Friday, December 30, 2011

FFF55. Simple supper

I love to watch the many TV chefs. They inspire me to try new foods or make different meals. Some impress, some overwhelm and some create dishes I could never hope to copy. But of all the cooks, the one I’d want to invite me to dinner is Nigel Slater.  I love his simple suppers!


55 words for The G-Man.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 24. Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate (and who are still finding time to blog today.)

Can you believe this was 30 years ago?

Friday, December 23, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 23. (Also a FFF55)

Dad coughed and sat back with a worried look.
He enjoyed the turkey, perfectly roasted and surrounded with beautifully browned potatoes, parsnips, sausages, cranberry sauce and herby stuffing.
Then came the dreamy pudding, with brandied flames and a choice of rum butter or cream.
But nobody warned him about the sixpence – and he’d swallowed it!

It was an old tradition to put a silver threepenny piece in a Christmas pudding, and whoever found it was supposed to have good luck throughout the coming year.  When silver 3d were discontinued the tradition went on using a sixpenny piece. You can still buy them (even though they aren't legal tender any more) to put in your pudding if you want to.

This post is part of my advent calendar but also for The G-Man for his weekly 55 word challenge.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 22. (Also a Thursday extract)

Snowy sheep

From The Winter's Spring by John Clare

I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below
Like white dove's brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 21. YULETIDE!

A very very happy Yuletide to all my friends Pagan, Christian or anything else. Celebrate whatever makes you feel good at this time of the year and be kind to one another. Light candles, eat hearty and drink your fill.

Blessed be all, throughout the coming year.

Play it loudly and enjoy:-

Now is the solstice of the year.
winter is the glad song that you hear.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Have the lads up ready in a line.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Join together 'neath the mistletoe,
by the holy oak whereon it grows.
Seven druids dance in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Ring on, ring out.
Ring on, ring out

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 20. Wassail!


The greeting Wassail, derived from the Old English waes hael, meaning 'be well' wasoffered by the bearers of the wassail bowl, which was carried from house to house in English villages to spread the yuletide cheer. The bowl contained a rich, ale-based, spiced drink that was given to the householders in exchange for sweetmeats such as mince pies.

Monday, December 19, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 19.

"Come, bring with a noise
My merrie, merrie boyes,
The Christmas log to the firing:
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your hearts' desiring."

Robert Herrick

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 18. Turkey and all the trimmings

Beef Wellington
Beef Wellington. Yule 2010

So what do you have with your Christmas turkey? In fact, do you have turkey at all? We'll be having roast beef for our Yule dinner, with Yorkshire puddings and lots of horseradish sauce and roast potatoes and there have to be parsnips. I might do a few sprouts, because it's traditional, isn't it? And we'll end up having bubble and squeak for breakfast on the twenty second to use up the leftovers.

Christmas Day itself we're going out for a curry - albeit quite a posh one - so we won't be doing turkey at all this holiday season. That means we'll miss out on the stuffing, the chipolatas and the cranberry sauce. And does anyone still eat bread sauce?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 17. Yo! Saturnalia.

December 17 was the Roman festival of Saturnalia, which has given rise to many of the traditions associated with Christmas today.

The Roman god Saturn
For example, there was always a huge feast at which masters and slaves changed places, with the masters serving the slaves. There is an echo of this custom in the Royal Navy, where officers serve the lower ranks their dinner on Christmas Day.

The day was a public holiday and even schools were closed. Gifts were exchanged and everyone was supposed to have fun. Everyone wore their best clothes and togas - a symbol of rank - were forbidden. Instead everybody wore the 'freedman' hat.

A Saturnalian prince was chosen from among the youngest members of the family and he ruled over the rest for the day. 

The correct greeting was 'Io, Saturnalia!' (Meaning Ho - praise to Saturn.)  It was pronounced Yo. 

So... Yo! Saturnalia to you all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 16. (Also a FFF55)

Party table

The end of the year is approaching,
And nights are drawing in.
It’s time for presents and stockings,
And cracking the damson gin.

