I must confess here that I’m one of those bah humbug types who is probably going to be visited by Jacob Marley in chains one of these day. Christmas to me is mega-fuss, greedy children (mine mainly), overwrought days of forced shopping, and too much of everything. Having said that, I’m inclined to do things like make my own pickles and sourdough bread, and love the idea of decorating a tree with home made decorations, together with my three generous singing children (same ones as above). Tradition and festivity, I love. Chaos, fuss and overspending, I don’t. Call me inconsistent. I won’t deny it. I get the feeling that Nigella Lawson is the same.
Though her latest book is big, beautiful, and expensive, it’s also one of those wonderful heirlooms that you could keep and refer to year after year. Like all of Nigella’s books, it’s as lovely to read as it is to work from. She is one of the most literary of all chefs (she once judged the Booker Prize), and it is certainly possible to just sit down and read this through as if it were a lighthearted, Christmassy novel. Each recipe is full of reminiscences, quirky and well written prose, and a kind of accessibility that makes you feel like she’s whispering in your ear:
After a pomegranate, the lychee feels the most seasonally celebratory of fruits, and it didn’t seem fair to leave it out of the Christmas canon, just because of its unfestive pallor. Plus, I stumbled across the most beautiful bottle, in the form of a French crème de lychee…that begged to bought [sic]. I couldn’t resist, and I love this lychee martini it was born to make. (5)
This book is really a complete compendium on how to enjoy Christmas, and for those who tend to get jaded, like me, it should be brought out in mid November each year to set the tone for the season and get you in the mood. The book begins with Christmassy cocktails, canapés and how to cater for lots of people without getting crazy (the later applies throughout the book – Nigella is a practical goddess), and moves through soups, salads, and sauces to suppers, big main dinners, sweet stuff and baking, edible presents, a full scale brunch menu, hot drinks, and two serious cures for overindulgence (as you might expect, they aren’t pristine – “I will never be a nil by mouth kind of person”). All of the recipes include make ahead and freeze ahead tips. If you’re really organised, you could have all the catering done by end November, and spend the rest of the silly season drinking Nigella's cocktails. A day or two ahead is about all I can manage, and Nigella caters for all types, including the last minute cook.