A LIVEABOARD CHRISTMAS FEAST
How do you prepare the full Christmas Monty? Simple, invite four knowledgeable boating friends
Ido apologise. Just look at the state of me! Gravy down my front, custard round my mouth, belt buckle undone to release the strain. This is the anarchy of post- Christmas lunch. Indeed, don’t be surprised if this article is somewhat chocolate-stained as I am simultaneously writing and polishing off the last of the wafer-thin mints.
And what a lunch it’s been aboard my good ship. The full works: a splendidly juicy roast turkey; roasted parboiled potatoes and honey-glazed parsnips; apple and pork stuffing; pigs in blankets; Yorkshire puddings (freshly made from flour, eggs, milk and all that jazz, no packet mix here!); the most delicious gravy drizzled over the entire meal and created from Bisto, Oxo and the turkey juices; plus peas, carrots – and, of course, a substantial helping of Brussels sprouts.
It’s quite incredible to appreciate that all this was whisked up in the compact galley aboard my boat but ’tis indeed true. I’d love to take the credit but as I admitted in the last edition of Canal Boat, cooking is not my forté. Rather, four good friends from Yelvertoft Marina came to visit and, what’s more, brought all the veg, did all the cooking and then polished off the washing up too. These are the kind of friends you simply can’t have enough of.
‘Briefly forgetting that I was modelling a stylish bobbled red Santa hat, I rushed along the towpath looking for anyone else at home’
As Executive Director of operations – I watched them doing all the work – I noted that timing was crucial in my oven, which has only one shelf. The turkey had to go in first, of course, and be pretty much done for a couple of hours, then it was whipped out and wrapped to keep warm while the potatoes, parsnips, Yorkshires, blanketed pigs and stuffing went in to roast or heat up as appropriate. Up top, the gravy was in one saucepan and a three-layer steaming contraption worthy of Heath Robinson cooked the greens.
It was only towards the end of this mammoth logistics exercise that one of the ladies of the crew pointed out the tray under my grill would surely be the same size as that in the oven and that, therefore, we did, in fact, have two shelves for the oven. Credit awarded for being absolutely right was immediately deducted for not having pointed that out at the start of proceedings.
Salt was also a problem. Apparently I’m not normal for having no salt on board. “Oh, he’ll have salt, we don’t need to bring that” the visitors had apparently said to themselves before departing to come here, bringing every other conceivable kitchen implement and foodstuff. Their looks of baffled incomprehension when I could not produce any condiments other than ketchup were – from my perspective – quite amusing.
This story does illustrate the joy not only of Christmas but of canal boating neighbourliness however. Briefly forgetting that I was modelling a stylish bobbled red Santa hat, I rushed out along the towpath looking for anyone else at home and, sure enough, mere moments later I returned with a cup of salt from a random boater who was kind enough to understand the predicament and not snigger at my lack of basic supplies or attire.
I doubt my little dinette table has ever creaked so much under the weight as it did that day. Five of us squeezed around it, tucking into a monumental meal with napkins on our knees, champagne flutes at our lips and cracker debris strewn everywhere. Cheers!
What’s that, you say? Pudding? Oh yes, there was pudding. One, admittedly shop bought, traditional fruity Christmas pud, set alight with a dollop of brandy not once but twice after we assessed the first inferno as insufficiently spectacular and too short in duration. Double cream and custard took the role of pudding gravy, while an alternative dessert of absurdly
rich Belgian chocolate cheesecake was also atop the table should anyone desire either variety or seconds.
You might think it no surprise, then, that during the afternoon, one of my reclining armchairs in the saloon broke as a guest sat in it. The entire metal base post had sheared off. Yet despite the conspicuous overconsumption of us all that day, blame could not be pointed at the meal since the seating collapse took place halfway through cooking.
I’m quite sure the chair must have been failing for at least several weeks (and only five months since I bought it new, for shame!) but at least its falling apart under a guest meant I could a) laugh heartily at their expense and b) blame them, to the point that they went home with the seat base and a promise to weld it back together. That’s saved me a tedious helpline conversation/ argument with the original vendor. Hooray for Christmas!
Meanwhile, even my trusty boat fire alarm was getting quite merry and joining in the fun, beeping suddenly and very, very loudly at every hint of steam from the pans. A new game emerged of running to the back of the dinette and leaping up at the ‘silence’ button which guarantees a further seven minutes respite until the system resets itself.
(I have yet to understand why it’s so keen to chip in when I’m merely cooking or rustling up a slice of toast, yet stays resolutely silent when I open the wood stove to chuck in more fuel despite occasional clouds of black smoke from freshly-added coal which raise not so much as a chirrup from the alarm).
So that was dinner well and truly done. Basking now in the post- Christmas glow, let us pause to reflect on the year gone by, the year ahead and any lessons learned. The 12 months just gone were my first calendar year living aboard a boat. In that time an entire world has opened up before me that hitherto I had no idea existed. Not just a factual, mechanical world of bilge pumps and toilet cassettes but a more ethereal – dare I say spiritual? – world of new friendships, fresh perspectives on life and living and a more holistic take on the nature of existence.
Blimey, this must be the sherry talking. Things are never this deep normally.
2017 is now just about underway and I’m planning my voyages for the summer. I’ve already invested in Nicholson’s Guide Number 4 and provided my engine’s random oil leak doesn’t get any worse, may see you on the cut sometime. Happy New Year!
You can follow my adventures in video at CruisingTheCut.co.uk, on Twitter (@
CruisingTheCut) or here in the pages of Canal Boat magazine.
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