Red robins are heard in the garden
We watch every morning for snow
Wish each other holiday greetings
And watch as smiles light up and glow.

Compliments of the season my readers!

FFF55 is a weekly challenge set by The G-Man. Trot over to his blog to see what others have composed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 15. (Also a Thursday extract.)

It's snowing!


When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When Blood is nipped and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts. Day 14

A couple of days ago, I promised I would explain why the Icelandic Yule cat eats people with no new clothes to wear.

In Iceland a traditional way of earning a living was to raise sheep. Most people worked  for a master and were paid with a proportion of the wool they managed to produce during the year. So, if you didn't have enough wool at the end of the season to make some new clothes for yourself, it meant that you hadn't worked hard enough - and that made you a target for the Yule cat.

Is this where the tradition arose of giving socks as presents?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts. Day 13. Strike a light!

Candle light
One of the things that a lot of Northern Hemisphere midwinter festivals have in common is light. At this time of the year the days are getting shorter and many festivals are centred on the midwinter solstice - longest night. So it stands to reason that light in some form or another, candles, bonfires, etc, are included in the festivities.

  • In Hindu celebrations there is Diwali - the festival of lights - where small oil lamps are lit to represent the triumph of good over evil.
  •  The Jewish celebration of  Hanukkah involves lighting a nine-branched candlestick called a menorah.
  • Norse religions included the Yule log. 
  •  Icelanders light bonfires to mark Twelfth Night.
  • Christmas trees have lights on.

Monday, December 12, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts. Day 12

In Iceland they say that 13 lads herald the arrival of Yule. From December 12 to Christmas Day (yes - they've christianised the tradition but still call them Yule lads) a new rascal arrives each day. They are the sons of the troll Gryla and friends of the hungry Yule cat.

The first to arrive is Stekkjastaur, the sheep worrier, and the rest of his brothers are just as naughty: for example there's the sausage stealer, window peeper, door slammer and lots of other wickedness. After Christmas Day they leave, one by one, until Twelfth Night, when Icelanders celebrate the end of the holiday season with bonfires and a party.

The Yule Cat, throughout the season, will eat anyone who does not have a new item of clothing to wear. And you'll have to wait for an explanation of why.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 11. You really thought I'd miss this?

It's Christmas OK?  You are NOT going to miss out on this.

And if you don't know what it is PLEASE settle down with a couple of hours to spare and go here to see it in all it's Wonderful (but colorized) glory

Saturday, December 10, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 10. The Yule log

The traditional Yule log is a survivor of Pagan celebrations to mark the Winter Solstice, the time when the sun appears to stand still in the sky, before the days begin to grow gradually longer on the approach to spring.

It was extremely bad luck to buy a Yule log. It must either be gathered from the householder's own land, or be received as a gift. The most commonly used wood was ash, and the log must be big enough to burn for twelve days.

Once it was dragged into the house it was decorated with greenery and doused in ale or cider before it was set alight using a sliver from last year's log. Each day a little more of the log would be pushed into the hearth as it gradually burned away and, at the end of twelve days, it was put out with water.

Chocolate log

These days, when very few people own their own woodland, and most of us have hearths that are far too small to hold a log that's long enough to burn for twelve days, we are more likely to represent a Yule log in chocolate!

Friday, December 09, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 9. (Also a FFF55)

Party table
Fifty five words of seasonal thoughts. What are the essential ingredients for this time of year? Turkey, mistletoe, pork pie, presents, egg-nog, tree, baubles, lights, mince pies, candles, cheesy songs, cranberries, crackers, paper chains, pudding,
stocking fillers, trifle, a pair of socks, wrapping paper, chocolate coins, wine, energy and patience!

So, have I forgotten anything?

55 words for the G-Man and his FFF55. Go see him to find out more.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 8. (Also a Thursday extract.)

As I walked out one misty morn ...

Frost at Midnight

The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud--and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
’Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 7. Mistletoe

Christmas Kisses
Once upon a time the mistletoe was a tree that stood upright on its own trunk, like other trees, but I'll tell of how it became an outcast and dependent on others for its life.

