Well, that’s Christmas come and gone again. A shame in some ways, but not in others. A shame because, although it is a great excuse for a family gathering, it is inevitably transient but, on the other hand, this very transience heightens the enjoyment in much the same way as the short seasons of special vegetables, such as asparagus or new potatoes. Although that old rocker, Roy Wood, tells us quite vehemently each year that he wishes it could be Christmas every day, I think this is a clear case of ‘he knows not what he says’. For Sally and me, one day of Christmas is all that is necessary, and we make a point of enjoying it while it is here.
This year, we were doing the cooking. Just the two of us, Sal’s Mum and Dad and her brother and partner. As we keep saying to our guests, six is a very cosy number in our dining room, and this was just right for Christmas Day. We so rarely get to be the hosts on this family day that it was indeed a privilege to put a meal on the table and, thankfully, all went according to plan, even to the extent of being able to go for a lovely walk to Ballingham and back before coming home to do the final preparations.
In homage to my own Mum, the meal began with barszcz. Doing a Polish Christmas Eve supper was not an option this year, so we marked the tradition by having the beetroot soup on Christmas Day, with a fish course to follow, in this case a pâté made with the best smoked mackerel we have ever tasted – prepared by the Severn and Wye Smokery at Westbury on Severn. Consider that a plug for the place for anyone of you who might be travelling south of Gloucester one day. Well worth a visit. We served the mackerel with some smoked eel and smoked trout from the same place.
The meat course was rib of Hereford beef. How could I resist the opportunity to get in a three-rib roast, my favourite for a festive dinner? It didn’t disappoint, even though, had I been cooking it for myself alone, I would have cooked it a little rarer. A mere detail, however. Two fine clarets, hand picked from the famous Weston cellars, set the meat off a treat. A selection of artisan Welsh cheeses bridged the gap between Michael’s Christmas pudding (dark, moist, nutty and deeply satisfying) and/or Sally’s exotic orange trifle (light, moist and gloriously refreshing). Altogether, a meal to remember.
Our other Christmas dinner was yesterday. A little less formal than the three-rib roast, this was a one-pot day, because Ed, George and his girlfriend Laney were coming over, and I didn’t want to be tied to the kitchen. I hardly get to see them these days, and very rarely do I get the opportunity to see them on the same day, so I didn’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen while they all played monopoly in the front room. So, to get around the problem, I made a pot of soup on Friday, and yesterday morning I put together a cassoulet before the boys turned up. That way, it could just be put in the oven to tick over slowly while we all spent some time together. With the weather being cold but bright and pleasant, another walk was suggested. Or, to put it another way: same walk, different people. So it was up the river to Ballingham again, and back via Carey, but this time the pub (the Cottage of Content) was open, so we called in a for a spot of liquid refreshment. How thoughtful of the management to have mulled wine on the menu – just the ticket, as they use to say.
On our return, the cassoulet was filling the kitchen with very pleasant aromas, and it was indeed a welcome, if very simple, meal. Unfortunately, George and Laney declined the offer of an overnight stay and an Aspen House breakfast, as they had to be on the road too early the next morning (or this morning, in fact). That meant that Ed had to go too, so they all left early evening. But even if they had stayed for only an hour, it would still have been worth it – I don’t really get enough time with them, and every hour is a delight. That’s parental instinct for you, I suppose.
And now the only question is: when will I next get an opportunity to cater for any of our Christmas visitors? Because, as soon as I know, I can order another rib of beef.