On Christmas morning, I still feel the same anticipation that I felt as a child. I wake up. Always early - eager and excited. It’s the promise of presents, calls from overseas, and of course, lunch. But it's also much more.
Every year, we bake, we sample, we oohh and ahhh at the same moments – the lighting of the pud, the presentation of the Christmas bird with all its trimmings, the mince pies, and then the post-lunch snooze. Scattered bodies asleep. My father washing dishes and my mother, sitting and chatting.
When asked by English friends, what we have for Christmas dinner in Australia, I’m always taken aback. I find the question surprising. Many expect me to describe the Paul Hogan equivalent of prawns on a Barbie. I've never had a prawn on the barbie. Morton Bay Bugs, yes, but never at Christmas. Prawns, no, under any circumstances. With an English father, Christmas dinner was a traditional one, regardless of the weather.
With the air conditioner roaring to the point of exhaustion, Christmas dinner was and will forever be roast turkey, vegetables and all the trimmings. There has been the occasional variation. I think a goose made it to the table once (and was never sighted again), and my grandmother’s pudding has now been replaced by a store brought one, but tradition remains firmly tradition.
Living in a new country, you enthusiastically embrace the old but also look to adopt the new. This year saw me traipsing through the snow covered fields of Hampstead Heath to the local farmers market to retrieve a duck! A 2.4 kg free range duck to be exact.
It was the star of the show last year and a repeat encore had been decided. It’s tradition was the affirmative from Luke, that and the yule log, his Dutch-heritage inspired Christmas dessert.
Like many traditions in the making, ours has been a little trial and error.
Inspired by our recent trip to Germany, I decided that I would use preserved blueberries rather than fresh ones for our breakfast of blue berry pancakes with maple syrup. Don’t ask me the lineage of this tradition – we just like them (and this is surely the basis of most traditions). The result as posted was less than satisfactory. Luke said they looked like ham steaks. I think the fault resided more with the change in recipe. You see that's the thing. Find a good recipe and stick with it. Deviation, innovation whilst tempting only leads to disaster on Christmas Day.
So this is why, I returned to last year’s recipe for duck. When the ohhs and ahhs last longer than Christmas Day, then you know the recipe must be good. So after a quick and rather panicked search for the recipe online (internet recipes always seems to disappear), the vital ingredients were discovered for the rub:
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
pinch ground allspice
6 or so thyme sprigs, left whole
zest 2 clementines (or as we say in Australia, mandarins), juice of 4
Twenty minutes on a high heat (220) following by 180 for as long as it takes to cook the duck. (I should add here that said recipe is for duck breast, whereas I have duck, so I doubled all ingredients).
When it comes to Christmas dinner, timing is everything, like most things in life.
From experience, I can say that my timing is not always that good. The duck was (or should I say is) cooking now and it's a little larger than expected. Perfect for six but enornomous for two. Creative reworkings of duck with no doubt dominate Boxing Day. My concerns at present reside with whether the duck is sufficiently cooked - at present, it is on top of the stove covered in foil.
All of that said the smell is fabulous and the vegetables are off the boil and now in the oven. As I said before, timing is everything. But all accounts, that is by Jamie, I should have put the vegetables in the oven 40 minutes ago.
It is clearly tradition that helps all and sundry, navigate the trials and tribulations of producing the perfect Christmas lunch.
My mother has for many years fantastised about her great escape. She secretly longs to go out for Christmas lunch but she has never done so. For while the thought of being served rather than doing the serving is attractive - for her, Christmas wouldn't be same and that's what we all want is sameness.
So as our dinner approaches, I've just remembered the gravy. Last year, I was saved from my oversight by a helpful guest (Maurice). This year, I need to run solo.
Perhaps this is what Christmas is all about - mistakes are forgiven, shortcomings overlooked and a slightly cold duck with very hot vegetables, are warmly received because it is given.