Because what else do you do when you’re home alone at Christmas?
Everyone has some low-level thing that just gets to them when forced together with their family over the festive season. You have your own ideas about how things should be done, and your family have theirs, and somewhere where the two meet there’s a terrible itchy low-level friction – a kind of domestic sandpaper – that makes those few days together more stressful than they have any right to be. Whether it’s someone’s insistence that all electricity be switched off at the plug, an over-obsession with recycling / a complete neglect of it, or making coffee with boiling water… or, you know, all of these.
The thing that drives me craziest of all, though – and it says more about me than it does about her – is my mother’s relationship with her freezer. It’s a bond that goes back further and certainly runs far deeper than her relationship with any living member of her family, and which may well outlast us all.
Today I was left alone while she and my stepfather went ahead to his mother’s house to start the arrangements for Christmas Day.There is NOTHING to do here. Nothing. So I took a full inventory of my mother’s freezer. It reads as follows:
Milk (semi-skimmed) – 14 pints
1-litre carton of cranberry juice
1-litre carton of apple juice
1-litre carton of clementine juice
Hot cross buns – 6
Multigrain baguette – 2
White baguette – 1 ½
Cranberry and toasted pecan loaf – 2 ½
Sliced granary loaf
Sliced wholemeal loaf – ½
Homemade wholemeal loaf
Snack-sized pork pies – 8
White rolls – 4
Brioche rolls – 8
Crumpets – 3
Mince pies – 14
Chocolate Swiss roll cakes – 4
Jam Swiss roll cakes – 2
Pack of 12 handmade filo cigar canapés (M&S)
Pack of 12 sticky chicken Yakitori kebab canapés (M&S)
Pack of 18 Indian-style snack selection canapés (…M&S)
Packets of honey roast ham, sliced (‘not suitable for freezing’) – 3
Bagged portions of pre-prepared ‘spag bol’ or similar – 10
Spicy Meat Penne (!!?!) ready meal (yes, from M&S)
Large chicken samosa (from the deli counter)
Mini onion bhajis – 4
Mushroom risotto ready meal (from Tesco!)
Pack of 4 ‘Melt In the Middle’ veggie burgers
Small slice of Battenberg cake
Choc ices – 4
Assorted ice lollies – 36
Tub of vanilla ice cream
Sausages – 6
Packets of 12 rashers of streaky bacon – 3
Nut roast (serves 4)
Liver & Bacon ready meal (serves 1)
Vegetarian mushroom Wellington (serves 4)
Some kind of gougeres, or Yorkshire puddings (hard to say) – 3
Chipolatas in bacon – 12
Half leg of lamb
EXTRA LARGE chicken (genuinely huge)
Chicken breast fillets – 4
Sirloin steaks – 4
Mince – approx. 1 kg
Burgers – 8
Kippers – 2
Lamb chops – 4
Pork loin steaks – 2
Toad-in-the-Hole ready meal (serves two)
Pork loin joint
Shelled prawns – 400g
Fish fingers – 2
Fish cakes – 4
Unidentified but massive ready meal (without cardboard case)
Oven chips – ½ bag
Peas – 500g
You might think, well, it’s Christmas. When the family descend, and when the shops are either manic or shut, it’s only sensible to stock up. Except that we’re not doing Christmas at ours this year. And it’s always like this. Oh, and did I mention – I might have implied, but I didn’t make clear – only two people live here. Two!
Nothing is date-labelled. Nothing is rotated. As an ex-chef it makes me fret and worry. There’s just one system: no stocks must ever run down. Not low – down. There must always be 14 litres of milk, and 3 cartons of juice, and half a bakery in the freezer. When something gets used, it gets instantly replaced. Very little food is consumed fresh if it can possibly be helped. Shopping enters the great conveyor belt of the freezer, and emerges out the other side, weeks later and a little less tasty.
I could ponder at length the reasons for my mother’s deep attachment to freezing everything; her cunning in creating a system whereby when she returns home with (relatively) fresh food, it is rejected in favour of otherwise identical food which has had the benefit of several weeks at sub-zero temperatures, and is itself only considered acceptable for human consumption once cured in the same way. I could reference her childhood, when food wasn’t necessarily plentiful and life always a little precarious. Or the fact that she grew up and learned to cook in the 1970s, when freezer cookbooks were all the rage, along with hostess trolleys and garnishes of sliced raw tomato.
But really, I suppose I should ask myself why it annoys me so much. Why should I care?
If I could solve that problem I’d have solved the problem of family Christmasses all over the land. Sadly I haven’t cracked it yet – but at least we won’t starve in the meantime.
FOOTNOTE: 5 minutes after publishing this, they returned. With more food for the freezer.