Relish, Reindeer and Melomakaronas.

Christmas Preparations.

Hah! Say that with your mouth full of cookies.

The sky is hanging about 12 feet above the ground. It’s not raining, exactly, but the finest mist is dangling there in the most exasperating fashion. It feels like a slight weight, a downwards pressure on the shoulders and the spirits.

I am feeling tired, perhaps under-caffeinated (more on that anon) and in dire need of cake.

If you fancy a delicious morsel pop over for a look at my melomakarona recipe and review of The Little Christmas Kitchen. I worked hard to make this a good recipe and it really is.

melomakaronasMelomakaronas are delicious Greek cookies, soaked in a spiced honey syrup and traditionally eaten at Christmas. We devoured (I say we because I don’t want to admit that I ate so very many) dozens of them as I was testing this recipe. The book, The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver was also a real treat. I didn’t expect it to have much bite but it caught me by surprise and really hit a nerve. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for holiday reading.

I went all out, hell for leather, on the Christmas preparations last week. The only problem is that there is almost no light at all so I have very little photographic evidence of my efforts. Here is one candle-lit photo which pretty much encapsulates my week:

Christmas Preparations.

Rudolf was the high-light. Isn’t he adorable? He is my very first crocheted toy and I am more than a little enamoured.If you are tempted, you can find the pattern here. He may get stuck with the name Rudolf Gilmore as I made him while watching The Gilmore Girls with my daughters. Anyone else watch it? It was terrible. Less said the better.

I realised in panic, as I opened my last jar of rhubarb chutney, that I was in imminent danger of having NO CHUTNEY FOR CHRISTMAS! Action stations were assumed, my most humongous pot was excavated from the dreaded corner cupboard and filled to the brim with the stuff of toasted cheese sandwich fantasies. We call it fakeymaloe relish, it’s not so far off the real McCoy and you can find my not-so-secret recipe here.

Chutney crisis averted, I moved on to emergency mitten replacement for the Small Girl. If these look like exactly the same mittens I made last year it’s because they are, but one size bigger. I used the same ball of cheap yarn that refuses to come to an end regardless of how many Barbie dresses and babydoll blankets I make from it. The Small Girl is content because they match every other pink thing in her life and I won’t be heartbroken when she inevitably loses one of them (never both). Just looking back at last year’s mittens I was reminded of this post which I must try to bear in mind as I strive to resist strangling my Teenage Son in the run up to his Christmas exams.

So, we were going well (errant teenagers aside) with the reindeer and the mittens and the twelve jars of chutney and then…disaster struck…my beloved Burleigh mug took a nose dive off the arm of my chair, bounced a couple of times and skidded out the door to the hall where it spun around dramatically before striking a tragic handle-less pose.

It has been carrying a chip on its rear end for months now but that didn’t bother me. This mug is a champion, a hero amongst mugs. It can hold thirty percent more than the average mug which is just exactly how much more coffee you feel you need when you reach the bottom of an average mug. This ergonomically-shaped mug also keeps coffee hot for a good forty minutes which is exactly how long you need to drink a thirty percent longer cup of coffee. Also, it’s very pretty. And my favourite colour. Sob.

I was quite prepared to live with a handle-less-chipped-but-otherwise-perfect mug but when Husband attempted to fill it he discovered a fatal injury. Scroll back up to the photo and see if you can spot it.

‘Yes, you can still use your mug,’ he assured me, ‘but only if you are willing to approach it sideways on and never have more than an inch of coffee at a time.’

The family have little pity. They are all greatly relieved that I, as opposed to anyone else, broke my own mug.

Since then, I have achieved nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I have sliced the top off my left index finger bringing a halt to all yarny activity.

I have thrice stepped in dog poo and some incontinent, foul fowl has taken a shine to the windscreen and bonnet of my car.

The laundry basket has complained to the laundry basket union about over-time and over-crowding.

I ordered pizza for Sunday dinner.

There is every chance that my Husband is writing to Santa as we speak requesting a proper, functional housewife as his old one appears to have broken down.

Here…the man said it:

 

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And so it begins…

trifle bowl snow scene

I’ve been doing my level best to hold back on an all out, no elves barred, Christmas post but I can restrain my reindeer no longer. It is December 1st my friends; let the insanity begin!

I know that I’m not the only Corkonian(e) to lose the run of herself  in the brand new Sostrene Grene shop that opened three doors down from Waterstones and twenty yards or so from my favourite coffee-and-a-bun shop (Ali’s Kitchen). Let’s just say that you won’t require any fancy triangulation technology to discover my location over the next few Saturday mornings.

