Christmas flashbacks

Growing up, Christmas was the most anticipated day of the year for me, even more than my birthday. It meant family, presents, food and a preview of New Year’s fireworks, courtesy of my uncle. Celebrations started on Christmas eve at my parents’ house, with my aunties and uncle visiting all the way from next door. There were also some elements of torture: going to church at 10pm for “misa de gallo” (translates as “rooster mass”, which was so crowded that I nearly fainted almost every year), and waiting until midnight for dinner. Both changed later, when I was old enough to opt out of mass (and Catholicism) and someone had the brilliant idea of eating earlier and doing the hugs and presents at midnight.

Food itself was a form of torture: self-inflicted indigestion and sugar rollercoaster. Dinner was roast turkey (slathered with Coke, beer, butter, and a commercial marinade featuring Peruvian chilli, cumin, garlic and vinegar), “Russian” salad (beetroot, potato, carrots, peas, corn, apples, avocado, mayo), applesauce, and rice (traditional white cooked with garlic when I was a kid, then mum started making a recipe with olives, nuts and raisins). We drank soft drinks and toasted with cider (in Peru it comes in a champagne-style bottle and is saved for special occasions). After the fireworks and presents we ate panettone with butter, and drank hot chocolate (bitter cacao tablets cooked with water and cinnamon, to which we added evaporated milk and sugar). The panettone and hot choc were totally unnecessary both calorie-wise and weather-wise (it’s summer, people!), but we had them for the sake of tradition. We chatted and played with our presents, and went to bed to try to digest and prepare for the next day’s feast.

On Christmas day we always slept in and headed to my aunties & uncle’s around mid-day. When my sisters and I were kids and got toys for presents we arranged all of them on the couch and stood behind it for the annual photo. Our “traditional” Christmas lunch was Cantonese-Peruvian food from our favourite “chifa” (the name we give to such restaurants, which are very popular back home). I usually went with a couple of my aunties to get the takeaway dishes: savoury chicken rolled with asparagus, “kam lu wantan” or sweet & sour pork with pineapple and wontons, roast duck in oyster sauce, stir-fried noodles with chicken, veggies and quail eggs, fried rice with char siu pork, chicken & prawns, plus soft drinks. Basically sugar, sugar, and more sugar. Topped with an afternoon tea of, you guessed, more sugar: panettone and hot chocolate, round 2. It’s possible that we had leftover turkey on Christmas night.

The flip side of all that eating, which was excessive during the holidays but quality-wise not too far off our regular habits, is a family affected by diabetes, overweight/obesity, hypertension, heart disease, mental illnesses, joint & skin inflammatory conditions, and cancer. It’s interesting to note that dad always had plain white rice instead of the “flavoured” ones, and plain bread rolls (or boiled chicken sandwiches) and tea instead of panettone and hot choc. He was the healthiest of the bunch, yet he always had gut problems and died of colon cancer.

My big sister and I were fat and, even though we both now maintain a healthy weight, our sugar metabolism is kinda broken. It’s great that we now live in the same city, thousands of kilometers away from home, meaning that we are free to celebrate with delicious, nourishing food.

Christmas eats and Happy New Year

This year’s Christmas celebrations involved brunch at home and dinner with some of our Buddhist friends.

My sister got a smoked ham from work, which I baked with a honey/mustard/orange juice glaze. We had it with a light salad consisting of rocket, radishes, cucumber, fennel and avocado, simply dressed with apple cider vinegar, olive oil and sage salt. We paired brunch with a nice sparkling shiraz.

Ham and salad

The main reason the salad was light was to counter-balance not one but two desserts (!). I made paleo panettone (recipe here) which I baked in a muffin tray because I didn’t have a proper tin. It didn’t taste like panettone and it wasn’t as light as the photo in the recipe suggests, but it was delicious, particularly with a good square of Pepe Saya butter on top.

Paleo panettone muffin and Pepe Saya butter

Dessert number two was paleo Christmas puddings (recipe here) with custard (recipe here). For the puddings I used Macro organic dried fruit, which is not full of sugar like the regular stuff, in particular the dried apricots. As a result, the puddings were on the tart side, and not cloyingly sweet. They were very dense, too, due to the almond meal. For the custard I used almond milk and tapioca flour. It didn’t taste like regular custard, but was nice.

