From Will’s Blog on our tradition of Xmas Crackers at the table.
via Lunedi Lunacy
So it has been 63 Christmases for me, in the last 42 years Will and I celebrated Christmas in many different countries and Capitals. Today at lunch with friends in our home here in Charlottetown, looking about the wonderful table and the good conversation I thought to myself how fortunate I am. Will prepared yet again an incredible meal, so much hard work and attention to details, everything was perfect. All our Christmas or celebrations have always a special something, it’s an event thanks to him.
But more to the point, what crossed my mind was the fact that we had one more beautiful Christmas ”en famille” and I am a lucky guy in many ways and appreciated today this special moment like so many others in our years together. Today was our third Christmas here in PEI and despite moment of wondering why we were here, we are now established and have a network of friends. Appreciate what you have and think that so many do not have as much. Appreciate your life partner and how that person enriches your life in so many ways and today is a day to reflect on this while the city is quiet.
Christmas at home in Charlottetown 2019.
In our Household I do all the shopping, Mr Will does most of the cooking and baking. He gives me the lists of ingredients, some rare and obscure even Gourmet magazine has not thought of it.
This means that on our small island sometimes shopping for ingredients can be difficult and challenging. Since 2010 things have improved a lot and though the native diet is not sophisticated it is improving with the constant flow of Canadians arriving here to settle and introducing a more cosmopolitan gourmet cuisine.
This month I was able to persuade the manager of our grocery store (it’s a national chain) that he should import veal since I knew that out of province stores had it. Next comes spices. Today Chef Will suddenly announced that in a burst of inspiration he was thinking of a new recipe and he needed Star anise and Cardamon seeds. These are two spices common everywhere in Canada except here in PEI land of potatoes.
Cardamon is a wonderful and versatile spice, I remember in the Middle East how it finds its way into coffee making and gives the most wonderful flavour. I finally found both spices at the Bulk Barn, though when I asked the clerk about it, he had no idea what I was talking about. This happens a lot here, radicchio is confused with red cabbage, NOT the same thing, but hey I am not complaining at the check out I pay for cabbage instead of radicchio a difference of $3.00 in price.
Last week I was looking for Juniper Berries, commonly used to make gin. Given that PEI has a big gin industry and produces its own 50 Proof Island Gin you would think that Juniper berries is a common staple, NOT so, it is not. Luckily for us a friend had some on hand but she had bought them off Island. Chef Will needed them to make Potted Pork with Juniper berries. I helpfully suggested that we use Holly berries nice bright and red instead, festive looking. I was told they are poisonous and would kill off our guests, that would be most inconvenient I presume.
Everything is closed solid as of 24, 25 and 26 December and same for 31 Dec and 1 Jan. it will be very quiet and am happy for it.
Here are some photos of heirlooms.
From Fortunoff on 5th Ave. NYC, a gift from my little sister in 1983 when I joined the Foreign Service. It has travelled with me all around the world.
Press glass punch bowl c. 1926, a wedding gift of Will’s parents. It is heavy and festive looking. Will be used for a red wine punch tomorrow for our Christmas Eve party.
Wood Nutcracker, hand painted made in the GDR (East Germany) 1982. I got him in Ottawa at a wonderful German Deli, now closed, back in those days the shop owners would import the most beautiful traditional German Christmas ornaments and he was in the window.
He travelled quite a bit with us all around the world and always appear at Christmas time. It is difficult today to find such nice wood sculpted Nutcrackers.
Austrian Tin hand painted Christmas tree and old St-Nick on his horse. We found this in Salzburg while attending the Music Festival in May each year. We use to take the train in Rome and travel up to Austria via the Brenner pass to Innsbruck and then Salzburg. There is a shop in a covered alley with all manner of traditional Tin figurines, it is really an art form made by the Wilhelm Schweizer co. in Diessen, Germany.
Our home terrace in Rome on Via dei Villini at Christmas time in 2009. We had lots of plants and this area was in a big park with lots of Maritime pines all around.
