Thursday, 19 November 2009

Cooking for Christmas

I've been in Cornwall for the last ten days, walking and playing with the large number of pets my family possess. Sometimes, this involved danger:

This photo was taken as Tolly was exploding out of his box towards me. I have plenty of scratches, but he had a whale of a time. He LOVES boxes. You only need to point one out to him and he's straight inside, and he'll stay there for AGES. If you torment and tease him, usually all that happens is that he pokes a paw out. He'll rarely be driven to move.

I also reaffirmed my status with my dogs - taking Rocky to beaches makes him one happy spaniel*:

And Cornwall can be breathtaking. Liz was staying with me for the first few days, so I had an excuse to walk the whole way around the Roseland peninsula...

...AND Sennen Cove, right down by Land's End. I think this is the Longships Lighthouse, flung out beyond the end of the stop America, kind of thing:

After Liz went, I had been planning some Get My Life In Order time. That didn't really happen. Cornwall always does this. It's so far removed from all the things I have to think about and plan and organise and sort that planning to get Life Admin stuff when I'm there is a bit hopeless. I was going to write Lists and personal diary entries and book plane tickets and things. In fact, I didn't. I walked the dogs some more and read some trashy novels. I got a break. Sadly, this didn't make anything magically get done before I got back to something approaching the real world here in St Albans.

My mum asked me to do some of the Christmas cooking. I think she thought she was asking me a favour. I love doing this kind of thing, and I had the most marvellous excuse for it. She has some ancient Christmas recipe books, and getting them out is a talisman all by itself. This one has notes in it dated 1984, the year I was born. She was making things from it with a month-old baby in a cradle somewhere. I love the eternity of Christmas. It's reassuring in its regularity and reliability. The traditions are a comforting thing to have nestled in the winter, and it's an excuse for fantastic music which never hurts.  I never do this cooking, my mum does.  Sometimes I've made mincemeat when I know I won't be home for long, but never the things that are so much for the day itself.

Mincemeat is actually a very simple thing. Delia has a peculiar recipe that involves cooking it, which from all reports I've heard doesn't work at all. This one, above, works perfectly. I've actually got a jar of the batch I made last year still left - it'll almost certainly be none the worse for an extra twelve months' maturation, and I'll make a batch of mince pies sometime after Advent actually starts. For the record, mid-November is NOT the time for mince pies.  It's such an ancient thing, dating from the fifteenth century.  It's doesn't involve meat in the same way that it did then, unless you don't use vegetarian suet and the recipe has changed in other ways too, but it's still identifiable.  It's good to feel rooted to something.

I made a Delia Christmas Cake, skipping out glacé pineapple because I don't like it.  That's one of the reasons I love this cooking...  I made Christmas puddings, and hovered around them for the six hours they steamed for.  My hands were sticky with chopping cherries and candied peel.  The kitchen smelled of Calvados.  I even remembered to make a wish while I stirred the pudding mixture.

And so the wheel turns and we carry on...

Even if I wish it would do that more slowly, sometimes. 

*Even if he IS out of focus. We were in a cave - it was raining. It didn't hinder the small dog's enjoyment of sand.

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