I love December. It is a month full to the brim of my favourite things. It all kicks off with my birthday at the beginning of the month which is a day I refuse to stop celebrating. I AM fabulous and therefore have absolutely no issue with celebrating this fact twice over. Once on my actual birthday and then two days later for my official birthday. Yes, just like the Queen, I have two birthdays. Unlike the Queen, my hapless grandfather just seemed to forget my birth had to be registered until a couple of days later! After my birthday the Christmas parties seem to really hit their stride. I am a sentimentalist and although not religious, I really love this time of year. I love getting dressed up and spending time with people that I haven’t had a chance to connect with socially due to our hectic schedules. I love all the rituals surrounding food and drink, and of course, I love the fact that it’s the wind down towards the holidays.
The start of the festive season is followed by the anniversary of The Signing. The Signing was our official marriage in the St Andrews Town Hall. We decided to get married legally before our official wedding in June so we could expedite YM’s visa process for Turkey (yes, I suppose it could be considered a visa wedding). It also to give us the flexibility to get married outside later next year (something just not done in the lands down south). The Signing was a lovely occasion that consisted of both our families plus my three closest friends. It was very informal followed by drinks and dinner which also gave our families a chance to meet before the big day. Needless to say it was a fabulous time and our minimoon to Aberfeldy was the icing on the cake.
Actually, all of that was great but the REAL icing on the cake was our Registrar. This tartan-covered behemoth cornered us before the ceremony to ‘learn a little more about who she was marrying today’. What that translated to was her stating her dissatisfaction with the minimal ceremony we had asked for, nodding her head with its iron grey hair helmet angrily for emphasis. She informed us coolly that she had been no less than a Senior Registrar for no less than twenty years before her retirement last year. However, she so loved weddings that she voluntarily spent her Saturdays marrying the good folk of East Fife. In all her years she had never heard the like of a wedding with no readings, no rings, not even a poem! The fact we were having all these things on our actual wedding day was inconsequential. It was meaningless without the gravitas of a Retired Senior Registrar Who Sometimes Worked On Saturdays, she screeched, her voice rising in indignation and her tartan mono-bosom heaving with distress.
Her dissatisfaction carried into our ceremony. She kicked of proceedings by haranguing our guests by agreeing to take part in such a preposterous display before abruptly turning on us and urging us ‘to get on with it then’. We read our vows to each other and then shared a rather nervous kiss, both of us squinting at the Tartan Terror out of the corner of our eyes. Ten minutes later the register was signed and we were free to go. Or so we thought.
As we were making our way down the stairs Tartan the Terrible cornered us again on the landing. Squeezing us into the corner with her bulk, she launched in to a Robert Burns poem without any explanation or introduction. YM and I spent an awkward five minutes trying not to catch each others eyes for fear of exploding into laughter as her voice droned out the incomprehensible Scots words.
“I’ve never done a wedding without a poem or a reading and I refuse to begin now”.
With those words uttered triumphantly at us she allowed us to slink away down the stairs and out the door. We were married, and it had been done properly. Thank goodness we had a pub lined up to recover!
The final Important Event to occur in December is my mum’s birthday. Which, believe it or not, falls on the 25th! Since I was old enough to operate the cooker (read: reach the cooker as opposed to actually use it safely – health and safety was not such a big deal in Bahrain), we have celebrated this day by me cooking a three course meal for her and then sitting down to eat together as a family, dressed to the nines in our finest sparkles.
This year, we decided to skip the usual festivities. Of course I celebrated my birthdays but living in Istanbul means that you miss out on the Christmas drinks and parties that your social diary revolves around in December. Apart from the staff party, there was nowhere else to go! This year I also asked my mum what she wanted to do for Christmas as I didn’t think she would want to spend it at home without my father or my brother (not deceased, just away climbing in Chile). After some gentle prodding, she stated that she always wanted to go on a cruise.
Oh sh*t. A boatful of near-deads and newly weds guzzling themselves whilst listening to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville on repeat was not my idea of a holiday. Or so I thought. I am now not only happy to eat my words, but have second helpings as well. It was, in short, one of the most incredible holidays I have ever had. I spent countless hours researching which itinerary and which cruise line would fit our needs. I know my mum would be looking for something classy, elegant with good food. I wanted the same plus winter sun, decent cocktails and no wet t-shirt competitions. Definitely not a party boat but laid back, luxurious and travelling to destinations that were new to me.
