Christmas Present

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When I started this blog six years ago, I had 7 people around my 2010 xmas table: my two sons, the girlfriend of the eldest, my boyfriend, a friend of his, and a friend of mine. Here is the blogpost: https://foodsmoodsmomentsmemories.wordpress.com/2010/12/12/countdown-to-christmas/

I loved rereading that now(even though I see my writing style was a little different, younger somehow? All those ellipses, groan!), calling into memory that night, sitting around my tiny table, in a rented apartment, drinking lots of sparkling wine, dizzyingly in love with a man whom I did not know then would become my husband two years later.

I’ve often written about childhood Christmas memories. The food, the mood, the tinsel and the turkey, the laden tables, the silly hats, the xmas crackers: I grew up very much in the typical Northern hemisphere Western, Christian tradition. Church in the morning when we were at home, but always always a fake pine xmas tree, in a corner in our lounge or a grandparent’s, with gifts underneath. All the tropes, all the trappings which make for memories with wide appeal.

But looking back over the last 6 years, I see that slowly slowly I have started moving away from cooking for xmas in the way my mother and my two grannies did: the women in my life who had the most influence in my domestic development. I haven’t made a turkey in the last 6 years, but I did make a turducken about 4 years ago: painstakingly deboning first a turkey, then a duck, then a chicken: something none of them would have dreamt of doing. I have not cooked beef tongue, a popular choice as the third or fourth meat option for their xmas lunches, but last year when I cooked for only myself and my husband, a whole duck with sichuan spices and caramelised orange: star anise, cardamom, orange water, saffron: ingredients I never saw in my childhood kitchen.

Skimming over this blog it really reads as one long love letter: to food, to family, to friends, and to my husband who, when he was a lover only, encouraged me to write. And I guess with Christmas so close I am bound to feel sentimental when I recall the last six years of cooking and eating, and the people I shared it all with. A lover who is now a husband, a son who is now married and living in far away China, a younger son who has been married and then not, in Cape Town for a year and now back, a step-son who has not spent many xmases here, friends who have moved away, and new people who have become part of our circle. I have gone into menopause: I still can’t quite get used to my softer, older body, and in moments I find myself almost outraged at my midlife-thickened midriff.

Tomorrow evening I will cook for 11 people: two legs of lamb, Persian rice, and my variation of a chopped Israeli salad. But we will start with heaps of latke and sour cream, and smoked salmon and applesauce, a Jewish tradition apparently. I’m not Jewish, but my husband is, as are most of our guests. And it’s Hanukkah. In my oven, cooling slowly, sits a wreath-shaped meringue, shellac-smooth caramel outside and I know, from having made one just recently, slightly chewy inside. I’ll decorate it with whipped cream and blueberries and strawberries and gooseberries, and mint from my garden.

And when we come to the end of the evening I will be pleasantly tipsy from sparkling wine, and sentimental and maybe even a little sad at how time just spools on and out, inexorably towards some unknown place and time for all of us.

The future is always uncertain I guess, but with 2016 being bemoaned as a terrible terrible year for South Africa and the world, I am acutely aware of how precious this all is: right here in the present. To have what so many millions don’t.

And even though I increasingly struggle with the awareness of privilege, I also can acknowledge: at the moment all is well, at the moment I feel lucky to have what I have, materially and all these many memories. And to be able to cook for loved ones, to be able to laugh and maybe even cry together. A precious gift, this Christmas present.