Aine McAteer
I have learned in my life and work, which I have to say are quite synonymous, that the journey to a healthy, balanced and fulfilled life is multifaceted. There is the physical aspect, supported by our dietary choices and other lifestyle factors. The mental aspect has to do with our thoughts—they have a big impact on the quality of our lives and our health. The emotional aspect begins with our relationships with ourselves and our capabilities to feel the range of emotions we encounter in our daily lives. It can be like a calm lake one day, or moment for that matter, and like a raging sea the next. Finding ways to ride the waves can bring a sense of balance and equilibrium into our lives. And, of course, the spiritual aspect has to do with our access to higher ground.

When we dip into the spiritual realm, it can bring a sense of magic into our lives that lifts it from the mundane. I have found it also eliminates a lot of anxiety and stress I might feel when faced with situations that seem bigger than me.

It's getting into the holiday season, which always brings in a sense of the mystical. I will confess, I believe in angels, and my kitchen is the very place I experience most the magic and angelic presence. I have angels, leprechauns and fairies who sprinkle their magic dust and flutter their gossamer wings on my creations, and when the food is eaten, people are touched by this magic. I smile when I get to take all the credit and secretly I share the glory with my invisible friends.

This happens because I'm open to magic. It's everywhere, all the time, available for us to feel and be touched by. When I create, this is when I access it as I move out of my logical rational brain and open to the flow of higher mystical reality. It happens too because there are many days in my kitchen where I feel completely overwhelmed and daunted by the demands of my job.

Picture cooking for a busy family, both parents out working and each with their specific dietary needs, calories needing to be counted, children needing to be fed healthy lunches and dinners and staff who are all working beyond the call of duty and looking to Mama in the kitchen to keep their fires burning. I'm someone who's not content with giving 99.9 percent—every meal has to have that "wow" factor, and this can create a lot of stress when you're feeding the same people every day for an extended period. There's constant shopping, planning and coming up with three meals a day that aim to "wow" the palate every time.

Often, it takes running out of my own resources for me to reach for higher ground. It's those times when I feel most overwhelmed and incapable that I'm most surprised by the results I come up with. For the most part, I'm excited and inspired by the creative process, and I love that I have a job that gives me free rein creatively—this is what keeps me in my kitchen. There are occasions when I go into the kitchen with absolutely no idea what I'm going to cook, and I look in my fridge with a blank mind and just have to roll up my sleeves and start cooking. I'm always happy and surprised by the results and know that my invisible helpers, although letting me take all the credit, are very much part of my kitchen dance.

At Christmastime, we're all reminded of a higher power, as church and ritual are very big parts of the festivities of the season. I have the loveliest memories of walking in the dark to midnight Mass and the beautiful music, smells and candlelight in the church. What was foremost on my mind was Santa Claus and the presents he'd bring me, and of course Christmas dinner was a much-anticipated event.

Many Irish mothers started making their Christmas puddings anywhere from January to mid-year for the following Christmas, and they were stored so the flavors would develop and mature. In this case, the recipe included lots of brandy, which acted as a preservative. I would like to keep up this lovely tradition, but with my traveling lifestyle, the chance of me being in the same place as my puddings come next Christmas is next to none.

I do, however, like to give them at least a few weeks to mature and develop their lovely rich flavor, so I wanted to make sure I get my pudding recipe to you in time so you have a chance to make them in advance. We often put charms in the pudding wrapped up in parchment paper, a coin that meant whoever got it in their serving would be rich or a ring that meant you would be first to marry.

My Heavenly Christmas Pudding is my take on a traditional plum pudding, which I hope you'll thoroughly enjoy. Don't forget to read the variations at the end, as I also offer a gluten-free version for those intolerant to gluten and some other options. I often make several smaller puddings, as they make lovely Christmas gifts to give to my close friends, all beautifully wrapped up and adorned with a sprig of holly.

Happy holidays!


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