Entertainers extraordinaire Victoria Cator and Lucinda Bruce reveal that Christmas can actually be stress-free as long as you plan carefully
Entertainers extraordinaire Victoria Cator and Lucinda Bruce reveal that Christmas can actually be stress-free — as long as you plan carefully
THERE IS SOMETHING marvellously surprising about how quickly Christmas comes around. Wasn’t it yesterday that we were getting ready to take the tinsel down and embrace the New Year in a shroud of sackcloth? All of a sudden we’re poised to put it all back up again.
A year on, one wonders slightly what some of the fuss has been about. Some people have lost their jobs and there is still a lot of uncertainty about. But the stock market appears to be making a steady comeback, as is the property market, thanks in part to the strong euro, even if houses are still less than their imagined value two years ago. If we’re being honest, people do still have money and some — controversially — have a lot more than last year.
To prove our point, we were out shopping recently at our local mall, where we were overwhelmed by the heaving mass of Christmas shoppers, headbutting each other to be sure of securing the newest iPhone to give to their nearest and dearest. It was so busy the car park had to be closed lest the shops be overwhelmed with an ever-growing tsunami of cash. For a moment, it reminded us of that demonic Hieronymous Bosch painting, the one where people’s noses have turned into musical instruments and money is falling out of their bottoms.
That’s not to say that one day this ‘two fingers’ attitude to fiscal prudence won’t come back to haunt us. But for now, no amount of financial upheaval is actually going to make the roof fall in and we should stop fighting over lumps of coal and turn our thoughts to the burgeoning season of cheer. It won’t surprise you to know, then, that on hearing the pundits cry that bankers were back on the gravy train, we knew it was time to climb aboard our own.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a year, and what better way to start a new chapter than to close the current one with a well-planned Christmas lunch surrounded by those we love and adore?
AT THIS TIME of year we are faced with a tricky question: is it time to break with tradition or stick with old favourites for the festive season? If, like us, you love the culinary rituals of Christmas, the answer is easy: simplify but improve each meal, discard the excess trimmings and concentrate on cooking a few good recipes instead. Go for quality over quantity and create a delicious feast that won’t have you slaving in the kitchen all day.
This year our suggestion is to choose your favourite dishes and design your menu around them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a family recipe for cranberry jelly or a favourite stuffing — if you think it tastes gorgeous, the chances are everyone else will, too. Weigh up the time and effort involved with each dish and aim to keep the time in the kitchen to a manageable level. It’s so much better to serve a superlative roast with only baby brussels sprouts and crispy roast potatoes than an overcooked bird with countless vegetables, stuffings and sauces.
We are always considering ideas to improve dishes and often the best is to upgrade the ingredients. For instance, using top-quality unsalted butter and a good cognac in your brandy butter usually makes for a superb result. A little time planning can bring big dividends, too — if you macerate your dried fruit with rum for a week, for example, your Christmas pudding will taste sublime.
If you want to serve a starter, choose something simple as your oven will be chock-a-block. Why not serve a plate of delicious organic smoked salmon drizzled with a little horseradish cream and some scattered rocket leaves?
Such foresight should allow some new introductions. Why not try seasonal roast goose this Christmas? Most associated with the world of Dickens’ Christmas Carol, this bird is making a comeback with its 21st-century appeal.
Praised for its healthy properties despite its fatty reputation, it is in fact higher in protein and lower in cholesterol than the ubiquitous turkey. What’s more, it’s hard to rear intensively and has the cachet of ethical status, riding high on the demand for organic food, notwithstanding the snob value of being reassuringly expensive.
BIRDS ASIDE, A sure-fire way to charm your guest is to greet them with a delicious champagne cocktail. Our staple is a welcoming aperitif that’s bound to oil the elements: add to a glass one brown sugar cube soaked with Angostura bitters and a good glug of Rémy Martin or such like, and top up with a favourite fizz.
When the savouries have been savoured, it’s time again to enjoy some post-prandial banter. As we raise our glasses and toast those absent friends, lying on beaches in far-flung Shangri-Las or enjoying the cosy delights of snowglobe winterlands, we may all be wondering if we’ve missed something and if the ‘financial crisis’ is still a real one.
In which case, it’s as good a time as any to get out and hit the sales, as apparently our great British pound — assuming it doesn’t disappear altogether — will soon be good for nothing, except for perhaps wallpapering the house.
Victoria and Lucinda’s Flavour of the Month is available in all good bookstores and also here at the Spear’s/Amazon store