It is 8pm on Christmas day, in a 1950s style beach house. I am writing this lying on a couch that doubles as a day bed. We are still recovering from a lavish Christmas lunch that ended barely a few hours ago.
[this is posted one day later, when we got internet]
Every year, Mr Gander’s family and close relatives gather on the south coast of NSW for Christmas. The family bought land in this area before running water and electricity had made its way through the bush, before sealed roads and bridges had replaced dirt tracks and car ferries across the river. Each year, Christmas lunch or dinner have consisted of a surfeit of turkey and ham with all the trimmings, and a brandy pudding with all its trimmings.
Last year, Mr Gander and I broke from tradition and stayed in Sydney (he had just moved up from a few years in Melbourne), where I cooked a seafood Christmas lunch just for him and his immediate family. This year, I made Christmas lunch for the extended clan.
Lunch is served
Instead of turkey and ham, I made farsumagru again (I had made it earlier this year and friends loved it). Farsumagru is a renowned, old-fashioned Sicilian meat (and cheese and herbs) roll that is, for me, the epitome of festive rich decadence. It is also redolent of history and culinary tradition.
For dessert, I gave everyone a summery trifle scented with rose water, followed by a traditional Christmas cake (traditional except for the decoration, but more on that next time).
Here is the full menu. The recipes will be in the following posts.
Dates stuffed with goat cheeses and prosciutto
Home made buffalo milk labne with pita, cucumbers, and young herbs
Mixed herbs and walnut salad, with tarrator and pomegranate molasses dressings
Orange, fennel and parsley salad
Smashed potatoes with duck fat and rosemary
Rose water trifle, with watermelon, strawberries, pistachios and rose petals
‘Double happiness’ Christmas cake
Lots. Responsibly served. (enough said?)
The day’s proceedings
I made a ‘game plan’ for this lunch. I have started drawing up such plans for each dinner party, to make sure all the food is ready to be served on time. It also allows me to mingle with the guests, hide all evidence of last minute panic, and give the impression of being a gracious elegant host who whips up canapes and three-four course meals effortlessly. (Ha!)
The days leading up to Christmas went almost according to plan, here is the synopsis:
- make Christmas cake, ice with marzipan, package up to transport to south coast
- buy good quality cheeses, including provolone and pecorino for the farsumagru
- make labne from buffalo yoghurt, find spare jam jar for carrying labne
- pack heaps of stuff in thermal bag for taking to south coast
Two days before
- ice Christmas cake with fondant icing and decorate cake
- manic shopping (who would have thought we would need to visit the local markets, supermarket and green grocers to find all the herbs, vegetables and fruit??)
- pick up butterflied skirt steak from the good butcher and promise to give him some
- have leisurely lunch; go for a quick dip in the sea; go out to find a last cup of coffee before all the shops close for Christmas
- prepare farsumagru: mix mince, boil eggs (14 eggs!), pound meat and tie up three farsumagrus
D-Day (Christmas day)
- 8.30am. wake up, open presents, exchange cards, have panettone toast, cherries and coffee; chat about the day ahead
- 9.30am, put on party apron
- prepare trifle
- prepare herbs salad and fennel salad; make two salad dressings, one with cumin and lemon, the other with pomegranate molasses
- find casserole pots large enough to cook farsumagru; let pots simmer with most of a bottle of red wine
- for canape, stuff cheese and prosciutto into dates
- roast ‘smashed’ potatoes with duck fat and rosemary
- set out entree
- 12noon, put on party dress as people arrive
- serve dates and mixed nuts, hide evidence of last minute panic
- our self-appointed sommelier serves light, sweet pinot gris and remind everyone there is plenty of mineral water and sparkling apple juice (how’s that for responsible service of alcohol?)
- 12:45pm, pull crackers, read the groan-worthy jokes (Q: why did the man drown in a bowl of cereal? A: a strong currant pulled him in) and check out each other’s party toys
- serve buffalo labne with cucumbers, young herbs and pita bread
- our sommelier opens bottles of champagne for everyone else and sparkling shiraz for himself
- 1.30pm, serious eating is underway
- carve and serve farsumagru; the historian notes it is a very old fashioned cooking method
- serve salads and duck fat potatoes – the potatoes are golden brown, buttery smooth with crispy edges – mmm, duck fat
- our sommelier offers meaty shiraz, lightly oaked chardonnay, and lighter flirtier gewürztraminer
- serve trifle; our sommelier says ‘this will be perfect with a bottle of sticky!’ – and he was right!
- serve ‘double happiness’ Christmas cake with tea and coffee; someone says my Christmas cake is better than the one made by the ladies at church. Yay!!!
- 4pm onwards, finis, saith the in-house classics scholar
- everyone pitches in to help with the washing up, using indoor and outdoor sinks, many tea towels and many more pairs of hands
- notice unopened bottles of wine and beer, and there’s more in the fridge…
- go for long walk around nearby beaches and headlands
- at 7pm, think about dinner, decide to graze on bread, fruit, ham and panettone instead