05th January 2018
To have a sneak peek at our Christmas, click on this link:
This year Christmas was different. After going through my adult life escaping the responsibility of providing a Christmas lunch for my family due to owning only 4 kitchen chairs, not settling down until my late thirties and two sisters with very strong hostess genes as well as one of them having attended Prue Leiths cookery school, I found myself relieving them both, as well as my mother of the duties of cook and venue provider for the big day. So armed with a ring binder, lists in my head and a large glass of festive red, I rolled my sleeves up in the pursuit of the perfect Christmas day knowing all eyes would be on me.
So amongst the oh so familiar school end of term chaos, I felt that the children’s excitement accelerated at a similar rate to my levels of panic and stress. Whilst helping my six year old learn his lines for being King 1 in the nativity, I was planning a relay of visits to Aldi, Sainsburys and the local turkey farm. With a military timetable that had no time slots for the unforgiving coughs and colds that December usually throws at us, I fired up my engines and got on the Berocca ready for action.
Thoughts of a similar Christmas to Mary Berry sent me contentedly to sleep each night. The idea of offering handmade blinis, an array of puddings whilst still having beautifully manicured nails and not a drop of goose fat on my silk shirt was a comfort as the countdown began. Having watched for years from a distance my sister prepare Christmas lunch for fifteen, I thought I would be more than capable of giving everyone a day to remember.
But like childbirth, there are secrets that Christmas cooks hold close to their hearts and aren't shared until you join the CCC (Christmas Cooks Club). My sister, now training to be a counsellor, offered me some support over a pre-Christmas glass of prosecco at Carluccios. During the lunch, whilst she divulged the secret to good gravy, (“you don't use all the giblets”) I confessed to planning to give up the relentless chore of dealing with the sprouts and serve frozen ones. To my amazement and like a secret handshake, my sister told me in a whisper that she'd been serving frozen sprouts for years and I was sworn not to tell our mother. She went on to tell me her strategy to 'mother management' on the day so that the immersing of said frozen sprouts was so discreet that our mother wouldn't notice.
“When the moment arrives, I gently ease Mum back to the sitting room for a glass of champagne. Whilst she's distracted with conversation I retreat back to the kitchen to deal with the sprouts.”
I breathed a sigh of relief and now an opportunity for less work on the 25th and more Prosecco as my tactics for the perfect day were now open to review. So on my next tour of the aisles in Aldi, like spotting the golden ticket, I reached for par boiled potatoes in goose fat, frozen sprouts and..........fresh ready made gravy. Now with just the turkey to collect and two fridges containing enough food for Arctic conditions I thought it was time to turn my attention to how I would capture Christmas 2017.
As a photographer I'm always looking for ways to capture the intensity and emotion of all those moments in our lives. This year I've had the privilege of Emily Mitchell from Every Day Films
(https://everydayfilms.co/) sharing her extraordinary talents with myself and other photographers looking to give the gift of film to their clients. And so I've found a new passion; film. So what better way to record the moments of Christmas so that 2017 would stay with me forever instead of just joining the other 44 Christmas's of my lifetime in a vault of festive memories with one year unrecognisable from another, than to make a film for my family.
So amongst the endless Amazon deliveries, 2 dozen mince pies arriving from my mother-in-law and awaiting the arrival of a new kitchen island at 11pm on 21st December, I set up my DSLR in the hope that I would be able to multi -task being cook, photographer and hostess. I never imagined that on Christmas Eve I'd have one hand giving the turkey a rectal examination with a camera around my neck, a glass of red in the other hand all whilst trying to guess that I'm a camel by the clues given by my 6 and five year olds in a game of Headbandz. Not forgetting wearing the standard uniform for a member of the CCC; an apron with floppy antlers and a red nose. And before you ask, no, I didn't get a photo of myself in this moment of Christmas glory!
On Christmas Eve, I felt unnervingly organised and had been able to film those glorious childhood moments of the childrens delight at the imminent arrival of the big man on his sleigh. Next was to charge up the batteries, both mine and my cameras, ready for kick off at dawn the next day. But not before our oversized turkey weighing in at over 11kg was squeezed into the simmering oven of the Aga for overnight cooking. This is a method by brother-in-laws father has used to ensure the perfect turkey. However I was taking no chances and had reassuringly placed a gadget only the CCC will know about that I've named the 'poultry popper'. An unassuming piece of plastic that lets you know your turkey is Mary Berry perfect. I had placed my faith in providing the most important meal of the year for my family on this tiny piece of culinary brilliance.
The day arrived. Double Berocca drunk I was awoken by the smell of warm turkey and a request from the children for 10 AA batteries. Well at least it's cooking! Camera in hand, wearing my flats, another piece of advice from my sister, knives sharpened and glass never out of reach, I awaited the arrival of the panel of judges made up of my nearest and dearest. With all my efforts over the previous few weeks now culminating in either a few hours of culinary chaos or brilliance all of which would be captured on camera so there would be no room for error knowing that this was a one take event! With my fabulous husband by my side who'd conscientiously weeded the drive and cleared the soggy leaves from the front door, now providing me with a reassuring arm around my shoulder and the frequent whispered “Are you OK?” we glided through the meal with more ease than if we were in the Strictly final. It all came together in one glorious family gathering and included a round of applause for the cook; me. The scores were in. Ten, ten, ten, nine. Only dropping a point for the over site of not clearing the drive of dog pooh!
I could never have anticipated what an amazing achievement this would be. Cooking Christmas lunch for your family is one of the most stressful, wonderful, painful and emotional experiences you can have, much like childbirth. And now I consider myself a full member of the CCC. Would I do it again?
Absolutely, but perhaps this year I'll hand it back to those more experienced than myself so as not to put myself in the ring again for a while. Also whilst my shoulder recovers from cooking an 11kg turkey which had a wishbone the size of a small dinosaur and took a grip of two hands to even fracture. Next year, I'll be wearing my heels and bringing the sprouts!
By the way, don't let me leave you thinking that I'm up there with Mary Berry. I've merely just graduated into the CCC and it will take many more Christmas lunches to reach the dizzy heights of being along the great and good cooks of Christmas lunch. On the 2nd January I found a totally cremated mince pie hiding in the dark corner of the Aga. Clearly feeling how I might have felt had it not been for my poultry popper which now has pride of place in my kitchen drawer. Perhaps if I leave the mince pie there long enough it might turn into something sparkly for Christmas 2018!
As for the film? Well here it is. This is what I managed to capture on camera during December 2017. A month of unexpected snow, 11kg turkeys and that wonderful warm feeling that only your family can give you. This is all straight out of camera. No photoshop just pure raw footage and a sneaky peek into a very special Christmas.
Happy New Year!!!