Today was our Choir Christmas Lunch, so we ate, drank and were decidedly merry in a restaurant at a local College, where we were looked after by the college's catering students.
We had been warned in advance that service would be on the slow side, as the students endeavoured to get everything right. But, hey, it was a Christmas Lunch - you wouldn't want to rush through it in double quick time, now would you?
And I've never minded being practised on, if you know what I mean.
When it comes to the Actual Event, of course, practice may or may not make perfect. I am in awe of anybody who actually reads
and acts upon the advice in all the magazines leading up to Christmas. Let's take a look, for starters, at the festive advice from my Sunday newspaper colour supplement. According to this, on Christmas Eve I am to serve up something called a "Christmas
Eve Lemon Tart." It takes 10 eggs and at least two hours to make it. Such a shame I don't have the required 11 inch diameter, loose-bottomed tart tin. Once again the family will miss out...
it's OK, on the next page, there's a great idea for a "festive starter" - stuffed mushrooms. And if I'm in a hurry (what, on Christmas morning with a dinner to cook, how could that be?) I can "assemble the mushrooms up to eight hours beforehand." While
assembling my mushrooms, I can also "toast up a Christmas brunch", to be served with a glass of prosecco mixed with orange juice. Or I could just enjoy the fizz, I suppose. I am also being urged to prepare spiced olives, grate a festive beetroot relish, make
cheesy cranberry melts, mix a mulled berry punch and "perk up" my veg with a tasty butter made with the grated zest of an orange and toasted hazelnuts. No wonder so many harrassed housewives find Christmas so stressful.
It's those Great Expectations again.
I have lost count of the young friends over the years who have been literally shaking with fear at the thought of cooking their first Christmas Dinner. I
blame Jamie Oliver personally. My advice is always the same. Remember this is just an ordinary roast dinner. But with a Big Bird.
The secret to the Very Best of Christmas Dinners, in my book, is to get everything on the table at one and the same time - and to make sure it is all hot. I do admit this is the tricky bit but I have to say that I reckon most people would
rather have a good, honest turkey, roast potatoes, a bit of stuffing and some steamed veg, all served up piping hot - than be treated to all the fancy bits 'n' pieces, the preparation and serving of which leaves the main elements of Christmas dinner getting
In the days when I was In Charge of Christmas, we often had up to 14 people around the table. Thanks to a glass or two of sherry (I only drink the stuff at Christmas, but somehow nothing
else will do) I found myself able to cook with something approaching complete abandon. Mr B always prepared the veg the night before (we still like to argue over whether brussel sprouts need to have a cross cut into them or not - what do you think?)
but the dinner was mine, all mine. It was my present to the family - not the most elegant, not the most refined, certainly not the most adventurous - but always HOT.
There was one Christmas I
remember when, asked what time dinner would be on the table, I quipped "2.21 p.m. precisely!" Which then became something of a challenge and meant enlisting the help of all three of the Darling Daughters who obliged by literally hurling laden serving
dishes onto the table to meet my self-imposed deadline.
These days I am generally a Support Act, rather than the Main Turn. I will take my lead from my Hostess With The Mostest and do whatever is
required of me. I will peel potatoes, prepare the brussels (complete with crosses), stir the gravy and make appreciative and supportive noises at appropriate moments. I will still sip a glass of sherry because that's tradition.
Jamie Oliver, I'm sure Christmas Dinner with Jools and the family will be amazing.