A WARM SUNNY XMAS

I don’t know why I persist with a traditional english style hot Christmas dinner in Australia – roast turkey and ham – garlic cream roasted potatoes – all meant to brighten a cold winter day. But I do. Somehow, it wouldn’t be Christmas without it, even if the temperature outside is 40 plus degrees c summer’s day here in the country of my birth. My only nod to our hot weather for our Christmas main meal is usually a special festive salad, rather than hot vegetables. Something with a lot of Xmas colour.

A festive salad made by a friend for our Xmas get together

If it is too hot, we will eat inside with the air conditioning on – if the temperatures are in the 20’s, we will usually eat outside by the pool – if the summer flies aren’t too bad! If it is reasonable summer weather, we enjoy our Christmas lunch outside.

Many Australians these days have seafood feasts at Christmas with a multitude of salads – but there’s still sliced turkey and ham, often served cold with salads. Prawns are probably the number one seafood on the Australian Xmas table.

I’m not a big seafood eater, and anyway, I feel obliged to continue turning my oven on for my Xmas roast after a son once commented “I love coming downstairs to the smell of the turkey slow cooking on Xmas morning,”. Given that he now travels a 600 kilometre plus road trip to join our Xmas table, he deserves that turkey!

In recent years, I have switched to a stuffed Turkey roll, rather than a full turkey. This year, my Italian butcher has stuffed my turkey roll with venison mince, venison bacon and figs. My mouth is watering at the thought of it!

I guess I stick with hot Christmas food because of tradition. My children are middle aged men now with their own homes. But Xmas just wouldn’t be the same for me if I didn’t stick with traditions. So, I still prepare them chocolate xmas boxes, decorate my house for Xmas until it screams CHRISTMAS, and insist on my husband hanging strings of Xmas lights out the front of our home and through our garden – solar power has enabled this to be a much easier project. Having just returned from Japan, I’ve bought some Japanese decorations to add to our collection, including a Xmas card for ourselves that lights up and plays Christmas music!

I make rum balls and other goodies, put presents around an outrageously adorned tree, and do all the things I’ve always done for Xmas.

Except for Christmas pudding. The traditional kind. Luckily, no one in my family is that fond of Christmas pudding because my one effort at making it was a disaster, and I abandoned it to the ‘never again list. I was a young bride, eager to impress my husband with my Christmas cooking skills. So, for the first (and I hasten to add, the last) time I made Christmas pudding, cooking and hanging it weeks before Christmas in calico wrapping. It went rock hard. Too hard even for a geology pick to tackle! I have no idea how that happened. My mother in law suggested unwrapping it, and reworking it with more liquid.

As the days crept towards Christmas, mould developed, seeping through the calico. Straight to the rubbish bin.

My disastrous effort was once well matched by my then brother in law, who also attempted to make Xmas pudding the traditional way for an extended family Xmas dinner gathering. I don’t know what recipe book he checked, but somehow he came up with the thought that it would cook if hung very high over a streaming pot of water on Xmas morning. It didn’t. Boiled Xmas puddings in calico are immersed in simmering water for several hours and then hung. His had not been cooked. A discovery we didn’t make until about an hour before the extended family sat down for our Xmas meal. Luckily, others had brought extra deserts. No Xmas pudding that year.

Instead of Xmas pudding, I present to our table special deserts more suited to the Australian summer Christmas climate. It might be an elaborately decorated cheesecake, a meringue topped with cream and seasonal fruits or a special request from the family. All with a Christmas theme.

My Xmas trifle
My Xmas cheesecake

This year my youngest son requested apple crumble. I protested. That’s not a Xmas desert, I said. And you might comment – well, it could be. Include rum marinated raisins, blueberries (in season in Australia at Xmas) – think creatively. Well, I would – but said son doesn’t like raisins or blueberries in food. No, it’s to be a plain old apple crumble – and if that is his Xmas wish, voila! I have bought a heap of apples, and I will indulge with a mountain of brown sugar in the crumble – it will be a decadent crumble! I’ve just got to figure how to get some Christmas liquor into it!

