Archive for November, 2009

A Christmas Chutney


Around this time of year my Mother often asks herself where she went wrong to produce three children who are so completely and utterly in thrall to the wonder that is Christmas. Her despair implies a concern that our obsession with the festive season is but a thin veneer hiding some dark, dark chasm of emotional instability. Is cynicism so entrenched in our culture that even my mother has come to view enthusiasm for Christmas as tantamount to being mentally retarded?


Pollyanna is usually used as a derisive moniker these days even though she was adorable and lovely (I’m thinking Hayley Mills here). I am not very Pollyanna-like most of the year, more of a weeping Cassandra, but I reserve the right to become incredibly happy and filled with JOY from November to December without being thought of as a complete loser.


Please don’t get me started on commercialisation either. The herds who bleat on about the commercialisation of Christmas are just miserable gits who have been gifted the modern ‘curse’ of commerce as a reason to excuse their perpetual irritability and lack of independent thought. I think their entire philosophical outlook must be moulded by reruns of Grumpy Old Men and Jeremy Clarkson columns (for he is their God).



If you are one of these individuals who suddenly finds themselves coming over a bit communist around late November then why not just start making your own cards, give all your loved ones a (collectively farmed) satsuma and don’t watch any TV so as to avoid any of the dreaded commercialisation. You should probably spend the rest of the year in a remote yurt so as to avoid reaping the rewards of our commerce-driven society. Nobody likes a hypocrite.


I can’t imagine many people who enjoy food and drink could really hate Christmas. They might profess to but would they actually turn down the mega roast on the 25th December on principle, or the endless mince pies throughout the festive period or the chance to live as a socially accepted alcoholic until January?



Christmas, or rather the contemplation of it and preparation for it, is my absolute favourite time of the year. I love the smell of red cabbage and cloves, the fairy lights and angel hair, Mariah Carey on repeat, the Father Ted Christmas special, children about to wet themselves with excitement, a good ham, Baileys and Dubonnet, children actually wetting themselves with excitement, arguments and tears, teenagers with ASBOs singing God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen aggresively, going to Mass a bit drunk and confessing an annus of sin, brandy butter, chipolatas, and oh so many condiments.


This post might seem somewhat premature but it isn’t if you are making chutney which needs a good month to mature. I have recently made Christmas Chutney using a Delia recipe which can be found here. I last made it a couple of years ago and it smelt as good as I remembered. Apparently you can use a food processor to dice the dried fruit but I like to cut it myself even though it does take about an hour. I think I may have been a luddite in a previous life. It’s a delicious fruity chutney which is amazing with ham and damn good in a cheese sandwich.



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Craft work



There is a niggling pain that darts up my fingers and between the knuckles of my right hand. It is the sort of unidentifiable pain which would send a hypochondriac straight to Google for a symptom check and self-diagnosis. Perhaps it is the early stages of arthritis or some yet-to-be-discovered skeletal abnormality which will afflict my generation. I’m convinced that the pain is a result of the huge amount of typing, texting and mouse-clicking my right-hand is expected to undertake every working day. My left-hand helps out when it can but responsibilities are largely managed by my dominant right. The repetitive twinge is a symptom of my working life and I often find myself looking despairingly at my pale, desk-bound hand. 



Under normal circumstances this would be a good picture for me but, considering I had just had a two hour lesson and there was a professional photographer on call to help me, it ain't great.


Outside the office I frequently attempt activities that are a 9-5 antidote. Like most Guardian-reading Londoners in the 20-40 age bracket  I have recently taken up knitting, made my own Christmas cards and even foraged.* I’m searching for an elusive feeling of satisfaction and completeness that my job can’t provide. Why else do people make their own soap? I don’t knit or stencil for the same practical reasons that my Grandmother did but because I have a convoluted idea that there is something wholesome and good intrinsic to these activities and pursuing them will eradicate my ennui. My Grandmother probably looked down at the knitting needles with the same emotions that I feel when I look at my hand clasping onto the mouse. 




Last Monday I embarked on a busy afternoon in which I was to attend a food photography course (organised by Helen of a forkful of spaghetti and held at the Scandinavian Kitchen) and a lino-cutting and fabric printing class hosted by Becky and Fiona of Finishing School.  


At the Scandinavian Kitchen our teacher Chris Windsor started with the absolute basics like ‘don’t forget to charge your batteries’. Just as I started to wonder if I’d signed up for a remedial photography class my camera went dead. There was a good two minutes where I considered keeping quiet. I wondered if I could manage to get through my photography class with a camera that wouldn’t switch on so as to avoid making a fuss. I decided against it and instead ran across the road and bought some new batteries.




The course was very helpful. I now know how to operate my camera and make full use of all the functions. It is quite amazing how many things modern cameras can do, even basic models like my Canon Powershot which I purchased on the basis that it was on special offer at £49.99. If any more of these classes are planned I would recommend it to food bloggers and other people who enjoy photographing food in a recreational capacity. It’s only two hours and you are not going to be transformed into Man Ray in that time but you will have all the information you need to go away and practice.




The challenge to take a mouth-watering shot of a Scandi hotdog was testing indeed. As you can see my photos are very realistic; this is exactly what the hot dog looked like. It’s a huge phallic sausage covered in goo. Tastes amazing but looks like something made of meat derivitive and gherkin mulch. I’ll definitely go back to the Scandinavian Kitchen to try one of these again but without the pressure of photography.



This is the corner of my new tote bag. I also made a tea towel with the same border. If you like what you see I am now accepting commissions.


From the Scandinavian Kitchen I headed north to Islington and Finishing School. Becky and Fiona are lovely hosts. They wear vintage, listen to Vampire Weekend and have set up their own craft club. Prepare to feel a little jealous of how incredibly on message they are. Lino-cutting is just like wood cutting but less time-consuming and difficult, apparently. I wouldn’t know as within seconds of making my first incision I sliced through two of my fingers. There was a lot of blood which was all very undignified and put a bit of a dampener on things for me. I even got blood on my lino square. 3 plasters later I commenced work on a space invader design having realised that a bunch of grapes was too demanding with only one operational hand. The results, well you can see the results. This does look a lot like the product of a young child’s first day at school.  

So what did I learn at the end of this rather long day? Firstly, don’t book two classes on one day as it’s too much. Secondly, always carry batteries and plasters. Thirdly, I should probably just stick to cooking and admin.




* I don’t actually read the Guardian but I am so obviously a Guardian reader in every capacity besides actually purchasing it. Maybe this is why they’re having problems; people like me who are spirtually Guardian but still take The Times out of habit.

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