Ghosts of Christmas Past visit me each year, sometimes twice as we continue our new tradition of Christmas in July. The ghosts are family, welcome and regular visitors to my kitchen. I look forward to the festive season, find pleasure in Christmas by melding my memories with what gives me joy nowadays. However, it doesn’t always come easy. Every year we ask ourselves will we put up the Christmas tree. End-of-year-tired-adult-me says no. Six-year-old-me says please can we. So we do. Six-year-old-me, lover of twinkle, adorns the tree with lights and we all enjoy the ambience but it comes down a day or so after Christmas Day as adult-me likes an orderly house. The ghosts remind me that festive spirit doesn’t come from excessive doing and spending and standing in line to buy overpriced seafood. They help me remember how much I loved our homemade celebrations.
My memories are scant of Christmases from the early years but the marks on my psyche are carved deep. A single Christmas, age five, the last at home with Mum, and Santa’s gift of a blue child-size table and chairs. I was twenty-ish before I discovered by chance it was handmade by my Dad. It stayed around for a long time, later bequeathed to my seventeen years younger sister.
However, when I think of Christmas, my memories invariably crystallize at my grandparents’ farm. The living room with its pine tree I ‘helped’ my grandfather chop during an expedition in the bush, placed in a bucket of water and stationed in the small corner next to the fireplace. Simply decorated with ornaments gathered over the years, not new; not much in that house was.
The Christmas tree skirted by a few wrapped gifts modest in nature and number. I could also -as I had been good… of course- expect a gift on Christmas morning from Santa and Christmas stocking filled with useful things, story books, colouring pencils and small treats. A distinct memory is the long-awaited Christmas morning of the much-desired baby doll… which Santa inconveniently left behind the tree. Forbearance is still not one of my virtues. Nor singing, another clear recollection is my uncle suggesting I sing Silent Night… silently.
My nanna’s kitchen is one of my realest memories. If I am very focused, barely breathing, I can transport myself to it, six years old again. Our festive food was made in this -tacked on to the back of the house after the old outside kitchen burned to the ground- boxy room with its wood stove, faded paint timber dresser, Laminex table and modest Kelvinator refrigerator.
Plates of Christmas cake appeared when visitors did and disappeared quickly along with welcomed cups of tea or glasses of beer depending on the hour of day, sat side by side with Bakelite trays of child tempting treats; lollies, assorted nuts from which as the only grandchild I would freely pick the cashews & brazil nuts, irresistible crunchy sweet red-coated peanuts.
Baked vegetables, I’m sure there was a whole panful cooked in dripping but my eyes were on the prize, sticky baked white sweet potatoes, served with roast chicken -wing for me please- with bread & onion stuffing and gravy -rather than the more common roasted rooster- selected for the occasion from the laying hens and prepared by my grandfather… thankfully I didn’t make the connection when I was ‘helping’ him although the memory of the stink of chicken feathers and skin scalded in boiling water is fresh as ever decades later.
Christmas pudding studded with thripence and sixpence but a little light on red jelly cherries in the fruit mix, the price of my ‘helping’. I still have my nanna’s trifle bowl, smallish but cut crystal and treasured, big enough for each of us to savour sufficient portions of pale sunshine coloured custard and buttery cake both made with freshly laid eggs and creamy milk from their dairy cows, sprinkled with a little of my grandfather’s sweet sherry some of which might have also been tipped into an accompanying small glass for the cook, studded with glistening slices of peaches picked from the orchard and preserved in jars, dotted with spoonfuls of shiny multi-hued jelly.
Somehow my nanna conjured festive food miracles akin to biblical loaves and fishes. Counting my grandparents, aunts and uncles home for the holidays, and assorted visitors we might number more than ten for Christmas lunch which would be plentiful enough to require a postprandial nap, followed by the cool joy of a salad of leftovers for tea which is what as dairy farmers they called the meal eaten around 5 pm, and later when the news was on the black and white television (likely purchased along with the Kelvinator, the only nod to modernity in the house), a pot of tea and small bowls of remaining sweets.
