You may have started buying what you need to celebrate Christmas, but here’s our advice on how you might get through this festive season without leaving Brixton. The ingredients of a good season for our family include decorating the house, plenty of booze and a good Christmas dinner, with the leftovers right up until New Year. Of course all the merriment is interspersed with the Christmas Eastenders, Dr Who, a few games on Boxing day and possibly a walk to Brockwell Park. It is now our 31st Brixton Christmas and so we do have things in the loft and under the bed that contribute to our traditions but there are always extra things we add each year.
Decorating the house starts as soon as we can persuade one of our number to get the tree. Our decorations hark back to earlier times with red ribbons, holly and ivy adorning the living room, as well as plenty of sparkly stuff. There are lots of options around Brixton for trees. However, getting the holly and mistletoe was more of a problem until we found some at the flower stall outside the tube station.
We aim for gaudy with the Christmas tree, so no sophisticated one or two colours for us. Our version requires kitsch stuff usually home-made, inherited or gathered from our travels (a flamingo on a rubber ring drinking a cocktail is a personal fave), as well as multi-coloured baubles which are easy to find in Poundland and the 99p store. I bought some packets of delicately folded paper snowflakes (2 per £1.00) and some plastic snowflakes to put on the window. But you should definitely look at Pound & + at the market end of Popes Road which is an Aladdin’s cave of things you might never need except at Christmas – tip: make sure to check out the left hand aisle. Morley’s top floor also deserves a special mention this year. They have sticks with red berries (to replace holly), a really fantastic display of special glass ornaments (from £1.50 to £5.00), sticks of little silver bells as well as cheap stockings (£1.50) among the more expensive ones (£15.00). A hint, they often sell things off cheap near to Christmas so if you can wait a little while you can add some glamour to the occasion on the cheap.
Christmas booze is easy to find but we think the Advocaat for the snowballs comes from Tesco (Fill a high-ball glass with ice, one part advocaat, three of lemonade and a spritz of lime juice to taste – in that order) and M&S sells bottles of Prosecco for a festive but cheaper glass of bubbly on Christmas day (about £8.00). We think that mulled wine is best made from a sachet, as any recipes always verge on too much cinnamon or cloves (sachets found in Tesco) but add some orange and lemons from the market. Special wine to accompany Christmas dinner you can get from the Market Row Wines or Chix and Buck Ltd in Atlantic Road. They both always have good advice about the kind of wine to choose and you can also have a tipple to help you face the remaining shopping. Beer is from Brixton Brewery and they are open for direct sales on Saturday 10am to 4pm or buy from their Brixton outlets (Cornercopia, Cannan and Cannon, Craft Beer Co., House of Bottles and Market Row wines).
Christmas food: For years I made our own gluten free gingerbread house, which introduced the children to new swear words as I dropped boiling caramel on my thumb. But I now realise that no-one eats it. So now its a kit and with Google translate you can even use a German one from Lidl (£4.89 with helpful tips on the web for building it). Just add extra sweets and a couple of little people and it really does look homemade but without the blisters. We are great fans of Lidl at Christmas, even before the TV ads. They sell cinnamon and chocolate German biscuits and we swear by their Christmas puddings. We buy extra for the rest of the year to make Christmas pudding ice cream. They also have packets of sugared almonds which look pretty on the table and this year we invested in a chocolate melted centre pudding and a salted caramel one so we can keep putting on weight all year round.
The table – candles from everywhere but they have coloured ones in Cornercopia and cheaper ones in Pound & + (the shop in Popes Rd market). Tablecloths and runners are good in Morley’s (top floor) and anything else you can improvise from the one pound shops like coloured doiles and gold centre pieces. But if you want a brightly coloured Christmas meal, then buy some material from Brixton Village and some coloured napkins from M&S or perhaps even make something from coloured paper from the Art shop above the Kingshield Chemist on Brixton Road.
