Thursday, December 08, 2011

Fiona Lowe: When It's Too Hot For Chestnuts On An Open Fire

Today is the last day of the school year for my two sons. Yep, summer is here and school is out until February 2012. Christmas in Australia also coincides with the 'end of year' parties. I don't mean New Year stuff, I mean the end of season stuff like graduating from school, last book group meeting, last tennis match, get the picture...all of the stuff my North American friends do in May/June.  It makes for a busy festive season.

The Christmas season also coincides with summer heat. Oh how I yearn for my beloved Christmases spent in Wisconsin in deep snow and bitter cold where ALL the Christmas traditions made sense. When baking mince pies and sugar cookies and cinnamon biscuits actually made the house cozy.  So how do I keep the traditions I love when the weather is against me?

Over the years I've got creative. I check the weather forecast and try to find a cooler day to do the baking, but if there isn't one I am fortunate (unlike my forebears) to be able to crank up the aircon and put on electric fans to keep the house a bit cooler.  To help me imagine that it isn't 100F, I play all the Christmas songs that feature snow!

We love a turkey but roasting it in the oven heats up the house on a day it is full of visitors so I cook the turkey  outdoors on the Weber BBQ.  Boiling the pudding? Same deal.  I move it outdoors and use the gas burner on the side of the big BBQ.

We've adjusted the menu too. We have a cold appetizer. I used to make plum soup....blood plums, red wine, some sugar, sour cream and cinnamon, decorated with a spring of mint! It looked fantastic as it was Christmas  colors :-)  Now we've incorporated an Aussie tradition of seafood and we have a beautiful prawn salad with mangoes, passion-fruit and macadamia nuts. YUMMO.

We have plum pudding which I know was still eaten in the US up to and including the civil war but somewhere between then and now, it's fallen out of favor. We have the most amazing brandy cream sauce (think super alcoholic eggnog)  which is served cold over the hot pudding. Some years, I've made an ice cream cake pudding....vanilla ice cream filled with dried fruit that has been soaked in alcohol but despite the heat, the popular family choice is the hot pudding.

I LOVED my WI Christmases so much that I made sure Christmas featured in Boomerang Bride and Matilda discovered the joys of a cold Christmas. Here is a quick scene with Marc, the hero.

“Matilda, I know you and that ‘oh’ meant something, so out with it.”
She shook her head. “It’s silly.”
Blue eyes lasered her with teasing in their depths. “And it’s not like you’ve ever done anything silly before. Come on, tell me.”
She interlaced her fingers and shrugged. “Traveling around as a kid, I didn’t get to do a lot of the Christmas stuff but more than that, December is in the middle of summer in Australia. None of the traditions of plum pudding, mince pies and a huge roast dinner make any sense in one hundred degree heat. But here, with the snow, it’s magical. I guess I was hoping to have the experience of cutting down a tree in the snow, dragging it home, decorating it and drinking eggnog.”
“What’s a plum pudding?”
She’d expected him to laugh but instead interest played across his cheeks. “It’s alcohol-infused fruit similar to Nana’s cake but cooked in muslin, hung for a while and then served with the most divine brandy-cream sauce which is similar to eggnog.”
He looked skeptical. “And a mince pie?”
She laughed. “More alcohol-infused fruit but instead of in a cake, it’s in pastry.”
He shook his head, laughter lines carving deep around his mouth. “You Aussies sure have a thing for liquored fruit.”
“Hey, don’t knock it until you try it.”
He snuck another sausage roll. “I might just have to do that after we’ve cut you down a tree.”
A zing of incredulity shot through her for a moment before common sense prevailed. “But Lori doesn’t need two trees.”
He shrugged. “So we’ll set up our own tree in the dining room of Gutherson House, and toast it with eggnog. Sounds like you’ve got a lot of catching up to do, Christmas-wise.”
Our own tree. He’d mentioned the other day he never bothered with a tree in his apartment in New York and she knew he never spent Christmas in Hobin with his family. She couldn’t believe he was offering to do this for her.
The part of her heart that had quivered the day he’d lost the Matheson account, quivered again in that odd and funny way, a combination of weight and incredible lightness. Only this time the rest of her heart followed with a resounding shudder.

