I know I should be getting organised for Christmas but December 25 is going to be very different this year. I'll write more about that closer to the date, but circumstances have meant I have more free time on my hands this month than ever before.
What I'm reading
Justin Smith's Cooper. Not Out. is one of my favourite books of all time. Smith is a writer who tells extraordinary stories about ordinary people. About sport too. Which I love. His first book was about cricket, here he's found a story in horse racing. The first Melbourne Cup to be precise, told from the perspective of three very different men.
In a way, Good as Gold looks at why the Cup is the race that stops the nation and why it holds a special place in our history.
More than that, too. Set in 1861, it tells the story of three Australians and makes you think about how our nation was shaped by the people who called it home. (Good As Gold, by Justin Smith. Michael Joseph. $32.99.)
What I'm watching
If you haven't caught Stan's brilliant adaptation of Scrublands, based on the novel of the same name by Canberra writer Chris Hammer, then find it as soon as you can. It's the best thing I've seen on television for ages. Made in Australia too, with a great cast of actors. Luke Arnold (Black Sails, Never Tear Us Apart: The Untold Story of INXS) plays investigative journalist Martin Scarsden, sent to Riversend to see how the town is coping one year on from a tragedy. Charismatic young priest Byron Smith (Jay Ryan, It Chapter Two, Top of the Lake) comes out after a Sunday service and calmly kills five of his parishioners. Of course nothing is as it seems. It's the kind of television series that keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you proud you're Australian and that we're making such good television. Normally I would suggest reading the book first but I loved that I had forgotten the plot. I hadn't read the book since it came out in 2018.
What I'm wearing
Not that I'm thinking too hard about Christmas but one thing I like to do every year is find some kind of Christmas-y outfit that might get me through the two or three parties I'm invited to. Or really, just lunch at my place. This Middag Dress from Scandi Bird, via Birdsnest, is a favourite purchase of the past few years.
A nice blend of Christmas-y colours, a nice deep V-neck to give Santa a thrill, and the essential elastic waist. This year, I spotted one of my favourite celebrities, Julia Morris, spruiking a "blogger shirt" from Motto. (Have I told you that Julia and I once competed as a team on a media version of Gladiators? Remember that show where buff people tried to knock each other off a platform with cotton buds on steroids? Apparently it's making a comeback. Stay tuned.)
What I'm cooking
I've set myself the goal of mastering pastry in 2024. It's important to have simple goals. I can put this down to a few simple things. One, I am madly in love with Gareth Whitton, from Tarts Anon, a Melbourne-based bakery. Whitton beat a star-studded field to win Ten's Dessert Masters on November 28 - which is fabulous, watch it on 10 Play - making his mark with desserts which were just a bit out of the ordinary. Why, why, why doesn't he have an outlet, or at the very least a distribution network that extends into Canberra? But beyond that, a good tart is a meal in itself. Ingredients you love, in a rich, crumbly, golden brown pastry. What could be better than that? The couple of courses I've done at Anneka Manning's BakeClub at Milkhaus in Milton have been among the highlights of my whole year. Pastry is high on the agenda for 2024.
What I'm not doing
Surprisingly, I'm not overthinking Christmas. I'll be happy to spend the day with a few chosen loved ones. There might be fewer presents under the tree than there have been in the past 30-odd years. I might not be wearing designers clothes or cooking the amount of seafood I would like to end up eating. But that doesn't matter. 2023 has been a year of reflection, of adventure and challenges and getting to understand what's important in my life. I don't need one day to celebrate all that.