Countdown to Christmas…

Well, Happy Holidays everyone, we’ve made it to yet another Christmas season.  Phew!

It’s no secret that Christmas is not my favorite holiday (even Santa kind of freaks me out now that I’m an adult).  Those of you who know me, know that my top three holidays are Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day and My Birthday– not necessarily in that order.  Christmas isn’t in my top 3, maybe it’s the months of build up and crazy people whipped up into a frenzy in the mall, but this year will be different!

This year, I am throwing myself into Christmas (sort of) and embracing it.  The house is decorated, I’ve put up lights on the terrace, I’m listening to Carols*, I have sparkly red nails (for Christmas the manicurist said), I took a Christmas cooking class** and now I’m planning Christmas Dinner for 9.

What I haven’t done is finished my Christmas shopping (I sort of gave up in the middle after getting presents for the top 3 people on my list).   I also haven’t set foot in a shopping mall– not even for the last minute couple of bits that I really should do….  Instead I’ve been focusing on dinner.  Christmas Dinner.  It’s going to be awesome.

A grown up, Christmas Dinner on fancy wedding plates with cloth napkins- and napkin rings.  It’s weird, but this is the kind of thing that excites me.  This is the type of event that may elevate Christmas for me into a top 4 Holiday.  Cooking and eating.  This could help me recapture the joy of Christmas and serve as the inspiration for Christmases to come.

So what’s on the menu??

Kingfish Crostini with Garlic Chilli Oil and Crispy Lemon Fried Olives (we learned these in class)

Cranberry Margaritas on arrival

Oysters with Champagne

Gazpacho

Christmas Cola Whiskey Ham

Donna Hay’s Poached Turkey Breast

Roast Potatoes (of course!)

Kale Salad with Pecorino (leave out the sausages for just a salad!)

Corn Casserole (it’s not a holiday without it!)

Donna Hay’s Stuffing Cups 

Christmas Pudding Ice Cream with Spiced Chocolate Cake

with Eggnog to finish

 Phew!  Luckily, I have 48 hours to pull it all together.  Let’s get cooking!   In the meantime, here are some of the photos from the cooking class that I did.  I really meant to tell you all about it, but I got a bit distracted once I started planning my Christmas Menu.  Oh and, here’s our little Christmas Tree as well!

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Merry Christmas Everyone from both of us at He Runs, I Cook!!

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*My Spotify playlist has some Christmas Carols on it, it also has quite a healthy dose of Jay-Z, The National, and Hozier– not exactly traditional but it’s not a bad compromise.   Take a listen here  if you’d like! christmas with the mahers

** It was Christmas Canapes and it was fantastic!  I highly recommend it for next year.  It’s put on by Victors Food in Sydney.

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I missed Christmas…

Clearly, that’s not true but I did miss St Patrick’s Day, which is a holiday I enjoy nearly more than Christmas.

Criticize if you like but as holidays go, I think St Patricks Day is pretty good.  It’s one of my favourite holidays ranked just behind Thanksgiving and my birthday– no really, in Australia sometimes my birthday is a holiday (it often coincides with the Easter long weekend).  Similar to Thanksgiving, it’s a holiday built around eating, drinking, spending time with friends.  It’s about celebrating what’s great about being Irish (or American for Thanksgiving).  There are no presents involved and really it’s just about getting together with friends- and it has a colour scheme/costume idea just to add an extra element!

 Or at least that’s my interpretation.

 I know that St Patricks day means different things to different people.  Until recently, in Ireland, it was a religious holiday and pubs weren’t even allowed to open- seriously.  American Irish or rather Irish Americans in New York, Chicago, and Boston were the ones who turned it into an occasion for a parade and wearing green and celebrating their Irishness and all things Irish in the US.  As it turns out, there are Irish people and Irish pubs in nearly every corner of the world—I think there’s a Chinatown and at least one Irish pub in every city on earth.  So the American version of St Patrick’s Day caught on pretty quickly. Unsurprisingly, Guinness saw a marketing opportunity for their uniquely Irish product and really promoted the party and pub aspect of St Patricks day, and once the marketing kids got involved-  boom, it’s pretty much taken off from there!

 As we all know, I’m an absolute sucker for marketing and St. Patrick’s Day is a product I’ve fully bought into.  I have no doubt I’ll be one of those parents who decorates the house with gold coins and rainbows and who tells the kids to find the leprechauns (apparently that’s a thing now).

