The Xmas Retrospective.

A few minutes ago I was reading The Phantom’s blog where he described his Christmas Board. I wrote a rather long response to his descriptive tale and decided to insert an edited and expanded version here since it raised a few side issues that weren’t related to his post. Nothing unusual there, I’m just back rambling as usual. πŸ™‚

Readers here will know that we had eleven for Xmas and that both table and guests were groaning with the amount of food they were carrying! What I *didn’t* point out… was that I actually I abandoned a large part of the planned meal! Because my daughter was vacillating for weeks whether or not to make us all a cooked Xmas lunch we waited almost until the last second before preparing the meals. The result was that instead of having everything organised and prepared by mid-day Xmas Eve as normal, I was still desperately trying to create order out of the chaos of ingredients on Xmas morning!

As an after thought on the way home Xmas Eve I’d thrown into the shopping trolley some prepared potato salad and coleslaw. This turned out to be fortuitous because I simply had no time to make my own… despite having the ingredients awaiting my tender loving care. In the end several of the vegetable salads were abandoned, and even the fruit salad got lost in the rush.

Nobody noticed of course because I’d already prepared enough food for an army we all ate, drank, and collapsed as usual. It was just the variety that I missed.

I was reading over my comments about Xmas Day and recalled the trifle. Mmmm… I love those trifles!!Yet even there things didn’t go quite according to plan. I have no problems using commercial sponges, jellies and jams, despite their flavouring originating from dubious sources, but I usually prefer a well made egg custard to that emanating out of a packet. However, in one supermarket I found a ‘British Foods’ section and found a pot of Bird’s Custard powder so bought it. Ok it wasn’t something a French chef would have capered about with delight after eating, but it was a blast from the past and reminded me of the trifles my mother produced week after week with little thanks from any of us, except the pleasure watching her work being consumed with gusto! I’ll wash over the after effects of the overindulgence on trifle. I’m sure you can look at the Dec 26th post… if you feel the need. πŸ™‚

Some other things might have been done differently. For example, despite my insistence on ‘buffet’ style meals on Xmas Day to simplify the inevitable chaos of the day, *this* year perhaps a more traditional format would have been the simpler option. The confusion over who would be doing what meant I rediscovered the utility of having a specific menu prepared for and presented at a specific time. In the event, the numbers present at our meal, would have been far easier to prepare for had I gone down that path.

Over the years I’ve become less and less enamoured with turkey. No matter what you do with it, she sheer size of the bird and the time needed for proper cooking means it is almost inevitably a very ‘dry’ meat. For us, it’s now on the table simply for the sake of tradition. Apart from the problems with cooking the bird, both the heat here over Xmas and the perceived need I’ve had, in previous years, to have a running buffet rather than a sit-down lunch/dinner means the bird is even drier than usual. Without a proper sauce or gravy to dampen the texture it becomes a tough eat. Whilst next year I may well still have a turkey, if we again have the buffet style meal it *will* be a small one; either that or a large chicken, again just for tradition. However, who knows, perhaps next year I’ll revert to my roots and create a traditional hot meal… in 40ΒΊC temperatures! Hmmm… perhaps not.

Another change that’ll happen is abandoning the pork. I’ve found pork has become a quite depressing meat to eat, though I’ve no idea why. In past years I really enjoyed a pork meal and have always been happy to consume it cold but slowly over the years I’ve almost developed an aversion to it! The way pigs are grown and processed and the resultant bad press might have something to do with it, but ultimately it *is* a flavour thing. It just no longer rocks my boat. πŸ™‚

On the other hand, we *have* developed a taste for hams! Unfortunately, as dreadful as it sounds *and* despite querying the butchers I’ve not been able to establish what sort of ham I’ve been buying! What curing process they’ve gone through is a mystery both to them *and* me. They are just sold as ‘ham’. All have been ‘smoked’ as you might expect but whether this is a natural process, or the result of some mechanical injection of chemicals has been unknown. Because I’ve already decided to change our Xmas menu a little, over the next few months I’ll be making enquiries about traditional methods of ham smoking and see if I can source a supplier who can specify the curing process and guarantee the quality of the meat. I suppose I *could* cure my own ham soaking it in brine for months… but much as I’d love to attempt it, I doubt the neighbours would appreciate my building a ‘smoking hut’ and keeping it alight for weeks (or longer) especially when we are all so concerned about bush fires! The smell of the smoke would drive them all crazy!! πŸ™‚

Having said that, the first (8 kilo) ham I bought from the butcher was far superior in flavour to the second (12 kilo) one I bought from them post Xmas. In between I bought one from Woolworth’s which was also quite pleasant. Perhaps I’m just edging back towards being a food snob? I hope so. Either way, next year I may well experiment with some exotic alternatives!?! πŸ™‚

Another strange development is that we still have our Xmas puddings in the pantry! Sadly nobody, apart from myself, seemed at all interested in them (too many other foods to sample maybe?). So they sit there uneaten.

I think I’ve mentioned before the clear aversion my wife has to dried fruit. Lord knows where it came from, but since her father wasn’t enamoured with it either perhaps it’s inherited! On the other hand he hated Rhubarb and the wife likes it so maybe not… who knows. Either way, neither she, not our children will eat those wonderfully peculiarly British, fruit cakes or puddings stuffed as they are with dried and glace fruits and spices so I’m left alone to consume them.

It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. πŸ™‚

Other than one r two abortive attempts, we’ve not made our own puddings since we’ve been in Australia. Back in the UK the wife found some ‘vegetarian suet’ which produced wonderfully light yet flavoursome puddings and cakes which we took back to Wales for the family get-together and were enjoyed immensely. Sadly the product isn’t available here and try as I will, I just can’t find an alternative! In fact I can’t even find *ordinary* suet!! Investigations at shops, supermarkets and butchers have led nowhere. It’s annoying but you have to go with the flow I suppose. The usual thick heavy puddings in the shops are better than nothing, but the kids just won’t look at them at all. . If I *can* source something similar to the veggie suet… or even source *real* suet… I might have another go

To be honest this *is* one part of Xmas that is just for me. I really love the flavour of ‘home-made’ Xmas Pudding… come to that I really love the flavour of ‘home-made’ Xmas cake as well, especially if it has a thick coat of almond paste. (wow… all this talk of food is making me really hungry!! :)).

And looking ahead? Well *if* we decide to stay home for Xmas instead of travelling (yet another story) and I get myself into gear early enough next year, there are some changes that *will* be made. The kids are getting older and both we and they need to adapt. Perhaps the time has finally come to abandon some of the old certainties of Xmas Day cooking and simplifying the entire process.

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