Friday, 31 December 2010

Happy New Year to all my readers!
I hope I've managed to visit those of you who have blogs and to leave a comment now and again. To those of you who don't blog but who regularly leave me a comment, Pati from London and Carole from Rossendale in particular, I'd like to say how much I appreciate the time you take to do so. Thank you :o)

It has been such an enjoyable year here at The Quince Tree. I have loved every minute of it. I've especially enjoyed seeing how the changing seasons affect my life. I hadn't realised how season-driven my life was particularly in the kitchen. I am so looking forward to 2011 and all its blogging possibilities although I'm slightly worried that I might have run out of things to show you. Let's hope not!

 I have made a few samplers to illustrate the past (almost) year here at The Quince Tree.

First this year's crochet. 

A bit of nature.

And some food :o)

And finally a general round up of the year -a picture for each month.

See you in 2011.

December Sampler


Thursday, 30 December 2010

Here is December's sampler.
I was trying to capture the essence of December rather than Christmas but it is hard to separate them.
I'm afraid there will be more samplers tomorrow. I've been preparing a round up of the year in sampler form.

Christmas 2010 - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Good

Watching the children plunder their stockings and sacks (yes, they have both- spoilt brats).
The new pyjamas they all received were a roaring success despite C's assertion that they were a 'boring present'.

Toy Story 3 -in my daughter's stocking. Funny, clever and sad.

The One Ronnie -on BBC1. I'd forgotten how funny Ronnie Corbett is. The sketch in the greengrocer's was hilarious. Eggs Box £3.60 -genius.

Dr Who - on BBC1. No, I didn't understand what was going on, maybe I was a little preoccupied with my burning foot, but I enjoyed Michael Gambon's performance, Katherine Jenkins singing In the Bleak Midwinter and the Doctor saying to a child 'Keep the faith, stay off the naughtiness'

The food and drink of course.

Proper Christmas weather for the first time I can remember. I loved it.

The Bad

Scalding my foot with boiling goose fat.

A bad cold which has materialised this morning.

Inception -in my elder son's stocking. Pile of incomprehensible tripe.

The Ugly
Do not read if you are about to eat.

Well, that's got to be my foot.
 After walking through the slush to the rugby ground yesterday the blisters all burst making it very painful again. It was worth it though as my team won 45-7 :o) I'm not going to post a picture as it is a little disgusting. I'm going to see the nurse later today to get it checked over.

: :

Christmas Sampler

Christmas Leftovers


Sunday, 26 December 2010

Thank you for your concern about my foot. It is much better :o) By bedtime last night it had stopped hurting and I was able to sleep perfectly comfortably. By the way I was not cooking barefoot, I had socks on. Judging from all your stories the kitchen is a dangerous place to be. Nevertheless I can't keep out of it and today I have been dealing with the leftovers.

Goose stock.
 I do this with every chicken, turkey or goose I roast. It makes sense economically and gastronomically. Homemade stock is superior to those salty cubes in every way. Once you start making it you'll never want to stop.

To Make Stock

Strip the meat from the carcase and save it for another meal. Throw the carcase into a large pot with an onion, a carrot, a leek and some celery sticks if you have them. Cover with water, bring to the boil and then simmer for a couple of hours. Strain the stock into a bowl and discard all the solids. I freeze all my stocks in tubs. The stock in the picture below is not goose stock but the liquid I boiled my ham in on Christmas Eve. I added some flavouring veg to that too.

This is the meat I pulled off the goose carcase.

And the veg leftover from yesterday.

The gravy too. I made this immediately after scalding my foot with goose fat so it was not one of my better efforts. Perfect for my favourite leftover dish however.

Christmas lunch hash.

 Just fry it altogether, in a little goose fat (if you have some that hasn't been all over your kitchen floor), add the gravy and slug of alcohol -dry sherry in this case. Yum.

This is Christmas Mess, a festive variation on Eton Mess
Leftover meringues, cream and a couple of spoonfuls of mincemeat.

I still have a huge amount of ham left. It will keep well in the fridge for at least a week. Whatever is still leftover will be sliced and frozen in meal-sized portions.

 I love leftovers.

The Quince Tree at Christmas


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Anyone else pour boiling goose fat over their foot this Christmas?

Just me then. 
It doesn't half smart.
The freezer is full of bags of snow. I knew it would come in handy.
I am trying to keep my foot simultaneously warm and cold. I'm contemplating having a shower with one foot in and the other out and wondering how on earth I am going to sleep without covers on my foot.

Despite all that we enjoyed our Christmas lunch very much :o)

Other tasty treats around are.....

marmalade glazed ham

and scrummy sausage rolls.

The 25th is the day I show you a picture of The Quince Tree so here she is seasonally dressed for the day.

