Haiku Review no. 12: Home Alone (and Christmas Traditions)

I’m going to mix things up a bit here and give you the haiku before I bang on about semi-related things. Here you go:


Blond lad left in house,

Half-wit thieves attempt break-in…

John Candy features.

This’ll be my sort-of Christmassy blog, ok? Like many families, my family has very specific Christmas traditions. These revolve mainly around eating and watching films in lounge-wear and talking about going out for a walk but never getting as far as putting shoes on.

I guess this is pretty standard British holiday behaviour, but then I have a Swedish mother which brings a whole load more food and slobbery into the mix. The Swedes, you see – like many Europeans, celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December. Christmas Eve is the day that you stuff your face and open presents, only Santa actually comes to the house (disguised grandad/dad/uncle) and says: “Are there any well-behaved children in the house?” – cue sheepish foot shuffling, staring at the floor and thinking about the biscuit you put in the washing machine/joint you smoked out of the bathroom window – depending on your age at the time.

Anyway, even Santa isn’t that omnipotent, so everyone gets presents regardless and you shovel down a smorgasbord of alarming stodge and variety. The details of this feast vary from home to home but our version goes like this:

Pickled herring in various shades of flavour and edibility.

Gravlax (cured salmon you know – we like to call it ‘gravel axe’ for lols).

Boiled eggs cut in half with a neatly curled turd of pink Kalles ‘caviar’ (codsroe) and a sprig of dill on top.

An array of salami, cured meats and cheeses.

Pickled gherkin and beetroot.

Knäckebröd (Ryvita by any other name would not taste as cardboardy).

A salad of endives, oranges, stilton, walnuts and watercress.

Cut-up hot dogs (? not sure if this is traditional or my Mum being kooky) roasted with:

MEATBALLS! accompanied by lingonsylt – or ‘berries’ as they mysteriously refer to it in Ikea.

Boiled potatoes.

Jansson’s Temptation/Revenge – depending on how you feel about surprise anchovies. Essentially a fishy potato gratin.


Obviously accompanied by a ton of booze.

One year my mum bought a 15 pound ham that didn’t fit in our oven. We had to cook it in her friend Juliet’s Aga on the other side of the village and then pick it up in the car. Sitting in a car with a giant hot ham on your lap is a lovely feeling… unless you’re vegan I guess.

My Mum is also trying constantly to resurrect ‘Dopp i grytan’, which is Swedish for ‘wet disgusting bread that no-one likes’. It’s a special kind of bread called wort bread – already a marketing disaster – but then, just as you’re thinking it might be ok toasted with some cheddar and pickle, it’s dipped in ham dripping. So what you get on your plate is a slice of soggy wort bread dripping with meat sweat. WHY, lord?

Anyway, Dopp aside, it’s a pretty great feast with something for everyone except vegans, but that’s their problem.

And what about dessert, you say? Well! this is where I feel the deepest affinity for the motherland: It’s just sweets! (again, maybe this is my Mum’s take on it, but it’s all I know). We make some of our own sweets – a sort of coconut chocolate called Ischoklad and a jawbreaking nutty toffee called Knäck, but then we have a ‘special Christmas tray’ with loads of different compartments for different sweets, and if that weren’t enough, we only build a bloody gingerbread house and stuff that with sweets too!

Now, my best mate/honorary sister/master food blogger Kate is doing a post on the history of our ginger bread house tradition on her blog: thelittlelibrarycafe.com so I’ll send you that-a-way for a full history, but basically for the last 8 years or so we’ve had themes for the house. There was a crack house, an Occupy house, a Caribbean chattel house, an Aussie theme to celebrate Kate joining us from Brisbane and a Greek taverna for my ex-boyf and semi-Greek Ben. We had an Olympic theme in 2012 and a house that was being fumigated. This year it’s a toss-up between a True Detective house or a Serial house. Either way there’ll be a crimescene, which is the funnest thing to recreate in icing.

It’s great craic. Here are a couple of pics so you get the idea:

occupy house

Occupy house


London 2012


The back of the Aussie house (the front had too much Rolf)


Nana Mouskouri and Socrates, together at last.

It’s not always pretty, but it’s edible.

Anyway, my original point was that where many families in this country have only the Turkey Day food battle, we endure turkey etc. the day after we eat all the stuff listed above. And it’s REALLY hard to pace yourself, and it’s REAALLYY hard to remember that such gluttonly is on the horizon so we have more than once made the mistake of getting an Indian take-away on the 23rd. We’ve also spent boxing day at my Aunt’s house which often dissolves into a sprout-off and a parade of rationing-era condensed milk-based desserts – pretty much my Dad’s own personal heaven. As an aside, my Dad has been seen using brandy butter as a replacement for normal butter during the Christmas period. I’m starting to wonder if he quite likes the idea of type 2 diabetes.

SO after this massive culinary onslaught, movement is often impossible, and that’s where the movies come out. We have our faves: It’s a Wonderful Life, The Plank – a Swedish thing I never really understood, and of course: Home Alone one aaaaand two: Lost in NY.

Finally we tie it all back in to the title and the haiku.

I love Home Alone, despite the fact that as a grown up it’s one of the films that make you realise how many Hollywood kiddy heroes are dripping in untold wealth. I mean, at least Richie Rich was open about it. The family in Home Alone can afford flights to Paris for about 34 adults and children, and then Miami the following year. You know, why bother staying in your Illinois mansion when you could be by a pool? (especially when you know you have a history of getting so panicked at airports that you forget a whole child). With that kinda dough they must be like oil barons or something – and then they get mad at little Kevin running up a few hundred dollars on a room service bill. I think it was films like these that fed into my long-held belief as a child that the more children you had, the bigger the house you were ‘allocated’. I used to beg my mum to have more children so we could have a bigger house. I also had some great ideas for baby names. Anyway, after that old balloon bursts you’re left watching these childhood flicks and seeing only the lies of capitalism presented through the sweet round eyes of an adorable white-toothed Hollywood scamp. It hurts. but then John Candy’s polka band softens the blow, sure doesn’t it?

Thank you! and Merry Everyone! See you in 2015 if not before.

p.s. I didn’t get shortlisted for the old blog award, but thanks so much for voting if you did.


One response to “Haiku Review no. 12: Home Alone (and Christmas Traditions)

  1. Pingback: Gingerbread Biscuits. Hansel and Gretel. | The Little Library Café·

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