Now the young god Baldur was the son of the goddess Frigga, and was the handsomest and  most revered of all the gods. Frigga was so fond of her son that she made every living thing promise to protect him and never cause him harm. But the trickster god Loki was jealous, and persuaded the mistletoe tree to break the promise.

He made an arrow of its wood and shot Baldur, killing him instantly. When it saw Frigga crying, the mistletoe was ashamed and agreed with the other gods to give up its independence in return for restoring Baldur to life.
And when she saw her beloved son alive again, Frigga's tears dried into the white mistletoe berries.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts. Day 6

Today is St Nicholas Day - and as you all probably know, he's the one who gave his name to Santa Claus. In the Netherlands he's known as Sinterklaas, and he'll be arriving in towns and villages all over Holland today with his assistant Swarte Piet (Black Peter - who is that colour from climbing up and down chimneys!).

He usually arrives by boat, surrounded by heaps of presents. He's dressed like a bishop, with a mitre hat and a golden staff, and he carries a book in which are written, in gold, the names of all the children who've been good.  Piet throws sweets to children in the crowd, but anyone whose name is missing from the list is likely to be whipped with a bundle of sticks.

That night Sinterklaas will visit everyone's home and throw presents down the chimney. They will land (magically) into children's shoes, which have been left out to receive them. If any child has been naughty, but managed to escape the switch of twigs, they are more likely to find a raw potato in their shoes!

Unlike Santa Claus, Sinterklaas lives in Spain.

Monday, December 05, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts. Day 5.


The Celts believed that at the end of December the sun stood still, causing the days to grow shorter.  They lit candles and burned a Yule log to remind the sun what it was supposed to do and make the days longer again.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 4. (also Sunday 160)

Rock drill
Bah. Humbug! I don’t even want to think about Merry Christmas for at least two weeks, but by then all Yule stuff will have gone and Easter eggs will be on sale.

Sunday 160 is a weekly challenge run by The Monkey Man. Check it out on his blog.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 3.

Christmas pie

Mince pies

In some parts of the country it is considered very unlucky to cut a mince pie with a knife. Always break it open or bite straight into it. 

(Fortunately the photo is an apple pie - so we cut that one with no mishap.)

Friday, December 02, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 2. (Also a FFF55 for the G-Man)


Every year I promise myself that I’m not going to go berserk in organising the yule celebrations and yet each time I wear myself out buying and wrapping presents, cleaning the house so I can put up decorations, trimming the tree, planning and cooking meals, and all the hundred other jobs.
So – mince pie anyone?


55 words for the G-Man. Go visit him to see what the rest have done.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

An advent calendar of sorts Day 1. (Also a Thursday extract.)

To start off the countdown to Christmas (or in my case Yule) I'm giving you one last extract from my NaNo novel Seaviews. I finished the first draft a couple of days ago and do not plan to touch it again for several weeks, when I can give it a fresh eye.   Here's a description of Santa. Not the real one of course kiddies - we all know he's far too busy at this time of year to attend children's parties!


Sinister Santa
Children’s entertainers are sometimes quite awful with kids and grown-ups alike.  Some perform OK for parents but they actually terrify the tots. Sometimes they work wonders with children but they can't convert to an adult crowd. This guy gave fun for everyone. In fact I would go so far as to say he was great with the little ones, when we had youngsters around. He really seemed to love them. And his costume was a dream. It wasn’t shabby and thin-looking like some of them. He had a proper red suit made with what looked like a woollen cloth and trimmed with soft, white fur, that moved in a convincingly real fashion. He styled himself on the American style Santa, with trousers and fur-topped wellington boots and a wide belt with a huge black buckle, rather than the traditional British long-coated one, but that didn’t matter to the festive folks. Part of his act involved handing out presents to all the guests and he carried them in a real sack slung over his shoulder. His ‘ho-ho-ho’ voice reached deep enough to challenge that mountain climber-actor chap.