Contemplating Christmas Cuisine

Christmas is a time for joy. Christmas is a time for family. Christmas is a time for giving. Christmas is a time for stuffing yourself so full of marvellous food that it is a struggle to lift the TV remote or that ‘last glass’ of your favourite tipple.

Everyone has their own slight twists on what you do at Christmas, that little thing they do differently, and I find this absolutely fascinating. I’m nosy like that, OK? It seems only fair though, that since I like nosing into other people’s Christmas deviances that I should share a little of what happens at my house. So this doesn’t run to about a gazillion words I’ll just stick with my decorating responsibilities and – most importantly – the food.

The run up to Christmas was very strange this year. For the last four years I’ve been in St Andrews and home for a fortnight (max) during the Christmas holidays. This meant I missed decorating the tree and missed most of the planning and preparations that take place before the 20th (or so). This year, however, I am back living at home (that cool, what can I say?) so I was back in at the organisational deep end.

One thing I have missed the last few years is decorating our family tree. I can’t remember how it became my mum and I’s sole job on the Christmas decoration front, but when the five of us reserve the night we’re doing the decorations Contemplating Christmas: Foodon it’s the only thing on the list that has my name beside it. And this year it only took two hours – a new record… I’ll leave it to you to decide whether it’s time well spend or not, but please bear in mind that this includes untangling the lights and the time it takes to unwrap the baubles (90% of which are individually wrapped). I feel it only fair to give special mention here to Mr Skiing Penguin who sits by our TV. Laugh as you may, but this is one of the decorations I love the most. Partially because a hat and scarf wearing, skiing penguin is such an utterly ridiculous concept; but mainly because he (obviously he’s male…) was bought for my older brother and I by my Granny when I was about 3 and he’s survived for almost 20 years, despite the best efforts of several small children and a few dogs.

Contemplating Christmas: FoodIf I’m honest, one of my favourite parts of Christmas is all the food. In fact, pretty much all of Christmas Day revolves around food. More specifically, Christmas Dinner. Many people say this is the most stressful meal of the year, but not here. By a bizarre trick of the years our family is distinctly smaller than it used to be, but there are now more of us capable of cooking the dinner. This, coupled with our excessive organisation, makes the whole process much, much simpler. This year it started on Thursday when I made the cranberry sauce. It was touch and go for a while when I thought Contemplating Christmas: FoodI was going to run out of port (the recipe suggests 50ml, but quite frankly recipes are written to be improved upon) but it turned out pretty well in the end.

Fast forward to Christmas eve and our house is full of the smell of Christmas cooking. I started, a little bleary-eyed, by making the chestnut, bacon and cranberry stuffing (from BBC Good Food) which, of course, involved a little more port. By the time I got back from getting my hair cut the bird was almost ready for the oven (it continued the booze theme as it had a little mead added over it to help ensure it didn’t dry out) and from then on walking into the house was like walking into a wall of cooking smells. The only thing left to make was the trifle. I know. I know. But after years of being far too full to have more than Contemplating Christmas: Fooda spoonful of Christmas pudding (read: being too full but having a large bowlful anyway and promptly entering a food coma) we took the decision a couple of years back to switch desserts with boxing day and have our delicious homemade (nothing to do with me, sadly) Christmas pudding on boxing day and a trifle after the turkey. We love trifle, and the family recipe comes from my maternal great Grandmother, so it’s had a while to be perfected. I won’t spill the beans on it (sorry, but it’s not written down anywhere and mainly just done by sight, so a bit hard to share), but I’ll just say that it is as liberal with the sherry as everything above is with their various beverages (or quite possibly more so). The eagle eyed of you will spot that the photo has no custard or cream on it, that is because they are added at the very last minutes and I was more keen on eating it than taking photos of it…

There’s only one other essential Christmas food item that we haven’t covered yet and that is the Christmas Cake. After we ended up with two last year (such a hardship, let me tell you) my mum and I decided to collaborate and experiment using the recipe she used in school. With a little tweak here and another there and a while spent working out how do turn a Celsius oven down by an exact number of degrees Fahrenheit we created a monster sized cake with enough fruit and brandy in it to sink a battleship. We faithfully ‘fed’ it in the weeks before it was iced and six days before Christmas, using an old Good Housekeeping cookbook for inspiration, I spent an hour and a half cutting and sticking triangles of icing onto it. We didn’t actually get around to cutting it on Christmas day, but when some family came round on Boxing day evening it was brought out and sliced up. Thankfully it received the seal of approval from everyone who had a slice and apparently is ‘our best yet’. Thank goodness for that.Contemplating Christmas: Food

Everyone has a different take on exactly what Christmas is, but one thing most people agree on is that by the time it comes to the evening of Christmas day it is time to sit back, watch a film (Ratatouille, in our case) and generally fester in front of the TV with a glass of your desired tipple in hand. The papers yesterday said that the ‘ratings war’ was firmly won by BBC 1 this year and whilst I agree that Ratatouille and the Gruffalo’s Child were excellent we jumped ship for the main part and spent a great couple of hours utterly glued to the ever wonderful Downton Abbey, with a glass of G&T in hand. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why you’d watch anything else, but then again what do I know? By the time we all deicded to call it a night we were still full and thoroughly exhausted. In fact, it had already proved to be too much for some of us.Contemplating Christmas: Food

However you spent your Christmas I hope you have a wonderful day and I wish you well for the new year.