Christmas 2008 Rome, at home on Via dei Villini. Our tree then was 8 feet tall since the ceilings were taller.
Salzburg in Winter during the Mozart week with the river Salzach and the Archbishop’s castle on the hill, in 2010. It is a very small town and an easy walk.
In the 1980’s the expression my bucket list started to appear in conversations when people spoke of things they wanted to do or visit. Then silly lists started to appear of the 10 things you had to see or do before you died. The expression the bucket list is now part of general conversations and it seems most people expects that you have a bucket list. I don’t!
Always being the contrarian, I don’t have one. I do not see why you need to do or see this or that during a life time, I just don’t get it. Until the 1970’s travelling far and wide was not common, until the age of mass tourism and cheap destinations, few travelled. Nowadays it seems everyone travels and have a bucket list, though travelling now is not has cheap as it was once when you could visit a country on $10. per day, remember those travel guide books, impossible now.
I can say that I spent my life travelling and living abroad so travelling some more now is not appealing, unless it is to a favourite city where I know where to go and who to see, like Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, London, Berlin, Palermo. What I have not seen in the world is no big deal and I do not need to go. There are places I really do not want to go back to, I did not enjoy them when I was there, example China. Some place have changed so much I don’t think I would enjoy them today as it would clash with my memories of them, example Egypt.
Travelling at Holiday time is also something I do not want to do, it seems that stories of things that went wrong and exhausting tales of family gatherings and all manner of unpleasantness abound. As someone said, you do not choose your relatives it is an accident of birth. Staying in town and with friends is our tradition. A nice meal at home with people we enjoy and same for New Year’s Eve, quiet and pleasant.
Now we still don’t have any snow maybe a sprinkle would be nice, not too much, just like icing on the cake.
And because this is the Season, my favourite Christmas Hymn heard in Roman Catholic Churches at Midnight Mass in French Canada. It was de rigueur as part of the religious service then. Ça bergers, assemblons-nous!
Shopping street in Rome, Via dei Condotti on the left is BULGARI at no.10 and just a few steps further you arrive at Piazza di Spagna and the famous steps, all decorated for Christmas.
We were thinking hey why don’t we hop on the flight from Charlottetown PEI to Christmas Island, 747 service on PEI International Air, LOL! Try getting off PEI in Winter or Summer or … by Air. Of course you have to know that this Christmas Island is in Asia and part of Australia some 2600km from Perth. A little History, Captain William Mynors of the British East India Company ship, the Royal Mary, gave the island its name because they arrived on Christmas Day, 25 December 1643.
A bit far to go for Christmas but the thought is fun and exotic. Just a thought! Here is Ella to sing about Christmas on Christmas Island, a lovely song.
Many decades ago I inherited a set of dishes which have been in my family (maternal side) for 80 years. This dinner ware was always used for family occasions like Christmas, Easter, special dinners etc. It belonged to the second wife of my maternal grandfather. My grandfather became a widower in the late 1930’s and had one son and five daughters. They all lived in a grand house on rue Filiatrault in Ville Saint-Laurent, all that remained of a fortune which disappeared in the 1930’s through mismanagement and the crash of 1929.
The story about this dinnerware and its provenance is interesting. My grandfather born in 1904 whose family had been considered very wealthy and he had attended private schools including the college Notre Dame on Queen Mary Road and had his own car in 1920 which was a luxury, in the imagination of the neighbours the family could not be considered less despite a reverse of fortune. His second wife also came from a former prominent family the LeCavalier who were social rivals in this small town, now a neighbourhood of Montreal.
When my grandfather remarried he was now working as a fireman and police officer he would become later head of the police for Ville Saint-Laurent. Having little money and for social reasons could not use what had belonged to his first wife, he had to make a show of what his new second wife brought with her, dowry and wedding gifts etc.
