Christmas of darkness and light


This was the first Christmas that my parents came to stay with us. I hope it's not the last, but it's likely it will be. They find it quite a trek to travel here from Finland and although they are in a pretty good shape now they are starting to show their age. My dad's still very sharp but physically weaker, my mother is physically really fit but has Alzheimer's disease. So on a positive note, together they still make one just about normally functioning person.

When mum was diagnosed dad said that it could be worse, it could have been cancer. I'm not trying to compete in the Worst Way to Lose your Mother competition or anything, I'm sure there is no great way to lose a mother, but I'm just saying Alzheimer's is a total bitch.

My mum is awesome though, probably partly because it's still early stages, but also because she is a strong lady with a sunny disposition if ever there was one. She's a bit like our family labrador, always positive and enjoying the moment, every day is a good day. So what if you forget where you left your hand luggage at the airport, that's why they have all those fancy CCTV cameras and handsome helpful young men. No need to get so grumpy over nothing, dad.

Authentic Finnish gravadlax with brandy, dill and red peppercorns
Gravadlax with brandy, dill and red peppercorns
The other heartbreak this Christmas has been that same eternally happy labrador. A couple of months ago a massive malignant tumour was found somewhere near her spleen. It has spread and because of her age she can not be operated or treated in anyway. So we just wait for her to die which is a blast. But she has no idea that she is terminally ill and just bounces around with her happy yellow ears flapping and tail wagging.

Or maybe she knows exactly what's going on, but because she is wiser than us, she realises there is no point in dwelling on morbid thoughts or feeling sorry for herself, so she continues the way she has been all her life. Every day is the best day ever, every walk is the best walk ever. All the people around her are worth all her love and affection and every sausage is the best she's ever had. We were worried we might lose her before Christmas or that my sister who was looking after her during my parents' UK visit would have to take her to the vet for her final sleep if she suddenly deteriorated or started to suffer a lot of pain. But she's been happy as Larry and eating Christmas foods as much as she can with the massive tumour pressing on her stomach and intestines.

So apart from that and me and dad getting the flu we had a wonderful Christmas. I think we actually got influenza not just a cold judging by how long it is taking and how crap we feel. I coped reasonably well because I am younger, stronger and maybe also less inclined to moan, but dad was sick as a dog and utterly pathetic for the latter part of the week.

But count our blessings we must. It was wonderful to have the three people I love the most in the world with me on my favourite time of the year.

My Finnish Christmas table

In Finland Christmas is a three day affair and a massive Christmas table is put together on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I decided to modify it a bit. For four people there was no point to make quite as many different things as my mum used to make. And on Christmas Day mum would normally make a moose roast, but I wanted to give them something different so did my always amazing Provencal duck legs with a port and red wine sauce which turned out great. Dad said he didn't know when he'd had food as good as that. Maybe yesterday, he added. And mum took all the credit as she is my mother after all and whatever kitchen skills I have were clearly inherited from her.

My Finnish Christmas dinner:

Smoked salmon
Pickled herring
Vendace roe with sour cream, dill and onion
Poached salmon and smoked salmon mousse
Smoked lamb
Smoked reindeer
Orange and honey roast ham
Mushroom salad
Game pate
Cranberry sauce
Baked mushrooms with Stilton
Rocket salad
Potato bake
Swede bake
Boiled potatoes

Cheese board
Selection of breads and crackers

Cranberry soup with cream

Smoked leg of lamb
Smoked lamb

Cranberry "kiisseli" pudding 

Poached salmon and smoked salmon mousse

Poached salmon and smoked salmon mousse

2 fillets lightly smoked salmon
Cup of milk
100g smoked salmon
200g cream cheese (Philadephia or similar)
2 tbsp of chopped fresh dill
Zest of a lemon
Pinch of lemon pepper
Salt (if necessary, depending how salty your fish is)

Poach two lightly smoked salmon fillets in milk. Chop them and chop the smoked salmon. Chop the dill. Mix all ingredients together. Line a small bowl with cling film. Fill the dish with the mixture and fold the ends of the cling film to cover the top. Place in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. When ready to serve flip the mousse over on a plate removing the cling film. Decorate with fresh dill and lemon slices.

It's great served as a starter or side dish or as a small snack with crackers.

Swede bake

Traditional Finnish Christmas potato and swede bakes
Traditional Finnish Christmas potato and swede bakes

1 kg swede
200 ml cream
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
75ml golden syrup

On top
Bread crumbs

Peel and cut the swede into chunks. Boil in salted water until soft. Drain preserving 100 ml of the water. Mash the swede and combine all ingredients. I used a hand blender to make the mash very smooth.

Check the seasoning and add some water if the mixture feels too thick, it should be runnier than normal potato mash.

Pour in to a buttered oven dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top and add a few knobs of butter. Bake in 175C for 2 hours.

Traditional Finnish Christmas swede bake ready for oven

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