Auntie Jane’s Potato Gratin: A Singaporean Christmas Casserole

Chinese new year may belong to my grandmother, she of the legendary pineapple tarts. And my Koh family aunties, a stalwart group of women who make mooncakes rather than buy them each year, may own the Mooncake Festival. But Christmas — that will always, always be my Auntie Jane’s holiday.

In Singapore, where Christmas is typically celebrated by people of all races and religions — largely as a secular festival, one squarely centered on getting together to eat and exchange gifts — my family, representing a jumble of religions in itself, would do the same. It didn’t matter whether you were Buddhist, Protestant, Catholic or Jewish — we were united on Christmas Day in our quest to eat well, share gifts and sing along to cheeseball Christmas carols.

The venue for these celebrations was usually my Auntie Jane’s — she always had a beautiful tree, a wonderfully decorated home complete with holiday cards she had received fashioned into a 2-D Christmas tree plastered onto a wall and a large buffet table topped with turkey and ham, fried rice and noodles.

The one dish we truly looked forward to, however, was a potato gratin she whipped together just once a year — filled with sliced chipolata, a skinny British sausage that’s packed with seasonings, mushrooms, onions and potatoes, this gratin was a meal in itself. (And it’s usually a hit with even the pickiest of child eaters.)

Despite my fondness for it, this gratin was yet another family dish that I’d taken for granted and never attempted to make. But when my Let’s Lunch group, a monthly Twitter-fueled virtual lunch-date, decided on sharing a holiday dish from your family or culture this month, I decided it was high time I gave my Auntie Jane’s recipe a shot…

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Lemongrass Frozen Yogurt: The Joys of Cooking Redux



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Years ago, I heard a sports writer complain about how he used to love sports — until he started writing about it.

Once it became a job, he all but stopped watching games on weekends. The thing that he adored had morphed into stress-inducer.

I remember feeling aghast — you get paid to write about something you love. Isn’t that more than many people dream of?

Recently, however, I’ve started to understand. After spending weeks with my nose buried deep in my book manuscript — which is all about a journey home to my native Singapore told through food and cooking — my time in the kitchen has become, simply, work. Meals have been thrown together out of sheer necessity; easy old faithfuls rather than new creative dishes have been making far too many appearances on the dinner table.

The stress of writing and editing my hundreds of pages on food, sadly, had transformed my love for cooking into a source of anxiety.

But I only realized I’d forgotten how to enjoy the act of making food when my Let’s Lunch friends nudged me back into the kitchen — not to put a meal on the table but to whip up something silly and anything but practical: A decadent chilled dessert.

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