Beloved readers, I am plagued by troubles. Since I moved to a lovely seaside flat in Sea Point two weeks ago, I have been operating without WiFi or an oven. Seeing as those are pretty much the cornerstones of a food writer's livelihood, I have been in what someone with a smaller vocabulary and less flair might call a "pickle".
I consider it one of the greatest personal tragedies I have ever been compelled to endure.
As a result of my reduced circumstances, I haven't been able to photograph a new recipe. That is, unless, you are interested in learning how many ways to eat toast. This simply won't do, I thought to myself. But that won't stop me from devising a recipe.
In lieu of what would have been a recipe for stuffed turkey or Hasselback potatoes or Boxing Day gammon sandwiches, I have decided to apply my expertise to a different kind of recipe altogether. A more...Grinchy recipe to help you get through the festive season. Take it or leave it. After all, results may vary according to the heat of your family conflict.
What you'll need
Your last nerve
One belligerent family member, soaked in brandy and/or red wine for several hours
One oven preheated to sweltering degrees because, for some reason, we have assented to indulging in roasted meat as a festive meal during the hottest season of the year
Brewing tension; if you can't make it at home, store-bought is fine
Stage 6 load shedding
One divisive political topic
How to ruin the festive mood
Step One: Marinade
The first step to any disastrous festive family meal is alcohol. Brandy and red wine are favoured for their strong flavours and spectacular hangovers. In the Durban heat, however, I would recommend a strong gin and tonic. To kick things off, let every member at the family dinner table marinate for at least an hour in a mixture of liquor and their own physical discomfort.
If you do not use alcohol, fear not. You can achieve similar results simply by letting them simmer on their own until boiling point.
Step Two: Turn up the heat
Now that everyone has been sufficiently tenderised by their vice of choice, it's time to apply some heat. Take your divisive political topic and pepper it generously into the conversation. If the topic in question is especially spicy, you may find that all you need is a single mention to really vivify the conversation.
Be careful with how much heat you apply here; too little, and you risk the conversation deflating like a failed soufflé. Too much, and your dish - sorry, I mean your conversation - might explode and burn you.
If you are in charge of the festive meal (which, if you read this blog, you probably are), this is also a good opportunity to throw physical heat into the mix. Is it really the festive season if you aren't clattering away noisily in the kitchen, burning yourself on tottering towers of hot trays crammed into an overworked oven, sweating it out in 40-degree heat while the rest of the family gets steadily hungrier and drunker?
Don't let them forget it. Wipe your dripping brow in front of them. Clash some hot pans together like cymbals. Yell and swear at full volume at every minor burn, mishap, or overcooked turkey leg.
Step Three: Leave your mother-in-law to steam
You may, at this juncture, expect intervention from a family member in a maternal role. It may look like a hissing admonition to stop causing trouble, to slow your drinking, or to change your political position. This is normal. Leave to hiss and steam.
Step Four: Comment loudly on how much Old Brown your Great Aunty Merle is putting away
Ruining Christmas, just like cooking, requires a willingness to be daring and take risks. If at any point you are wondering if you should comment on how much somebody is drinking, the answer is: yes. Yes, you should.
Step Five: Plunge the entire affair into darkness
Right. At this point, the following elements should be complete:
Your family members should be thoroughly soused
Your tension should be adequately brewed
Your kitchen should resemble the fifth circle of hell
Now, for the pièce de résistance, let stage 6 load shedding plunge the entire thing into darkness. The turkey will be half-cooked, shrieks will sound from the darkest parts of the house, and nobody will be able to locate the tiny household items that come with Christmas crackers. Delightful.
Best to pack it in and order a curry for takeout.
Best of luck with your dastardly Christmas plans!