It was three years ago that we first started having our Christmases together, alone, in Our Lovely Flat. It was quite the revelation of calm, and something we'd both find it difficult to give up now. The family visits are lovely - perhaps not accompanied by the best weather or travel conditions, but lovely nonetheless - we get to see each others in the two weekends before Christmas, delivering presents (when they're not forgotten! Oops!) and enjoying long lazy evenings of wine and chat, and if I'm particularly lucky N's parents will break out the card games, and then thrash me at all the one they know and I don't. Cribbage? "fifteen two,fifteen four" what's all that about then?! We just like being able to do our thing.
But what is that thing?!
That first Christmas in our flat was quite the revelation in other ways too. There was a conflict of traditions, and much confusion about how to resolve them. We shared stories in the run up to the big day of how each of our families played out Christmas morning. In N's family presents were opened immediately, in pyjamas and accopanied by glasses of Bucks Fizz. In my family however, it was quite different. My stocking, kindly left outside my bedroom door by Father Christmas, was allowed to be opened in secret, in pyjamas, and then shown off downstairs in a haze of excitement. The presents under the tree however had to wait. Everyone must be washed and dressed, all food prep done, and the all important clincher, it must be done whilst eating mini-sausage rolls, mince pies (in exploding pastry - aka, very short shortcrust) and sipping hot fresh coffee.
There were other conflicts too, N and his brother always had chocolate advent calendars, I on the other hand always had beautiful old fashioned ones with windows and pictures. Oh, and don't get me started on what you had to eat on the day!
We weren't quite sure what to do about these traditions. We knew Christmas wouldn't feel quite like Christmas without them, but somehow it didn't feel right to pick some over others. This, of course, led to an inevitable stumbling into Christmas with no clear plan at all. And it all worked out wonderfully. Some traditions have been kept, others discarded, and naturally new ones have evolved over three years to become our very own, and I couldn't be happier!
We have lazy Christmas mornings, and open mini-stockings in bed with coffee, and then carry that coffee to the tree, spread a quilt on the floor and open big presents, with Buck's Fizz, mince pies, and coffee, all in our pyjamas! As for the advent calendars? Well, I still have one with pictures, and N still gets chocolates, albeit homemade and tucked into a fabric calendar.
Old traditions and new traditions, all good traditions. The food has also evolved over the years, as we have gradually come around to the idea that you should only eat what you want to, no matter what anyone says about brussel sprouts being The Law. So, we have nut roast, potatoes,stuffing and stir fried carrots and broccoli. The latter is not very festive, but it's a darn sight nicer than watching two people push sprouts round their plates trying to hide them!
And so, here, I finally come to a recipe to share with you. Nut roast. We're seasoned veggies, and have been around the ring with many a nut roast in our time, more than a lot of which have been mediocre at best. This one is not. We have it every Christmas, and every year we complain that we eat it and then forget about it for another twelve months, as it's so good. I can also tell you that it feeds 4-6 people, but that it's always best to make more, so you can have nut roast and gravy sandwiches on Boxing day. No really, make it just for that, a wonderful sloppy indulgence that has officially been added to next year's list of traditions! (This image is just before I heaved the sarnie onto the plate and dumped a load of onion gravy on it, oh yes!)
Luxury Nut Roast
My exact version of this is a very closely guarded secret, and I'm afraid I'm not sharing all, but this is what I start with before the tinkering, and it is hands down, delicious. Make it, even if you're not veggie. I made this for a bunch of meat eaters for Sunday lunch once, and there wasn't a scrap to be seen.
I should warn you that I've never successfully turned this out in a loaf shape, instead I scoop it from the pan onto plates. Frankly we don't care that it doesn't look pretty because it tastes so good, but if you're looking for presentation, you might want to reconsider!
Also, I make mine the day before and leave it to rest overnight in the fridge. I swear that this makes the flavours much better, and it saves time on the day.
Serves 4-6 (just!)
2oog mixed nuts (use whatever suits you, walnuts, hazels cashews, brazil, peanuts and any seeds go well in this)
75g dried cranberries
100g shallot (I use basically half an onion and it seems to be fine)
400g tin chopped tomates, drained in a colander for 10 mins
1 large egg
100g strong cheddar, grated finely
dash of dried mint
dash of dried sage
handful of fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp marmite, mixed with 1tbsp red wine and a 1tsp orange juice
pinch of salt, and lots of grinds of pepper
Grease a large loaf tin and set aside.
Lightly toast the nuts in a frying pan until just becoming fragrant. Remove and cool, then whizz in a food processor until finely ground.
In a large bowl mix all the ingredients together thoroughly. Place in the prepared pan and leave overnight in the fridge, or for at least an hour to let the flavours deepen.
Preheat over to 180C. Cook for 45mins to an hour until firm and golden. Serve with cranberry sauce and onion gravy.
I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, and are bounding towards the new year with happy thoughts and outrageous resolutions.