Gingerbread tree forest

Christmas is almost over (it doesn’t officially end until April when you find the last dried pine-needle under the couch cushion) and I thought it was about time to tell you about the Christmas Lunch: 2016 edition. For those who have been reading since the beginning, you know that my family goes a little over the top when we cook Christmas lunch (they have no choice in the matter and would far prefer a simple turkey instead of the behemoth I force them into). Since 2011 we have been cooking an at home degustation (lots of little courses) menu which at its height of weirdness was 15 courses for three people. 15 courses is too many in case you were wondering. Always stop at 14 courses.

Check out 2013 here

Check out 2014 here

This year my ever strict mother said we had to limit it to 8 courses. I know, her rule is overly draconian but there is little we can do about it – the Runawaykiwi household is one of the few remaining dictatorships in the world*. Since there were going to be seven of us for dinner at the start of the planning process we decided to do 1 course each. But as I got more and more ‘Monica’ about the lunch I could see my family planning to excommunicate me, so it was safer for all involved for me to just do it myself with sous chef help from mum.

If you want to plan your multi-course dinner I suggest you cook everything possible the day before. Mum and I spent about three hours in the kitchen on Christmas Eve morning cooking every element possible. For the courses below this is what we pre-prepared:

  • Eggplant (rolled and put in the fridge)
  • Roasted and crushed pinenuts
  • Sweet potato
  • Apple sauce
  • Pork belly (scored, rubbed, on a tray of veg in the fridge)
  • Sorbet
  • Ginger stained glass biscuits
  • Trifle
  • Pavlova
  • Chocolate bark

This meant that on the day the only things we had to cook were the pork belly (which just gets shoved in the oven and forgotten about) and the salmon which we made the pregnant sister create (it took maybe 3 min to prepare and 15 to cook). Other than those each course was very quick to plate on the day and we reused two sets of wooden boards so there was limited washing up to do after.

Origami menu stars

I always want to make things as interactive as possible (yes I am entirely insufferable) so instead of normal menus, I made 56 origami stars with the course number on the outside and the details of the food on the inside. Before each course the family had to hunt out the right numbered star and unwrap it to find out what was next. Particularly useful as I got dunker and drunker with each course and forgot what order things came in. So on brand #gin

I love this Christmas lunch more than anything. For someone who lives on the other side of the world being able to demonstrate my love for my family in such an elaborate way just makes Christmas for me. I may forget to Skype, miss all important family occasions and not ask for permission when I get a piercing – but I can cook 8 courses to shove my love for them down their throats on Christmas day. It’s all about family y’all.

*when my Mum reads this she may send me to my room, if you don’t hear from me please send help.

Course 1: Christmas champagne sangria

Christmas champagne sangria

Course 2: eggplant, pepper and goats curd involtini with pine nut crumb and red pepper pesto

eggplant, pepper and goats curd involtini with pine nut crumb and red pepper pesto

Course 3: fennel and herb salmon with asparagus and horseradish coconut cream

fennel and herb salmon with asparagus and horseradish coconut cream

Course 4: summer salad (aka the cop out course)

Summer Salad

Course 5: roast pork belly with kumara mash, apple sauce and cracking

roast pork belly with kumara mash, apple sauce and cracking

Course 6: coconut, rum, ginger-beer and lime sorbet served with a shot of Kings Ginger

coconut, rum, ginger-beer and lime sorbet served with a shot of Kings Ginger

Course 7: raspberry trifle with a stained glass gingerbread star

raspberry trifle with a stained glass gingerbread star

Course 8: mango and lemon pavlova with chocolate bark

mango and lemon pavlova with chocolate bark

love-street-art

If this is your first Christmas in London you will right about now be having a moment of realisation. That ‘oh shit’ moment of realisation that the posting deadline for New Zealand was the 10th of December, and if you don’t act quickly you will have ruined Christmas. Trust me, it happens to the best of us (and to the worst of us it happens every year), so I have some tried and true solutions for you. Read on my dear friends and Christmas will be saved.

