What puts the sparkle in your Christ­mas ?

Hold the presents, June Lee is here for the feast. Just kid­ding – or maybe not.

Epicure - - FOOD TALK -

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

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