And here she is All the Year Round.
January at top left, April far left second row and so on -I'm sure you get the idea.

My Christmas Menu


Thursday, 23 December 2010

C -toast
Me -coffee
Children - Sugar mice and chocolate coins from their stockings.

I most emphatically do not provide a special breakfast on Christmas Day. None of that Buck's Fizz, Christmas muffins, smoked salmon and scrambled egg nonsense for us. We will be having a large and bounteous lunch. Christmas is a time for feasting but not at every meal. Breakfast can be forgotten.

Christmas Lunch

Starter - Nothing. I've never seen the need for a starter with Christmas lunch. It isn't as if anyone is likely to go hungry after all.

Roast Goose
Stuffing made from the goose liver, sausagemeat, apples, sage, onion and calvados
Bacon-wrapped sausages
Giblet gravy
Potatoes and parsnips roasted in goose fat
Carrots and peas
No sprouts ever
Quince sauce. You didn't think Christmas lunch was going to be quince-free did you?

Christmas Pud
Meringues and cream

We have been having a goose for Christmas lunch for about 8 years now. Goose is the traditional Christmas bird in this country. Turkey is a modern interloper and a pretty dull one at that.
 As my elder son says 'goose is good'. Goose is a dark meat, rich and fatty, a little like duck but not at all like chicken or turkey. Although a prepared goose looks huge a lot of its bulk is in fact empty space and large bones. This goose is 12 lbs but there won't be much leftover from feeding five of us. I anticipate one extra meal from the leftovers plus lots of stock from the carcase and plenty of gorgeous fat for roasting potatoes.

This goose comes from Goodman's Geese. C collected it this morning despite the fact he was supposed to be at work. I am terrified of driving in snow and ice, my car isn't really up to it either. The farm isn't too far away but the journey includes a steep downhill stretch approaching a bridge over the River Severn and a steep uphill stretch the other side. I didn't fancy ending up in the Severn. There are also narrow, winding country lanes to negotiate.

Supper (for those who want it.)

Cold ham
Sausage rolls
Stilton, cheddar
Pickled shallots (not mine)
Bread and cheese biscuits/crackers
No salads or vegetables. This is not the time for a nutritionally balanced meal.

Leftover pud, meringues, mince pies, chocolate etc
Christmas cake. I hope you aren't waiting for me to show you my Christmas cake all iced and lovely. I don't marzipan or ice the cake. We like it plain -if you can call something as rich and boozy as Christmas cake plain.

Cold goose does not really provide the sandwich possibilities that turkey does so there will be some cooked ham. I have a large joint of ham which I will be boiling tomorrow then glazing with marmalade, nailing with cloves and baking. We will have this cold throughout the Christmas period.

Christmas Eve is My Big Cooking Day. I've made a list and I've checked it twice.

1. Make stuffing
2. Make stock with the goose giblets. For the gravy.
3. Defrost some quince purée. For the quince sauce which is in fact just quince purée.
4. Boil and bake the ham
5. Make quick flaky pastry for sausage rolls.
6. Make sausage rolls.
7. Make meringues
8. Make some lunch for the children and I. Bread and cheese probably.
9. Cook something for tea. Chickpea curry possibly.
10. If time, peel the potatoes.

Fortunately there is nothing I like better than a day in the kitchen especially if I have something good to listen to. And I do. Look what arrived today (see my previous post).

I will probably be posting some pictures of our Christmas feast either on Christmas evening or on Boxing Day. Our Christmas will be pretty quiet (good) so I'll have plenty of time and I do love sitting down with my laptop to compose a new post :o)

In the meantime I will leave you with my favourite Christmas poem and my best wishes to all my readers known and unknown for a merry, peaceful and stress-free Christmas.
Merry Christmas :o)

Christmas by John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine. 



Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Merry Midwinter to you all.
I should really get a new copy. This is one of my favourite children's books. The Dark is Rising Sequence is five separate books written in the 1970s and it is the second book also called The Dark is Rising that is my favourite. I reread it this time every year.
 It is Midwinter's Eve, the young hero Will Stanton celebrates his 11th birthday on Midwinter's Day and is wishing for snow. It never snows so early in winter, not before Christmas, but this year it does. Very heavily. When he wakes on Midwinter's Day the snow lies thick and silent over the Berkshire countryside where Will lives. But the country is not as Will knows it, there is now a wood surrounding his family's house. Will goes out into the snow and his adventures begin. Will discovers that he is an Old One, the last of the Old Ones of The Light and has a quest to complete. The stories mix Arthurian legend, earth magic and adventure and are a thoroughly good read. As you can imagine I am finding the story particularly appropriate at the moment.

Our heating packed up yesterday. How's that for timing? I am waiting for a man to come and look at it and most likely tell me that he can't get the necessary part until after Christmas. If he gets here at all- our road is treacherous. We have a couple of electric heaters but you need to put on your coat to go upstairs and a nip of something warming is advisable before braving the loo and all that involves.
Something like these perhaps?

