It is almost Christmas and I am remembering Christmases past. Christmas with my father was a winter wonderland. When I was very small, we had a very large spruce tree in our front yard. Every Christmas he would string those big, old-fashioned coloured lights on the tree so Santa could find our house from way up high in the sky. Every night, before bed, he would pack me into my red snow snuit and we would stand out in the cold and admire the lighties. Those are some of my earliest memories.
For several years after Dad died of Alzheimer’s disease, I couldn’t bear Christmas. My Mom made it through two more Christmases, and she couldn’t bear them either. The two of us would hunker down in her little apartment at the assisted living facility and watch endless versions of Jane Austen on her VCR. How many times did we watch Colin Firth dive into the pond at Pemberley? Oh, hundreds! I stopped laying down new Christmas memories when Dad died. For me, Christmas was about family, and our little family had dwindled to one.
Don’t get me wrong. I am blessed with a wonderful extended family on both sides, and I love my cousins like siblings. But, I have written before about the importance of chosen families, and I have such a lovely one that I want to celebrate them. There is Dorothy from Norwich, who was my roommate through a nearly three-week adventure in Palestine in 1993. My soul sister, Joani, in Virginia — check out her excellent blog, http://unorthodoxunhinged.com. And my besties, Susan in Virginia and Elizabeth in Oxford. We three musketeers have shared so many adventures. Now we are joined by my beautiful fairy goddaughter, Alex.
I’ve traveled all over the world with my Elder Sis, Katy, and I’ve drowned many a sorrow with our bro, Tony.
With Katy and Tony, after drowning a sorrow or two
And I cannot leave out my sourdough starter’s foster parents, Mary and Wade. In Athens, there are Carolyn and Kline, and Nash and France who all supported my parents, and then me, in their final years. Nash and France adopted my Dad’s beloved cockapoo, Maxwell, and gave him the loving retirement he so richly deserved. Nash still keeps me posted on the goings on at my old high school. Pete and Anita, our dogs’ uncle and auntie, are soon moving from Virginia to Minnesota — near my family in Northern Wisconsin.
My Southern Hemisphere chosen family is growing and multiplying, too. Thanks to Julian and Anna in Sydney, I have a new “niece,” Ayla. Peter is the crusty old uncle I never had. I did have an amazing Uncle, Billy, but he was too funny and loveable to qualify as crusty. Carl is the pesky little brother I never had. Chris has long been Simon’s chosen family in New Zealand, and now he’s part of mine.
I discovered the Kale Whisperer’s Tenth Cookbook of Christmas, Delia’s Vegetarian Collection (BBC Books, 2002) while visiting another branch of my chosen family in Sydney, the lovely Lise, her husband Cahn, and my “nephew” Jacob and his brand new baby sister, Eliana.
Pizza by Jacob, I’m pretty sure those are slices of beetroot, not pepperonis!
Having essentially invited myself to visit en route to the United States earlier this year, I would not have been surprised (or disappointed) to dine on take away food. But Lise, despite juggling an active (and, as it happens, sick) three year old and an adorable six-month old, spoiled me with delicious and beautifully prepared vegetarian fare from Delia’s Vegetarian Collection. Even before I left Sydney, I ordered myself a copy from fishpond.com. It has already become a favourite in my kitchen, too.
There haven’t been any celebrity chefs or cookbooks with lots of gorgeous, full colour illustrations among the The Kale Whisperer’s Twelve Cookbooks of Christmas. It’s not that I have anything against celebrity chefs or beautiful photographs of food. It’s just that I find those sorts of cookbooks, for the most part, disappointing. It’s as though they are written for people who don’t cook and don’t really intend to start, but who want to have some attractive cookery books as accent pieces in their designer kitchens. And I’ve had some real disasters. Take the celebrity chef cookbook I bought most recently, which shall remain nameless. So far, not a single recipes I’ve tried has worked as advertised. I ended up serving my beloved a zucchini pie with raw rice. Do these people even cook the food they put into their cookbooks? A word of advice: if the directions don’t make sense to you (trust me, the liquid from the zucchini will cook the raw rice), they probably don’t make sense. I’ve had good experiences with the few Jamie Oliver recipes I’ve downloaded, but I haven’t bought his books either because, frankly, I find him a bit preachy and annoying.
But Delia is different. How can you not trust and respect a woman who is willing to make a public spectacle of herself in support of her beloved Norwich Canaries?
Would I make a spectacle of myself in support of my beloved All Blacks? You betcha. In fact, to hear Katy tell it, I did that already while watching the 2012 Rugby World Cup Final with a group of Aussies in Bali.
Offering up a word of thanks in Ubud, Bali
Which brings me to a digression. I had a long argument with myself (I do that — it’s an introvert thing) about whether or not to include Julia Child’s original Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Knopf, 1961). I really think every cook should read it, often, but I don’t actually cook from it very much. Julia is pretty meat-centric. That said, I just got out my copy — which was previously my mother’s copy — and it fell right open to the recipe for Soufflé au Fromage. My Mom made heavenly soufflés. I don’t. But seeing as the book is out, and I accidentally bought 32 eggs at the farmer’s market last week, I think I’ll give it another shot, with Julia on my shoulder.
But back to Delia. This is a gorgeous book. If you are looking for a gift for your favourite vegetarian, and want to split the difference between useful and pretty, this is your book. The illustrations are stunning. There are a few I’d like to tear out of the book and hang on the wall. And the recipes work. I have a massive rosemary bush in my herb garden, so I can make the Tuscan Bean and Pasta Soup, all year round. Simon grew up in the UK, and this book has vegetarian versions of his childhood comfort foods, including Shepard’s Pie, Spinach Pasties, and Not-Pork Pies (which will please our Kune Kune pigs). Everything Lise prepared from Delia’s collection was wonderful, and only tasted better for being made with love and eaten in the best of company.
I’m not folding down the corners of this book, but it is full of multicoloured post-it flags. I gave up on the cheese chapter. I’ll just cook, and eat, my way through the whole thing. There are two oven-baked risottos, for those nights when your feet are tired or you have blisters on your thumbs and don’t want to stand at the stove and stir. I rarely cook sweets — neither of us eat them much — but as soon as I send this off, I’m headed out to the garden to see if I have enough rhubarb for the Rhubarb, Almond, and Ginger Crumble.
Wait. I just re-read the recipe for Crumpet Pizzas, with blue cheese, walnuts, olive oil and sage. I’m off to the grocery, now, to buy some crumpets. The rhubarb will have to wait.