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We’re having Christmas at our house this year. Recently we’ve been going to my daughter’s because she has the biggest kitchen and she and my son in law are brilliant, tireless hosts. But they’ve just had a baby (making them a family of five) so that was never on the cards for this year. So it’s all over to our gaff, and instead of me cooking the meat and driving it over (the gravy in a thermos flask – yes it did taste faintly of coffee but it was kept lovely and hot) the cooking is going to be done by my son Guy with his Russian mother in law as sous chef. This family has just a baby too but it was my son’s idea so who was I to say no?
Cooking at Christmas is always pretty collaborative. A few years ago now my grown-up children revolted and said they got bored waiting round for Christmas lunch to be cooked and that they wanted to do it. (Actually I think it was my son Guy who said this, but again, I didn’t argue.) Each child, and my daughter’s boyfriend, now her husband, took over some part of it. Me and Desmond with my sister and her husband were sent from the house for a Christmas walk – (actually we drove to find the house that was used for the cover of her book ‘A Proper Family Christmas’ instead) while they did it all. It was brilliant! They had a lovely time and we had a lovely time. It was so good that I suggested it to our vicar at the time who was a woman with six pretty grown-up children. Christmas is a very busy time for vicars, especially those with several churches to look after, not having to cook while rushing in and out between services would have been a real help. But alas, she couldn’t relinquish control. It had to be cooked by her.
I do realise this fondness for control over the Christmas feast is common. I can feel friends of mine reading this with their toes curling and panting in the way they do in films about childbirth just to think about letting a child – even one in their twenties – taking over the turkey. But why? See above for my views on perfection. So over rated! Let’s not even try and be perfect, let’s just be good enough!
So what are we having at the Fforde household? Because I have written a lot of stories about Christmas (The Christmas Stocking and Other Stories in case you’ve missed it) people tend to think that my Christmases are a cross between Dickens and Nigella. Sorry if anyone is disappointed but it’s all a lot less decorative, although I do have chilli lights hanging from my batterie de cuisine and none of us cook that well.
This year we’re having beef Wellington. (I know – so risky! You can’t tell if it’s cooked properly!). But as we have guests who don’t eat beef we’re also having turkey. This took a lot of negotiating with OH who doesn’t like cold turkey. And we’ll probably have a ham. My grandson is a pescatarian so there’ll be fish or may be just a vegetarian option. Lots of pigs in blankets as my granddaughter only really eats bacon and sausages – it’s why she has so much energy and is good at gymnastics. I shall make gravy (or may be just buy it!) and stay out of the way while others cook. Although in reality I may encourage my daughter in law to cuddle her baby while I peel spuds and do washing up.
So there’ll be a lot of kitchen action this year. My kitchen isn’t huge, in fact, the cooking part of it is quite small. I may have to move a Christmas tree to create more work-space. But we’ll be fine. I now have an insulated gravy boat (not attractive but useful) and also one of those things you put tea-lights under. I’ll over heat the plates as usual (you could almost say that plates too hot to touch are my signature dish. (ho, ho, ho, put that joke in a cracker.)
Which brings us to the crackers. In an earlier post I was wondering if I should get expensive crackers with good presents in them or cheap ones I can gussie up with carefully chosen gifts and name tags. Well, I decided to go for the gussying up version and dispatched OH to buy some cheap crackers. (I don’t drive and he really doesn’t like taking me shopping because I’ll meet someone and spend time chatting.) He came back with two splendid boxes of crackers. ‘There were all I could get,’ he said, ‘and it was buy one, get one free.’
So these crackers are good! You can see the presents are quite nice – (OH didn’t realised you can see what’s in the crackers by looking on the back of the box) – but they didn’t cost a lot so technically, they were cheap. My dilemma continues! Should I bother to put in the packets of seeds (for adults) and chocolate lollipops (for children.)? Or not?
But what I won’t do is wear my paper hat. When I turned 60 I decided I would no longer do things I didn’t like that didn’t affect other people. I really hated putting a paper crown on top of my head. It wasn’t just that it ruined my outfit (my outfit at Christmas usually includes a grubby apron) it was I don’t like the feel of it on my head. So I stopped doing it.
So how do I define the ‘good enough Christmas’? If no one goes to A&E is a start. A friend once told me she had to take her elderly mother in one year. I assumed it was with an old-lady type affliction but no, her mother had nearly opened a vein trying to make her reindeer ears flash properly by attacking the battery with scissors.
If no one gets food poisoning. One year everyone did get food poisoning and I got the blame. Actually, my mother realised a bit later that it was only people who’d eaten at her house first who was struck down.
If one person likes their present. I’m keeping the bar low here. You can’t get it right all the time so getting it right even once is enough for me.
If none of the dogs (and there may be four dogs on the day) eats any chocolate. My two have already savaged the ready-wrapped box I have bought as a present. They didn’t actually get inside the box but it does look a bit battered. I’ll rewrap it and give it anyway.
If one of my decorations makes me really happy. (Currently loving my red and green mantlepiece though have found things to add to the candlesticks I can’t decide about. Is this addition too much? Or can’t you have ‘too much’ at Christmas?
My cool, sparkly icy arrangement on the other mantlepiece definitely looks better after dark, but the same can be said for most of us. And the days are very short at the moment!
I hope I haven’t come across as someone who doesn’t care about Christmas, or if anyone has a nice time. I actually deeply love this time of year, celebrating with my family and friends, but I want people to take it all a little less personally.
It is a huge responsibility having the happiness of others depending on you at this much loved festival. I think it’s very hard to shrug off this feeling and it’s all your fault if something goes wrong. But it isn’t all your fault and as long as you smile and don’t sweat the small stuff, good enough is wonderful!
Happy Christmas Eve
Love Katie xxx