We’re spending this Christmas with my parents and my siblings. The last clear memory I have of spending Christmas Day with my family was a decade ago – for a few Christmases afterwards I was in hospital and if, as I guess I may well have done, I was let home for Christmas, I was far too drugged up/busy having controversial treatments to form memories of these times. I then had a Christmas after I had decided I no longer wanted to be drugged/have controversial treatments and, as a result, was mood-swinging dramatically and being a little out of control brat and decided I didn’t want to celebrate Christmas so packed up and left to lie low for the time, I then met Vinnie and my parents went abroad to spend the festive season with their family a couple times and, seeing as Vinnie’s family lives in Australia, I always made the decision to spend Christmas with him.
Last December Vinnie proposed and we’re planning our wedding for August 2014. This means he has willingly opted to join my verbose, vocal, fiery and competitive family (all those adjectives do apply to me, I’m not just focusing on my Mother. I basically AM my Mother) and thus he’s now happily enjoying the thought of spending the day with his future in laws (or doing a very convincing job of it).
In the style of Movita though, I think I need to warn him of some inevitable Christmas truths of spending the day with my family.
- My mother will get competitive with the neighbours over the number of Christmas wreaths she displays. She will always deny this is the case, but in the month prior to last year’s Christmas we saw wreaths belonging to her pop up on the front door of their flat, the front door of their building and two on the handles of the double doors leading to the main living space within their abode. This is not a recent development. In the house they had before ‘downsizing’ (due, apparently, to the fact that none of their children would ever live with them again – this has not been the case) my Mother worked herself into a frenzy over the fact that our front door only had one wreath on it whilst the neighbours had TWO. When the neighbour started placing a Christmas Tree on the first floor (second floor for you Yanks) above the door to be seen through the floor to ceiling windows, she Freaked Out. We then had two Christmas trees. One for the main living room to put presents under and be loved and the other to put in similar placement to the neighbours. It was also bigger than the neighbours’ tree. I think that made her happy and she calmed down a bit.
- Speaking of trees, whilst now my parents have opted, for the case of simplicity and an easier life, a fake plastic tree, in the bygone years of my childhood at some point in mid December my Father would bundle us all into the car and we would be driven, squealing and highly excitable, to go pick out the real tree. He would always eventually settle on a tree that was at least a foot and a half too big (he would always claim it was just because it was the nicest one. Really he just always misjudged the height of the ceilings and, probably, just wanted a really big tree) and he would spend the next couple hours sheepishly sawing it down to size.
- Decorating the tree: There is never a theme to the tree. The tree is decorated in whatever crap we constructed when we were four years old – generally made out of polystyrene balls, glitter and pipe cleaners – with the odd accent of a few expensive Harrods baubles. Before I ‘inherited’ the cats, they could not put chocolate on the tree due to the fact that Sherry would climb the tree and eat them all. She’s pretty old now, but even Vinnie and I don’t risk it seeing how hard she will fight off her also elderly son and the two year old cat for a scrap of fallen dinner.
- We will have bagels from breakfast. Also Bucks Fizz, mince pies and chocolate.
- After 37 years of marriage, my Dad is a pro at getting my Mother presents. For such a practical and straightforward man, he will rarely get her a dud gift. If he does get her a dud gift though, it is all that will be focused on in the coming months in the most jovial of senses – there is a hideous and strange and large and glittery statue of a mushroom next to the fireplace that was such a dud last year. It is so bizarre and out of place that it is always a talking point, which is probably why my mother has kept it.
- My brother, my sister and I, almost without exception, always received a nail file among our presents.
- The food is the focal point. My Mother will get highly stressed with the standards expected of the goose and the trimmings. At some point she will threaten to just stop doing it and then we’d all go hungry and how would we like that? You might ask, a bit puzzled, that if I’m a chef why don’t I cook Christmas Dinner? Firstly no one is ever going to cook a better Christmas Dinner than my Mother (she has even agreed to add yorkshire puds to the spread to keep the Northern part of Vinnie happy) and secondly, that would be disturbing the hierarchy and what idiot attempts to disturb a family hierarchy?
- My father might claim to have invented roast potatoes.
- If there are arguments on Christmas Day, they will be nothing compared to the arguments that happen at the Boxing Day Quiz.
Whilst Vinnie and I are up in London enjoying the comfort of family, the cats will be left home to wreak havoc. Whilst someone is being kind enough to come and feed them, I fully expect to return to a tinsel strewn home, a destroyed tree and Toki in a mood because we ‘forgot’ his Christmas Day birthday. I mean, he doesn’t know it’s his birthday, he’s only had one before, but I’m sure he’s aware that he’s now twice the age he was last time the funny tree went up. I would ask my father if I could bring all the cats with us, but seeing as my Mother tends to foster every cat she can find, with or against the cat’s will, whether or not they already have an owner (she misses owning cats far more than he does), he might just laugh in my face.
- 2 cod fillets (or any white fish)
- 100g peas
- A small handful mint, finely chopped
- 1 crushed garlic clove
- 10g finely grated fresh parmesan
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 200g spinach
- 1 fennel
For the gnocchi:
- 100g peas
- 1/2 beaten egg
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- About 200-250g tipo 00 flour
- 50g butter
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 180. Cook all the peas in boiling salted water for both the crust and the gnocchi together. Cut the top and bottom off the fennel and cut the bulb into eighths, removing the core. Place the fennel on a roasting sheet, add a little oil and season.
- Place the fennel in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Drain the cooked peas and mash them all up – do this roughly in a large pestle and mortar or just with the end of a rolling pin in the bowl or put the peas into a plastic bag and run the pin over them. Seperate the mixture into two bowls.
- To make the gnocchi, add the flour, a pinch of seasoning, the lemon zest and the half beaten egg and combine. If it is still too wet to handle, add a little more flour. Bring a pan of hot water to the boil.
- Cut off equal size pieces of the mixture – about 3-5 for each plate, roll gently into little balls and cook in the water. Once they have risen to the top and stayed there for a minute, they are cooked, remove and run under cold water to prevent further cooking.
- To the other half of the pea mash, add the ingredients for the crust – the finely chopped mint, the crushed garlic, the lemon zest and the parmesan. Season and coat the tops of the fish fillets, place the fish fillets on a baking sheet.
- When the fennel is done, remove from the oven and turn the heat down to 170C. Start heating up the grill. Have a frying pan and another pan with an inch or so of hot water in it ready.
- Place the fish under the grill for about 3-5 minutes until the top cooks and the crust starts to crisp, then transfer to the oven for a further 7 minutes.
- Meanwhile, wilt the spinach in the covered pot with boiling water and melt the butter in the frying pan, when it is frothing, add the cold gnocchi and brown and heat through. Make sure all excess liquid is squeezed out of the spinach when it is wilted.
- Add the lemon juice to the butter left in the frying pan and season, remove from heat. Place fennel and spinach on the plate with the gnocchi, the fish on top and then a little of the now browned butter and lemon juice.