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Saturday, 24 December 2011

Buswoman's holiday

I never realised that I would eat quite so much rubbish in the run up to Christmas on this industry. Working eight days in a row before Christmas day alongside buying gifts and getting a house redecorated and ready to host a family Christmas has left me very little time for anything else. Don't get me wrong, I knew I was letting myself in for unsociable hours and work patterns but just thought I would eat amazing food all the time as a balance. Not so. In the run up to Christmas, children are off from school and friends and family celebrate together, so there is an influx of large table bookings, stressed chefs and not enough staff to go round as those from abroad try to visit their families. As a result I quite easily get to the end of a shift and realise all I've eaten all day is a quickly stolen piece of toast. In the week before Christmas my not-at-work meals included:

A takeaway curry
A takeaway pizza
Ikea meatballs
A beef baguette made at work and demolished before I'd got on the bus home
A tin of Heinz spaghetti bolognese and a crunchie bar.

As such, Christmas day will be the first time I've had my five-a-day in a very long time and dinner will be the first meal I've cooked at home from scratch in about a fortnight.

I'm hosting Christmas this year, but won't be changing much about how I do things, because they work. I think Delia, although perhaps somewhat militant, gives a good guide to what needs doing, how and when in 'Delia's Christmas' so this will be to hand to guide me, and I'll relish in making my family into a little team of commis.

We'll start with something I can rustle together with *salvaged* poached salmon from work, perhaps on homemade buckwheat blinis if I have time. Then we'll be having a free-range, organic Copas turkey, slow-roasted overnight (and I know this is not to be advised but am allowing a parental tradition, as long as it's them who get up in the night to baste it) stuffed with homemade chestnut stuffing (still working on the details for this one). Accompanying this will be goose-fat roasted potatoes, braised red cabbage, purple sprouts, buttered chantenay carrots, maple-roasted parsnips and maybe something with leeks.

Dessert will of course be Christmas pudding. I've played around with this over the years, trying Nigella, Delia and a combination of both, and have settled on a minutely-tweaked Delia version, which has been known to convert stoic pudding-haters. I add glacé cherries to the mix because I think they look beautiful and add a missing flavour, and use ginger wine instead of barley wine. I made my pudding two days after stir-up Sunday in November and it has been patiently waiting in the bottom of my wardrobe ever since. Tomorrow it will be steamed for three hours and served with brandy sauce. After being set alight, of course.

Which leaves this evening. I have all my wrapping to do, which at this rate will be done with wallpaper samples and masking tape, and we will sit together and peel vegetables, put the pointless but traditional little crosses in the sprouts, drink too much, hopefully eat some homemade mince pies with some of my many jars of homemade mincemeat and not get much sleep.

I sent a Christmas greeting to a former boss from my office days earlier this week and he wished me all the best, hoping 'it wouldn't be a busman's holiday'. Earlier today, when I told one I the chefs that I was cooking Christmas dinner, he made a similar comment. They're both wrong. Hard weeks and awful home food aside, I made the change to this industry because I love food, and that's a big part of Christmas day. But most importantly, the pleasure gained from cooking and sharing food and time with family, loved ones and friends is something all too rare, and is what I'm looking forward to the most.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, filled with love, happy memories and good times. If good food features too, what could be better?

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