Merry Lim-Mas 2015!

Merry Christmas, one and all! The festive weekend is slowly winding down, and after spending Boxing Day in the Midlands visiting family, today has been supremely indulgent and lazy (read: luxuriating in bed til way past midday polishing off a Stephen King novel, lighting cinnamon candles to make for an atmospheric viewing of Breaking Bad, chain-eating stilton and pecan biscuits because apparently I haven't had enough of food for one lifetime...) This year's Christmas was grey and oddly warm, with the thermostat hovering around the mid-teens, but no less splendid for the unseasonal weather. As with last year, I'd like to offer you a sustained peep through the keyhole into the Lim family household today. Here's what we get up to for Christmas! 

The days leading up to the big day are usually characterised by a panicked flurry of food and present buying - a drive across town to pick up our yearly Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon, choose veggies and purchase the all-important turkey for Christmas dinner. This year I managed to get most of my presents the week before (so organised!) though on the 22nd I managed to twist my ankle three times in pursuit of a personalised jar of Nutella. Yes, I really did just type that. I'm a ridiculous human being. Cue arriving home with an ankle the size of a golfball to the horror of my doctor mother, who pronounced a possible avulsion fracture, and spending Christmas Eve all trussed up in tubigrip. Oh, the glamour.

Enshrined in the Book of Lim: a pre-Christmas meal or theatre outing. Last year we ate at Galvin La Chapelle; this year's itinerary involved succulent lobster dumplings and wildly strong cocktails at Opium followed by rambunctious fun at Jersey Boys. 

And then finally Christmas Eve came. No longer resembling the drawn-out torture of my childhood years, in which the day inched along ponderously with the coveted bedtime an aeon away, the hours flew by, whiled away preparing vegetables (enough Jerusalem artichokes to feed an army) wrapping presents (and creating watercolour labels, as below), making my trifle compote (more on that later) and working on the annual Eve dinner. The menu? My father's famous glazed, clove-studded gammon, a winter slaw made by yours truly and baked Camembert topped with onion relish. If you can't over-indulge to a disgusting degree at Christmas, when can you?

Christmas morning was broken in with the first alcohol of the day - homemade peach bellinis! The perfect accompaniment to a much-loved Christmas breakfast tradition: thickly-cut Hansen & Lydersen salmon on sourdough toast, topped with lumpfish caviar, with Bri's divine scrambled eggs. Favourite. Thing. Ever. Wouldn't it be great if every day started with champagne and caviar? Said the 21st century Marie Antoinette.

Christmas Day this year was primarily consumed by Project Trifle. Sounds easy peasy. Well, it is if you work on a budget and chuck in a packet of Hartley's jelly followed by some Bird's Custard. Or better yet, just buy a ready-made one from Waitrose. But I, rebel with a cause, had resolved to do this the old-fashioned way. A self-imposed series of trifles and tribulations, if you will. I really did my homework. I listened attentively to the Radio 4 Food Programme trifle special. I perused delightfully quaint 19th century recipes penned by Eliza Acton, the precursor of Mrs Beeton (below). I consulted the trifle doyennes of our age (Delia, Mary Berry, Nigella). I braved the crowds on Oxford Street in quest of a suitable trifle dish - an experience truly redolent of the Fourth Circle of Dante's Inferno:

I saw multitudes
to every side of me; their howls were loud
while, wheeling weights, they used their chests to push.
They struck against each other; at that point,
each turned around and, wheeling back those weights,
cried out: Why do you hoard? Why do you squander?

I made my very first custard from scratch - an unholy volume of cream, milk, vanilla pod and seeds and enough stirring to begin construction on my right bicep. I left it to cool, meanwhile building a mini fort using savoiardi biscuits, the fruit compote and juices I'd made the night before (made with dried mango, pineapple and apricots) and amaretti biscuits. My one mistake was not dipping the savoiardi biscuits in sherry before starting the process, meaning I later had to decant a thin stream of Pedro Ximenez over the tongues, resulting in pools of sherry besmirching my labour of love (the hard-earned custard). Not the end of the world...

...though when my mother made the error of lighting the beeswax candles acquired from the monastery in Santorini in bunches rather than individually, it did look like the apocalypse had come.

That, or we'd all been invited to Christmas dinner at the Addams Family's house.

I nearly expelled a vital organ laughing, but when the candles started to emit noxious levels of smoke, it was time to douse them in water and replace them with much more sedate-looking plain white candles. Much more suitable for Christmas dinner. And, you know, breathing.

Painted place settings made up by the sister in a moment of sweetness.

Yet another delicious meal cooked by my very hardworking family! Made even better this year with hand-rolled pigs in blankets with fantastic bacon, medieval bread sauce with added bay leaves, and my mother's take on sprouts - chopped brussel tops with pancetta and chestnuts. And speaking of my mother, her ruin (and indeed the ruin of us all) in the form of gin and tonic. A new tradition, perhaps?

Very late in the day (possibly the latest we've ever done it - how unlike days gone by when a sea of wrapping paper littered the floor by 10 AM) came the ritual unwrapping of presents - a carefully curated selection from every family member which showed real thought and love, and resulted in smiles and delighted squeals all round.

