“In my experience, clever food is not appreciated at Christmas. It makes the little ones cry and the old ones nervous,” said English cookery writer Jane Grigson.
From sneaking a candy cane from the tree to setting out cookies and a glass of Guinness for Santa, so many of my Christmas memories are around food. But, this year, our Christmas menu will need some edits…
I’m not planning any “clever food” surprises. But, four weeks ago, my husband Dara and I switched to a vegan diet.
We did this overnight, threw ourselves at it cold turkey, and, after watching “Cowspiracy” and “What The Health?” on Netflix, there was no going back.
It’s been easier for us than we imagined, but the elimination of animal products from our diet has had implications for the generations both above and below us.
So far, the four “little ones” in our life haven’t cried. But when the day’s dairy-free chocolate has been ripped from the advent calendar, they wonder what they’re going to eat for breakfast. Almond or oat milk hasn’t been cutting it on their Weetabix or granola. So, they’ve been alternating between breakfast smoothies and banana and blueberry pancakes.
This week—influenced by YouTubers (rather than his parents)—Neal, 12, decided to take the “7-Day Vegan Challenge.” Grace, 8, was quick to join him. But it all fell apart when they heard about the arrival of bubble waffles to Winterval, our local Christmas festival. Because we’ll be visiting town this evening, they’ve decided to schedule a break and start a new 7-day challenge the morning after their marshmallow-cream-and-Oreo-stuffed treats.
Éanna, 10, has a different strategy. After almost a week on a fully plant-based diet, he came home from an out-of-town basketball game last night to tell me his friend’s dad had taken them to KFC… where he’d been obliged to eat some chicken popcorn.
“Does that mess up your 7-day challenge?” I asked.
“I’m not doing the challenge,” he told me. “I’m going to be mostly vegan… even after seven days.”
Seven-year-old Archie is not an easy convert. “I’d like a toasted sandwich,” he’ll say, “with normal cheese… not the disgusting vegan stuff.” This child will surely be stocking up on all the meat and dairy he can get as we visit our families over the holidays.
Which brings me to the “old ones” …
We’re traveling two-and-a-half hours north to be with Dara’s parents for Christmas. If anyone has cause to be nervous, it’s my mother-in-law who’ll be hosting us for Christmas dinner. By the time Dara got to her, she’d already ordered her ham and turkey—both of which, I assure you, will be of epic proportion.
Some of the kids may enjoy a slice of meat or two, but Dara and I will be happy to eat the roast parsnips… the ubiquitous brussels sprouts… the roast and mashed potatoes… and—if I’ve time to gather the ingredients when we get there—some festive falafels. We’ll pass on the turkey gravy… and wash the dinner down with a glass of prosecco.
With sons, daughters, and grandchildren passing in and out, my in-law’s home at Christmas is like Grand Central Station. Every surface is taken up by gifts in various stages of undress and trays of food waiting in line for the oven.
But, if there’s any counter space to be found in the Mulvihill family kitchen on Christmas Eve, I’m hoping Éanna will recreate the vegan-friendly sticky toffee pudding he treated us to a few nights ago. That could just be our family’s new Christmas dinner pièce-de-résistance.
But whether we’re picking at a bowl of sprouts or tucking into a plate of ham and turkey, each one of us gathered around the table on Christmas Day will—just like every year before—be clinking our glasses… wrestling with Christmas crackers (and sharing the corny jokes that pop out)… and adding to our family’s special Christmas memories.