Archive for December, 2007

WereRabbits got a Christmas present in the shape of a guest post! The lovely Cheryl sent it to me. It contains a delicious Christmas sweet from the British islands. Thanks, dear!

What could possibly heighten the Christmas spirit more than carols on the radio and the warm scent of Christmas cooking wafting through the house? Here in the UK, that particular scent could be turkey with crisp bacon or chestnuts roasting on an open fire (or, at least, in the oven). Most probably, though, the real scent of Christmas is that of brandy, of spices, of citrus and of dark, succulent vine fruits being baked. Several of our most traditional Christmas desserts are based around that festive combination. Our Christmas cake is a dark, brandy-soaked fruit cake, covered in a layer of marzipan and hard, white icing. Up the fruit and booze content, add such goodies as stout, carrots and suet, and you have the Christmas pudding – the dense, almost-black ball of rich fruitiness which is carried to the Christmas table after the turkey dinner, and which, to the cheers of assembled friends and family is doused in hot brandy and set ablaze, flickering with a blue, almost transparent flame.

Probably the most prolific of our Christmas desserts, though, is the humble mince pie. It pops up everywhere during December – at carol concerts and workplace lunches, or served in place of the Christmas pudding for the many who find it too rich, too heavy. It’s a dessert, a snack, even a breakfast; it’s what the casual house guest will be offered over the festive season when popping round to drop off a card or present.

Ready-made pies are on sale everywhere over December, but they’re easy enough to make yourself. This year I cheated, buying ready-made mincemeat; when I’m making more effort I follow this recipe from Delia Smith, the grande dame of traditional British cooking.

Despite the name, mincemeat actually contains no meat at all; it’s evolved over the years from a spiced meat mix to a mash of fruit, nuts, brandy and suet. The fat and brandy preserve the fruit, meaning that it’ll keep happily for months; my mum has kept homemade mincemeat for years. Delia’s recipe is a traditional one, with apple, nuts, vine fruits and candied peel, but there are countless variations that can be made or even bought – nut-free versions for the allergic, fruit-rich ones with cherries or cranberries. As long as you keep to the basic proportions, the actual fruits and nuts can be selected as you see fit; my mum once made a very nice version with just apples and ginger. If you’re making it, prepare a big batch – anything left over from the pies can be used for various cakes, tray bakes and desserts, and is delicious stuffed into a cored apple and baked. The only non-vegetarian ingredient – and the only one that can be a problem to get outside of the UK – is suet, the fat used to melt and coat the fruits. This is, as I discovered when I lived in France and had to order it specially from the local butcher, the fat from around a cow’s kidneys; here in the UK it is neatly sanitised into a little pellets that can be bought in packets in the supermarket (the lading brand is “Saxo”, who also make a vegetarian version based on palm oil). It is possible to make a mincemeat using butter instead of suet.

Once the mincemeat is made, it’s traditionally cooked in shallow pies around 5 cm across. Typically a “mince pie tray” will allow you to make 12 pies, and you can buy special fluted pastry cutters – otherwise, the rim of a cup works well. This year, I made some of my pies with puff pastry (shop-bought) and the rest with a homemade shortcrust. This is very easy to make yourself, using the simple rule of “half fat to flour, and half butter, half lard” (replace lard with a hard, white margarine, for veggies). This year I used 200g of plain, white flour, with 50g each of butter and lard, which was enough for about 15 pies. Mix the fat and flour together until the mixture is of a breadcrumb consistency, then knead in a little water (you’ll need to use your hands) until you get a dough that comes away from the sides of the bowl, and which you can roll easily. Roll it out and cut out large circles for the bases of your pies (just big enough to fill the indentations, coming up to the top at the sides), and small circles to make lids. Then grease your tin and pop in the bases. Add a teaspoon of mincemeat per pie, then top with the lids, sticking them down with a little milk. Once the pies are made, brush milk over the top and make a little hole in each with a skewer, to let hot air escape. Cook them at 200C for about 25 minutes, by which time they should be a lovely golden colour. Move them to a wire rack to cool, and sprinkle a little sifted icing sugar on top.

You can serve the pies cold or (better) hot, or top them with cream, custard or brandy butter (mix butter, brandy and sugar until it tastes delicious, eat and await heart attack) as a luxusious dessert. Best of all, serve them with a glass of mulled wine – delicious. Cheers, everyone – and merry Christmas!

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This bento contains:

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I got a packet in the mail. It was from grandma!

Wouldn’t it be nice to picture the joker household… me in a cute dress, lovingly arranging cookies on a plate, to snap a few pictures with ease and then serving them to my love…

Instead, the whole affair is sweateningly frustrating. I still can’t handle that bloody DSLR! And then I end up swearing and grunting until the bf comes to the kitchen, grabs it out of my hand and says “And then you pick this setting,… and this…” and I can’t keep up, and then it works. And then I take a few more pictures, and go to photoshop.
It’s a wonderful tool, and I really need to learn to handle it. That my wrist feels like breaking every time I lug it around, doesn’t help.
Oh well… maybe in the christmas vacation…

And now excuse me while I go enact my revenge on those cookies.

