27 December 2014

and out the other side

"Hours go in walking thought. Be like a time of flu." (The Country of Ice Cream Star, Sandra Newman)

It was what a friend calls the 100 day cold that got me, except it was only 20 days. It sort of crept up and floored me somewhat. Christmas shopping? Not even a list. I managed to get to a local craft fair and buy some small gifts, walked at dusk to get some fresh air and listen to the robins singing, crept off to see Paddington one dark afternoon at the local cinema and had the place to myself (all the better to weep at the sad bits without anyone noticing). It was all a bit grim.

Then, thank goodness there was a loosening up, a lifting of the achiness and low mood. I may even have smiled. All a bit late in the day, but instead of scratching Christmas altogether - there had been talk of sandwiches and a flask of tea - we managed a scratch Christmas instead. Last year's driftwood tree came in from the garden, a tin of spicy star-shaped ginger biscuits were rolled out and sent off, several variously-sized fruit cakes were mixed and baked using a favourite recipe, some cranberry vodka was decanted from a couple of jars in the cellar.  

Much to everyone's surprise, especially mine, and some hard work from the green-fingered members of the family, it sort of came together after all. Hope your celebrations did too.

Now then: time for a small glass of something and a bit of reflection.

02 December 2014

not just for dogs

This makes me laugh all year round as I cycle up the canal- you learn quickly to ignore the rest of the graffitti. It seems a shame that the message has been overwritten by a danger sign, but on the other hand perhaps it adds a very relevant cautionary note for the time of year.

01 December 2014

defence against the dark

December, at last, possibly even the arrival of winter. Three weeks until the solstice, a few days more until Christmas, dark mornings, long nights. More time indoors with the radio on, listening or half-listening, depending on what else I'm up to.

There have been some sparkly little gems tucked away on that radio recently: the last reading from Margaret Forster's "My Life in Houses",  Jarvis Cocker's exaltation to us baby boomers to join in Molly Malone at the end of the nostalgic Singing Together programme (I couldn't because of a lump in the throat); throwaway words of wisdom here and there. Ruth Padel particularly caught my ear this morning on Start the Week when she said that making is our defence against the dark. How very perceptive.

Here then is a double offering to start this week, the season, and Advent. I stirred them up at the weekend but, unlike plum pudding, these were not for storing on top of the kitchen cupboard until Christmas day. First up, a pear and chocolate upside down cake. Very easy to assemble, some delicious bowl-licking, a bit more difficult to get the timing and texture exactly right. I left it to cool in the tin overnight - too long! - it was slightly soggy by morning. It tasted ok though I'd be inclined to add some spices to pep it up a bit. The second was an anglicised version of Smitten Kitchen's recipe. Well sort of. I made a crumble with no pie base, and added apples and dried apricots with the cranberries to temper the tartness adding no more than light sprinkling of sugar to the fruit.  I tend generally to be quite puritan with my crumble toppings but I've been converted by this one - butter, nuts, sugar, the lot. It's possibly the best I have ever tasted after years of searching.

I made double the quantity and there's some left in the fridge. I like to think of it as a defence against the dark. Deferred gratification can wait until another day, don't you think?