In my opinion, soft drink comes straight from Satan: the only thing in it that could be considered food is sugar – and we all get too much of that – and there’s quite strong evidence that sweet drinks contribute significantly to obesity but if there’s a time it’s appropriate to drink pop, it must be Christmas.
You could consider making your own ginger beer. It doesn’t have significantly more food value but you can at least avoid the foam inhibitors and artificial flavourings of commercial soft drink. Children will usually find this fun (and you can turn it into a science lesson) and the ginger beer is good as a mixer, both in punch (see 16 July) and in cocktails. In fact, it’s useful enough to be a good addition to a hamper. So here’s my father’s recipe:
Makes 10 litres
Preparation time 1 hour
Start 1 to 2 weeks ahead
1 knob of ginger (approx. 120g)
10 litres water
1 kg sugar
3.5g dried yeast
Peel the lemons and slice them thinly. Cut the ginger into thin slices and bruise with a rolling pin.
Put the sugar in a large vat and add the lemons and ginger.
Boil 1 to 2 litres of water, pour into the vat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool.
When cool, add enough cold water to make the volume up to about 10 litres. Sprinkle the yeast on top, cover with a clean tea towel and leave it at room temperature to ferment.
The ginger beer will be ready to bottle when the fermentation has caused all of the solids to float to the top, and the drink is peppered with small bubbles. (This takes about a day in summer, and about a week in winter.)
Strain the ginger beer into plastic soft drink bottles and let stand again. When the bottles are tight (after about 3 days in summer), open a bottle carefully and taste the product. If the flavour is right, refrigerate all the bottles and then drink your delicious ginger beer at your leisure.
I rang Matthew yesterday, once I got myself back together.
“It’s just going to be you and me for Christmas,” I explained.
“We could go to a restaurant if you like,” he said.
“Over my dead body!” I replied.
“Then we’ll stay home and be merry anyway,” he said.
But I don’t know how I’m going to reorganise the menu. I rang my butcher and said. “Bill, cancel those two size thirty-six turkeys and put me down for one size twenty.”
“How many are you feeding?” he asked.
“Two,” I said.
“I could do you a nice turkey breast roast,” he said.
“It’s a whole bird or nothing,” I replied. “Don’t worry, I have plenty of recipes for leftover turkey. And please swap my four-kilogram ham for the smallest you’ve got.”
He offered me pre-sliced ham, but I wasn’t having any of that. Not for Christmas!
So that’s the meat sorted (all the way through to February, I think!) but I currently have five desserts on the list and you just can’t justify that for two people, but how can we not have pudding and trifle and cheesecake and fruit salad? It’s still Christmas, even if there are only two of us.
 Even the ones with low-cal sweeteners.
 It does have lemon in it but not enough to stop you getting scurvy.
 Moscow mule = vodka + ginger beer + mint leaves + lime wedges (and absolutely nothing equine).
 The plastic can take a surprising amount of pressure, thus avoiding the back-cupboard explosions that were all too common in the days that my father kept his ginger beer in glass. The bangs startled guests and were a waste of bottles, soft drink and time (because it took a while to clean up the mess) but Dad said he enjoyed the frisson of danger he felt whenever he approached the cupboard.