6 Acland St, St Kilda (map)
Every year for as long as I can remember, St Kilda's venerable art deco Astor Cinema has screened It's a Wonderful Life on the 23rd of December. When I was about 14 I was crazy about old movies (especially Hitchcock movies) and had a crush on Michael, one of the Astor ushers, so I used to drag my schoolfriends along to the Astor ALL the time.
Although my Astor visits nowadays are regrettably less frequent, in recent years I've started a Yuletide tradition with family and friends of going along to the Astor to see It's a Wonderful Life, the classic Christmas film which balances sentimentality and humour with darker moments of despair and ultimately a powerful and uplifting anti-Capitalist message. And yes, I'm not much of a crier but I always tear up at the end! Jimmy Stewart's performance in the film is just fantastic (fans of the film may be amused by this animated 30 second synopsis of the film, re-enacted by bunnies).
And every 23rd of December before the film we meet up for a laksa at Chinta Blues, because what with all the traditional Western food (turkey, ham, mince pies etc) during the Christmas period, I find myself jonesing for something Asian and really, what could be more festive than a big bowl of curry laksa?! :)
I've loved the Chinta Ria restaurants ever since I was a little girl and my Aussie grandparents would take me down to the one opposite the Prahran market for mee goreng. We chose Chinta Blues for its relative proximity to the Astor - this year K, M and T came along. The laksa was nourishing and delicious, as per!
K chose to get the 'Indian' Mee Goreng instead of the Curry Laksa. These are probably my two favourite Chinta Ria dishes (love mixing that fresh lettuce into the noodles), but I also really like the Ayam Ria (diced chicken fillets wok-tossed in a blend of spices, fresh ginger root, dry red chilli and finished off with crisp carrot slices and peanuts) and the Belacan Spinach.
Other food-related Christmas highlights of mine this year were as follows:
I made shortbread for the first time! I borrowed Mum's battered old handwritten recipe book and used "Pearl's shortbread" recipe (still written in ounces, not grams!). I learned that the trick is to use a bit of rice flour as well as plain flour, and keep the kneading to an absolute minimum to ensure the best consistency.
Also for the first time, I used this gorgeous wooden baking mold we bought in Alsace. Although I pressed down damn hard to make deep indentations in the shortbread (and ran the rolling pin over it a few times for good measure), the fact that the shortbread rose ever so slightly meant that the raised patterns were not as clear as I would have liked, but hey.
My first Xmas shortbread - a success!
For Christmas lunch with the Italian relatives, Mum had prepared the most sensational gravlax, using Stephanie Alexander's recipe (after rejecting Nigella's recipe because Nigella uses gin rather than vodka).
Dad slicing the gravlax ultra-thin with the special knife we usually use to slice prosciutto.
My brother Buster's favourite, Mum's garlicky prawn pâté. I will edit this post to include the recipe next time I'm over at their place, because it's so damn tasty!
***UPDATED: Prawn pâté recipe***
1/2 kg prawns (cooked)
1 1/2 oz butter
4 oz Philly cream cheese
1 tbsp mayo
few drops tabasco
good pinch nutmeg
1 clove crushed garlic
2 tsp lemon juice
Shell and devein prawns. Chop roughly. Blend everything except prawns. Throw in prawns and blend for a few second (prawns should be slightly in pieces - not mushy). Garnish with a whole prawn, and serve with mini toasts.
The Christmas ham. Mum DID go with Nigella on this one. :)
Phillippa's mince tarts and Mum's miniature Christmas puddings with white chocolate icing.
Luscious plump cherries bought and brought by Zia P.
On Boxing Day I went with my housemate to friend J's Boxing Day Champagne Breakfast and then to the MCG to watch the Test. Somehow I got horrendously drunk (hmmm, it might have had something to do with drinking lots of champagne with croissants and pancakes before 9am, then matching the lads beer for beer in the Members!), so I knocked off the drinking at about 2:30pm. When the cricket was over for the day I left the 'G to totter down the hill to the tram stop and it was back to Mum and Dad's for a BBQ with the Aussie relatives.
My cousin J's wife gave her mother-in-law the most gorgeous terracotta pot of lettuces that she'd grown herself!
Aunty M's smoked salmon trout. In my still-tipsy state I kept getting confused when people called it that - it sure didn't look like smoked salmon... was it smoked salmon, or was it smoked trout? Finally, someone explained to me that there is a fish called a 'salmon trout'...
Last but not least, my dear friend F gave me the most delicious Christmas present - four gingerbread men she made, just the way she used to do 'em in Berlin! My family and I munched on them on Christmas Eve as we played a few rounds of 500.
I had a lovely Christmas this year, hope you did too!