Running Ragged

I always seem to get stressed out on the run up to Christmas and this year is no exception, in fact Christmas seems to be catching up on me even quicker than usual. I have been so busy lately I have hardly made a start on the preparations.

What I intended to write about today has gone out of the window. I got very little sleep last night for some reason and I have spent most of today trying to do some Christmas shopping. Not without some success of course, I have managed to buy a fair few of the gifts that need to be posted but there are still some outstanding and I haven’t started on the ones for the family members that I will see over the Christmas period, nor all the little extras – stocking fillers, tree presents etc. – that go towards the fun of the day.

Apart from that I have not even thought about decorating the house and setting up the Christmas tree yet and I shall need to give the house a thorough clean first of course. I have not written any Christmas cards, I haven’t made even my first batch of mince pies this year and I have not yet made my Christmas cake. In a weak moment while shopping this morning I did contemplate buying the cake (I have done on a few occasions in the past) but I do prefer home-made and I have already bought the ingredients so it would be a bit of a waste if I just buy one. The recipe I am using requires some of the ingredients to soak overnight so my plan now is to do that preparation this evening and then I will have to make the cake tomorrow afternoon when I get home from my Spanish class.

Talking of which, this week it is my turn to provide the activities and refreshments for the group (we take it in turns) and the preparation for this occupied my weekend. I have an article for them to read and translate about Spanish Christmas customs and then we shall have a fun game about Christmas Carols and songs – at least I hope it will be fun. Each member of the group will draw a piece of paper from a Christmas stocking and must describe in Spanish the carol or song written on the paper without giving the title away and the others must try to guess what it is.

Other intrusions into my Christmas preparation time include a visit to the dentist this week and then, much more enjoyably two Christmas parties – one for the Spanish group and one for my poetry group. Then it is the final run up to the big day and at last a chance to relax as my son and his family are hosting at their house. Then they all come to us to do it all again on Boxing Day, but by then I should be ready.

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year

I’m back again, but other than to wish you all a very Happy New Year I haven’t really planned anything to write about so this is on the fly!

I do hope you have all had a wonderful festive season though I confess I have found it hard this year to get into the festive spirit and somehow it seems even more depressing when you know it is a time of jollity and celebration but you are just not in the mood. This has not been helped by my husband’s recent angina diagnosis and the return of the sciatica I suffered last winter which this time seems even more painful, and then on Christmas morning the sad news that my daughter and partner’s lovely border collie Rufus had to be put to sleep on Christmas Eve to relieve his suffering from cancer!  Despite that I did have a wonderful time and everything fell into place just as it usually does, with most of the family around me.

Now is the time, they tell us, for making New Year resolutions. I confess I’m not really into this – if I make any I usually forget what they were within a few days and as for keeping them…. that’s another issue altogether! Perhaps I ought to write them down so that I can refer to them from time to time, but this seems a little too organised for me. One resolution I will make though is to try to look out for all the good news during 2018 and not let myself get bogged down in all the bad news that the media seems to prefer to report in the most dramatically depressing way possible.

One thing I will try to take on board this year is to not plan to use an untried recipe for a special occasion. I had planned to make a raspberry swirl cheesecake when the family all came to us for Boxing Day, having spent Christmas Day at my eldest son’s. This was as an alternative to the Christmas Pudding I was doing for dinner, knowing that not everyone likes Christmas Pud. I had found a recipe that seemed very quick and easy to whip up. Fortunately before I made it my youngest son informed me that his girlfriend, who was joining us, didn’t want to come empty-handed so was bringing a cheesecake as an offering for the meal. I say fortunately advisedly!

I had bought in all the necessary ingredients so I thought, OK I’ll make it later in the week. I made it yesterday when only my husband, my youngest son and I would be present for dinner. Yes, it was relatively quick and easy to prepare but as I was making it, having checked the ingredients several times, it seemed to me that there was rather a lot of liquid and it wasn’t thickening up. I thought perhaps it would thicken once put into the fridge to chill so I poured it onto the biscuit base anyway, and indeed it did seem to set in the fridge – until I went to get it out for the meal. Then I discovered that all the raspberry juice had leaked out of the bottom of the loose-bottomed flan dish and was all over the shelf in the fridge! Needless to say I couldn’t risk taking it off the flan base as it had an exceedingly soggy biscuit bottom. One the plus side, it did actually taste delicious but if I make that recipe again I shall cut back on the liquid. I’m glad I didn’t make it for Christmas after-all, though I guess we would probably have had a good laugh about it. Now I have the problem that there is rather a lot of it for just three people and it is going to take several days for us to eat it up – we’ll probably be sick  of cheesecake by then. Ah well, worse things happen at sea, as my mother used to say.

As a footnote I must say that my gluten-free Christmas Cake was a success and that recipe is definitely one to use again (see previous post here). I hope all your culinary experiments were successful and that all your dreams come true in 2018.

Christmas Cake

One of the problems with going on an Autumn holiday and not getting home until Christmas is only a shout away is that everything becomes a rush to catch up. However, I have today at last made my Christmas Cake and have just extricated it from the oven.

We don’t eat a lot of cake these days so I don’t do much baking, but Christmas is that bit special and I usually make a point of making my own. Last year I didn’t get home from our Autumn vacation until early December, giving me even less time, so I admit I cheated and bought one. It was nice, but this year I was determined to do it myself once more. (Sorry, no picture as it is still cooling down in the tin and won’t be decorated until nearer the time.)

In the past I have made a recipe inherited from my mother but this has caused a few problems in recent years. It requires the cake to be put in a cold electric oven which is then turned on and the cake baked for however many hours, then you turn it off and leave it in until the oven is cold. I usually arranged to turn it off just before I went to bed and it could then stay there cooling down until morning. The first problem with this is that the recipe was devised pre-fan ovens and although my oven is electric it is a fan oven. This simply fact actually alters the required cooking time and I never managed to perfect the adjustment so sometimes the cake came out just a little too well done around the edges – still nice in the middle though. The other problem is that most of my family are not actually over-fond of rich fruit cake (I love it!) and now the offspring have all-but left the roost this particular recipe makes a cake that is far too big for my current needs, and again, with the cooking problems it presents too much of a problem to half the quantity and re-adjust the cooking time – it’s not as if it is something I do on a regular basis so that I can practice variations, it needs to be right first time.

For the last several years I have been thinking of trying a different recipe to make a smaller cake and have from time to time researched in various recipe books. Just before we went away and conscious of the fact that I am trying to edge towards a wheat/gluten-free diet (see previous post here) I found a couple of recipes in two gluten-free cook books I have acquired and decided to try one of those. Gluten-free? The only discernible difference from your average rich fruit cake recipe is that it uses rice flour rather than wheat flour.

I have made the one that I thought sounded easiest, though there was not much to choose between them. If I am sufficiently well organised I might make some notes on what I think of it and maybe try the other one next year so that I can decide between the two which one to favour in the future. I can’t wait to try it.

 

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