Nothing Is Lost

When I was going to sleep, I think the night before last, I had a really good idea for a piece. Today I need to write it, and I have not the slightest idea what it was. Gone. Possibly it was in fact quite a bad idea for a piece, or, it might be, a few lines from a song or a book, the memory of a smile from an imaginary film, which became entwined in my nearly-dreaming brain with, say, a discussion of the relative methods of octopus preparation, complete with recipes. I remember once, in the drifting minutes between the first alarm and the final waking, composing a song which was also a pie, a very fine pie, and am still rather disappointed that I have forgotten the details, which, come to think of it, are probably non-existent and at any rate impossible.

The problem is that, between work, a demanding puppy, and the cold and the dark, I am really quite exhausted, and I can see why most food writers confine themselves, in December, to the production of lists of various kinds, or to a retread of festive tropes providing twists on seasonal classics. Now, I can see why these are useful, if you have a lot of parties in December (as apparently people do), or indeed if you work in a restaurant, and wish to serve people something other than a bulked-up Sunday roast, over and over again. Personally, though, I feel a little sorry for anyone who feels that they need to constantly change the Christmas meal itself, to fall in with fashion or diets or simply for variety’s sake. Surely the point of such meals is that they are always, by and large, the same – like listening to the Fall, or reading PG Wodehouse.

If I was at home for Christmas (‘home’ in this context always being where your parents or the majority of your family live) I know that on Christmas Eve there would be shepherd’s pie with braised red cabbage and mulled, perhaps blackberry wine, with a treacle tart to follow (or is that New Year? Maybe it’s warm mince pies), a warm hug after standing in the cold for the carol service; Christmas dinner means soup, a leg of pork, long chipolatas wrapped in good bacon, stuffing balls, slightly overdone sprouts, sneaky parsnips to be picked out of the roast potatoes, proper gravy and all the rest; it means Christmas pudding and ice cream, mint chocolates, nuts, fruit, the yearly indulgence of coffee with cream in it, and the rest of the day spent dipping bread in gravy every time you walk through the kitchen. The soup might change from year to year; an extra piece of meat might come out, or the veg vary depending on what is left of the allotment in the freezer, but the essentials remain.

I won’t be at home for Christmas itself, this year, so we can do what we like. I think a salt cod and potato pie for the night before, and maybe a game-hung five year old hen, perhaps pot-roasted, for the main event. If it ends up tough and stringy, as well it might, considering I have never cooked one before, then at least we have the trimmings, which are after all the best bit.


5 thoughts on “Nothing Is Lost”

  1. You’re right, it does get tedious reading yet another piece about how to avoid panic and an over- or under-cooked bird on Christmas Day, combined with yet another way to gussy up sprouts. But if you’re being paid to be a food writer I suppose the editor is likely to be underwhelmed by a few lines saying ‘ffs, it’s just a big Sunday roast and what’s wrong with perfectly cooked sprouts tasting of themselves, anyway?’ Christmas, in our family as in so many others, is a series of dearly-held traditions and woe betide the cook who tries to sneak in a three bird roast or a hunk of beef instead of a turkey. (I once dreamt an entire children’s book and couldn’t remember a word of it when I woke up. Probably just as well as it involved talking hedgerow animals. In the dream it was brilliant, though.)

  2. I’m always rather glad I don’t seem to have the mad social whirl that food writers do. So much fiddle. There’s only two of us for Christmas Day and with half an hour of careful prep the day before I can produce Christmas dinner from a standing start in an hour and a half, and that includes peeling the potatoes and making gravy. We have pheasant every year (the only day we do, so it’s always a treat); we have pretty much the same veg and the same trimmings so I don’t have to think too hard about them, and it’s just perfect the way it is. It means I have time to lounge around beforehand, drinking bucks fizz and reading my Christmas loot. And afterwards, I can lounge around, full of food, drinking wine, reading, etc, until we feel like eating ice cream. Christmas pudding is served on Boxing Day, after chips and cold cuts, so it can be appreciated in all its rich and sticky glory (I make great Christmas puddings). And these days Christmas Eve is a much more restful occasion as I have a similar streamlined approach to the meal.

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