Your first option is to order something that is already within NZ – I know, totally revolutionary. Quite a few of the online shops will do gift-wrap for you and then courier straight to your loved ones. The benefit of doing this is that you are spending in pounds so even post Brexit you might be able to splurge a little. I wish I had thought of this myself, but in actual fact it is because I used to work at Walker and Hall and spent weeks of my life wrapping presents from hopeless expats (they have Christmas orders right up until the 19th – and you can get some lovely Karen Walker rings for £40ish). When I looked I was quite shocked how many new gift websites have started in NZ so you will be able to find something in your price range – literally google ‘gift delivery NZ’.

You can also get vouchers to most restaurants or cafes if you email them and ask nicely, then you don’t even have to wait for something to be posted – you can tell your family about it in the good old Christmas Skype session. I know that a voucher can be seen as impersonal, but add in that little bit of meaning by choosing a cafe you used to go to together, add in the story when you tell them about it.

Another option is to use your friends. If you know anyone going home for Christmas then sweet talk them into giving up some suitcase space to take your presents back for you. And for anyone who still has friends in NZ (friends that live near your family) then beg them to help you out. They can go to the supermarket, buy a six pack and put bow around it – what could be better than a hand delivered Christmas present on Christmas eve? The important thing is to make your family believe you spent a lot of time planning it – and didn’t in fact resort to this option after missing the Royal Mail deadlines.

If you are totally skint (because thats what winter in London will do to you) then all you need to do is remember that the thing your family is missing this Christmas is you. Send them an email every single hour starting at 11am the on the 24th (when it is midnight on Christmas day in NZ) with a Christmas memory, a funny story, some friendly family abuse – anything to make your family feel like you are there on the day. The sneaky part is that in Gmail/Hotmail you can schedule emails in advance so you don’t even need to stay up sending them throughout the night.

Presents are lovely, but that is not what Christmas is all about. Particularly if this is your first Christmas away from home what you need more than anything else is to help your family feel connected to you – it doesn’t have to involve spending a whole lot of money.

Good luck!

cat-christmas-wreath

When you live on the other side of the world you need to create your own traditions, something to make you feel like you have established a life here. For me one of the things I look forward to each year is Sinta-Thanksgiving, an expat holiday celebration that a group of us have done for the last three years. Originally it took place at the end of November to coincide with Thanksgiving for the Americans and Sinterklaas for the Dutch – with the Kiwis just always keen for a booze up. But since London is a thief of time sometimes we all have so much on that we have to hold it in July and call it Mid-Winter Christmas. This year we managed to almost make it on time, and last weekend we had Sinta-Thanksgiving at my house.

Whatever the name, the main point is to get a group of friends together and celebrate the holidays – any holidays. Seriously, if we can toast it with champagne then it is fair game. I always want to make it special no matter what month we end up in because that is normally the thing we miss out on most as expats. Someone spending all day in the kitchen just for you. Putting extra effort into a nice tablecloth (I use wrapping paper because what kind of millennial owns a tablecloth) to make the table look festive. Getting loved ones in a room no matter how busy we all are, just because those expat connections are so important.

I planned the meal in my usual haphazard way which is becoming almost a tradition in itself. Creating a Pinterest board with the best of intentions about a month beforehand, planning to do an elaborate feast. Then a week before panic that I have organised NOTHING, go back to the Pinterest board and choose literally anything that is gluten free and running straight to the supermarket after screenshotting the recipe. Sorry to shatter your allusions of me, I am entirely haphazard in most parts of my life.

expat-christmas-dinner-party

The menu that we ended up with was:

Starter: Champagne 
Salad tahi: Fig, green beans, rocket, prosciutto and goats cheese
Salad rua: Four tomato, basil and gluten-free bread
Meat: Fennel roasted pork belly with apple sauce 
Dessert: Christmas cookies and crème brûlée liqueur

