and all through the house, not a creature was stirring…
except me. I was more than stirring. I was waving my arms about and shouting.
“What do you mean a STIR-FRY!?”
The instigators of my wrath watched me in confused silence for a moment. Then Dad said,
“Well, a vegetable stir fry.”
“It’s going to be Christmas Day! You’re having GUESTS, and you’re going to serve them a VEGETABLE STIR-FRY?!”
“What’s wrong with that?”
For a second I wasn’t sure how to answer that question. Having been brought up in Britain, the association of Christmas and good quality food was almost innate.
“You’re supposed to make an effort for Christmas Day. That’s the point, isn’t it? To overindulge in GOOD food. Not a ten minute job with reduced mange-tout!”
“Well there’s that reduced chicken we found and the salmon. We thought we’d give them to you to take home but we can use them if you think the stir fry-won’t be enough.”
“You know how to cook a chicken?”
My parents are occasional fish eaters but are mostly vegetarian. It had probably been a while since they’d attepted to cook an animal of any reaonable size.
“We can cook a curry. That works with anything. I will cut the chicken and Mum can curry it.”
As I’ve described before, my parents’ curries are nothing like the excellent dishes you’d find on the websites of Sig or Mamta. They involve throwing at least a tablespoon of every spice in the house (and there are a lot of ten year old, unlabelled, powdered spices there) into a pot with the chicken and a heck of a lot of salt and boiling the mixture for several hours until solid.
I took a look in the fridge. There in front of me was a small but fairly good looking, free range, corn fed bird. It certainly was not something I’d want to be a victim of my parents’ currying. I was also fairly sure that Dad’s vegetable stir fry would be seasoned with at least half a bottle of soy sauce. Things were not looking good for this meal.
“So you have invited guests to your house for Christmas Day, and you’re suggesting you serve them a vegetable stir-fry and chicken curry?! And you want to butcher it yourself? Do you actually have a meat cleaver?”
“No, why would I need one?” he replied. At this point I completely lost my rag.
“WELL, WHAT WERE YOU GOING TO USE TO CUT UP THE CHICKEN? A PAIR OF SCISSORS?!”
“I have a bread knife.”
I cupped my head in my hands. Half an hour later, I’d convinced them to give me control of the chicken. I had no idea what I was going to do with it but ANYTHING would be better than what had been previously planned for it and we really needed an alternative to the inevitable soy-sauce fest that would be produced by my father.
But there was a problem. My parents don’t own many ingredients. There were no herbs, no butter and no winter vegetables. In fact there was nothing but the chicken, a lot of ancient unidentifiable spice and some mange tout. Christmas Eve at 11pm is not the best time to discover you need a trolley load of groceries. I also had the additional problem that the small chicken in the fridge was supposed to feed six people.
So what can you do in a situation like this? I managed to salvage some sea bass fillets from the freezer to at least bulk out the meal but the problem was how to prepare them. My parents not only have an empty larder but seemed to think it was ludicrous that I should expect any different. Fortunately, whilst out on a walk to clear my head, I discovered there were actually a large number of corner stores open on Christmas day.
These shops don’t have much, but I managed to get my hands on some parsley, some dill, lemons, honey, ginger, garlic, chilli, olive oil and oranges. My plan was to roast a chicken with plenty of lemon, garlic and parsley and then make crumbly roast potatoes with olive oil, honey roasted carrots and savoy cabbage* with bacon.
I wanted to make a starter too. so I made a marinade of orange and ginger for the sea bass fillets, hoping to serve them on little twists of noodles.Honey and sesame would have been perfect for the noodles if we had any sesame. as it was, i thought i could whip up a sweet chilli sauce. Since there were only four bass fillets and 8 fish eaters, I also planned to make little smoked salmon roses after dressing the salmon in a honey and dill concoction.
Unfortunately things at my parents’ house never go to plan. I managed to get the chicken and potatoes in the oven and the fish ready before mum told me my services were no longer required.
“No, there’s too much food. We don’t need noodles to serve the sea bass on or the other vegetables. The vegetable stir fry will be enough.
“What!? I spent ages thinking about what would work well here, especially since I was stuck with a corner shop. Besides, Dad ALWAYS oversalts his food so I don’t want the sea bass or the chicken paired with the mange-tout stir fry”
Dad interjected at this point. “Sri Lankans like salty food.”
“No one likes THAT much salt on anything. Besides i’ve put some thought into this and I think I’ve got a couple of good ideas here, especially for the sea bass.”
“Sri Lankans don’t care about that**”
So you’re saying that your guests don’t care about what their food tastes like? I know that isn’t true. And if it is, why exactly did you invite them for dinner?
“This is the Sri Lankan way. We don’t care about the food, so long as we eat.”At this point I gave up, grabbed the bottle of Prosecco*** that had been sitting in the fridge and went off into a corner to drown my sorrows and sulk until Miss S and her family arrived.
Apparently it also wasn’t the Sri Lankan way to have starters and main courses, so my sea bass was served two hours after it had been cooked, stone cold, alongside the chicken, potatoes, a heavily salted and spiced prawn curry and a soy-sauce heavy mange-tout stir fry. At least Mum did a good job with dessert. As simple as it is, you can’t go wrong with a decent trifle.
Out of sheer stubborness I made the sea bass again on New Year’s eve. This time exactly as I’d imagined but scaled up for a main course.
It’s a simple idea. I marinated my sea bass fillets in the juice of 2 oranges with their zest, a couple of chopped chillies, a teaspoon of ground ginger, dome fresh grated ginger root and some chopped oriander. The noodles were tossed in a mixture of sesame oil, honey and sesame seed and I also stir fried some oyster mushrooms and pak choi with a little soy sauce.
So, for everyone who asks me why I hate Christmas so much, that is why. Bad food, unpredictable events and, with the exception of this year when we had some nice guests around, fairly bizarre company. Thank the Lord it’s all over for another 12 months.
* at that point we had too much cabbage in our flat so I took some to donate to Mum and Dad.
** I think we can replace the term ‘Sri Lankans’ with the word ‘I’ here.
*** Fizzy wine makes everything better