Just in time for Christmas, the NZ Listener served up a dose of food guilt and You Must Diet and food is not for fun and LOSE WEIGHT NOW! To be fair to The Listener, the article avoids saying that fat people are unhealthy (if you are sceptical about this claim, check this story about the non-link between fat and health in the New York Times). However, The Listener story does have an underlying theme of making people feel bad about food, and it tacitly claims that losing weight is just a matter of sufficient willpower. This is despite the magazine having previously run stories on the myths of weight loss (see my summary of the story here), and willpower (long story short – it can be done, but only with huge effort, unless there are structural supports around you).
Whatever. And what a way to cast a pall of nagging tut-tut-tut over a celebration.
So in the spirit of simply enjoying good food and good company, I offer you our Christmas Day menu.
We started the day with Bucks Fizz – champagne version for the adults, lemonade version for the children, although those children who wanted to do so were invited to try some of the former.
For breakfast, we had warmed croissants stuffed with our butcher’s secret recipe homecured bacon, and lightly stewed peaches, still warm from the pan, all drizzled with maple syrup.
I made a superb bacon quiche for lunch. I would show you a picture, but we ate it all before I thought about taking a photo. Likewise with the pre-dinner nibbles, alas. Or perhaps not so alas, because the homemade pate, blue cheese, chippies, and homemade hummus were delicious.
This was the main part of dinner.
It’s a whole leg of lamb, studded with cloves of garlic, then rubbed with lemon juice and olive oil, then placed on a bed of freshly cut oregano, and wrapped in baking paper and brown paper. I cooked it long and slow, for about three hours, and I rested it for half an hour before serving it. It was meltingly tender, and flavoursome. The recipe comes from Ruth Pretty.
I accompanied the lamb with asparagus drizzled with lemon infused olive oil, a medley of green beans, broad beans and peas with melted mint butter, and herby Jersey Benny potatoes (best potatoes ever).
Yummy yummy yummy.
And then there was dessert.
From left to right, fresh cherries, a berry medley, marscapone apricot tart, whipped cream, yoghurt, a strawberry pavlova, and lemon semi-freddo. The pavlova was excellent, crisp on the outside, and soft marshmallow without a hint of chewiness in the middle. The lemon semi-freddo was good too, creamy and tart, and not at all icy. I was very pleased with the way it turned out.
Just in case anyone was still hungry, we finished off with Christmas cake. Lurid Christmas cake.
I hope that you ate some wonderful food over the festive season too. Feel free to share.
Because of reasons, I have been extraordinarily tardy in making a Christmas cake this year. But it is done, at last, using my grandmother’s recipe, of course. It won’t have the full rich flavour that it would have had, had I made it six weeks ago, but I shall make up for that by ladling plenty of brandy into it. And into me.
That is all.
We had a lovely Christmas.
The strangelings are still operating on Adelaide time a little, so I didn’t hear the first stirrings until just after 6am, and even then, I turned over and went back to sleep until 7.30am. The girls danced in and showed me their end-of-bed gifts (a hangover from the days of Santa-belief), and then we made coffee and everyone shifted into my parents’ room to exchange gifts. Mostly books and CDs and DVDs. And chocolate.
Breakfast was warmed croissants filled with peaches and topped with maple syrup, with bubbly wine, follwed by eggs benedict, and more coffee. We had a light lunch, and then, the real celebration began in the evening. My lovely uncle was with us, and my brother and his partner and their children joined us, and so did my brother’s partner’s brother, and his partner, visiting from Melbourne. 15 of us sat down to dinner, all gathered around the long dining table, which had been augmented for the occasion. Mum lit the candelabra, and then lit two more candles, for my absent brothers and their families. The lamb and ham and newly dug potatoes and kumara and salads were delicious, but the real magnificence was the dessert table. This year, Mum had 13 items on offer: chocolate terrine and raspberry semi-freddo and two cheesecakes, and mixed berries, and strawberries, and icecream, and cream, and rhubarb summerfruit pudding, Christmas mince pies and black doris plum spoom and brandied fruit salad and Christmas cake. I had three helpings, and the girls had four helpings each.
What made it all so special was the shining look in the children’s eyes. Mum and Dad, with the assistance of my uncle and I, worked hard to put it all together, but for the children, it was all a magical feast, something to savour and remember. I think that when they are old, they will look back on this Christmas, and say, “When I was a child, my grandparents gathered everyone around the table, and we had a feast, and my grandmother served 13 desserts.”
It was a wonderful occasion.
As for exactly what we gave the strangelings for Christmas – one child got a drum pad and drum sticks (‘though no packet of Jaffas*), another was given a Sylvanian cottage, which she loves, and the third was given a remote controlled toy that she had been coveting for months and months.
This remote controlled toy.
(Description: large, hairy, greebly toy spider, scuttles around the floor, and then comes closer and closer to the camera, until the camerawoman disappears in a scream.)
I spent the day being terrified of that wretched thing. The younger Miss Nine was delighted with it. She tormented us all, but her best ‘gotcha’ was during dinner, when she sat innocently and quietly at one end of the table, and waited for her elder cousin to scream. Which she did, very obligingly, when Miss Nine steered the spider underneath the table and onto her toes. Ms Elder Cousin shrieked, and then laughed, all in very good grace, while Miss Nine laughed and laughed and laughed with glee. What a triumph!
