Posts tagged with: Christmas food

Festive Fun – English Style – Quick Five!

IMG_1839Yes, it’s ‘the most wonderful time of the year’! Only two more sleeps! (Assuming you can sleep on Christmas Eve!)

I know it’s fashionable to be all ‘bah humbug’ about Christmas (or Hannukah/Festivus/Kwanzaa etc), but I really do love this holiday season. From the twinkling lights, the decorated tree and house, the festive food, the cheesy, schmaltzy films to the presents, celebrations and traditions. Speaking of traditions, I thought it would be fun to share with you some our English Christmas traditions.

Because we don’t have Thanksgiving over here in England, the period between Christmas and New Year is extra-special for us. It’s a time when most people try to have a few days off, so they can do the rounds of the family and also chill out!

Also related to not having Thanksgiving, we don’t decorate until the 1st of December at the earliest. And we’re very strict about decorations having to be down by midnight on twelfth night (Jan 5th) – it’s believed to be unlucky. Unfortunately, as we’re away at a new year wedding, we’ll have to take them down on the 6th this year. Hopefully, if it’s still the 5th somewhere in the world, we’ll be okay!

DSC_2272We’re very traditional about our food too. Yes, some people do actually make a point of having goose or try to be different with turducken or beef, but most of us stick with turkey. It’s always served with sage and onion stuffing, bread sauce, brussel sprouts, roasted parsnips and roasted potatoes. Often, there will be added accompaniments like pigs in blankets (little sausages wrapped in bacon) or a chestnut dish and even Yorkshire Pudding. In recent years cranberry sauce has made an appearance on many tables. Most families also have their own traditional extra dish. In our family, it’s cream cheese stuffed mushrooms.

Another one of our traditions is Christmas crackers. We all pull crackers, wear the silly paper hats, share the terrible little jokes  and laugh at the usually useless prize inside. (That’s me pulling a cracker with Doc Cambridge’s dad!)

DSC_0077 - CopyAfter lunch, or as dessert if you have room, there is the flaming Christmas pudding (often with a sixpence or silver treat inside – the person who finds it is very lucky!), Christmas cake and/or mince pies with brandy butter or cream. I’m not one for Christmas pudding, but I love Christmas cake and mince pies. My favourite dessrt, though, is trifle!

In the past, everyone listened to or watched the annual Queen’s Speech. Even those Brits around the world and people in Commonwealth countries would tune in to the BBC World Service, to hear what she had to say. These days, with social media, the internet and everyone needing to have a scoop, the text is available in advance. Also in the past, because we had very few channels, and no videos or DVDs, there would be a battle between the two major stations (BBC and ITV) for the big Christmas blockbuster movie premiere – which was usually at least a year old! These days, everything gets to TV so quickly and there are so many other options available, that the Christmas line-up, while still featuring a movie premier, concentrates more on Christmas specials of favourite shows like Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey, and the evening soaps.

A Perfect CatchMany families also avoid the TV and play board or card games! I find it’s the perfect time to sit down and read a book, uninterrupted except for someone handing you a mince pie or a drink!

And then there is Boxing Day – but those of you who have been with us in the Lair, know all about that! One of my old Boxing Day posts – which includes my famous Boxing Day Soup is here.

So, without further ado, it’s time for you to share your holiday traditions in the special festive edition of Quick Five! As part of the annual 12 Bandita Days of Christmas, not one, but two lucky commenters will win a signed copy of A Perfect Catch – and receive it before it’s released on Feb 1! If you’ve also signed up for my newsletter, you can receive a bonus exclusive Anna Sugden keyring (let me know in your comment).

1. Let’s talk lights – coloured or white, twinkling or static, just on the tree or elsewhere too?

2. Christmas lunch – what do you have and what’s your family’s traditional extra?

3. Christmas dessert or sweet treats – what’s your favourite?

4. Traditional Christmas activity – watch TV, play games or something else?

5. Do you open presents on Christmas Eve, in the morning or in the afternoon? Are you a rip into them all at once, or savour each one carefully? Does everyone open all at once or do you take turns?

Time Wasters, Holiday Style!

christmastree manI am easily distracted. Too easily distracted, I’m afraid, especially when I am not too excited about whatever I’m supposed to be doing. Like writing a difficult scene or figuring out how to get my characters out of the mess they have created (it’s always them, not me). At this time of year, I find myself more distractable than at other times. Here are a few of my most egregious holiday distractions:

SaveOnlineChristmasShopping1. Shopping Online – I do lots of shopping online. Almost everything I buy for Christmas gifts comes to my house in a cardboard box or Tyvek envelope. Shopping online takes time, though. Lots of time. It’s easier to glance around and dismiss an entire store in a matter of seconds, but when you have to scroll through page after page of merchandise, it takes a lot longer. Plus, comparison shopping once you find the perfect item can take another good while. The time I save not driving around town is more than wasted searching for the perfect something online.

Traditional-Christmas-Decor2. Christmas Decorations – Whether it’s mine (or my lack thereof) or someone’s picture of their ornamental extravaganza on Facebook (I’m looking at you, Debra Webb!), decorations are a huge distraction. I managed to get a couple of wreaths on doors and a Christmas flag hung outside this weekend. But seeing people post pictures of their gorgeous trees is a huge distraction. I need to stop looking at everyone else’s and get my own done. Until I can wrest my husband away from his German (!) language and Python (!) programming classes to get the boxes from the attic, though, I think the distraction will continue. Look, Christmas lights!

white christmas3. Holiday Music  – I don’t have to keep the radio on in my kitchen or the music streaming on my computer. Really, I don’t. But I do at this time of year. I have listened to about 16 hours of Casey Kasem’s old Top 10 and Top 20 Christmas song countdowns this weekend. My favorite station, which normally plays lots of old school favorites, apparently does nothing but Christmas hit countdowns on the weekend. Sadly, I can listen to and sing Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” and John Lennon’s “So This Is Christmas” and Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” an infinite number of times without tiring of them. I also love to hear all the tidbits Casey relates about the background of the songs. There is something wrong with me!

Christmas stollen4. Holiday Food – I have no idea how many hours I have already spent this holiday season on food. Cooking, baking, shopping, looking at recipes, looking at catalogs, looking at websites. I have perused catalogs full of nuts, candy, cakes and cookies. My husband and I had to go to the NC Farmer’s Market this weekend to find the German bakery stall and buy Christmas Stollen that the owner makes from her grandmother’s recipe. We also ended up with spritz butter cookies and a Swabian Merello Cherry Cake, but the Stollen was the main attraction. I did find out, though, that Walker’s shortbread now has a USA website, so I can order Ginger Royals online! Yes, I did that. Also several bags of shortbread in holiday shapes. I am a sucker for all the holiday treats. I spent almost an hour at Aldi checking out all the German (and other) goodies they had for the holidays. Baum Kuchen! Christkindl Mulled Cherry Wine! Cranberry goat cheese! Three flavors of Stollen (though I didn’t buy theirs, since we had the one from Annelore’s bakery already)! Chocolate-covered gingerbread! Pfeffernuss! I will gain at least 10 pounds just looking at the food, even if I only eat salad until the new year. As if!

Charlie Brown ChristmasSo what are your favorite distractions at this time of year? Christmas lights? Cyber sales? Handel’s Messiah? The Transiberian Orchestra? I’ll confess, I have stayed away from the animated TV specials so far, because I can’t say no to any of them. Tell me what you are obsessing about and make me feel better!