The Crazy Days Before the Calm (we hope).

There is always a drama at this time of year involving some daft item that simply must be sourced or the world will possibly end or, at the very least, Christmas will be ruined. One year, it was a very particular Lego set with a Darth Vader mini-figure. Another year, it was a Barbie and Ken wedding. There was the time I set my heart on a pair of burgundy patent shoes for my then two year old eldest daughter. You wouldn’t believe the distance I drove for those shoes but, oh my, she was a picture in her little wool coat and beret. My excuse is that these are the things that give us a sense of having kept Christmas well, that it’s not just a case of buying and wrapping the cheapest or random gifts and receiving the same in return with fingers crossed that the tags are attached. You have to put an effort in; that’s the whole point.

This year, it’s a donkey outfit. Small Girl is to play a donkey in Seó na Nollaig (nativity play). I was all set to make one, had a hat half crocheted, when Middle Daughter informed me, in the kindest terms, that EVERYONE ELSE is buying one from the shops and poor Small Girl will be a laughing stock in a homemade outfit. Sigh. (I’m clearly alone in my views about putting an effort in.)

And so, bowing to peer pressure, I spent this morning trawling the recommended shops for the recommended donkey onesie. I found a very cute dragon onesie, and two different unicorn onesies. I stood stock still in the shop and put serious thought into attaching donkey ears to a unicorn but wasn’t sure how much of a sense of humour the Senior Infants teacher has, or my daughter for that matter. I’ve come home with a pair of grey leggings and a grey hoody and a sinking feeling that I’m getting this one wrong.

I have a few ongoing crafty projects which are Top Secret and Highly Classified. I’ve had to do some very stealthy crocheting. I’ve learned that I can really only get away with giving handmade gifts to my own offspring which is trickier, of course, since they are here all the time.

I’m working on a set of the elf characters from Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas, all of my own imagining and purely for my own satisfaction. They posed for some photos this morning. Here’s a sneak preview:

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Aside from under-cover crocheting, I have done a terrifying amount of credit card tapping, a reassuring amount of list-making, including the ultimately comforting booklist-making, and a properly scandalous amount of steeping things in brandy. I blame Nigel Slater.

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I’ve got vanilla pods in brandy, apricots in brandy and prunes in a mixture of muscat and brandy. I’m seriously considering dunking the last Jerusalem artichokes in brandy – with a label attached saying “Nobody light a match.”

Segueing neatly to another root vegetable, we harvested our first Oca. We were prepared for something that tasted like potato dipped in lemon juice. IMG_0294 (2)

The first attempt to cook them, by boiling, went poorly. They turned out, those that didn’t simply dissolve into the cooking water, as thin-skinned balls of watery, lemony, mush.

The second batch had a big weight on their little knobbly shoulders. If the kids didn’t like them I would be facing a heck of a lot of lemony lunches. What to do?

I applied the same method that I used to convince my kids they likes Brussels sprouts and turnips- I roasted them in the juices of a leg of lamb.  Oh yes, that worked. They may not have been crispy but they tasted like very good new potatoes that had been roasted in lamb fat, and dipped in lemon juice. Yum.

However, a leg of lamb is pretty expensive method of flavouring your homegrown (read, free) vegetables. Anyone have any suggestions for less indulgent (read, cheaper) alternatives?

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I am, once again, endeavouring to lose a little blubber – if only enough to make room in my jeans for mince pies. To that end, I am comfort-eating in lieu of puddings.

Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop on the Corner is as sweet and light as that strawberry pavlova Nigella made last night (is anyone else irritated by the way she abbreviates it to “Pav” ? Sorry, grumpy, hungry woman syndrome).

This book will do you no good whatsoever but you’ll feel marvelous as you devour it, and pleasantly guilty afterwards.

I have one major gripe: I made a list, as I read, of all the books Colgan mentions. There was one children’s book in particular, a magical classic adventure that plays a big role in the story and seemed like just the thing for my Small Girl. Wondering how on Earth I’d missed this one, but you know, it happens, I searched the great bookshop in the sky and came up with…exactly nothing.

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She made it up. And I wasn’t alone in my foolish hopefulness; in the reviews of an unrelated book of the same title, two other disappointed souls wrote, “this is not the book from Jenny Colgan’s book!”

That’s not fair! Authors: You can’t be making up books that don’t exist and then telling us they are brilliant, for flip’s sake.

Did you notice the quince there, in the book photo? They have nothing to do with the story at all but happened to match the cover. Or they would, if I could only figure out how to photograph yellow things. Why is yellow so difficult?

My quince tree remains barren. I bought these for a Nigel Slater recipe. There’s something very evocative about quince.

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They make me think of owls and pussycats…IMG_0263

…and make me long for a runcible spoon.IMG_0274

I’ve been trying to figure out how to take photographs in the scant light available. My family completely ignore me as I wander about the house taking shots of light switches and fruit bowls. This was supposed to be a picture of the chillies, a failure obviously, but I think it is an honest snap shot of my kitchen at dinner time, six o’clock, with the plates laid out and tea towels draped willy-nilly, and me pottering about with the camera when I should be dishing up.IMG_0234

Here’s a nice one:IMG_0214

And here is my little reindeer keeping guard over those apricots in brandy.IMG_0209

One last thing…I threw my cap in the ring for this incredible prize. It’s a competition for a writer’s retreat, open until tomorrow night, and all you have to do is convince the judges that you deserve it. If you are tempted, I wish you luck but, for God’s sake, don’t come back here to tell me that you won!