My sister in law’s famous Xmas pavlova

There is always my Xmas icecream. I don’t actually make the icecream – rather, I rework it, and it’s a Christmas favourite with our family. Two litres of vanilla icecream, softened. Light works better than full cream. Then add – well chopped – two bars of Peppermint Crisp – the essential ingredient. After that, it’s up to you what to add next – what takes your fancy. I add another two bars of Turkish delight, a bar of cherry ripe, chopped macadamia nuts and almond slivers. You could also add chopped glacé fruit. Mix altogether and refreeze. Trust me – it’s always a hit! And something you can prepare well before xmas – with a note on the container – DO NOT EVEN THINK OF OPENING THIS, SWEETHEART! Once opened, it disappears in a flash.

So, how does our traditional Aussie xmas day go. Church is usually Xmas Eve – especially if there is an outdoor service, lovely on an Australian summer night. Sometimes it doesn’t go well. I attended a service once where someone had the bright idea of three wise men walking a donkey through the congregation seated on lawns outside the church. Good idea – until the donkey refused to cooperate and ran rampant, with the three wise men – actually schoolchildren dressed as three wise men – desperately hanging onto the attached rope – trying to bring the donkey into line. Lots of prayers going up that night! Control this donkey, Lord, before we get trampled by a rampaging donkey!

Usually, a week before Christmas, we attend community carol singing – again an outdoor evening outing. Bring a picnic and sing along. It’s a night to be treasured. On television during Christmas week, there’s big Christmas carol singing events broadcast from Sydney and Melbourne – more outdoor evening events in parks with orchestras and singing stars leading the crowd. A traditional viewing must.

Hubby volunteering on the donation table at our community carols last week

On Christmas Eve I buy wood fired sour dough bread and a loaf of fruit bread from a german bakery situated in the bush above Dunsborough. It’s unique and delicious. I’m up very early on Christmas Day to first glaze the ham and give it a quick roast. And then the turkey goes into the oven. Time for an early morning dip in the pool before it gets too hot.

By then, everyone is up and around the Xmas tree for present unwrapping. Breakfast follows – bacon and eggs, and usually a fresh fruit salad with apples, bananas, blueberries, pineapple, and mango .. all in season in Australia at Christmas .. marinated in a little liquor – this year my home made limoncello. I’ve made a blueberry and strawberry compote this year as well.

Xmas breakfast outdoors at our house

There’ll be Xmas morning video and telephone calls to make with family and friends elsewhere in Australia. Calls to friends overseas are usually made in the evening when it’s Christmas morning in their part of the world.

I’ll then set the xmas table and do other prep work for the Xmas meal at lunchtime. The men in my family are pretty good at doing the dishes, so cleaning up is usually done pretty quickly. There’s lots of relaxing in the the afternoon, and usually another cooling dip in the pool. Maybe a leisurely walk to the beach, which will be busy with families having Christmas evening picnics and barbecues. The beach is about 10 minutes from our home, and there’s a shark net installed for anyone worried that a shark might be hunting for his Xmas lunch!

The days after Christmas ares super relax day, with more swims, beach visits, more walks, fishing, picnics, get togethers with friends and lots of leftover food. And, of course, a barbecue or two!

Shark net at our local beach

This year, on Boxing Day I’m also doing a video linkup with a friend in Japan for a lesson in making a simple Japanese dish.

I’m very aware that around the world, many people won’t be enjoying a Christmas lunch, family get togethers or even Christmas peace on earth. I’m one of the fortunate ones, and my thoughts are with those not so lucky. My Christmas wish is for an end to the Ukrainian conflict and other conflicts in 2023. And better lives for those unemployed, disadvantaged, those struggling in refugee camps or on the streets and women battling for an education in Afghanistan. My hope is that in this festive season and the coming year, they find some joy.

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