Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's Christmas Day

Christmas Day in Canberra yesterday was cloudy and cool, barely reaching 22oC by the time we were at Maxie & Rod's in the late afternoon, sitting on their south terrace and raising our Majella filled glasses to the good health and happiness of all the family members who were not with us (and who we missed) on this special day.

Angus and Ollie were the only young ones present and the centre of our attention - it was so nice to see them eagerly awaiting our arrival!  I was very mean though and delayed giving them our presents until we'd got our fair share of welcome cuddles from these gorgeous boys!

Then it was time for (early) dinner : Maxie's turkey breast roast a la Nigellissimo (yummy!) and my creamy baked potatoes, green salad and Ottolenghi carrots and beans cooked in coriander seeds and garlic and a reduction of orange juice, red wine, star anise and cinnamon (quite a bit of which was spilt on the car seats on the drive over!).

It's really obvious in the pic below just how seriously Ollie is regarding his meal - he came back for another three helpings of turkey after demolishing this lot so obviously he had it all planned right from the very start.

Angus set the table for dessert (Claire's Christmas pudding icecream). He made sure he set out the biggest pasta bowls in Nanny & Pa's kitchen cupboards - to make sure there was plenty of space for the icecream (and caramel sauce).

One of the nicest things about yesterday was being with family AND having contact during the day with family in other parts of the world (and Australia).  We had family in Ubud, Bali, in Sandy Beach and Sandbach in Cheshire to share our day with and enjoy happy stories via pictures, emails, sms, phone calls and video.

The London branch sent us this remarkable "our Liz" for the Christmas tree, which we have now hung with pride. Isn't she wonderful (and she looks so at home here)?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Indian Christmas

After nearly a week of above 30oC temperatures (including a ghastly 38oC on Sunday) it was  refreshing to have a cooler day yesterday to travel along beautiful country roads, in amongst the vineyards at Murrumbateman, to our annual early Christmas celebration with good friends. This year our celebration had an Indian theme (of course).

I am always so happy to see the L. family teenagers joining us at these celebrations - they still haven't given up on us oldies!

This year we were joined by the gorgeous Phoebe, only just back from India (where else?) herself and all set to head back home to Auckland, NZ today.  Thomas will make the trip too so it is an exciting time for them both after a hard year of study at the ANU.

We had a unique challenge this year - to devise our two dishes for the shared feast around a spice.  Maxie & Rod had star anise to work with, Rob and I had cardamom and Jennie and Wayne had saffron. Judy and Jurgen had a year off being part of the challenge this year on account of Judy having undergone surgery recently.

With Anke's Majella poured into festive glasses and Judy L's spiced nuts passed around we knew the party was under way. Maxie had devised two starters: beautiful fresh rice wrappers filled with red cooked beef , Vietnamese mint, basil, iceberg lettuce, red pepper and peanuts served with an unctuous soy and hoisin sauce; and, baked chicken drummetes marinated in a star anise based sauce. It's always a surprise on the night what dishes will turn up, so occasionally we have some delicious double ups. I also prepared chicken drummettes as a starter but mine were flavoured with za'atar and cardamom (of course) and served with a mint and coriander flavoured yoghurt dip.

Judy and Jurgen had picked up some beautiful freshly shucked oysters at Berny's at Charnwood on the way to Murrumbateman (the same Bernys as the famous Bernys at Batehaven, on the South Coast). Judy had prepared some dressings for the oysters, including a delicate pomegranate dressing inspired by our stay at Amarya Villas in New Delhi.  They were served with a Howard Park 2011 Miamup Chardonnay from Margaret River - the most astoundingly good wine and oyster combination I have ever experienced!

Then came Jennie's first course: calamari and scallops gently fried and served with seafood dumplings and saffron mayonnaise. Maxie and Jennie shared some stories about mayonnaise making debacles. Apparently the recent heat wave has made mayo making difficult..not that anyone like me who uses the store bought stuff would know about this!  Anyway Jennie's saffron mayonnaise tonight was perfect!