Right, I’m off to see what can be done about the donkey’s ears and, failing that, to see what else I could possibly steep in brandy. Cheese? Figs? Sultanas?! Oh! Only imagine the brandy-soaked-sultana buns…

23 thoughts on “The Crazy Days Before the Calm (we hope).

  1. I’m with you on putting an effort in. My heart sinks on Greek / Mayan / Tudor day at all the identical Amazon or Ebay outfits. We always improvise and I may be biased but that xxl Primark T shirt works ever so well with my old velvet jacket – 20 years young tied together with the tassled belt that came with the ill chosen and never worn culottes makes my boy look like a terrific Tudor! So much so he got a position on the top table and got his Tudor feast first!!

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  2. I didn’t apply for the prize, as I think you should win and I know I wouldn’t be lucky as I am rubbish at explaining why I should win things. I am sure the RSC wouldn’t put Bottom in a bought costume. But a difficult call. Good luck.

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  3. Saw that competition as well but haven’t entered. I’m wishing you the very best of luck. Try the oca raw, they’re lovely like that and a bit more different than they are cooked, when they’re a bit like other roots. The artichokes in brandy made me laugh. Good luck with the donkey costume. Things like that strike the fear of God into me. The pressure to get it right! I have to have a dog outfit for the puppy training Christmas party. Well, the dog does, you know what I mean. Any cockapoo dressing up tips gladly received. CJ xx

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  4. I am so sad for you that Middle Daughter talked you out of the homemade costume!! Were you halfway done crocheting a donkey hat?! (Please can we see this?) This has brought back such fond memories for me: when my daughter was in grade four she had a “clowning unit” (seriously…) and not only did I sew her a costume, I also crocheted a clown wig. It never occurred to me that she would be a laughingstock, and I honestly don’t think she was one. I’m totally with you on this whole putting in the effort thing, not just for the costume, but for presents in general. Poorly thought-out or ill-chosen presents are worse than no presents, in my book…

    This was such a lovely read, Lynda … “undercover crocheting” put such a smile on my face, as did the sneak peek at the elves (my son and I have just begun ABCC) and all the brandy-soaking goodies, not to mention yet another book to add to my TBR list 🙂 .

    Good luck with the writer’s retreat competition!

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  5. Lots going on! I am with you on the sad demise/peer pressure of a shop bought costume, I might have given in to urge to purchase a unicorn – just to see the face of the teacher – and I am sure as all things Christmassy this year seem to be unicorn themed she may have been the envy of all her friends. I have read the Jenny Colgan book – a comfort read I’d call it – I did enjoy it. Quince, not ever cooked them, but have eaten them a few times in France where they are popular. The other homegrown item/veggie – that’s a new one to me. Good luck with all your jobs/plans. What a hectic time of year !

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  6. I’m with you on putting effort in, although I’m glad my costume-making days are behind me. I hope you find something you’re all happy with. Love the sound of the stealthy crocheting (I would totally fail at that) and all your brandy steeping. Never grown or eaten oca – they look very pretty. Have you noticed the same problem when photographing anything orange? Getting orange and yellow to look right in photos is something I struggle with; I’m sure it’s all to do with how the camera reads light. Lovely photos (especially of your kitchen – how beautiful). Good luck with all your preparations. I need to write some lists… I shall be keeping my fingers crossed for you and that competition. Best of luck. How exciting! Sam x

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    1. No luck with that competition but what harm, I’m glad I tried. Yes- orange is also impossible. I’ve deleted dozens of photos of calendula and hypericum and the front room is not proving half as photogenic as I had hoped!

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      1. Oh, that’s a shame. I wonder who did win, if not you! To be totally honest with you, though, I don’t think you need any further input on the writing but it would be wonderful for you to be ‘discovered’ by the big guns.

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  7. Now you have me wondering what I can soak in brandy, one of my favorites, the Italian family I was attached to for several year, my daughters grandparents, always were soaking sponge cake in brandy…it was always a desert with coffee at there place. sometimes they would add slices of whatever fruit was ripe in the garden, but it was yummy, even with a dollop of whip cream on top…
    I love the little crocheted elves, makes me wish I would of taken crocheting more seriously while my mum was trying to teach me. guess I could get out a needle and try it again. I saw the quince by the book, and to be honest I was trying to figure out what kind of squash it was, I had never seen squash with that sort of bottom LOL I have never been around quince before but I have eaten it, yum, love you post, and I am sure little one will be the most adorable donkey…I am thinking to sauté the oca in some garlic, butter and wine, maybe along with a few mushrooms over a steak or pork would be yummy, or just sliced raw on a salad, they are certainly little beauties. My thought is why would they not want you to be part of there writers retreat….good luck……xxkat

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    1. I will definitely try your suggestion for the oca… sounds yumm! No luck with the retreat competition but I think it might not have suited me anyway! I’m kind of relieved.
      Hey, get out that crochet hook…best therapy ever!

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  8. Good luck with the donkey,. I am with you on making the costumes, everyone says they don’t have time therefore they buy them. It makes it appear as if they are busy with important jobs when in fact they are watching Eastenders or the latest box set! How about a brandy soaked cook on Christmas day😆🍷

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  9. Keeping up with the twists and turns of your post was about as hectic an endeavour as trying to get through the various tasks on my list!
    Glad you like quince too. And that tune stuck in my head for a long time years ago, because I learned multi-camera TV directing to the tune of the Owl and The Pussycat (went to sea, In a beautiful pea-green boat)!

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