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In 2014, I wrote a review, on this blog, of Will Bashor’s Marie Antoinette’s Head: The Royal Hairdresser, The Queen, And The Revolution, through France Book Tours. How can it have been so long? In the meantime, Will Bashor published Marie Antoinette’s Darkest Days: Prisoner No. 280 in the Conciergerie, which, unfortunately, I have yet to read, and really need to get on that. When I found out that Will Bashor was publishing another book in the series, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review it. Marie Antoinette’s World: Intrigue, Infidelity, and Adultery in Versailles will be published on 30 July. Note: I reviewed a free e-book copy via France Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

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20171231_161622One of the main side dishes at our family Christmas dinners, the one Mum and I love most, is a mix of red cabbage, cranberries, and juniper berries. The smell as it cooks is intoxicating yet relaxing, a heady mix of red wine and spices. It heralds a day of great company and great food. This is the original recipe; we have played with it over the years, adding the cranberries, and spices like cinnamon sticks and/or freshly ground nutmeg.

Red Cabbage with Juniper Berries
400ml/ 14fl oz red wine
100ml/ 4 fl oz red wine vinegar
2tbsp  juniper berries lightly crushed
125g/4oz sugar
2 large red cabbages shredded finely
Serves: 8   Prep: 10mins  Cook: 30 mins.
1.In a large pan with a lid, heat wine, vinegar, berries and sugar gently till sugar dissolves
2. Add cabbage and simmer with lid on for 30 mins. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper
Be warned! It makes loads, but you can freeze it.

I wrote two days ago about my realisation that, given real life pressures, I would not be able to blog regularly or extensively on the theme of Smells of December as originally planned. Until I saw the exit poll for the UK General Election last night, I was planning to write a blog post. When I saw that, I was terrified and angry, and was up until 1.30am watching election news; I might have stayed up all night, were it not for my responsibility to my job and my mental health. I didn’t sleep well, in any case, and woke up to a nightmare. This blog isn’t a place for Brexiteers and Tories, if you’re not clear on my opinions. I don’t understand how anybody with a conscience, a brain, a heart, could have voted to give the Tories a majority. Scotland is lucky; we have a way to get away from the ensuing destruction of everything that makes a country and a society basically functioning and decent. This is a moral issue. I feel guilty that I live somewhere which can save itself, when I see the devastation of my friends in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales. I have friends in Scotland and England who came here from several countries across the world, who haven’t been able to vote. They were forced to rely on other people who have let them down; I don’t know what to say to them except that I am sorry and that they shouldn’t decide right now to leave; they make this fragmented country a better place. Know that you are important and valued. There is no United Kingdom, and, probably, has not been for several years, but now that Brexit is unavoidable, we need to do everything we can to save where and what (the NHS, primarily) that we can. I don’t understand how this result happened.


My plan for today’s blog post are not changed. Today is the feast day of Saint Lucy, Santa Lucia, after whom I would have been named had First Sibling been a girl. Her feast day is all about light, in reference to her crown of candles, bringing light on the darkest day. I wrote about this in a previous December blog series on the subject of light. Today, it’s about the smell of candles. My whole life, the smell of a burning candle is relaxing, reassuring, and when I feel anxious, sitting in a room lit only by candles, breathing in their smell, brings me back from fears. I need the smell of candles to keep me grounded.

screen-shot-2019-12-11-at-21.37.42.pngBefore I write today’s post, a brief announcement: posts for the next few days will be short, perhaps just an image of a favourite December smell, or non-existent. I have so much to do between now and Sunday, and Christmas-related anxiety is beginning to build. I have forgotten how much time it takes to write a blog post, but am hoping to get a few scheduled to keep things ticking along.

Diy-Christmas-Stockings-24Today’s smell is the satsuma in the toe of a stocking – in my case, one very long burgundy sock, one of a pair that I still have. The sharp, sweet smell of the satsuma, and the new weight of the stocking at the end of my bed, is my enduring memory of the beginning of every Christmas Day growing up. I can perfectly understand the reluctance of Amy March in the 1994 film adaptation of Little Women to give up the orange she had saved for Christmas morning. 

