Thursday 27 December 2007

Christmas Do-Over anyone?

Yep folks the tree has been abandoned. I was watering it and everything until our visitors arrived and then routines were out of kilter and husbands were home and I forgot. Yesterday with a heavy heart I removed all my little trinkets, of which I had added a few during the festive season, and dragged the messy spruce out the back door. And there it lies on the driveway in the rain, naked and abandoned. It is too depressing, so next year I may have to go with the fake fur because I have never enjoyed a Christmas tree for such a short time before. All the decorations are nestled in their tissues back in the tins and the box is already in the attic, ow!

On the plus side I feel enormously organised when I look into the clean and tidy living room. It has been such a strange Christmas for me. I read englishmuminireland(link under favourite places) and she got me in the spirit for a while. Bought the tree and all, but then with all the visitors I stopped reading her blog and forgot it was Christmas! Seriously I was all out of sync, the kids were not finished a school year, (in S.A the school year runs from January to December) it is WINTER and I am used to summer and we did not go to Knysna. I guess being in a new country did not help and even though the folks came over it really was all out of whack for me. We also do not know too many people yet so we were not organising Christmas Eve parties with our friends and getting ready for a big New Year bash. Somehow I did manage to get all the pressies bought and wrapped, so I was not completely oblivious.
I love the festive season so it really is rather depressing that it is gone and I nearly missed it. I snapped to attention while trying to fall asleep on 23 December and of course lay there planning how I could possibly make things more festive with one day to spare, hence the egg nog, fire in the fire place, candles all over the house and mulled wine, at the last minute. Turned out pretty great in the end, Geraldine dragged me off to the neighbourhood ladies Christmas drinks on Christmas Eve for an hour and on Christmas Day after a wonderful Christmas dinner with the family Martin and Geraldine appeared at the doorstep around 21H00 and invited us over for drinks. We made the most of their wonderful company and got back home at 02H15. I cannot believe that all that is now left is New year and then we are in 2008...let me say that again TWO THOUSAND AND EIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!! Have a good one!!!

Not stuffed and trussed but wined and brined

Yes I took a different stance on the old turkey this year, thanks to Nigella, I decided to brine the big bird! I had read the recipe earlier in the year and was rather intrigued but as the day drew closer I was not sure that this was the way to go. I had another look at the recipe on the morning of the 24th but decided that perhaps the safest option would be the traditional version as the ingredient list was extensive and my herb and spice collection sadly depleted after our move here.

Now in true ME style I only decided to go with this method a about 13h00 on 24 December after I had already been to a heaving SuperValu for supplies, without a list of the required ingredients (the brining idea only took hold as I stood in front of the spice selection at said supermarket) A LOT goes into the brine, salt (duh),oranges, mustard seeds, ginger, star anise, allspice berries (?), cinnamon sticks, pepper corns, caraway seeds and more. So of course I did not have at least 50% of the ingredients, including a bucket, I did say it was a BIG bird. I had managed to get some of the spices I needed but when Malcolm went to the shop I gave him the rest of the list, LONG list, he was slightly unamused...especially as did I mention...I had already been to the when I cut the orange that was called for in the recipe and discovered that it was a grapefruit I pointed out long sufferings mistake and hastily added that, as it was still a citrus fruit I would make do and added it to my brew. I also could not find star anise and nor could Malcolm and he really did try! So I adapted the recipe slightly again and used juniper berries instead of allspice berries (what are they???) just to make things even more interesting.

I happily mixed up my brew merrily adding a box of Maldon salt and 125g table salt as the recipe stated and put my turkey in its bucket feet first. Now Nigella enthuses about how she cannot stop herself from looking in on her lovely vision of a brining turkey, but let me say that this is not the case when using a cream plastic bucket! Of course fridge space is not an option so luckily we are in the Northern hemisphere and the turkey was sent outside and spent the night in the boot of my car, to ensure that the fox did not get our Christmas dinner before us.

