We have friends in down-under Australia who delight in spending their Christmas Days on the beach! The pics they post are always enviable, especially when viewed in front of a roaring fire with thoughts of swimming in turquoise waters definitely on the back boiler until next summer. The chill-out Christmas concept sounds wonderful. A hot, sunny beach in December? Absolute bliss!
We actually tried it once. Some years ago we reached out to sunnier climes, even though our winters here in Mallorca aren’t that dreary, and booked ourselves a luxury cruise over the entire Christmas period to get away from the cooler, island climes.
Initially, the experience was everything we imagined. The excitement and thrill of a two week cruise around the Caribbean was a quivering, dreamlike fantasy. The ship was magnificent and beautifully decorated throughout with an abundance of tinsel and glittering festive cheer. Yet there was something missing! At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then it hit me between the eyes! I was missing that nostalgic lead up to the big day along with all those familiar touches around the place that only ever manifest when Christmas is spent in the family home.
The hanging of the faithful Christmas wreath. The traditional swag of holly. The decorating of the tree. The twinkling of the strategically strung fairy lights. The candles. Special memories, linked to each and every placing, like a well rehearsed stage production. The mouthwatering aroma of cinnamon and spice as festive baking permeates the entire house. The sharp snap of weather against the warm cosy kitchen. The heart of Christmas. The soul of the festive celebrations. And they are only ever found at home!
It was great having everything done for us on that luxury liner whilst we cruised the Caribbean seas. Yet I missed engaging with those traditional traditions for myself. I actually enjoy putting up all the faff and frippery of Michaelmas and getting the house ready for the festive season. I like lighting an extravagant amount of candles and transforming the lounge into Santa’s grotto.
Christmas dinner on the cruise ship was taken in the evening, and Christmas day was spent on a white beach in St Kitts. It felt utterly luxurious and privileged for a while, lapping up that December sunshine while paddling in gin clear water. But then I found myself, once again, missing all those little details that I have always associated with Christmas.
No matter how many at the table (sometimes just the two of us) I always cook a massive turkey with all the trimmings and look forward to all those cold cuts, tit-bits and leftover specialities that make Christmas worth looking forward to. The constant supply of snacks on call in the fridge. The indulgent chocolates everywhere. The nibbles. Friends popping in. The clink of Cava. There was entertainment, yet none of that festive familiarity on the cruise ship. And in the end, I felt I had missed Christmas completely.
I still like the idea of getting away over the Christmas period. And still get pangs of envy when our Australian friends post their holiday pics, but I definitely prefer to spend Christmas day at home. How else will I get the leftover turkey meat to make the revered Boxing Day sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce. Or our traditional English curry which we look forward to all year with gusto. As curries go, it’s as far removed from India as Dumbo the elephant yet it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.
One of the first things I ever cooked as a teenager was a Vesta Beef Curry. Not much cooking involved as I recall. Simply add hot water to various dried ingredients in pre-sealed packets, including rice, stir, make a wish, then ‘voila’ a spicy meal on a plate. It did taste exotic though, which I suppose was the idea (I was only 13 at the time). And smelled remarkable, although nothing like the authentic curry dishes we cook today. But then, outside of take-away from the local Taj Mogul Restaurants in the High Street, back in the day we weren’t accustomed or skilled at creating Indian cuisine in the comfort of our traditional British kitchens. We didn’t have the authentic ingredients, know what to do with them, or understand the methods involved. Plus we didn’t want to scare the neighbours!
But what we did do was create our very own version of an English curry, which every now and again I still crave, especially post Christmas when I want to use up leftover Yuletide turkey! Our go to English Curry we call it. It might not be authentic, or Indian in any way whatsoever, but it’s certainly super tasty with a nod to the nostalgic, Vesta past.
English Curry Sauce recipe
2tbsp vegetable oil
2 large onions roughly chopped
1 apple peeled, cored and chopped into small cubes
2-3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 small thumb of fresh ginger grated (no need to peel)
3 tsps curry powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 level tbsp flour
1 heaped tbsp tomato purée
½ tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp sweet pickle or chutney (I use my homemade)
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp granulated sugar
1tsp brown sugar
425ml chicken stock from a quality stock cube (I use stock pots)
Small handful of sultanas or dried cranberries (or both)
A nice handful of cherry tomatoes halved
Heat butter and oil together in a large saucepan or wok. Cook onions slowly for ten minutes until pale golden. Add ginger, garlic and apple then cook for a further ten minutes until the onions resemble those you put on hotdogs at fairgrounds. Stir regularly with love and do not burn! You cannot hurry this stage and the long simmering makes all the difference.
Stir in curry powder, cloves, cumin and cinnamon to combine. Then sprinkle over flour and blend with the stock stirring continually. Add lemon juice, sugars, and pickle/chutney along with the halved cherry tomatoes and sultanas/cranberries. Lower heat, cover pan and simmer gently for 45 mins, stirring often.
Add as much leftover turkey/chicken as you like, preferably in bite size chunks and heat through until meat is piping hot. Serve with fluffy basmati rice and a fresh minty yoghurt raita. That’s it folks. And a deliciously curryful Christmas to all!