Yes, I know I’m very late for some Christmas thoughts. At this rate, I’ll be writing about summer in May, autumn in a snowstorm in July, and next Christmas will be thrilling at the return of spring.
- I’ve always been horrified at the thought that the sending of Christmas cards is a dying art. Yet this year was the first year I just didn’t do it. I am in touch with most people who receive cards anyway, and the number I’ve received in recent years has diminished dramatically. It has never been a favourite task of mine, and so with head in the sand, I kept “forgetting” that I even needed to send cards. We received a few just before Christmas, and I dashed off replies. But I didn’t even feel guilty. If you normally receive a card from me, and didn’t this year, I apologise. But odds are that I didn’t receive one from you either. My Christmas gift to my friends – we are free of sending cards!
- Turkey is over-rated. I cooked my first turkey this year. I was having a group of 15 for dinner, and the ham I had was too small. The turkey was taking up room in my freezer, so I decided I’d do both. (And in a moment of genius, I delegated the ham glazing and cooking to my sister-in-law.) I found a nice stuffing recipe (bacon, hazelnut and dried cranberries), pored over magazines and recipe sites on the internet, and even consulted butterball.com, a company I knew about only because of my obsession with West Wing. I figured out how long I needed to thaw my turkey, and how to cook it. I was nervous though, until my other sister-in-law reminded me that we had managed to cook a goose for Christmas in Vienna, so I could cope with a turkey. It came out fine, and was nice and moist, which is what worried me most. But frankly, I preferred the goose we cooked back on that cold wintry day in Austria nine years ago.
- I know lots of people in New Zealand cook turkey for Christmas Day. But it just doesn’t seem to fit with a sunny day in summer, a day that – whilst it wasn’t as fine as last year – was still pleasant enough to sit outside on our deck for drinks. Whereas ham is a more natural fit, as it feels much more summery. Ham will therefore continue to be my Christmas meat of choice. (Though I do have a hankering for the salmon I served one year. I’d love to make that my tradition. Maybe in the future – providing I can afford it).
- Christmas pudding too is over-rated. My mother-in-law usually makes Christmas puddings, and I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so usually serve Christmas pudding for dessert. But I’m not a big fan of Christmas pudding, and again, feel that it really doesn’t work with a New Zealand summer. It’s fine six months earlier in the middle of winter, but it doesn’t match with the berries and ice-cream I usually want to serve. This year, she declared she wasn’t making it, and I had to hide my delight, and I spent the next weeks planning a new Christmas dessert. Trifles and pavlovas are also traditional here and in Australia, and are good summer options. Magazines suggested chocolate logs and other options, and finally I settled on a meringue Christmas tree, as a variation on pavlova. (And an easy, do-ahead, option). Then one day I visited the in-laws, only to find her cooking the Christmas puddings. I was a bit downcast, but determined to make the meringue tree anyway. It was a good thing I did, as between my 90-year-old mother-in-law, and much younger but already-cooking-the-ham sister-in-law, they forgot to bring the puddings on Christmas Day. The tree made a dramatic impact, and all that whipped cream, and a summery berry salad, went perfectly. (See photo on previous post). The Christmas pudding wasn’t missed.
- Finally, my Christmas tree was beautiful this year. Is it because I placed the ornaments particularly artistically, with an eye that has been aesthetically honed over years of practice, or that has been given new perspective in a year of appreciating new and familiar things? Or is it simply that I now have so many decorations, that they distribute evenly across the tree – one for every branch.
- Which brings me to a question. Does anyone decorate the back of their tree?
- And a piece of advice. Buy your decorations in the week after Christmas. This year – even though my tree is already full – I picked up two beautiful silvery birds, with long feather tails, for the grand old price of $3.75 each!