The twelve days of Christmas 7: Chestnuts

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose…

Evocative as the old song is, that first phrase hides a wealth of frustrations; chestnuts, it turns out every year, are not all that easy to roast on an open fire. Based on my own experiences this winter, here’s a quick breakdown of what you actually end up with…

  • 5% healthy chestnuts done to a turn
  • 10% empty shells – I’m not sure how this is actually possible. I’m pretty sure it’s a conspiracy of some sort.
  • 40% mouldy, dried up or otherwise defective
  • 25% burnt to a crisp
  • 20% underdone
  • 5% somehow both burnt to a crisp and underdone

And after all that, it turns out every time that even a perfectly cooked chestnut is actually quite odd-tasting and not all that nice. Still (as with turkish delight) there’s something very nostalgic about them, perhaps due to the year that has inevitably elapsed since the last time you ate them; they’re one of those things that’s more fun to miss than to actually have.

On that poignant note, I’ll leave you til next year. Enjoy the remaining hours of 2014, and drink responsibly!



The twelve days of Christmas 6: Wolf hat

I was given a fluffy wolf hat for Christmas, and yes, I will be wearing it in public. No shame. Last year’s animal-themed present was my tiger onesie, which has made prior appearances on this blog. It’s still going strong, although its convenience is marred by having to rapidly change into something less eccentric on the rare occasions I need to answer the door (suprisingly often to Jehovah’s witnesses, despite the fact we live in the dead centre of nowhere).

The problem is, it’s very difficult to wear any form of animal costume without finding yourself behaving a lot like the animal in question. At least, I find this to be the case. You might not. You might not even have any animal-themed headwear, in which case I berate you for your lack of imagination. I maintain that my onesie is largely responsible for my sleep habits at the moment, which include cat naps whenever possible and 9-14 hours a night when I can get away with it. Hibernation is an idea we humans need to take on board as soon as possible.

Tiger suit

The twelve days of Christmas 5: The Archers

Grandma is here at the moment, which is great apart from one thing: the combination of Mum and Grandma (or indeed most of my aunts and uncles) results in Archers chat.

No, I’m not talking about the drink, although I do also object to peach schnapps on a number of levels. The Archers, for those lucky enough to be unfamiliar with it, is a dire radio 4 soap based around the lives of a small and unbelievably boring farming community. Anyone else afflicted with relatives who listen to it will be familiar with the dread that accompanies the unjustifiably jaunty theme tune, which usually bursts onto the airwaves just when you’ve starting the washing up. Those “dum de dums” herald the end of all that is good and true in the world for a fifteen minute period every single bloody day of the week.*

If you want to hear what I’m complaining about without having to deliberately listen to the Archers, or if you are a fellow victim of Archers-listening-relatives, I recommend this sketch by John Finnemore – it’s a brilliant summary of what you’re (not) missing.

My problems with the Archers are manifold, but the reason I feel so much stronger about this than about other TV and radio abominations (of which there are many) is its omnipresence. Not only does literally no other drama that I can think of get so many primetime slots, but the Archers insidiously seeps into my family’s conception of reality in a terrifyingly efficient way. I’m regularly informed about Pip’s progression through school/college and told “she’s your age, you know” (SHE’S FICTIONAL). Only yesterday I heard this exchange:

MUM: Did you hear about Roy and Phoebe? It’s so sad! Oh and of course Kate’s in some kind of trouble again…

GRANDMA: She’s just dreadful isn’t she! Phoebe seems to be distancing herself from Kate now…

MUM: Yes, and of course she lived with them for a while, you know.

You might think this was a discussion of real people that we actually know and care about, but I’m reliably informed that they’re Archers characters. I rest my case.

The archers

*apart from Saturday, apparently

The twelve days of Christmas 4: Tiny, rubbish cabbages

I am not alone in my hatred of sprouts. They’re the Simon Cowell of the vegetable world; nobody (except a few misguided souls) likes them, and yet they come back year after year, thanks to tradition in the one case, and impressive marketing in the other.

