Whilst it really is too cold for me to consider it sensible to go outside, the lure of the snow which has turned our back garden into a winter wonderland has proved too much for me, and this afternoon we have been making snowmen.
He built a great column of snow the size of a man and a great big snowball to go on top of it. Then he fetched a scarf and a hat, a tangerine for the nose, and coal for the eyes. At last, the snowman was finished … he seemed to be smiling.
It is possibly not an officially recognised tradition, but in our house, a piece of shortbread after I have tunelessly warbled along to “Auld Lang Syne” is as much a pre-requisite for welcoming the New Year as forcing one of our guests out into the cold so that he may ring the doorbell, bucket of coal in hand, to ensure good luck for the coming year (the superstition of course dictates that it is a dark haired stranger, but in the absence – and somewhat surprisingly they don’t seem to come knocking at the door – any man will do!).
So, today, even though the house is still bursting with leftover cake and chocolate from Christmas, I am making a batch of shortbread ready for tomorrow night.
For this shortbread recipe you will need:
100g (4oz / ½ cup) softened butter
50g (2oz / ¼ cup) sugar
(6oz / 1.2 cups) plain or all purpose flour
25g (1oz / ¼ cup) semolina
Heat the oven to 170°C / 325°F / Gas Mark 3 and grease and line a 7” round tin with baking parchment.
Cream the butter and sugar together in a medium sized bowl until light, fluffy and pale in colour.
Whilst I tend to use my Kitchen Aid for most baking, I always make shortbread by hand. I find using an electric mixer overworks the mixture and much prefer the crumblier texture achieved by hand mixing.
Sift the flour and semolina and add to the butter and sugar.
Using a fork stir in the flour and semolina.
The mixture will be particularly crumbly at this stage (it will firm up as it bakes).
Press the crumbly mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the top (I tend to use the back of a spoon to do this).
Cook for 35 – 40 minutes (until a very pale straw / golden colour).
Leave to cool for approximately 5 minutes before cutting (still in the tin) into pieces (I make 12 pieces) and sprinkle the top with sugar.
Remove from the tin when completely cool (if removed from the tin whilst still warm the shortbread pieces may fall apart)
This Christmas, I was most definitely spoilt rotten, receiving all I could have wished for and more (thank you!). And to top it all off, we woke on Christmas morning to a dusting of snow – my first ever white Christmas – I suspect my husband was slightly less entranced by the festive weather as I happily woke him at 3am to insist he get up and look at the snow (I was of course too excited to sleep!).
Following our “icing sugar” frosting of snow on Christmas day, we were then treated to a proper snowfall on Boxing Day. Enough snow for us to get our first real taste of a “Canadian” winter . The children (and me of course!) have spent two full days playing in the snow; we have been sledging, ice skating, built snowmen, a snow fort, thrown snowballs and drunk countless mugs of hot chocolate.
This morning, we have woken to yet more snow and today it just keeps on falling. As my husband cleared the driveway in the dark this morning and my daughter paced the hall muttering that she would be late for training, I sensed that the novelty may be wearing off. As for me, that new pair of jeans that I was going to snap up in the sales today will just have to wait, I have retreated to the sofa with a book and the remains of the Christmas chocolates (very important to keep up your calorie intake in this weather). Quite possibly it will be spring before I venture out again, unless the lure of the shops and the desire to show off my beautiful Christmas present pink Coach handbag all becomes too much.
With only 7 days to go now until Christmas and less than 24 hours to go until my parents arrive from England, and following a full fortnight of crazed top speed preparations, the house is finally decorated and aside from some last minute food shopping, I am ready ….
As I breathe a sigh of relief, it does occur to me that for the last two weeks I have been behaving like a mad woman! And, it makes me not only question my behaviour but also what it is about the approach of the festive season that has made me feel it necessary to clean every inch of the house? Would it really be so awful if Santa were to spy a speck of dust on the family room skirting board as he backs out of the chimney? (Let’s just hope he remembers to wipe his boots before he walks across my cream rug!).
To be honest, I cannot come up with a rational or sane explanation for my recent behaviour. However, I can conclude, that albeit frazzled and complete with a chipped manicure, I can now slip into Christmas with my domestic pride fully intact.
I am lucky enough that it is not just the children who have an advent calendar. I also have one, which my husband fills with chocolate truffles. It is invariably a day or so into December before my chocolate stuffed calendar makes an appearance, as the start of advent passes him by until the children are seen tucking into chocolate at breakfast time, at which point he makes a dash for the shops. But, the quality of the chocolates he buys more than makes up for the tardy start to my Christmas advent countdown.
This year, his advent efforts have taken on new enthusiasm. As alongside the chocolates is an occasional poem. Now on paper this does seem very sweet, and possibly I am ungrateful and lacking in romance, but his selection of poetry has me questioning whether he is actually suffering from some form of advent lunacy?
Today’s poem read as follows:
When Christmas comes already yet
Mit presents large and sweet
The tings I like in mein stockings best
By jiminiy, are my feet.
Possibly the best solution is just to smile, nod and tuck into the chocolates …..
And after years of fruitlessly trying to persuade me that the tree would look fantastic bedecked with coloured lights and an array of mismatched but jolly decorations, my family have given up. They know that I will stand resolute and decorate with just white lights and coordinating silver and gold baubles. For the record, tinsel is most definitely banned.
So, what is the issue? It really comes down to a mathematical conundrum, one which we face every year, will the tree be perpendicular (i.e. straight) or will it be perched at a 45 degree angle (i.e. wonky)?
Years of hapless tree construction have taught us that despite our best collective efforts the angle at which the tree will ultimately lurch really does seem to be something of a lottery. Perhaps if we threw the six foot beast into the bucket with a little more care and perfectly trimmed the trunk to fit the stand we would have more luck? But I am always far too excited to get on with the decorating and my husband having dragged the tree home and into the house all too keen to finish the job as soon as possible.
So as we head into Christmas, I know from years of experience that if I squint, and tilt my head slightly to the side the tree will appear perfectly aligned. And that at the end of the day irrespective of angle, once decorated it will look beautiful.