Christmas for me begins at 3pm on Christmas Eve with the pure sound of a boy tenor singing the opening bars of Once In Royal David's City, which always heralds the start of the service of nine lessons and carols from King's College Chapel, Cambridge. I am usually cooking while listening to the radio, happily chopping things, assembling a meal for Christmas Eve, while singing along to my favourite carols.
Despite being an unashamed foodie, I am not very good with Christmas food. I don't like turkey, finding it too dry and uninteresting a meat, though my mother-in-law does a very good Coronation Turkey, which, when she lived in the farmhouse, was always served on Boxing Day after we'd been out with the hunt. I don't do the rum-soaked cakes and puddings, and have never liked raisins and their cousins, sultanas and currants, nor mixed peel or indeed any other dried fruit to speak of. Thus, Christmas cake, Christmas Pudding and mince pies are all anathema to me. Other people find this bizarre. "But you MUST like mince pies!" they carol with incredulity. To which I'd love to reply "Why must I?" I've never liked mince pies and I never will! (Having said that, I am keen to try Waitrose's old fashioned real mince pie, made with venison.)
Christmas Day is usually spent with my husband's family in Dorset. The day follows a fairly traditional course. We drive down a virtually empty M3 from London, and, more often than not, our car breaks down, or, as happened one year, we are involved in an ugly road rage incident with some yokel oik in a Metro. Last year, the power steering failed on the van, and we had to go back to London on an AA low loader in order to pick up our car to finish off the journey....
After the Queen, and Christmas specials of Dr Who and Strictly Come Dancing, we gather at the groaning board for roast rib of beef and all the trimmings. And my pudding. Because I don't eat Christmas Pudding, I always bring my own. This year it's Greek Walnut Cake, a delicious meringuey confection drenched in cinnamon syrup. We eat and drink too much and then collapse in front of the telly for some more festive garbage before retiring to bed. On Boxing Day, we go out with the hunt and come back for cold cuts before embarking on another huge meal in the evening.
Until two years ago, friends from New York would fly in on Christmas Eve and come for dinner, where we would always have lots of Cava and smoked salmon and blinis, and then a huge meal ending with one of my signature chocolate cakes. This year it's local foodie friends for supper, people who know me and my food well and who love eating at my table. I am cooking Duck Fattee, a Lebanese layered dish with rice, fried aubergine and a piquant tomato sauce, and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's chocolate chestnut cake.