So which Christmas tradition is the one you could NEVER give up?

Fiona Lowe is an award-winning, multi-published author with Harlequinand Carina Press. Whether her books are set in outback Australia or in the mid-west of the USA, they feature small towns with big hearts, and warm, likeable characters that make you fall in love. When she's not writing stories, she's a weekend wife, mother of two 'ginger' teenage boys, guardian of 80 rose bushes and often found collapsed on the couch. A current RT Book Reviwers' Choice Award nominee, you  can find her at her website, facebookTwitter and Goodreads.

Boomerang Bride is available now from Carina Press,Amazon Kindle, Nook and all other online book stores.
Her medical romances are available from The Book Depository and


Rachael Johns said...

You know I never really thought about why we were so busy down under at Christmas but of course... all that end of year stuff. :)
Your Christmas cooking looks fabulous!

Laurie G said...

I'm in Wisconsin Fiona. Where did you live?

We go out to the local Christmas tree farm and cut down the tree. It's always a challenge to find a "perfect" tree and then agree on a selection. Always followed by a fire, Christmas music and hot chocolate with marshmallows!

Kaelee said...

I love having fruitcake. None will ever be as good as my mother made them but I just have to have some at Christmas time. I've given up on making them myself as you have to make so much.

Ann said...

I am living part-time in Wisconsin too! Mind you I am not all that thrilled with the frigid temps. Our Christmas tradition is Christmas pudding, mince pies, traditional Christmas cake, turkey and Crackers to pull after the meal. I have brougt all our Irish Christmas traditions with me to Wisconsin!

Fiona Lowe said...

Rach, I worked that out a few years ago! It is also why in Australia, November has become the December with break ups moving into mid November.

Fiona Lowe said...

Big wave to Laurie in wonderful Wisconsin. I lived in Middleton and I LOVED going out and cutting down the Christmas tree in the snow and dragging it back to the car on the sled. We have a framed photo of one of those trips in our family room :-)
Hot chocolate is lovely but I was introduced to white hot chocolate there and that is now a vice.
I hope you have a fab tree this year.

Fiona Lowe said...

Kaelee, I think my family would leave if I stopped making the cake! I also make mini cakes by dividing the mixture into 6 Tuna-fish tins...the big ones approx 1lb. They make FAB presents for people.Maybe next year and keep one for yourself :-)

Fiona Lowe said...

Ann, your Irish traditions sound wonderful. When I was living in the US I had to make my own mince pies and puddings as they were not as popular over there as here.
Where in Wisconsin are you?

Fiona Lowe said...

Laurie, I forgot to ask...where are you in Wisconsin?

marybelle said...

I would never give up the afternoon nap. We usually have a long festive lunch & afterwards people drift off to watch a DVD or read or nap. It's hot, we have eaten too much food & had too much wine. We regroup for dinner. Usually a BBQ. Yes, I am in Australia too.

Laurie G said...

I live in the center of the state, Wautoma, about 40 miles west of Oshkosh. We have lot's of Christmas tree farms here.

I graduated from UW Madison so I'm very familiar with Middleton. My daughter recently moved to Sun Prairie so I'm now able to revisit that whole area!

Fiona Lowe said...

Marybelle, that nap is kinda essential isn't it? We generally do lunch and fall in a heap at 6pm watching movies. 'Robbie the Reindeer'is a Christmas must in our house:-)

Fiona Lowe said...

Laurie, I visited Oshkosh quite a few times and I know Sun Prairie well!THe one thing that totally blew me away about UW Madison was that in the middle of a city of 200,000, the university had a farm and you could go watch the cows being milked. My eldest was a toddler than and he LOVED doing that.

Laurie G said...

I've also visited the cows. I remember the one where you could see inside it's 4 stomachs and watch as it digested it's food.

I love, LOVE, LOVE UW-Babcock Dairy's ice cream!

There is a brand new Union South. We visited last September. It has a huge theater,a beautiful sitting area with a huge fireplace, a rock climbing wall, along with several restaurants, coffee bars and a regular bar.