If you mention Christmas food to my family members of the era, their collective recollection will be my nanna’s egg mayonnaise which I remember dressed our Christmas tea and Boxing Day salads -lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, tinned beetroot & pineapple, potatoes, ham, chicken- in cold creamy deliciousness. A secret recipe apparently but after some family conferring my aunt and I agree this is it, although I’m inclined to the milk version.
That Christmas when I was six was the last for my beloved nanna. She died one hot afternoon in late February after I had gone back to school, in her sleep on the green vinyl night and day sofa in the living room where there might have been a few remaining pine needles escaped her housekeeping in the crevice between the carpet and the wall in the small corner next to the fireplace. I found her there cold to my inquiring touch having arrived home after walking up from the school bus drop off to a too quiet house just ahead of my Pa who had popped over the river to the lucerne paddocks.
Fresh from Christmas’ recent incarnation which saw the G.O. and I visit and celebrate with my family a few days before, in their merry style. Everyone enjoyed catching up and had a good time. Back at home for Christmas eve, one of my favourite days, we spent it with the usual soundtrack of carols in kitchen and lawnmower in the yard. My local in-law family opted out of Christmas celebrations this year… and after the event were a bit sorry but it meant on Christmas Day we pleased ourselves, barbequed breakfast, exchanged Christmas morning phone calls with faraway family, opened a few gifts, visited the in-laws, walked on the beach and later enjoyed a quiet festive food dinner.
Yuletide, for me, is timely alchemy of intangible festal mood and tangible: our hand-me-down tree with its lights and decorations all the more loved after fourteen December Christmases and one July; gifts squirreled away through the year; wreath on the front door; sparkly lights woven through a tree in the front garden to cheer passing night-time festive travellers, which the G.O. and I once were; seasonal home cooking that brings to mind food our grandmothers made… manifestations of my memories in a contemporary setting.
Christmas is occasion for quiet communion with my ghosts who are never far away anyway, at home with the life and place I’m at now that quite resembles theirs’, no accident, I’m inclined to believe. In my early fifties, three years beyond the age my nanna attained, I get to experience the other side of the festive coin. Now a step-grandmother, I found satisfaction and joy in our inaugural family Christmas in July when the kids’ -old and young- eyes lit up at the array of simple food I had made, planning already the next year’s festivities before they departed to their home a few hours drive down the coast, and talking about the food for months afterwards.
Just a few weeks after Christmas past is a felicitous time to look forward festively, not a year ahead but to our next gathering in July: holiday ambience invoked by our tree in cheery adornments of white ribbon, red hearts and -of course- lights, adjacent to the living room wood fire which will be lit and around which we’ll gather to eat dessert and open gifts. Devised as a family gathering -eschewing the bandwagon of mid-winter commercial trendiness- an opportunity to partake not only of gifts and comfort food but timeless pastimes en famille of brisk strolls, and toasted marshmallows around the pot belly fire outdoors… circumventing the pressure cooker of December festive negotiations and obligations.
“When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things – not the great occasions – give off the greatest glow of happiness.” ― Bob Hope
With the festive season approaching and in view of our imminent shift to Taylors Arm I’m attending early to Christmas gift strategies and shopping.
Resigning myself to the inevitability of on-demand occasion-dictated gift exchange but hopped off the consumer-retailer spending hamster wheel, once again I’m favouring gifts of products we’ve enjoyed this year, purchased locally from people or organisations where dollars make a difference to lives & families not corporates & shareholders.
To package the goodies, I popped over the road from my office building to Eastland Officesmart and grabbed funky green paper bags for a $1 each.
One of the unfortunate things about moving from the city is we’ll be no longer within walking distance of our local Eveleigh-Carriageworks Famers Market so I’m stocking up on gift items of Olsson’s Australian Salt and Prickle Hill Worcester Sauce. I’ll also pick up a box of Jollie Gourmet dog treats for the lovely Lucy, my younger sister’s pooch.
I ordered boxes of my favourite Daintree Tea, and to avoid paying shipping for online shopped Oxfam finger puppets for my new niece, I added bargain multi-packs of fair trade chocolate as well as a couple of cat prezzies for my other sister’s kitties Addy & Nutmeg for whom play is preferable to food.