Why do we insist on perpetuating the reign of these tiny, rancid cabbages? Even the most ardent Brussels sprout fan can’t deny that the tradition of eating sprouts at Christmas was clearly the result of a poor harvest and a savvy farmer, followed by years of blind acceptence of the flatulent consequences.

Well, I’m standing up to the tyranny of the Brussels sprout. This Christmas, I had peas, carrots and proper cabbage with my turkey, and I urge the rest of the downtrodden masses to do the same. And if you’re one of the freaks unique individuals who actually likes sprouts, I wish you well. In fact, you can have my helping.

Brussels sprouts

The twelve days of Christmas 3: Spikey plants

Humans are odd. This truism is at its truest over Christmas, when we gorge ourselves on food we don’t particularly like, surround ourselves with people we know full well we’ll argue with, listen to music that at any other time of the year would be considered unfit for human ears due to being jangly jangly crap, and drag a large, prickly tree into the house to decorate with small sparkly objects.

This last is particularly odd; every year the ritual of ‘decorating the tree’ (i.e. arguing about where the lights should go, being perplexed by the existence of toadstool shaped decorations, and emerging with multiple stab wounds to the hands) makes me feel more and more like I’m living in some kind of twisted anthropologist’s nightmare. I won’t bore you with the story of where the Christmas tree tradition came from – not least because I haven’t bothered to look it up – but I imagine there’s a vaguely rational explanation somewhere in the mingled pasts of Christianity and paganism. Possibly involving Norway.

However, the mania for spikey Christmas plants seems to be spreading, going by the confusing presence at Hereford Christmas market of a stall selling something implausibly called a “Christmas cactus”. This got me thinking about the heights of ridiculousness to which this epidemic is, without exaggeration, definitely going to take us within the near future…

Christmas Cactus

Slowly but surely, this day is approaching.

The twelve days of Christmas 2: Christmas prrresents

Welcome to boxing day. I’m nursing a pretty serious food hangover (yes, that’s a thing, and if you don’t believe me then you clearly got Christmas completely wrong) so I’ll keep it brief. Suffice to say that Christmas day was great: drunk-family-hilarity abounded, and I had a good haul of presents including two Bake Off cookbooks, happily with full instructions this time, and a fluffy wolf hat.

On the theme of presents, cats are rubbish at gift giving – they’re predictable, and they inevitably choose something they like with no regard for the presentee’s preferences. I guess it’s the thought that counts…

Christmas Prrresents

The twelve days of Christmas 1: The disapproving gaze of Mary Berry

As it’s that time of the year (and, of course, I need to celebrate my SUPER EXCITING move to a new blogging platform), I thought I’d spread some good cheer and festive spirit with a daily cartoon based mini-post – consider it my present to you. In principle there will be twelve of these, although in practice I promise nothing. Merry Christmas!

On the first day of Christmas…

I made a pecan pie.

I don’t like Christmas pudding, so I tend to cook some kind of alternative; usually it’s chocolate based, but this time I branched out into the sticky and time-consuming world of the pecan pie. This was not only my first foray into the field of pastry, but also the first time I’ve cooked anything from the Great British Bakeoff calendar I was given last Christmas. The recipe was (perhaps predictably) underspecific, with instructions such as “bake the case blind” WITHOUT any indication of a) what on earth that means and b) how long to keep the damn thing in the oven. This is not helpful for those of us who don’t have a PhD in deciphering baking jargon, but fortunately the internet exists, so I was able to pad out the sparse instructions with ones that were actually useful. However, though I followed the recipe (what there was of it) to the letter, I found myself continually haunted by – you guessed it – the disapproving gaze of Mary Berry, staring out at me from the insufficiently chilled butter, the unevenly rolled pastry and the underbaked crust. I probably won’t be trying any more Bake Off recipes… Scan 15 In the end, the pie came out looking astonishingly pie-like, and didn’t even partially collapse. Looks like there is such thing as a Christmas miracle *prances off in a flurry of sleigh-bells and fairy dust* 10881878_10204521809197222_6453898635162070820_n