Bah, humbug! I swore never to do Christmas again. Mind you, not being religious types, we never celebrated Christmas as the birth of Christ anyway, rather as a good old fashioned family holiday that included a slap up meal and an exchange of gifts.
When my dad was alive we always tried to make a point of being home (in Durban) for Christmas. Peter’s sister and her husband, who live in Pinetown, and Peter’s dad used to join us for a Christmas Eve dinner on our back veranda. I used to put up decorations, and make the table look quite festive and although they were never asked to, Kiera and Alex always dressed up for dinner. After everyone had left, we would open our presents because the children and I couldn’t wait for the next day. After my dad died we replaced Christmas Eve with an “advent” dinner in early December before we went on our annual holiday to Umngazi River Bungalows. We would then return from our holiday and rush up to the farm to spend Christmas day with Essa and her family.
It all started to fall to pieces when Kiera left home. Firstly we stopped going to Umngazi after going there every year for 10 years, it just didn’t feel right to go without Kiera. Then we stopped the advent dinners and then we stopped spending Christmas with Essa. For the past few years I have to confess that we’ve been a bit aimless as far as Christmas is concerned. This year Peter and Alex were going to come up to the farm and I had warned them that since I don’t do Christmas anymore, they mustn’t expect anything “Christmassy”. So a couple of days ago I got a call from a friend who lives in Cape Town to say that her and her husband were coming to Durban over the Christmas weekend to visit family and it would be nice if we could get together. Suddenly everything changed! Edna and I and the dogs are now going to Durbs and the friends are coming to us for Christmas lunch. I’ve started to think that perhaps I should buy some prezzies after all (a bit late I know, but better late than never). And I’ve even started to get a bit enthusiastic about Christmas once more. What I’ve realised is that I just didn’t want Christmas because it could never be the same as before. However, with Annie’s fortuitous intervention, I’ve realised it’s time to move on and stop moping! I can do Christmas without Kiera (and Alex eventually), just differently.
The miser who hoards his wealth but neglects the more important values of life is a figure rightly disdained in folklore and literature. Trying to hold on to the moment is similarly desperate. Instead, appreciate the unfolding wealth of life as it presents itself to your experience. The moment passes; beauty fades; life follows its eternal cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Let precious moments pass into memory, without regret. And don’t spend your life in the memory-vault fondling the accumulated riches you’ve stored there – search out and welcome fresh moments instead of reliving stale ones.
Don’t snort Kiera, but that came from (believe it or not) “1001 Ways to Live in the Moment – How to find the Power of Now” by Barbara Ann Kipfer ….. I know, I know, I know, I just can’t help it!
Ghosts of Christmas Past
[John, if you are reading this I just want to let you know that I have searched high and low for a photo of you floating around the pool at my parent’s house one Christmas Day, champagne glass in hand. I know it exists but unfortunately it is nowhere to be found].
Our Christmas meals have always been something like this: prawn cocktails (and Parma ham and melon for the non- seafood eaters); glazed gammon, roast chicken, chipolatas and side dishes; and Judy’s trifle for pud.
I have also made pickled artichokes and stuffed olives for snacking on over the festive season. I rue the day I learned to make pickled artichokes because preparing them is one helluva mission. But they do taste sublime and I grow the bloody things after all. I also grew garlic for the first time this year and have pickled quite a lot of it. So I bought some pitted green olives and stuffed them with the pickled garlic. All this pickling makes me feel rather countrified! Oh, and by the way, we shall be having home grown potatoes with our meal this year.
I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas.
(I’ve included some recipes for Kiera)
I always get the Christmas joint from Caz in the Dargle Valley. Her pork is free range and hormone free and the taste is incomparable. I like to get a deboned gammon because it’s easier to carve and because it keeps longer without the bone in, and we all love leftover gammon. (Kiera, make sure you get one that has a nice layer of fat on it under the rind).
Rinse the joint, put it in a large pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. You can add peppercorns, bay leaves, carrot and onion if you want. Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat so that the meat is cooked at a slow simmer. (Fast boiling hardens the tissue and causes shrinkage of the meat). Cook for 30 mins per 500g + 20 mins extra. Lift out the boiled joint, allow it to cool and set slightly, then peel off the rind / skin.
To glaze: score a diamond pattern in the exposed fat, brush with melted apricot jam and pat brown sugar over the top of the joint. Put the joint in the oven at 180 – 200˚C and cook for ± 20 mins – keep your eye on it. It’s nice if you let it burn ever so slightly. To clean the pan afterwards, just boil water in it.
Trim about 2 dozen artichokes (plan to spend an afternoon doing this). Rub each one with a cut lemon and put them in a non-metallic bowl of water and a squeeze of lemon juice (to stop them turning brown). I find it easier to remove the chokes after they’ve been cooked so, bring to the boil a bottle of grape vinegar, 1 cup of water and 1 Tbsp salt and add the artichokes. Boil for about 5 -10 mins, you don’t want them too soft. Drain and then cut in half and remove the choke with a teaspoon. Then cut into quarters and lay out on a clean dishcloth overnight. You might be able to buy baby artichokes in the States which don’t have chokes – even better, then leave them whole.
Add to bottles and top with oil. I use a blend of olive and sunflower but it’s to your own taste and budget! You can add dried herbs (oregano is good), garlic cloves and a hint of chilli – again whatever takes your fancy. Leave for a couple of weeks before eating.
There was some liquid left over from the pickled garlic so I used it to boil the artichokes in, which gave them a lovely garlicky flavour.
I invited my new neighbours over for Sunday lunch. She is a vegetarian so I prepared Delia’s Piedmont Peppers as a starter. It really is a lovely summer dish and it went down really well with some crusty ciabatta. I replaced the anchovies with olives for her. They are, you will be pleased to hear, really nice people and I look forward to getting to know them better.
And for dessert we had Bruléed Berries with Cassis and Greek Yoghurt.
- 125g dark brown soft sugar
- 2-3 Tbsp Cassis or fruit liqueur
- ± 800g frozen berries (fresh if you have)
- Greek yoghurt
- Sugar for topping
Place half the sugar and the liqueur in a saucepan over a moderate heat and stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Add the fruit and cook for 2-3 mins, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, allow to cool and transfer the fruit to ramekins. Top with the yoghurt and sprinkle with the remaining sugar. Leave in the fridge for the sugar to melt.