Saturday, 26 December 2009

Beginning to relax

It was around 9.30am this morning, after I'd stretched deeply in bed and let my body sink back once more that The Other Half observed: "You're all relaxed now Christmas Day is over."

Well, it's not quite that simple: I felt relaxed last night, after dinner was finished. And then we'd also decided, given that the living is still knee deep in wrapping paper and a box that's large enough for kittens to be able to jump in and out of, not to shut them in that room, with food and litter tray, for the night. Boudicca has been objecting anyway for the last few nights – objecting at least to an internal door being shut.

They did wonderfully well on the first night in their new home where they could ramble around if they so wished. Both came to bed at various points and licked and nuzzled and kneeded us. And Otto slept for a while on my arm. And none of this really seemed to bother her majesty, who is looking more and more relaxed with each passing day.

Christmas Day – well, Christmas morning – wore them out. Boxes and paper are just perfect for kitten fun. After something like three hours of lunacy, they curled up to sleep it all off. It was a joy to watch them.

St Delia of Norwich had been right – lists (and then more lists – do help. This was probably my most organised and, therefore, easy, Christmas Day catering thus far.

I even bothered to do something I haven't done since the last time I spent Christmas with my parents – showered, blow-dried my hair and dressed in tidy fashion, before breakfasting on thin toast and goose foie gras with truffle.

There is an element of truth to The Other Half's observation. Although he'd forgotten that I've also been getting up fairly early this last week to feed kittens. With their way unblocked, if they were really hungry, they could find Boudi's food in the kitchen.

But yes, it's my big cooking event of the year and it might only be for the two of us, but I like to get it right. And whilst obviously I create the meal with more than half an eye to The Other Half's tastes, he's never set me any targets to achieve – I set those for myself.

The menu was, I'm delighted to report, well balanced. The salad of thinly sliced fennel, red onion and orange was made an hour before eating, and because it wasn't leaves, I dressed it then too. The dressing was supposed to be red wine vinegar, virgin oil, Dijon mustard and honey. However, I'd forgotten to pick up any Dijon, so some made Coleman's had to do. And when I'd gone to reach for the red wine vinegar, it was to find a sediment in it. So I substituted with raspberry wine vinegar. No sacrifice there, methinks. Indeed, the dressing proved zingy and fresh – a success, I thought.

Part two of this culinary epic was roast sirloin of beef. I'd started that off with a quartered onion under the meat (thank you, Nigella) and with plain flour patted into the fat on top (Delia again). A bit of a mare to carve, but lovely meat. It was served with a "confit" of whole shallots and garlic cloves, which had been simmered merrily for an hour in red wine and raspberry wine vinegar (again, the emergency substitution did no harm to the taste). That again was Delia – although research in my copy of Larousse this afternoon, while prepping today's sauce, showed me that it was not a confit: that is specifically a way of preserving meat (hence duck confit, which is stored and preserved in duck fat). But that's not to say that it wasn't gorgeous.

I'd done a few roast potatoes and a few sprouts – sautéed and steamed – and we opened a very decent bottle of red wine, having started with a glass of chilled white Banyuls, brought back from Collioure in September, as an apéritif. I'd managed a little gravy for the meat and, all in all, I was pretty satisfied.

And so to the sweet: the pear tarts baked in 17 minutes and were lovely – moist fruit and perfectly crisp pastry. The stem ginger ice cream – my first ever attempt at ice cream, and without an ice cream maker – was, though I say so myself, excellent (thanks again, Delia). The Other Half has already started hinting about making more ice cream – particularly vanilla, his favourite. Somewhere in the back of mind is an idea that more exotic possibilities exist.

We exchanged gifts. It's The Other Half's half century next month, and after seeing a TV documentary on the subject, I'd booked us a March trip on the Orient Express to Venice, where we'll spend five nights. So I'd piled in to Christmas by buying him books about Venice itself and a DVD about the train. There was a new lens for me, plus photography books.

And then it was the pleasure of flopping in front of the TV. Dr Who proved excellent entertainment (my mother never let us watch sci-fi, so this is a recently acquired taste, thanks initially to re-runs on cable) and then the newest Poirot on ITV, with the wonderful David Suchet as the eponymous Belgian detective, and a really rather chubby Tim Curry as an archeologist and peer of the realm. What happened to the Tim who flounced around in basque and stockings, pouting at the camera in The Rocky Horror Picture Show?

It was, as you might have gathered, a most pleasant day.

But yes – now the rather more serious relaxation can begin.

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