Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

As with the previous post I don't think I can improve on my Christmas post from last year so here it is again:)

The Night Before Christmas was always my children's bedtime story on Christmas Eve.
So for all of us who still feel the magic of this night......

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes -- how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."

May I wish all of you a very Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice


So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year's sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us - Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!"

- Susan Cooper, The Shortest Day

I know that I used this poem as part of my Winter Solstice post last year but it is so perfect for the occasion that I make no apology for using it again this year.

Today is the Winter Solstice, for a short time the sun pauses and then gradually, gradually the days begin to lengthen again. There are many long cold days ahead for 'as the days lengthen the cold strengthens' but one day we shall feel the warmth of the sun on our faces again and it will be Spring once more. From today the Oak King begins his reign and we start the long slow journey back to the Earth's reawakening. Happy Winter Solstice!

NB The beautiful image of the Holly King is by Angela Jayne Barnett. The photograph of the sun is taken from the web but I don't know who to give the credit too unfortunately.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Recipes for Gracie and Mrs Nesbitt

Gracie asked for the recipe for cheese and onion tarts, it comes from a little book called Teatime Favourites which I bought from Sainsburys in the early 1980s.

250gm (8oz) shortcrust pastry
150gm (5oz) onion, chopped small
6 tablespoons milk
salt & pepper
275gm (9oz) Lancashire cheese, grated
1 small egg, beaten

I often use mature Cheddar cheese rather than Lancashire - though Lancashire is best if you can get it, it's a wonderful cooking cheese.

Roll out the pastry and use it to line about 20 tartlet tins.
Put the onion in a saucepan, add the milk and season to taste. Bring it to the boil then simmer for 1 minute. Take off the heat and stir in the egg and cheese - I always put the cheese in first so that the hot mixture doesn't start cooking the egg. Leave the mixture until it is cold then spoon into the pastry cases.
Bake in a pre-heated oven 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6 for about 15 minutes until they are golden brown. They are equally good served warm or cold and freeze well.

For Mrs Nesbitt we have Delia Smith's Truffle Torte.

5 tablespoons liquid glucose
5 tablespoons rum
1lb (45-gm) plain dessert chocolate. This needs to be good quality not just cooking chocolate.
1 pint (570ml) double cream
3oz (75gm) Amaretti biscuits crushed finely

I use a 9in loose bottomed cake tin to make this. Brush bottom and sides lightly with oil (Delia says groundnut oil, I'm afraid I use ordinary vegetable oil) and line the base with a circle of silicone paper. Sprinkle the crushed Amaretti biscuits evenly over the base of the tin.
Break the chocolate into sections and put them in a heatproof bowl along with the rum and liquid glucose. Fit the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and leave the chocolate to melt stirring occasionally to help things along. When all the chocolate is melted give it a final stir, take it off the heat and leave it to cool for 5 minutes or so until it is just warm.
Now in another bowl whip the cream until it is slightly thickened. It's hard to describe the right consistency, it's something you learn from experience. A rule of thumb is to run a fork through it, if there is resistence and you can feel that it has thickened then it's about right. What you do NOT want is whipped cream! On the other hand you don't want it too thin either. Anyway, when you think it's about right fold half of it into the chocolate mixture and then fold this mixture into the rest of the cream until it is smoothly blended - no streaks of cream should be left in it. Spoon or pour it into the prepared tin and tap the tin gently to even the mixture out. Actually I use a broad bladed knife to make sure it's reasonably even. It doesn't matter if it leaves a few marks or swirls as the top will be the bottom when you serve it:) At this point I freeze it still in the tin. Delia's instructions are to cover it with clingfilm and chill overnight in the fridge. You do need to make it the day before you want to use it if you aren't freezing it.
Just before serving run a palette knife round the edge to loosen the torte, put a serving plate on top of the tin (having defrosted it if it's frozen of course)and turn it upside down so that it comes out with the Amareti biscuits on top. Gently remove the silicone paper then serve it with chilled single cream - and serve small portions, it's very,very rich! Those with large appetites and a sweet tooth can always have seconds:) My elder DIL's two brothers absolutely love this and appear to be able to consume unbelievable amounts of it!

Any US readers who want to try either recipe please remember that I am using Imperial measures and US tablespoons are not the same as British ones nor are US pints the same as British pints. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Here We Go Again!