I remember many childhood Christmases in that house on rue Filiatrault and the trophy Moose head on the left side of the front door. It was a very nice place with formal rooms with columns and beautiful wood floors and a small study at the front were my grandfather read and met with his visitors, in later years it would become the TV room but he watched very few programs, there only was 2 French language channels then in black and white. He did watch the weekly television serials produced by Radio-Canada which are today classics of early television. But he listened to a lot of radio, news and other programming including everyday the agricultural news, though he was not living on a farm, many other relatives had farms including his own father who had a big tobacco farm just North of Montreal. Agriculture and land ownership in French Canada was a big status symbol.
So this dinner ware was cobbled together one piece at a time from powdered clothes detergent, I forget which brand but it seems it was Tide. The marketing ploy was to get women who had families and lots of clothes to wash to buy the big boxes of detergent and inside was a piece of dinner ware, you just collected them. This way his second wife, whom we always called Aunt and never grandmother because that would have been inappropriate to the memory of my maternal grandmother who had died in her early thirties of heart failure due to bearing far too many children.
The dishes were made in England by a Company called Empire, later bought by Staffordshire, the pattern is called York Maroon, not hand painted, it was mass produced. Of the original set of 12 dinner place settings only 8 survive to this day. Through the years many pieces were broken or chipped but considering its age it is amazing it survived at all. The pattern is discontinued but what is still available is worth about $15 for a dinner plate or luncheon plate as it is called, or $9. for a small bowl or $35 dollars for a sugar bowl or serving dish.
When my mother told me that she had this dinner service for me, initially I did not want it, I could not really remember it and wondered what would I do with it. We did have at the time 8 other dinner service. I am glad I have it now and it is a good souvenir of all those Christmas turkey luncheons with peas and mash potatoes, the turkey was always very good, the desserts and the Hershey Kiss chocolates a treat once a year, not allowed the rest of the year, Tante Fernande was the cook. Memories of my childhood and all my aunts and cousins on those times together and all the little traditions we had to observed, the singing of traditional Christmas songs and the Christmas Family benediction by my grandfather as the patriarch.
The last Christmas was 1968, my grandfather died in 1969 and after that the tradition simply fell apart. We still went to my father’s side of the Family for New Year’s but it was a different affair with none of the homey touches. In the 1970’s my family moved a lot and our Christmases tended to be in hotels with trees prepared by the hotel engineer and food from the hotel kitchen.
This year we will probably use Tante Fernande’s dinner service. We are having Bisque de Homard to start made from scratch, Tourtière which is a combination of veal, beef and pork and turkey with vegetables and of course Will’s Plum Pudding, the recipe by Nigel Slater flamed in Brandy. We had a taste test the other night with a small pudding he made, OMG is it ever good.
I hope you all enjoy your Holiday Season!
Will and I have put a lot of effort in having a wonderful tree each year. We carefully collected ornaments from all the place we lived around the World, it is all very personal and full of memories. As we decorate we think of friends gone long ago and those still with us to this day.
Will has always like doing something special at Christmas and he puts an awful lot of effort in preparation and our yearly traditions. This year it is all the baking from Christmas pudding to the many little special treats prepared with care. Then the table for Christmas day with our Christmas good quality crackers, special little bags for each luncheon guest full of imported chocolates and sweets. We have our formula and we follow it all those many years. And one special tradition is to invite people who are on their own on that day for lunch at home with us.
Will we have a White Christmas, that is anyones guess, today 14 December it is pouring rain with high winds and tomorrow it will be 12 C. The Winters on the Atlantic are very different from central Canada, Ontario and Quebec. I do prefer a mild Winter more in keeping with Northern European climes.
So here are some pictures of our tree and goings on at our house in preparation for the Holiday Season.
Our little Nora, who is back from the groomers and is ready for the Holidays. She is now 11 yrs old but still feisty. Typical wire hair Dachshund.
This is a neighbours house, it is quite large and occupies a large lot, C. 1830. Typical Island style, Prussian blue in colour, candles in the windows for Christmas.
Our 2019, Xmas tree, all decorated with its 42 year old Star on top. Who knew that a gold aluminium star would last so long.
This year I did the honours of shining the silver balls for the tree.
