01 Dec Ho, Ho, Ho … Bah Humbug!
I LOVE Christmas. I love everything about Christmas … except preparing the food. I intensely dislike cooking at the best of times, so Christmas used to really send me into a spin. There was the ham to glaze, bake and decorate, the turkey to stuff and roast, and numerous salads to prepare … from scratch. From scratch is the operative statement. Back in the day, and I’m talking well over thirty years ago, there were no pre-prepared Christmas feasts as there are today. Everything was required to be done by me, myself, and I. As we all tended to get into a flap, things quickly headed south. Throw being a mother to three younglings into the mix, being tired and probably very grumpy, and food prep was the last thing I wanted to do on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning. Those my age, particularly women, will understand my plight. There just weren’t enough hours in those two days to ensure everything was done, even to a basic standard.
In those early years, in the 80’s, I didn’t have a food processor. I had to hand grate everything. So, making coleslaw, which was a family favourite, required the surrender of at least three fingernails and a couple of knuckles into the mix. Who would have thought that cabbage, both purple and green, carrots, and spring onions, with a creamy mayonnaise, should be part of the Aussie Christmas? Certainly not me! Then there was a kilo of potatoes to peel and dice. You had to make sure you didn’t overcook them; otherwise, you ended up with potato mash. Not a welcome alternative by the family. Then there was the argument as to whether or not bacon and hard-boiled eggs should be included. Personally, I couldn’t care less, though it was a hot topic of discussion most meals! And this usually depended on the amount of
alcohol Christmas Spirit consumed. Let’s not forget the favourite of that era … layers of sliced tomatoes and onion soaked in vinegar! Heaven forbid if roast vegetables were requested as well. There’s nothing more rewarding than cooking in a hot kitchen, way before we had the luxury of an air conditioner, as the temperature soared around the 100˚f mark!
Desserts? I’m not a fan of the Christmas pudding and custard. Nor of the Aussie pavlova. My custard was lumpy at its best, inedible at its worst. This was before the time of custard in a carton. I would have preferred that the brandy went into my mouth rather than the saucepan! It was the least I needed to be in charge of Christmas lunch. I’m a disgrace to my nation; for the life of me, I could not get my egg whites and sugar to combine into fluffy peaks. And if they did, something happened during the time the base was cooked in the oven. It tended to come out one sticky, gooey mess that not even the fruit and cream could cover enough for anyone willing to give it a try.
Finally, the Christmas cake. The good, old fruitcake covered with a thick layer of marzipan and decorated with artificial holly leaves and berries. Thank goodness for being able to buy a Lions Christmas Cake. The money went to charity, and I was saved from making it. For some inexplicable reason, I did try to make the cake one year. Big mistake. Huge mistake. It cost me a fortune in buying the ingredients as I didn’t have baking supplies readily in my pantry. I was assured this was a very easy, one-pan, boiled fruitcake. I ended up having to throw out my expensive large saucepan as the mixture boiled dry on the stovetop. It may have had something to do with the fact that I had a sample or two of the delicate, dark rum that had been included. No use in letting the rest of the bottle go to waste! Unfortunately, the one thing I could make, Rum Balls, were just coconut-covered chocolate balls that year. I had a massive headache the next day, and I don’t think I’ve had a drink of rum since.
I can’t remember now who suggested we go out to a restaurant for my side of the family gathering. It was a unanimous decision, probably because the other members couldn’t be bothered taking their turn as the host. And no amount of alcohol would help them stomach another year of my offerings.
Those bad memories have faded over the years. On the rare occasion we have a Christmas lunch at home, I buy everything I can that is pre-made, and even pre-cooked. I take great pride in serving it up nicely; Curtis Stone would be so proud! This generation of hosts does not understand the trauma I went through in trying to be the Queen of the Kitchen at Christmas. And the feeling of inadequacy I had, as a wife and mother, when I knew I had stuffed it up yet again.
Fortunately, my wonderful P-i-C has booked us on a 16-day cruise over Christmas and New Year, so I have nothing to shop for, nor prepare. I just have to eat and enjoy, and I can do both … in serving spoon size!