Sunday, December 25, 2005

Expat Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day in Japan is always a little lonely for us. I am used to a house FULL of people, literally overflowing, with meals eaten on the lawn! Sun shining, good cheer, that special holiday feeling you get, the feeling that this day is special, different.

Christmas Day in Japan is just another day. Japanese have taken on Christmas and celebrate it, but in their own special way. It's all focussed on Christmas Eve, and it's become date night - Japanese find Christmas wonderfully romantic, and couples get together to celebrate it. Restaurants have special Christmas menus, with nothing you would recognize from a traditional Christmas feast. Love hotels' business booms. People don't go anywhere near their family. Christmas Cake is eaten - sponge with strawberries and cream. The shops are full of decorations from early December, and play Christmas songs, but all of it is gone by Christmas Day. The last stock is removed from the shelves sometime on Dec 23 or 24.

So Christmas Day is a relative non-event - some younger kids in my class were not even aware that it's supposed to be on the 25th! And the end of the year is an extremely busy time at the gasoline stands, because people want their car washed as part of the big year-end clean-up, and need lots of gasoline to take them on their holidays home to the grandies for New Year. So Kanji ALWAYS has to work on Christmas Day (which is, of course, also his birthday). Which makes our day that little bit lonlier. In 2003 I made a dinner and then we brought it to him at work, along with two tiny cakes, one for Christmas, one for his birthday.

This year I decided to do an ex-pat Christmas, and invite some of the people I work with, who, like me, would be missing home and family at this time, and who intinctively understand what the day is supposed to feel like. I made it an open invitation, knowing that young people still thinking in college party mode often consider themselves 'informed' rather than 'invited' to a party, and turn up or not on the day according to how they feel at the time. Not conducive to menu planning, and around 12:30 I was frantically peeling a mountain of potatoes while wondering if anyone would turn up to eat them - but at least I was prepared - if no-one turned up, it would just be a normal Christmas, but with more roast potatoes! (Actually I was thinking up some rather delicious ways to use the leftovers)

Adam turned up at just after 1pm, carrying a coffee maker! He also had Kahlua, coffee, cream and milk and a gift for us, of rice that he had won in a cycling contest! Rich turned up late, at about 3pm, but since I had to cook the roast potatoes separately from the chicken because they would not all fit together in my oven, the dinner was delayed anyway. By about 3pm the three of us, and the two kids sat down together to a lovely roast chicken dinner. Kanji had been able to get home between 1-2, but then had to go back to work. There were two chickens, I had to get two because they were so damn small! They looked like they had starved to death. Rich called them 'game birds'.

The gravy was a collaborative effort. Rich said his gravy for the roast turkey he had at his Christmas party the week before (which I couldn't go to because I had another party) had failed, so we set him the job of stirring (with the super pan-gravy whisk Mum got me). Me and Adam added stuff, and we ended up with a very delicious wine and black pepper gravy. We only cheated a little bit and added some gravy mix.

We had roast potatoes (Rich, from the US, thought I said 'rice potatoes) and 'kumara' (actually Japanese sweet potato, a slightly different variey which doesn't roast as well), pumpkin, mashed potato, peas, cauliflower with cheese sauce and boiled cabbage. Adam had seconds, Rich had thirds. There was nothing fancy, nothing modern, and we all loved it.

Dessert was pavlova and trifle. Adam, from Australia, was suitably impressed - 'you made it from scratch?' Rich thought it was called Pavlov (after the the researcher who discovered the conditioned response with a bell and a salivating dog. ie, you see the pav and your mouth starts to water. Interesting...). He liked it, and it wasn't half bad! The crust was a little browned, which is something I don't know if I am going to be able to prevent with my gas fan oven. The marshmallow centre was large, I prefer it dryer like Mum's, but Adam thought it was just right. We didn't argue over its provenance - he said he thought they stole it off us. I said it was made first in Australia by a NZ chef for the dancer Pavlova, who Rich hadn't even heard of. I suppose we only know about her because of the dessert. The pav was piled high with kiwifruit, while the trifle had a mound of strawberries. It looked very summery, but snowy as well with all the white.

After dinner Eoin showed up, and later Rich's wife Kuniko, who had been helping out at her parents' cake shop that day delivering 1000 Christmas cakes! She brought one for us. Adam made Kahlua coffees for us, and hot chocolate for the kids, who opened their final presents - Lego sets from Mum and Dad. Rich sat on the sofa watching the Wizard of Oz while the kids climbed all over him, begging to be tickled. Kanji came home and had his dinner. Adam built Harry Potter's Knight bus out of Lego. Kuniko checked out my wedding album. Rich played with Lena's sky dancer. Everyone had a go at Kanji's metal twist puzzle. Eoin talked until 2am, then I had the last of the 'game hen' in a sandwich before calling Chris in London.

The guys fitted in like uncles, and the different configuration for the eveing felt authentic too. The food was great, we stuffed ourselves, and there was hardly any leftovers, just enough roast potatoes and cabbage to have a very delicious fry-up the next day.

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