Middle-Aged Couple Collapse In Front Of Pilates DVD.

Alright, in fairness to Amit (the remarkably bendy and unreasonably cheerful man in the photo below), we collapsed in peels of laughter. The tears, mind you, were of genuine pain.img_3464-2

Husband posed in front of the camera and pleaded with me to show you his best attempt at this pose but…ah, no…I feel he might regret it and you have imagination enough to fill the gap. Suffice to say, we are making efforts to get bendier in 2017.

Christmas was brilliant. I believe we may claim to have kept it well. My favourite moment of Christmas is always the lighting of the candle on Christmas Eve. As a child I was told that the candle was to light the way for the Holy Family. More recently, President Mary Robinson revived and enriched the tradition as a beacon for the Irish Diaspora.  In our house it is a moment of quiet nostalgia, a lull in the mayhem, a deep peaceful breath.

Christmas candle. Irish tradition.

And then…Christmas morning mayhem

You know it’s a good Christmas when you eat Baked Alaska…baked alaska, Nigella's recipe.

…TWICE!Baked Alaska no.2

That sloe (left) and damson (right) gin were SO worth making! There’s little to choose between them really. The pure sloe version has a bit more zing to it but both are delicious and make fantastic G&Ts. Sloe gin (left) and Damson gin (right).

All that gin meant that only the least taxing of crochet projects could be attempted so I whiled away a couple of movies making little cotton facecloths. I never quite understood why people bothered crocheting facecloths but it was a most relaxing and oddly satisfying occupation. It gave me that feeling that I could survive as a pioneer in the wilderness. Just give me a hook and some yarn and I might cobble together a whole home.crocheted cotton dk facecloth.

Of course, there were many lovely and thoughtful gifts.

My Small Girl made this flower for me and wrapped it up herself in a massive wad of sellotape which significantly delayed the Christmas breakfast.  sunflower

Middle Girl had this stunning bookmark made for me. Always bookmark. In memory of Alan Rickman, aka Snape.Yes, I cried.

Teenage Daughter created our family, including the dog (!), as Lego people! We are all even wearing our favourite outfits! Husband’s Nasa t-shirt is perfect! Are you flabbergasted? I was. Our family, in Lego.

Teenage Son is one of the few people I can rely on to buy me a book. Naturally, he bought a book which he was eager to read himself. He was literally breathing down my neck as I finished the last page and took it from my hands before I closed the cover. The Girl who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson is just as quirky and daft as The Hundred Year Old Man.

The girl who saved the king of Sweden. Jonas Jonasson

Santa may also have been guilty of delivering books which he was eager to read for himself. Mistletoe and Murder by Robin Stevens was in Middle Girl’s stocking and we both enjoyed it very much. It’s sort of a British Nancy Drew; very retro and sweet.

Mistletoe and Murder. Robin Stevens.

Oh, this one… A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig…deep contented sigh. It’s a perfect book and one I’m certain will become a Christmas classic. A Boy Called Christmas. Matt Haig. Instant classic

Stuffed full of Baked Alaska, we eventually left the house and walked off a gin or two.The beach always seems to be the perfect antidote to the massive lethargy that builds over Christmas.The Dock . Kinsale, Ireland

I thought, before Christmas, that I had run out of energy. I felt that I was spinning too many plates and not getting anything done properly. I was disappointed with my efforts.

I have taken a good, long rest. I have devoted the last couple of weeks to being a Mammy.

I am itching to write again but…

but, but, but… I have run out of gumption. I’ve known all along that if I stopped writing, even for a short while, I would be overtaken by nerves. I’m afeared (spellcheck doesn’t like that word but I do) that I’m making a holy show of myself and afeared that I am exposing myself and my family to ridicule. I’m filled with collywobblish trepidation and, at the same time, filled with the urge to carry on. The only cure, I suppose, is to fake it and see what happens. I should breathe deeply. Those were Amit’s last words just before I keeled over sideways.

