Monday, December 20, 2010

Candy Canes, Silver Bells and Other Hazards

Firstly, I have to refer to my last post The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Our missing bag was found, left behind by baggage handlers in Sydney for reasons unknown. I was so relieved to have it all back that I didn't ask questions. I felt guilty for assuming the worst but my husband assures me that bags do get stolen all the time, especially at this time of year, especially in Sydney. And I also have to apologise to those of you who may have noticed that I haven't been posting very regularly lately, despite having the best of intentions. We arrived home late last Wednesday night and only had one day at home with my husband before he left for New York. Our helper is on holidays so it has just been J and I once again and my "spare" time is filled with laundry, dishwashing, bed making and cooking. I have been lucky enough to have a bit of help with dog walking etc, but otherwise I have been flat out. It's actually been really good for me and I have hardly noticed the crushing homesickness that enveloped me as I left Sydney. I also have a new appreciation for mums and dads who do this all the time. 

I started this particular post a while ago and thought that, since it will only be relevant for a few more days, I'd better get it out there...

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I love Christmas, or at least the build-up to it. Christmas Day itself is always a bit of an anticlimax but the shopping, decorating, carols and cooking always put me in a good mood. To me Christmas is all about family, and in the absence of family, it revolves around food. Pudding Sunday, the last Sunday in November, (aka Stir-Up Sunday in some homes) is right up there on my list of favourite days of the year, and it marks the start of the festive season for me.

My grandmother used to make a proper Christmas pudding every year, even though very few of us actually ate it, but when she gave up making them I decided to take over the reins. That was about 6 years ago and I've done it every year since. The pudding has to be made at least a month before Christmas to give it time to age and soak up all the lovely alcohol you "feed" it over the month. My pudding is an adaptation of a Nigella Lawson recipe, and it's without a doubt the most perfect pudding you can imagine, if I do say so myself (I'm worried I'd be in breach of copyright if I posted the recipe and I'm afraid I can't find a link on the web, so it will have to remain my secret recipe!). Looking at the recipe it seems quite complicated and you would imagine that something that requires storage and "feeding" for a month, followed by 6 hours of steaming, would be quite delicate and sensitive to temperature and humidity and that sort of thing. But they're really very robust. One year I made one here in Hong Kong and took it all the way back to Australia. It spent 10 hours in a suitcase on a plane to Melbourne where we stayed in three different places. Then we took it to my parent's house, a 2 hour flight and an hour's drive away. I was worried it wouldn't be any good, but it was just as tasty and Christmassy as it always is.

This year I decided to make two, and may have finally found the one thing that the recipe can't handle. The first one was far too wet, even after 5 hours of steaming. I added more flour to the mix and the second one was better, so it was the one I took home for my in-laws. I felt bad that once again we wouldn't be spending Christmas with them, and they were really pleased to have a little reminder of us, to share on the day. The pudding I kept for us is sitting on my kitchen bench, a gooey, rummy mess, but it's too late to make another one. On Christmas Day I'll just have to cover it with cream and custard and hope for the best. Other seasonal treats I've taken to making since we moved to HK are mince pies, gingerbread biscuits and mulled wine. As much as I love a hot Aussie Christmas, I have been absolutely thrilled to be able to partake in some of the northern hemisphere's traditional cold-weather foods. We will have to forego the turkey this year as our oven isn't big enough but I will be baking a chicken, with stuffing and gravy, and loads of roast vegies. The forecast for Christmas Day is cooler temperatures so I'm very excited and plan to eat all day!

J is far too young to understand what all the fuss is about but he is very curious about all the presents and the decorations on the tree. My parents loaded us up with so many presents I had to borrow an extra bag to bring them all home. Despite the effort involved they do look lovely under the tree and we will have lots of fun opening them, even if J just wants to play with the wrapping paper! Having a real tree is another of our traditions and it goes a long way back for me. When I was little we always had a real tree and it was generally cut down by Dad, just on dusk, a few days before Christmas. When I left home he tried to leave the tree cutting for when I got back and it became a bit of a ritual every year, just the two of us. One year, when D and I were staying in Sydney for Christmas, Dad went out and found a small but perfectly formed tree and wrapped it up, took it to the airport, and sent it up to us on the Sydney flight. It was magical, and was the best present I've ever received. Going down to Wellcome (the local supermarket) and buying a tree isn't quite the same. But they're real, and they look beautiful. I can't imagine having a plastic tree, it just wouldn't be Christmas. Unfortunately Wellcome receive their trees in late November, so for the last two years our trees have been practically dead by Christmas Day. As I write this, our tree is a very definite shade of brown, and I went out today and bought more decorations to try and hide the fact that the poor thing is well past its prime.

It has been a constant battle this week to keep J away from the tree and stop him from pulling the baubles off and sticking them in his mouth. Despite my vigilance I found him chewing on a candy cane today, with half the plastic wrapping stuck to his tongue. Earlier in the week he pulled off some tinsel and wrapped it around his neck! I never knew a Christmas tree could be such a deathtrap! Even though it's a joy to see his little face when we turn on the lights on the tree, I'll be relieved when we can pack it all away. I'm hoping next year he'll be old enough to understand that he can look but not touch...

I do also want to write about presents and what I learned about travelling with a toddler but that will have to wait: it's 4pm and I still have no idea what we're having for dinner. I wonder if J likes panettone...?

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