j4: (kissmass)
Merry Christmas everyone! I haven't posted for a long time because somehow I never seem to have time to write anything longer than 140 characters. Here's what's been taking up all my time:



Hope you're all having as much fun as she is. :-)
j4: (badgers)
Happy new year, friendslist! I'm sorry I completely failed to do an LJ Christmas card this year. I didn't even manage to use my LJ Christmas icon. Here's a belated Christmas photo (yes, I know it's after Twelfth Night):

Santa's Little Helper

I'm sorry I've also failed to send 'thank you' notes to all the people who gave us lovely presents. I will say a big THANK YOU now & I will try to email you all soon.

We spent Christmas itself and a couple of days either side with my parents in Leicestershire (including a day trip up to Bramhall to see my grandma), and then spent a few days after Christmas with [livejournal.com profile] addedentry's parents in Bristol. Img was mostly fairly well-behaved but was obviously getting more and more twitchy with all the new places and people and changes to her routine (such as it is -- we're not very good at routines at the best of times) so we were glad to get back to Oxford just before New Year. We didn't exactly stay up to see the New Year in, but Img did wake us up at about 12:05 (possibly having been woken up herself by the fireworks outside). Seemed a bit daft saying "Happy New Year" to someone who hadn't even been alive a whole year yet, but she didn't mind.

Obviously Img didn't really know about Christmas, either, but she seemed to enjoy trying to eat lots of wrapping paper or rip it to shreds; she also got some lovely new toys which she obviously likes -- the bright-coloured stacking cups are fun to knock over (and bang against each other), and she also seemed surprisingly keen on a big floppy doll (I didn't think they got into dolls until later). She also enjoyed the food at Christmas, which may have played a part in the fact that she managed to gain 2lb between mid-November and January. :-)

I don't have any New Year's resolutions this year; there are things I'd like to do before I go back to work in March, and things I'd like to do at some point this year, and things I'd like to do some day in the future; but at the moment I'm really just concentrating on surviving from day to day (or maybe week to week). I'm still finding it really difficult (as anybody who follows me on Twitter will know) because of the sleep -- or rather the lack of it -- and while I think some things will get easier, other things will surely get harder to make up for it. I can't remember if I made resolutions last year either, but I don't want to look back at them because I suspect I won't have succeeded in any of them. I did, however, manage to keep reading lots of books, which is practically the only resolution I've kept for long enough for it to become a habit.

I hope you all had lovely Christmases and I hope 2012 is shaping up well for you so far.
j4: (kissmass)
Merry Christmas everybody!

j4: (fairy)
I only realised late last night that today would be Stir-up Sunday, so I hastily scouted around for a plausible pudding recipe; in the end I rejected the ones suggested on [livejournal.com profile] snake_soup and plumped for the one in my excellent vintage Homepride Book of Home Baking.

The Homepride Book of Home Baking is something I've seen around in the kitchen at home for so long that I was a bit confused to find that it's not something you find in every kitchen, like a sink or an oven. Of course, our current kitchen doesn't have an oven yet, but it does have the Homepride book, thanks to my sister's generosity and eBay skills (don't worry, she got herself a copy too). If you're looking for your own copy, it looks like this (published 1970, SBN 900869054 — don't be misled by later editions; they're utterly different). It goes through the basics of baking, the different methods ('rubbed-in method', 'all-in-one method') and representative recipes, and there's a troubleshooting bit at the end of each section. Each recipe is short and uncomplicated, four one-column recipes to a page, measurements given in metric and imperial ("It's the first metric book of flour cookery in Britain ... Before very long, all other cookery books will become obsolete," raves the introduction). Okay, the recipes are very 1970s, but they're also very tasty. If there has been little innovation in the field of steamed puddings and stodgy cakes in the last 40 years it's because they were just fine to start with.

So, time for pudding. Fortunately I had a pudding-basin (the plastic sort, saved from a previous shop-bought pudding, which had been used in the interim as a general tupperware and even had 'stew soup' faintly scratched into it), and even more fortunately, this morning the local Co-op had most of the requisite ingredients. The newsagent next door filled in the gap of self-raising flour, and I cycled to Tesco to try to find almonds. They didn't have any chopped or blanched almonds — a good thing, as it turned out, because it meant that I bought their much nicer organic almonds and blanched them myself. I don't think I'd ever done this before — I was resigned to using them with skins and all — but the Homepride Book's casual instruction to "Blanch almonds (see page 16)" reassured me that it'd be easy. Turns out all you do is put boiling water on them and leave them for a few minutes, after which time the almonds' skins have loosened and you can just squeeze them off. Who knew? Okay, okay, you probably all knew. Humour me.

There was a minor crisis when I discovered that the packet of suet which I'd briefly hefted and judged to be at least a third full turned out to have less than the necessary ¼lb, and the Co-op (close enough to home to encourage this sort of disorganised shopping) turned out not to stock any, but in the end I substituted finely-diced butter instead and crossed my fingers that Saint Delia would forgive me. After some wishful stirring, I ladled it into the bowl, put the boil in the big pan of water, and proceeded to steam the thing for six hours, which does not make for interesting blogging material so I'll just use it as an excuse for a bit more rambling.