Onwards, to a very bendy New Year!

Jamesfort, Kinsale, Ireland.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Best, Easy, Gluten-Free, Hassle-free, Make-Ahead Frozen Christmas Meringue.

frozen meringue cake

Consider this my gift to you this Christmas.

This frozen meringue cake hardly even merits the title of recipe and yet it has become the chameleon-like stalwart of my repertoire. It is easy child’s play to make. Everybody likes devours it. It can be made to feed any number of guests, young or old, transformed from cake to pudding simply by using a different container and flavours can be varied from season to season as the mood takes you.(You might remember the blackcurrant version, here.)

The only essentials are meringues and whipped cream. Beyond these two, the ingredients are open to creative interpretation. I might have added almonds but for an almond-allergic guest on my list. Walnuts would work. Marrons glacés would be delicious. Mixed citrus peel would be delightfully Sicilian.

I am luck enough to be the proud and fortunate mother of a Teenage Daughter who is happy to avoid studying for her exams by making meringues for me. TD always uses this recipe. Given the week that’s in it, feel free to use shop-bought meringues. They will be grand.

cranberry sauce

I usually find time to make my own cranberry sauce for Christmas and generally make too much (especially since we don’t have turkey) so this recipe puts it to good use.

making cranberry sauce

Homemade cranberry sauce is the work of mere minutes (7, to be exact) and certain to put you in the holiday mood but, again, the to-do lists are lengthy at this time of year so shop-bought will be absolutely fine. I use this recipe.

Ingredients for Christmas Frozen Meringue Pudding:

10 meringues, broken into chunks
250mls fresh cream, whipped
50g hazelnuts, toasted in a dry pan and chopped
1/2 tin of dulce de leche (or caramel sauce)
1/2 jar of cranberry sauce.

To decorate: 100 g melted dark chocolate
To decorate to excess: several Cadbury’s Crunchie (honeycomb) bars and a drizzle of cranberry sauce.
To decorate tastefully: sorry, you’ll have to come up with that one yourself, I’m all out.

Method:

Line a Christmas pudding bowl, or a 20cm cake tin, or individual freezer-proof cups with cling-film.

Scatter the broken meringues into the whipped cream. Dollop the sauces on top. Sprinkle in the nuts. Mix all the ingredients together.

making frozen meringue cake

Press firmly (to eliminate air gaps) into the lined container and freeze overnight.

That is it! Could anything be easier?

Ah, but wait…

…now, my big pudding is safely tucked away in the freezer for Christmas Eve but I made a special itty-bitty pudding just for you. This is just to say thanks, for being out there, listening to me, praising, advising and encouraging me, and keeping me company.

frozen meringue cake

Isn’t that just grand, turned out on to a sparkly plate and de-frocked of it’s cling film.

But wait…surely a lighted candle is called for on this, the second-shortest day of the year, when I want my blogland friends to know how much I appreciate them all, each and every one, and I’m certain a drizzle of dark chocolate could only make it better.

frozen meringue cake

Wait, wait, wait…I have a great idea (famous last words at Christmas)…

…let’s raid the kids’ selection boxes and find a Cadbury’s Crunchie. Then, let’s take a rolling pin and, thinking of that %^&&*^$ who stole the world’s last parking space at the supermarket, smash that Crunchie to smithereens. Ah, yes, that felt good. Are you still there? Have ye all given me up as a mad raving looney?

frozen meringue cake

Wait… last time, I promise,

…a drizzle of cranberry sauce just because I love the colour:

frozen meringue cake

Being serious, these few days leading up to Christmas are always hectic but also somehow the best part. A few goodies like this one stowed away in the freezer can be a genuine mental bulwark against panic.

My best mental health advice, however, is to keep a rolling pin and a large stack of Cadbury’s Crunchies to hand throughout the season.

We are down to the final stretch my friends, the year turns tomorrow and we can raise our heads and face the finishing line. Let’s cheer each other over the line.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

The Carol Service Made Me Cry, Again.