Getting in the swing of imminent Taylors Arm self-sufficiency, to add personal homemade touches there’ll be Bespoke Muesli, liquid hand soap, and after test baking the Passion Fruit Garden’s Gingernuts recipe I’ve designated them Christmas Biscuits 2015.
Over the past few years our gift giving trended to consumables; a response to our cupboards being incrementally stuffed with stuff. It’s my way of taking a stand, attempting to influence by example because despite ongoing efforts, we’re unable to persuade family and friends that although we appreciate the gesture we don’t NEED Christmas gifts.
During recent space clearing in our house at Taylors Arm I filled a box with well-meant but superfluous gifted miscellany and moved it to the G.O.’s shed prior to its next stop at a charity store in town. Possibly from whence it will do the rounds again and end up nicely wrapped under someone’s Christmas tree. Not mine, I hope.
‘Tis the season to shop small.
Shop Small Australia
“Shop Small® has returned to Australia this November. It’s a national movement committed to supporting small businesses at a local level. You know the ones — the family businesses, the start-ups and the independents that make each neighbourhood unique.”
Shop the Neighbourhood – Canada
“Shop The NeighbourhoodTM is a local shopping event that’s all about celebrating small businesses and making your community thrive.”
28th November 2015 will be… Small Business Saturday
“In an age of global markets and capitalism, it’s far too easy for small businesses to struggle and fail, even if they have superior products and services. We have the power to change this, and Small Business Saturday encourages people everywhere to shop with small businesses for just one day, and to change the world a little bit.”
As I see it, the alternative is the slippery slope uncannily depicted by images from depressing artwork portrays what our societies have become.
Thanks to Celia of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting In My Kitchen and the IMK community for foodie inspiration & the virtual company they provide. If you’d like to join in, link back to Celia’s blog.
I could cover it off by simply re-blogging one of my very early posts, dear holiday houseguests, from December 2011… but more than a fortnight has passed since the same houseguests’ most recent visit, and my temper is still snaky…
There was some improvement in their style: Stepson wielded a tea towel as sidekick to his washer-upper father; and I didn’t have to yell “don’t run through the house” (1) or remind “put the toilet lid down” (2) more than a dozen times during their 2 night/44 hour stay.
But what is rankling me will be forever known as “The Great Sugar Debacle”. It started quietly and caught us unawares. Granddaughter was coming solo to Taylors Arm with us for 6 days pre-Christmas so we suggested packing a water bottle for car trips, pillow, swimmers, and a book for entertainment in light of absence of internet coverage.
That was accomplished but also in her bags were 3 x 3 packs of chocolate flavour Up&Go (3) “liquid breakfast” drink, and 2 largish packets of lollies. I put a single 3 pack in the back fridge and left the rest in the bags.
Granddaughter is lovely and like most 11-year-old girls naturally has aspirations to behave much older than she is. We enjoyed her company and she enjoyed not having parents and 2 younger brothers cramping her style. An unfussy person in every way she hung out with us, herself or took advantage of the single item of modern technology, the TV, which at least has free-to-air channels including ABC3 Kids via the satellite dish.
The only things inexplicable were Granddaughter’s sudden bursts of manic activity or chatter particularly late afternoons. An easy houseguest, Granddaughter availed herself of the contents of the fridge & pantry, ate with us, ate well, and as we have little junk food-drink in the house, appeared to not overindulge her stash of lollies or when visiting her great-grandmother the endless supply of biscuits & sugary tea. She consumed a single Up&Go, preferring to join her grandfather in whatever he was having for breakfast, or a small bowl of rockmelon. Neither of them were interested in my breakfast of muesli (4), homemade plain yoghurt & local banana.
Initially we didn’t realize the moderate amount of sugar as we gauged it was cumulative in effect & desire. It’s consumption earned Granddaughter the nickname “Sugar” and better supervision of her intake. Which she took on board with good grace and improved self-moderation.
Fine until the rest of the family arrived on Boxing Day, descending upon the house with numerous plastic shopping bags (5) containing several more multi-packs of Up&Go, breakfast cereal – Coco Pops, Nutri-Grain & Fruit Loops, a six-pack of Powerade, 2 x 2 litres of fruit juice, 2 litres of raspberry cordial and copious packets of lollies & biscuits which were deposited on the kitchen table (6).
