I’m sure most people reading this have experienced one of those days when things just don’t go right. Well it galls me to admit this, but I had an entire Christmas like that.
It started off fairly innocuously with my first faux pas (Number One) when I realised a few days before Christmas that I hadn’t actually bought any presents for one of my ‘kids’. I had sent out an email to all relevant parties in good time before Christmas recommending that in view of the (sad) financial status of the majority of players, the purchase of presents this year should be kept to an absolute minimum. However that did not mean that one person should not get anything at all from his mother.
We have always been keen on getting surprises, but I figured no-presents wasn’t the sort of surprise Leon would be too happy about, so I hastened to purchase something.
I had organised a gammon and a big chicken for Christmas day. We don’t do turkey as apart from the fact that we don’t much care for the darker meat, we’d probably find ourselves eating it for a fortnight afterwards. I finished off my main grocery shop on the Friday in order to avoid the last minute rush of Saturday.
On Christmas eve afternoon the second omission reared its ugly head. As everyone knows, it is essential to have Brussels sprouts as part of the Christmas feast. And before you jump to conclusions, No, I hadn’t forgotten to buy them. We do know that lots of people do not like Brussels sprouts, but I had a nice recipe which made them more interesting for the less enthusiastic sprout eater. They would be par-boiled then baked with fresh cream, blue cheese and walnuts. Number Two. I had forgotten to buy the blue cheese.
There being no Christmas eve shopping here in Spain on the Sunday, I was contemplating leaving out a slab of cheddar overnight in the hopes that it might go mouldy when Ziggy, in a rare fit of brilliance, said “Why don’t you try the BP Service Station shop, they sell all sorts of random things?”.
So when Leon tootled off in my Kangoo to collect Brad, Donė and Choco the dog who live ten minutes away, he called at the BP shop. And sure as cheese is blue, this saved the day.
They had been invited to join us for some langoustines which Ziggy was cooking up. Well not the dog. I mean he was invited, but not to eat langoustines; that would be ridiculous.
As Ziggy was about to cook them someone asked what I was serving with them. What? Number Three! It had never occurred to me that they needed something “with them”. My thought (I won’t say plan, because that is not a word I am very familiar with) was that we would just place this huge platter of enormous prawns in the centre of the table and “tuck in”.
When I’d told my guests that we were having these on Christmas eve it never occurred to me that they would think this was a full on meal. I didn’t even have the makings of a bloody salad (apart from a head of lettuce and small avocado pear I planned to use with a starter on Christmas day).
The best I could do was to throw two small half-baked French bread sticks in the oven and slice them up. This was adequate and the langoustines were delicious.
Christmas day arrived and I’m delighted to report that this year I had remembered to bake the traditional shortbread the previous week and that it was actually my best batch ever. So we spent a leisurely couple of hours eating shortbread and unwrapping presents. What happened to the “minimum presents” I had stipulated?
I had suggested that we might have our ‘Christmas dinner’ at about 7pm but given that I only put the bird in the oven at about five o’clock that clearly wasn’t going to happen, perhaps nearer to eight. When the chicken was ready it had to sit down and rest for half an hour on Brad’s instructions (he’d been watching Jamie Oliver on tv) so I only put the potatoes in to roast when that came out. The plan intention had been to have a prawn cocktail starter but as time drew close I figured that by the time we’d eaten that and ‘let it go down’ the bloody chicken would be stone cold, so suggested that we perhaps have it as a later instead of a starter.
This was agreed upon wholeheartedly and after much farting around with sliced green beans, broccoli and the infamous brussels sprouts in blue cheese sauce and Brad had made the gravy, we eventually sat down to our main Christmas repast at nine o’clock! The good news is that the chicken was NOT cold and everyone enjoyed their meal. The bad news Number Four is that I had forgotten to buy Christmas Crackers so there were no flying keyrings /thimbles/puzzles, no wearing of silly hats nor reading pathetic cracker jokes.
We waited for another hour or so before having dessert which, rather than Christmas pudding which not everyone enjoys, consisted of homemade baklava. I figured this was quite fitting as it is a Greek pastry and our surname is Greek (even though we’re not!).
During the course of the day we’d played assorted board games of varying levels of interest which, to my horror, included Monopoly which Vicki had brought with her. We played until all the properties had been purchased then tallied up our gains before the game became tedious. My favourite Christmas only game has to be the new one I found last year, Pass the Parcel with a difference. It is played with pears pairs. A pair of dice and a pair of oven gloves.
