My marriage ended.
That’s not a super funny opening line, sorry. I typed a few puns out – some basic stuff about nuptials turning into nopetials or whatever – but it all sounded a bit like telling someone I was doing fine, no really, really fine, just fine!!! And as this is not an online documentation of a breakdown, I thought it best to start with minimal British awkwardness and get straight to the point (anyway – you can tell it’s all okay by the use of only three exclamation marks rather than four. Four’s the tipping point, isn’t it? Four’s when people start to worry, but three is okay.)
Genuinely: it’s fine. J continues to be the perfect father to both our daughter and our Le Creuset set, and we speak regularly (mostly to tell the other to get off Netflix so the other can have a turn – AND IF YOU DOB US IN TO NETFLIX FOR THIS I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN).
Fine or not, though, Christmas promises to be a bit shit this year. Worse than the year my parents misjudged my love of unicorns (and misjudged my sense of humour), and bought me a tin of ‘unicorn meat’ thus ruining Christmas morning for everyone. Worse than the year dad didn’t buy mum any gifts because she said she didn’t want anything and he believed her, which was somehow my sister and my’s fault. Even worse than the year we ran out of bread sauce because mum only made double the recipe…
I managed to deny the inevitability of Christmas 2022 until about Halloween, but as soon as 31 October rolled over into November, reality descended and, like a tsunami of excrement breaking through sewer floodgates, the festive jollities of a nation flooded my every sense.
Every trip to Sainsburys came with pre-battle talks as I mentally prepped myself to march past the walls of Quality Street without giving in to the urge to kick them over, I reveled in imagining I could fix my heating bills by setting fire to all the Christmas trees that suddenly sprouted from shopfronts two weeks ago, and I’ve dithered in writing my list to Santa for so long now that, what with the Royal Mail Strikes, it’s unlikely to reach him in time.
(Keep it light, Ellie)
Because we are a society obsessed with Christmas, I cannot ignore that Doomsday is just around the corner, nor can I pretend I’m excited. I could start new traditions, but honestly, screw that shit – it might work for 20-something wellness gurus with sunlight in their veins, but I’m a 30 year old woman with a wardrobe of impractical clothes she bought in a fit of post-breakup mania, and mostly good old vitriol and wine coursing through in my veins. The point is I don’t want to build new memories or “embrace the differences” this year; I want to Fuck Up Christmas.
Specifically, Christmas Dinner.
If ever there was a year to flip through retro recipe books for genuine festive inspiration, rather than gagging in disgust at the horrifying delicacies, this is it. To hell with your family-sized roast turkeys, and screw your flambéd Christmas puddings; my showstopper will be the state of the bathroom after my guests’ digestive systems buckle under the unrelenting diet of Unspecified Things in aspic.
This seems like a healthy way to deal with things…
The first experiment in Operation Fuck Up Christmas (OFUC) comes courtesy of the 19th century, from a work called ‘A New System of Domestic Cookery’ by the anonymous A. Lady. Technically she wasn’t anonymous; we know that ‘A Lady’ was actually Maria Rundell, a writer of recipes and general household maintenance of little fame, who first published Domestic Cookery in 1806.
The recipe is called ‘Egg Mince Pies’ and it was a great start to get me into the Grinch spirit. While I was familiar with traditional mince pies, which had meat in them, meatless, egg-heavy pies were new to me.
Boil six eggs hard, shred them small; shred double the quantity of suet; then put in currants washed and picked one pound, or more, if the eggs were very large; the peel of one lemon shred very fine, and the juice, six spoonfuls of sweet wine, mace, nutmeg, sugar, a very little salt; orange, lemon and citron, candied. Make a light paste for them.Domestic Cookery, A Lady
The thing is, most of the recipe seemed pretty mundane and as I was mixing everything together part of me wanted to give up, livid that I’d been tricked into making what was essentially a normal mince pie when what I’d wanted was a Frankenstein’s monster of a yuletide pastry to make kids cry. The kitchen smelled like Christmas, the radio kept threatening to play All I want for Christmas is You before I managed to hurl my Sonos across the room, the mixture looked exactly like mixtures I’d grown up with when the world wasn’t so spiky.
And then. And then. The eggs, boiled so hard they could break through mortar, were duly added and a kind of gently threatening festive mayhem descended, shattering the saccharine scene I’d built up.
The dubious combo went into some pastry cases of equally dubious quality (but still made with
increasingly diminishing amounts of energy love), and baked for – I don’t know, 30 minutes? Somewhere between 30 and 47 minutes.
I looked round the kitchen, furious that I was expected to clean up my own mess, and went for a nap instead, drifting off to suspiciously pleasant smells.
These were actually not that bad. By which I mean they were quite good, which for the purposes of OFUC makes them bad??? One pie on its own was pretty filling, in part thanks to the combination of suet and butter in the recipe, but also because I don’t own any mince pie tins so I had to use American cupcake pans instead, meaning that one pie was big enough to feed a small city, maybe Ely, for about a week.
However, there was no getting away from the fact that it was very eggy, albeit in a deliberate yet inconsistent way. Because the eggs were diced and mixed in as if they were currants, each mouthful was hit and miss as to whether it would be egg free or egg heavy. It felt nicely passive aggressive: munching down on what seemed to be a normal, boring mince pie only to be confronted with a slightly sulphuric, chalky egg lump half way through.
Will these Fuck Up Christmas? Not on their own, no. They’re too aesthetically pleasing and err just a touch on the side of ‘normal’ to be powerhouses of my Christmas dinner this year. However, as a first foray into alternative provisions for this festive season they worked pretty damn well.
Finally, I do want to express my thanks to people who have reached out over the past months, mostly to ask if I’m still alive or if I succumbed to the ever-present threat of food poisoning. Thanks. And to those who have been reading this and think this post has been the blog equivalent of updating my location on social media as ‘At Hospital’ in the expectation that people will comment “DM me babe”, “OMG hun, are you OK?” and just loads of crying emojis, you’re absolutely right – fucking DM me, babe.