The G.O. made the new arrivals a late lunch of Christmas leftovers sandwiches before they proceeded to dive in to their sugary haul, dipping into the bags which I left unpacked in situ as we were eating at the outside table, or snacking on biscuits conveniently toted around the house by Daughter-in-law along with her bottle of Powerade.
Dinner was simple but homemade, Christmas leftovers: local pasture raised ham & roast chicken, pasta salad, mango salsa and green salad. Everyone enjoyed it (7) except Youngest Grandson who wanted lollies or dessert -got neither (8) , and Daughter-in-law who gratefully liberally applied to her food the bottle of fancy BBQ sauce they’d given us as a gift the previous year.
Next day the weather was miserable but we were out & about so a visit to the bakery made an easy lunch, and being a sensible woman I’d booked us into our local Pub With No Beer for dinner, which the houseguests prepared for by consuming more biscuits & lollies.
At the pub (which does have beer and thankfully, wine & spirits) the G.O. and I relaxed, had a few sanity restoring drinks and lovely meals. Despite the dreary weather the kids played in the Cubby With No Cordial, had a red “fire engine” fizzy drink each, ate their dinners except of course Youngest Grandson who wanted lollies or dessert -got neither. The parents couldn’t have cared less about food or drink… OMG the pub has WiFi… they were glued to their latest iPhones.
As the miserable weather settled into possible flood rain the decision was made by Stepson to decamp early the following morning as they’d, in his words “hate to be stuck in the boondocks”. I was sympathetic, I’d hate it too if they were stuck.
That morning the houseguests packed while ingesting Up&Go’s and breakfast cereal. I assisted by roving the house discovering discarded items, and restoring to the plastic shopping bags the remains of the sugar haul, assuring the houseguests probably unnecessarily “we don’t eat this, take it home”.
- Kids running through a 1930’s house built on raised “stumps” and full of old furniture-stuff creates an effect similar to earth tremors.
- Leaving the toilet lid up creates the possibility of a close encounter between a bare bum and a frog. Hilarious if it’s not your bare bum.
- Daughter-in-law works for the manufacturer. Linked product review dispels any illusions Up&Go is healthy.
- Homemade muesli ingredients: Organic if possible – oat bran, pepitas, sunflower seeds, mixed raw nuts, shredded coconut.
- The G.O. suggested as there are no shops (10) at Taylors Arm they come prepared with kids’ necessities and not to worry about food for meals as we had plenty of food but limited space in the fridges.
- Rendering unnecessary the tin of homemade Christmas biscuits I’d baked: usual Snap Biscuits recipe plus chopped dried sour cherries, macadamia nuts and white chocolate nibs.
- Eldest Grandson ate everything on his plate & licked it clean.
- Therefore no-one got dessert, which comprised leftover components of the deconstructed trifle I made for the G.O.: homemade custard; Aeroplane jellies – port wine with vodka poached cherries & passionfruit with vodka poached mango; Pandoro; tinned peaches; and Sara Lee vanilla ice-cream.
- The G.O. assisted with tidying up, collapsed on the verandah futon and didn’t move for the rest of the day. I did four loads of washing and drying (11). Wine o’clock was early but reverted to wine spritzers with homemade fizzy water.
- The new managers at the pub now sell their own homegrown eggs, meat, produce and a few basic grocery items.
- 5 houseguests = 6 bath towels even with the parents showering only once, plus 4 sets sheets & 10 pillowcases.
Our bags and bits ‘n pieces are packed. Work is almost done for the year. Gifts wrapped in brown paper and shiny ribbon wait beneath our well loved Christmas tree, discovered under the house. Each year we decorate it wondering about its provenance.
In a couple of days we’ll make the drive north for holidays at our home at Taylors Arm, sweetened by the knowledge we won’t be city-bound again for a few weeks. Holidays for the G.O. & I means free time together & at home, beaches, day trips and relaxation.
Holidays at Taylors Arm also means no internet access so I won’t be visiting virtually during those few weeks but my thoughts will touch on the blogworld from time to time.
