And, at last, we have reached the season which is all about eating. This is the time of year when we think we must endlessly spend to engorge our waistlines. My friend, Tony, has already attended at least four Christmas parties, drinks and dinners, and I have been the most social in a month with two Christmas parties last week; quite the socialite. Maybe it’s the novelty of mulled wine, the surprisingly touching Secret Santa gift (although Tony did receive four live fish with an accompanying fish bowl from his), and the crackers and mince pies, that make Christmas sparkle, a magic that’s never diminished for me since I was little – although the focus is no longer sneakily peeking under the paper of a wrapped gift on Christmas Eve. Yes, you guessed it, I am in my element and have been for the last two months, anticipating the baking, the cooking, the eating with child-like elation. I have saved so many recipes online that I’ve completely forgotten what most of them involve. THIS is the year I will cure that salmon, and THIS is the year I will make hot chocolate stirrers as stocking fillers, and THIS is the year I will finally make marmalade. That said, only one of those ear-marked recipes has been accomplished and it’s now five days till Christmas.
As there is SO MUCH food at this time of year it is difficult to know where to begin. Food is simply intrinsic to feeling Christmassy. On a bleak misty evening, my like-minded, food-focused friend, Georgie, and I jaunted around the Winter Markets on London’s Southbank. We gazed wide-eyed and salivating at the golden and dripping raclette, the steaming paper cones of chips and deep fried halloumi, the pots of macaroni cheese filled with pancetta and chorizo. After guzzling cup after cup of spicy mulled wine we gathered our collectively critical food thoughts to choose the ideal winter dinner to warm our hands and our bellies. With so much variety on offer I cautiously suggested we share two different meals and Georgie immediately agreed, obviously having been thinking it herself. Together we settled on a Vietnamese wrap stuffed with Christmas goose, sweet chilli and crunchy cabbage, sweet potato fries with roasted garlic mayo and crispy onions, and a hot paper plate of gooey raclette, gently covering a bed of garlic potatoes, pickled onions and sausage like a creamy duvet.
It goes without saying we gorged ourselves, the wrap gently dripping down our fingers, the cheese hot and salty on our tongues. And, to round off the evening, we exchanged presents. A food soulmate is all you need in life and Georgie was awarded this title by giving me a bag of German lebkuchen without even knowing they are my favourite Christmas treat. The warming spice of the star-shaped spongy biscuit and the crack of the icing under your teeth epitomises Christmas for me ever since my dad first brought them home after a trip to his favourite food shop, Aldi (where, no doubt, our Christmas lunch will be bought this year). The next day we gobbled them down in the cinema as we watched Star Wars – a perfect, albeit artisan, cinema snack as they are completely silent to munch.
More eating excursions were to follow. My delightful and bubbly friend, Anna-Fleur, is currently stage managing a performance of A Christmas Carol. Perfect for the festive season, you might think, but what on earth does this have to do with an eating excursion? Well, my dear reader, I will divulge.
This production of A Christmas Carol is unlike any other. Staged in a disused warehouse which, mere days before the first performance, was without heating, plumbing or electricity, was transformed into a Victorian Christmas grotto, ivy spiralling the pillars, candles flickering and a long table bedecked in a crimson cloth. Interactive and pantomimic, the play didn’t just encourage us to shout ‘Bah Humbug!’, sing carols and Christmas number ones, it also provided its audience with a two-course Christmas dinner cooked every night by Masterchef winner, Natalie Coleman. As Scrooge drifted from Christmas Past into Christmas Present the audience of seventy-five became the living embodiment of Bob Cratchit’s family, crowding around the red tableclothed trestle tables, passing along plates, cutlery, mingling with our neighbours, as the wine flowed and steaming platters of food arrived.
Anna-Fleur, bedecked in a frilly apron and bonnet, carefully placed an enormous plate of sliced turkey breast, a hunk of sausage meat stuffing, and piles of juicy, fat pigs in blankets directly in front of me (it’s always handy to know the staff), from which I eagerly served my sister, Fiona, and myself before passing it around to our fellow guests. Trays of garlic and thyme infused syrupy parsnips, carrots and golden roast potatoes came forth from the kitchen, along with dishes of sprouts, and boats of steaming gravy. With my plate loaded, I tucked in. What a meal… the turkey was sweet and moist, the gravy rich softening the deliciously crispy potatoes. While my head was buried in turkey, Scrooge pottered around interviewing guests about the meaning of Christmas, before appearing with an accordion and playing ‘Fairytale of New York’, transcending all boundaries including the fourth wall and time. Stuffed with stuffing, we relaxed in our food comas before being presented with a mound of meringue and orange-blossom whipped cream topped with caramelised orange segments and pomegranate seeds.
The mixture of excellent food, great company, laughter and merriment is what Christmas is all about. I will treasure these delicious memories like I will savour every bite of lebkuchen as the full packet quickly diminishes (for some reason it’s within arm’s reach on my bedside table right now). Enjoy that Christmas sparkle – eat, drink and be merry!
P.S There are still tickets available for this utterly magical Christmas performance of A Christmas Carol – get them while you can!