What puts the sparkle in your Christmas ?
Hold the presents, June Lee is here for the feast. Just kidding – or maybe not.
Christmas is upon us again, following a year that’s flown by seemingly quicker than usual. The season conjures up carols and chocolates, Santa Claus and shopping malls, and the gathering of friends and family near and far.
But let’s be honest, I’m here for the food. To be precise, I’m here for the party with the best food.
Gatherings tend to revolve around food. (If your idea of a festive party involves a hike or a run, I don’t know you.) While life is too short year-round to waste on mediocre food, the situation becomes more acute during the festive season when cascades of invites fall out of your Whatsapp messages and stomach real estate must be measured in literal dish circumference. Is there space to fit in two more pieces of glistening thrice-fried duck fat potato wedges? Or do I roll the dice and try for the last slice of pork terrine AND that quivering sliver of Virginia bone-in ham, thereby rendering myself unable to move or eat dessert for another hour. Decisions, decisions.
One’s friends must now be carefully judged for their gastronomic acumen. Will Host A be more likely to order the Panpacific Singapore ham, or Host B the Goodwood Park Hotel turkey? Or let’s be brutally truthful, one doesn’t make any plans at all until Host C, the Most Amazing Home Cook, sends his invite – when that unique meal is worth cancelling all your other appointments for.
Yes, Host C is that coveted foodie friend who is 10 levels above everyone else. Last Christmas, he made miso mushroom rice stuffed turkey, baked in leavened bread dough. A whole 6kg turkey was first poached in stock, air-dried, then browned in a hot oil bath for a glowy tan, stuffed with a marinated pre-cooked wild rice mix, then plaited with 2kg of bread dough and baked till every morsel of that turkey was fragrantly moist. On top of a 10-course feast, this friend also sketched out his dishes to ensure the perfect presentation for each dish. The miracle of Christmas, indeed.
I love my friends enough to put in the same energy, but I also know where my limitations lie. My contributions today are far more valuable in the alcoholic realm, where I can be trusted to rustle up the season’s hottest gin or hardest to get whisky, or pair the ideal wine while sourcing the most beautiful glassware for an optimal sipping experience. Tell me your theme, and I’ll be there with the appropriate claret, late harvest or digestif.
In all seriousness, what puts the sparkle in Christmas is effort. Love makes the world go around, but effort lubricates the wheels. If you don’t like to or cannot cook, you can put your effort instead into making sure an appropriate caterer or delivery service is found. If you’re away for the holidays, be sure your family feels your presence, whether you contributed something to the festivities or simply video-called in to be part of the merrymaking. Something that you made with your own skills, or went out of the way to procure no matter how humble it is, shows the amount of care you put into nurturing that relationship with someone. Those of us involved look forward every year to the epicure office’s annual Christmas potluck. Each dish comes with a little story, from the person who made or bought it. It doesn’t have to be Christmassy; everyone loves dry laksa or Old Chang Kee curry puff regardless. It doesn’t have to be covered in edible gold foil; the tried-and-tested family recipe potato salad will taste even better because Aunty Lim has made it 100 times.
I’m fortunate to have spent my whole career covering the F&B and hospitality industries, debating the finer points of white vs black truffles, or Pinot Noir vs Gamay. It’s all too easy to slip into #firstworldproblems when we are presented with so much abundance, via so little effort. Just as during Christmas, the ‘competition’ to outdo your friends can get a little… intense.
There are serious, long-term issues around food today, from sustainability and stability of the supply chain, to the all-too-serious problem of food wastage. The backbone of our country’s real cuisine, the hawkers slogging away in hot, tiresome conditions, is being eroded by a maelstrom of factors, not least that no one wants to work so hard for lesser and lesser renumeration in return. As shown on the recently concluded Masterchef Singapore, #hipsterfood pasta is still being held in higher regard than laksa and rendang.
We stumble to the end of 2018, not much wiser than before on what to do about these issues. Personally, next year I’ve set a mantra of more quality, less quantity for myself. Quality doesn’t mean adding caviar on eggs, but the care taken in preparing or appreciating a well-made dish. It may mean consuming a little less, but along the way, making room for more. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, readers.
Dutch designer Marcel Wanders is not one to do anything by halves. Case in point: The Five Seasons, a quintet of home fragrances created for Italian houseware company, Alessi, available in two forms: liquid (from €65/S$102) or candle (from €85). Each represents a season, starting with Brr for winter and Ahh for spring, with the fifth, Shh, being an enigmatic blend of patchouli, rose and eucalyptus. Even the diffusers come in two designs. The centrepiece of a leaf diffuser (€65) is made of mahogany wood and presents a unique design that corresponds to the seasons, while the lava stone (€90) turns the naturally porous qualities of lava into a stunning home accessory. The candles come with an option of a bee-shaped snuffer (€28). The fragrances are also available in antiquated perfume bottles as a room sprays (€60). alessi.com
There's no better time to spruce up your bar than during the festive season. Saint-louis’s Manhattan Home Speakeasy Set (€1,600) comes with four Coupe glasses (€158 each), a shaker in flannel-grey crystal, plus a silver-plated metal jigger and Puiforcat spoon. These crystal bar essentials are inspired by America’s roaring twenties but are refined for the modern age with symmetrical bevel cuts. As with all of Saint-louis’ creations, the crystals are hand-blown and hand-decorated by Meilleurs Ouvriers de France award-winning craftsmen. saint-louis.com
There is never a dull moment for the adventurous at Nyungwe House. One&only resorts’ foray into Rwanda is not only set within the tea plantations of Gisakura but is also on the edge of the Nyungwe National Park. Guests are instantly immersed into the lush rainforest through a breathtaking journey via a SUV or helicopter upon arrival at Kigali International Airport. What follows is an extensive menu of activities, ranging from thrilling encounters with endemic primates and birds to hike up Mount Bigugu for a sprawling view at 2,950km above sea level. The last Saturday of the month is reserved for umuganda, a nationwide programme where citizens (and guests) give back to the local communities. To rejuvenate, there’s an in-house spa and a serene tea ceremony at the Tea Lounge. The Dining Room showcases Gisakura’s bounty through an ever-changing, organic menu. Room rates from US$1,105. Gisakura, Nyamasheke Nyungwe Forest Reserve, Rwanda. Tel: +971 4 426 1099