Paleo custard and Christmas puddings

Paleo Christmas pudding with custard

We arrived at the Buddhist celebration mid-afternoon. Our hosts had family and friends for lunch, and they were having drinks when we arrived. They had prepared a feast that included amazing food, such as prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, cured salmon with sour cream and caviar, eggplant dip with chorizo, pâté with cranberry sauce, prawns, scallops, ham, chicken skewers, chicken wings, pork belly with honey and soy sauce, sausages + prunes wrapped in bacon, etc. Food was plentiful and amazing. I certainly ate much more than what I should have but I enjoyed every single bite.

As usual we had a New Years Course at the Buddhist centre with plenty of food, drinks and of course meditation.

Looking back, 2013 wasn’t a particularly dramatic or eventful year. My major achievement was to survive second year in uni (while working 23+ hours per week and keeping the blog alive). But it wasn’t as boring as it sounds! For example, I did some N=1 experimentation with my training (Olympic weightlifting, Crossfit and Crossfit-type training) and nutrition (Bulletproof coffee for breakfast, Bulletproof protein fasting). Tried a few therapies to deal with shoulder/neck pain (acupuncture, osteopathy). Became an Australian citizen. Was delighted to find more real food/paleo eating options popping up in Sydney (Thr1ve, Real Food Connection, Eat Me Primal, Paleo Cafe).

Hope you had a wonderful 2013 and here’s for an even better 2014!

Christmas Paleo eats

In Perú the biggest celebration of the year is Christmas eve. That’s when most families get together for a big feast, presents, hugs, kisses, and fireworks. We (my sisters, parents, niece, aunties and uncle) used to spend Christmas eve in my parents’ house eating roast turkey, “Russian” salad (beetroot, potato, peas, carrots, corn, apple, avocado and mayo), applesauce and rice (sometimes white, sometimes with olives and raisins, sometimes Middle Eastern-style). After dinner we waited until midnight, when we made a toast with cider and hugged each other. Next came the gift exchange, followed by more (!) food: panettone and hot chocolate (yes, hot, in the middle of summer).

Christmas lunch was at my uncle and aunties’ house (right next door from my parents’), and it was always takeaway chifa (Peruvian-influenced Cantonese food), which we bought every year from the same restaurant. The massive meal was followed by ice cream for dessert and more panettone and hot choc for afternoon tea.

My family back home is still eating the same meals every year. The expats (my sister Gladys, Alvaro and I) decided from day one to forget about traditions and go with whatever we felt like. This year we decided it was time to roast a turkey again, so we got a small one from Establishment 218. I followed the recipe in this post with a small change: I didn’t have any whisky on hand, so I used Cointreau (which worked out really well with the orange juice), and didn’t add any honey (enough sugar in the booze!). The result was fantastic.

Xmas eve dinner: Turkey

Turkey

Who needs rice when there’s cauliflower? Seriously, people! Cauliflower rice with toasted almonds and raisins (recipe here) was the perfect side for the bird, with its sweet and nutty taste, and its crunchy texture.

Cauliflower rice with raisins and almonds

We also had a simple, yet flavourful mushrooms, palmitos and olives salad. The salty, briny flavours of the palmitos and olives complemented the sweetness in the other components beautifully. Well, that’s what I think :)

Mushrooms, palmitos & olives salad

Mushrooms, palmitos & olives salad

We made a break to open our presents. For dessert there was no panettone and hot chocolate, but instead an almond flour shortbread (recipe here) served with coconut milk and cherries.

Almond shortbread, coconut milk & cherries

On Christmas day we skipped breakfast (dinner was super late and plentiful) and dived straight into lunch: BBQed veggies & seafood. We bought prawns, octopus, calamari and scallops in Faros Bros the day before (big queues!). The veggies were zucchinis, onions and mushrooms.

Grilled veggies & seafood

Grilled veggies & seafood – Yes, that’s a plate for one

Salads, etc.

As sides we had a beetroot & kohlrabi salad, leftover salad, leftover palmitos, an avocado and lemon wedges. And a few glasses of chilled semillon/sauvignon blanc.

Hope everybody had an awesome Christmas filled with love and great food!