Our guide to having a 'Good Christmas' is back by popular demand. Just follow these simple rules and all will be well!
Try to buy a real tree, even if it’s just a small one. I know the needles fall off and you have to wrestle with the vacuum cleaner but they help support the rural economy - a new one is planted for each one harvested - take in carbon dioxide, release oxygen and they smell great!
Avoid cheap champagne. It may seem like good value but it isn’t! It’s made from the last pressings of the juice after all the good stuff's gone – that’s why it doesn’t taste of anything – and is full of that sharp, crab-appley, malic acid that your dentist won’t thank you for. If you have money, post Brexit, splash out on some good stuff. If you don’t, then buy wisely, you get much more bang for your buck from a good quality sparkling wine - and I don’t mean that £6.99 Prosecco that tastes of soap shavings and spring water from the co-op.
I know we bang on about locally sourced, sustainable, organic stuff but that may not be your priority when you're on a budget. It feels good if you can avoid the supermarkets, so just use them for basics - they really don’t need your hard earned cash. If you do shop locally then plan ahead and order your meat from the local butcher as you can guarantee that it comes from a farm rather than a factory. I know most farmers voted ‘Leave’ but forgive them as a mere 50% of our food is actually produced in this country so they still need your support. Picking up your meat and veg from a local business not only puts money in their pockets but you get to bump into your friends and neighbours - even if that fills you with horror.
Buy some handmade cards from impoverished local artists. They will really appreciate it and it helps them recoup some of the cost from the last art fair where people just popped in to check out their homes and possessions. Alternatively, make an effort to make your own labels and cards - you can use the money you save to buy better food and wine.
Don’t serve branded wines with dinner. Dunny Ridge and Dawson’s Creek might be on 'special offer ' but they make poor partners for real food. They lack the tannins and acidity you need and all that residual sugar sweetness just picks a fight with your lovely grub. Take the time to visit your local wine merchant and if you can’t stretch to Claret or Burgundy then be more adventurous. A Pinot Nero from Alto Adige or a Nebbiolo from Valtellina will go just as well with turkey or game and if those tell tale tannins of Bordeaux really float your boat why not try the wines of Bergerac, Buzet or Marmandais instead. They will give you far more satisfaction than a poor vintage from a chateau you’ve never heard of.
Life’s too short to make your own mincemeat unless of course you have nothing else to do, in which case it might keep you gainfully occupied. Buy a good readymade product and jazz it up with some fresh orange zest - but get the pastry right! For those of you who use our recipes – even if you don’t buy our wines - just follow my mum’s mince pie pastry.
Be creative with your presents and try to associate them with the person you are buying them for, after all, you don’t want to get them back next year. Some of our presents, this year, are home made toffees made by our enthusiastic twelve year old. Remember older folks already have most things and are generally happy with some witty company, a glass of something nice and a full tummy, and are suckers for anything made by their grandchildren. If you’re a bit cack handed, and haven’t a creative bone in your body, buy something someone else has made. A good hand milled soap costs about a fiver and smells great. Oh and don’t leave out the family pet as they are the only ones who give you unconditional love all year round.
Don’t neglect the Sherry, Madeira and Port. It's often the only time of year you get to buy some, it's not just for old folk and there’s always a guest who would love some. If you don’t believe me try some white port and tonic in a tall glass as an aperitif or sip a delectable old Amontillado and tipsily listen to the Nine Lessons and Carols on Radio Four.
Don’t get fancy with the food, Christmas is not a time for tagine unless you’re Moroccan. This is your chance to shine and show that your mother’s recipes still stand the test of time. I don’t mean boiling veg into submission for hours, but forget those smears, stacks and foams and remember that jus is just another name for gravy. And get the kids to help out, especially serving or clearing the table, and remind them that placing things near a dishwasher is not the same as putting stuff in it!
Spread the love, a dash of good cheer is what Christmas is all about and remember it’s not all about you. If you know someone in need, and you have plenty to spare, be generous and kind - if only with your time. It worked for Ebenezer Scrooge.
If you feel you’ve had too much to drink, you probably have. Don’t drink and drive - however tempted you may be - keep yourselves, your loved ones and others safe and stay out of the car. In the words of Sgt Phil Esterhaus ‘Lets be careful out there’.