Rain lashed against our bowed heads as we rattled the right hand side door of the church. It was locked. We three weary mothers leaned our shoulders into the driving wind as we circumnavigated the church to try our luck at the left hand side door. It was marked, ‘Reserved For Junior Infants.’ Turning at last to the main entrance (always the last resort), we squeezed ourselves on to a wooden bench against the back wall.

Image result for St. James Church, Ballinora

The church was filled to capacity as the entire school body, students, teachers, SNAs, secretary and caretaker, were packed in like sardines. Two dozen or so parents who had managed to escape from work were huddled in the last two rows.

My Small Girl was out of sight in those Reserved seats on the left. My Middle Girl was in the front row and I saw the Headmaster walk over and, presumably, ask her if she was sure she was well enough to sing her solo. Oh my nerves. We are not accustomed to solo performances in this house. Neither Husband or I, nor either of the Teenagers would be inclined to sing in public. But Middle Girl has music in her veins. She sang before she could talk. She sings in her sleep. She is a singer. She didn’t volunteer for this solo. She was asked to do it.

Singer she may be but also sadly prone to coughs and colds and sore throats Despite all my administrations of cough bottles, soothing lozenges and honeyed hot drinks the chances of her singing were still fifty/fifty when I dropped her off at school.

The service began with Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Headmaster invited the parents to join in and I did try. I love to sing in the security of a crowd and thought that surely I could manage it under the cover of 300 children’s voices. Alas, at every attempt, a golf ball-sized lump welled up in my throat and my eyes filled with tears. What is that all about?

Every single year, from the very first note, the carol service reduces me to tears.

One of my favourite teachers, a quiet and reserved woman, sang Suantraí na Maighdine which I haven’t heard since my Irish College days. The golf ball stretched to sliotar-size.

We Three Kings Of Orient Are warmed us up at bit. Who could resist that slide into Oh-oh star of wonder, star of might, star of royal beauty bright, westward leading…are you singing?

A few more songs and prayers and we came to my girl, standing all alone at the altar, accompanied only by her teacher on a box drum, singing The Little Drummer Boy. She was just lovely, so solemn and earnest. The voice might have cracked once or twice but, if anything, it made it better. There was a round of warm applause and appreciative head-nodding. My fellow mothers grabbed a mop and wiped me up off the floor.

A few more songs passed while I managed to pull myself together to concentrate on O Holy Night. It’s such a big and brave song, we wouldn’t hear it performed too often at our school carol service so there was a shuffle of apprehension at the opening chords.

Oh my God. Such a joyous thing. One boy, maybe eight or nine years old and one teacher beside him, supporting each other and singing as though their hearts would burst. It’s not what you are prepared for at ten o’clock on a wet Wednesday morning. This boy has one of those voices, not affected or stagey, but simply innocent and pure, that makes you stop in your tracks and wonder at the absolute miracle of it. A perfect thing.

We heard the angels’ voices. I wish you could have been there.

We don’t regularly burst into applause in the church. You do know that only happens in movies, don’t you? This was the very first, instantaneous and almost involuntary standing ovation I have ever seen. The children didn’t quite know how to react, being under strict warning to stay glued to their seats, but the headmaster gauged the atmosphere in a instant and brought them to their feet. Mothers passed around tissues to wipe away tears and snot. I don’t know the boy’s mother. I hope she is doing OK.

Click on this. It will do you good:

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

 

WIN the Top Five Books on YOUR Christmas Wishlist.

Bookwitty Holiday Contest.

Win the top five books on your Christmas wishlist. Not my top five or anyone else’s top five. Just dream up the five books you would most like to land in your postbox this Christmas and they could be yours.

It sounds too good to be true but such is the happy news that I have been asked to spread courtesy of the holiday elves over at Bookwitty.com.

Bookwitty Holiday Contest.

