Well, it is Christmas… Nigella Lawson is back, with a kitchen full of twinkly lights and a vision of how happy the season can be.
BUNDLED into a wraparound cotton housecoat, with her hair in rollers, Nigella Lawson couldn’t look less like the woman next door. Unless you happened to live next door to Sophia Loren circa 1965, in which case you won’t be fazed by the killer combination of everyday earthiness and innate glamour.
Nigella’s gift of appearing simultaneously fabulous and reassuringly ordinary is her unique selling point. And if there’s one time of year when women want to buy into “Nigella World”, it’s Christmas.
“Christmas appeals to the camp side of me,” she confides. “This year, I’ve really gone to town on the twinkly lights and the Swedish-y, gingham-y stuff. And, of course, there’s the greedy side of me – because at Christmas everything can be big portions. However, it’s also an incredibly high-pressure time of year for women.
“You have cooking combined with family, and together they’re enormously incendiary. I think it would be an extreme act of cruelty to imply that you can have a stressfree Christmas. Because there’s no such thing. Wrapping presents, for example, is the thing that sends me over the edge and under the other side. I always get my hair stuck under the sellotape, which is completely disgusting for the person opening the present.
“And it’s not always possible to get succour from someone on television saying, ‘Well, I find this terribly easy.’ So there are times when I am very strict with viewers and say, ‘You will feel hysterical. You will feel stressed out and exhausted and I can’t do anything about that.’ But there are certain strategies I can suggest to try to relieve some of that stress in the kitchen.”
Preparation is key to beating the clock. “The trick with big meals is not having to keep too many timings in your head. So with any meal I always try to give the amount of time it can be prepared in advance or if it can be frozen.”
But if you’re the kind of cook for whom feeding the multitude is a deep mystery, there is the rest of Christmas to be getting on with.
“You don’t have to do the whole domestic goddess thing to revel in the solace of the earth,” she points out. “If you want to put up fairy lights everywhere and then get pizza delivered, that’s absolutely okay by me. I’d never say no to chips and curry sauce – I have very low tastes. Just that, a nice drink and some nice friends and I’d be happy.”
Indeed, “the whole domestic goddess thing” has become something of an embarrassment.
The phrase, coined with ironic intent for her first book, has launched a thousand editorials on the shifting place of women. “The argument has become so polarised,” she sighs. “Either you’re a bitch who spends too long in the office and never sees your children, or you’re some little throwback wanting to make things nice in the kitchen. And, of course, in real life women are both. Or neither. You have to find a way of integrating those two sides of yourself. Otherwise you go mad.”
Nigella Kitchen on BBC Lifestyle ( channel 180 on Dstv) Wednesdays at 8.25pm.
Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen 2008 (5 episodes) on BBC Lifestyle ( channel 180 on Dstv) daily at 6.30pm and 7pm.
CHRISTMAS CAKE RECIPE
A cake that can be made up to a week before Christmas. 450g raisins 120g chopped dried apricots 60g cherries 60g dried cranberries 120g prunes 250g sultanas 120g peel (if you don’t like this then the zest of 2 oranges)
3 preserved root ginger balls chopped 1½ tsp vanilla essence 1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 One week before: put all the fruits, spices, sugar, vanilla, water and booze into a large pan. Mix over a low heat until the liquid is absorbed. Cool and put into an airtight container for seven days.
2 After seven days preheat oven to gas 1 or 150ºc. Put the flour, sugar, butter and eggs into a bowl and mix until smooth. Add the fruit and mix.
3 Grease the cake tin and doubleline with grease-proof paper. Pour cake mixture into the tin and cook for approx 3-4 hours.
4 Test with a skewer. Decorate as preferred.
CHRISTMAS STAPLE: Nigella Lawson is as much a part of a Christmas kitchen as mulled wine.