Yuletide essentials: 'Tis the season to be merry

CHRISTMAS FUNDAMENTALS: Neudorf Dairy cheesemaker Fiona Guyan with some items that will make great Christmas gifts.
CHRISTMAS FUNDAMENTALS: Neudorf Dairy cheesemaker Fiona Guyan with some items that will make great Christmas gifts.

The silly season is well and truly upon us, with 20 shopping days left. My hottest tip to help make a perfect Christmas is to focus on family, friends, love and homemade stuff.

It's also time for Kiwis to shed our fascination for fake snow and northern hemisphere habits. Instead, celebrate living in sunny Nelson and spend time at the beach or lazing under a tree with a good book.

Everyone loves to receive beautifully wrapped presents and something special that is a wee bit different. For example, hand-knitted socks from his mother-in-law are right up there for my husband. But as these aren't commercially available I have a few other suggestions for sparkly Christmas essentials.

There are plenty of regional gift ideas to complement a real New Zealand summer. With 300 painters, sculptors, ceramic artists, potters, glass blowers, jewellers and creators working in the Nelson region we are spoilt for choice. Go to the RED Gallery, the Suter Gallery and the Saturday Market in Montgomery Square and you are bound to find a perfect gift.

For something really special, go to Hoglund, where husband and wife glass artists design and produce hand-blown art. Or head to the Upper Moutere and indulge in one of Katie Gold's layered, wrapped and textured clay art pieces.

Items for the pantry and fridge are another popular gift. Try Neudorf cheeses, Nelson Naturally gourmet condiments, Moutere Gold's preserves or Frog's End olive oil.

For me, the fresh fragrance of Frog's End olive oil evokes a quintessentially Nelson Christmas state of mind. As do Christmas lilies and the smell of a fresh pine Christmas tree.

Don't worry about the messy pine needles dropping everywhere because the joy of having a real Christmas tree is worth it. Trees are often available from service clubs such as Lions and Rotary. I am told that good trees are available from Sheryl Wagner by the Appleby Highway bridge.

We have a plastic tree, which I justify on environmental grounds. My tree can be used over and over and I have saved many real trees from being felled. My plastic tree is also secondhand so I reckon it has seen 40-odd Christmases.

Do you want ideas on how to decorate your tree? The Nelson Cathedral has themed versions. This display, in its 50th year, has more than 30 trees displayed from today until December 20.

Each tree has a lot to say about the people who decorate them: church groups, retirement homes, youth groups, service groups, community organisations as well as individuals and business groups.

While sitting in the Cathedral you may have that "I haven't made my Christmas cake" moment. Making your own is a great idea but it's hard work, so why not call in the professionals?

A local option is Keller Marriott's Christmas cakes. He is raising funds for the Boys College World Challenge Expedition to Vietnam and Cambodia in 2013. His aunt says that the "cakes are delicious and make good presents too". Email Keller on Janis.c@snap.net.nz.

My cakes (yes, two of them) were made last month and one has already been eaten. The reason I am so organised is I have a friend in Christchurch who makes his cake really early and sends me a piece in the mail.

Then I send him a piece of mine and we then discuss whose is best. My husband is urging me to make a third cake so he can add his views to the mix.

Christmas Day and the days leading up are full of feasting and drinking. In Nelson we are spoilt for choice for local produce. December is the season to eat loads of berries and I admit to making a pig of myself.

Try Berrylands or Todd's at the end of Queen St after the speedway. You could even make an afternoon of it and pick your own raspberries, strawberries or boysenberries.

For other fruits and vegetables I head to 185 Main Rd, Hope, and fill bags with green peppers, eggplants and tomatoes.

December is the month to be merry and this year I have written several columns about local wine, beer and cider offerings available. With 23 boutique wineries, 12 boutique beer breweries and cider makers, there is bound to be something that suits.

Fruit mince pies are my final Christmas essential, but you will have to wait until my next column to find out where the best pies are lurking.

Last year I recommended Tozettis' as the finest locally made option. For the next two weeks my family will by munching their way through dozens of sweet pies to see if they are still the best. Tough job.