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December 27, 2010
I’ve always enjoyed celebrating Christmas.  There’s something so fairytale about a glistening tree propped up by all the presents underneath, carolers at the door (it’s a childhood memory at best, although we did have carolers when my daughter and I lived in Manhattan), a warm happy-family gathering for Christmas dinner, and peace, love, and all that other stuff. The Christmas that’s presented on television, or played out to us in faded memories, isn’t quite what most of us actually share, but that’s another story.
I’ve only once celebrated Christmas outside the U.S. and that was forty years ago.  Our travels around the world in a green Land Rover found Husband Number One and me camping out in New Delhi on Christmas, 1970.  To weary travelers who had been on the road for seven months, Christmas was just another day.  I think the Indians felt the same.  Fast forward and Christmas 2010 found Husband Number Three and me in our new home in Wales, UK. 
Christmas in Florida never looked like the Christmas Day that dawned outside our window.  It was cold.  The ground was covered in snow.(Florida doesn’t have snow).   The hilltops gleamed in the sunlight  (Florida doesn’t have hilltops).  The sky was a sapphire blue.  To say the day was gorgeous was an understatement!  Off we went to the home of a dazzling young couple, Justin and Kate Holly, who had invited us to spend the day – meaning breakfast AND lunch, with them. Kate’s parents picked us up in their Land Rover, and off we went to the top of their mountain, where Wood Cottage commanded magnificent views from across the Usk Valley to the Bristol Channel beyond.
Justin is a chef and we were in for a day of feasting.  Starting with salmon dressed in pepper and lemon, accompanied by endless glasses of champagne, the day was off to a roaring start!  A fire was crackling in the living room and the kitchen was humming as everyone took their places around the huge center island to pitch in and help, with Justin at the helm.  But first – a walk!

Not quite a “ramble” (a wander over the hills and dales), and dressed in our boots, jackets and gloves, we marched up the one last hill beyond Kate and Justin’s home toward a clearing.  On the way we heard from the resident pheasant that lives in a towering tree and spied rabbit tracks in the snow.  Just a short trek away we came to the flattop and beheld a wondrous outlook.  Every home, every tower, every village for miles was neatly laid out below us.  We felt on top of Everest.  We felt at one with Wales.  We felt peaceful.  Serene.  Almost religious.  And definitely hungry — so we clambered off the mountain top and headed straight back to Wood Cottage and the meal of the century!

Three Magi - Kate, Kate's mom Pat, and Jann on top of the world Christmas Day

Three Magi - Kate, Kate's mom Pat, and Jann on top of the world Christmas Day

Justin doffed his walking clothes and again took command central between the huge cooker (stove) and prep island.  Deflower the Brussels sprout stalk.  Ribbon the sprout leaves.  Sip some wine.  Core the parsnips.  Angle cut the carrots.  Separate the goose fat.  Drizzle the roasties (potatoes) with same.  Sip more wine.  Suddenly, the hob (cooktop) was doing what it was created to do and we had a lull.  Perfect time for a nap as everyone settled down for a few minutes to gather more energy for the meal ahead.

Only one thing got between the nap and the meal and she was on the telly (television) promptly at 3 PM. The Queen.  Every Christmas the Queen delivers “The Queen’s Speech,”  a  greeting with a small message and big wishes for all her subjects on this special day.  All of Britain tunes in to watch.  Throw in a song by the choir at Hampton Court, and in just a few minutes, the Queen’s Speech has come and gone, and we’re back in the kitchen for final preparations.

The goose comes out of the oven and is defrocked.  The roast beef makes an appearance and is sliced into wafer thin morsels. The cranberry/pomegranate jello mold (jelly) is upturned and plattered.  Vegetables (veg) are seasoned and sautéed to perfection.  Stuffing.  Gravy.  Roasties and parsnips are brown, crispy and gleaming.  The table is set in the conservatory, wine bottles lined up like tin soldiers, and the hungry converge.  We eat until almost full, but are sure to leave a little room for the traditional, very British, ever-present and looked forward to – pudding!

There’s a reason that Britain is known as Pudding Island.  The Brits love their desserts, and the generic term for anything sweet served after a meal is “pudding.”  It can be a Victoria Sponge (cake with jelly between the layers), or, as in our case, a poached pear frangipani and a chocolate tart served with freshly whipped cream.  Forks and spoons flashed in the air like a gathering of fencing enthusiasts, and no sooner had we been served than the dishes were empty.  We were full.  We were sated.  We were deliriously happy.  And we’d eaten so much that the real, traditional Christmas pudding (a fruitcake laced with alcohol and left to stand for at least a year) had to be put back into the cupboard for yet another year. 

And that, my friends, is what Christmas is like on Pudding Island. Thank you Kate and Justin for making this day so satisfying — and filled with love and affection. Merry Christmas every day to you both.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 27, 2010 1:21 pm

    Thanks Jann, beautifully written, ate & Justin will be delighted.

  2. Diane Rock permalink
    December 28, 2010 12:55 am

    I was wondering how your Christmas was . . . I felt like I was there with you all. Thanks for the delicious time. Thanks, Jann.
    Love, Diane

  3. Kate Holly permalink
    December 28, 2010 8:42 am

    What a perfect souvenir from a perfect day! Wouldn’t have been the same without you xxx

  4. Sal Davis permalink
    December 30, 2010 11:34 pm

    It was a gorgeous day! Such a nice change to have snow at Christmas.

    I’m glad you enjoyed your first Christmas in Monmouthshire.

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