You are currently browsing the monthly archive for November 2007.

I’m exhausted. I’ve been Christmas shopping with my husband; we have staggered round Meadowhall carrying four heavy bags, and I have a sneaking suspicion that a large part of the load consisted of chocolate for ourselves.

Not to worry. Tomorrow I intend to balance the unhealthy future intake by cooking up a batch of braised red cabbage for Christmas dinner. No, it’s not too early, because this dish tastes so much better if you make it, leave it to stand overnight, freeze, then defrost and reheat when required. I am a big fan of cooking ahead; I am not so good at a fiddly dinner where the cook is working herself into a lather watching six different pans and an oven.

Husband and I also made a decision: no big Christmas party to get stressed about for us this year. Instead I will phone the people I really want to see and work out when they can come to brunch, lunch or supper. Far more civilised and enjoyable. I foresee meals such as chilli (much much tastier if I cook it in advance), full English breakfast (my husband’s department), fried chicken (another husband speciality) and cheese and onion potato cakes (made a big batch last week and already in the freezer). I might do a ham (possibly Nigella Lawson’s ham in Coca-Cola which is divine) so that’s a little bit fiddly but most of that can also be done in advance.

This weekend we are off to buy our Christmas tree. Nothing but good times ahead…

Bonfire Night and the fireworks are over now, and I’m on countdown to Christmas. I’ve uploaded The Ultimate Christmas Album to my iPod and last night I drove home from a class singing along to my favourite tracks.

 I have three jars of mincemeat in the cupboards, ready for creating marzipan topped mince pies and mincemeat muffins. A friend and I made our own one year – in fact we made so much it lasted three years – and it smelt divine. It took us a whole evening as we had a tiny hand mincer and we had to feed through about four currants at a time, and tiny handfuls of chopped apple, but it was a really fun, sociable evening. I found a recipe in an old cookbook called Farmhouse Fare which was published in 1946 and consists of recipes ‘from country housewives collected by The Farmers Weekly’. It’s a lovely book – I’ve just caught sight of a recipe for lemon curd dumplings and my mouth is watering – and the preserves, as you would expect from farmers’ wives, are particularly good. It tells you how to make your own pectin, which I should do as both my mother-in-law and sister have very productive apple trees; marrow cream which is claimed to be equally as nice as lemon cheese; orange and apple curd (oh yes! mouth is watering again), and spiced bramble jelly and cheese, for which you add nutmeg, mace and cinnamon to the fruit. Sounds mighty fine to me. Ooh, and carrot jam – a veg farmer’s wife, maybe? – which contains carrots, sugar, cooking brandy, lemon and sweet almonds.

Oh look at this one – cockie leekie. The recipe starts: An old hen…

Anyway, this is the recipe for mincemeat with raspberry jam, which we used. We did add a load of alcohol – I think we sloshed in apple schnaps and brandy – which is probably why it kept so well, and probably played with the fruit quantities as well depending on how much of each we had already.

Ingredients: 1lb raisins (stoned), 1lb sultanas, 1lb currants, 1lb castor sugar, 1lb suet, grated rind of two lemons, 2lbs cooking apples (after peeling), 3/4lb mixed peel, 3/4lb raspberry jam, juice of three lemons, 1 nutmeg (grated).

Method: Mince finely the fruit, apples, peel and suet. Stir in sugar, lemon rind and juice, nutmeg and jam. Add a few whole currants and a little brandy or whisky. Mix well, put into pots and cover closely. From Miss Margaret Sheffield, Birmingham.

I went to America. There were highs, there were lows, and then there was the full to bursting….

 Low: An eight-hour delay at Manchester. The plane wasn’t working, so I twiddled my thumbs for seven hours in the airport while BMI fetched another plane from Amsterdam and my sister sent me texts advising me not to spend any more money on Radley handbags (20% off in duty free!). Then we got on the plane and spent another 75 minutes sitting on the tarmac – a warning light wouldn’t turn off so they had to bring the engineers back on and fill out loads of paperwork. By this point I knew I would miss any connection out of Chicago that night.

High: was sitting next to a really nice woman who looked amazed when I said that I had three children and how old I was.

Low: Due to the delay I had read virtually everything I had with me before I even got on the plane. I thought I would be fine with the inflight entertainment. But the inflight entertainment didn’t work in about a third of the seats in economy, and guess where I was sitting… By the end of the flight I was reduced to watching what was on across the aisle and guessing at the dialogue.

