Explore any culture that takes your fancy and you’re bound to come across everyday foods, and celebration dishes. It seems we all associate food with having a good time, and maybe also with all of us clubbing together to share that good time.
Pot luck dinners, where every dinner guest brings a dish, are not uncommon. Turn up to a garden party or barbecue, and you’re bound to cradle a few bottles and a bowl of something tasty. And even if you’re invited to a formal meal cooked by your hosts, most of us take a bottle of wine or chocolates to share.
Food and festivities go together and have done so since time immemorial. Besides that, cooking is an excellent way to unwind and take a step back from everyday stresses. And it’s a chance to take care of others.
If you’ve read my Power of Zero series, you’ll know that Gareth Flynn loves to cook for exactly those reasons. Puttering around in his kitchen brings him peace, and feeding the people he cares about gives him a sense of purpose. That mindset is what made him such a good officer and what makes him a demanding boss who’s ultimately rewarding to work for. If you’re one of Gareth’s crew he’ll have your back come hell or high water.
The fact that Christmas Day at Gareth’s is an Open House event, that he’s ready to feed and look after anyone who walks through the door, wasn’t something I had planned. It just happened and made total sense when it did. Ever since his dad, leaving on deployment, told little Gareth to look after his mum and sister, he’s taken that seriously.
Over the years, this need to look after people has become a defining trait. At times, he takes it a little too far and it gets him into trouble – usually with Jack – but for the most part, people appreciate both his concern and his efforts.
And here we have him do what he does best… get ready to feed a crowd. And doesn’t reading this make you feel hungry?
Gareth set the phone down and turned back to stir the Cumberland sauce simmering softly on the stove. The joys of Christmas were a long way from his mind despite the seasonal music and peaceful atmosphere. Nancarrow Mining, where both he and Jack worked, closed over Christmas and New Year’s, with only emergency personnel on standby. They’d finished work the previous Friday, and Gareth had been indulging his kitchen fetish for the last three days. By now he should have felt suitably mellow. Instead, the cooking and baking spree had barely kept the lid on his unease. The bottle of wine he would usually have enjoyed as he cooked remained unopened in the well-stocked wine rack, and the frown that creased his brow didn’t ease as he considered the results of his labors filling the large kitchen.
Pyramids of mince pies adorned one end of the kitchen counter, taking up space right beside a long row of jars. Gareth loved relishes and chutneys, the jewel-bright colors and the muted ones, the sharp bite of the vinegar that cut the sweetness of pomegranates, mangoes, squash, and onion, the heady aroma of pickling spice and cinnamon and the hit of fiery chili. He made Christmas-themed relishes every year—to last throughout the season as much as to give away. Two large hams sat beside the regiment of jars: boiled, studded with cloves, baked and glazed to perfection, ready to feed the hungry while Gareth’s favorite, his grandmother’s famous venison pie—golden crust in elaborate pleats and thickly covered in sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg—took pride of place, flanked by a lavishly decorated beef Wellington and a pork pie topped with cranberry compote.
He had no idea who, besides his mother, his sister, and their newest protégés, would choose to show up for Christmas dinner the next day. So he’d made sure there was plenty of food to go around, even if the wild hordes chose to descend on Richmond. Open house at Christmas was a tradition that Gareth had started while he served in the Army and did not plan to give up now that he was a civilian. Initially intended for those of his men who had no families or whose families lived too far away for them to make it home, Gareth’s Christmas dinners had turned into cheerful reunions over the years. And he loved it that way.
Seasons of Cheer is my blogging challenge for this year. Every day during December I’m aiming to post a story, snippet or outtake. A moment to stop and draw breath during a month that’s usually crazy busy.
And here’s an extra treat for everyone who subscribes to my newsletter:
Midnight Tracks, a collection of shorts, snips, and outtakes from the first five Power of Zero books, including an exclusive Christmas short story you won’t find anywhere else – delivered to your inbox on Christmas Eve. 🙂