The Anatomy of an English Christmas Dinner

Get in mah belleh!

As an English Teaching Assistant in Austria, I have met many Brits. After tea and how much more “superior” British English is to American English, their next favorite topic to speak on is the quintessential roast dinner. This roast dinner is a thing of myth among Americans – What exactly is a roast dinner? Why do many Brits have one every Sunday? And why do they always talk about it?

This is what I knew: roasts dinners are delicious. Roast dinners happen on Sunday, and bring the family together. Roast dinners, along with its relative the Full English Breakfast, are the end-all and be-all hangover cure. My interest was officially piqued.

Leading up to my Christmas trip to England, my excitement grew knowing that I would get to experience a roast dinner on Christmas Day with my friend Katie’s family. From the stories, I had learned that the Christmas roast dinner is the roast of all roasts, the Ultimate Roast Dinner. But still, I was not sure what I was in for…

“Don’t drink too much tonight,” Katie’s father warned, as Katie and I left for the pub on Christmas Eve. “Wouldn’t want to be too hungover for the best meal of the year!” I nodded solemnly, and my friend promised we would be home after a few pints.

The next morning, the typical child-like Christmas excitement propelled me out of bed around 9 am. I sensed movement in the kitchen, and I went downstairs to wish those awake a “Merry Christmas!” Once there, I found only Katie’s parents, already bustling with preparation for the afternoon’s meal.

“Can I help?” I asked meekly, offering my sub-par culinary skills.

Katie’s father referred to his Excel-produced schedule for the day, which listed step-by-step how to perfectly, and timely, prepare the roast dinner (he uses this every Sunday). “Just in time to chop the vegetables!” I wiped the sleep from my eyes as he furnished me with a large knife.

After a good hour of slicing, dicing, buttering and organizing dishes around the kitchen, it was time to let the duck sizzle. Duck, I had learned, would be the roast part of the roast dinner.

Katie’s mom poured us all some Baileys (Katie and her brother had, by this time, been roused for their beds), and we moved to the front room for some serious gift opening. My stomach rumbled, but I had Baileys to tide me over.

Halfway through the cooking of the duck, Katie’s father removed a substantial amount of the grease to produce the Yorkshire pudding. Yorkshire pudding, once a traditionally Northern delicacy, is now consumed all over England, and is widely considered the key dish in a roast dinner (after the Roast, of course). Her dad poured the special type of dough into the meat grease, and, when cooking, it poofs up ever so elegantly. It ends up looking like a bread muffin, but it is much more savory than that.

When I wasn’t sure if I could bear the delectable, Thanksgiving-esque smells any longer, it was announced that dinner was about to be served. I sat down at the table not to find delicious food on my plate, but rather a large Tootsie Roll-like object.

Christmas dinner: 1 large paper Tootsie Roll and vegetables! Yum!!

“Christmas crackers!” Katie exclaimed, offering me an end of the Tootsie Roll. “Pull,” she commanded. When pulled, the cracker… cracks… and out comes a hilarious paper hat, a cheap toy and a corny joke. Everyone pulled their cracker, donned the hats, and shared the horrible jokes as a sort of toast before the meal.

Very dangerous.

And then… Katie’s parents brought the food to the table. I filled my plate to the brim with brussel sprouts and peas, swedes and turnips, Yorkshire pudding and chestnut stuffing, roast potatoes and onions, and let’s not forget the duck. Oh, the crispy, greasy, savory, melt-in-your-mouth duck! My stomach was in Christmas roast dinner heaven. There were seconds and thirds, and fourths and fifths as we picked on the leftovers throughout the evening.

“It takes all morning to cook, but fifteen minutes to devour!” Katie’s mother exclaimed. We all murmured our agreement, our mouths too full to do anything else.

Intensely eating.

Tradition states that you leave your paper crown on through the meal, but I didn’t take mine off until I was tucked in bed, smiling back on my first English Christmas.

Ever had an English Christmas roast dinner? How’d you fare?

Notes On Packing: Or, How Am I Going to Fit 1 Year of My Life in 3 Suitcases?

Luckily, I don’t have this much baggage. … Nearly, though.

Photo by kthread

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a problem. Well, maybe more like two or three problems. As I sit here on my bed surrounded by postcards, ticket stubs, half of pairs of socks, six pairs of jeans and books I never read while playing a game called TAKE, TOSS or STORE, my problems are impossible to ignore and borderline embarrassing. And the first step is admitting to that problem, right? Here goes.

Problem #1: I’m a chronic overpacker. Let me put it this way: I went home for three weeks at Christmas and came back with an extra bag, bringing my suitcase total up to 4. For the return trip, I’m attempting to limit myself to the use of two suitcases, while leaving one (the largest one) stored here for my return in the fall. This has made me realize that I own a lot of clothing… But I never have anything to wear. Huh, the conundrum of being a girl. This leads into…

Problem #1.5: I like having stuff. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m materialistic, but I like things. When I get paid, I enjoy spending my money on clothes, books, magazines, shoes — pretty much, anything and everything I absolutely don’t need. I recognize this needs to stop, and recently it has, but not before I accumulated so much stuff in this apartment that I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it.

Photo by Drew Coffman

Problem #2: I’m a hoarder. The most difficult part of this packing extravaganza is sorting through everything I own, one year’s worth of stuff!, and deciding what to do with it. And guess what? I hate parting with nearly everything. I’ve managed to fill my bedroom in Michigan with movie ticket stubs, pictures I took in middle school of people I no longer talk to, magazines and random party favors. Spending a year in Europe has given me an extraordinary opportunity to collect useless brochures, un-sent postcards, train ticket stubs, cards/postcards/letters people sent to me and everything in between. In this case, I don’t keep these things just because I like them, but because it has true sentimental value to me. Tossing the souvenirs in the trash bag makes me sad.

So I sit here, surrounded by my life and memories of this year, with my apartment in shambles and I am perplexed. I’m not sure how I’m ever supposed to fit everything into a few suitcases, and I wonder how my assistant friends are faring with this packing business.

Photo by zenobia_joy

But mark my words: I’m going to get home and streamline this process for next year. First step, be able to strap my life on my back. Then… try to take over the world. Or something like that.

Do you have problems packing, too? Or do you think I’m insane? Let me know in the comments!

Until next time…
Cheers,
Alaina