Sunday, December 27, 2009

I’m at home with Christmas

MY PAPERTHURSDAY DECEMBER 24, 2009 A13, LIFESTYLE (Viewpoint)
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BY JILL ALPHONSO, myp@sph.com.sg


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PHOTO: JILL ALPHONSO
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ONCE upon a time, I hated Christmas. “Bah!” I would say whenever the topic was brought up. There was never any need to say more.


PHOTO: http://typicalmacuser.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2007/12/800px-merry_christmas_1.png

It was, I think, a reaction to the fact that I had no say in family get-together. I was going to someone’s house for an afternoon or an evening – like it or not.


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Things have changed. I adore family functions now. Maybe it’s just part of getting older.

Whatever the case, in the first year that I was feeling warmly about the family Christmas Eve tradition, I decided to pitch in. “Let me cook!” I said to my mother.


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After all, I’d spent a few Christmases on my own in the United States when I worked there in my early 20s. Then, I’d whip up dinners for other “orphaned” friends who couldn’t afford to fly home, or who simply were avoiding being with their relatives.


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My mother was immediately excited by my offer. “What’s the menu?” she asked eagerly.


PHOTO: http://www.north-pole-christmas.com/uploads/Wallpaper/christmas_wallpaper_berries.jpg

I planned. Pored over cookbooks. Consulted Martha Stewart via her website. Lamb, I thought. Totally nontraditional. And kind of quirky. Maybe even subversively offensive (you know, Jesus. Manger. That whole spiel). It would still be delicious. It was perfect. I’d get some chops and grill them to perfection.


PHOTO: http://www.north-pole-christmas.com/uploads/Wallpaper/christmas_wallpaper_prettyblue.jpg

My mother offered to do the vegetables. Something with carrots, that’s all I recall. My aunt would make dessert. I’d also make a simple side, like mashed potatoes.

Everything was going fine until my mother decided I’d have to cook in her kitchen. Dinner, after all, was at her house.


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It should have set of warning bells. My mother is known as a masterful entertainer and a great cook. She pulls off parties like no one else can. My cousins always ask hopefully if Christmas will be at her house. But she gained her reputation, you see, by being meticulous. She is a perfectionist who leaves no stone unturned when it comes to the party stakes.


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So, I should have known that she was going to bogart the entire operation. I should never have agreed to the use of her oven, her stove. Her kitchen is her domain.


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Two weeks before the dinner, I told her what I was cooking. “Sounds nice,” she said. I beamed. I was infused with the Christmas spirit.


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A week later, she called and said: “I’ve been reading about lamb.” She asked if I’d consider tweaking the recipe. Sure, I said.


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On the day of the show, I turned up to cook. Disaster. My mother had decided this was to be a collaborative effort. That quickly turned into her directing me to do things like checking the meat.


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Essentially, she was in charge. In the end, all I could claim credit for was the mashed potatoes.

The lamb was...interesting. (She’d never cooked lamb in her life until that point.) Since that incident four years ago, I haven’t offered to cook for family functions.

If I was being honest, I’d say I was a little hurt that my mum didn’t trust my judgment. In truth, all she’d wanted was to be part of the fun.


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My mother, however, regularly cooks for me, sometimes even bringing food over for my household. I love her food. It’s so good that it brings tears to my eyes. I’m not exaggerating when I say I think I would die without it.

This year, I asked what we were doing for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner. “I don’t know,” she said, sounding a tad forlorn, adding: “Your father’s singing in the church choir for the evening Mass.


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We could still do dinner,” I said hopefully. She thought about it. “I guess we could order a turkey. You always like that,” she said. “You could invite one or two of your ‘orphans’ over.

The friend I invited said he’d bring dessert (his mother was a chef and he’s an excellent cook).


PHOTO: http://www.zastavki.com/pictures/1280x1024/Christmas_wallpapers__003773_.jpg

My mother said she’d do the veg. My partner and I thought about what we could contribute. I rang my mother. “Hey,” I said, “I’ll help pick up the turkey if you lend me the car. And we’ll bring something along, too.” “Sure,” she said, sounding upbeat. “What are you thinking of making?


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Mashed potatoes,” I said firmly. I sucked in a breath.


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My mother paused. “Okay,” she conceded. “That’s a good idea. You do make a good mash.”
myp@sph.com.sg



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HELPDESK: 我的字典
Wǒ de zì diǎn

Tradition: 传统 - chuán tǒng
Meticulous: 严谨的 - yán jǐn de
Tweaking: 轻微调整 - qīng wēi tiáo zhěng
Exaggerating: 夸张 - kuā zhāng



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