“Tis the season to be jolly.....fa.la.laa” sings a merry voice inside my head. Yup. It’s that time of the year again. The time to spread cheer, love and hope. The time for stars, cribs, Christmas trees, greeting cards, gifts, for the practical minded-discount sales, and of course, baking. You guessed it! Christmas is here.
The world over, celebrations and food share a deep, intimate, inseparable bond and it is no different in my home either. The kitchen is the heart of all celebrations. Mom loves cooking. We love eating. Onam is a season for the oil to boil. Murrukku, achappam, banana chips, kozhalappam all take their turns to get dunked into hot oil, sizzle and get fried into fresh, crisp and sinfully delicious (a.k.a calorie packed) snacks. Onam being the traditional festival of the land of coconuts and coconut oil, it’s inevitable that oil hog the limelight.
But with Christmas, it is a whole new story, oil and frying take a backseat and watch the fun as the oven takes to centre stage. The traditional fare gets replaced with cakes, cookies, puddings, breads, roasted chicken etc. The home-made wine blushes with pride into a deeper red at all the attention as she steps gingerly on stage.
The preparations for the big day begins months ahead when dried fruits, after a screen-test for quality, are selected, coarsely chopped and soaked in brandy for the Christmas cake. The regulars on the list include raisins, cherries, cashews and dates.
Mom ensures that the cakes are not baked until two days before Christmas because with three ever hungry kids at home for the vacations, the kitchen is always at risk of being plundered.
Cake making is a gala event with the entire family joining in. Mom, the supervisor assigns duties to us the three children and Dad retains his privileged post-the Royal Food Taster. The stereo is turned on and smells of vanilla essence, beaten eggs, cake batter all mingle with the strains of music in the air. Soon the eggs are beaten, butter and sugar whipped, flour, brandy sodden dried fruits and caramel added, batter mixed, fingers licked and remnants of cake batter on the spoons and vessels fought over.
Empty egg shells lying around in clusters, an egg beater dripping gooey threads of egg onto the black granite kitchen counter, a sink piled up with used pans, dishes, ladles and measuring cups, smileys smirking from the white blanket of flour and powdered sugar spread on the slabs are all that remain.
Before long, tummies rumble and minds fantasise as the enticing, rich fragrance of freshly baked cakes waft through every room in the house. But Mom puts her feet down firm on the one area where she rules, “No eating until tea-time.” she says and for once doesn’t let her heart waver to the best of our entreaties.
With the cakes baked and safely locked away, all that remains is for the wine to be bottled and to wait for the big day to walk in with all its high spirits.
The breeze whistles, birds sing, squirrels chirp and Christmas day dawns bright and beautiful. The very air crackles with excitement. No one is surprised when the two boys of the house are up and about in time for the early morning shopping and preparations.
The menu for the day, the highlight of any festival is Christian fare with a western touch. The day starts with a breakfast of fluffy appams and spicy egg curry. Soft home-made bread , a roasted full chicken stuffed with potatoes, a thick savoury gravy to go with it , fresh cucumber and tomato salad and tall glasses of lemonade complete lunch.
The curtain falls on the celebrations of the last festival of the year when the specially decorated Christmas cake is cut and relished at tea.
As Night sneaks up outside our window on Christmas night, all that she can hear is snatches of conversation. The thrilled chatter of a small family making plans for the New-year bash.
“Who wants chocolate pudding?” asks Mom and three hands shoot up.
“So chocolate it is. Should we have a biscuit crumb base or ...........”
Night drifts off to sleep listening to the lullaby of our voices.