Tuesday, December 18, 2012
‘TIS A SEASON TO BE JOLLY…OR AT LEAST TRY TO BE!
Once upon a time Christmas took a year - 12 months - 52 weeks to arrive; not so nowadays!
When I was a kid, out of the linen-press - (does anyone call them that these days, I wonder - I’ve not heard the description in years) - came the treasured white Damask tablecloth; ironed, ready to be accessorised with matching napkins; sparkling silver cutlery (obediently and diligently polished by my brother and me); glistening glassware and the fine china dinner set; all of which were used only for special occasions, and only then.
The wood-fired copper in the backyard - not one of our boys in blue - performed a different role at Christmas time. The weekly wash day was deferred for a more important chore! The essence of a simmering leg of ham floated across to the neighbours’ yards, unapologetically molesting their senses and appetites.
Constantly throughout Christmas morning following a hearty breakfast our insatiable appetites were pleasantly and teasingly assaulted by the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen.
My brother and I, putting our presents aside, hovered around the elaborately
decorated dining table; zealous in our eagerness for the promised tantalizing feast of roast chicken, roast pork, glazed ham, roast vegetables, peas, apple sauce and gravy. Strategically placed on the table were bowls containing an abundance of lollies, nuts, crystallised ginger along with a variety of stone fruits; temptations too difficult to resist!
Brightly-coloured bonbons with their hidden surprises and their senseless jokes that never failed to make us laugh begged to be pulled.
The Christmas pudding, complete with sixpences and threepences, securely swaddled in its calico cloth simmered gently on a back burner throughout the main course. The question always crept into the back of our minds of how we'd ever be able to fit the Christmas pudding into our already over-burden stomachs at the tail end of our delicious feast. Half-hearted murmurs and good-humoured groans disclosing those thoughts flowed across the table; but all doubts were soon pushed away when the steaming pudding and hot custard arrived; along with bowls of jelly and whipped cream.
Bottles of sarsaparilla, lemonade, ginger beer, horehound and cherry-cheer lay buried in ice-filled tubs under the house. Nearby, watermelons chilled in readiness for the afternoon’s obligatory “watermelon fight”!
So here we are - December 2012 - and it’s that special time of year once again.
As one year prepares to draw its final curtain and the new makes ready its debut, events of the previous 12 months spin like vintage movie reels through my mind. Still images and slow motion moments are captured and stored as pigeon-holed reminders of the good times, the bad, the happy and the sad. Studious contemplation and curious apprehension of the New Year’s concealed promises and personal expectations occupy my conscious and subconscious senses.
Clandestine glimpses of horoscopes and forecasts with distant fanciful hopes one such soothsayer will finally hit the right note! Whispered wishes upon a star that the New Year heralds bright prospects, peace, love, good health and happiness. But, before the New Year divulges its early secrets, the old year is ambushed in its final hours as celebrations and/or commiserations abound!
Sometimes one feels cheated, deceived and defrauded by undertakings unfulfilled; by vows forgotten or ignored; by tactless utterances or cruel actions; and then, out of the blue from a kind word uttered or gesture given; an unexpected hug from a friend; a wide smile from an innocent child - despair is extinguished; exchanged for optimism, sunshine and delight.
Suddenly, I become infatuated with life and what it has to offer all over again!
We must all remember to “pay it forward”. One small kindness begets many. Pass it on with a smile and a tender word. And remember – always try to follow through with your dreams – what matters, really is that you try.
Christmas Pistachio-Cranberry Stuffed Chicken: Find 2 fresh, plucked 1.5kg chickens somewhere; preferably not your neighbours. Make a stuffing; heat 1-1/2tbs olive oil in large pan over medium heat; add 2 small brown onions, finely-chopped, 1/2c dried cranberries, finely-chopped, 1/3rd cup unsalted pistachio nuts, finely-chopped and 2 crushed garlic cloves; cook, stirring, 8-10mins; set aside to cool slightly. Place pistachio mixture in bowl; add 3-1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (from day-old bread), 2 lightly-whisked eggs and 1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley; season. Preheat oven, 190C. Rinse and dry chickens, inside and out. Spoon stuffing into cavities; close openings with toothpicks or skewers; tie legs together. Line large roasting pan with baking paper; place chickens in pan; brush with oil; season with salt and pepper; roast 1-1/4 hours or until juices run clear. Cover with foil and set aside 10mins to rest.
Chocolate Kahlúa Christmas Balls: Melt 1c choc chips in 1 can evaporated milk in pot over low heat, stirring constantly, until well blended. Cool. Combine 1-1/4c sweet biscuit crumbs, 1-1/4c gingernut crumbs, ½c sifted icing sugar, 1/2c finely chopped walnuts, 1/3c Kahlúa (or any liqueur) and 1tspn vanilla; stir into chocolate mixture; blend well. Shape into 1-1/2-inch balls; roll in shredded coconut. Air-dry 2hrs on waxed paper. Transfer to container; store in fridge.
Berry Pavlova: Preheat oven 120C. Trace a 20cm circle onto baking paper; line oven tray with the baking paper. Using electric mixer, whisk 6 egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until soft peaks form; gradually add 1-1/2c caster sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time; beating well until thick an glossy and sugar is dissolved. Add 2tsps white vinegar and 1tbls cornflour; fold in with a large metal spoon until just combined; spoon mixture onto prepared tray. Using traced circle as a guide, use a spatula or pallet knife to shame into a 20cm disc; bake for 1-1/2hrs or until dry to the touch; turn off oven; leave with the door ajar, to cool completely. Whisk 300ml thickened cream until soft peaks form; transfer pavlova to serving plate. Top with cream, mixed berries of choice; dust with icing sugar.