This is a repost of one of Johnny’s entries last year. Merry Christmas from Johnny Grey Studios!
Here’s an expanded version I originally did for the Sunday Times (UK) on how you can get more out of your kitchen this Christmas. These are things any family can do and are particularly helpful if you are short on space or want as harmonious a festive break as possible.
- Cook a few things that aren’t normally on the menu because it takes you to another place, free. I describe this as food travelling. Christmas becomes more of a special occasion if the food is thought about, loved and provides a taste of something exotic. Try and get everyone in the household involved in the planning.
- Use a recipe book, since the author has done the inventing, thinking and measuring for you. We use Elizabeth David’s Christmas. It’s chock full of out-of the-ordinary ideas. I might be biased because she was my aunt and she cooked for us during my childhood, but it is the only cookbook I know of dedicated to Christmas.
- Eye contact allows for conversation so when you cook and prep do it facing into the room.
- The pace makes a difference to the enjoyment and sense of satisfaction of cooking. If you create a sense of order, starting with sharp knifes, accessable recipe instructions and well laid out utensils cooking becomes a pleasure, a craft not a grind and the pace can be more easily sustained.
- Cook Christmas day lunch the day before so you don’t have to cook twice on the same day. Serve the different dishes like tapas, putting them on display for all to take in. (This should allow the cook to earn brownie points and escape the washing up.)
- Cook together. Accept help from anyone keen to be join in. Adapt your kitchen to have two prep zones by using the table or bringing in a temporary one on trestles.
- Buy a low height, compact, low height camping gas ring that sits on any surface. This creates an instant cooking space. Most hardware stores stock them for the price of a take away meal.
- Get some fresh air. Wining and dining can quickly turn to overindulgence, and my family always finds it refreshing to walk off a feast, especially on Christmas day between lunch and dinner.
- Gather holly or evergreen branches and spray with silver or gold paint. Tuck them behind pictures or mirrors; tape them onto shelves or dressers.
- Bring out various sized bowls and fill to overflowing with produce, whether nuts, aubergines or tangerines. Spruce up your window sill, shelf, or dresser. Signs of harvest and abundance make a reassuring and beautiful addition to the Christmas well being.
- Small dining tables are intimate – don’t be afraid of getting cosy with your neighbour. It encourages camaraderie, but make sure there is enough room for the food!
- Your eyes can make your mouth water. Make sure you have somewhere to plate and serve. If necessary bring in a trolley (cart for our USA readers) from another room.
- If your table is too small, extend it by buying a sheet of cheap ply 8mm thick and cut it to (any) shape you like. Then all you need is a tablecloth and you are all set for dinner with extended family and friends - with space for decorations, candles, big serving plates, and that fine china on its annual outing.
- For dinner, dress up in something posh. Iconic fancy or vintage dress for dinner makes it feel important, theatrical even slightly absurd, but memorable.
- Traditional fare for Christmas dinner is straight forward. Meat – whether turkey or goose with spiced up bread sauce and gravy – and two vegetable dishes is the norm. We still enjoy child-friendly desserts; it makes us recall Christmases past. We usually luxuriate in home made ice cream and biscuits, the former made in advance but not churned until we sit down to the second course (texture is everything). Fine wines for each course, favourite old glasses and candles everywhere, crackers to nibble on and lots of chat about the year past.
- You can live comfortably on the leftovers for several days, so cook generous quantities of everything. One of the joys is they only need reheating. The cook can take a break and meals eaten casually without much pre-planning. (In other words, try to get some relaxation during your winter holidays).
- Hibernate. Think of the kitchen of Ratty’s in Wind in the Willows (above) which feels so modest, reassuring and safe from the world above. Fall into a sleepy routine of book reading, games, TV viewing, preferably around a fire, with plenty of time for strolls.