Christmas menu (+ recipes)
Back in my early 20s, when backpacking around South America, I spent Christmas in Colombia with the family of a rather dodgy Colombian boyfriend. My paramour's father was in attendance with not just his newest wife, but his five previous wives and all their children, and more cousins and aunts and uncles than you could imagine anyone ever being related to.
At around 11pm on Christmas Eve we dined on a big slab of dry corned beef and cassava, and then the tables were cleared so the salsa band could perform. Around dawn on Christmas Day, somewhat worse for wear, we all piled into the family car and headed to the local abattoir, where a bucket of fresh blood and some ox hearts were purchased.
Then it was back home for a Christmas feast of boiled blood and hearts grilled over the hibachi. Oh joy! This was a very special treat in honour of the New Zealand guest. My advice: don't leave home. No one else ever does Christmas right.
Every culture has its traditions and rituals that collectively anchor us and provide a sense of place and belonging and reassurance.
Usually it's not until you enter someone else's culture that you realise what you miss about your own.
That said, by the time Christmas comes around most of us are already frazzled. Reducing the day's lumps and bumps usually involves cracking open a bottle of bubbly early in the day to settle the nerves, and herein lies the problem - the sheer risk of, as my mother would say, of "falling into the gravy" before the meal is served.
There is enough drama in life without raising the gastronomic bar high at Christmas. Do whatever you can to simplify the day. If making gravy causes last-minute stress, forget about it - serve your turkey with a tangy relish or salsa verde instead. Share the love and get everyone to contribute to the menu with a salad or dessert - or if they're not a cook put them in charge of the decorations or the wine or washing the dishes afterwards.
Most importantly, come up with a menu that involves as much advance preparation as possible. Once everything is good to go, pop the bubbles, pour a festive cocktail and settle in to enjoy the feast of the year.
If you have given up on turkey as it comes out dry, this recipe is your game-changer. Brining ensures succulent results every time. To avoid taking up room in the fridge, I usually pour the brine into a big, clean (unscented) plastic bag, add the turkey and sit it in a chilly bin with ice cubes. Get the recipe
This makes a terrific change from regular bread stuffing and will suit the gluten-free eaters at the table too. Get the recipe
Aperol and bubbles is one of those feel-good combinations that just sings of summer and celebrations. Get the recipe
Reduce last-minute stress by doing as much as you can in advance. Wash and dry the lettuce for this pretty, fresh salad and pop it in a sealed container or bag in the fridge. You can also make the dressing in advance ready for a speedy assembly. Get the recipe
This is a great recipe for non-cooks who have been "volunteered" to produce a dessert. Just buy the sponge and custard ready-made from the supermarket and layer it all together - no cooking required! Get the recipe
For more great Annabel Langbein recipes see her new winter annual Annabel Langbein A Free Range Life: Share the Love (Annabel Langbein Media, $24.95) or visit annabel-langbein.com