As well as the festive season -our tenth Christmas together at Taylors Arm, it’s my third blogiversary. To celebrate, I’m sharing a meditation I wrote that takes you to special place of your own choosing.
The words of the meditation are printed on a photo of the hills we see from the back of our home at Taylors Arm.
A very special place for me.
Wishing you all the very best with love and light and happiness.
Click on the image to enlarge and/or print A4 size.
The G.O. is not a devotee of Christmas cake i.e. fruit cake so it’s many years since I made one. Back in the days when I did, the version I made was simply dried fruit mix boiled in a combination of butter & orange juice and when cool flour, eggs and spices were added; very rich more like a pudding. A little went a long way so I baked it as cupcakes and distributed them widely amongst the family.
Last festive season visiting my aunt, she produced Christmas “mini muffins” made, she said, from my Nanna’s recipe. The G.O. uncharacteristically helped himself to extras, so my aunt emailed me the recipe labelled Polly’s Fruit Cake scanned from Nanna’s book. My sister’s middle name is Beulah, named after our Nanna but Nanna was always called Polly.
I hadn’t given thought to making it until the G.O.’s son recently mentioned he had already eaten the Lions charity Christmas cake he’d bought. Upon my suggestion it wouldn’t be difficult to bake one, his suggestion was I do so… for him.
Speaking to Dad I mentioned I was making the recipe and asked if he was interested in sampling the test batch. Paying lip service to his diet, he replied “No… Hmmm… Yes… Hmmm… You may as well drop some in”.
250 grams / 1 cup softened organic salted butter (or margarine)
500 grams / 3 cups mixed dried fruit
250 g / 1 cup brown sugar
250 g / 1 3/4 cups organic plain flour
1 tablespoon organic self-raising flour
6 medium eggs, free range
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs then flour and mixed fruit, and combine.
For whole cake bake in slow oven 160 C (325 F) approx. 2 1/2 hours. For muffins bake at 180 C (360 F) approx. 30 minutes. (Fan forced ovens 10-20 C lower)
The margarine ingredient is controversial. My grandparents were dairy farmers. We always had butter. Dad said Nanna wouldn’t have used margarine. I tend to agree. However, my aunt follows the recipe and uses margarine.
The address recorded on the page as well as the recipes give an idea as to its time. The address is for my uncle when he was conscripted into National Service during the Vietnam War.
“Under the National Service Scheme [1964 -1972], twenty-year-old men were required to register with the Department of Labour and National Service (DLNS), they were then subject to a ballot which, if their birth date was drawn, meant the possibility of two years of continuous full-time service in the regular army, followed by three years part-time service in the Army Reserve.”
It may be that’s the clue to the margarine. My uncle was called up and sent to Townsville, North Queensland for army training. Possibly Nanna sent fruit cake to him in a care package. He was a long way from home -1800 km, bad news as far as the family were concerned but mitigated eventually when he wasn’t sent to Vietnam but met, and later married his wife at nearby Rockhampton in December 1971 only months before Nanna died in February 1972 age only 50 + 2 months.
I’ve made the Christmas cakes, so… Polly, put the kettle on, we’ll all have tea.
As I beat the mixture it turned into a golden batter, and I knew by appearance and taste I’d been there when Nanna baked this cake.
The cakes come out of the oven browned, looking a little oily but as they cool they crisp.
I ate three for breakfast.
Amongst the lovely birthday gifts I received recently from the G.O. was also what we refer to as A Present. A Present is something random we occasionally buy but usually find for the other, given for no reason at all. Mostly A Presents are bits & pieces the G.O. finds at work on construction sites, and brings home for me. Over the years he has brought home many & varied A Presents: old coins & marbles; bottles; furniture and odds & ends from demolition sites, and one tiny tabby kitten which we couldn’t keep but gave into the good care of the local Cat Protection Society.
After the G.O. handed me birthday gifts he’d hidden within the organised chaos that is the back of his ute, he proffered a muddy disk, and graciously said “here, that’s for you too, I found it.”
As the dirt washed off it into the kitchen sink my A Present revealed itself as a battered stop and slow sign. Exciting. Almost as good as my birthday gifts and no cash had been exchanged, which always gives me a thrill. Even better I had just the spot for it. My work-in-progress Taylors Arm verandah table of found items. Right where it would remind us for the 3 week duration of our holidays that slow, rather than stop is the objective. Forget about go.
