Last night, for reasons un-discussable, my Step Father sent me a video of three lovely middle aged, tinsel adorned ladies singing a comically sweary festive ditty urging one not to be unpleasant over the Christmas Period. It’s never a bed of roses for any one over the age of 12, is it?
I think I’ve been the boss of Christmas twice in my life*. If you are like me, with masses of family and step family and now
out in-laws to boot there is always somewhere to be at Christmas which puts you on guest duty at the mercy of the locally recognised Lord of the Roast. It is generally socially accepted that said Lord of the Roast makes the decisions, selects the bird and reserves the right to sob in the kitchen after too many sherrys if so much as a single sprout is not cooked according to the desperately optimistic post-it schedule stuck to the fridge door. There is always a boss of Christmas my friends, and it can’t always be you and as much as we all offer to chip in and help out what we really mean is “How can I fix something so it is how I like it whilst under the guise of doing the washing up?”
*perhaps only one and a half times if you count the year that the older male sibling went on so much about the Nigella method of turkey (which I wasn’t doing) that I could feel her booby judgement hanging over me all day.
In many households we are all conditioned to expect the same festive traumas until we begin to crave them without logical reason. It might start with midnight mass, then smoked salmon for breakfast. Watching the Queen’s Speech. Having the lights on all day, watching a James Bond film even if it is that crap one with the Chinese bloke in it and going for a drudgey, muddy walk whilst weighed down with a week’s worth of calories and having nothing to say other than notes on the dinner and how unseasonably warm it has been. It is a Stockholm Syndrome of the soul that makes us unnecessarily precious about the most ridiculous peccadilloes of a single day in the year and leaves us genuinely traumatised if they are not either performed correctly or removed with a democratically justified excuse.
It may not shock you to hear that my immediate concern and association for Christmas is
presents dinner. The all day kind of dinner that starts with something posh on toast and ends shivering through your meat sweats at half eleven with a final G&T to wash down that stubborn lump of chocolate orange that you can’t quite swallow. Yes, I’m greedy, but I was also raised in a family where dinner is important. Where you make the effort to turn out a nice spread for the people you love because that’s what you all agree on and one of the things you can be confident that you are good at. I love my parents for teaching me how to cook and letting me get in the way in their kitchens- then and now. I grudgingly idolise the older male sibling for being a constant challenge in the life long pursuit of dessert and teaching me to turn the other cheek when my other half goes on about how much nicer everything is when my brother does it. I cherish the memory of the younger male sibling being found with a tomato smeared face after being left for roughly 2 minutes alone in the kitchen to sieve the soup, which he absolutely had not been taste testing. In the dire times when we need solace and companionship in a dark room watching bad horror films to blot out reality, my bestie puts hot dogs on the pizza. Food is not love, but it is often found in the same places.
So with all this companionship and all this love and days off work for feasting, I must be awash with all the joys of the traditional Christmas food, right?
Not bloody right.
Christmas is not just about eating and whether you are rejoicing in the birth of Christ or enjoying a free day off work getting brandy-drunk with your Nan that is no bloody reason to put orange peel in everything.
Here opens the rant.
Exceptions: Some zest in the cranberry sauce. Just zest. Not peel.
Why I hate it: It sticks to your teeth and tastes like one of the most effective lethal poisons known to man.
Who wants that in their life?
See also: Anything involving amaretto.
‘Christmas’ Special Edition Anything
Why I hate them: See previous peel or marzipan rants and chuck in cloves on top. If your hot apple chutney doesn’t need to be full of peel to well compliment an April cheeseboard, why does it now? Shortbread biscuits are quite excellent without being studded with raisins and if you can taste cloves, you can taste the dentist. Horrors.
Exceptions: M&S christmas coffee, Tiptree Christmas Jam.
Why I hate it:
Why I hate it: Wet. Bread. Sometimes with cloves in it.
Why I hate it: It is undeniable now, the vegans are amoung us and they must be accounted for. Hey, why not give them a pile of thoughtlessly seasoned and over dried nuts?? Mmmm. Believe it or not as a sensitive child I didn’t eat meat for some years and suffered many an ‘orrible nut cutlet or sicky fake cheese based breaded non-burger thing. Some people’s brains are inexplicably flushed of all the delicious and meat free foods there are in this world the second you suggest that dead flesh aint your thing. The times they are a changing and you can make the effort for your meat shunners without spending all year on your own organic cashew crop- there is so much good meat free food out there. Don’t buy some cruddy supermarket nut roast, no matter how extra special they tell you it is. If you are blessed with a pescetarian try a salmon coubillac or some stupidly easy to cook sea bass. Make a turbo potato dauphinoise or mousakka; stuff some mushrooms with spinach and pine nuts and breadcrumbs; get serious with a fat dish of truffled cauliflower cheese. Or if your guest is fully loaded on the animal produce shunning get to google or a decent book shop and find a nice, well rounded recipe that wont give the general impression that you hate that guest almost as much as you hate the oil soaked cardboard shreddings you are feeding them. Come up with your own take on the failsafe roasted butternut with plenty of spices if nothing else, it’s ridiculously easy.