 My first memories of St Patrick’s Day were from school, we had to wear green on March 17th.  We also wore red or pink on February 14th so what can I say, I went to a school where being seasonally appropriate was important.  It wasn’t a big deal growing up except that a few cities in the US would dye rivers green and they would do a quick news story on it.  Between that and my green turtleneck that was it. 

 When I lived in London, I remember hitting the pubs and being surrounded by Irish expats out for a few pints.  I think London was where I had my first Guinness- tasty but how did people keep drinking it??  Somewhere there is a picture of me in a Heineken hat – (it was the only green I had)- outside of a pub with a pint of Guinness!  I remember being surprised by the sheer volume of people who were all celebrating and hanging out in the street that night.  We didn’t have anything in common (I’m certainly not Irish, nor were the Italians I was with) but we all found ourselves in the same place.

 Realistically, it was moving to Sydney that really cemented things for me and St P.  Having two close Irish girl friends I got introduced to actual Irish people- not Americans with a vague connection to Ireland who listened to House of Pain and had a great great someone who had migrated across but actual, real live, real life Irish people.  For the first time Ireland was more than leprechauns and U2 and Sinead O’Connor and a vague concept of bombings and ‘troubles’.  Growing up in the 80s in the US, that was pretty much what the press coverage on Ireland could be condensed into.

After my first St Patrick’s Day with Irish friends, I was hooked.  Not just on the holiday but on what an amazing culture and people it celebrates.  Of course St Patrick’s Day oversimplifies 1000 years of history into a few key symbols that are easy to understand and celebrate- music, leprechaun, green, Guinness, shamrock, rainbows, pot of gold- most of which have nothing to do with the real Ireland – but I’m really pleased that I have friends and a fiancée whose culture is so rich, varied, and interesting.  Considering the population in Ireland is about the same as the Sydney metropolitan region, it really has made quite a big mark on the world—possibly because most people of Irish descent aren’t actually in Ireland.  

St Patrick’s Day for Irish expats is a day to celebrate “home” whatever that means to them- that’s the great thing about being an expat- you can pick and choose what from home you want to celebrate and what you want to sweep under the rug.   Everyone’s family and everyone’s experience with “Home” is different.  Much like Thanksgiving, It’s not how the holiday first started and everyone celebrates differently but it is an experience that everyone can share- Irish or not.

 Except for me this year.

 No sugar March meant I didn’t bake chocolate Guinness cupcakes this year, a downpour meant that we didn’t venture in for Sydney’s festivities in Hyde Park and a sprained ankle meant no going to the pub to soak up the atmosphere.  In fact, The Runner and I had a quiet dinner and although we had spoken about going to get a can of Guinness to share at home, we didn’t.  I don’t even think The Runner has worn his green t shirt in the past two weeks. A pretty poor effort from us really!

 So I feel a bit deflated and defeated, not only am I limping around pathetically but I missed one of my favorite days of the year.   On the bright side, it’s only 363 days until next year and less than a month until my favorite holiday of all- my birthday!

Oops, I did it again!

I don’t know how this happened but I’ve gotten myself into another wee pickle.

First, let me make one thing clear, I am NOT a Christmas person. Christmas is expensive, commercialized, and not that much fun unless you’re the one sitting in front of a mountain of gifts to open and snuggled in front of a fire. Yes, I enjoy giving more than receiving and actually that’s one part of Christmas morning I love- watching someone open gifts but let’s be honest, after watching someone open their 5th gift in a row, it gets a bit tedious. I think I discovered this at about 12 or 13 when I was no longer the youngest person in the house on Christmas morning. Anyway, I digress.

I’m not a grinch or a Scrooge but at the same time, Christmas isn’t as good in Sydney. Sydney has lots going for it but singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” while you’re sweating through your Santa hat is not one of them! Christmas lights- a bit pointless when it doesn’t get dark until after 8 at night!

Anyhow- despite my ambivalence about Christmas, The Runner and I are hosting a Christmas Eve lunch/dinner. What the???? I know, how did this happen? Thanksgiving is my holiday, my day to feed the masses and stuff myself silly. Thanksgiving is my day to shine, not Christmas- so what am I doing hosting Christmas? Stupidity, boredom, well meaning intentions, my big mouth? The truth is none of them- or all of them.

