Thursday, November 22, 2018

Preparing, Contemplating, Enjoying

For all the stress this time of year can bring, I love winter, and the older I get the more I love it. As soon as the clocks go back I perk up. A big part of that is because the cooler temperatures and longer nights make it much easier to sleep. Open windows through summer nights in a city flat means noise. East facing windows mean dazzling sunlight getting through the blinds from around 5am, and big old warehouse windows create a greenhouse ambience that forces you out of bed by 6.30 even if an over enthusiastic blackbird coupled with a car alarm, and broad daylight haven't yet done the job.

Better sleep makes everything easier, and so day's off are currently busy and productive which brings another sort of happiness. Today I've made the last of 4 Christmas cakes, it's taken maybe 9 winters, and dozens of cakes in that time, but the recipe (Dan Lepard's Caramel Christmas Cake) which has long been a tried, tested, and true friend had turned into something else this year. It's become so familiar that I hardly need to refer to the recipe anymore, and instead of a job to be done it's a deeply satisfying ritual to be anticipated.

I also made my first batch of mince pies for visitors, using the last of last years mincemeat, and the first of this years. That was deeply satisfying too, and whilst they were cooking I started looking for a good chutney recipe. Diana Henry's Christmas chutney has been a staple for the last few years, but dried cherries are proving elusive this year so I thought I'd try something else, although I'm still not quite sure what.

The post bought the latest edition of Slightly Foxed (NO. 60) which was welcome afternoon reading, all the hunting for chutney recipes lead to something interesting for dinner and a renewed appreciation for another Diana Henry book; 'Roast Figs Sugar Snow' which suggested 'Hot Lightning', a mix of waxy new potatoes, streaky bacon, apples, and pears. This book is full of winter inspiration, and after what feels like an age of going through the motions to cook, it feels good to have found some excitement about it again.

I've also had a good clear out, something else that's become a pre advent ritual, getting rid of bags of stuff to Oxfam - and that lead to the high point of the day. A really good view of the Peregrine Falcon that lives on the cathedral. I've caught glimpses of it before, but they've been fleeting. Today was different. I think there are a few of them around town, but this one is probably the easiest to see thanks to the cathedral garden with its many benches to sit and look from.

Being old enough to remember when Peregrines were vanishingly rare, and in real danger of being lost altogether in this country, to have them literally on my doorstep is still something I can't quite believe. Seeing this one felt like a tremendous privilege and the greatest good luck.
You can't see it, but the peregrine is up there 


  1. The caramel cake sounds so delicious. I haven't felt much like baking this year, partly because our summer went on and on, and I've never made a Christmas cake, but I think I will try making this one. I'm not sure I can find currants here in the US, but I saw cranberries suggested as a substitute.

    1. It's a really good recipe, although there is a moment with the caramel that's a bit scary (when you add the cream it all goes crazy for a moment). As long as the quantities are right the kind of fruit you use doesn't much matter. Cranberries work perfectly.