I’m around this week until late Friday but after that I may not be popping into blog world much or at all. As usual it’s dependent on the caprices of the wireless internet waves that may or may not find their way to Taylors Arm. Last year I was a little bereft, not having the ability to regularly check in with my WordPress Tribe. I’ll read blogs and comment if possible, but I’ll be back in the real world a fortnight into the new year.
*You can also find me and other photos like this on Pinterest.
I wish you a Very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year. In the spirit of the festive season I offer up the last verse of an Australian version of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
On the 12th day
My true love sent to me
12 parrots prattling,
11 numbats nagging,
10 lizards leaping,
9 wombats working,
8 dingoes digging,
7 possums playing,
6 brolgas dancing,
4 koalas cuddling,
3 kookaburras laughing,
2 pink galahs,
And an emu up a gum tree.
It’s that time of the year. Not quite Christmas. Not quite holidays. Not quite summer.
Life at Chez EllaDee & the G.O. and Sydney’s November weather have been dancing to the same discordant tune, akin to the noise of my recorder playing in second class at school.
Weather-wise it’s been four seasons-plus in one day. Plus being torrential rain, fierce winds, hail and tornadoes. November the month of my birth & my sister’s and associated celebrations has long been infamous for heterogeneous weather.
Likewise, the everyday of this eleventh month has been a mixed bag. It’s been an eye-opener to the comfort I find in being a creature of somewhat boring habit.
The G.O. was finally released from the project that’s been the bane of his existence since Easter the year before last. He was headed for a new project on the South Coast, near Kiama where we like to steal infrequent weekends away, involving an extra couple of hours driving each day on top of his usual 7 am to whenever workdays.
Inclement weather, a project fast heading to disaster and deadline diverted his efforts locally for a couple of weeks although he was working 4 am, 6 am, 7 am to whenever and 6 days.
Meanwhile, it was quiet, sometimes very quiet, on the solo home front unless of course I opened the door to the soundtrack of the train line. But, that was my only respite. My mostly peaceful work days at my desk overlooking the harbour became unexpectedly but not unpleasantly hectic. It’s just the timing wasn’t great; home comforts depend on one of us having capacity to attend to them.
On the back of Thriftober, comes Shop Small “the largest ever nationwide campaign to breathe new life into the small business sector. Running throughout November, the Shop Small movement is asking Australians to shop at small businesses in the lead-up to Christmas…
…Shop Small comes to Australia for the first time this year after campaigns in the United States and Great Britain were credited with stimulating consumer spending with small retailers and service providers. It brings together support from the business community, governments and consumers and encourages people all over Australia to support small businesses in local communities.”
Lacking the requisite credit card to participate and unconvinced of the altruism I’m not spruiking the Amex aspect of Shop Small, rather continuing to support local producers and businesses as I have done, sans the Shop Small label, Christmases past and increasingly this year via farmers markets. Read the rest of this entry »
So far our holiday & Christmas prep has been pretty chilled. There was the usual six and half hour drive north from the city but we took our time and leaving ahead of the holiday traffic, suffered only the boredom of a trip we’ve made too many times for there to be any residue of novelty.
There was also the usual stop at the MIL’s and shops but we minimised the duration of both. We arrived home to a tidy-ish house, and had a bet on who would arrive first: LHS neighbour’s cat looking for snackies, or RHS neighbour looking for a chat. RHS neighbour won by a whisker… we chatted for while, dispensed snackies, dispatched the unpacking then settled with a simple dinner and glasses of wine.
Prior to retiring we hit the shower, and discovered we had company of the eight legged kind, in the form of a grand-daddy long legs (arachnophobes will be happy to know our dodgy internet won’t cope with image uploads). I’m the spider lover of the two of us, so I advised Spidy to stay put and all would be well. It was, but I was unsure of what the score would be post the G.O.’s shower. Surprisingly, both of them came out the encounter intact, and Spidy’s reign over the back bathroom continues.
