Christmas vegan dinner… or eat your roux with a difference

Lots of people have asked me to blog about this year’s Christmas dinner. I intended this year’s Christmas feast to be a celebration of vegan food, with imaginative and delicious differences in each dish.But you know what happens, by half three you have had four gins and a couple of ports plus some dodgy homemade Atholl Brose created from whisky, oat water, maple syrup and oat cream, you can’t even remember if you have bought brussel sprouts.

I love cooking Christmas dinner and, fortunately for me as I spend Christmas cooking in a half-stupor,  I do most of the prep the day before so I only need a bit of hubris in order to shove a few things in the oven and everyone knows hubris comes from a lot of laughs and the bottom of a bottle.

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So, this year I decided to change things just for the hell of it. My nut loaf had added protein in the form of puy lentils and it was full of mushrooms and celery, roasted almonds, chestnuts and cashews and, for the fun of it, I put in a layer of cranberry sauce as stuffing in the middle, just to see what might happen. It worked really well,  a sweet stuffing in a firm, savoury loaf. Oh, and then there was the Armagnac. A few glugs of Armagnac. In the nut loaf I mean. What else?

So, the parboiled Maris Pipers had a good squashing to make them crispy and they were roasted in a little oil and rosemary, with a good seasoning and finished with a glug of lemon juice. They were perfect: fluffy inside with a thick crispy coating. I roasted carrots and parsnips with shallots and a huge pile of jerusalem artichokes, and added some lemon thyme ten minutes before they were ready.

I love brussel sprouts, so I prepared and parboiled loads. They were finished off for 20 minutes in the oven with a couple of large glugs of vodka, some vegan bacon and black pepper. This is the best way to eat sprouts – even sprout haters don’t recognise the succulent nutty green veg. Vodka sprouts with vegan bacon is a lovely dish.

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I usually make mushroom roux gravy but this year I roasted carrots, celery, garlic, mushrooms and leeks and then simmered them a little, extracting juices and flavour and I made a gravy with marsala and roux and strained the end product (Roux is plain flour and vegan butter – coconut oil, rapeseed oil, oat milk, salt and liquid lecithin). You can always add a little marmite which colours and flavours the gravy. It’s very rich and delicious.

I like the usual red cabbage, apple sauce, broccoli, roast cauliflower accompaniments, but this year I also cooked some celeriac in olive oil, then added a good dash of lemon thyme, lemon juice and a bit of seasoning and finished it off with a little added water, cooked with the lid on for 15 minutes and it’s a really delicate and delicious tasting veg.

I also made some nice yorkshire puddingy ‘popovers’ with oat milk and added a bit of gram flour to the plain flour to see if the texture would be improved. Again, crispy outside and fluffy inside, and awesome with gravy.

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The meal came together really quickly and, due to my imbibing gin beforehand, I was the most happy and unstressed cook.  We have no neighbours, which is just as well as the eating part of Christmas dinner – which wasn’t ready until well after half past four due to earlier imbibing of gin and too much laughing and falling about – was accompanied by bovine orgiastic groans of  delight as everyone filled their plates too full, munched away for well over half an hour and drank Blanquette de Limoux. (I hate the phrase ‘wash it down’ when referring to wine and food. The wine isn’t to swill the food away or lubricate it’s downward passage, it just balances flavours and tastes great.)

I made a cheesecake with avocados and limes but it’s still in the freezer. No-one had space left for anything after the dinner although far too many roasties and popovers were consumed with the nut loaf.

My plan was to make crispy patties with the leftovers the next day, fried in a bit of flour and panko bread crumbs. Alas, nothing remained. Not even a small morsel of nut loaf for Colin Feral, a lick of gravy for Pushkin or a pawful of popover for Majick the cat.

By next week, I might be able to eat again.

I am not sure I agree with the sentiments of singer, Roy Wood, though. If it were Christmas every day, I think I’d be incapable of movement. Once a year is enough.

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I got those viral infection blues. Thank goodness for cats.

It doesn’t matter what you call it: flu, man flu, fever, viral infection – it’s not serious, there’s not much you can do about it, but it feels miserable. Symptoms include a high temperature, fatigue, headache, sneezing, coughing, diarrhea, abdominal pain, sore throat. I have all of these symptoms, plus aching joints, aching ears, swollen glands and apathy. I’m not a person who reaches for the painkillers: up to a point, it’s useful to know how bad you feel.

I haven’t eaten for four days and I’ve hardly seen a soul, unless you count spluttering over the postman yesterday morning. It just happens, fortuitously, that everyone else in my house is away at the moment so hopefully they’ll dodge the virus, plus I don’t want friends calling round and catching a dose of my germs. So I’ve slept, or tried to. And this brings me to the main problem with viral infections. In addition to the high temperature and painful aches, there is the inescapable feeling of being utterly useless. I can’t write, I can’t exercise, I can’t go out. There’s no-one to talk to, but I can’t talk anyway. I can’t think. Standing up is difficult and lying down is probably a wise choice before I become unintentionally horizontal.

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Medical advice for those with viral infections is to rest, eat light meals, keep hydrated and avoid infecting others. The resting part is obligatory as I can’t move. The avoidance of infecting others is easy as I am isolated. Food is not an option. I tried eating a toasted  bagel yesterday and the first mouthful tasted like wool so I threw it away. I’m simply not hungry. I exist on ten cups of green tea a day, so I’m hydrating, but oh, how nice would it be to have a Mum, someone who’d bring me the drink  or a bowl of soup served up with a word of sympathy and a cool hand on my raging head. Those were the days and, of course, I took it all for granted.