I also made egg nog which is still sitting in my fridge as Malcolm has terrible sinus and is avoiding dairy at the moment, wonder whether they would make great snowballs as described in englishmums blog....

Then off I went with my neighbour Geraldine for mince pies and wine at a house 3 doors down, of course not REALLY 3 doors, only Irish 3 doors!!! While there we were all discussing our Christmas day feasts and one of the ladies had heard a huge debate on the radio about the correct cooking time for turkey and how Nigella Lawson had it all wrong in her book. So now my ground was feeling a little shaky underneath me as I was determined not to dry my turkey out, but nor did I want to serve it medium rare! AND I had elected to go the Nigella route....what if she did have it all wrong? Nigella reckoned I needed 2 hours 30 minutes, Marks & Spencer (very sensibly) put the cooking time on the weight label of the turkey which was 3 hours 50 minutes.
On Christmas day I decided to follow the recipe for allspice gravy as per Nigella's suggestion and while reading the recipe and I quote... "1 tablespoon maldon salt/ 1/2tablespoon table salt" Note the slash in that sentence...I paled, VISIBLY and my stomach quietly knotted as I turned back to my brine recipe....yes,
250g Maldon salt/
125g Table salt
The slash of course means either or but I did not see the slash when I made the brine because the ingredients were listed below each other and by now my feet first turkey had been happily marinading in the Dead Sea for 18 hours! I felt nauseous. I also knew that I would just have to carry on regardless and hope that we did not have jerkey turkey...
I also had the cooking times of the turkey to worry about, by now Christmas was not fun anymore and I no longer wanted to play "Nigella, Nigella".
Anyhow....I brought the turkey to room temperature and put it in the oven to roast and consoled myelf with the fact that with all the veggies, (cauliflower cheese, roast parsnips, caramelised cinammon carrots, brussels sprouts butternut and peas) garnish selection (sage and onion stuffing balls, chipolatas and bacon rolls *thanks Marks and Sparks*)and ham nobody would go hungry if the turkey was a disaster.

I went with Nigellas cooking times, I took the turkey out of the oven and did the knife in the thickest part trick and the juices were clear. I was still worried that after the required rest (the turkey was tired after all that time in the oven) we would carve and hit pink and by then all the veggies etc would be ready and I would be manically microwaving turkey...

And now I can say with authority that Nigella is right, Marks and Spencer wrong and my turkey was cooked through, maybe even ever so SLIGHTLY dry. The gravy was fabulous Nigella and the roast potatoes (par boiled 4 minutes add 2 T polenta and shake that pot! Add to very hot oil and roast about 60 minutes) perfection! Sadly I do not even have a picture of my slightly over bronzed bird and PERFECT potatoes to proudly display so you will have to do it all justice in your imaginations!
The wine flowed, the family were together and we stuffed ourselves instead of the turkey. Merry merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Needles and creepy crawlies

My tree has been liberated from the confines of the stocking (net) it has been sitting in, and is taking up a lot of room in the lounge. Martin kindly cut the trunk for me and did a sterling job of keeping it straight, I hate to think of what it would have looked like had I given it a go. I did get out the drill, the tree needs a hole in the bottom, middle of the trunk to screw in the stand. I certainly learned a few lessons in the process. Most important one, the drill bit gets hot. Friction I realised as I tried to wipe saw dust off of the drill bit after my magnificent attempt at drilling required hole. I screwed in the stand, dragged the tree through the house to the lounge and managed to erect it all by myself, happy little lass was I! Then I snipped away the offensive net stocking and out sprung my voluminous tree. Unfortunately some of the branches were touching the floor so out came the bread knife. What? It was all I had! It rose to the challenge and I got through all the branches in no time. And then I saw the needles and the creepy crawlies, the floor was MOVING with them, I had been under the tree head and all and my scalp is still itchy. I swept them all up and got rid of them posthaste, I am sure there are still a million of them living in the tree. I have put up a "Do Not Disturb" sign as I would rather they remain where they are than start looking for new accommodation in other parts of my house. Now I shall share some before and after pictures of my spruced up specimen. I know we still need some glittery bits but I had such fun finding a place for all my little treasures on the tree.