What would you do when your gentle, fine boned, delicate little nine year old asks for a remote controlled Mexican red kneed tarantula for Christmas?
* My brothers and I have long had a ritual threat, to give the other’s child a drum and a packet of Jaffas.
As you probably know, I am not a believer, but I do sing religious music, because so much of it is so very beautiful. Here is a small piece of exquisite singing for Christmas Eve – Gounod’s Ave Maria sung by Kiri Te Kanawa.
Mary occupies a difficult place in feminist thought, especially for someone like me who was reared in the Catholic tradition. She is pedastalized, set above women as someone we should aspire to be like, holy and pure and eternally giving, with no thought of herself. Yet these magnificent words of social justice are placed in her mouth in the gospel of Luke, in what we know as the Magnificat.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy
I know that some of my readers celebrate Christmas as Christians, some as a secular festival of family, some don’t celebrate it at all. Whoever you are, wherever you may be, however you mark 25 December, may your day be happy.
The pageant is a long, long parade, making its way from one side of the old city to the other, and taking about an hour to pass. In our first year here, we headed down town about half an hour before the parade was due to start, and stood in the back row. The girls were entranced. Last year I flatly refused to go: the overnight low was about 25 degrees, and it was due to reach about 30 by the time the parade started at 9.30am. But this year, our last in Adelaide, I thought that I ought to take the girls to see the parade.
We staggered out of bed at 6.00am, got dressed, had a hasty breakfast, gathered up the cushions and chairs and blanket we had organised the previous evening, and headed off at 6.30am. When I say, “we”, I mean me and the girls. Mr Strange Land stayed in bed.** By 7.00am I had parked in the Central Markets car park, and the girls and I had gone down to Victoria Square, and staked out a spot behind the blue honour line. This is a special road marking that exists only for the sake of the pageant, delineating paraders from paradees. Woe betide any school boy who elects to sit over the line; a passing police officer will hustle him back. I had thought that this would be a good spot on the parade route: easy parking, easy access to toilets, not too far from the start (the dancers and marchers and walkers and clowns always look very, very tired towards the end of the route), the chance to sit right on the tramlines, the possibility of excursions to find coffee. The pageant wasn’t due to start until 9.30am, but some people arrived at 4.00am to find a good spot, and by the time we arrived at 7.00, there were only one or two front row spaces left. We were just in time.
We set up our chairs and cushions and blankets, and then I went and got coffee and hot chocolates from the markets. Bliss! After that, the girls engaged in the fine pastime of defacing the streets of Adelaide.
I thought that this was their best piece of graffiti.
Drawing on the streets with chalk has become part of the pageant ritual in recent years, so much so that the community aid tents hand out chalks to children who have come without. They also gave out water, and sunblock, and balloons. The girls queued for half an hour to get a balloon each. Of the three balloons, two were lost into the sky, and one popped, very loudly. Some children had brought bubble mix and bubble blowers, and hordes of children chased bubbles all over the place. Alas, one bubble popped right in Miss Nine the Elder’s eye, but a very young St John’s Ambulance chap helped her to wash it out. At 9am, we took part in an attempt to set a world record for the largest number of people singing Christmas carols at one time. Ms Twelve has become interested in world records, so she was pleased to have her name recorded as a participant. We listened to announcements, and interviews with pageant participants. I swear that the Pageant Queen must come from Taranaki: her nasal rising inflection as she said, “Hello” was a dead giveaway. Or perhaps it’s just the country connection. I chatted with the people next to us, and did some crochet. The girls asked, repeatedly, “
Are we there yet? Is it time yet?”
At last, the countdown began, and at 9.30am, the parade started. 10 minutes later it reached us. Four mounted police officers led the parade, riding stately grey horses.
From then on there were floats and marching bands and dancers and clowns. Some of the floats were very hokey indeed. I liked the bands; I loved hearing the snatches of music, and seeing the different people engaged in making music. The girls liked the fairy tale floats, but they were disappointed that the snail float didn’t appear this year (the snail leaves a watery slime trail as it goes). Nipper and Nimble came by – two model horses, each ridden by a very small girl in fairy clothes. Apparently it is a great honour to be chosen to ride Nipper or Nimble, and the politics around the selection is intense. Those who miss out can go and sit on Nipper and Nimble in Santa’s Cave in David Jones, but it’s not the same.
I thought that the panda float was a highly accurate representation of the wretched beasts: the papier mache models did absolutely nothing, just like the real things.
The nativity scene was much more interesting, preceded by three camels.
After an hour or so, Santa Claus came by, and then it was all over. There was an enormous traffic jam as 300,000 people all tried to head home, but that was to be expected.
So we experienced getting up early, the wait, sitting on tram lines, drawing on the street, takeaway coffee and hot chocolates, getting balloons, losing balloons, getting first aid, taking part in a world record attempt, counting down to the start of the parade, seeing the parade go by, and long delays in the traffic on the way home. Later on that day, I checked the photo gallery on the local paper’s site, and there we are in the background of one of the shots. It was truly the compleat experience.
* About 300,000 people, or nearly 1/3 of Adelaide’s population.
** And later got up to carry on with the mountain of work he has at present.