Christmas, cousins, cleaning drains…

Christmas, cousins, cleaning drains…

Another Christmas in Brazil – my fourth, amazingly – and I am still unused to a hot Christmas. Bit different this year because we had a number of cousins to stay, so our house was ‘base camp’ this year. So, instead of us visiting friends on Christmas Eve (which seems to be the main ‘gathering time’, rather than Christmas Day as it is in the UK) we had family here. A party of fifteen altogether including ourselves, I was apologized to several times, for it being ‘crowded and noisy’.

But it made me think, in fact, of stories I heard as a child, of family Christmas gatherings when my parents were children. In particular it made me think of stories of my mother’s family with cousins arriving in Lincoln from Nottingham, all crowding into two adjacent terraced houses in lower Lincoln. The area was one for which my grandfather (mother’s father) had been responsible for tarmacking, over a number of years, with his asphalting business. He had a horse and cart and the tar was heated in a burner on the back of the cart, but that is by the by.

Probably the main difference from then, there, and here, now, was the weather of course. They would be confined together in the houses for most of the time by cold weather, though, if it was fine, I understand a brisk walk may have been the order of the day for those not responsible for food production. No doubt many indoor games would be played, too. Here, though, the hot weather meant that mostly people spent their time out-of-doors and the games were active, badminton and table tennis, with dips in the small swimming pool for the children (and some grown ups!)

I had always been a bit ‘jealous’ of these stories when I was a child, since both my brothers were (and still are, of course) so much older than me and nearly all of my visiting cousins were, as far as I was concerned, adults. So, although some of the Christmas Day parties in my early youth, were pretty numerous in terms of guests, I was, more often than not, the ‘only child’, so the games were mostly pencil and paper games. At school I was always spoken of as being ‘older than my years’ and, maybe, that was why. I think I have probably caught up with myself now. In fact, I am rather hoping I seem much younger than my years, but I have not, so far, heard anybody say it? Ah well, that’s life!

Here and now, in Brazil, we had barbecued fresh fish for lunch on Christmas Eve, with rice and vegetables, at about 2pm to keep us going until the ‘Main Meal’. I think I have said before that the ‘Main Meal’ on Christmas Eve is a very late evening thing and, I think it was last year that it had been almost midnight before the food appeared. I must have grumbled a bit about that because Fatima said “we will eat well before midnight” this year, since we were, as I indicated above, responsible for ‘base camp’!

Well, it WAS before midnight, but not as long before midnight as I might have wished!

We did start the nibbling of what one might call the antipasti course around 10.30 pm, a selection of cold meats and cold boiled chestnuts (more often boiled and eaten cold, here, than roasted and eaten hot.) And it was certainly after eleven pm when the main platters were available for consumption – but there were several main platters when they arrived, so I am not really complaining.

For a group of the size of ours, the main “Specialities” expected and, therefore, herewith, provided, are Bacalhau, (a dish made with salted dried cod, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers, olives, boiled eggs and LOTS of olive oil), turkey, ham and pork. Besides these we also had ‘empada’, rice, and a lettuce and tomato salad. (An empada is a cooked, soft, thick pastry pasty, with a chicken filling in this case, but empadas can have any number of fillings. This one was delicious, but some commercial empadas can be very “clatty”, with the pastry sticking to the back of your teeth!)

This was all followed by chocolate mousse and a sort of mixed-fruit-in-gelatin concoction, as well as fresh fruit, pears and pineapple, so it was well after 1.30 a before bed was contemplated. Since we have a dishwasher (which now works fine by the way – see previous blogs {see, particularly, “Service (lack of!)” for dishwasher problems!}) I filled that, by way of my contribution to the proceedings, since I had not been responsible for any of the cooking, and switched it on before retiring to bed. I was not, as will be seen, last to go to bed, but the relevance of this statement will become clearer later…

At some point of the evening (and, looking back three evenings ago, I now place it between main course and sweets…) we had a version of “amigos occultos”, Christmas present giving. It means “hidden friends” and is quite a good way of ensuring everyone gets a gift of sorts without being terribly expensive. The most usual version is organized well before Christmas where the names of all the people expected to be present are put into a hat and each person draws a name. Then she or he buys a small present which is then given to the hidden friend, after a brief description of said friend by the giver as per … “my hidden friend is female, tall and an excellent cook…” and so on, and so on, as people try to guess who is to be the recipient.

The alternative version is rather more ad hoc. Presents are wrapped by a small sub-committee who buy, or find, small presents which may be much wanted or much unwanted. So, the other evening, we had three pairs of socks, new, three tea towels, a biscuit tin (which had been recycled from another “hidden friend” exercise a week previously) two New York ‘T’ shirts from our recent visit there, which were still ‘spare’, a slightly used Rubik’s Cube, all colours correctly sided, some blouses and one or two other things I cannot now recall.

Names are now put into a hat (or bag, in this case) and drawn out one by one and the first person chooses a present from the table and unwraps it so everyone knows what s/he has got. S/he then draws the next name and this person goes and chooses a present and unwraps it. But the second person may prefer the present chosen by the first person and can go and swap it with little by-your-leave. And, so it goes on with each new person having fewer parcels to choose from, but with a greater abundance of presents available to “grab”. Much banter ensued and the biscuit tin changed hands, once because it wasn’t as nice as one of the blouses and once because it was nicer than one of the teal towels. For the record I picked a parcel which contained a pair of socks with which I was actually happy, but which nobody else, who came after me, desired for themselves.

And, so, to Christmas Day morning. When I came downstairs, one of the sinks still had an inch or two of water in which had not drained away and the dishwasher had an inch of water in the bottom, although the plates and glasses were clean. Thus the evidence seemed to point to the fact that the “fat-catcher” drain may have become blocked. Oh dear!!

Quick change of shorts and ‘T’ shirt and removal of watch and ring as this promised to be a dirty and smelly job. Recent rainfall had gradually washed sand into the fat-catcher, so, as well as removing the layer of fat we ended up having to remove quite a large quantity of now-black, greasy sand. It is a job that probably needs doing about once a year anyway but it is NOT the sort of job one plans to do on Christmas Day. Hmmm!! Fatima’s cousins helped, so it was a community task which probably took about twenty minutes all told and the reward was that the water in the sink quickly drained away. But it turned out that the water remaining in the dishwasher was NOT there because the drain had been blocked.

OH NO! Not another problem with the dishwasher, I hear you comment in dismay. As it happens it was not such an issue, thankfully!

You recall I said I was not the last to go to bed the previous evening? An aunt of Fatima’s had opted to make sure everything was OK in the kitchen by switching off the dishwasher just eight minutes before it had finished its full cycle, not realizing it had not finished! So, all we had to do was turn it on and the water was swished away. PHEW!!

Here’s wishing my reader a happy and prosperous New Year for 2014 and if you want to visit during the World Cup football tournament you will have to get your visit booked before we let all the rooms we have to spare!! Season’s greetings to one and all…

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About expatinbrazil

Retired English liberal environmentalist living in Brazil. Author of Historical Novel - Captain Cobbler: the Lincolnshire Uprising 1536
This entry was posted in Brazil General, Food and stuff, Life... and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Christmas, cousins, cleaning drains…

  1. segmation says:

    Happy Holidays and I hope it is not too hot for you and your cousins today!

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