Sunday, 27 December 2015

A thousand to one

Merry Christmas!  A lady from my Dad's church asked me if I had written a poem about the Christmas star.  I said I hadn't, but I would be happy to try.  Since it has now been shared with its intended recipients, I thought you all might like to read it too.

A thousand stars were shining in the black and brilliant sky
When the Eastern kings were searching for a meaning from on high.
A thousand stars were shining, but the wise men followed
One.

A thousand lamps were beckoning in the dwellings on their way
As the magi journeyed onwards through the long and weary day.
A thousand lamps were beckoning, but the wise men searched for
One.

A thousand sparkles shimmered in the stable bare and cold,
From the flasks of richest perfume and the gleam of purest gold.
A thousand sparkles shimmered as the wise men honoured
One.

A thousand lights of Christmas now shine out in radiant joy,
All in cheerful celebration of the birth of Mary’s boy.
A thousand lights of Christmas, but they all reflect the
One.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Christmas cakes


I finally got around to icing the Christmas cakes, but I think the mince pies will have to be a new year's event instead.  Well, and why not?  Following the tradition of recent years, I baked a large square cake from Nigella's recipe in How to Be a Domestic Goddess, cut it in half and iced each part separately.  This has the dual advantages of providing more icing and making the cake keep better.  Not that it ever seems to keep that long.

Long thin cakes lend themselves to long thin decorations, do they not?


Or else to digging out that old standby, the Christmas cookie cutters.  Every year I think I might do something really fancy, and then I run out of time and think, well, the important thing is that it tastes good!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

A difficult time of year


No, it's not been an easy Christmas.  I wanted to feel it, you know, all the joy and goodwill, but it's been hard work from start to end.  It always seems harder, doesn't it, when everyone else is out enjoying themselves and you're stuck in a dreary grind of endless details.  Like you're in a little gray world of your own.

You wouldn't believe how much paperwork there's been.  I'd put that application in from my parents' address months ago.  Never thought it would come to anything, but all of a sudden I got a call to say there's a council flat available down there.  I couldn't say no, could I?  Not in the circumstances.  Even though it only meant moving to the other end of the sodding country.  So we packed up quick as we could and stuffed the Astra as tight as a Christmas turkey, and then - then what happens?  "Oh I'm sorry sir, there's been an administrative mistake.  You can't move in until the end of January."  Fat lot of good that is, when the lease runs out on our old place in mid-December.

You'd think someone could have put us up, wouldn't you?  No, everyone was away or had family coming to stay.  Merry festive season and all that.  I'd found some cheap hotel, but when we got there they knew nothing about our reservation, and were very rude about it.  We ended up in the roughest B&B you can imagine.  I thought we'd have been better sleeping in the car, but it was a good thing we didn't, as it happened.

Why?  Well, you know all those horror stories of the husband having to deliver a baby on the way to the hospital?  We didn't even get that far.  Oh yes.  Right on the stinking carpet.  I was absolutely bloody terrified, I can tell you.  He came out all right, though. Mother and baby both doing well, as they say...

No, but there's more.  We'd just about got the mess mopped up, when someone started hammering the door half off its hinges.  Turned out to be the down-and-outs from the rooms upstairs.  I thought they'd come to complain, but you know, as soon as they saw the baby they were transfixed.  You should have seen it - these rough guys all huddled round cooing over a tiny bundle.  So I went off to make everyone a cuppa, but when I got back I couldn't even get into the room.  Three more lads had turned up, kind of Arabian looking, but what they were doing there God only knows.  They didn't seem to have much English.  To be honest I was so exhausted by that point I didn't much care.  I just wanted it all to be over so I could get some sleep.  They left us some pricey-looking presents, though.  Is that some kind of foreign thing?  Giving expensive gifts to complete strangers?

Yeah well, it's over now.  We moved into the flat yesterday.  Mary's been amazing through the whole thing, and Baby J's cute as can be, but I tell you something.  I hope I never have another Christmas like that one.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Christmas scribbles

My writing muse has been working elsewhere this week, but I felt like it was about time for a new blog post.  So, a few quick Christmassy scribbles to keep you entertained.


