Music:'Thinking About Tomorrow (ipg dub)' - Beth Orton
The news that my mother's best friend, a woman my sister and I grew up calling 'auntie', died of a massive stroke just before noon yesterday, seriously put a damper on our Xmas get-together. Mum was distracted and depressed, sis and myself slightly weirded out, and the children fractious; so counting the minutes, I timed my escape to about an hour after dinner. Which consisted of a first course of sweet pear and cheese salad, a main course of a vegetarian pastry (ground kidney beans and split peas in filo pastry, which my sister proudly asserted could rival any meat dish but which I personally -silently!- found rather dry and bland) with the traditional Dutch side dishes of stoofperen, i.e. pears that have been cooked in wine with cinnamon and sugar, and red cabbage cooked with apples, prunes, cloves and laurel; and that 70s fad that's remained a staple of Mum's and sis's dinner parties: halved peaches filled with cranberries. The third course, the cheese board, had been my responsibility so I'd gone out and bought us the rather obligatory cheeses Brie and Camembert, Dana Blue and Emmentaler; but also some more personal choices like Five Counties Cheddar and Blue Stilton, Crema Napolitana, a soft French cheese with walnuts and a stinking, runny, smoked Swiss cheese that I'd never tasted before but which was absolutely divine; all served with cream crackers, grapes and my own homemade rosemary and garlic bread, which I'm pleased to say went down a treat. For dessert, my sister had baked a chestnut cake, and served it with coffee, liqueur and chocolates. My youngest nephew insisted I watch Shrek 2 with him, but since his big brother and sister were also vying for my attention, I didn't see too much of it.
In retrospect, although I can say that I've had better Xmasses, last night's was by no means the worst. This afternoon, I'll go and visit my Dad like I do almost every Sunday and tonight, fix myself an easy dinner of pasta and salmon. Now, let's see if my cookies have cooled so I can take 'em with me as my Xmas gift...