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Christmas Traditions

December 25, 2010

My childhood memories of Christmas is that we always spent Christmas day with my grandparents. Adults and children alike squeezed in around the table. I remember there being vast amounts of food although I do not remember whether we ate turkey or not….probably. I do however, have a very clear memory of the desert. My mom’s famous trifle and my gran’s home made Christmas Cake. I remember her baking the cake weeks in advance and then spending the weeks up until Christmas injecting it complete with needle and syringe, with brandy. The cake was then iced very traditionally with marzipan and I guess royal icing which was sickeningly delicious.

Now that I have my own family, I am obsessed with creating traditions of our own which I hope our children will remember and pass down to their families one day. Since my husband is Italian, many of our food traditions around Christmas are Italian. Christmas would not be Christmas in any Italian household without Panettone, Pandoro or Panforte (how come they all begin with P?). We usually begin Christmas morning with coffee ( hot chocolate for the kids) and Panettone. Pandoro is our christmas cake usually cut horizontally so that each person has the star shaped cake on their plate and then drizzled with home made chocolate sauce. Panforte is then eaten and nibbled on during the festive period. I have never baked my own Panettone or Pandoro since they are so easily available in supermarkets and deli’s. I was doing my final Christmas shopping in Dubai just before flying to South Africa for our very first Christmas since having children, when I came across Brunetti’s. I practically broke down crying (seriously). It was almost like being in Italy. All those beautiful, delicate pastries, the slices of pizza, the biscotti! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I immediately needed to sit down with a coffee. Even though it was past midday I simply had to have a cappuccino and a slice of Pizza Marguerita. Both were superb, I have found heaven in Dubai. Brunetti’s originates from Melbourne, Australia. Apparently the Brunetti family started the business over there, and have now expanded with a branch right here in Dubai. I cannot thank them enough. Anyway, they of course had Panettone on offer too. So I simply had to buy  a few. I took one large one as hand luggage all the way to South Africa, and of course in true Italian tradition it was enjoyed on Christmas morning.

The other tradition I have started cultivating is Christmas Eve dinner. I just think that candlelight is so much nicer in the evening than during a lunch time. I love setting the table usually in the traditional colours of red and white and having candles lit. This is the one occasion that definitely calls for elegance. Since I am just a simple small town girl, I tend to keep things fairly simple. I also have issues with anything ostentatious. A simple white table cloth with red linen napkins and indigenous South African flowers from our very own garden. The red pin cushion proteas and the white Agapanthus were perfect together. I just popped them into glasses, that I think even Donna Hay would approve of. The food we serve tends to be fairly traditional too. Meat and veg and salad. Normally we would start off with Tortellini in Brodo. In previous years the husband and I have made our own meat stuffing and our own home made tortellini. This year tortellini did not feature on the menu. I have not done a roast turkey for about three years now. I tend to do a slow roast pork shoulder from one of Nigella Lawson’s recipe books. I love how you just stick it in the oven on the morning and leave it there roasting away, filling your house with the most delicious smell, until you are ready to eat in the evening. The pork shoulder is really a peasant dish. The meat is so soft that it falls off the bone. No carving necessary. You simply pull the meat from the bone using a fork. It is superb! We enjoyed our pork (and a delicious slow roasted mutton shoulder too, thanks to my brother) with roast pumpkin and spinach (from my dad’s garden) and a green salad. Now that I type this I swear I forgot to make roast potatoes! The food was simple and delicious. The table was simple and I think gorgeous and the company was just as it should be for a Christmas celebration…family getting together around a table.

Merry Christmas to all of you. May the New Year bring you health, happiness and good times around your table.

Brunetti's Panetone

Pandoro

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