There's a poem which I always think of when I think of Christmas puddings; I reproduce it here in its twee entirety:
Our Christmas pudding was made in November,
All they put in it, I quite well remember:
Currants and raisins, and sugar and spice,
Orange peel, lemon peel - everything nice
Mixed up together, and put in a pan.
"When you've stirred it," said Mother, "as much as you can,
We'll cover it over, that nothing may spoil it,
And then, in the copper, tomorrow we'll boil it."
That night, when we children were all fast asleep,
A real fairy godmother came crip-a-creep!
She wore a red cloak, and a tall steeple hat
(Though nobody saw her but Tinker, the cat!)
And out of her pocket a thimble she drew,
A button of silver, a silver horse-shoe,
And, whisp'ring a charm, in the pudding pan popped them,
Then flew up the chimney directly she dropped them;
And even old Tinker pretended he slept
(With Tinker a secret is sure to be kept!),
So nobody knew, until Christmas came round,
And there, in the pudding, these treasures we found.

—Charlotte Druitt Cole
I only know it because we had to learn it in the Elocution classes that I (briefly) attended at one primary school. I don't recall any training in diction (though the teacher's name was Mrs Dixon — my dad thought this was hilarious and then had to explain the joke, which is how I learned the word 'diction'), but I do recall having to learn a poem every week, first writing it out in our best handwriting and illustrating it, and then reciting it before the rest of the class.

The thing is, though, I don't actually have any memory of making Christmas puddings at home; I'm not sure we ever did, and we certainly never made them in November. We made Christmas cake (always made to this recipe), and stirring it was certainly an occasion; but as far as I can remember it was usually only a few days before Christmas. My mum would ice the cake, ruffling the royal icing into snow-like peaks with a knife, and then my sister and I would add every plastic cake-decoration we owned, until it looked like an explosion at Santa's grotto. My mum only once made her Christmas cake in advance; when we unwrapped it from its foil to ice it, we found that it had gone mouldy. She blamed the organic (and hence, supposedly, preservative-free) dried fruit. Thereafter we went back to making Christmas cake just before Christmas, or even just after — okay, then we called it 'New Year cake' instead, but it was the same cake. Nobody ever felt like eating cake after Christmas dinner anyway.

So, the moral I derive from this story is that you can't store your cake and eat it, and you can't eat your cake and pudding. Only kidding — there isn't really a moral! There are just a handful of key techniques, and a selection of good recipes, and some tasty ingredients, and occasional long periods of waiting, and things you do again year after year because they work, and all these things are just rattling around in a box of terrible analogies like the little plastic cake decorations in the biscuit-tin on the top shelf that I had to stand on a chair (or, if nobody was looking, on the kitchen unit) to get to.
j4: (fairy)
A choice of two Christmas cards for my readers this year -- you can have the serious one, the silly one, or BOTH:
two Christmas cards )
Also, some Christmas presents that won't take up any space:

* a free album of new Christmas songs from Lojinx
* £3 worth of free (and DRM-free) mp3s of your choice from Amazon
* Loads more free Christmas music from feelslikechristmas.com (not to be confused with isitchristmas.com)

* The recipe for what we're having for Christmas dinner today
* The recipe for a lovely spiced winter pudding that I made a couple of years ago and really want to make again

Thank you to everybody who has given me cards, presents, emails, txts and phone calls; I'm sorry I've been very bad at keeping in touch this year. I am full of resolutions for a better 2009! In the meantime, hope you are all having a happy Christmas (or festive season -- or lack thereof -- of your choice), and have an even better New Year. Take care and have fun!
j4: (fairy)
Merry Christmas to all of you and anybody else who's reading! (And if you don't celebrate Christmas, then I hope you're having a good time whatever you're up to anyway.)

By leaving the camera on timelapse overnight I managed to capture a blurry image of one of Santa's little helpers putting presents under the tree:



Okay, I confess, it's actually one of these elves. My sister and I decorated the tree on Sunday night, covering it with lights and tinsel and baubles and icicles and angels and robins and my mum's folded-paper stars and all kinds of silly things until it bent sideways under the weight. Then last night I got back from drinks with schoolfriends at quarter to midnight and everybody had already gone to bed, so I could play Santa in peace, putting my presents for everybody under the tree



and hiding tiny presents in amongst the branches of the tree so people would find them when they thought they'd already opened everything. Though my sister totally beat me at that game, having bought me heaps and heaps of cool things so that I was still finding more presents on the tree after everybody else had opened everything. Heh heh.

Since then we have also had Christmas lunch, which isn't like your Christmas lunch (probably) because tea is the big meal here (and it's veggie -- I think this year we're having some sort of fancy chestnut and mushroom pastry thing) so for lunch we have breads and cheese and pâtés and olives and MOAR CHEESE and smoked salmon and and and om nom nom.

We've also been pottering around on the internets, four Mac powerbooks and a USB Christmas tree all glowing away happily:



The internet is very useful: http://www.isitchristmas.com/ :-)

Enjoy the rest of the day!

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