From the dizzying array of prettiness I chose just two  bottle-brush Christmas trees. I’ve been searching for these for five years so that I could recreate a cute idea I saw on Pinterest (famous last words, eh?). Nary a plastic tree could I find and then, like the proverbial buses, three come along at the same time. I found a teeny weeny tree in the Ballymaloe shop and then, lo and behold, Sostrene Grene have them in various sizes and degrees of snowiness.

All that I needed to do was hijack a dinky truck from Teenage Son’s vintage collection and wash the dust out of the trifle bowl…

trifle bowl snow scene

Look, that trifle bowl is making me 40 shades of happy so no laughing!

trifle bowl snow scene.

Of course, that scene will need to be dismantled on Christmas Eve to make room for some actual trifle.

In further Christmassy creative endeavor, I thought it would be a hoot to make my own Christmas crackers. I was wise enough to check the availability of cracker-snaps on the internet before committing to the project. By committing I mean telling the Small Girl. I failed to notice in the small print, however, that it is not permissible to send explosives, however miniscule, through the post from the UK to Ireland.

Worry not, once committed there was no backing out so the snaps were found locally (thanks to Cork Art Supplies) and the crackers were created. The gifts inside them would have been far cuter had Sostrene Grene opened a week earlier! You can read more about that here but prepare yourself in advance for some truly dire cracker jokes.

homemade diy christmas crackers.

We are off to the Panto tonight so the madness has well and truly started.
Oh No It Hasn’t.
OH YES IT HAS!

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Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Crocheted nativity scene.

My Grandmother was not prone to profanities. She was, however, inclined to call upon her celestial guardians at those moments when life demands a verbal explosive. ‘Mary, mother of God,’ might have been an appropriate reply to some surprising and mildly unpleasant news; that the bus fare had increased by five pence or a magpie had shat on the clean sheets. ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus,’ was reserved for dire, genuinely heartbreaking calamities. ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph,’ came somewhere between these two. Jesus, Mary and Joseph were beseeched upon in moments of exasperation. In fact, the intercession of  Jesus, Mary and Joseph was so frequently implored that it sometimes seemed they had taken up residence in some netherworld spare room at the back of the house.

‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who let the fire go out?’
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the immersion was left on all night!’
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, get down the stairs, your dinner is getting cold!’
‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph, we’ll be late for mass, the bell is ringing.’

It has been proven that cursing and swearing can alleviate pain (Scientific American article here). I imagine Jesus, Mary and Joseph brought a similarly analgesic effect to Granny’s days.

None of that has much to do with crochet but those were the thoughts that were running through my head as I stitched up this little holy family.

Crocheted nativity scene.

The pattern is from Whistle and Ivy and a pure joy to work from. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I couldn’t resist making a second little holy family.

Crocheted nativity scene.

So now, there is a little Jesus, Mary and Joseph convention taking place on my kitchen table.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph convention.

You know that I’m a 44 year old Irish Catholic, right? That means I was a child before the scandals broke and a parent after. I’m willing to bet that most 44 year old Irish catholics have a deal of inner conflict about the Catholic Church.

I don’t want to get too deep here, but just to say that this Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the Jesus, Mary and Joseph that (almost) kept Granny sane, will always have a place in my home at Christmas.

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(Phew, I thought this was going to be a quick and cheery bit of Christmas crafty stuff. I don’t always know what’s lurking beneath my fingertips.)

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Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook.

Yule Log. From Jamie Oliver's Christmas Cookbook.

I was humming and hawing about buying Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook pretty much from the moment I heard of its existence. This is my fix, my drug of choice.

Jamie does such luscious books and I have, wait while I go count, seven, oh dear, I can hardly believe that myself, seven of his books already and I hardly ever cook from them but they are soooo nice, so lovely and so pretty and sort of wholesome looking…

…but none of them a Christmas Cookbook, not that I need a Christmas Cookbook since we eat the same dinner every year (chicken liver pâté, forerib of beef, Christmas pudding and baked Alaska) but it would make me happy and maybe prevent my stabbing somebody which is often on the cards come Christmas…

…I definitely don’t need it but it would be a treat and I do need a treat. So?

‘We wants it. We needs it. Must have the precious.’