Took this photo of the garden this afternoon covered in a fresh fall of snow. Happily I refilled all the birdfeeders this morning, they'll need it - the temperature now at 10.30pm is 21F and apparently it's going to drop even further during the night. DH says the roads are like a skating rink.

I was hoping for a light dusting of snow on the sledge piled with holly but this isn't quite what I had in mind. The poor red ribbon looks very disconsolate. Shall have to try a spot of first aid in the morning!

This is what I spent most of this afternoon making and I'm quite pleased with it. I've done a simpler one for the back door too but it was too dark to take a photograph by the time I finished it.

Today's other achievement was a chocolate truffle torte which is now in the freezer. This is not for those who are counting calories! It consists of chocolate, cream, rum and liquid glucose, you turn it out of the tin so that the base of crushed amaretti biscuits becomes the top. Heaven on a plate:)

I did summon sufficient energy to make the cheese and onion tarts mentioned in the previous post and here they are. I tested one and they're good!

My favourite little mouse is waiting in his stocking.......

......and the Christmas Goose is in his place. We're nearly there!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Frozen North

You will need to click on the photos to enlarge them to see them properly. The river looked amazing this morning. The outdoor thermometer was registering 11.4F when B Baggins and I went out so I thought it might be worth taking the camera. In the 33 years I've lived here I've never seen Old Hay Brook frozen over to this extent. There have been icy borders at the edges once or twice in the past but nothing like this. It was even more frozen when we went this afternoon but I didn't take the camera thinking there would be less ice not more!

Each of the little weirs looked like a scene from The Snow Queen, there were tiny areas where the water was still flowing over but most of it must have been getting through underneath the ice.

This is a close up of the previous photo, you can see the blocks of ice and the small frozen waterfall with frozen foam at the base. I know this is a common sight in Canada and other countries in the northern latitudes but it isn't very common here I can assure you!

While the weather has been so cold I've been busy indoors. I made the Christmas cake two weeks ago and here I've unwrapped itso I can give it two more tablespoons of sherry. It's now back on top of the cupboard and will sit there until around the 16th December when I shall make the marzipan and put it on. Then that has to dry out for a few days before the final layer of fondant icing goes on. It's beautifully moist and smells wonderful!

I've started knitting again, this is the first thing I've made since I broke my wrist. It will be going in the post for George tomorrow. I'm now knitting a second rabbit also for George.

Some of you may remember seeing this one that I made for him earlier this year. He apparently loves it so much that Cesca can't get it off him to wash it so she's asked me to make another one in the hope that he'll accept the substitute on a temporary basis. Personally I wouldn't count on it:)

It will be a quiet Christmas for us this year so I'm not doing quite as much baking and cooking as usual. However this morning I did a batch of tiny cheese scones.....

......and a fruit scone round which have joined the Yule Log and the Lemon Cream pies that are already in the freezer. Now I'm going to go and make a big pan of leek and potato soup and maybe a batch of cheese and onion tarts - the soup is for my meal this evening but the tarts are destined for the freezer - if I get round to making them anyway:)

Friday, December 03, 2010

All's Well That Ends Well

Here is my personal entry for the Idiot of the Year contest! (Not B Baggins, that's just his 'this woman is absolutely nothing to do with me' look !)
It's Friday evening, cleaning week has been brought to a succcessful conclusion and the house is like a new pin. 8.30pm and it's time for B Baggins and I to go for our short evening constitutional before I relax in a contented and virtous glow of achievement. I gear up, this takes a good five minutes then off we go, half an hour later we are back and we go into the garage to disrobe - yak traks, boots, waterproof trousers, hat,coat, gloves and, in B Baggins' case, his lead. Then disaster strikes! I can't find my keys! Extensive searching reveals nothing so on goes all the gear again and leaving B Baggins shut in the garage I retrace my steps. Nothing {:(
As I get back neighbour out with his own dogs enquires if I'm OK so I tell my sad tale. He puts his dogs in the house and says he'll walk round again with me. Still nothing{:(
Not to worry says neighbour, he can break in for me and then make all secure for the night. By this time it's 10.30pm so we go into the garage to reassure B Baggins that he hasn't been abandoned before starting on the breaking and entering bit. 'What are these?' enquires neighbour picking up a bunch of keys from the table. He got a very big hug and while I get the award for Idiot of the Year Paul gets my award for World's Most Brilliant Neighbour.