I have a suspicion that poor old Ebenezer Scrooge may simply have been labouring under the effects of a prolonged dose of the dreaded lurgi. It has been observed, by teenagers who shall remain nameless, that the Bah Humbugs are a noticable side-effect of lurgi.
How on Earth can I, in my feeble state, gather the will or the energy to pull together this thing called Christmas? How many gatherings? Who to invite? Who not? Who not at the same time as the first who?
What military operation can be organised to ensure that I will wind up St. Stephen’s Day cuddled on the sofa with a mince pie and Alan Rickman?
On the other hand, the pondering and planning of blog posts has the effect of calling forth the ghosts of Christmas Past and Future. I am at a perfect moment in my life. I have a warm, busy, noisy home. I have children old enough to provide musical accompaniment and children young enough to bring the magic. I have a husband who makes killer mulled wine. In too many ways to mention, I have it all.
My difficulty is that I find it tough to share it. I want, like Silas Marner, to hoard their golden glow. It makes no sense, does it? Other people, whose moment is yet to come or long gone by, just want to visit, bask awhile and maybe pick up a bit of glitter on their jumpers. Why does the very thought fill me with breathless anxiety? They can’t take it away with them.
My coping strategy revolves around the food. It is a tried and tested formula that chicken liver paté fills every gap in conversation and a mince pie answers every awkward question.
In preparation, all my stress is transferred to the food, as if my guests were reviewing me for a michelin, not Christmas, star. I make vast lists of Christmas must-makes; pudding, pies, pots of soup and not forgetting the polyfilla paté. I fill my freezer and, all the while, stockpile my anxiety.
Now, here is where it gets complicated.
The list is always too long.
It’s not humanly possible to do it all.
So, I take shortcuts.
Buy cranberry sauce.
Mulled wine in a bottle.
All the while believing
that I am doing myself a favour.
So what, you shout. There is nothing so terribly wrong with any of those shortcuts. The thing is, pottering about the candlelit kitchen with my apron firmly tied and Dean Martin in the background, spiced pots simmering, oven thrumming and flour on my nose…that’s when I am happy. That’s my dream. My Christmas wish.
Operation Mincemeat was an intricate ruse undertaken by the Allies in 1943 to fool the Germans into believing that the imminent invasion would be of Greece and not, as was really the case, of Sicily. You can read the whole story here. My own tactics share nothing more than nomenclature, and I aim to convince no-one other than myself. There will be no invasion. This time, right now, today, is mine. Mine to fritter away list-making. Or mine to make mincemeat.
I have devised my own mincemeat recipe (hey! now we’re talking!). It’s a hybrid between this from Darina Allen and this from Mary Berry. By all means, if you want absolute reliability, go with either of those ladies. It’s worth clicking on the Darina Allen link just to see the photo. I have met the doyenne of Irish cookery a couple of times and she puts the absolute fear of God into me. It’s quite reassuring to see her with purple baubles hanging from her earlobes.
I wanted the suet-free option which tipped me towards Mary but I hung on to the marmalade and dark sugar in Darina’s recipe. Darina was, I thought, heavy-handed with the sugar while Mary was heavy on the booze. I split the difference. There was a small amount of cross-multiplication involved in figuring this out but that made me all the happier. I do like to feel brainy once a year or so.
Can you tell how much better I am feeling already? Jingle, jingle.
On a practical note: I used 700g of mixed, dried berries and I don’t think anyone needs to fret about exactly how you make up that weight. I put a bowl on the scales and emptied jars and packets as I put my hand to them. After all, this is supposed to be an exercise in relaxation…
I went the whole hog and made my own mixed peel. You can find the recipe if you scroll through this. It’s a delightfully slow process and worth it only if you are willing to wallow in it.
My Mincemeat. 2015.
1 cooking apple, peeled and coarsely grated
zest and juice of 1 lemon
100g golden raisins
70g dried cranberries
60g mixed peel
200g dark brown sugar
1 tbsp marmalade
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
Put everything, except the brandy, into a large saucepan.
Ideally, have a child practise this on the piano while you gently stir, over a medium heat, until the butter and sugar have melted.
Let the mixture cool while you get four sterilised screwtop jars lined up.
Stir in the brandy.
Inhale deeply and sigh with pleasure.
Pot it up. The mincemeat and the pleasure.
Operation Mincemeat was a great success. A message was telegrammed to Churchill, then in the United States, stating, ‘Mincemeat swallowed, rod, line and sinker.’
Now, has anyone a contact number for Alan Rickman?