I went to a Jaime Oliver cooking class the week before (full story on the blog tomorrow) and thankfully the one we prepared in class I was able to take home and freeze. So actually cooking the main was as simple as defrosting and then throwing in the oven for three hours. I say thankfully, because if anyone ever thinks that making cookies for dessert is the quick option you are 100% entirely wrong on all counts.

christmas-wreath-cookies

The problem was mostly that I wanted to do three types as inspired by Pinterest, these Christmas wreath cookies, these colour blocked cookies in Christmas colours and of course I wanted to try the stained glass biscuits because I am a sucker for punishment. Stained glass biscuits are truly awesome, you crush hard candy and put some into a hole in the dough, it then melts in the oven and creates a stained glass effect. So freakin cool….if you want to spend three hours on a Saturday swearing as the wine bottle you are using to crush the candy hits your hand instead.

stained-glass-christmas-cookies

My favourite part of the entire evening was the cat based plate decorations. I ran down to Paperchase in my lunch break the day before to panic buy anything that could make the table look festive but that cost less than £5 – because stingy. I found the little cats wearing Christmas hats on pegs, which I then used to tie together sprigs of rosemary to make mini-Christmas wreaths.

It was such a fun evening, chilling with friends over wine and food. But more importantly it was the continuation of an expat tradition, a significant part of my life in London. One that I hope to continue for many years to come… lets see what holidays we can co-opt next year.

 

London to do list street art

The dregs of summer are still holding on but don’t let it fool you; winter is coming. Black tights are back on trend, the tube is starting to smell of wet dog and ‘drinking to keep warm’ is soon to be the day drinking excuse of choice. Its not all bad, winter in London has a magic of its own. As a kiwi, December over here feels like a Richard Curtis film – drinking mulled wine in a Christmas Market by the Thames has the ability to stop time, all that is missing is a creepy as fuck Hugh Grant. But apart from the delightful few weeks of Christmas, winter in London can be long, dark and hard. #thatswhatshesaid

It seems to me that more people decide to move back to NZ during winter than any other time of the year. It gets to the point where you go to work in the dark, come home in the dark and you lose the will to live a little. With the cold, the rain and the fact that your family is on the other side of the world winter can be fucking hard, but it doesn’t have to be. Not if you do your #winterprep now.

Once it is the middle of November or January you will be too cold and seasonally depressed to do anything to kick yourself out of it, that’s why you are going to plan for it now. Right now, this week, go online and find all the fun things that are floating about this winter. It might be a play, a list of the best Christmas markets in London, where to drink mulled wine, a magical winter trip to Paris, ice skating in the moat of the Tower of London or re-enacting that scene from Bridget Jones (underwear and a Greek restaurant). Anything that you think could be fun and a little special.

It does not matter what your budget is, going off on a skiing holiday is not the only way to enjoy winter in Europe. The point is that you have planned it now, you have something to look forward to, and by the time it comes around on a cold Friday night and you are exhausted from work and your boots are soaked because of the rain you get up, go out and have fun anyway.

View over London from the Shard

I would set your expectations that ‘Winter crisis time’ will be November, January and February. December as I said above is magical enough and you only really have to worry about not embarrassing yourself at the work Christmas party. It is those other dark months that will hurt. I beg you, do your #winterprep now so that you have a smile on your face and I still have friends in London come Spring.

What are my plans I hear you ask? This year I want to go to all the London Christmas markets. I ditched them last year because I was all cynical and didn’t want to face the crowds, but this year I want the magic. I am also on the hunt for some exhibitions or plays (if you book early you can get tickets for as low as £12), and I really want to go to one of the Waitangi day services and have the girls over for Valentines day. Also I want to learn calligraphy. Random, but still something I am planning for.

Seriously team, doing your #winterprep now is key. It will mean the difference between hating the next few months and having enough bright spots to get you through. Book something, anything, today and tweet me using the hashtag #winterprep. If you don’t, I will know and I will be very disappointed.