We are meat eaters, but all the ingredients for vegetarian or vegan alternatives such as nut loaf and vegetarian thalis can be sourced from the many fruit and veg stalls in Brixton. Desserts without suet or with vegetarian suet are also available – check out Brixton Wholefoods.
Starter: We sit down to a “little something” before we tuck into the main event, but it is less of a starter and more an amuse bouche. We have considered a number of options this year. Last year we had oysters which can be bought from Ilias Fish Shop 16 First Avenue in Brixton Village but we worry about the potential for accidents following getting pretty boozy throughout the day (we start at 10 am). Prawn cocktail is easy (the prawns from Wing Tai Supermarket in Electric Avenue are usually good value) and so is a bit of toast and pate (choose from the different types in Cannon and Cannon with bread from Wild Caper in Market Row) but this year we may go for Serano ham from Lidl or a blow out of Iberico ham from Brindisa (new blog soon on lessons on how to carve it off the bone).
The main event: We go for goose which provides the fat for roast potatoes for the whole year but does take a bit more attention. Order it from Jones the Butcher (see our post on butchers for more information). Vegetables come from the market.
Pudding: You can make your own Christmas pudding but you should have thought of that ages ago. Ours will probably come from M&S or Lidl, although we never eat much of it as we are so stuffed. The more expensive ones from Waitrose are lovely but firstly, it is not in Brixton and secondly, its a waste on Christmas day. We save it for some other time. If you want to have Jamaican Christmas cake and custard then you should have started a month ago to soak the raisins in rum. We do not know of a really good Brixton outlet so please let us know if you have come across one. Traditional Ambrosia tinned custard is from Tesco’s.
Mince pies: We sometimes have trouble with the choice in Brixton but we like the smaller ones. This year we are making our own which consists of many “try outs” to get the pastry just right. We are on our fifth lot and the amount of brandy in the homemade mince filling has increased exponentially. We may also be sick of them by the main event. Brandy butter is easy to make – butter, sugar and brandy to taste.
Christmas Crackers this year we have some from a great knock down sale last January but usually we go for the least tacky as the jokes are mostly awful (What is Santa’s favourite pizza? One that’s deep pan, crisp and even). You only need them for the hats and so some lucky sod can get the bottle opening key chain.
We have the leftovers of course, supplemented by salads and a ham cooked to perfection in the days before Christmas. This year it will be bought from Dombey Meats 19 Market Row.
Chocolate logs, mince pies and the last of the Christmas pudding accompany the boxes of chocolates (try the posh ones in the Chocolate Museum, 197 Ferndale Road) or the new chocolate shop Kokoo next to Champagne and Fromage. They are expensive but you don’t need many and we are particularly in favour of their Christmas pudding ones. Delicious flat biscuits from Spain called Tortas Aceites can be bought from Brindisa now that we have lost A&C Continental Delicatessen. There are also some boxes of candied fruit and Turron (almond nougat either hard or soft) in the Spanish and Portugese shops. Cheese, if French, comes from Champagne and Fromage in Brixton Village. Cheese from the UK comes from Cannon and Cannon in Market Row
We also eat a lot of Clementines which come from a number of places depending on when we are eating them. For short-life tangerines (Christmas stocking variety) and Clementines we buy from the market, but if you need them to last a few days then make sure they feel solid. We do a few trials as some supermarket varieties have little taste or are bitter. We prefer Clementines just because of the absence of all the pips and this year we recommend Cinco Quinas who only stock them when they are good enough. But we are also varying the fruit bowl with Chirimoya or Custard Apples, which are green, full of pips and are eaten with a spoon when they are very soft. They have a subtle flavour but it supports farmers in Andalucía which produces Europe’s main crop – buy them from the stall on the corner of Electric Avenue and Electric Lane.
So no-one has to go far to stock up for Christmas but remember the food bank too – everyone needs a little special something for Christmas, so buy two and give one away.