I also cleaned those Silver Floral Ornaments made by Towle.
This Monday we had another Birthday party for Will this time with a few friends across the Street at the Water Prince, we had Malpeque Oysters, Lobster and Halibut one of my favourite fish. Will had coconut cream pie made on the premises, it is so good. A friend who is a baritone and actor came in to sing Happy Birthday to the boy who was surprised. It was a fun afternoon.
Well we are getting ready for the Holidays, Will has been cooking up a storm, muffins, cookies, Christmas Puddings 2 big and 2 small, a very rich recipe with lots of Brandy. He also made bread (no machine) by hand, mince meat pies (45) small ones. Today it was Tourtière or French Canadian Meat pie, something English Canadians find exotic and cannot make on their own, one of those strange Canadian Factoids. The Tourtière is no longer made with the Tourte Bird which is extinct since 1914. It is a mixture of veal, pork and beef, very nice and the smell in the kitchen screams Christmas Season. This meat pie should not be confused with the Acadian Meat pie which is a very different recipe and preparation, made of shredded beef and mash potatoes. The Acadians live in the Maritimes in Canada and are a distinct French speaking group from other French Canadians in Canada. We already have a year old Fruit Cake soaking in Brandy which is a traditional gift from our Friend John in Ottawa. Every year for the last 38 years no matter where we might be in the World, he makes one for us and sends it to us. It is truly a marvel unlike any other Fruit cake I know of.
Our one and only Pointsettia which is a mixture of pink, red and yellow, it stands 2 feet across.
We are going to make Amuse gueule for our Xmas Eve Party, note that I use the old French culinary expression Amuse gueule and NOT Amuse bouche which is so common today amongst the prissy class. The word gueule is an old French word and refers to the mouth of the lion or wolf, meaning that the food in small bites is so good you devour it. The new expression means nothing to me and is frankly silly, a bit like saying; Oh I will have one but should not because I’m on a diet. Well then honey let me show you the door.
I am looking for a good Stilton Cheese and I may have found one today. No Stilton is not like other blue cheese. Stilton is an English cheese, produced in two varieties: Blue, which has had Penicillium roqueforti added to generate a characteristic smell and taste and White. I want the Blue. Which I will put into a light pastry and served hot. Will also wants to make other little bouchées for our guests. We will also have sweets like the mince meat mini tarts. We make all of this from scratch which means that I go out with long lists of ingredients.
Cheese star crackers made with very old Cheddar for that extra sharp taste, you cannot eat only one.
Mince Meat tarts, first make the mince meat and store in jars and then the pastry and assemble. Again very nice to have with a drink or coffee.
Today I also went to the dentist for a cleaning and well I was told I have beautiful teeth, again the Colgate poster kid, what can I say… Afterwards came home and polished the famous 30 Sterling Silver Christmas balls and the 10 Towle Sterling Silver Floral Ornaments, so tomorrow we can decorate the tree. We have Delft ornaments this year to add after our trip to The Netherlands. Photos coming.
Sterling Silver ornaments all hand polished each year. Neiman Marcus has them each year.
We have our menu planned for Lunch on Christmas day, we will be 6 people. As for New Year’s Eve I really don’t know at this time, I prefer to either stay at home or maybe we will go to the Club for a drink. Then for January 1, 2020, Levée Day in PEI, I am wondering if I will go either to volunteer at Government House or to the Club. Not sure what to do. In either case you greet hundreds of people in 2 hours, a little exhausting.
So it is all coming together. Not to forget there is also Hanukkah on 22 December, in fact every year at Christmas lunch we give our guests some chocolate geld which come in the form of Canadian $1 and $2 dollar coins.
This is one of 2 videos on YouTube by Delia who is an icon of British Cooking, she is now Dame Delia. All her recipes are great and easy to follow and so much fun. Even if you do not do any of these recipes, just watching puts you into the Christmas mood.
I have my own little chef at home for Christmas, Chef Will and for all these years we have always had wonderful Holiday meals thanks to him.