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It is now as dark as it will get here in Sweden. Until christmas is over, the actual time of light for a day only differs for a minute or two.
The sun is a hand’s width from the horizon at 12:00 PM. (That’s 7.5°, thanks heavens-above.com!) The light is yellowish, if there are no clouds. It rises at 8:40 and sets again at 2:49.
Dark? Dark.

How do the swedes not go crazy?
Ahahahahaahah! Ahahaha!!! Ahahahaahahaahahahah!!!!!

I mean of course, they have an incredible love for light. There is light and warm colours everywhere in their homes. Almost every window is lit with a small lamp at any evening in the year, but in christmas time, they go overboard.
Those little light triangles are really in every window, from your grandmother’s little red cottage to the car factories and skyscrapers. They get lit in the beginning of advent and are not removed until after christmas. And since they are either not turned off or, in these energy-conscious times, are on timers, they will be lighting you the way when you come home! It looks so nice and welcoming to come home to a warm light burning in the window. Brightens my winter mood every time!

I wanted to write something about advent wreaths and candles in Austria too, but I was still too lazy to get out my old external HD, so this shall be a story for another advent day…

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And here they are, the saffron cakes! They are actually yellow, much more so than normal cakes. The smell of saffron is now an integral part of my christmas… mmm!

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I could write a long post listing the ways I love Vanillekipferln, one of my favourite and most traditional christmas bakeries.

But then, Meeta from What’s For Lunch, Honey? has already written an article about them to which I can’t add much more. And the photos are making me want to lick my monitor, too…
Check it out here!

I’ll post something about different sorts of gingerbread instead, soon.

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Now that I’ve written so much about Austria, I should write something about Swedish christmas traditions too.
Today in the morning, I tiptoed into my work’s garage, where in the dark, surrounded by test cars, prototype engines and various tools my colleagues sat at tables by candlelight, drinking mulled wine on work time.

December 13: St. Lucia day in Sweden

St. Lucia is a wonderful Swedish christmas tradition – that is, if you unlike me have no problems with getting up early and can actually enjoy music then.
On Dec 13, before it gets light, St. Lucia walks the rooms of Sweden waering a white dress and a wreath of lit candles in her hair.
Traditionally, it is the youngest daughter of the house who is Lucia, accompanied by the rest of the children in similar robes. They carry candles, sing christmas songs and bring breakfast – coffee, mulled wine and the traditional yellow, spiraled-S shaped saffron buns – to their parents.
At offices and schools the tradition is also kept. It is very beautiful, and many places put much pride in their choir singing. The picture above is an unfinished sketch I made from my impression of seeing it at university the first year I spent in Sweden – girls singing by candle light in absolute serenity. Mmm… winter and darkness are so much more bearable with such traditions!

I may post a picture of the traditional saffron cakes later, if I can pick one up on the way home. I don’t like posting stock photos…

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Sorry about the post confusion just before. Something in WordPress isn’t working as I thought it would…

The typical contents of a St. Nicolas present bag! Nuts of all sorts, mandarines and other citrus fruit, apples and candy. The only thing missing is a chocolate Nicolaus – I didn’t manage to buy one.
Chocolate St. Nicks look quite similar to chocolate santas, but lack some aspects. While Claus is wearing a fur-lined coat and hat, St. Nick is wearing more proper bishop’s attire – complete with the chess-figure hat and spiraling bishop’s staff. But the colours are mostly the same!
Even though I remember him coming to visit to Kindergarten when I was small – he was wearing a “real” bishop’s clothes. All in white, like Gandalf! That was a scary experience. ;)

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R is for Ratatouille

Sunday’s cooking project was to find out if I could make a ratatouille like in the movie…

I could!

More later. And the recipe, too. Asd more missing advent posts…

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December 5: Devil’s Day

It’s the dark time of the year, and the devil is stalking the street, stealing children! Is everything lost?

Oh no, not this time.
The devil, or Krampus, as he is known in Austria, is only the helper of good old St. Nikolaus, or as the English know him, Santa Claus.
Now Mr. Nick doesn’t come on the 25th in Austria, but on his saint’s day, the 6th of December. And he does not bring the christmas presents, either! That honor is reserved to the “Christkind”, or child Christ.
But he is bringing presents. Only to the good children, of course. To those who were naughty, the devil comes and puts them into his big wicker basket which he carries on his back so they are gone when Mr. Nick comes around!

The picture shows how you can imagine one such devil. Him, as well as Mr. Nikolaus, who is wearing a bishop’s outfit, are pictured often in this style on the typical red bags in which nice children can find nuts, oranges and apples, and candy!

More about Mr. Nick tomorrow. Today, the devils will be roaming the streets in their furry suits and heavy wood-and-horn masks, striking fear (and delight!) in the heart of men.

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