Create and share your holiday reading list for a chance to win the books on it! To enter the contest, simply:
 
1-Sign up at Bookwitty.com
 
2-Create a reading list of five books that you want for the holidays by clicking on Add content/Reading list.
 
3- Link your new reading list to the topic page: Holiday reading list contest.
 
And you’re all set! The winner will be announced on December 23rd. Good luck!
This is a sponsored post. I will receive a bundle of my most longed for books in return for sharing with you the opportunity to do the same. With enormous difficulty, I have narrowed down my top five to:
1. Everything I Told You by Celeste Ng.
 I don’t know a thing about it but this comes highly recommended by a trusted fellow-reader of similar tastes to my own. (Greetings California!)
2. Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley.
This one comes with a recommendation from Chris Cleave who, you may have noticed, is my literary hero of 2016. (If you haven’t yet read Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, put it up there at the top of your list. My review is behind that link if you need to know why you must read it).
3. The List of my Desires by Gregoire Delacourt.
A book about a slightly lost and just-a-bit overweight woman in her forties who starts a blog and dreams of owning a Chanel handbag…sound familiar?
4. Contemporary Knits by Carol Feller.
Because, when I’m not reading, cooking or knocking back sloe gin over the holidays, I intend to be knitting. Mind you, I don’t see that gin should necessarily present any obstacle to knitting.
Because, ’tis the season for something lovely.
If none of those is quite your cup of tea I suggest you take a look at this inspiring list of  books too beautiful to buy for yourself (almost) or this mouth-watering selection of super-extravagant cookbooks. As booklists go, one of my favourite ever is this list of ideal gifts for people you secretly hate, which just goes to show that I’m really not a very nice person at all.
Go ahead, think of five books you really want. Then click over to Bookwitty.com and enter the contest.
Wishing you luck!

 

Relish, Reindeer and Melomakaronas.

Christmas Preparations.

Hah! Say that with your mouth full of cookies.

The sky is hanging about 12 feet above the ground. It’s not raining, exactly, but the finest mist is dangling there in the most exasperating fashion. It feels like a slight weight, a downwards pressure on the shoulders and the spirits.

I am feeling tired, perhaps under-caffeinated (more on that anon) and in dire need of cake.

If you fancy a delicious morsel pop over for a look at my melomakarona recipe and review of The Little Christmas Kitchen. I worked hard to make this a good recipe and it really is.

melomakaronasMelomakaronas are delicious Greek cookies, soaked in a spiced honey syrup and traditionally eaten at Christmas. We devoured (I say we because I don’t want to admit that I ate so very many) dozens of them as I was testing this recipe. The book, The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver was also a real treat. I didn’t expect it to have much bite but it caught me by surprise and really hit a nerve. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for holiday reading.

I went all out, hell for leather, on the Christmas preparations last week. The only problem is that there is almost no light at all so I have very little photographic evidence of my efforts. Here is one candle-lit photo which pretty much encapsulates my week:

Christmas Preparations.

Rudolf was the high-light. Isn’t he adorable? He is my very first crocheted toy and I am more than a little enamoured.If you are tempted, you can find the pattern here. He may get stuck with the name Rudolf Gilmore as I made him while watching The Gilmore Girls with my daughters. Anyone else watch it? It was terrible. Less said the better.

I realised in panic, as I opened my last jar of rhubarb chutney, that I was in imminent danger of having NO CHUTNEY FOR CHRISTMAS! Action stations were assumed, my most humongous pot was excavated from the dreaded corner cupboard and filled to the brim with the stuff of toasted cheese sandwich fantasies. We call it fakeymaloe relish, it’s not so far off the real McCoy and you can find my not-so-secret recipe here.

Chutney crisis averted, I moved on to emergency mitten replacement for the Small Girl. If these look like exactly the same mittens I made last year it’s because they are, but one size bigger. I used the same ball of cheap yarn that refuses to come to an end regardless of how many Barbie dresses and babydoll blankets I make from it. The Small Girl is content because they match every other pink thing in her life and I won’t be heartbroken when she inevitably loses one of them (never both). Just looking back at last year’s mittens I was reminded of this post which I must try to bear in mind as I strive to resist strangling my Teenage Son in the run up to his Christmas exams.

