Donna gets back to ba­sics

Cook­ing queen Donna Hay tells why she’s tak­ing the stress out of Christ­mas cook­ing, and con­fesses her own fes­tive culi­nary mishaps to Deb­bie Schipp

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - A DONNA HAY CHRIST­MAS Life­style Chan­nel ( Foxtel), tonight, 8.30pm

ASK Donna Hay why she’s par­ing down Christ­mas cook­ing, and she re­lives the horror of the glazed ham. The ac­claimed cook, food stylist and cook­book au­thor had been lev­elled, like so many be­fore her, by a Christ­mas Day com­bi­na­tion of try­ing to do too much, run­ning out of time and two young kids at her feet.

The per­fec­tion­ist in Hay wanted to present a fault­less, even glaze. But she’d for­got­ten to put the ham in the oven.

Play­ing catch- up, rather than re­move it from the oven to check its progress, she at­tempted ad­just­ments by bal­anc­ing said ham, and pan, half on an oven shelf and the oven door.

Cue a slipped shelf, a ham in Hay’s lap, and a glazed ( and no, it wasn’t even) Christ­mas dress.

And a vow that from then on, it would all be a bit eas­ier. Which is the aim of tonight’s A Donna

Hay Christ­mas spe­cial. Hay shows the short­cuts that work, to en­sure cooks don’t end up with egg on their faces, or glaze on their clothes.

It’s the cul­mi­na­tion of around three decades of ex­pe­ri­ence since Hay took over re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for Christ­mas lunch at 13.

It’s also an ad­mis­sion – which the per­fec­tion­ist in Hay is al­most as relieved as she is re­luc­tant to con­fess – that not ev­ery­thing has to be per­fect at Christ­mas lunch.

“To be re­ally hon­est, I don’t think I’ve to­tally nailed it ever – not as far as the dec­o­ra­tions I set out to do and the whole tim­ing thing,” Hay says.

“What I have nailed is that that’s ac­tu­ally OK. I’m more re­laxed about it than I was be­fore.

“So when I set out to do this spe­cial, I wanted to pare it down. I thought if I could just start with the ba­sics and do them well – and that’s re­ally what ev­ery­one needs to do – then peo­ple could add their own touches.

“I thought if I give every­body the ba­sics – the kind of ‘ must- do’ things, take the mys­tique out of that – we could all have a stress- free Christ­mas this year, in­clud­ing me.

“In the past I’ve been such a vic­tim of want­ing to do too much and please ev­ery­one. Now maybe I’m older and wiser and it’s more about that bal­ance be­tween beau­ti­ful food and how pre­cious fam­ily are.”

Hay’s own Christ­mas this year will prob­a­bly be “only about 14 – a man­age­able amount for Christ­mas”.

In the past I’ve been such a vic­tim of want­ing to do too much and please ev­ery­one. Now maybe I’m older and wiser and it’s more about that bal­ance be­tween beau­ti­ful food and how pre­cious fam­ily are

She re­luc­tantly ad­mits she’d pre­fer not to have helpers in the kitchen.

“I’m just … quicker. Is that a good enough ex­cuse?

“I en­joy com­pany while I’m cook­ing. I pre­fer peo­ple to sit on the other side of the bench and chat and maybe pick some herbs. As far as join­ing me on the other side of the bench … I’d prob­a­bly just run peo­ple over,” she says.

Hay has loved cook­ing for as long as she can re­mem­ber.

“It started be­cause my mum let me cook in the kitchen. I didn’t have to pre­tend in my cubby house any more. It was the real thing,” she says. “And I al­ways cooked with my grandma.” She may be the au­thor of count­less cook­books and have her own mag­a­zine, but no amount of beau­ti­fully styled, re­searched and pre­sented recipes come close to Hay’s great­est trea­sures – the dog- eared cook­books which be­longed to her Nana and great- grand­mother.

“They’re fall­ing apart and I don’t let any­one touch them,” she says.

“They have lot of food stains. The pa­per in my great grand­mother’s is just dis­in­te­grat­ing.”

It means she has mixed emo­tions about her own pris­tine books.

“As much as I love be­ing a stylist and tak­ing beau­ti­ful pho­tos and hav­ing peo­ple, you know, love my books be­cause they look beau­ti­ful, re­ally the cook in me wants peo­ple to cook out of them as well,” she says.

“So when peo­ple come to me and their books are stained or I go to peo­ple’s houses and they look a bit dog- eared, then I feel like I’ve re­ally ac­com­plished some­thing.

“If they’re on the cof­fee ta­ble I’m like ‘ yeah, that’s nice ... but …’”

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