Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The first noel

Well I have managed to drag my hands out of yet another box of chocolates for long enough to type and tell you a little bit about our first Christmas in our new place. After months of preparation, was our first homegrown yule all it was cracked up to be?

So first up the decorations… Disregarding the bags and bags of crappy plastic baubles and tattered tinsel that we seem to have accumulated over the years, we didn’t do a bad job of tarting the house up to resemble something out of the pages of a lifestyle magazine (if you squint your eyes just a little). We don’t want for conifers around the place so giving a good hair cut to one or two of the prettier ones to cover the mantelpieces and windowsills was not a problem. Ditto the ivy. Sadly not the holly so we had to ‘borrow’ (half-inch) some from the nearby woods. We did however spy an actual Christmas tree lurking at the bottom of the garden in a boggy area that we were planning to raze to the ground next year anyway. OK so it maybe wasn’t your classic Norway spruce but it fulfilled the brief of being a pine, roughly the right size and with enough branches to entertain a three year old for a good half an hour of tree decorating (it turns out that it also drops needles at the merest hint of a breath turning the living room floor into a forest-like carpet of spikes – not ideal when your baby has just starting crawling and putting everything in her mouth…). I also like to think that it was more of a Farrow and Ball shade of green – Leprechaun’s Crotch™ or some other such bullshit name.  Having selected our tree, we had wonderful festive visions of all heading out as a family, skipping through the freshly fallen snow, all wrapped up in our hats and gloves and scarves and perhaps humming a Christmas carol or two as we happily felled our little tree. As it happened, there was a howling gale and driving rain as we dragged two very pissed off children down to the bottom of the garden, whereupon their vocabulary was somewhat expanded for the worse as they watched their father wrestle with some viciously spiky branches before we sacked it off and retreated to the house, leaving Daddy to salvage remains of said tree and drag it out of the bog. Not a Christmas carol or flake of snow in sight. To be fair though once in the house and dolled up it looked ‘proper bo’ (although I imagine that any old stick covered in shiny, sparkly things would look pretty good...)



Secondly on to the all-important Christmas Dinner. After four months of living the life of poultry rock stars (eating and drinking too much, trashing the roof of the hen house and most of the feed bins and making one hell of a racket) it was finally D-Day for our turkeys (or T-Day was we like to call it now). The day dawned like any other for them and they pottered about quite happy and oblivious up until the very end. Apart that is from one of the tom turkeys who put up a bit of a fight and ended up strutting around about the place mid-cull much to my husband’s horror. It was at this point that a large truck drove into the yard attempting to deliver a brand new sofa (turns out that they had the wrong address). They took one look at the dripping, bloodied knife in my husband’s hand and the mud and guts all over him and beat a hasty retreat back up the drive, uttering to his pal “we’ve got the wrong house, let’s get the hell out of here!” A bit more than they bargained for I think. A couple of hours later, birds plucked and dressed he made a start on the gravy. Yes I know. Three days in advance. Some people happily opt for Bisto but not around here. I was sent to gather whatever I could find on the veg patch to enhance the flavour (some weedy leeks and celery) and the stock pot was produced. Into which went necks, offally bits and then the feet, claws and all. Now I’m not sure if you have ever had the pleasure of smelling boiling turkey feet but let me tell you it is not one of life’s sweeter aromas. More of an olfactory nightmare in fact. Put it this way I found myself involuntarily dry retching as I walked into the kitchen to the sight of these clawed feet poking out of top of the pot. A minor domestic ensued during which I declared I would not be going anywhere near the Christmas gravy if the feet were not removed immediately. Upon which they were duly extracted and the gravy went on to become the star of the show. There are limits to an adventurous palate after all.  Gravy made, it was onto the rest of the meal. Our chosen bird (sans feet and innards) broke the scales at 12lb so we’re not actually sure how much it weighed. Suffice to stay we are still overrun with bloody turkey, four days later. It did taste utterly amazing though, and so it should as I had to get up at 5am to put the thing in the oven. As for the accompaniments I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I only managed to contribute the broad beans (albeit award winning ones) to the meal and had to tap my Dad for the sprouts. The potatoes and the carrots *whispers in shame* came from a well-known supermarket chain. As did all the porky bits, so Peppa lives to see another day, and quite possibly another year the way she is rapidly becoming one of the family. She snorts in pure delight every time she sees us and comes bowling through the field looking for a scratch on her belly or behind the ears. A real character you might think, or maybe just a guzzling greedy guts. Perhaps understandably given the fact that she has been getting the pig equivalent of Michelin-starred scraps out of the kitchen all over Christmas. Who wouldn't come running for the last tasty bits of roast potatoes and brandy pudding?


...after (check out the feet - would you?)

The Grand Finale

And so thirdly and finally to the pressies. I’d love to be able to tell you that for our first Christmas in the place I lovingly hand-crafted pots of homemade jams and chutneys and terrines and wrapped them in tasteful recycled paper adorned with pressed wild flowers. But that would be a Big Fat Lie. Asides from the fact that I haven’t had enough time to blow my own nose over the past 12 months, one of the things we have realised about attempting any remote form of self-sufficiency is that you have to hang on to everything you have got.  You can’t be giving away all your hard won grub, especially when the hardest months of the year are still to come. Plus the fact that not everyone might appreciate your nettle and rhubarb relish with pickled ground ivy quite as much as you do. So I’m afraid most of my gifts this year originated from Ye Olde Amazone dotte comme.  The ones that actually did manage to get here at all (others failing to arrive because of flooded roads and I can only imagine others where the delivery drivers were so alarmed by the scenes of feathery carnage that they were too scared to get out of their vans).  

So that’s Christmas done and dusted for another year. Nearly. We’ve still got New Year to go so the party is not quite over just yet.  For one thing, there’s a box of chocolates sitting here with my name on it that needs finishing before we start to make all of our clean living, self-sufficient New Year's resolutions. Hmmmm, I wonder if I can grow my own cocoa beans...

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