High: I had lots of chocolates with me, which meant security sent me up for extra scanning, which meant I skipped the huge queue of people waiting for new flight allocations and overnight accommodation.

Low: We waited half an hour for the shuttle to the hotel, before a group of us decided we’d had enough and got in a couple of taxis. The taxi drivers didn’t know where to go. Their dispatcher said: “It’s the Westin”. We went to the Westin and paid the taxi drivers. The dispatcher was wrong, and our hotel wasn’t the Westin, but when told this by the bellboy the taxi drivers hopped back in the cabs and drove off. Fortunately the bellboy knew where we should be going, wrote down the address and called more taxis. We had a whipround to give him a big tip.

High: We were the first to arrive at the hotel and therefore there was no queue to get rooms.

Low: The shuttle turned up about an hour later. I know this because I was just dropping off to sleep when endless voices and clattering luggage out in the corrider woke me up.

Just plain weird: Went to the dining room for breakfast and couldn’t believe how much sugar I could smell. Sticky doughnuts! With icing! For breakfast! After a momentary, childish “oooh!” my stomach and tastebuds told me what they thought of that idea and I had a bowl of museli.

High: I was about to join the queue for the shuttle back to the airport when one of my compatriots from the night before showed up and invited me to join him in his pre-booked taxi. And he paid! Lovely man.

Low: why does every blasted airport terminal have to have a different layout? Why can’t they just find one that works and stick with it?

High: Finally making it to Covington – I should have been there at 6.05pm on the Tuesday; I actually got there at 11.30am on the Wednesday.

High: Jenny took me to Panera for lunch and I had French onion soup in a hollowed out sourdough roll. It was fabulous. I downed the soup, then scraped out the bread, and it was only when I found myself tearing at the rest of the roll with my fingers and teeth that I realised how hungry I had been for proper food.

High: The Cincinnati Marriott Riverfront hotel is gorgeous. Lovely lobby, lovely rooms.

High: Watching Rox knit. Any time, any place, any where.

High: The Moderator Party on Wednesday night. Even though I was falling asleep, I had a fantastic time, eating chocolate, putting together a pony and trying on Jenny’s crochet hat collection.

Full to bursting: On Wednesday evening at the Moderator party a trip was planned to Target and IHOP. “I’m in” I said. I hadn’t a clue where we were going, but it was shopping so that would be fine. Consequently, on Thursday morning I went to the hotel restaurant and had a three egg cheese omelette with breakfast potatoes so that I had plenty of energy for the day ahead. It was an extremely tasty meal, although I was absolutely pogged by the time I had finished. So I waddled out into the lobby to meet everyone, told them about my wonderful breakfast, at which point they said: “But we’re going to IHoP!” What about it, I said. “International House of Pancakes!” they replied. Oh. So I walked around Target, praying for my digestion to speed up, but I could still only manage half a crepe in IHoP. The others tried to persuade me to try sweet pancakes with egg and bacon, but no. Not a chance.

High: The whole Cherry Con. Cherries are great. Jenny was wonderful, as were the other authors who gave up time to talk to cherries: Alyssa Day (aka Alesia Holliday), Chris Merrill, Krissie (aka Anne Stuart), Lani Diane Rich, Barb (aka Caridad Ferrer). I didn’t do many of the writing workshops so mainly I was in the group who hung out on the sofas in the upper lobby, chatting, eating chocolate, sharing laptops and learning to crochet (thank you Jenny for the needle, wool and lessons). Rox was knitting more of her amazing socks, and Chandra was clicking away on a beautiful shawl. However, I did join the collaging workshop and had such a fun time… I love cutting and sticking.

High: Meeting up with Laurie Bambrick at one of the local hospitals to talk about antenatal education in the US, and the differences in birthing practices. Laurie was absolutely lovely – if I had another baby I’d want her there.

High: Eating onion rings in a sourdough batter with Rox in a real American diner. Rox did not knit.

Low: Having to leave everyone on Sunday.

Low: Getting lost in the airport in Chicago.

Low: On the flight back to England, the smell when everyone kicked off their shoes to sleep. Not good.

High: Flying into the dawn. Coming down through pink clouds. The view as we came in over the west coast and the Lake District.

High: Being greeted by my husband and youngest son in Manchester, and their production of a flask of properly made Darjeeling tea. Driving home across the Pennines and seeing English browns, greens and blues. Heaven.