would recommend to like-minded people. Read it, scoff at it, banish it from your mind. Whatever. To paraphrase Cartman, “It’s my list, I’ll do what I want!”
1. For a foodie friend, Pier by Greg Doyle, Grant King and Katrina Kanetani is the latest cookbook from the great restaurant Pier and is the cookbook to get this season. All the chefs I know have been drooling over this book ever since it was published. The photography is beautiful and the recipes are, in my opinion, quite accessible as well.
2. For the fiction fanatic, American Gods by Neil Gaiman and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke are two books that kept me up late at night, happily consuming page after page. In not too distant second place, I would also recommend China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station. This sprawling novel that encompasses several genres is fascinating in it’s detail and imaginings.
3. For the musically inclined, I haven’t stopped listening to Beirut ever since that crazy blend of trumpet/ukelele, accordion, guitar, Gypsy music from The Gulag Orkestar album marched and swooned from our stereo speakers. It’s chaotic, startling, beautiful, and best of all, they’re visiting Sydney in March 2008!
4. Further on the food front, I can’t get enough of Simon Johnson’s Panforte. Looking at it, I was initially sceptical, as I’m more used to the dark looking panforte and Simon Johnson’s version is very pale coloured. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s any less of a panforte – this one is fantastically spicy with great depth of flavour, making it one of the best panfortes I’ve tried in ages.
For something a little more indulgent, make that special trip to Balmain and visit Adriano Zumbo for some of the best tasting and best looking cakes and pastries in Sydney.
5. If on the other hand you’re looking to create some edible homemade gifts, I can not recommend highly enough this mince tart recipe by Andy Honeysett who is the amazing pastry chef at Aria Restaurant. If you decide to give it a go, I’d double the recipe because after tasting it, you’ll probably want one all to yourself!
Better yet, dare to try your hand at whipping up a boxful of pretty french macaroons. With Duncan of Syrup and Tang’s very detailed four-part guide to making macaroons, you can’t possibly go wrong.
6. I can’t think of any stand out movies to recommend. We’ve watched so many good ones this year it’s all become a blur. If you need to sit in front of the box, could I perhaps interest you in a glass of wine, a sliver of the above panforte, and the first season of Entourage on DVD? Beware, you might get as hooked as I am on Vinnie Chase and his boys from Queens, in which case, there’s also Season 2 and Season 3. Meanwhile, I’m impatiently awaiting the start of Season 4…
(Can I also point out that thanks to B, I’m hopelessly addicted to Match of the Day? So so sad..)
7. While you’re still on that couch, you might also want to try Katamari Damacy, for the Playstation. I haven’t been this excited about a game since The Sims. While I absolutely adore The Sims, I can’t in good conscience recommend it because I wouldn’t want to be held responsible for anyone falling into a time vortex while playing this game. Loading The Sims into your games console results in unexplained time loss where you suddenly find yourself spending days feeding and showering your Sim, rather than feeding and showering yourself. Lethal!
(Another highly addictive game to keep a sane wide berth of is Guitar Hero.)
8. Lastly, my If Money is No Option recommendation is not a silly big boat, tank or bauble. Rather, it would be two first class return tickets to Tokyo, staying at The Mandarin Oriental, to revisit the country that gave me one of my best holiday experiences ever.