As I write, it is Boxing Day.

Our goose was fat, gifts marvellous and SpouseMouse’s company excellent!

Below are my thoughts on December 25, 2014, including a few food and drink ideas.

Downton Abbey Christmas special

In short — because our American friends have not yet seen the latest series, which starts there in January — the two-hour episode was superb!

SpouseMouse said, ‘Finally, a Downton Abbey Christmas special where nothing depressing happened!’

It was full of intrigue, upstairs and downstairs. And, this time, there’s even a Christmas scene!

Television adverts

As soon as the shops close on Christmas Eve, British television advertising moves to post-Christmas themes: furniture sales and holidays in the tropics.

We made a point of watching them over the past two days. My better half said, ‘You can tell St Sofa’s Day [our household’s name for Boxing Day] is coming up. Look at all the furniture and bedding promotions.’

As for holidays — book now to avoid disappointment — that’s the last thing we wish to think about on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Yet, millions of Britons are no doubt online or on the phone taking advantage of these special offers.

These deplorable adverts seem entirely out of synch with the spirit of Christmas, however, it seems that the world of commerce must march on, regardless.

That said, in the United States, December 26 is the day when everything is at least half price, rivalling Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. I recall early morning shopping expeditions from my childhood. Hmm.

In France, at least 60% of people who celebrate Christmas plan on exchanging their gifts for other merchandise or credit on December 26. RMC’s Grandes Gueules (Big Mouths) generally have a discussion on the topic, although, as I listen, they are talking about Pope Francis’s growing popularity in France.

Christmas wine

In the Downton Abbey special yesterday, Mr Carson offered Mrs Hughes a glass of Christmas cheer, saying, ‘You can’t go wrong with a Margaux.’

SpouseMouse and I turned to each other and said, ‘Really?’

We had a bottle of Margaux with our dinner and it was rather disappointing. Recently purchased, it was five years old, quite pricey and received good reviews online. It should have been a respectable bottle, yet ended up being a one-note damp squib. We regretted not going with our original choice from our own collection.

Therefore, if you have reliable wine at home, drink that on Christmas Day and save the experimental bottle for Boxing Day.

Wine should develop during dinner. This does not refer to breathing time as much as it does flavour profile. As one eats, the wine one drinks should produce deep berry or chocolate notes. It should not taste like the first sip as one progresses through the meal. A good wine should transport the person drinking it, giving him or her a new taste sensation so that one wants more.

A one-dimensional wine — as ours was — is not a good one.

Big birds of Christmas

Every year, we try to improve on our big bird roasting, carving and serving schedule.

Carving big birds — turkey and goose — is more time consuming than one thinks, even for experienced home cooks. Cutting away the legs and wings is challenging and generally results in a wrestling match with the bird! This takes as much time as slicing the meat does.

This year we took Ina Garten’s (Food Network) turkey carving advice seriously, as we did for Thanksgiving 2013. Ina says to carve well in advance and reheat before serving. We carved the goose and reheated it in the jus 45 minutes later, after we had a glass of champagne. It was a much more relaxed afternoon.

Those who wish to pour jus on separately can wrap the meat in foil and place it in the oven for 10 or 15 minutes or put it in a dish covered with cling film (plastic wrap), poke a few holes in the film and microwave for a few minutes.

If the host is alone (e.g. grandparent, singleton) in serving dinner to a group of family or friends and wants to reduce carving time, s/he could purchase a turkey crown and two drumsticks then carve just before serving.

Cooking in advance for Christmas

This year, we cooked our sprouts on Christmas Eve, thereby saving time on Christmas Day. Their flavour profile, augmented with bacon lardons and goose fat, had time to develop. Chef Mike — the microwave — reheated them beautifully.

This meant that we only had to concentrate on cooking carrots and roasting potatoes with parsnips. We saved a good half-hour this way, which we spent with each other opening presents.

I normally bake our Christmas cake — Opéra or Yule log — at least a day, if not two, in advance. This, too, is a great time-saver.

Continuous improvement

Most of us can make improvements from year to year with regard to our Christmas dinner planning. Cooking and baking in advance can help.

I look forward to getting better in years to come. Christmas should be a day of wonder and joy, not one of tension!

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