Meeting the Locals in St James’ Park

In part two of my little trip to London (part one – The London Eye and Whitehall – can be found over here) I wandered through Horseguards Parade (soon to be the location of the beach volleyball for London 2012) and down the middle of St James’ Park towards Buckingham Palace.

From a marshy meadow, St James’ Park was transformed to what we know today by Charles II. Although previous monarchs had redesigned London’s oldest park, it was Charles II who laid the lawns and had the water brought under control, making it into a long canal. And most importantly, he opened the park to the public. Today it is a sprawling mass reaching from Horseguards Parade to the Buckingham Palace, used for pomp, ceremony and by the public; it is home to many species of duck and wading bird as well as the squirrels and its famous pelicans (a gift from the Russian Ambassador in 1664). 

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London St James' Park


A Little Trip to London

So, as briefly alluded to the other day in the ‘What’s coming up‘ post I was in London at the weekend. Well, I was meant to be in London for the weekend, but circumstances conspired against it. This meant that after some mulled wine and the St Andrews Alumni Carol service on Friday night at Southwalk Cathedral we quickly hot-footed it up to a friend’s house in Cambridge before coming back to London and then on to Surrey on Saturday evening and then finally going back to London Monday morning. It was a lot of trains, but good to see everyone and actually a lot of fun. It did work out, however, that I had a few hours to kill in London on Monday before my train back to Edinburgh and being a nice day I decided to wander. I had originally intended on going to the Natural History Museum, but given how nice a day it was it seemed a shame not to get some fresh (ish) air.

So, in the first of two posts here are some of my favourite photos that I took, from the London Eye to Whitehall in the City of Westminster.

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If you’d like to see all the photos please see them on Flickr over here


What Best Describes You: Punk, 5 am Saint, or Trashy Blonde?

And who doesn’t like a Trashy Blonde? I hear you ask. And my answer has to be ‘well, exactly!’

I haven’t lost it, don’t worry. Some people will know what I’m talking about and some could have a vague guess. Others will wonder why they are wasting their time reading rambling nonsense. This, of course, is not nonsense; it’s Brewdog.

Brewdog EdinburghThe self-proclaimed Craft Beer Revolution was started by two friends back in 2007 who were bored of the run of the mill rubbish that the general world was providing and so they set up a small brewery outside Fraserburgh (near Aberdeen). They haven’t looked back since.

Like many I am a big fan of their to-hell-with-it, off the wall marketing (as I commented on in What would your mother say? and my trip to Illegal Jacks), its irreverent and imaginative attitude makes it stand out from what is, arguably, a very dull field. I mean, who wouldn’t want to drink a Tactical Nuclear Penguin, a Punk IPA or a Trashy Blonde? With its irresistible style, coupled with great tasting beer it is not even remotely surprising that they have been a massive hit. Now about 20 beers down they have a stack of awards and an army of fans. And now they have bars.

Back in March they opened their second bar in Edinburgh’s Cowgate, and I’ve been dying to try it ever since. But in my inimitable style it’s never quite happened. That was until last Thursday when my friend Carley (the anonymous friend from Squirrel Hunting… whose permission I’ve remembered to get this time) and I went to check it out. We’d both heard a lot about it through the Brewdog blog as well as their various Twitter feeds (@brewdog and @BrewDogEdin), so we knew they’d gone for a ‘functional utilitarian’ design and served a variety of their bottled beers as well as a continually changing selection of them on tap, but that was about it.

I think the bar is actually quite well summed up by the writing on the wall as you go in:Brewdog EdinburghDoes this not just sound good?

Pretty soon it was obvious that my plan to be home soon after eating was not going to happen. Having started with a ’77 lager and a pint of 5 am Saint (i.e. one with ’77 and the other with 5am – we’re not drunkards [most of the time]) we decided to be sensible (for once) and since neither of us had eaten since lunch time we ordered a couple of burgers. Carley went for the Classic whilst I threw caution to the wind, opting for the Rocket to the Shroom which came with (as one might suspect) rocket and mushrooms, but with some crisps and spicy humous on the side.Brewdog Edinburgh

Brewdog EdinburghThe chat paused a little here, replaced by lots of “mmm”s followed by more notes of approval. Once not a scrap was left on our boards and not a drip in our glasses we should have probably headed on our way, but we were really getting into it now and decided to have another. So out came a pint of Dogma, a pint of Punk IPA, half (it’s what it comes in, owing to the abv) a Hardcore IPA and a Zeitgeist – not all at once, you understand, but bit by bit over the remainder of the evening.

We had a fantastic evening, drinking a variety of beers – all of which we said we wanted more of – and having increasingly entertaining conversation. In short we loved it. Once this place was a beer-soaked karaoke bar, now it is heaving with an endless stream of admirers. Whether it is the reclaimed metal bar top, the wood panneling that looks like it was once a school gym hall floor, or the excited atmosphere that engulfs the place, the bar certainly has that je ne sais quoi and more than lives up to all the hype . What I also love about it is that they are not at all snobbish about being an independent brewery, they don’t care whether you are an expert or there to have a drink and a laugh; all that they seem to care about it that you enjoy the beer and your time there. And that we certainly did.Brewdog Edinburgh


A Sneak Peak at What’s Coming Up


Want a sneak peak at what’s coming up over the next few weeks? Thought you did. Just to tantalise you a little below are some photos and words to say what’s coming up. Not too much, but just enough to (hopefully) wet your appetite. Be warned though, this post is not going to be up for long…

There’s going to be something similar to the contents of this post plus this little lot:

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Oh, and tomorrow we shall be having beer.