Guest blogger Kim Parker cooks up a festive taste of home in less-than-ideal conditions…
Living in a primarily Islamic country for the past two years, I have had to adapt my expectations (and, yes, my childlike excitement) for Christmas. When it comes to the festive period, time has not made me cynical. I can’t get enough of the shopping, the wrapping, the songs, the films, Christmas crackers, trees, cards – I could go on and on. Get me a one-way ticket to Whoville and I will show the Grinch the spirit of Christmas, no bother. And the one thing that really epitomizes the most wonderful time of the year for me? The food. It is the one period when you are allowed – nay, encouraged – to eat until you can’t physically move even to change the channel to watch the Dr. Who Christmas special, when a Sunday roast is elevated to include a plethora of sides that otherwise would seem overly extravagant, and when the fridge is a veritable triumph of the fanciest cheese and fruit duets known to man.
Which brings me to a hot Sunday on the tropical island of Java, Indonesia. Myself and the other expats had decided to have our own mini Christmas (or a mini-mas, if you will). What I had envisioned as a relaxed day of rustling up a few dishes whilst merrily clinking a beer or two quickly became a frantic, sweaty, chaotic, but, dare I say, rather British affair. Food shopping was done in advance, and it was decided that Turkey would be too much of an expense – I know, I know, it’s Christmas, but the dense jungles of Indonesia are not prime Turkey farming land. We settled on chicken and duck, crossing our fingers that two birds would make the cut for the growing number of attendees.
Settling down with four others, I began to sympathise with my parents. Undertaking the mountainous amount of peeling would be enough to put me off coordinating this every year. In high spirits (everyone loves organized fun, right?) we peeled and chopped enough roast potatoes, mashed potatoes – both sweet and ordinary – carrots and other vegetables to get our five-a-day until well into January. It was then I realised all of these vegetables would also have to be cooked. And here, my friends, was the real trial.
Indonesians are good at frying things. In fact, they rock at it. The colonel has nothing on the street food here. Unfortunately, the kitchens reflect that; two very hot hobs with hardly any prep space and a severe lack of ovens and utensils. I had purchased an electric two-shelved oven, and a friend a smaller toaster oven. Luckily the chicken was being cooked elsewhere, or else we really would have needed a Christmas miracle. The duck (head and all) went in the oven from the moment the on-switch was flicked. The following few hours were a test of organization, patience, timing and sanity. As we only had two hobs in each house, and a total of nearly 10 dishes, three separate buildings became our mini-mas kitchen. Dodging cats and running with hot pans (good job health and safety isn’t really a big deal here), the afternoon was made even more difficult by the ovens shorting the electricity out every 30 minutes. But we were getting there. Slow and steady wins the race, as the famous Aesop fabled. Unfortunately, the tortoise in our story was the duck, and it was doing its darndest to thwart us by refusing to cook.
As the famous (and now rather overused) saying goes, keep calm and carry on. And we did. We were nearly two hours past the original planned time but, just like Guinness, good things come to those who wait. It was worth it to enjoy the closest thing to real Western cuisine I have had in a long time, and I was lucky enough to share it with similarly opinioned eaters.
So please, spare a thought for me on Christmas day when you’re running a little late on lunch and your kitchen seems a mess. Or better yet, send me some turkey and a cracker in the post – I haven’t got my fill of Christmas just yet.
N.B. Incidentally, I tired eggnog for the first time made by a real, rootin-tootin American – amazing stuff! I would recommend this for your own festivities this year. It’s like drinking a custard tart, and who in their right mind would say no to that?