Your crash guide to Christmas

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Christmas is coming and in the five years since Claire and I started this blog we have learned a lot not just about Christmas but life, the universe and everything. Here is some of it, in handy-sized bullet points because at this time of year our brains can’t cope with anything but lists.

Food and drink

  1. Make your gravy in advance – it is one of the most important and stressful bits about Christmas dinner as it is all done at the last minute, so making it a few days ahead takes the pressure off. There is an easy recipe here but leave out the star anise people. It is too much!  If that is too much faff, M&S turkey gravy is supposed to be the best shop-bought on offer.
  2. Likewise make your red cabbage in advance. It freezes really well.
  3. We made our own Clementine vodka this year as presents for friends, but it is also extremely delicious to have neat straight from the freezer. In a glass of course. It takes 10m to make, 3 days to steep and about 3 seconds to down. There is still plenty of time to make some before the 25th. What’s stopping you? 
  4. This very simple fruit loaf lasts for days, is easier to make than a normal Christmas cake and is very good with cheese. 
  5. Hate to boast but although these reindeer fairy cakes are everywhere this year, we first made them 4 years ago. Still as sweet now as they were then.
  6. For the best roast parsnip recipe click here
  7. For two great Brussels sprout recipes, click here.
  8. I love this lower fat mince pie – made with shop-bought filo pastry and shaped like a cracker. Bang!
  9. I always make my own cranberry sauce at Christmas. I don’t know why as the shop bought stuff is fine but watching those little cranberries all pop in the pan is SOOO satisfying and gives me a fleeting feeling of being a domestic goddess.
  10. Christmas breakfast is important – line tummies before day-time drinking, stops children getting cranky) and it is nice to eat something other than the every day. We sometimes have pancakes, but this year we will be making this very easy (all the hard work is done the night before) cinnamon wreath and perhaps some cranberry granola.
  11. Spare the kitchen…. cooking a big dinner on Christmas Eve means the kitchen will need cleaning again before the big day. This year we are taking a tip from Lakeland and doing a BBQ. Yes in mid-winter! It sounds nuts, but barbecuing a butterflied leg of lamb (served simply with some rice and shop-bought babaganoush) will take the heat out of the kitchen and allow the prep for Christmas lunch to take place undisrupted.

Best buys

  1. I have been scouring the glossy magazines for the best food buys (yes, I know, I need to get out more etc). So… Morrisons wins the smoked salmon war for its black pepper version. I have not eaten mine yet (it took a while to track some down some with a shelf life past-Christmas) so can’t say whether it is worth the £3 price but its Stilton (£1.80) is worth every penny x 10.
  2. I always buy a Carluccio’s panettone which I happily eat on my own as no one else in my family likes it (their loss) but Tesco’s is coming up trumps in taste tests this year. My solution? Buy one of each. Gails do by far the most delicious mince pies on the high street. The downside being they are about £1.20 each! Upside being as I can only afford one I won’t get too fat.
  3. Buy more booze than you think you’ll need. You’ll drink it at some point. On your own perhaps, in the downstairs loo after a row with the in-laws. This year I made my first ever trip to Aldi where I stocked up on Toro Loco – a delicious, easy-drinking red for £3.49, their sparkling Cremant Jura at £7.29 and the Venturer Vermentino white at £4.79 – all recommended to me by the excellent wine critic Knackered Mother.

Domestic bliss

  1. Another tip from Lakeland is clean your oven before the big day and change the charcoal filter in your extractor fan above your hob. I didn’t know ours even had one, but I did change it – a 5min job after I bought it on the internet – and it made a massive difference to how smelly the house was.
  2. Talking of smells now we have a dog, two cats and two children (notice the pecking order) I occasionally stick a couple of halved lemons or oranges and some rosemary or bay in to a large boiling pan of water to make the house smell nicer.
  3. Don’t forget to buy boring stuff like dishwasher tablets, washing up liquid and bin bags galore – prosaic though they may be, you can never have enough.
  4. Make sure you have enough glasses, cutlery and crockery to go around on Christmas Day and that you have actually thought where people are going to sit. We have 11 at Christmas lunch so need to borrow chairs and drag an extra table out of the cellar, easy enough on a normal day, not so when you are monitoring the turkey, your alcohol consumption and whether your child has eaten anything other than a selection box all day.
  5. Make sure you know what bowls you are serving what dishes in…. you could go as far to label them the night before. Really.
  6. Ditto serving spoons and gravy jugs.
  7. If you have time and inclination go to the rubbish dump before Christmas to empty your bins in preparation for festive excesses.
  8. Most butchers will sharpen knives for you. Mine are there as we speak so they are turkey-worthy before the 25th.

Child’s play

  1. Every year we make marzipan fruit with our children in the run up to the big day. We used to do it with our mum when we were little and it was (is) one of our Christmas highlights. Messy, but fun.
  2. Or try these very cute home made decorations – made out of salt dough and glitter – although they won’t be seen any time soon at the Conran Shop – they will melt your heart and when your children are older and ignoring you, you can remember when….
  3. Always have a spare present for a child (and grown-up) wrapped under the tree for those unexpected visitors.

And finally: Remember to breathe. Christmas is hard work for the best of us, so don’t panic if something is less than perfect. It is only one day and most shops are open on Boxing Day anyway, so if you have forgotten something it is not the end of the world. And if it is there’s always Clementine vodka. Happy Christmas everyone.

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