1. I have not had a mince pie yet.  There is a mincemeat samosa recipe that I'd like to try, but we have been drowning in cake recently because we hosted a Christmas social and everyone brought ridiculously calorific and amazingly huge cakes from Costco and refused to take them home.  This is some kind of conspiracy.

2. We have, however, had Christmas cupcakes, decorated by Toby.  He had a great time doing them.  Meanwhile his little brother demolished an entire cupcake and tipped washing powder all over the floor.


3. On a related note, putting up the tree feels like the sort of thing that should be a family activity, but trying to deal with two excited boys tying the lights in knots and throwing baubles at my head tends to make me stressed very quickly.  Once we had the tree sorted, I waited until they were in bed and spent a lovely peaceful evening arranging the rest of the decorations.



4. Graham's mum knitted us a lovely nativity set which has been carefully arranged on our fireplace.  Theo, however, is convinced that baby Jesus' manger should be standing on end and tucked away behind Mary.  We keep trying to tell him that Jesus is actually the main character.


5. Toby had his first school nativity play this week.  He was one of the wise men, resplendent in a purple cape and - bizarrely - sunglasses.  One of the lines of the song was, "We're the guys with the camels, we're the guys with the shades" and if you have any idea why, you are very welcome to enlighten me.


6. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go and ice a Christmas cake.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Monthly Munch: November 2015

It's been one of those months where we've felt a bit battered.  As well as the violence in Paris, we've had news of several friends suffering from severe injury or illness, which has torn at our hearts.  Moreover, the weather has blown us around, soaked us, hit us with hail, and even tried to snow on us slightly.  Despite all that, some chinks of sunlight have found their way through, both metaphorically and literally.  When you live with two small boys, there are always going to be some giggles.


Toby

 - was very excited about going to see fireworks for Bonfire Night.  He was the one jumping up and down and cheering.
Fun with sparklers...
...and light sabres.

- is doing really well with learning cursive handwriting.


- announced that he "loves green beans" when I went to have a school lunch with him.  Something I had not previously suspected.

Quotes:
When my Dad was getting all intellectual in his sermon and talking about the relationship between the knower and the thing known, Toby whispered to me, "There's a Noah in my class!"

He asked what was for dinner.  I told him, and he responded, "Yuck. (pause)  I don't know what that is, so I'll just say Yuck anyway."  You see why I was surprised about the green beans.

Theo

- wants to help with vacuuming but is just a little scared of the noise.

"I've got this, Mum."
- has mastered going up and down the stairs in a standing position, without holding anyone's hand.

- will make quite a good attempt at echoing our words, but still thinks that "da doo da cah bah!" counts as conversation.

"I do laundry, too!"
- went from merely waking up several times during the night to not wanting to go to bed, not wanting to have a nap, and basically not wanting anything to do with sleep whatsoever.  Fortunately he seems to have settled down again now.

Thankful for:

- a nice "date" with Graham (and Theo in tow) at Park Bike Works in Derby.  We were there before the lunch rush, so it was a lovely relaxed atmosphere, and we were very impressed by the food.

Entirely unrelated photo of chickens

- getting to go to my first blog conference.

- no need for fillings, despite the visit to the dentist being my first in... um... far too long...

Recipe of the Month: Carrot Cornbread



This is the time of year for soups, chillis and stews, and this goes very well with any of those.  My boys love cornbread because of its slight sweetness - even without any added sugar - so this recipe gives you the secret satisfaction that comes from sneaking vegetables into something they will eat without any fuss.  Albeit a lot of crumbs.  Of course you can grate the carrots and mix everything up in a bowl, but a food processor is quicker and completely blends the carrots with everything else.

300g carrots
300g fine cornmeal
3 tsp (1 tbsp) baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
250ml milk
2 tbsp sunflower oil

Preheat the oven to 180°C.  Grease and line a 20-24cm (8-9") square baking tin.
Peel the carrots and chop into large chunks.  Put in the food processor and whizz until finely chopped.  Add the remaining ingredients and process again until mixed, scraping the sides down if you need to.
Pour into the tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until risen and firm.  Cool slightly before cutting into squares.