Can practice make perfect?

I am wondering about this. I had hockey practice last night. I was awful, embarrassingly so. They did an exercise and I kept running to the wrong place and doing the wrong thing. Of course all the other girls in the team have been playing for ages. They understood the exercise, they ALL got it right and it went like clockwork until my turn. Worst of all I do not play with the team, I just practice with them as the Vets do not practice and I really need help so I dutifully arrive on a Monday and Wednesday evening to provide light entertainment. Honestly, if I was watching me I would dismiss myself as a total airhead. Perhaps I am in over my head but I am not going to leave with my tail between my legs just yet.

Monday 3 December 2007


Remember those U-G-L-Y hamsters the kids got 2 weeks ago? Well now we have oh about 7 hamsters. Yep Jessica chose a hamster "with child", or should I say children? They were born today and discovered about an hour ago, tiny, tiny little pink things. I have even tried to take pictures of them and if I was successful I will add them to this post, little Miss Techno genius over here has not learned how to upload pictures from the camera to the computer, got to make Malcolm feel useful and powerful, you know the whole hunter gatherer protector thing? Do you know that if pappa hamster was in there with her she could be having her next litter in 20 days, the saying should be "Life's a hamster" not life's a b*tch. But Pappa hamster may be her brother, we really do not know, eeuww. This will cause another set of problems as of course with in breeding we will have deformed hamsters, oh please please don't let that happen. Also we have to separate the males from the females at 4 weeks, can you believe it, breed like rats they do. He he. After this litter my job is done and I think Kirstin can chose a female from the litter and the pet shop in Blackrock can take back the male that they assured us was female. I should have listened to Kirstin and Jessica, after checking out the Internet they insisted that Kirstin had a male hamster. I decided to chance it as they do live in separate cages and we keep them apart. I have learned my lesson, female + female = no more hamsters. I have just removed the cage from Jessica's bedroom as she and Kirstin are going to be exhausted tomorrow from all the peaking. I made the image small because in my experience if you click on the image it will enlarge. When I add large pictures clicking on the image does nothing! I refer to Miss Techno genius status for any further enquiries

Covert operation

I bought a Christmas tree! It is still in its net (for transportation purposes) and I have to get it sorted out in the morning. Before I can do that I need to re arrange my lounge. I have to do it during the day, Malcolm might not be amused, I think it is bigger than it looked in the lot. Or I have built it up in my mind, this is an ever hopeful thought that pops into my head. When I chose the tree I did keep the ceiling in mind, I did not really think about the circumference of the thing and I think it is really bushy. I am not even sure I can put it in front of the window as planned as it may block out too much light. I have to say though that it is beautiful and I cannot wait to adorn it with all my trinkets. I guess that part can wait until the kids get home...maybe.

Scottish Invasion

Well that is what my father-in-law is calling it and I guess he is right. I just call it a lot of people staying in our house for 2 nights (who happen to have Scottish blood running through their veins!). We are lucky enough to have the folks visiting us for Christmas. This is great as it is obviously also our first Christmas away from home. We are already getting prepared...well shopping for things we like to decorate the tree and table for Christmas fridge is too small to actually buy food so that will have to be done on a daily basis! Luckily we can keep the beer, wine and Guinness in the backyard as it is nice and chilly now! Probably all manner of refrigerated goods will spend some time on my back step in the near future! I am actually thinking of getting a plastic drawer set just for the purpose of outdoor refrigeration. Of course it does also have to drop a few degrees or I might have health and safety on my back or a lot of very sick guests and only 3 bathrooms...
Anyway, I can't wait. I am racking my brain about what to cook because we will have 7 adults and 2 kids, it is only for 2 days which makes it a doddle. If I still had all my kitchen paraphernalia from S.A it would be easier as I had loads of pots, platters, lasagne dishes etc. I am now horribly limited so unfortunately I may have to add to my growing collection of dishes again. Oh woe is me. He he he.