Anyone who knows me well would be surprised to hear me recommending a Christmas book. I am a "bah humbug" type who tries desperately to escape the holiday each year. Not only do I not celebrate Christmas but I despise the crass commercialism, forced sentimentality, and find green and red to be the most distasteful color combination of all. But I am loving Elizabeth David's Christmas. It would seem David was a bit overwhelmed by the holiday as well, in part because her family had many birthdays right around Christmas. Her preference?
"If I had my way--and I shan't--my Christmas day eating and drinking would consist of an omelette, cold ham and a nice bottle of wine at lunchtime, and a smoked salmon sandwich with a glass of champagne on a tray in bed in the evening."
Doesn't that just say it all? Lovely, selfish and and anti-gorging is what she called her ideal version of the holiday. And while she didn't have it her way, her recipes and notes do fill a tidy volume, sadly compiled after her death. Spiced Quinces, Endive and Beetroot Salad, and Leeks with Red Wine are just a few of her tantalizing ideas. Don't expect a modern cookbook. Her recipes are bit like formulas, but I find them inspiring and even if I didn't, I'd want to read her prose because it's so brilliant. Don't miss the final essay, "Para Navidad" which is a lovely culinary travel piece and will instantly transport you to Spain. Of course, how recipes using fresh tomatoes and ripe apricots ended up in this book is anyone's guess, but enjoy it year round. There are notes for American cooks in the back of the book.
If Christmas in another place and time appeals to you, especially a Victorian London place and time, check out The Great Dickens Christmas Fair which runs weekends though December 21. Run by the creators of the Renaissance Faire, it's held at the Cow Palace and features hundreds of costumed players, colorful characters from literature and history, and winding lanes filled with shops, pubs, and food.
Tickets are $10 for children ages 5 – 11 (under 5 are free); $19 for students/seniors/military; and adults are $22 at the door. Discount tickets available.
Here's a drink from Elizabeth David's Christmas that sounds enticing, even for a Scrooge like me.
Regina Port Cocktail
According to David, "The cheaper kinds of port may be made into a good mixed drink for those who do not care for gin."
4 glasses tawny port
4 dashes orange bitters
1 teaspoon Angostura bitters
1 teaspoon Cointreau
Shake well with ice, in a cocktail shaker. Float a snippet of orange peel on top of each glass.