Christmas is a time that so many of us look forward to but is it also a time that we dread because it brings family members together who at all other times of the year do their very best to avoid each other?
Last Christmas my friend Julie had to spend Christmas with her husband’s parents in Queensland, just a short 15 hour drive away. Julie’s mother-in-law, Margaret is an animal lover but loves animals to the extent that it impairs her judgement.
Margaret’s home is a townhouse on a very small parcel of land. There is no backyard, just a courtyard with an overhanging tree from the rear neighbour’s more substantial property.
When Peter and Julie emerged from their car with their young daughter and even younger twin boys after a harrowing trip they headed for the front door but before they got there a wiry grey mutt flew out the front door and gave the children a huge fright. The dog was followed by Margaret.
Julie’s husband Peter asked, ‘Mum, who’s dog is that? Is that your dog? What are you doing with a dog?’
‘Yes it is. Don’t you love her? I got her from the Pound’. And she gave them all hugs and kisses and was blind to the dog jumping up and down on the children and covering them with saliva and scratches.
Peter sensibly said, ‘Mum, you don’t have room for a dog. There’s nowhere for it to run around. And is it a puppy, mum? Puppies are a lot of work.’
‘Oh but the poor thing. She was dumped there. They were going to put her down. And she’s just gorgeous.’
And then Julie’s daughter who’s a bright wee thing said, ‘Daddy, it can’t be a puppy because it’s got grey hair’.
But then Margaret replied like this was a great opportunity for some education, ‘Oh but she is Georgie, she’s a blue cattle dog and that’s the colour they are’. And then proud as punch, Margaret said to Julie, ‘What do you think of Pippa? Isn’t she the sweetest thing? She’s the dearest little thing isn’t she. Only six weeks old too. The children will just love her to bits’.
But Georgie and the boys weren’t warming to Pippa. They were very disappointed that with her grey fur she didn’t look like a real puppy.
The next day was Christmas Day and Margaret, with a few Pimms under her belt, was so relaxed Julie wondered if anyone would ever get anything to eat. And Margaret kept turning to Julie and asking, ‘Are Christmas Days like this at your mother’s house Julie? Does it just take forever to get everything ready?’ And Julie replied, ‘Sorry Margaret, but there’s quite a few good cooks in my family, totally organised too’. But Margaret was pouring another Pimms and so the comment slipped into the abyss.
By 3.45 in the afternoon lunch was finally ready but just before the turkey was carved, Margaret, who was outside fossicking about for a few stray herbs, found on the courtyard pavers under the overhanging tree, a baby bird, so young it didn’t have feathers. Margaret was thrilled and without hesitation scooped it up into her hands. She yelled for the children to come outside shouting, ‘I have a big surprise for you’. So with lit up faces Julie took them outside and Margaret squatted down and showed them the bird. Julie was horrified. She said, ‘Margaret, that’s a baby miner bird. They’re not native, they’re like rodents. Just put it back in the nest’.
But Margaret insisted all the children have a turn of touching it and so they all had it in their hands and it was being passed around and totally over-handled. Julie was saying to Margaret that she didn’t think it was a good idea for the children to be handling the bird because it could be passing on all sorts of germs and diseases and shouldn’t it just be put back in the nest so the children could come inside and wash their hands, especially as they were just about to eat. But Margaret was oblivious and was talking about how good this was for the children’s education.
Finally she relented and said the poor thing could be put back in its nest. One of the twin boys was holding it at that stage and so the grandmother told him he could put it back in the nest. As Liam moved towards the nest he dropped the bird on the pavers. Quick as a flash Pippa bounded forward, picked it up in her jaws and after a few awful noises the bird was history.
All the grandchildren started screaming and crying and were too traumatised to want any lunch. Pippa however, was wagging her tail and licking her lips like she’d had the best meal of her life.
And when Julie was telling me this story she was rolling her eyes saying, ‘Honestly Charlie, it’s like that every time we go there. It’s one thing after another’.
Did you have Christmas dinner with your in-laws?
After a harrowing road trip it’s always soul-soothing to sit down to some comfort food and this chicken curry served with rice, bread and lime wedges is the perfect meal.
Chicken Tikka Masala
I found this recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Dinners however I have adapted it quite a bit because while I love Jamie’s recipes this curry was quite involved and required barbequing the chicken while cooking the sauce etc and I wanted to simplify the recipe to make it easier to whip up if you walk in the door late from work and have to get dinner on the table in a hurry.
Degree of Difficulty: 2/5 if you follow my recipe, 3/5 if you follow Jamie Oliver’s recipe
Cost: A fairly inexpensive family meal
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
7.5cm/3 inches of fresh ginger, peeled
2-3 red chillies, deseeded
1 tbspn mustard seeds
1 tbspn paprika
2 tspns gnd cumin
2 tspns gnd coriander
3 tbspns garam masala
200g/7oz natural yoghurt
4 medium chicken breasts, skinned and cut into large chunks. I used 1kg chicken breast fillets
1 tbspn butter
2 medium onions, peeled and finely sliced
2 tbspns tomato puree
a small handful of ground almonds
115ml/4fl oz double cream
a handful of fresh coriander, chopped
juice of 1-2 limes
Finely chop the garlic and put in a bowl. Grate the ginger and add to the bowl. Chop the chillies finely and add to the bowl. Heat a good splash of oil in a frying pan. Add the mustard seeds. As soon as they start to pop remove them from the heat and add them to the bowl. Add the paprika, cumin, ground coriander and 2 tbspns of the garam masala. Divide the mixture into 2 bowls. In one of the bowls add the yoghurt and chicken and mix to combine. Leave to marinate for half and hour or so.
Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the remaining spice mix and the onions. Cook gently for about 15 mins without browning until the onions are very soft and the spices smell fantastic. Add the marinated chicken, tomato puree, the ground nuts, half a ltr/1 pint water and a tspn of salt. Stir well and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked – about 20 minutes.
Add the cream and remaining tbspn of garam masala, the coriander and lime juice.
Serve with basmati rice, some Indian bread and some additional lime cheeks.