I never really thought about what Christmas was supposed to be. The festive side, anyway.
Throughout the years, I received my hand-knitted Christmas jumpers, ate those warm fruit puddings I secretly despise and witnessed the endless stream of seasonal greetings cards flood through our family letterbox depicting Santa riding through a winter sky on his snow-clad sleigh.
However, it never clicked into place. For us, Christmas was heat, sunshine, seafood, outdoor barbecues and afternoon swims. Having never experienced cold weather in the December months, it seemingly never existed.
Upon relocating to the UK, it was quite a shock to suddenly realise there was a whole other Christmas to experience. One that replaced sunshine with darkness, swimming with ice skating, outdoor barbecues with indoor fireplaces and warmth with bitter cold.
As much as it pains me to say it, there is something undeniably festive about this cool weather business. It has all started to make sense: the jumpers, the cards, Santa and his reindeer, every single Christmas movie ever made…this is Christmas.
And so like an excitable kid on Christmas morning, I have embraced the seasonal spirit wholeheartedly. I take extra time to walk to appointments so I can marvel at the twinkling lights, mulled cider has become my new seasonal pub favourite and, until about a week ago, I was probably the only person in the whole of London who believed, by some sort of Christmas miracle, it was actually snowing on Oxford Street. (Note to all the other idiots out there: it’s not. There is a snow machine above Top Shop).
My kitchen has also fallen prey to seasonal change. Light and zesty dinners have given way to slow roasts and stews that prove to be worthy reminders that beyond the four walls of home, it is cold outside. And I do so love the lingering scent of roasted garlic as it slowly makes its mark on its frequently-basted pan pal. The reward after hours spent being subjected to the delicious smells wafting from the oven is a warming plate of full-flavoured food that has the ability to ward off even the most heavy-set winter chills.
For the time being, this is what the Christmas season is about for me – and I must say, I have grown to love the comforting food, spice-spiked drinks and dark nights filled with twinkling lights.
In conclusion to the above five-hundred words I just wasted waxing lyrical about my new-found love for all things winter Christmas, my greatest soft spot remains to be for my warm Sydney Christmases and the family that comes with them…and that is exactly where I am headed. This afternoon, in fact.
So, to all my UK-based counterparts: enjoy the cold weather, I hope the pretty decorations are enough to make up for the fact you are stuck in an icebox over Christmas. I will leave you with the recipe below to help keep you warm! NB: photo to come…
To all my Sydney-based counterparts: see you soon!
For the Lamb
1.5kg bone-in shoulder of lamb
1 glass of red wine
500mL good quality chicken stock
1/2 bunch fresh rosemary
1 head of garlic, unpeeled and broken into cloves
1 punnet baby tomatoes, halved
For the Vegetables
1 head of garlic, halved
2 red onions, quartered
4 potatoes, peeled and quartered*
4 zucchini, chopped
1 eggplant, roughly chopped
2 heads of fennel, quartered
half bunch fresh thyme sprigs
Juice of 2 lemons
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees celsius. Place half of the rosemary and garlic in the bottom of a large high-sided roasting tray. Season the lamb shoulder with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat and cook each side of the lamb until browned (about 2-3 minutes each side). Transfer to the roasting tray and place the remaining rosemary and garlic on top.
Deglaze the pan with red wine and stock before pouring it over the lamb in the roasting tin. Cook in the preheated oven for 20 minutes and then turn the heat down to 160 degrees celsius and cook for another 3-4 hours**, basting occasionally – if the pan juices begin to dry out, add 100mL water or any remaining stock you have on hand. Add the tomatoes during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Meanwhile, for the roast vegetables, combine the ingredients in a large bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil, seasoning generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in another roasting tin and pour in 1 cup of water. Roast in the oven for the last 2 hours whilst the lamb shoulder is cooking.
Remove the lamb from the oven, cover with tin foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes before shredding and serving on a platter with the tomatoes, roast vegetables and pan juices.
*Use roasting potatoes, such as Maris Piper, Desiree, King Edward or Yukon Gold.
**It is done if you can pull the meat apart easily with two forks.