Christmas in July
I don’t want to be a whinging Pom, but the the thing that took the longest to get used to when I moved from Manchester to Sydney was celebrating Christmas in the sun. Everything I associate with Christmas revolves around it being cold and dark. Christmas is about late night shopping in the dark streets decorated with Christmas lights; it’s about warming up by the fire (or radiator if we’re being realistic) when you come in from the cold; curling up in front of the TV with the Christmas specials; windows steamed up because of the cold outside; a hearty dinner to keep you warm; boxing day leftovers to eat in front of the fire/radiator after a walk in the cold, that seemed like a good idea at the time; oh and celebrating with family, I can’t forget the family. I celebrated 27 Christmas’ this way and it takes a lot to change a habit like that.
So why am I talking about Christmas in July? Christmas in July is a bit of an ex-pat tradition in the Southern Hemisphere where the seasons are turned on their head. I know no-one believes me, but it does get cold in Sydney. Don’t be fooled when you check the BBC world weather and it says 19C with a blazing orange sun. The important part to note are the lows 0f 4C, which lower the temperature of single brick, uninsulated houses to temperatures that should never be experienced inside a house. It does get to at least 16c most days, but only for a couple of hours in the middle of the day when I am usually freezing my butt off in an air-conditioned office. So to try and make the best of a bad (ish) situation it seems like a good idea to have a big Christmas roast because this is something you certainly don’t get to cook in December.
Bring in the first unidentified European dish. I can’t say British for this one as the guests were greeted with a glass of mulled wine which fits better at a German Christmas market; but it is something that the Brits have embraced and is certainly something to be enjoyed on a winters day. Not everyone had heard of it, but once it was described as a ‘warm Sangria’ all were willing to try and most came back for more, so much so that we ran out.
So it’s mid-July and all our Aussie friends pile over to ours for a traditional Christmas Roast. Christmas in the Midgley house always starts with picky bits, so I made a plate of canapés to get us going. These are firm favourites in the Midgley house, that have been wheeled out more times than I care to remember: mini Yorkshire puddings with roast beef and horseradish cream; hot smoked salmon and potato lettuce cups; mini herb omelettes rolled with ricotta Parmesan and herbs. I have to get the Yorkies in there somewhere, because there is just no room in the oven for Yorkshire pudding and Christmas Dinner.
For the main course it is pork. I know, not traditionally for Christmas but I didn’t get my act together in time for turkey or ham. Graham has been looking forward to this for twelve months, not for the turkey but for the sausage wrapped in bacon and the bread sauce to dip them in, so despite not having the turkey we did have all the trimmings. This was the next big question from the Aussies, “What on earth is bread sauce?” Well it’s exactly what it says, a sauce made of bread. You bring some milk to the boil and flavour it with onion, cloves, nutmeg and bay leaf, then you strain and mix the breadcrumbs into the milk, season and then add some butter and cream until you reach your desired consistency – not too sloppy but not too thick. Admittedly it does taste better with turkey, and I did have to have some apple sauce for the pork, but Graham, I have to confess after 11 years I am now quite partial to a little sausage (homemade of course) wrapped in prosciutto (I can’t get good streaky bacon here and my homemade bacon doesn’t wrap very well) dipped in bread sauce.
When I say all the trimmings, we really did have it all. There was also stuffing balls (as there was no turkey to stuff), Brussels sprouts, braised red cabbage and last but not least we must not forget the roast potatoes. The roasties are my favourite part of the roast, but because they are my favourite we don’t have to wait for a special occasion to eat them. I try and get a roast potato fix at least once a week during winter, and I make sure I have a constant supply of duck fat to keep me going. The roast potatoes are so important, (and the one thing I get asked about over and over again) that I am going to dedicate a whole post to the perfect roast potato.
It has taken a few years, but I think we have made a move from Poms to almost true blue Aussies and we have started to carve out the traditions of the Midgley Christmas. It now means a barbecue around the pool in December and a Christmas in July party in July; we have the best of both worlds, how did I ever dare moan?!
EDIT: I was so keen to get this post up before the end of July that I forgot to talk about the awesome desserts. We really didn’t need dessert after my ridiculous over catering, but my wonderful friends dutifully provided sticky date pudding and apple tart tatin because they know desserts are not my strong point.And despite the fact we were all ridiculously full we all ate a portion of each