Traditions are comforting, but as Danielle Wright discovers, sometimes a break from tradition is what makes a day special. Here are alternative Christmas menus to consider.

Do you want to invite friends and family for Christmas, without having to bear the brunt of all the cleaning up afterwards? Consider a summer picnic option for Christmas Day.

For food writer Annabel Langbein, her perfect Christmas picnic would be on a windless day under a pohutukawa tree by the sea, with the freshest seafood. In her fantasy, someone has built the fire earlier and it's burned down to a grey ember base.

"On to the grill go paua, crays and some speared fish," suggests Langbein. "Nothing more than salt, butter and lemon is needed to accentuate the briny sweetness of our catch."

In her chilly bin would be dry riesling from Central Otago and proper glasses.


"We would all sit down on big washed-up logs with an old door for a table, lots of cushions and maybe a little awning on manuka sticks," imagines Langbein. "We'd eat the crays with our fingers, with fat wedges of avocado and some soft, buttery lettuce and spring onions with a fresh dressing using dijon mustard and a pot of just-cooked baby jersey benne or liseta potatoes. Then out come some yummy cheeses with dried pears and almonds and crisp breads."

For dessert, she sees a meringue confection smothered in lemon honey, raspberries and creme fraiche.

"I think this is the bit of the meal that needs all the stops pulled out, to make it feel like Christmas," says Langbein. She suggests you pop her Potato and Ham Salad, Turkey Picnic Pie and Carrot Orange Honey Muffins into your picnic basket.

Picnic Recipes

Potato and Ham Salad
Turkey Picnic Pie
Annabel Langbein's Carrot Orange Honey muffins
Christmas lunch at sea

I've often fantasised about spending a simple Christmas Day out on the open ocean but, unless you have a super yacht or can afford to hire a private chef, our food writer Grant Allen advises you'll be preparing in a small space with a limited capacity of cold storage.

"The most memorable food I've eaten on board a boat is sashimi made from just-caught fish," says Allen. "All you need to pack is some good soy (I like Tamari), a tube of wasabi paste, some disposable wooden chopsticks and maybe a sachet of pickled ginger.

"Another fresh fish idea is to use some of your gin lemons and limes, cube the fish and 'cook it' in the citrus juice for an hour or so," says Allen. "You will have taken on board perfect ripe avocados and a can of coconut cream. Halve and stone the avocados, pile the cavity with the ceviche and drizzle with the coconut cream."

And if the fish aren't biting? Allen suggests turning your chilly bin into a Harrod's-style food hamper before you leave the shore. His would contain: paciataace, prosciutto, a cooked crayfish or two, crisp baby cos lettuce, a red onion, mayonnaise and horseradish, green grapes, a chunk of cheese, bread, crackers, cherries and a super-rich un-iced Christmas cake.

"Graze the day away and smile knowingly," says Allen, "as you think of all those stuck in a kitchen on this once-a-year day."

A seafood Christmas
MasterChef judge and restaurateur Simon Gault will be enjoying a traditional Christmas dinner with his family this year, but he also puts on summer seafood feasts for his friends and family over the holiday. His Whole Roasted Fish with Shellfish And Spicy Tomato Fumet is the perfect centrepiece fish dish to a seafood Christmas menu.

"I love seafood and New Zealand has so many wonderful varieties," says Gault. "Doing the seafood/alternative Christmas is a good way to take the stress out of cooking the full on Christmas ham or turkey and allowing your Christmas occasion to be a more relaxed and casual affair."

For dessert, Gault recommends something light, such as his Orange Honey Cream Caramels from Simon Gault Homemade. It makes a change from heavy chocolate desserts and can be made a couple of days beforehand.

Shellfish and Spicy Tomato Fumet Recipe

Whole Roasted Fish with Shellfish and Spicy Tomato Fumet
Bookable Picnic sites:

• Long Bay has bookable picnic sites for 75 people to 500 people. Choose from natural sites in private settings to permanent rain-proof structures with concrete floors. There are also sites sheltered by trees at Cornwallis, picnic spots on the south side of Waiheke Island at Whakanewha and sites suitable for groups with disability needs or senior family members at Wenderholm, in front of the Coldrey House grounds. For more information go to the parks and facilities section of the website.

• For last-minute festive picnic supplies, Baker's Delight is open until 2pm on Christmas Day. The manager of the Milford store told me they don't advertise the fact they are open and they sometimes have people stopping by to abuse them about not having Christmas spirit. They might not have Christmas spirit, but they do have nice Christmas cakes and mince pies - perfect if your Christmas Eve baking didn't turn out as planned.