Christmas: A Curmudgeon’s Guide


Posted by in November's Magazine

Christmas is coming – and there’s precisely naff all you can do about it. As any good consumer knows, Christmas officially begins at 10.01pm on 31 October, when a megaton of Halloween tat is stripped from supermarket shelves and forklifted to a dusty warehouse for another year, while a million unsold pumpkins are ceremonially hurled into the sea. From then on, the process is as familiar as it is inexorable.

Overnight, the empty shelves are repopulated with giant Toblerones, aftershave gift packs and box sets of Dad’s Army. A householder in Clermiston prepares to receive a five-figure electricity bill in January, consoled by the knowledge that theirs are the only domestic Christmas lights that are clearly visible from space. Channels with names like PermaXmas 24/7 +1 appear on our TVs, showing such heart warming festive classics as Martha’s Magic Mistletoe, When Santa Slept In and Gavin: The Horse Who Saved Christmas. (While artistically questionable, these films are nonetheless extremely handy if you’re keen to find out what the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 have been up to since the 1990s.)

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If all this fails to fill you with the prescribed amount of seasonal joy, be assured you’re not alone. However it might at least be worth pausing to consider exactly what it is about the whole Christmas juggernaut that brings out your inner curmudgeon. In my case, it comes down to a sense of helplessness: the feeling that I can’t avoid being aggressively Christmassed even if I want to (which, of course, I do). For instance, I’m pretty sure that shops spend as much of the year flogging Easter eggs as they do Christmas gifts; but this tends to wash blissfully over me, primarily because Paul McCartney never wrote a hideous nursery rhyme about Easter with which to pursue me around the store. “Simply having a wonderful Christmas time” my arse.

If you’re not careful, the grim sense of inescapable festive jollity will only intensify on Christmas Day itself, especially if yours is the household on which the entire extended family descends. But here at least you have the opportunity to reassert some control, through the simple but highly effective measure of annexing the kitchen.

Become the Christmas dinner chef and you have a permanently available opportunity to absent yourself while little Eddie, out of his box on a morning cocktail of chocolate coins and Irn Bru, flails wildly around the living room with the light sabre his parents so prudently bought him for Christmas, or when Auntie Hilda, shitfaced on sweet sherry, clumsily interrogates you as to why you haven’t got kids yet (the obvious answer here being simply to point at little Eddie). “Awfully sorry,” you say with a smile, “I’ve got to get the parsnips on.” You don’t, of course – but who’s to know that? So it’s the perfect excuse to return to your kitchen sanctuary.

Once there, you can make your den exactly as Christmassy – or otherwise – as you like. Magnanimously declining all offers of help, while graciously accepting all offers of drinks, you turn your attention to the playlist, so that your festive fare comes from Slow Club, Jonnie Common and Half Man Half Biscuit rather than Wings, Wizzard and Wham. Or if you prefer, forget all about Christmas tunes and just stick the Songs of Leonard Cohen on repeat. After all, it’s your kitchen.

Most importantly, taking on the role of chef gives you the chance to get the dinner you actually want – or at least, something vaguely close to it. If you’re feeling brave, you might even try to ease the obligatory turkey off the menu entirely, in favour of a goose, a rib roast of beef or some other meat that actually has a taste. But even if that proves too controversial a step, you can still put your own stamp on the meal while avoiding the pitfalls that are as much part of the Christmas dinner tradition as the sixpence in the figgy pudding.

If you hate soggy sprouts – and frankly, who doesn’t? – why not try shredding and frying them with a pile of pancetta until crisp and glorious. And rather than become the billionth person to try and fail to cook the turkey right through without drying the breast meat to the point of desiccation, just accept that the leg and breast are essentially two utterly different foods on the same carcass. Cut the legs off and braise them coq au vin-style, along with the backbone, giblets and other tasty morsels – you can do this a day or two before for additional flavour and smugness – so that you can roast the crown in a couple of hours rather than a couple of days and retain at least a modicum of moisture.

After receiving the plaudits for a fabulous and remarkably stress-free dinner, you can formally hand over the title deeds to your kitchen, allowing others to tackle the washing up while Auntie Hilda snoozes peacefully and you finally get the chance to acquaint yourself with the single malt. And that, my friends, is the true spirit of Christmas. n

Twitter: @norecipeman

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