Childhood nostalgia alert. Feel free to skip on down a few paragraphs to find out more about the Waitrose #MakesChristmas campaign.
My early childhood memories are fairly hazy. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention much as a child, letting milestones – that other’s seem to recall in vivid detail – slip by without registering. This fault in my brain makes me more sad as I grow older. I have fairly good “snapshot” memories, but not the reel-to-reel recall that I so envy in others. I can’t really remember my first day of school, although I am pretty sure it isn’t because I am repressing something awful, like being sick on the teacher’s shoes, or being picked last at games. I also can’t really remember any Christmas earlier than when I was five. That one was quite memorable. But perhaps not for the best reason.
My family and I were staying in my maternal grandmother’s house in Fredrick, Maryland, along with my cousins and aunt and uncle. It was a small, cosy townhouse as I recall, and at that time of year snow would have been piled on the roof, and the house would have been filled with the aroma of festive baking. Julie and Cindy, toddler and baby respectively, were too young to be terribly excited, but Philip and I were beside ourselves with anticipation of a visit from Santa, and probably getting into trouble shaking presents and making a mess. But soon we were worn out by our shenanigans – which I think included painting the dog’s toenails bright orange – and all of us were packed away to bed.
Sometime during that day Philip had, in his trail of destruction, managed to block the upstairs loo with hairpins, and we were told that we must use the downstairs bathroom if nature called. So it came to pass that I – already famous for having a bladder the size of a mosquito’s handbag – needed the loo. But instead of calling from the top of the stairs for my Mom or Dad, like I was told to do, I trundled down the wooden steps half asleep, dragging my Raggedy Ann doll for company. As I turned the corner to cross the hall and make my way to the loo, my eyes widened in a mix of horror and confusion. There was my Father, eating the cookies we had left out, putting together a bicycle. My mother and the rest of the adults were similarly doing Santa’s work as they bustled around the decorated tree, whispering and wrapping the extra presents. I slunk back upstairs without anyone seeing me and stared at the ceiling for awhile until I fell back asleep. When I woke again Santa’s helpers had gone to bed and I was able to do what I needed to do.
The next morning I was a little girl with an enormous secret. I played along with the pantomime of it all, and probably forgot that the illusion of a Santa-delivered Christmas was shattered (that bike “from Santa” was for me after all). I didn’t tell anyone of my discovery until many, many years later: my sister and cousins were “believers” for many more years to come.
Even to this day I can’t recall the minutiae of many Christmases, but I do know that what makes Christmas is being together with those you love. I don’t need specific memories, just a warm glow of cumulative happy gatherings over the years, all melding into a feeling of love and longing for my family. I’ve since made many happy Christmas memories with my own little nuclear family, all involving being together, happy and healthy.
On a slightly different note, I was invited along to the gleaming and decorated Waitrose Cookery School in London to the media campaign launch of #MakesChristmas. In the company of a some of the UK’s nicest and most talented food and lifestyle bloggers I was fortunate enough to have possibly the world’s earliest Christmas dinner. I won’t be forgetting it in a hurry.
We were greeted into the beautifully appointed space by wait staff serving festive canapés and the most delicious Christmas Champagne cocktails. After mingling and chatting together, Rupert Ellwood, head of Marketing for Waitrose, greeted us very warmly and informally before introducing us to our host – and Waitrose wine expert – Phillip Schofield (yes, the silver fox presenter of This Morning). Phillip spoke so passionately and knowledgeably about his journey from amateur wine enthusiast to Waitrose’s wine guru (my words, not his!) that I was tempted to put aside my drink and start taking notes. Tempted but not actioned.. He certainly whetted our appetite for what was to come.
During the evening we had some fun in the kitchens making up lush – and foamy! – appetisers of tiny melon pieces and melon jelly, Champagne foam, hazelnut snow and feta, as well as mixing up a fabulous cranberry and orange margarita – with Philip and blogger Ben demonstrating behind the bar. I had never before made a cocktail with all of the proper kit, but I soon lost my nerves and was shaking my shaker and twisting my zest with the best of them. Note to Andrew: can I have a cocktail-making kit, please?
We then sat down to dinner. I so wish I had taken proper pictures of the table for you as it was absolutely stunning – low vases of cotoneaster berries, miniature Christmas trees, masses of twinkling tea lights in mercury glass cups, beautiful stemware and cutlery, and of course seasonal table trimmings. Just like many of us do at Christmas, we clinked glasses then crossed arms and pulled our Christmas crackers, telling all the bad jokes that spilled out from inside. It really felt like a family occasion, with hoots of laughter ringing across the room, and paper crown-topped heads nodding and huddled around the table.
Then it was time to tuck in. At one end of the table the head chef carefully carved a golden-skinned turkey, and soon already- full plates were delivered to us to finish filling from the platters that dotted the table, family-style. The complete menu was: organic roast turkey or stuffed roasted squash, devil’s on horseback, truffle cauliflower cheese (I wanted to take the bowl away with me), caramelised red cabbage, sprouts with pancetta & cranberries, carrot & swede mash, roast onion with chestnut & leek stuffing, honey & mustard roast parsnips, roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings (perfection), thyme & port gravy, sourdough bread sauce and cranberry sauce.
Philips’s wines went down a treat, and Waitrose did a fantastic job of making sure the vegetarians and those of us choosing to eat vegetarian (me) were well-catered for. We all left the table replete and very very happy. But the evening was not finished. Over in the bright and spacious cooking school space we all had a go at decorating hazelnut roche cupcakes, ostensibly for us to take back to loved ones, but quite possibly eaten in taxis and buses, or maybe hidden in kitchen pantries for a secret nibble. I can’t possibly confirm any of this.
The evening was rounded off with buttery mince pies, lovely cheeses and fruits, sherry trifle and dessert wines from their wine collection (Waitrose has a brilliant and well-priced wine section). I was too busy nattering away to sample much from this selection but I noted the uumms coming from my fellow party-goers. Soon it was time to gather our coats and hail taxis. The evening had absolutely flown by and I knew I was going to remember this evening for many years to come.
So, why am I telling you all of this? Not to make you jealous, I assure you. What my fellow Waitrose-ophiles and I sampled was the Grand Prize in the #MakesChristmas social media campaign.
To win your own prepared Christmas dinner for 12, all that Waitrose social media followers need do is Tweet, Facebook or Instagram what #MakesChristmas for you, using @Waitrose. It could be the first mince pie nibbled, decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, donning aprons and preparing food for the Day itself – anything festive and fun for you and your family. Oh, and besides the main prize, Waitrose will also be surprising and delighting participants every day with personalised Christmas gifts, including mince pies, chocolates and Champagne. Enter as many times as you wish. Here is the link for more details and to see the entries as they come in. Good luck!
*I wish to thank Waitrose for a truly fabulous and memorable evening. I only wish it could be an annual tradition!*
PS I will be posting my own take on one of the dishes I ate here on Monday!
Sooo, what is your first Christmas memory?
Disclosure: Although I was neither paid nor asked to write a post on the event, I did receive full hospitality from the good people at Waitrose.