Christmas Day in my family has always panned out along similar lines. We follow all the usual traditions, with a few Shardlow-specific quirks thrown in for good measure. We are, for example, dedicated to having poached eggs for breakfast, with pyjamas as de rigueur attire. Not so odd, you might think, but I've refrained from mentioning that by this point we've already taken the dog for a long walk.
Last year we bucked tradition slightly. In early 2009 while celebrating my grandmother's 75th birthday and enjoying what was a truly magnificent afternoon tea spread, my cousins and I decided that this year, things were going to be different.
Buoyed on by a surfeit of sugar, we declared that "the children" were going to take charge and cook Christmas dinner, thus relieving our mothers of the role. On average, 18 of us gather around the festive table, so this wasn't as small an undertaking as it might sound.
Unsurprisingly, our enthusiasm for this idea evaporated as quickly as the sugar rush from the scones and jam. When December reared its head, we began to regret our offer all the more. It took a flurry of e-mails from my organised (and wonderfully bossy) cousin Annie to get the ball rolling. Soon though, we were all on board and heavily involved. Never have the merits of Nigella Lawson's and Jamie Oliver's stuffing recipes been so hotly contested.
A few days before Christmas and after a shopping trip of mammoth proportions, my sister and I set about beginning the prep. Our mother hovered in the background, unwilling to let us have full rein. Tempers quickly began to fray. No matter how many times I tell her that having spent over a year working in a Michelin-star kitchen, I'm a pretty competent cook, she remains doubtful. My sister, meanwhile, managed to rile me straight away, by claiming that making the parsnip puree was her job. Parsnip purée is a glory dish you see; it's easy to prepare and the end result, all buttery, honeyed and delicious, always earns the chef heavy praise. I gave in, let her get on with it and set about cooking enough braised red cabbage to last my parents through to the summer.
In the end the meal went off without a glitch and was enjoyed by all the family (particularly the parsnip purée). Christmas this year will be different, as I'm spending it in Dubai; poached eggs will still be on the menu for breakfast, though.