Then it was time for traditional carol singing.  We're lucky enough that for one more year Sophie, Maddie and eventually Thomas all agree to take turns to accompany us

By this stage some of the oldies are well primed by all the wine they have drunk and think they are GREAT singers who can sing quite LOUDLY.
Luckily Sophie, Maddie & Thomas think this is a amusing and make allowances for sudden changes in timing (and pitch) along the way.  The caption for the pic below could almost be along the lines of : The Three Wise Men on their way to Bethlehem get waylaid at Murrumbateman for some rowdy carol singing........

Main course followed: Jennie's chicken Biriyani and my chicken Korma with cardamom, crispy shallots, almonds and golden raisins and orange cardamom roasted sweet potatoes. Rob chose an Isabella 2006 Sauvignon Blanc to drink with this course. It was proved a winning combination too.

I think Jennie's dessert dish was a highlight of the night for me: a fig and walnut flavoured saffron kulfi - WOW! This was served with a 60 year old fortified wine that Jennie and Wayne have been nurturing in various complicated ways for years now - we count ourselves very lucky to be able to sample its rare deliciousness.
And to finish off, a divine chocolate cake from Gumnut Patisserie in Berrima (thank you Anke for making the trek!) - beautifully complemented by lashings of fresh raspberries and strawberries, the true taste of summer.

With present giving and so much good food and laughter to share, stories and great memories of another wonderful year doing things together, it was well after 1 am before any one of us gave a thought to packing up and making the drive back to Canberra...... Another wonderful celebration at Murrumbateman - thank you Jennie and Wayne.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas 1

Christmas 1 started early yesterday morning. We had an 8 o'clock breakfast booking at our favourite Promenade Cafe at the Hyatt Hotel, a lovely way of spending Bobbie's last morning with us in Canberra before she returned to Brisbane after her three week visit with us.

Bobbie is doing very well at 87 years of age - still as alert as ever, still knitting the girls beautiful jumpers and cardigans, delighting in all their fun and games and so generous to them in every way.

It was good bye to Bobbie then back home for some last minute preparations before all the members of the Canberra family arrived for Christmas 1 celebrations (celebrated early because Josh & Jody and the girls won't be with us on actual Christmas day this year).

We broke with tradition this year and staged a "Scavenger hunt on the hill" for all the kids as the warm up activity for our Christmas party.

Rob was paired with Abi who had to alert him to where Sophie the dodow (dog) lives (in the townhouse at the bottom of the hill) before they could get down to any further business.

Rod was paired with Ollie for this game - which proved to be a powerhouse combination.

 Joshy was paired with Angus - a perfect match.

.....and Jeremy and Ella got straight down to business right from the start - a very efficient pairing. Each team had seven tasks: finding objects on the hill, taking pictures and doing drawings.

The last task was to make up a story using a given word. Ollie's was bocconcini, Angus's was gorgonzola, Ella's was gelati and Abi's was spaghetti. The story had to combine the word and "Christmas" too. It didn't need to be written down - it could be recorded.

Ollie and Rod took a long time to finish off their story (we found out why later) so with all the other teams finished and off the hill we started the real business of the day with one of Jeremy's (potent) cocktails.  In the pic below we are drinking to the health of all our absent extended family members (and thinking especially of the London branch, as they must be finishing off their packing, ready for the BIG move to South Woodford on the 19th).

To the sound of much clapping and cheering, all the teams had to present an "afformance" of their scavenger hunt tasks.  I was amazed that between all the "dodow" sightings Rob managed to write a little piece with Abi about Christmas and spaghetti. It went something like this......

Abi: Is spaghetti the same as confetti?
Gampa: No
Abi: But are noodles like poodles?
Gampa: No
Abi: But are ants like pants?
Gampa: No
Abi: Is Christmas like an isthmus?
Gampa: No...but these are all the big questions in life

Jeremy scribed Ella's story about gelati and then Ella read every word back to us (in Jeremy's hand written running writing) - word perfect and extremely fluent. Amazing!

These boys had a funny gorgonzola story and probably the best picture collection of any of the teams.

But the bocconcini Christmas story would have to be a world beater. Typical of this pair of bright boys it could easily form a Wikipedia post in its own right (but all completely made up):

Bocconcini and Christmas

Most people believe that bocconcini originated from Naples. But that is only partly true. Let me tell you the real story of bocconcini which involves a little known Italian explorer named Fredrico Natale. Fredrico came from a cheese-making family near Naples but he himself was not a cheese-maker. He preferred adventures on the high seas and on one of his voyages found himself at Colombo in what is now Sri Lanka. It was there that he came across an old man who was making a type of cheese that Fredrico had never seen before. 