We ended up choosing to sail with Celebrity Silhouette around the Eastern Caribbean for eight days. Puerto Rico, St Maarten, St Thomas and St Kitts. We then spent another five days in Miami. Because, why not? With plenty of sea days in between to encourage rest and relaxation. It was indescribably, utterly, incredibly fabulous. The cruise highlights were as follows:
- The ship was stunning! Beautifully designed, very clean and at no point did you ever feel crowded or like you were being herded like cattle.
- There was so much to do! Even on sea days there were games, competitions, live music or, just a hundred different gorgeous spots for chilling, reading or napping.
- The food. A buffet with food from every corner of the globe, the main dining room elegant with its white linen and crystal, five different speciality restaurants from Italian, to sushi to French. Yes I had three, three course meals a day. Yes I had snacks in between the meals. No – I don’t feel guilty. Yes, I have developed heartburn.
- The islands. The postcards are true. Enough said.
- Drinks. I upgraded us both to premium drinks packages and they are worth every penny. Everything is better when you’re blood alcohol level is kept at a constant 0.03%. Also, is there any better way to start the day than a Grey Goose Bloody Mary? When in the Caribbean it would be rude not to drink pina coladas or rum punches by the pool on on the beach. Only with top shelf rum please! No Barcadi here. An Irish coffee pick-me-up before going to change for dinner for that little energy boost. Having a lychee martini in your hand as you watch the evening entertainment before dinner oozes a bit of glamour. A glass of wine handpicked by your sommelier to complement each course is makes you wonder if its really worth always ordering the second cheapest white when back home, and then of course, what is dinner without a little digestif of homemade limoncello. The night invariably ended one of two ways, sipping good single malt (Isle of Jura 21 year old – I’m looking at you) or drinking shots whilst dancing the night away in one of the various nightclubs or bars scattered around the ship.
- The people. Due to the nature of the cruise line (it was billed as a premium line) the average demographic did tend to be North American retirees. Happily, due to the fact it was a Christmas cruise, they had brought along their kids. Even better, the ‘kids’ were around the same age as me. After the late night entertainment, my mum, like the majority of sensible people her age, retired gracefully. The less graceful ones (such as myself) agreed to meet every night at 11pm at the top deck bar to get up to mischief. The nights blurred in a happy haze of dancing, make poor drinks choices and amazing banter. Across the eight days I met some wonderful people and apart from a couple folk from the U.K. (typical) everyone in general was super friendly and very personable. (Special shout out to the man that stormed out of the hot tub in a huff when he learnt that I voted Remain).
Miami deserves its own blog post. So I’ll leave that for another day. It’s safe to say that we both had such a wonderful time (despite my mum heroically battling a dreadful head cold) that we are keen to go again this year. I like the idea of starting our own tradition. I loved going back to see my family every year but I also think its important to begin a new story. So I hope Christmas cruising becomes our new story. I can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays. Sun, sea, cocktails and my wonderful mum.
So, to remember our fabulous holiday as I look out on the dreary rain-lashed streets of Istanbul I thought it was only right to recreate some of my favourite tropical flavours in a rich indulgent, and completely effortless pie. Which is exactly how I would describe the cruise life. If a cruise was a pie it would be this.
Impossible Tropical Cruise Pie
You will need:
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup shredded coconut
- 4 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 120g butter
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- A small tin of well drained pineapple chunks
Put everything into a bowl and Mix WELL.
Realise life is too short to mix things by hand and manual labour goes against the very nature of cruise pie. Dump everything into food processor instead.
Pour into a greased and floured pie dish. I sprinkled more coconut over the top because…coconut. Bake at 175 degrees for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown
Remove from oven, let it cool down.
Refrigerate till nice and cold then dig in whilst dreaming of the Caribbean. The mixture will have magically separately into a thin crispy coconut sponge at the top and a coconut pineapple custard at the bottom. Magic! (Bonus picture of my superseed pumpkin loaf included!)
No really, it’s that easy.