Actually, I blame The Runner. It started with him saying that he missed not having an actual Turkey on thanksgiving and thought we should do one for Christmas instead. Great idea- except it’s not. Turkey for 2? No way! So I invited another couple, and then somehow it became turkey and ham because apparently both are traditional on Christmas in Ireland. So I invited a few more people, and then a few more, and then a couple more and now I’m hoping the weather is nice because we can fit more people at our outdoor table than the indoor one. Oh no, this is how the first thanksgiving party came about. A trickle and now years later a flood!

In truth, I’m excited about hosting my first Christmas- just a bit in the dark though. My family suffers from a lack of Christmas traditions- other than eggnog– very potent eggnog. I asked The MOM- or MOB as she has nicknamed herself (Mother of the Bride) and apparently the only tradition our family has is that we don’t have turkey. We’re Thanksgiving people like I said. So, I’m throwing it open to the public- what do you make on Christmas? What’s your Christmas tradition? And most importantly, tree or no tree?

Nigella Lawson’s Prosecco and Pomegranate Gelatin

So, even for an event I’m not cooking for, I’m still cooking.  Tomorrow we’re having a Seafood Feast- Seared Tuna with Wasabi, Beer Marinated BBQ prawns, oysters, Barbecue Virgin Scallops– don’t ask, it’s a Luke Mangan recipe from last Sunday’s paper…. and of course salads- Nigella’s Red Salad, a Green Salad with Mandarin and Pomegranate, and a Potato Salad- because my Mom always says to eat your veggies.  So, I have to do a little bit of prep and cooking today to make sure it all comes off tomorrow.  

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So, I’m starting with Nigella’s Prosecco and Pomegranate Gelatin.  When I was home and made the Ginger Ale Salad, again out of Spoonbread and Strawberry Wine, I was reminded of how good Jell-o is…. I mean, it’s practically perfect for summer desserts.  It’s served cold, is low in calories, you can make it in different colours, and you can add alcohol to it..  How have I not jumped back on this bandwagon in my adult life?   

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Well today, I’m putting on my boots and hopping on the Jell-o Train!  

First, I had to buy a Jell-o mould, and sadly it’s not the fun tupperware one of my childhood (I know you had one too, with the flower, star, christmas tree, interchangeable top).  Ok, if you didn’t have one, you seriously missed out, because it was awesome!  Oh well, until my next Tupperware party, I’ll have to make do with the Red one I bought the other day.  Functional and boring!

Anyway, I start by following the directions from Nigella and that came with it to brush a light coating of vegetable oil onto the walls of the mould…. obviously if both directions say it, I should DEFINITELY do it…..

First step is clearly my favourite….Pop open a bottle of Prosecco!  Hurray!!!!!  Stop. Remember it’s only 10:30am and not only do I have to drive later but I have lots to do and haven’t had breakfast yet.  Tell myself to resist the urge to swig it from the bottle (it is warm after all) and pour it all into a saucepan.

I add 1 1/2 cups of sugar and stir until it dissolves, then I turn on the stove and bring it to a boil.  Then I take 4 teaspoons of gelatin and put them into 1 cup of water and let it sit for 5 minutes.  Because I’m going to deviate from Nigella slightly on this one and add fruit to my gelatin (strawberries, a few blueberries and nectarines) this is where I stop to cut them up and also to hope that the recipe still works…. maybe 1 more teaspoon of gelatin would be in order???

The prosecco and sugar needs to boil for 1 minute and then you add vanilla extract and boil for another minute.  I then, according to Nigella, ladle 1 cup of hot prosecco into the same jug as the gelatin and stir it until it’s dissolved.  

Now, here’s where reading ahead would have helped.  Apparently, I’m supposed to pour the jug back into the saucepan and then back into the jug and then into the mould.  Really Nigella????  Really?  Did someone forget to tell me that I needed to use a BIG jug, not just a 2-cup measuring cup??? HONESTLY!  Well, since I don’t have my own cookbook or cooking show, I’m just going to wing it…after a bit of pouring and spooning, I put the unsanctioned fruit into the mould and pour the prosecco on top.  

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Everything is going ok, until I realise the stupid top of the stupid mould is leaking……  argh!!!!!!!!!!  Obviously, this would not happen with Tupperware but there’s not a lot that I can do about it now….. into the fridge with crossed fingers and hopes for the best it goes!