For me, time spent flicking through recipe books is nothing short of an indulgence.
Tell me we’ve got guests for dinner or lunch or a mid-morning coffee and cake session and I’ll take that as my cue to reach for the recipe books and start dreaming up the best menu to serve our guests.
Invariably I get it wrong. I’m usually way too ambitious, letting fantasy overtake the reality of my project management skills. Timing is an issue. Kitchen layout another deciding factor. As much as I’d like to think I can whip up a refreshingly zingy starter, followed by an exquisite main finishing off with a low-key but satisfying desert, I know I have to keep things as realistic as possible. If I don’t I’ll spend hours in the kitchen away from the guests. I’ll be stressed. I’ll almost certainly sweat a lot. I’ll snap at everyone. It’s just not pleasant.
That might be why me and The Significant Other have agreed that this year will be a quiet Christmas. Last year we hosted a family Christmas which although successful did take its toll on energy and enthusiasm. Admittedly this was in part down to the fact that the table we had rented for the big meal wouldn’t roll up the stairs to the newly decorated ‘den’ like we’d originally hope it would. But it is the tyrannical optimism Christmas cooking shows on TV force upon an unsuspecting audience that transforms what appears on TV as pleasurable process into nothing short of stressful catering project. It’s stressful. It’s a massive responsibility. And it’s something everyone should avoid doing at every cost.
And yet there’s something so incredibly seductive about the pictures of Nigella’s christmas parties, or the simple homelife promises of Rachel Allen’s Favourite Food. Even Delia Smith’s proud use of Times New Roman in her original Christmas cookery book is something to warm the heart and make me want to run to the kitchen. I find temptation irressistable. That’s almost certainly why we end up inviting people to come eat at Christmas even though I know when the day comes I’ll worry about what needs to be done and, at the end of it, feel like I’ve spent the entire day in the kitchen. Jeeze, cooking is a complex thing.
Yet despite that complexity, we have succumbed again and this year.
We’ll be entertaining guests on four separate occasions. Menus have been drawn up for (almost) all of them, which in turn demanded an unexpectedly yet still relatively pleasurable flick through Gary Rhodes’ Time to Eat recipe book. The last time I had that book in my hands was the day I unwrapped the gift from my parents on Christmas Day. I looked on the pictures of post-gym Gary Rhodes squeezed into an ill-thought extra-small t-shirt and remember the vague sense of unease I had appreciating the pictures in the presence of my mother. “Bloody hell, Gary Rhodes has been working out” I’d said out loud.
Two years later, I’m finally looking through the recipes and insodoing noticing how Rhodes doesn’t quite so striking – more a bit weird in that ridiculously over-small t-shirt – and how there’s quite a few quite useful things in there. Should be useful for the thing we’ve got in between Christmas and New Year. The fact I’m reminded of a previous Christmas by flicking through the book as we prepare for another Christmas occasion only serves to warm the heart. All this as the snow falls in our road before Christmas. Gosh.
So this evening it’s been a 2lb loaf tin full of Chicken Liver Pate at the same time as soaking the beef and pork mince in desert wine and brandy for Delia’s Country Pate. Then there’s the roasted peppers which, if I get it together tomorrow, will need deseeding and soaking in garlic infused olive oil. Can’t wait.
The presents have been bought. The decorations are all up. Oh, and did I mention the snow is falling? My God. It all seems too good to be true.