New is but a theory. Nigel Slater wants nostalgic holidays

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What does a man who lives and breathes food practically 24 hours a day have on his table during the holidays? We went to renowned British food writer Nigel Slater for some ideas. The latest of his 11 books is Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Where do you go with your food at this time of year?

Nigel Slater: Purely comfort. There is something about this time of year that I want everything I eat to be like a warm cozy blanket. I choose things that are a little bit richer than they would be at any other time of year, and I choose things that also remind me of when I was a child. It's a very good time I think to press the nostalgic button on the food scene.

LRK: So, what are these things?

NS: They're things that smell of Christmas, so anything with clementines and mandarin oranges, anything with marmalade, anything with spices and sugar. It's the sweet mincemeat, the syrups. Things that are sugary. There's a practical reason for this: because they give us energy. They keep us warm, but also they're very comforting on the tongue and they remind us of when we were younger and could be much more carefree with the amount of sweets we ate.

LRK: What about on the savory side?

NS: In theory, everybody wants new ideas. Oh, we want something new for Christmas to read about. We want something to look at in a book or a magazine or maybe even dream of cooking something totally different.

But when it actually comes to the crunch, we don't even think of doing anything that isn't traditional. We really want the big bird. We want something to carve, something golden to bring to the table to say welcome, a big hello to put in the middle of the table. We want too many vegetables and we want sweet and sticky and alcoholic puddings. Don't think about doing anything else.

LRK: Do you do food gifts?

NS: I didn't used to, but the strange thing is that the older I get, the more I realize that people are quite difficult to buy for, particularly people who you've given gifts to for a number of years. And yet, make something yourself and wrap it up and hand it to them, and you just see their eyes light up. It's something that you have had a hand in, and you've actually made it in your own kitchen. I think that is as good of a gift as you can give.

LRK: How do you celebrate? Do you have a large group of people, or does it tend to be more intimate?

NS: As the years go by, my Christmases get smaller -- fewer people. In fact, I have even spent Christmas on my own once, and I have to say thoroughly enjoyed it. Don't tell anyone. But whether it's a big Christmas or just something intimate, I do all the things that you would do. I decorate the tree, hanging little cookies on the tree. I make the minced pies. I make something for the carol singers.

Christmas is not just about the big meal. I know we all think about this one great big meal, but what happens in my house is that Christmas is actually a lot of little meals strung together and separated throughout the season. They've got to be just as special as the big meal, because they're people you don't see very often.

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