I tested out our new internet coverage arrangements and confirmed they are pre-historic. I was able to look at our bank balance online but unable to transfer any cash… I can see Facebook in slo-mo, and who has been posting via my Gmail In-Box, opening posts is hit & miss, and commenting appears to be out of the question.
Still, the blogging world isn’t far from my thoughts, as early Saturday morning while I was hanging out washing I saw two colourful bugs hanging off the clothesline, doing what comes naturally and thought of http://picsandstuff.wordpress.com/about/, my bug loving fellow blogger, who’d have been back out there with her camera taking insect-style paparazzi shots.
Today, Christmas Eve, we forayed to the shops for last minute festive provisions. Not needing much, we were directed by the helpful customer service assistant, [who a couple of days previously solved my ham bag dilemma by directing me to the shelf above the hams… obviously a hiding in plain sight display technique] suggested the Fast Lane would be appropriate for us, which the G.O. took literally and queue jumped our trolley ahead of a basket holding, bandana wearing local who was clearly and vocally unimpressed with the multitude of drop-ins… “I’ve never had to line up before…”
After a stop at the fishmongers as the G.O. queued to park the car, I queued in bank-like fashion while cheerful seafood shop assistants flung the great Aussie festive dining essential: prawns, into plastic bags with ice, and had monosyllabic conversations with fellow queuers… “are you in line to pay?”… “no”… “yes”… well merry Christmas to you too…
We were greeted by similar festive cheer when we looked in at the MIL’s where only the brother-in-law was home.
Me: “We’ve couldn’t get a jar of oysters over the road but we’ve got extra prawns, do you want some?”
BIL: “I don’t eat them.”
Me: “What, prawns?” [having seen him chow down on them during previous festive occasions]
BIL: “No, oysters.”
Me: “We’ve got prawns.
BIL: “I don’t eat them either… you have to peel the sh!t things…”
I’m guessing the BIL also no longer eats onions, oranges, bananas or anything that come out of shrink-wrapped plastic.
As we happily drove the 30 km’s out into the hills towards home, away from the crowds, such as they were, of the small town of Macksville on the Mid-North Coast, I reflected on our morning, and summed it up to the G.O. “I guess the festive spirit eludes some…”
We’ve had sunny, warm, breezy days and after waiting for the temp to drop, the G.O. is doing that most festive thing, mowing the lawn. I, accompanied by Christmas carols and my own off-key singing, am cooking a chook and small Madeleine shaped vanilla cakes for my deconstructed trifle…to go with the blackberry jelly, passionfruit jelly & cornflour custard made yesterday, and fresh peaches.
Merry Christmas from EllaDee and the G.O. at Taylors Arm 🙂
Even if the power of the internet is not with me, my thoughts are with you…
In the midst of all the important things happening in my life, don’t blink or you’ll miss them, one is in neon lights. That would be Christmas lunch. Not to be confused with when the G.O. a few years back, in competition with our over the road neighbour draped the front verandah in neon chaser lights in an attempt to be Christmas Lights King of Taylors Arm but succeeded only in creating a display resembling a truck stop.
You’d think after 46 Christmases: good, bad and indifferent, I’d be less avid. If I’m honest, I approach Christmas with the best of intentions but mixed emotions. I prefer Christmas to be just so. In reality, it rarely gets close.
I enjoy Christmas. So long as it’s not competitive and will never qualify as an Olympic Christmas event. Underpinning the emotions is the knowledge that whatever I do, it’s for me, for my own amusement. I have to keep returning to that.
Like so many families, mine now have diverse commitments on Christmas day. Since my grandparents died when I was little, the entire family has spent one Christmas day together, at my house way back in the 80’s. Many of them travelled from away and stayed for a few days so it had the coming together feel of the old days. It was lovely. It was particularly lovely because even though I’d spent a month cleaning, my aunts just cleaned and cleaned… We went to our family church [tempting to joke about nips of scotch beforehand and cracks in foundations…], and afterwards had an all hands on deck Christmas lunch which by virtue of air conditioning was the last hot Christmas lunch I’ve prepared or eaten.
My Dad is not a good gauge, being at the lower end of jolly season barometer of family Christmas sentiments, having once opined “it’s just another feed”. We care but being a cool, calm, considerate and expanding family we ease the burden of Christmas commitments by getting together at other times to do other things, and touch base on Christmas day by phone.
