Whether they realised it or not, I know for a fact that the key influence on H's brother and his wife's decision to move back down north from Scotland to Yorkshire last year was the proximity of their oh so cute nieces aged nearly two and one and a quarter. Kitty (and H and I) are now a couple of hours away and K (and C's sister and brother-in-law are even closer). The better jobs, bigger house and the rest of the family had nothing to do with it - oh no.
(Kitty in her party frock)
(and K in hers - it had snowmen on the bottom just out of shot)
They were working for their first Christmas back home (the perils of being doctors) so a couple of days later they hosted a party for fourteen, and both sides of their family got together for Christmas Take 2.
(Kitty explores her new Martian Mansion)
(with help from K - who clearly doesn't wiggle as much as Kitty - and Auntie A wearing the bows from everyone's presents)
H and I volunteered to bring pudding and the two Cs pushed the boat out for the starter and main course; bacon and scrambled eggs Benedict on little toasties to start, followed by a gargantuan buffet that took up most of the kitchen. We had a rib of beef that had been cooking (a la Heston) for 18+ hours at a really low heat to leave it melt in the mouth tender, and a pork belly that was brined and slow roasted for nearly the same amount of time, all polished off with roast potatoes, parsnip puree, sauteed Brussels sprouts and red onions and a selection of gravies.
Now a supper that I haven't had to cook and won't have to wash up (all hail their dishwasher) is always going to get brownie points but this was right up there in the gold star category. It was delicious and amazing and I loved it.
I also may have eaten it all before I even thought of taking any pictures.
For pudding, I spent a good part of Boxing Day making 78 profiteroles (using the Hairy Bikers' recipe), and the creme patisserie from Nigella's Feast. The next morning I used up four of my twelve spare egg whites to make the Fig, Ginger and Almond meringue from Annie Bell's Gorgeous Cakes and then we packed the whole lot up (plus a raspberry jelly as a special request from H) and drove it gingerly up a heavily laden M1.
Once we'd unpacked we found the largest remaining serving plate and started piping custard and stacking my croquembouche. I thought that making spun sugar in someone else's kitchen was a step too far, and I'm also not very good at it, so I stuck to the caramel sauce in Nigella with some ingredients purloined from our hosts and it turned out really well.
In fact the only hitch in the whole operation was that the serving plate wasn't very big. I stacked and glued the best I could and then called for an engineering consult from H (MEng) and C's Dad (model railway builder). Their professional opinion was that I'd reached my limit, so we had a big croquembouche and a little mini one on the other side of the table like sugary cairns marking the location of a feast.
So here they are:
Two croquembouche, covered with caramel sauce and dusted with snowflake sprinkles, two trees and Father Christmas,
and a spicy and light meringue that impressively survived the journey from Warwickshire with only minimal damage.
H's Mum and sister had also been busy and arrived with trays of colourful cakes - just in case anyone had any teeny tiny space left over.
We made some pretty good inroads into the table groaning with food but there was still plenty to send home with all the branches of the family, and still be left with more for late night fridge raids, and I may or may not have eaten a couple of profiteroles with my breakfast the next morning!
I don't think I was hungry again for the rest of the week. Now that's the sign of a good party - and a New Year diet.