Here are some photos of Will working at making our Christmas Plum Pudding. I do all the shopping so Will gives me a long list and often while shopping I will get an iPhone message asking that I buy this or that ingredient he needs.
At the beginning this mix of bread and self-rising flour and eggs will be added to and blended with all the fruits.
All the various fruits are mixed in and soaking in Brandy is added and must be stirred every 20 min. so the Brandy mixes in nicely with all those fruits. Please see the recipe published yesterday for all the details.
The Suet, which you get at your local butcher and is an essential ingredient to making Plum Pudding.
These are Jars of stem ginger in syrup another ingredient of the Plum Pudding. The raw ginger has to be peeled first and cut up.
The plum Pudding in its dish and must now be steamed for 3.5 hours, this was done on 23 NOV. and will be served on Christmas Day and flamed with a good quality Brandy. Will made 2 large ones and 2 small ones. I like plum pudding the next day cold for breakfast.
For those of you like my friend Dr Spo in Phoenix who wonder if Christmas is near, well after Thanksgiving back on the first Monday in October, we all know there is Halloween but heck it’s time to plan and set dates and menus. Just this past weekend we went to two cocktail parties and two dinner parties. We have already planned our Christmas Eve and Day, menus set etc… For New Year’s Eve 2020 things are in motion and should be well organized fairly soon.
Today Will and I were looking at Nigel Slater’s recipe for Plum Pudding. He is a British Chef and we love his recipes. He writes for the Guardian newspaper in London. So off to the Bulk Barn to buy all the fruits needed for the Plum ”Christmas” Pudding. Buying these ingredients, it really put me into the mood. Next Sunday 24 November is stir up Sunday so time to start the process.
For this recipe you will need two 1.5 litre(2½ pint) plastic pudding basins with lids.
Soak the sultanas, raisins, currants, figs, peel, apricots and cherries in the brandy overnight, giving it a good stir now and again.
The following day, in a large bowl mix the ginger, syrup, apples, orange juice and zest with the eggs, suet, sugar, crumbs and flour.
Stir in the soaked fruit and spice.
Grease the two pudding basins and divide the mix between them. Add coins now if using.
Cut two circles of greaseproof paper to cover the top of the pudding and fold a pleat down the centre to allow pudding to expand.
Put lids on the basins and steam puddings for 3½ hours.
Let puddings cool before removing greaseproof paper and covering tightly with cling film and lid. The puddings can now be stored in a cool, dry place until Christmas.
To reheat, steam pudding for a further 3½ hours, turn out and flame with brandy.
Can’t wait to flame the pudding, such a treat.
I also added this recipe by Nigel because it is not Christmas without Stilton Cheese.
Stilton Cheese for me always brings back wonderful memories of Christmas and stops on the way home in London to shop. The quality and variety on offer in London is truly amazing. In Rome Christmas shopping was wonderful for wines and quality chocolates, cheeses, meats, olives, etc… Munich and Dresden Christmas Markets loads of fun, great food and tons of atmosphere. In Warsaw we had the most beautiful trees and again all the special Christmas food much of it borrowed from Jewish European Cuisine. Copenhagen was also great for Christmas Shopping so many beautiful things in the shops, style and elegance.
Also this year we have decided to return to good old fashion Christmas Cards and mail them with postage stamps to friends. We had been doing a lot of electronic cards in the last 10 years and well it is not the same and we enjoy receiving cards in the mail, it is so much more personal.
Finally today we went to the Pharmacy to get our Free Flu shot. In Canada everyone can, if you want get a free Flu Shot. It takes minutes and that is it, simple, how civilized.
So yesterday I took a little nap on the sofa and my Nicky wanted to snuggle up and he, like all Dachshund loves to squeeze in, so there with his big nose breathing in my face. He is just keeping an eye on me.
The Cows Ice Cream shop love to sell souvenirs in the form of T-Shirts, Sweaters, caps etc. All of them have a funny saying on them and I saw this one in the window and I thought this is the sort of thing you want for Christmas, you know for that special cousin.
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