Gorgeous heeled suede boots with brogue detailing and heart-flutteringly soft cashmere knits.

The cutest stocking fillers and - so thrilling my typing's going all wonky - a boxset of The Wire from B, which I've wanted to watch for years. Honestly. All in the game yo, all in the game.

A mini library of books to add to my birthday haul: the cutest bird-watching book from my eagle-eyed mother who'd observed me getting excited over spotting a hawfinch in the garden a few weeks back (budding ornithologist, me?), The Taxidermist's Daughter by one of my favourite authors, Kate Mosse, Stephen King's The Stand and two sturdy-looking John Grisham novels. Anyone would've thought my parents are excited about me going into law...

And excitingly, Astier de Villatte's 'Cambridge' candle, which I've coveted for quite some time. I'm a walking cliché, yes, I'm perfectly aware. Housed in a mouth-blown glass receptacle, the description for the candle is as follows: 'Deep in an English garden with an Agatha Christie novel, opulent roses entwine with the fresh green notes of violet leaves, galbanum and verbena, against a backdrop of cinnamon leaves.' It's so lovely I'm not sure how I'll ever bring myself to burn it. Thanks, Pa!

Trifle time! Hands shaking, I brought my life's work and love to the table, where everyone dug in with gusto. If I do say so myself, it was a knockout...though I might have the copious amounts of sherry to thank for that.

Blissfully full, we repaired to the living room to cuddle up in front of the fire, swathed in new jumpers and clutching steaming cups of tea, with It's A Wonderful Life playing on the television. Life doesn't get much better than this.

Family, thank you for another fantabulous Christmas - love you so much! And to ACA readers: thank you for reading this far. I hope you all had wonderfully extravagant Christmases surrounded by people you love and an insane amount of food! I'm curious to know what your Christmas traditions are, so please link me to any Christmas posts you might want to share or let me know below! 

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Santorini γ: The Red Beach

Today we're going to leave Christmas and its excesses behind and return to Santorini! On our fourth day, we woke up early, driving to Akrotiri in the south to see two of the most raved-about attractions on the island: the ruins of a Minoan Bronze Age settlement and the Red Beach.

Although fascinating, the site at Akrotiri isn't nearly as well preserved as some of the ruins we've been lucky enough to wander through, such as Angkor Wat, Pompeii or Ephesus. Suffice to say imagination is really needed to reconstruct the ancient bustling civilisation, since most of the finds, such as pottery and mosaics, are housed miles away from Akrotiri in a museum in Fira. It might be a question of budget, but even replicas of these mosaics and pots in situ would have made the site come to life and made for a much more exciting visit. If you're a budding classicist, however, I would still recommend a trip to the site. Finally, unlike the three sites mentioned, a warehouse-like shelter has been built around Akrotiri, and the air inside is unsurprisingly incredibly stuffy and close. Luckily, the sea is but a few steps away!

After the heat of the archaeological site, the sea breeze was our salvation, gently whipping at our faces as we climbed the hill. Suddenly, the Red Beach loomed into view. A cliff overhanging a bay, its rusty scree bleeds into the sand below, staining the beach and its shallows red. I'd just been time travelling, skipping back a few thousand years to visualise the Minoan settlement. Now I felt like I'd been on a voyage through space: this barren, copper-coloured landscape could have come straight out of Star Wars or The Martian.

We took one look at the swimmers who scuttled out of the surf covered in brackish seaweed from head to toe, damp hair caked in black and red sand, and resolutely decided not to take a dip, preferring to wander further along the beach, where bright red faded to blacks and greys with a russet tinge.

Mysterious doors set into the side of the rock sparked a flurry of questions. Could they be fishermen's homes, cave dwellings hollowed out into the cliff? Maybe they led to nowhere and everywhere, like the doors in Monsters Inc. And what on earth did the electrical cables connect to, jutting out into the salty air? Sadly, this was one enigma that remained unsolved.

Sweaty and the soles of our feet coated in sand, we clambered back up to the road where we enjoyed some ice cream before taking a cab back to the hotel. There, we showered and had a swim before dinner in nearby Imerovigli.

One of the things I found the most interesting about Santorini was that many of the island's restaurants, tonight's included, try their best to cater to their wealthy guests by imitating Michelin-star cuisine, but mostly fall short of the mark. Other than Selene, the only eateries really worth writing home about are the small tavernas who stay true to homely Greek cooking. I felt that many of the other restaurants would have been far better had they presented their food simply, with prices to match. There's no denying that the food in Santorini is good for the most part, using fresh ingredients - but the way in which it's served can feel overblown and veer towards the pretentious. Then again, I suppose this is what happens when an island becomes a tourist magnet to this degree.

Though you might feel swindled when you're paying through the nose for a pseudo-Michelin experience, you quickly realise that you're really shelling out for a comfortable view of the sunset. And oh my, what a sunset it is. 

The days in Santorini are all too easily whiled away. There's a lot of adventures to be had if you want to go looking for them, and even if you don't, hours can easily pass with a good book in your hand in the shade. Our day at Akrotiri zipped by, and all too soon I was tucked up in bed, dreaming of a small fishing village on a red shore, six millennia ago.

If you've missed my earlier posts on Santorini, you can catch up here: 
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