In case you’ve not yet come across this you really must try it, it’s hilarious. A multi-wrapped gift of your choice is to be opened wearing oven gloves. But instead of unwrapping when music stops, as in the kiddies’ game, a pair of dice is thrown and when a double shows up the unwrapper must stop IMMEDIATELY and pass the oven gloves to the next in line. In the meantime the pair of dice is being passed around the table and tossed by each other player in turn until a double is thrown again and the unwrapper changes. Sometimes you barely have time to get the gloves on before someone chucks a double and you have to pass them on to the next player. I think Leon had four abortive turns before he even got to touch the parcel, never mind remove a layer of paper.
By the end of all this frivolity no-one was up for the prawn cocktail so we decided to all get together again on Boxing Day and have it for lunch. Well that was the plan but courtesy Vicki we got stuck into baked camembert and pickles first so it got delayed until dinner time.
I had already thawed out one pack of peeled prawns but realising that it would be a bit meagre for a complete lunch I had nipped into town to Mercadona (our main supermarket) and bought another pack. Yes, they were open on Boxing Day, which the Spanish don’t recognise as a holiday. Suitably thawed I threw them all into a bowl and smothered them with some special mayonnaise I’d made before sharing them out evenly over shredded lettuce and suitable accoutrements.
Brad was the first to take a bite.
“Mother, did you cook these?” he politely asked.
Number Five. “Er, no. I assumed they were already cooked,” I replied.
“Well they’re not. And while I enjoy sushi as much as the next man, I’d rather not eat raw prawn salad. But for ****s sake, mother, they don’t even look cooked!”
He was right of course.
I couldn’t believe I’d done that, I really couldn’t. What a bloody dope!
Well that’s one way to get your name in the headlines “Author kills entire family by feeding them uncooked prawns at Christmas”.
Anyway someone said “Don’t worry, it can be salvaged, just take the prawns off the lettuce, rinse them under the tap then cook ‘em.”
I’d used up about all the lettuce the first time so didn’t have much choice in the matter. I carefully scooped the prawns off and into a colander and tossed them thoroughly under the cold water tap. Once completely drained I was able to cook them quickly in some butter. Of course I then had to wait a while for them to cool down before piling them back onto the lettuce. There’s nothing worse than warm lettuce. (Well there probably is but let’s not get pedantic.)
I returned all the plates to my patiently waiting diners and as they were passed around the table was asked,
“Did you use up all the mayo on the first batch as well then?”
No I hadn’t. Number Six. I had simply forgotten to put it on.
So the plates all got returned again to the kitchen where I tried to toss the prawns in the evenly distributed remaining half-jar of my delicious homemade mayonnaise without disturbing the lettuce. It wasn’t easy.
At last we were able to eat. It’s a pity we didn’t have more crusty bread to accompany them but much of it had been consumed with the cheese earlier. Number Seven?
Fortunately everyone eventually really enjoyed their meal and the evening advanced to another session of fun and games, though thankfully not Monopoly this time.
Before going to bed I actually remembered to load and switch on the dishwasher. When Ziggy got up in the morning he started to unload it. He hadn’t got far when I walked into the kitchen.
“I found this in the bottom shelf when I opened up,” he said, handing me a virgin dishwasher tablet. WTF? I know that when the machine has finished washing is flips open the tablet container. I inspected the item curiously then lifted the boxful of them out of the cupboard. Inside were loads more tablets just like it, all wrapped in cellophane. Double WTF. All dishwasher tablets I had bought previously came wrapped in plastic, which should be left on as it melted away when being used. Number Eight. It would seem not to be the case with this brand.
“I thought it hadn’t done a very good job of washing the plates,” Ziggy said as he began returning the dishes to the machine. The white, blue and red tablet was reinserted in its receptacle in the door, sans cellophane!
So that was our Christmas. Let us just say that it was not the most successful I have ever conducted unless you allow the amount of laughter it generated to override the stuff-ups.
What? What about the bamboo poles and lollypop sticks? Oh yes, I forgot about those.
After Christmas I was returning home after a stock-up session at Mercadona and noticed to my disgust that a recent batch of extremely strong winds had managed to dislodge the shade-cloth fastened to the wire fence bordering our garden.
Something a little sturdier than twists of wire was obviously needed to prevent this from happening again. Ziggy found some mangy bamboo poles on our plot (of land which contains our fruit trees and Ziggy’s attempts at cabbages and potatoes) so Leon and I set about a repair. There weren’t enough bamboo canes so we used them in what we considered to be the most effective way and for the rest – well wire twists were reinforced with lollypop sticks. Simple as a pimple.
And, No, I didn’t eat all the lollypops, Ziggy did! (I prefer my ice-cream in a bowl.)
And that pretty much rounded off 2017. It was not too bad a year, all things considered.