My lack of extended family (and imminent burgeoning immediate family) have triggered feelings of nostalgia and homesickness that are, at least to my personal recollection, unsurpassed.
I have entered a state of nesting that every little red breasted Christmas robin would be proud of. Actually, if truth be told, even they might be a little embarrassed by lengths I find myself going to in order to achieve a sense of inner calm and outer festive comfort to compensate for the utter lack of true Christmas spirit that I am feeling.
It is 35 degrees in my kitchen and, I believe, polite society would readily comment on my healthy ‘glow’. Glowing doesn’t come close. Rudolf’s nose glows. I am melting. I dream of a scene akin to that of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman…surely somewhere there is a chest freezer that I could climb into? If only just for a moment to feel really, really cold. Though of course I would refuse to get out. From there I could drink real cocoa laced with cinnamon and chilli. Perhaps a shot or two of Stone’s Original Green Ginger Wine or even good old Scandinavian style Glogg, or maybe my father’s homemade hot spiced cider.
Someone stop me.
I am going to go into a steep decline as I call to mind wet dogs and roaring fires, windswept trudging through Somerset puddles, Aga toasted backsides and crumpets dripping with honey and salty butter, chapped lips and burnt fingers wrestling with charred roasted chestnuts on Oxford Street. Where, oh where, is dusk at four o’clock? Where is the biting cold and driving rain that confirms that a humble cup of tea could indeed cure anything? Where are the ruddy cheeks, runny noses and teary eyes?
In Singapore, I feel as though I am faking Christmas.
But I will not be beaten. If we are to have a fake Christmas, it will be the best damn fake Christmas in town. I will make it snow, ever so slightly on my little blog. I will somehow conjure some Christmas spirit and seasonal cheer In the only way I know how. I will bake. I will ice a traditional cake that will no doubt also be sweating on the kitchen table within a week. I will make gingerbread houses with my son and his friends that will surely collapse in the humidity and sheer weight of sugar and ‘E’ numbers. I will deck out our fake tree (oh the pain of it) in rotting clove studded oranges, stale cookies and wilting candy canes.
And it will be beautiful. It just will.
500g fresh cranberries (frozen are fine if you can’t lay your hands on nice fresh ones)
4 bay leaves
2 whole star anis, or four cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon
½ cup golden (or unbleached sugar)
Zest and juice of two oranges (should come to just over half a cup of juice)
Sterilise a glass jar or two. Remove any rubber seal and lid and submerse in boiling water, then place immaculately clean and dry jars in an oven for ten minutes at 180C.
Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan. Cook slowly, over a medium to low heat, stirring all the time to make sure it doesn’t catch. After about ten minutes, the sugar should be melted and the cranberries should all have burst. There will still be a little liquid in the bottom of the pan and the mixture should be loose; it will thicken up quite a bit as it cools.
Pour the mixture into glass jars while the mixture and jar is piping hot, and seal tightly. This can be a little fiddly if dealing with Kilner style jars and rubber seals as you don’t want to touch the jar or seal too much rendering it unsterilized; but do it with immaculately clean hands and bite your lip as you singe your fingers! Seal whilst hot, and leave the mixture in the jars to cool fully before placing in the fridge. It should last at least two weeks if left unopened, and a week once the first spoonful has been devoured. Particularly good with stilton, most other hard, strong cheeses, and, obviously…Turkey.
Basically what you are trying to achieve is a butter that is seriously boozy – so boozy that it is almost about to split. It won’t though – the icing sugar is the glue. I like the texture and colour of a bit of grainy soft brown sugar though, and the added warmth and depth of the brown sugar flavour helps to give it a more homemade, comforting feel. I have been known to eat this straight out of the fridge with a spoon (not of the tea variety). Serve with ubiquitous mincepies, and of course with Christmas pud. A particular favourite in our house is frying up slices of pudding on boxing day in a non-stick pan with a good cold, hard, dollop of brandy butter. A lovely leftover, the joy of which can be savoured long after the glitter of Christmas has faded.
250g good quality salted butter
1 ½ cups icing sugar
1/3 cup light soft brown sugar
1/3 cup brandy
Bring butter to room temp. Place in stand mixer and beat with icing sugar to a fluffy light creamy texture (but not until it resembles frosting). Slowly add the brandy until incorporated, then tip in the light brown sugar and mix until just combined. If you overbeat it will lose it’s lovely grainy texture.
Put it in a jar or covered bowl in the fridge and eat within about three weeks (or the ‘best before date’ on the butter).