tis the Season to be Jolly?
You really know your starting to ‘get on’ when you have to start unpacking the Christmas deco’s that it feels like you have just packed away – and when suddenly your nephews are at an age to get money or gift vouchers as gifts because you no longer know what to buy them.
For many people, this is not a good timeof the year, and can be anything but jolly. I have a number of unpleasant Christmas memories myself – and I must admit to a bit of a bah-humbug approach toChristmas.
I was briefly reunited with my mother (after a fourteen year gap in our relationship due to her deserting the far-from-happy family home) close to Christmas in 1979. I was, naturally, invited to the family home that year to celebrate, along with step-father and half-sister. It was soooo suburban, and I was so uncomfortable, and it just reinforced to me that my mother and I had grown far apart in the intervening years. Strangely enough, the reunion lasted about 20 years in an on-again-off again fashion – she could never come to terms with me being gay, and it drove a real wedge between us – until I finally called an end to it all after a run in with my step-father (who had decided to try to be my father) on Christmas eve in 1997. There has been no contact since.
My father also did his gap jump with my brother just prior to Christmas in 1965, so that Christmas was really miserable, being brotherless, and with the old man in gaol.
In 1986 my first friend died of AIDS. He actually died on Boxing Day, but we knew the end was near and it caused Christmas day to have a decided dampener thrown on it.
In 1980 my company sent me to melbourne for a (supposed) period of 6 months. My first Christmas there was spent on my own, as I hadn’t had time to meet anyone.It was a really hot, long miserable day.I polished off a bottle of scotch to hurry it along. Fortunately, things got better the next year.
Last year, the family (my in-laws this time) started yelling at each other before David & I even got through the front door. That is never a good way to start the day.
Many people, of cause, have even more horrific stories of disasteropus Christmas days. But it is not all bad. There have een the good times, and fortunately they have been good enough to blast away the lingering dread from the bad ones. For many years in the 80’s I ran ‘orphans’ Christmas at home for friends who had nowhere else to go. I used to get up to 15 people at it, so there were many in that boat. I really loved doing it, and it was always a fun day because it was spent with people who realy appreciated all the time and work that went into it. For two years after my run-in with AIDS we celebrated Christmas day with friends in the local parks of Bondi. They were really casual and relaxed days, again in good company. These days, our annual Christmas Bash at the start of December is for a few close friends, and I think I enjoy it far more than the drama we knowis going to happen on Christmas day. Food is consumed along with copious amounts of champagne andother assorted alcohols (whooops! Binge drinking), gifts are exchanged and it is a day where you really do appreciate the friendships that you have.
However and wherever your Christmas is spent, I hope it is a good one for you, and that you receive all the good things that you wish for yourself and your loved ones.
Stained Glass Christmas Cake:
This is a very expensive cake to make, but worth the money if you want something truly delicious and different. It is served in thin slices (it’s very rich) and gets its name from the slices being so thin that you can see through them like glass, and the glace fruit gives it a stained glass effect.
⅓ cup dry roasted amonds
¾ cup Brazil nuts
1 cup dry-roasted macadamia nuts
I cup raisins
1½ cups pitted dates. Halved
400g mixed glace fruit
200g mixed glace cherries
½ cup plain flour
¼ cup self-raising flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅓ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
⅓ cup brandy
2 teaspoons finely grated orange rind
⅓ cup apricot conserve
Preheat oven to 150°C. Grease a 20cm ring tin. Line base and sides with baking paper, extending paper 6cm above rim of tin.
Coursely chop the glace fruit and half the cherries (reserve remainder for topping). Place chopped fruit in a large bowl. Coursely chop half the nuts (retain the reainder for the topping). Add chopped nuts, raisins and dates to the chopped fruit mixture and stir to combine.
Sift flours and cinnamon, then stir ¼ cup into the fruit mixture.
Beat eggs, sugar, 2 tablespoons brandy and rind until light. Add remaining flour and stir to combine, then fold this through the fruit mixture. Spoon into prepared tin and press down with back of a spoon. Cut remaing fruit (except cherries) into quarters. Press gently onto top of cake along with mixed nuts andcherries. Place a paper bag on top of the overhang paper 9to protect topfrom cooking too quickly); bake 1½ to 1¾ hours, or until a skewer comes out clean. Cool in the oan. Loosen inner ring with a knife before inverting. Place apricot jam and remaining brandy in a small saucepan and heat until jam is melted. Strain, then brush over cake.
White Chocolate Frozen Christmas Pudding:
100g sponge cake, chopped coursely
⅓ cup Cointreau (or any other orange-flavoured liqueur)
300g frozen mixed berries
1 teaspoon gelatine
1 tablespoon water
250g cream cheese, softened
⅔ cup caster sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
300ml thickened cream
Fresh raspberries and blueberries, to serve.
¼ cup custard powder
¼ cup aster sugar
1½ cups milk
1 egg yolk
Divide sponge cake mixture among 8 x 1⅓ cup (330ml) glass dishes; sprinkle with liqueur and half the berries.