There are no good by-products of viral infections. I don’t have time to work because I feel ill. I am not getting thinner despite not eating, as I’m not using any energy other than to toss and turn under a sweaty, germ- filled duvet all night. The bad by-products are an unhealthy measure of lethargy and self-loathing. Nobody looks good in a baggy dressing gown with a hot water bottle tied under the belt, matted hair and limbs which won’t move. It’s the fat Medusa look. Friends send sympathetic messages and texts but, of course, we patients have to underplay our symptoms. We can’t tell our friends we feel at death’s door.

Which is why I’m grateful for my three cats. They don’t judge me when I look even worse than usual. They know I feel bad. They are healing creatures, supporting us in their own way. Colin Feral curls on top of me – probably on top of the hot water bottle – all night long, and purrs non- stop. He’s keeping the bed warm for me now and, as I bash away on the keyboard, little Pushkin is lying around my neck, revving like a mini motor and nuzzling my cheek. Of course, she probably wants more food, but it’s the attention that counts when you feel unwell. I stagger to the television from time to time to watch something really pointless, to let the body and mind rest in a kind of oblivious unconsciousness. I watched Twins yesterday, starring Danny De Vito and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Majick snuggled on my knee and purred while I rubbed his ears. Of course, that resulted in two dead legs, but it’s the thought that counts. Cats know when we need their help.

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I’ve just had a coughing fit and popped a rib out. Time for bed again.There is a lot of it about, as they say, in cold weather and I don’t envy anyone who catches a winter viral infection. At least it will be out of the way before Christmas and the New Year festivities. In my case, I hope it’s out of the way before the weekend. There’s a limit to how much A Place in the Sun anyone can watch. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have the strength to hold a book? But until then, I’ll send sympathy to anyone who has a bout of flu, and recommend the healing paws and purrs of cats, who have our best interest and their next meal at heart.

As I sign off, Pushkin has jumped down from my neck, caught me with a stray claw, landed on the printer and started printing off copies. Oh well. Swings and roundabouts.

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Winter blues? This will help to sort it out.

I have been massively impressed by the recent efforts of Planet Rock’s DJ, Wyatt, who has cycled over a thousand miles in the bitter cold and raised well over forty eight thousand pounds for CALM. Not only was it a plucky journey in punishing conditions, but it was also an excellent way to raise awareness of the work of the Campaign Against Living Miserably, and of the crippling effects of depression and anxiety.

I frequently read messages on my Facebook news feed that people I know and care for are feeling low, anxious, experience regular panic attacks and it’s ironic that, as we rev up for Christmas fun and the feeling of good will, there are people out there who feel isolated, unhappy and detached from the positive Christmas spirit. I have seen depression hammer people I care about and it is very sad.

For those of us who have been bereaved, have lost someone we love, Christmas is bitter sweet. We remember the good times but there is an empty chair at the dinner table. The mundane gifts we bought for that person every year stay on the shelves in the shops and supermarkets  now,and we pass by, remembering what we took for granted.

It’s no surprise that, as everyone shifts up a gear towards celebrating, so many people feel a little bit left out in the Christmas cold.

The answer is always to talk to someone, to ask someone to help. Of course, not everyone has someone they can turn to, a party to go to, money to spend. Not everyone will speak out about how they feel; part of being alone and miserable is that it is very hard to tell someone or even to admit it to yourself. It is easier to believe that isolation and anxiety are a by-product of lack of self worth, one’s own fault.

I am a great believer in yoga, meditation, and the healing power of touch, whether it is family, friends or a hug from someone you have just met, as long as it’s well intentioned and given without any expectation that there will be a payback. Conversation is a good starting point. We can all do more to include others, to make them feel good about themselves, to take them out and experience a more care free environment and to share time with them inside their own homes, to listen and not preach or trivialise.

For me, music is an absolute positive energy galvaniser and it is quite possible that, when I’m on my own and not exercising, walking, thinking or writing, I might put some music on and dance like there’s no-one else there. Which there isn’t.

Here are a couple of suggestions to get you in the mood for Christmas, an alcohol free, energising pre-party celebration.Of course, no-one would ever suggest that a few happy tunes can remedy real depression. People experiencing anxiety and feelings of low self worth should seek advice, a friend, a doctor. Ask for help – it’s out there. But music can be a small therapy. It has the power to lift the spirits and also to bring on the tears. Avoid morose songs like Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey or Clapton’s Tears in Heaven or Joy Division Love Will Tear Us Apart. Don’t go anywhere near lachrymose lyrics like Leonard Cohen’s Thin Green Candle.

Try these tunes, if you want to celebrate music and you’re by yourself and need cheering up. Play them loud, really loud. Sing along, enjoy them. And dance. Here’s half an hour of good bopping which will help you dance the light blues away and banish the cold gloomy weather. A happy dancing play list, ready to go. Enjoy. It’s an early Christmas present, to yourself.

Dropkick Murphys. Shipping up to Boston

Johnny Winter. Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo..

Dropkick Murphys. State of Massachusetts.

Gogol Bordello. Madagascar Roumania (Tu Jesty Fata)

Burning Spear. African Postman.

Gogol Bordello. Through the Roof and Underground

Robbie Williams. Party like a Russian.

Undertones. Teenage Kicks.

Gogol Bordello. Forces of Victory.

White Stripes. Icky Thump.

Big Mama Thornton. Everything Gonna be Alright.

White Stripes. Jolene.   (Angsty but full of energy.)

Queen. Don’t stop me now.

Nirvana. Smells like Teen Spirit.

David Bowie. The Jean Genie.

Althea and Donna. Up town top rankin’

Motorhead. Ace of Spades.

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