Exceptions: Raw eaters. Make them sit outside with a spoon and a jar of coconut oil. They don’t want to be happy.
Why I hate them: Pastry is something of a false idol in my wicked heart and there is little you can do to spoil it more than adorning it in the age old evil that is Mincemeat. I mean festive mincemeat, that weird sticky mass of suety yuk that leaks its insipid brown trails over everything rather than actual minced meat. Which in my mind is exactly what you want in a pie. Mince pies can sod off with their over soaked raisins and their gritty seeds and random gelatinous finds that could be fruit or nuts or steeped spiders, who knows! Plus, more peel. No.
Why I hate it: Christmas cake is a massive jip. Because it looks beautiful, all white and virginal with the big red ribbon and the rotund sugar snowman. Yet when you get your slice and bite in through that crunchy layer of heavenly icing you realise that the cake was made weeks ago and said icing tastes of dust and firesmoke and potpourri and everything else that lives on the sideboard or, if you’re really lucky, nothing.
Next up after the icing, see above marzipan rant.
Then when you get to the actual cake, it’s a fruit cake. Which is hardly a cake at all. It is more gritty raisins and nondescript dark sticky stuff and in most cases, peel. Pass the chocolate log please.
Why I hate them:
It is not the 80s any more people. For the last thirty years Cadbury’s have been systematically stripping the Roses phenomenon down to a low cocoa-solid barrel of shiny wrapped bullshit. The Strawberry Dream (gag). The Orange Cream (heave). The Golden Barrel which we all know is a bloody caramel keg and the only thing we like in the whole stupid box and there’s only ever three of them that you have to share with your stupid brother and you can’t even get the name right any more!!!! Roses. We all open the lid in naive hope against hope for our favourite big purple one then realise in the ultimate betrayal of our own minds that we thought they were Quality Street.
Just get Quality Street.
Why I hate it: Because it is in no way like the accepted graphic representation of a jolly, perfectly round pudding with spiffing white sauce crest and jaunty holly ornaments. I think you are up to speed with my thoughts on peel, raisins and nondescript sticky brown substances that taste like clovey darkness but in addition to this, add in the fact that somewhere, somehow, I am always sitting at a table where The Boss of Christmas has made or provided the hallowed and expected Christmas pudding and I have to sit there and squeak my non compliance from the shame shrouded end of the table. Because I really, really don’t like it. And no one gets it. Because it’s Christmas and they are offering me Christmas pudding and I will not take it. What is wrong with me? Arguably, the same thing that is wrong with those people who don’t have a turkey.
Why I hate it: Does anyone have Baileys in July? Maybe. But it is another substance I feel is cruelly marketed with all the luscious creamy waves and open fires and suspiciously attractive and thin people imbibing to make us buy it in for Christmas then remember we hate it. It is the cocktail additive for the teenage girl. It is kid’s booze, designed to taste nothing like booze until about two seconds after you swallow it then shudder through the bitter after-sting in the throat. It is a layer of sugary dairy on top of all those roast potatoes that we really don’t need. Or worse, it gets added to all kind of other evil stuff like amaretto to make glaringly vile festive cocktails that you will still be tasting at breakfast. Your stomach hates it, and so should you.
Exceptions: It is there for Uncle Jes alone, and we all openly judge him for it.
Of course it isn’t all bad and the annual 25/12 feast is far from painful for me due to the salvation of the baby Jesus, whole turkeys, chestnuts, stuffing, brussels sprouts, bacon wrapped everything, chocolate orange, brandy, cinnamon, brazil nuts, clementines and chocolate coins. Do I speak in jest? Only partially. I love Christmas as a chance to hang out in the warm with the people I like most and genuinely reflect on the areas of life where I am fortunate: there are many of these. Sometimes I am at a table that says grace, sometimes not and I am not one to debate the religious vs pagan origins of Christmas when there is so much more to argue about with the whole family slightly pissed and in the same house. Here comes the philosophical bit: Christmas is an evolving beast, much like life, and it can’t always be exactly the same and under your complete control (if it is, everyone hates you). So I wish you a Merry Christmas, and a happy new year and all that sentimental crap. I wish you a fine dinner of stuff you enjoy, either on the day or after work or next week when you can all be together at the same time. I hope you enjoy your gifts, however decadent or home made and crappy they are. I hope you enjoy a brief moment of drum banging and whistle blowing before all the toys are assembled and you have to hand them over to the kids who don’t really appreciate how much you had to drink last night. I hope you find five minutes to donate time or money to a charitable cause because if you are reading this on your personal media device of choice, then you clearly have a little bit of both to spare.
I really, really hope that you have have a turkey.