So, we were going well (errant teenagers aside) with the reindeer and the mittens and the twelve jars of chutney and then…disaster struck…my beloved Burleigh mug took a nose dive off the arm of my chair, bounced a couple of times and skidded out the door to the hall where it spun around dramatically before striking a tragic handle-less pose.

It has been carrying a chip on its rear end for months now but that didn’t bother me. This mug is a champion, a hero amongst mugs. It can hold thirty percent more than the average mug which is just exactly how much more coffee you feel you need when you reach the bottom of an average mug. This ergonomically-shaped mug also keeps coffee hot for a good forty minutes which is exactly how long you need to drink a thirty percent longer cup of coffee. Also, it’s very pretty. And my favourite colour. Sob.

I was quite prepared to live with a handle-less-chipped-but-otherwise-perfect mug but when Husband attempted to fill it he discovered a fatal injury. Scroll back up to the photo and see if you can spot it.

‘Yes, you can still use your mug,’ he assured me, ‘but only if you are willing to approach it sideways on and never have more than an inch of coffee at a time.’

The family have little pity. They are all greatly relieved that I, as opposed to anyone else, broke my own mug.

Since then, I have achieved nothing. Zilch. Nada.

I have sliced the top off my left index finger bringing a halt to all yarny activity.

I have thrice stepped in dog poo and some incontinent, foul fowl has taken a shine to the windscreen and bonnet of my car.

The laundry basket has complained to the laundry basket union about over-time and over-crowding.

I ordered pizza for Sunday dinner.

There is every chance that my Husband is writing to Santa as we speak requesting a proper, functional housewife as his old one appears to have broken down.

Here…the man said it:

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

And so it begins…

trifle bowl snow scene

I’ve been doing my level best to hold back on an all out, no elves barred, Christmas post but I can restrain my reindeer no longer. It is December 1st my friends; let the insanity begin!

I know that I’m not the only Corkonian(e) to lose the run of herself  in the brand new Sostrene Grene shop that opened three doors down from Waterstones and twenty yards or so from my favourite coffee-and-a-bun shop (Ali’s Kitchen). Let’s just say that you won’t require any fancy triangulation technology to discover my location over the next few Saturday mornings.

From the dizzying array of prettiness I chose just two  bottle-brush Christmas trees. I’ve been searching for these for five years so that I could recreate a cute idea I saw on Pinterest (famous last words, eh?). Nary a plastic tree could I find and then, like the proverbial buses, three come along at the same time. I found a teeny weeny tree in the Ballymaloe shop and then, lo and behold, Sostrene Grene have them in various sizes and degrees of snowiness.

All that I needed to do was hijack a dinky truck from Teenage Son’s vintage collection and wash the dust out of the trifle bowl…

trifle bowl snow scene

Look, that trifle bowl is making me 40 shades of happy so no laughing!

trifle bowl snow scene.

Of course, that scene will need to be dismantled on Christmas Eve to make room for some actual trifle.

In further Christmassy creative endeavor, I thought it would be a hoot to make my own Christmas crackers. I was wise enough to check the availability of cracker-snaps on the internet before committing to the project. By committing I mean telling the Small Girl. I failed to notice in the small print, however, that it is not permissible to send explosives, however miniscule, through the post from the UK to Ireland.

Worry not, once committed there was no backing out so the snaps were found locally (thanks to Cork Art Supplies) and the crackers were created. The gifts inside them would have been far cuter had Sostrene Grene opened a week earlier! You can read more about that here but prepare yourself in advance for some truly dire cracker jokes.

homemade diy christmas crackers.

We are off to the Panto tonight so the madness has well and truly started.
Oh No It Hasn’t.
OH YES IT HAS!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.