When you can’t go home for Christmas, food can keep you connected


ohOn Christmas Day this year, it will be 625 days since New Zealand introduced the managed isolation and quarantine system and 446 days since it became mandatory to reserve a place in this system to enter the system. country. It has been 446 days since entering my home country became almost impossible. This year, December 25th will mark the second Christmas I can’t be at home.

The last time I was home for Christmas, my brother was finishing his freshman year of college. The next time I see him, it will hopefully be next Christmas, and he will have completed all four years of his degree. At the end of 2019, my aunt was navigating life with a two year old toddler. Next time we meet, her second child will be almost the same age. This year seems to be a distant memory. We had the whole family together, some of us from as far away as England, others from across Australia. We spent long lazy days using tongs to deburr mussels en masse in buckets, the salt water pricking our hands as we grabbed them off the rocks and baked them in coconut, chili and lime. Christmas dinner was taken outside around a long communal table, the waves breaking right behind us, followed by a long walk on the beach and a quick surf on the sandbar.

I have spent much of my life thinking that my family is going against tradition when it comes to Christmas. We were often in different places, sometimes in our beach house, other times at our home in Auckland, some years we were abroad and a few times we spent it with an extended family member. What we had for our meal also varied each year. When some families seem to have a set menu of what’s on offer each year, our Christmas meal was fleeting; sometimes traditional, other times not at all. But as I got older and moved away from home, I realized that these meals were much more fixed than I remembered. No matter where we were, the day almost always started with scrambled eggs, salmon gravadlax and a croissant. If we were in charge of the cooking, the starter would still be Daddy’s amazingly 1970s dish of half an avocado draped in salmon and drizzled with a strawberry and balsamic vinaigrette, like some kind of terrible work of art. ‘modern Art. Mom always made the ham (rub it with marmalade first and sprinkle it every 15 minutes) and it was usually eaten with Nan’s peaches, which would have been slowly roasted in a seed mustard sauce and Honey.

Some of these are more recent traditions. When my sister was deep in her chemotherapy last Christmas, my parents managed to get on the plane to support her in the horrific process. Almost living on top of each other in a tiny apartment in Haggerston in the heart of the lockdown, Christmas was about as far from being as usual. Except, of course, for the fact that we started the day anyway with salmon gravadlax and scrambled eggs and feasted on Mom’s Christmas ham. By dealing with seasonal British ingredients, a few new classics have been developed; like Brussels sprouts, roasted in honey and balsamic with crispy bacon – a side dish that I imagine will be part of the regular Christmas rotation going forward.

Food is, without a doubt, a major link with the house. Taste can trigger such specific memories and have such deep emotional connections. Christmas being intrinsically synonymous with gastronomy, it is an opportunity to feel a little less far away during the end of the year celebrations. “I come from a very big family, so Christmas is full of people and food,” UK-based Kiwi Libby McPherson tells me. “My dad makes the most amazing Christmas ham, so when I’m away from my family for Christmas, I always try to do it. My grandma makes Christmas puddings every year, and the day she makes a tasteless, lumpy custard. Without fail, my father will always eliminate it and cure it with rum, miraculously making it very delicious. My grandmother is never the wisest.

For some, it’s the classic Kiwi (not Australian), a pavlova. “I have a friend whose family adopted me over Christmas, so I go there every year for a week,” Megan tells me. “They make me a pavlova for dessert. Between you and me, I hate pavlova, but it makes me feel like I’m home at Christmas, having to eat the dessert I hate. Cassandra Hutson’s family takes a classic turn on the dish with a chocolate pavlova. “My mother’s language of love is food, and she never tells us that she loves us more than at Christmas,” she tells me. “After lunch, when all the photos have been taken, I’ll change into something with an elasticated waistband in preparation for dessert. Mom makes chocolate pavlova every year which is world famous in my family. I tried to recreate it without success last year.

Food can bring home memories, while taste can transport you there


For Sophie Turner, based in London, it’s a dish that is not usually tied to Christmas and has the strongest connection to the house. “It’s not something my family usually cooked for Christmas, but since moving to London I’ve been making daddy’s meatloaf for my husband and friends,” she tells me. “It’s the perfect comfort food for the winter and a real pleasure to prepare and eat. My dad always cooked it best – it was the star of the table at anyone’s birthday party or at a special event.

This Christmas, I will be spending it without any member of my family for the first time in my life. The day will start with bacon sandwiches and end up snuggling up to the fire rather than throwing my turkey-filled body into the ocean. I try to find a little bit of familiarity by making mom’s ham and Brussels sprouts from last year. The salmon will still be present, courtesy of my partner’s Scottish sister-in-law, but it will be smoked and served on a blini rather than an avocado. There will be mountains of my mother-in-law’s infamous potatoes that no one can ever get so crisp, despite many attempts at recreation. It might not be that different from previous Christmases away from home, but it might be the starkest contrast; I will only be able to see my family through a blurry screen and a small iPhone speaker. That first bite of mom’s ham might take me back to Christmas past, but it won’t be enough for those teary-eyed early morning hugs or pinot noir-fueled laughs.

Being separated from our family on Christmas is not a feeling reserved only for those of us currently excluded from countries. Millions of families around the world spend Christmases separated every year, but this seems particularly aggravated in a year that has been strewn with tales of separation and devastation from families that have been forcibly separated by linked border policies. at Covid. “My mom loves Christmas and always made it so magical,” McPherson tells me. “So I can’t wait to be with my family and spend some time with them. For Turner, Christmas has always been about the food, “There’s that awesome moment that happens after you’ve stuffed your face with your fourth round of Christmas lunch and stretched out on the couch or in the kitchen. lounge chair in a hazy food coma, you look around. and everyone you love is in the same room, I think I miss this moment the most. Hutson supports this: “I would sacrifice every Christmas dinner for the rest of my life so that I could sit around a table and chat with my family over the holidays. “


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