Sprinkle gelatine over water in a small dish and either melt over a pan of simmering water, or using 20 second zaps in a microwave until dissolved.. Cool for 5 minutes.
Beat cheese, sugar and juice in a small bowl with electric beaters until smooth; beat in cream. Stir in gelatine mixture.
Divide mixture amongst glasses; top with remaining berries. Refrigerate 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, make custard; Blend custard powder and sugar with a ⅓ cup of the milk in small saucepan until smooth; stir in remaining milk. Stir over heat until mixture boils and thickens; remove from heat, stir in butter and egg yolk. Cover custard surface with plastic wrap. Cool.
Divide custard amongst glasses; refrigerate 30 minutes. Serve topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries, if desired.
2¼ cups sultanas
1½ cups raisins, chopped
½ cup dried currants
1½ cups coursely chopped dried dates
1½ cups water
½ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
185g dairy-free margarine
1 cup soy flour
1 cup rice flour
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2teaspoon bicarb soda
2 teaspoons mixed spice
1cup almond meal
Combine fruit, the water, juice, honey, sugar and margarine in a large saucepan. Stir over heat without boiling, until margarine melts. Transfer mixture to a large heatproof bowl; cool.
Grease 2.25 litre (9 cup) pudding steamer, line base with baking paper.
Stir sifted dry ingredients and almong meal into fruit mixture.
Spoon mixture into steamer, cover pudding with greased foil, secure with lid or kitchen string. Place steamerin large saucepan with enough boiling water to come halfway up the sides of steamer; simmer, covered, about 6 hours, replenishing water as necessary to maintain level.
Strawberry & Rhubarb Conserve:
1kg white sugar
1kg strawberries, hulled, quartered
2 cups (250g) coursely chopped rhubarb
⅓ cup lemon juice
50g packet jamsetta (supermarket, near sugar & sweeteners)
Prehear oven to 150°C. Spread sugar in large shallow baking dish; warm in oven, uncovered, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (this helps to dissolve sugar quickly, giving a clear conserve)
Meanwhile, combine strawberries, rhubarb and juice in a large saucepan (fruit & sugar mixture should not be more than 5cm deep); simmer, uncovered, over low heat about 5 minutes or until the fruit is soft, stirring occasionally. Add jamsetta and warm sugar, stirring until dissolved.
Bring conserve to a boil; boil vigorously, uncovered, about 5 minutes or until mixture jells, stirring occasionally. When mixture falls heavily from spoon, test if conserve is ready; remove pan from heat, place a spoonful of conserve onto cold saucer, place in freezer 1 minute. Push mixture with finger; if it wrinkles, it is ready. Skim and scum from the surface of conserve.
Pour conserve into hot, sterilised jars; seal while hot. Stand jars upside down until conserve cools.
MAKES 6 CUPS
Little Chocolate Christmas Puddings:
700g plum pudding
250g dark eating chocolate, melted
½ cup brandy
½ cup icing sugar
200g white chocolate melts
Green & red glace cherries, cut to resemble berries & leaves
Crumble pudding into large bowl. Stir in melted chocolate, brandy and sifted icing sugar; mix well.
Roll level tablespoons of mixture into balls, place on tray, cover; refrigerate until firm.
Melt white chocolate in small heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water. Cool chocolate about 10 minutes. Drizzle over puddings to form ‘custard’; decorate with cherries.
MAKES ABOUT 44
If you are entertaining outdoors this season, this is the perfect refresher between alcoholic beverages
½ cup water
½ cup caster sugar
1 tablespoon caster sugar, extra
1.25 litres soda water
2 sprigs fresh mint
Combine the waster and sugar in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat, without boiling, until sugar dissolves; bring to a boil. Remove from heat; cool.
Cut each lime into 8 wedges; place in large serving jug. Top with extra sugar.
Using muddle, or flat end of rolling pin, pound lime and sugar until crushed. Add sugar syrup; stir well. Just before serving stir in ice cubes, soda water and mint.
MAKES 7 CUPS
Roll limes, pressing down firmly, on a kitchen bench before cutting. This helps to extract maximum juice.
To roast nuts, preheat oven to 180°C. Spread nuts on a single layer on a tray and bake for 5-10 minutes, depending on nut type.
To melt chocolate, butter or copha in a microwave, place in a heatproof bowl and melt in 20-30 second bursts (make sure butter or copha are chopped into small pieces). The same can be done wih gelatine. Always add water to powdered gelatine before melting (aprox 1 tablespoon water to 1 teaspoon gelatine).
Replace brandy in cakes and puddings with muscat, port, sherry, Green Ginger Wine or stout to give different flavours. A mix of two can be used if desired (I use brandy and port in mine).
Don’t forget Australia is very humid at Christmas, and cakes & puddings are from colder climates. Refrigerate or freeze puddings and cakes after cooking. If refrigerated, they will continue to mature until you use them. Wrap in foil, then layers of Glad Wrap.