I made little deals with myself:

If I buy Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook I won’t buy any Christmas magazines.
I’ll buy Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook and maybe just one magazine but I won’t get my hair done until December.
I’ll buy Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook and one magazine that has something useful in it but I need to get my hair done because my resemblance to Mrs Malfoy is gone beyond a joke but, I know, I won’t order any ridiculously extravagant Christmas food from the M&S catalogue (the book, by the way, costs roughly the same as a jar of pâté).

On I went, striking bargains with myself, all the while knowing I was going to buy the bloomin’ book and kind of enjoying the bitter-sweet torment of waiting for exactly the right moment. I do this all the time. I am that annoying person who can put a bar of chocolate in a drawer and think about it for three weeks before eating it. It drives the Husband crazy. I’m not so good at resisting cheese toasties but then, who would want a three week old cheese toastie?

Anyway, I was near the point of saying;

‘d’you know what, I’ll live without Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook. I shall instead embrace the spirit of the season and buy the RHS book of Herbs for Gourmet Gardeners which I have seen Husband drooling over.’

Then suddenly, like a Christmas miracle, I was offered the opportunity to review Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook for Bookwitty.com and I grabbed that chance like a woman possessed. Click here to read on…

Manhattan. Jamie Oliver's Christmas Cookbook.

 

[PS. A little aside: I don’t get paid for referring you to Bookwitty.com. In this case, given that Bookwitty offers free postage worldwide, I think they are offering Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Cookbook at the best price around. However, depending where you live, you might want to check how long it will take to arrive.]

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Sloe Gin and Slow Jam.

Husband and I went foraging. To be fair, Husband was the one who clambered through briars, climbed a tree and clung perilously from ancient branches while I stood beneath issuing commands and artfully holding open a plastic bag.

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We (he) found nearly 2 Kg of lovely ripe Damsons and more sloes than we could (or should, for the sake of our livers) use.img_1576

I followed Darina Allen’s recipe for Sloe or Damson Gin from Forgotten Skills of Cooking You can find the same recipe here.

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I made one bottle of Sloe Gin and one mixed Damson and Sloe Gin. They will take about 12 weeks to fully mature.

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Happy Christmas to me!

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Last year I made Damson Cheese. You can revisit that post here. Since I have only one opportunity each year to cook with Damsons I wanted to try something new so,for a change, I made Damson Jam. You can find the recipe and some jam-making advice from Darina here on Clodagh McKenna’s website. It’s a bit fiddly as you must skim the little Damson stones off the jam as it boils. It’s well worth the tedium, however, as this jam is so flavourful. The stones give it the sort of bitter tang you get from those bitter Italian aperatifs. It makes the insides of your cheeks tingle. Even the more savoury-toothed family members have gone wild for it. I’ve had it on buttered toast, with ham and, best of all, with a wedge of Cashel Blue.

If you can’t get Damsons you might try making jam with some other sour plums and leaving the stones in until the end.

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I substituted my damson jam for the raspberry jam in Rachel Allen’s Coconut Pudding. You can watch her making it,in the company of Paul Hollywood, here. It’s hard to beat the smell of coconut and butter combined in the oven!

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In other news:

I found these old-school heroes for a euro each at a charity book stall. They are both wonderful, loaded with lard and butter and offal and booze and general disregard for health and contempt for political correctness. Brilliant.

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Middle Girl and I went to the library together yesterday and found some easy-reading treats. Bernadette is a hoot, I love her!

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Finally, a photo to demonstrate the difference between the way men and women think. Husband and I were browsing at a stall selling garlic for planting (West Cork Garlic, here). I asked the seller’s advice, specified that I was looking for the best flavour and wanted to have scapes for pesto (and the lovely look of them!). I chose the purple garlic (I know, it doesn’t look very purple!) on the right hand side.

Husband went for the elephant garlic shown on the left.

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Ahem. Predictable, huh?

 

We ate, we drank, we made merry.

Christmas Eve.IMG_8838

Clove orange tealights made by Middle Girl.IMG_8855

Tipsy candles.IMG_8842

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The fakeymaloe relish was great with cheese tarts.IMG_8860

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Quote Husband: ‘Those were the best mince pies you ever made, they didn’t even give me indigestion’.

That’s what passes for a compliment around here!! 🙂IMG_8865

Supper for Santy and the reindeer. I believe Teenage Daughter was attempting to get rid of the sprouts.IMG_8886

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Smallest hands place Baby Jesus in the crib.IMG_8892

Christmas morning complete with bells.IMG_8911

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The traditional jelly, fruit cocktail, Bird’s custard, cream and sprinkles Trifle and The Pudding, alight.IMG_8932

Even Charlie collapsed in a food coma.IMG_8916

First sock, nearly finished.IMG_8948

Cracked open the sloe gin. I had no idea just how good this was going to be; definitely worth the tree-climbing expedition in September!IMG_8944

 

Winding down now, to the year’s ending. It’s always a quiet and vaguely restless week. Never am I more aware of time ticking by…

I’m being called to play another game of Othello, and after that a game of Operation and after that I might figure out the Kitchener stitch and finally close the toes on that first sock.