Time to bottle the damson gin and the quince vodka. After the disaster I had with my damson gin last year (see the damson gin link-bottom of the page) I was careful to let it come to room temperature before bottling it.

The quince vodka tastes like the essence of quince.

The damson gin is like a very grown up ribena.
Delicious with one of these.

I use Delia's quick flaky pastry for my mince pies and my sausage rolls (Christmas Eve tradition). You grate frozen butter into the flour. This means you get lots of little lumps of fat in your dough which melt to make pockets of air and so create the flakiest, shortest, richest pastry ever. I grate the frozen butter in the food processor -much easier.

Despite the cold and inconvenience of the snow I am revelling in the wonderful Christmassyness of it. All those Christmas card scenes, Christmas stories in favourite children's books and Christmassy films are coming true, not to mention my favourite carol.

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

Thank you all for your concern about my heating. I am pleased to report it has now been fixed. A new controller panel was all that was needed as I suspected and not £2000' worth of new boiler as my father-in-law predicted (always the ray of sunshine). Now I shall hang up my washing and take off a jumper or two.



Sunday, 19 December 2010

How funny to find a comment posted today on this post. When there are six inches of snow covering everything in sight it is hard to remember those hot days of early summer when I was making ice lollies every day. But not all my readers are in the UK or even in this hemisphere, so to Caz, Alice and everyone else reading in Australia and New Zealand I hope you are enjoying a lovely summer.

This weekend I have been making florentines. Florentines are a rather special and luxurious biscuit and something of a Christmas tradition in my family. My mum has been making them every Christmas for as long as I can remember and I have been making them for at least twenty years. They are easy to make but require careful measuring and some patience. The recipe I use is slightly adapted from one in Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book.

You need 2 oz of everything.
In a saucepan gently melt 2 oz each of butter, demerara sugar and golden syrup.
Remove from the heat.

Next stir in 2 oz of chopped nuts- I used half walnuts and half almonds, 2 oz chopped glacé cherries and 2 oz of candied peel. I'm making a double quantity here.

Add 2 oz plain flour to the mixture and stir well.

Spoon teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto lined baking sheets. Space them well apart as they will spread a lot.

Bake at 180°c / 160°c fan oven / gas 4 for 8-10 minutes.
Leave to harden on the baking sheets before lifting carefully with a palette knife onto a cooling rack.

When completely cool melt 6 oz of dark chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water.
Turn the florentines flat side up and spread with melted chocolate. Leave to set.
I generally put the chocolate on the day after I have baked the biscuits. They are best stored in the fridge to keep the chocolate nice and hard. They also freeze well.

If I get round to it I am going to try them with chopped crystallised ginger in place of the cherries and peel.

Do try them, they are delicious :o)

We have lit our candle for the last Sunday of Advent. This time next week it will all be over. My children still have two more days of school although with the weather the way it is it's looking unlikely that their schools will be open tomorrow.The little wood where I took these photos in May looks like Narnia today.

It's Broken, Baby


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Christmas spirit is a little thin on the ground here this morning.
 Unlike the snow which is about 3 inches deep.
 C now has to go out in it. Into Worcester to Past Times to buy me another bauble. It was his fault you see, he pulled the tree over. Many baubles fell off but this was the only one that broke because it was the only one made of glass and not plastic.

It's Bokeh, Baby


Friday, 17 December 2010

Somehow when you take a photo of your Christmas tree it never looks as magical and twinkly as it does when you are standing in front of it.
I gave up trying and went for a bit of bokeh instead.
It's what you see if you are shortsighted and aren't wearing your specs, which by the way, is a great way of checking the lights on the tree are evenly distributed ;o)

Basically what you want to do is set your aperture wide, your focus close and stand about ten foot away from some pretty points of light. Hey, I sound like I know what I'm talking about there don't I? Great tutorial here.

My children decorated the tree and I stood by saying things like 'don't put that there', 'don't put more than one thing on a branch', 'why is there a big bare patch there?', 'stop arguing about a string of shiny beads you're 15 for goodness sake' and generally behaving like a tinsel nazi.

It's a real tree.
 I would never have an artificial tree. Ever, ever. Ever.
 Real food and real trees for me.
Just keeping it real.

We put it up a day early due to offspring pressure.

Our living room is a cave of coloured lights; the tree, the tealights in their red and gold glasses, the fairy lights strung all round the edge of the ceiling and the glowing tissue paper windows of the Advent calendar.

Now I'm sitting in my cave with a glass of wine and one of our favourite Christmas films- Scrooged. Some great lines in that film but 'the bitch hit me with a toaster' always makes me laugh like a drain.

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