I would say that most of what makes Christmas so magical is the food. I guess there’s also family, presents and time off work, but realistically, I’m just here for the grub. The magnificence of eating and overindulging will mean different things to different people, but here are the ones that do it for me. Some quite straightforward, some… less so.
#5: Christmas dinner
No list would be complete without the traditional Christmas dinner. It is wonderful because it takes the already perfect formula of a roast lunch, and then adds pigs in blankets. We also get sprouts, which stir up within me a stubborn desire to go against that odd cliché that they taste disgusting. They don’t? I love them and all of their garish bright green beauty. I don’t mind them on their own, but you can’t beat the addition of some bacon and chestnuts, both for festive charm and for gluttony. We also usually eat turkey, which, again, I believe gets rather unfairly bad press. I appreciate that the meat isn’t the most flavoursome, but with all of the rich accompanying sides, condiments, sauces and gravies, I think my stomach relishes the slightly blander joys of the pale turkey meat. Plus, it’s tradition – why would you go fannying around with a salmon? One year we had a three bird roast, but that included turkey, so it’s okay.
#4: Spaghetti Carbonara
This may seem odd, but I have one particular memory of this dish that arouses such joy within me. We ate this one year a few days after the intense core of Christmas eating. Having enjoyed gloriously heavy and rich meals on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, my stomach was very grateful, but all at the same time pleading for no more. I think the roast lamb was the final straw, and my gut craved for an end to the heavy, meat-centric fare. Enter the Spaghetti Carbonara. Now, I will make no claims that this is some kind of light or healthy affair – on the contrary – but the richness it oozed was of a type my stomach could handle. This was largely because the sauce is something that asks for so few ingredients. We don’t make it the authentic way and instead we rather sacrilegiously add cream – it’s just the way it is, and I’m not really prepared to go and change it because, quite frankly, I like cream. Along with egg, cheese, parsley and bacon lardons, salt and pepper, we had ourselves a tasty little treat. It sat before me on a plate, beautiful and beige, but flecked with the vibrant green of the parsley and the salty and radiantly pink lardons (meat in speckle form meant that I could handle it), a dot of pepper here and there. This meal is no stranger to my diet, but this really was the time in my life when it became my hero. I suppose it stands for those completely non-Christmassy but completely necessary dishes that make it possible to soldier on with the more intense stuff over the festive period.
#3. Pistachio nuts
Fruit and nut mixes are the epitome of Christmas – to people like my Mum and sister. Unfortunately, I don’t share the excitement for such healthy, wholesome snacking; my tastebuds aren’t yet refined enough to enjoy the confusion of cashew nuts and almonds without all of the salt or honey-roasting. Instead, I can sit quite happily in front of a bowl of salted pistachio nuts, which are perhaps the tastiest little morsels in the entire world. The only downside to these flamboyantly green beauties are the empty shells that form a small mountain in front of you, which become a clear indicator of just how many you’ve eaten.
#2: Cheese and biscuits
This sounds like an obvious one, and it is, but what makes up for its blatency is the fact that cheese is so fucking great. Over the Christmas period, my parents will ensure that the house is well-stocked with every kind of cheese you can imagine, along with the accompanying cracker selection. Personally, I am quite partial to a Cornish Wafer, but realistically I’ll welcome anything – as long as it transports the dairy delight to my mouth in an efficient and speedy manner. We rarely have a roast for lunch, so when we do it is our intention to counteract this with a slightly lighter so-called ‘Cakey Tea’. When I was younger this was merely an excuse to eat Jaffa Cakes, French Fancies and Pringles until I was fit to burst, but its grown-up manifestation involves chutneys, pates, Kettle Chips, Olives and, of course, all of the cheese. It is this cheese that is the pinnacle of a ‘Cakey Tea’, because it is what provokes it and forces us to bring out all of the usual suspects to support it. A light meal it is not, but as we all sit down to pretend that we are even remotely hungry, it remains one of my favourites.
#1: Chocolate yule log
Everyone loves cake; this is only a natural instinct. However, I absolutely adore chocolate yule logs. This is partly because they are a form of cake, and partly because they are chocolate, but what impresses me most is their composition. The fact that they are rolled means that the sponge to cream or icing ratio lies dangerously but beautifully around the 50:50 mark, and everyone knows that it’s the indulgent, iced, chocolaty embellishment that is the best bit, but we never get enough of it. Moreover, the need for its exterior to resemble a nubbly, gnarly log also allows for the icing to be thick and rich, in order to craft the knotty details upon its surface. Lots of silky, cocoa-laden icing (or cream, if that’s your bag) puts the chocolate yule log up there with the big dogs. The big, sickly, gluttonous big dogs.