Shortcuts to magic

Part of surviving the southern hemisphere combo special – summer heating up just as we are on final approach to the seasonal holiday frenzy – is, as they say in the classics, knowing when to fold ’em. You just have to work out and accept that there are limits, whether the last straw will be:

  • making the thousandth batch of small but meaningful gifts for all the people at school/work/wherever to whom you feel obliged while hoping you won’t be outdone by that smarty pants parent/co-worker/whoever; or
  • the hundredth client who, after months of prevarication about a project, hurriedly kicks it off on in December only to then say on about December 19 something like ‘I’m going on holidays now so could you do the whole thing without me and deliver it by January 2’; or
  • the millionth seasonal begging phone call from contract callers for charities – to whom you have already given anyhow, but all of whom are suddenly struck by the splendid idea that people will be in a more giving mood when their dinnertime/family hour/exhausted sleep is interrupted by yet another unsolicited phone call this time of year.

So here is where I reveal one of the great secrets of enjoying cooking – there are just some things that I won’t be able to do. I can’t make any kind of slice as well as my younger sister, plum puddings to even go close to my elder sister, or golden syrup dumplings that my air force buddy can make in his sleep. I happily defer to their superpowers and enjoy the fruits of their labours when the occasion offers!

There are other things that I can do well enough, but they are a lot of effort, or not amenable to cooking in the seasonal heat. For these I’ve searched out shortcuts – in the sense that they are not “made from scratch” – but they have become part of the cupboard cooking approach to getting things done when time just does not permit. This lets me stick to what I think is the whole purpose of cooking.

For me, cooking is about showing others the love, not showing off.


So making treats this week is mostly to let the wee girl next door feel the magic in trotting over to open the next window in the Advent calendar, tell us about what end of year activity she has been up to, and have a little something for afternoon tea that feels special.

Today’s little something was Christmas tree brownies – ticked the first box, because they couldn’t be simpler (and less taxing in the heat) in that they are just decorated triangles of brownies. But, since I don’t have the North American genes to make great brownies, especially not without needing a professional cleaning crew afterwards, I’ve long since accepted my limitations there and tracked down a store bought mixture that cooks up into a really terrific result.

So they ticked the second box as well, of not fraying my temper persisting with something that is not my natural gig, and then seeing the results tossed. Better to go with the delicious short cut and see nothing left on the plate but the pattern.

Best forecast on this is our wee neighbour will love them and improve my day by saying so. Even better, her mum is a great young woman who appreciates care shown for her family – but also recognises that it is a kindly act done along the way, not some grand gesture with huge time invested in making the treat so that she has to feel guilty that she didn’t do it herself (because there isn’t enough work in just wrangling a couple of small children in the heat etc).

And you know what? I’m not such an artiste with the decorating, but since every bit gets hoovered up and puts a smile on faces around me, I go away a happy woman as well.