“What type of cheese is that?” asked Fredrico. “We call it battacharry or buffalo eggs” said the old man. “But buffalos don’t lay eggs” said Fredrico. “No” replied the old man “but we make battacharry from the milk of the water buffalo and the cheese is made the size of eggs.” 

When Fredrico eventually returned to his family near Naples, he told them of the cheese he had seen being made in the exotic east. Since water buffalo milk was obviously not available in Italy, they decided to try sheep’s cheese and battacharry became bocconcini or “small mouthfuls”. 

You may well ask - what does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, if Fredrico Natale was English we would know him as Fred Christmas. So if you are ever in Italy at Christmas time, see someone enjoying a bocconcini pizza and hear someone say “buono natale” they may be wishing you a merry Christmas but then again  they might also be saying – “Good old Fred”.

Then it was time to exchange presents: paper and ribbon everywhere, and great excitement. Abi was the one who seemed to get the most enjoyment out of her presents  - Peppa Pig doll, check! Peppa pig backpack, check! Peppa Pig hand puppet, check! She refused to be parted from them for the next few hours.

I thought O & A coped so well with Ella and Abi receiving most of the presents today. (O & A will be the focus on actual Christmas day.) These things can potentially be very confusing for kids!

Our Christmas 1 meal was geared towards being child friendly, and themed around "Christmas with an Italian twist ". Luckily that could include some of our favourite seafood......

.... and a luscious caponata dish and celeriac mash that had the wonderful ability to tie a few disparate elements of the meal together. Like how do you match an Italian pork and veal ragu (with spaghetti) with fresh crab and prawns?

No such difficulty with dessert. Claire's Christmas pudding ice cream cake was a huge hit.

 ....with everybody!

The kids played together very calmly as the party started to wind down.

I managed to get some beautiful pics of this very handsome boy today. Christmas 1 was an absolute winner!


December is always a crazy busy month - a lot of loose ends at work to tie off before schools shut down over the summer break, all that end of year socializing, and Christmas just around the corner.

The month starts with Maxie's birthday (see previous post), closely followed by Thomas L.'s. He's 20 this year!! We celebrated at his choice of restaurant, Bella Vista on the lake in Belconnen (same as last year). That bottle of Bailey's Shiraz in the centre of the table is one of a dozen that J & J bought the year Thomas was born (1993). It is still tasting very good - a big bold Rutherglen style Shiraz.

Thomas has had another brilliant year at Uni this year which must be a source of great pride for J & J.

Aunty Anke drove all the way to the Gumnut Cafe in Berrima for this beautiful mud cake....which we all thought was well worth it.

Judy L couldn't be there on the night. She was just home from hospital -  still very sore and sorry after surgery the night before. We missed her - it just didn't feel quite right without her.

The night after on the 7th we celebrated our last RED (retired extremely dangerous)  group dinner for the year at the divine POD Food at Pialligo.  We've been meeting up for regular big dinner nights for almost FIVE years now - something to celebrate indeed. It is ironic that very few members of this group are really truly retired. We're mostly all still working our heads off in various capacities - especially one of the gentlemen who had to argue the case, on behalf of the the ACT Government, for our new same sex marriage laws, to the High Court in the week after this dinner (unsuccessfully, regrettably).

Monday, December 2, 2013

Little miracles

The first of December is a day to celebrate Maxie's birthday and get some serious family Christmas planning underway.

It's also an opportunity to celebrate the miraculous recovery of Granny K - broken leg, operated on, pinned and plated three months ago at age 99 - and look at her now WALKING into our favourite Sculpture Gardens of the National Gallery of Australia!

A gorgeous afternoon, summer warm.........everyone just stopping everything for few hours to enjoy each other's company, a few glasses(!) of Majella and some yummy picnic food including gluten free and dairy free birthday cake.

The big kids tried to find the hole they dug to China this time last year, in front of the Bert Flugelman sculpture (especially poignant as Bert died this year at 90 years of age).

Abi was attracted to the water feature, of course.

It's always a party when Ella and Angus are together.

 And what better place is there to strike a pose amongst the Rodins!