I don’t have any photos of my Stocking Socks – they are safe at the Family Seat – but when looking at photos of stockings, I found those to the left. Don’t they look wonderful? I would happily wear them out and about, if I could find a version in sturdy boots. I would spend time now looking for a pattern (for the stockings, not the boots; a cobbler I am not), but, well, time is passing, and there are things to be done.

Homemade-marzipanI could not live in a world without marzipan. My only issue with Buddy’s “four main food groups” in Elf is that there is no mention of marzipan. It should be the fifth food group. I will die on this hill. So of course I had to include marzipan in the Smells of December blog post series. Marzipan smells of almonds and sugar, and that smell is beautiful. It’s pure Christmas (although Dad deserves an honorary mention here for the time he made a marzipan hamster, modelled on our pet hamster Sammy, for my birthday cake when I was wee). Continue Reading »

Christmas cheese boardThe Marleys were dead, to begin with, I must clarify that this blog’s official position is that cheese is for life, not just for Christmas. However, it’s always been a particularly important part of my Christmas feasting. The smell heralds a pause between the savoury and the sweet parts of the meal. Continue Reading »

Peppermint Lane FunkoIf you want an excellent example of spending too much time thinking about something daft, I give you Exhibit A: this blog post. I was trying to decide what smell to write about today, and peppermint came to mind. Why peppermint? When I went to the opening of the wonderful, and large, new Forbidden Planet premises in Glasgow in November, I found a series of Christmas Funkos called Peppermint Lane. Continue Reading »

Ginger beerGinger beer was always part of our Christmases growing up, so when I started preparing this post, I was decidedly miffed at all the summery pictures of ginger beer. The Famous Five have a lot to answer for! Although, according to this blog post, the phrase “lashings of ginger beer” is never actually used in the books. Curiouser and curiouser. I wonder how that phrase become known as a Famous Five staple?

Ginger beer was a Christmas drink in our family, because one of my aunts would make bottles and bottles and bottles of it, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, and every family got a good supply as a present. I really should try to get the recipe from the Auntie. It’s been a long time, but I remember a spicy, warming smell, which made me feel really cosy, even before drinking it. Has anyone ever tried adding cranberries to the recipe? That would make it even more Christmassy, and less summery in appearance.

P.S. This post was due yesterday, but after a long day out in the rain, I was soaked through and exhausted. So straight to bed it was.

Who among you blog readers has heard about Geek Girl Brunch? It’s been running for about 5 years now, and has chapters all over the world. We organise brunches on a weird and wonderful range of themes – from Galentines to Labyrinth, and much more besides. The Glasgow chapter page is here if you want to know more about what we do. Continue Reading »

Today’s post is brought to you by some pupils’ creation of a house for the library’s Elf on a Shelf (see below). It’s not a very luxurious house – it’s a cupboard without a door, to be completely honest, and the only furnishings at present are some priceless works of art (the skull is a visitor).


The Elf on the Shelf’s minimalist abode.

So now I’m wondering what an elf’s house would smell like. Obviously, we must turn to the expert – Buddy the Elf. His anecdotes indicate that the air is infused with sugar in as many forms as possible. The four main food groups – candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup – must all be represented throughout the house, to keep it smelling as sweetly as possible.

Can you see fireplaces piled high with candy canes and sticks of barley sugar? Where in a mortal household you might find bowls of pot pourri to keep the air fresh, in the elf’s house there are bowls of marshmallows and chocolates.  The mirrors are framed in edible gold or silver leaf studded with little balls of sugar, all different colours. In the kitchen and bathroom, taps providing maple syrup and golden syrup have their own sinks. Edible flowers, crystallised in sugar, fill the vases, and fruit bowls overflow with candied fruits. Is it possible that even the wallpaper is sweet to the taste? Make sure the elf of the house is not looking if you’re brave enough to try it. Now take a deep breath. A typical elf’s house smells even sweeter than you imagined.