Currently the G.O. and I are Taylors Arm centric at Christmas. It heralds the start of our annual summer holiday, and by virtue of her vintage the M.I.L who lives nearby in town gets first consideration. Formerly we’ve hosted a simple festive lunch affair, attendees comprised of the M.I.L, her husband, the G.O. and me.
Three years ago my S.I.L. and her husband moved back to share the house in town, and two years of government bonus payments meant they felt they could afford to host Christmas lunches. Fair enough. We made our contribution, and reaped the payoff in having to do little in the way of prep and cleaning up.
This year we broached the subject and were bluntly informed “it’s your turn” and “if you’re putting it on, we’re coming”. Okay.
And here lies my dilemma. The one I mentioned. I prefer Christmas to be just so. Whatever I do, it’s for my own amusement. Last year we went to the local Taylors Arm church as it had recently resumed services. It’s a big old white timber building that commands the top of the hill one house up from us. Despite its Catholic denomination all are welcome, and Father Michael, a fun, relaxed surfie priest comperes an inspiring observance. This year we’re attending again, so our guests unless they change their minds and come along will have to amuse themselves until we arrive home.
Before we walk up the hill we’ll do what we always done: set the table with a good white bed sheet in lieu of a tablecloth, beaded silver placemats, my much loved mismatched floral crockery plates, a table wreath I’ve had for 20 years, jars with flowers from the garden, festive Christmas crackers, all covered with the silver edged throw-over.
When we return, out will come the Christmas CDs who’s airing the G.O. can only abide on 24th & 25th December. I’ll open a bottle of sparkling wine to accompany the assembly of components for the festive repast: a selection of fresh cold food I sourced or prepared in forgoing days, and accommodate the guests’ desire for an early lunch.
Prawn cocktails. This is new. The M.I.L. hates peeling prawns, so this year we’ll save everyone the effort and peel a few extra on Christmas Eve after we’ve had our seafood supper.
Small roasted chickens with bread stuffing. The chickens’ true purpose is to function as a carrier for the stuffing plus a leg for those so inclined to gnaw on, and leftovers. We did cook a turkey once, on a 40 degree Celsius plus day in a too-small barbeque. The result resembled an oversized Portuguese BBQ chicken but tasted good.
Sliced leg ham.
Ordinary potato salad made with mayo, cream, boiled eggs, peas and shallots, and maybe capers if I’m feeling adventurous.
Potato bake at the request of the guests.
Tossed salad of whatever good greens I can find and home gown tomatoes, I hope.
Lychees and cherries.
Bread rolls and butter.
Deconstructed trifle. This also is new. The G.O. is not a fan of traditional trifle. I’m not a fan of carton custard and tinned pudding usually proffered and preferred by our guests, or of over-soaked trifle. While the oven is warm from the chooks, I’ll bake custard and dozen or so Madeleines, make room in the fridge for jelly, and poach a punnet of raspberries in vodka and sugar.
As soon as the main meal has been consumed the guests will be anticipating dessert. Once the plates are cleared, I’ll make a round of coffee and tea, and assemble the elements with a drop of good cream, and crossed fingers.
Our guests, after a post lunch stroll around the garden and verandah, a wander through the house, and possibly a brief respite on the futon or sun lounge, will depart to their own domicile for a traditional post Christmas nap. By the time they arrive back in town, the G.O. and I will have washed up and retired as well… a fitting end to a Christmas just so.
The reality is, no matter for their turns at hosting, the M.I.L. and S.I.L. went to hoards of trouble… Your Honour, I bring into evidence Exhibit I: $80 lobster of which we each had one bite because the M.I.L. couldn’t be persuaded it was a complete and utter rip off, Exhibit II: $50 white tablecloth, and Exhibit III: matching table decorations bought on Christmas Eve, never used again… Despite which they continually exhort me “you’ve gone to too much trouble” to the point I dream of serving tinned ham with supermarket bread on Homebrand paper plates and saying “I hope you don’t mind. I haven’t gone to any trouble…”
What do I do?
* Bella figura loosely translated: presenting yourself to world in the best way you can.