This was going to be a different post – something about all the things I was looking forward to after a year of not looking forward to much. Mainly it was going to be about the extra Christmas dinner we had planned for family who were visiting after Christmas – family we haven’t seen all year.
But there was an outbreak in Sydney late last week and the borders are closed again so that won’t be happening. My heart goes out not just to my family but to every other family – not just in Australia, but around the world – who has cancelled holiday plans just a few days out from Christmas. If you can’t be with the ones you love, or your holiday plans are in chaos, I’m so so sorry. Everyone, it seems, has a story this year and many of them break my heart.
That’s why, in the interest of making the best of Christmas, of not letting the Grinch that is covid steal it, I bring you my Christmas five today.
Before I do, a note: my day job office is closing so I’ll be taking a break between Christmas and New Year. I’ll probably also take a break from blogging – but will, no doubt, use the time to get a head start on 2021 and schedule some posts and get some decent writing time in. I have big plans for 2021.
Many thanks for your support this year and following along with my rambles. I wish you and your family and friends very best wishes for Christmas – however it is that you’ll be spending it.
It’s no secret that I have a playlist for all of life’s eventualities, and Christmas is no different. If I’m pushed to mention just five songs, it will be these…in no specific order:
- Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) – the Michael Buble version is my fave
- I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day – Wizzard
- It Doesn’t Often Snow At Christmas – Pet Shop Boys
- One More Sleep – Leona Lewis
- Merry Christmas Everybody – Slade
- Last Christmas – Wham
- All I Want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
- Do They Know It’s Christmas – Band Aid (the original version)
- White Christmas – Bing Crosby
Okay, so I couldn’t stick to five…
2. Christmas viewing
I love how Netflix brings out a heap of Christmas movies each year, but for me the ones that I watch every year with Sarah are:
- The Holiday
- Polar Express
- Last Christmas (a new addition to my list)
- Love Actually
In addition to this I adore the Christmas baking specials by Nigella, Jamie and co, the Great British Bake-Off festive shows, and there are even a few seasonal episodes of Midsomer Murders I watch each year. When it comes to classic Christmas TV though, you can’t beat The Vicar Of Dibley Christmas episodes – especially the Christmas dinner one.
My favourites are:
The Christmas Chronicles, by Nigel Slater
This also gets a mention in the Christmas cookbook category, but it’s so much more than a cookbook. It’s a book of words, stories, and notes. I read this each year and get so tied up in the stories that the cooking comes secondary.
Slater writes about traditions, Christmas markets, Christmas windows, the smells, the feels, the tastes, the memories from the first sign of winter all the way through to February. It’s gorgeously, evocatively, sumptuously written – and I’m absolutely in love with it. If your Christmas spirit has gone AWOL, read this.
And for an extra treat, there’s a podcast where Slater reads from the book. You’ll find it here or search iTunes. I defy you to listen and not be spirited away to a winter wonderland. I could listen to Nigel Slater all day. Sigh.
The Scottish have an equivalent to Hygge – that Danish lifestyle word that evokes everything snuggly and comfortable. It’s “coorie” as in “coorie doon” or snuggle down. The Gaelic term is Còsagach. That’s what listening to Nigel Slater read this book is like. I’ll leave that one with you.
A Paris Christmas, by John Baxter
Another one that gets a mention in the cookbook category.
I bought this one in the second-hand section of Shakespeare & Co in Paris. After browsing in the shop, we sat outside in the sun and had a coffee and watch the crowds across in Notre Dame. It was when I was coming out of the poky little toilet afterwards that I saw it and, at 5 euros, snapped it up immediately. I think I read somewhere that John Baxter – an Australian who married a Parisian – lives somewhere around the Left Bank not far from Shakespeare & Co…although that’s by the by.
Essentially this book follows the author as he plans and sources the ultimate Christmas feast for his extremely fussy French family. Along the way he tells a story of tradition, produce, with a few non-recipes woven into the words. Just beautiful.
Christmas Pudding, by Nancy Mitford
This was in the bookshelf at the accommodation we stayed at in Tetbury for Christmas last year. Published in 1932, it was, apparently, written by Mitford quickly in an effort to cheer herself up. Essentially a comedy of errors set in country England over the course of a few days in December, it’s bright, tinselly and the perfect seasonal treat.
Other than these, my festive reads usually also include:
- Anything Christmassy by Milly Johnson
- Anything Christmassy by Jenny Colgan
- Anything Christmassy by Carole Matthews
- Anything Christmassy by Sarah Morgan
- Anything Christmassy by Heidi Swain
- The annual Christmas title by Karen Swan even though I know that despite having the word “Christmas” in the title and snow and festive things on the cover the book will not really be about Christmas at all.
4. Christmas Cookbooks
- Christmas, by Delia Smith
- Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook
- Nigella Christmas
- Fortnum and Mason – Christmas & Other Winter Feasts, by Tom Parker Bowles
- The Christmas Chronicles, by Nigel Slater
- A Paris Christmas, by John Baxter
5. Christmas Bakes
Regardless of where we’re having Christmas lunch, these festive favourites always get an outing:
Nigella’s 5 spice cider bundt. You don’t need a bundt tin for this – it works perfectly well in a square tin and you don’t need to worry as much about it sticking. It will, however, make your whole house smell like a Christmas market.
Nigella’s parmesan shortbread. These are fabulous with pre-dinner drinks, with cheese, with champagne, whatever. Yum. Plus, importantly, they’re quick to make.
Speculoos. These spiced biscuits (sometimes known as speculaas) are a Belgian and Dutch classic. They were originally baked for St Nicholas Day. They are fun to decorate, yummy to eat and feature in my upcoming novel Escape To Curlew Cottage.
Grant’s potato scones. For brekky on Christmas morning with smoked salmon and champagne.
My Mum’s rum balls. These are a dentist’s nightmare (or guaranteed cash flow, depending on how you look at it) but super easy and a classic in our family. Just 6 ingredients and no baking. Too easy. And, as my pressie to you, the recipe is below:
Mum’s Rum Balls
What you need
- 50g melted copha (vegetable shortening made from coconut oil)
- 225g sifted icing sugar
- 1 cup chopped sultanas
- 2 tablespoons cocoa
- 2-3 tablespoons OP rum
- Chocolate sprinkles or desiccated coconut
What you do with it
- Combine dry ingredients
- Add copha and sufficient rum to form soft, workable mixture
- Roll into balls and toss the balls into coconut or choc sprinkles
- Refrigerate for an hour or so before eating.