It’s very quiet but very good.IMG_8942

‘Put a little light in her darkest day,

so she can see it,
Put a little love in her heart on the way,
so she can feel it.’

It’s a Wet Wet Wet song called Put The Light On and I still, unashamedly, love it.IMG_8736

Is there a Christmas song that goes, ‘I’m running, panting, trying to make ten times more food than we usually eat, trying to greet twenty times more people than we normally meet, trying to wash fifty times more clothes than I thought we could wear and all with two big curlers stuck in the top of my hair’ ?

No? There should be.

If some musically inclined person would please write that song, I promise I will buy it. At least, I promise that I will try to buy it because trying to is all I’m promising anyone these days.

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Life is crazy, but good. Husband and I braved the rain to gather greenery. I pointed towards thorny thickets and Husband, bravely, clambered forth to make me happy. Our marriage is pretty much summed up there.

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I can’t explain why this circlet of prickly green makes me feel so content. Fulfilled. It’s a pretty thing but also something more. It’s a victory wreath.

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I had my own private Newgrange experience in the hallway at 9.58 this morning.

Light.

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Reminding me

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I’m glad

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that I am.

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It’s in the giving of a gift to another…

…a pair of mittens that were made by your mother.

I think we have already established that I love The Muppets, adore the Muppets Christmas Carol and tear up every time I hear this song:

Achievable goals and carefully managed expectations are, in my humble opinion, the key to a happy Christmas.

That said, I set myself the totally unrealistic goal of making a pair of mittens for each of my four children for Christmas.

Particularly unrealistic considering that I am not a brilliant knitter, had no idea how to make mittens, and had never knit in the round, until a fortnight ago. It was pure sentimentality, I couldn’t help myself.

It turns out that Christmas-mitten-knitting, as well as sounding delightful, is FUN!IMG_8194

The first pair turned out smaller than planned. That’s OK because there are hands of every size in this house.IMG_8207

I’ve just made mittens and someone has rushed to claim each pair. It’s like Field Of Mittens around here. Knit it and they will come.IMG_8417

I’ve used this, very basic, free pattern. I had a little bit of instruction and encouragement from this nice man. All the yarn is Stylecraft DK leftover from my Attic24 crocheted blanket.

Middle Girl requested stripes and open fingers for playing hockey.IMG_8416

Teenage Daughter is a big fan of ballet pink. This was the most relaxing pair to knit. That colour would lull you to sleep.IMG_8686

I didn’t think that Teenage Son would be too keen but he surprised me. He asked for full mittens with mis-matched stripes in as many colours as I could muster. Happy to oblige.IMG_8727

The thing is, they’ve taken ages because Teenage Son has HUGE hands! I can’t quite believe it.

Seventeen years ago, I was eight months pregnant and contentedly knitting this: IMG_8721IMG_8722

Santa brought one present; this guy:IMG_8719

He’s called Mungo, which means beloved and that he is. He had a lovely red jumper and then a second red jumper and then a blue jumper and, eventually, his blue onesie. Mungo-sized clothes are my comfort zone. IMG_8720

This is Baby Teenage Son and Mungo. IMG_8728

Can you see those tiny baby hands?IMG_8729

When did this happen?IMG_8724

Feeling proud of my knitting and maybe just a wee bit teary-eyed.

Hang A Shining Star…

What do you believe in?IMG_8622I believe in raincoats and woolly jumpers.

IMG_8629I believe in getting things done quickly because there are seventeen loads of laundry to be done after this tree is decorated.

IMG_8641 I believe in putting the glass ornaments near the top.

IMG_8638 I believe in little helpers.

IMG_8625 and big helpers.

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I believe in real trees and coloured fairy lights.IMG_8653

I believe in rasher sandwiches. I’m not sure why but they have become associated with the smell of pine. IMG_8649

I believe in Frank.IMG_8657

I believe in little Robins telling Santa who should be on the good list.IMG_8661

and angelsIMG_8660

and Santy.IMG_8651IMG_8667IMG_8669IMG_8670IMG_8671IMG_8672IMG_8673IMG_8663I believe.