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In a week it will be Xmas eve: that is the day that I have chosen this year to celebrate. At last year’s xmas lunch there were two little girls at my table, and their mother who had married my younger son earlier that year, for, as it turned out, her ticket out of the UK. Things have gone spectacularly wrong, and in August this year both her and her daughters upped and left, leaving  me and my son with some sadness for the loss of the twin girls who had crept into all our hearts. Last year this time I was walking around in stores, at a loss about gifts for little girls whom I overnight had become a grandmother figure for, a role which I just started to get used to when the relationship fell apart. So no little girls around my table this year. But a new daughter in law: my older son got married in October this year: a well thought through and happy decision. Her parents are out here from France, and they too will be around my table. And maybe her brother: a whole new family.

We’ve also invited a handful of mostly Jewish friends: my husband is Jewish by birth but not religion. So in a way its almost apt that this year I have chosen to not have any of the usual traditional xmas food and trimmings, like the turducken which I made to great accolades last year. I will make a middle eastern inspired meal. As I said to a friend the other day: this has been my year of sumac. Since I discovered a reliable source of this heavenly stuff, I have been using it in everything this past year. Coupled with the fact that I got “Jerusalem”, the cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi for Xmas last year, it was almost inevitable that my thoughts about a xmas eve menu would lean towards these flavours. I even made up a jar of Za’atar, and a recipe or two with that as an ingredient, as a gift to my stepson’s mother, sending it with him as he left to spend his holidays in the Eastern Cape.

I am looking for a recipe for green gazpacho with deeply fragrant middle eastern flavours, which is clear rather than frothy with pulp: I had the best variation on that theme at Albizia, a quirky but wonderful restaurant towards Cullinan. I am trying to remember the texture and ingredients: I may be able to create one of my own to serve icy cold to guests as a starter course. Of course there will be a chopped salad: very plain, just tomatoes and cucumber chopped together, with a lemony, garlicky dressing. Another recent discovery is an incredibly flavourful red cabbage salad, which definitely will b on the menu. The all-red ingredients include radish, raw beetroot, red spring onion, cranberries, and thin strips of red pepper. I will also add pomegranate arils. Dressed with a vinaigrette with red wine vinegar, garlic and olive oil and pomegranate extract, with za’atar generously sprinkled on as well as toasted pine nuts and pumpkin seeds, it makes for a deeply satisfying salad, which keeps for days in the fridge.

I am not completely sure about the meat dish: either a leg of lamb(or two) roasted in schwarma spice mix, or a chicken or three with stuffing which will include feta and sumac and pine nuts. Side dishes may be couscous, and roasted butternut with a tahini dressing. One of the  Jewish guests was excited to be invited to a Xmas celebration: her first. I warned that I would not be doing a traditional xmas meal. At the time I had not decided on the menu, so I am amused when I imagine her reaction to thoroughly familiar cuisine. She travels to Jerusalem often. I hope she is not disappointed!

I also hope for a hot summer’s night, so that the guest can wander out into the garden and see the (solar powered)fairy lights strung around three tree trunks. My concession to xmas this year is the string of clear fairy lights loosely draped on the dining room server in amongst clear glass and crystal decanters. I set those up this past weekend. I had a moment of nostalgia for my childhood xmases, where there would always be a decorated xmas tree and in my gran’s house, lots and lots of bell and pine tree and ball shaped hanging paper decorations, in green and red and gold. You know, those which fold out and around and concertina out to form a three dimensional whispery paper design:pompom-like. Just recently I saw those again in a shop, but an updated design: all white and in printed paper and not half as kitsch as the ones I grew up with. Not that I thought that as a child. I did not even know the concept then.

So, a week of work left for me. Then probably a crazy-busy weekend of food shopping, and lots of activity in the morning in my kitchen next Tuesday. I also have vague notions of making my guests each a little gift from the kitchen before then, but that will depend on how much energy I have left after closing my rooms door behind me for the last time this year.

We are not doing anything, nor going anywhere on Xmas day itself. I imagine that we will spend the day having leftovers, and just relaxing together after a very social evening. Exactly how I like to spend a day. Even Xmas day..probably especially on a xmas day after a lot of eating and merrymaking the night before.

Some pics: fairy lights on my dining room server:

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