Archive for the ‘Food and Drink’ Category

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.

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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). (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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.

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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. (more…)

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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.


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I’ve posted a lot over the years on various social media accounts about the wonderful smell of fruits and nuts soaking in brandy, ahead of their role in the creation of Christmas cakes. Strictly speaking, they are more of an October or November smell, depending on how busy we are, but as they are the first stage of a key Christmas dish – the rich fruit cake, covered in marzipan and icing – in my heart they are definitely a smell of December. (more…)

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Please accept my apologies for the silence of the last three days; I went away for a much-needed wee holiday, and it was wonderful. I did take the computer, but decided to leave it switched off in favour of long walks through unexpected snow, beautiful scenery, and good food. Because I bought myself a humble abode earlier this year, I didn’t have a long holiday, so decided to treat myself. Now suddenly it’s Hogmanay. I’ve not done much today, just a bit of cooking, of one of my favourite dishes, a red cabbage-based delight. (more…)

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Who else in the UK watched episode 1 of  The Miniaturist on BBC1 last night? I thought it was a great adaptation of Jessie Burton’s first novel. I won’t see episode 2 for a few days, so please don’t spoil it for me!

My favourite thing about the programme is its colour palette. It looks like a Dutch painting in its own right, perhaps by Vermeer.

Family prayers in “The Miniaturist”

The dollhouse at the centre of the plot is particularly beautiful, and it was the reason why I read the book in the first place. I really would love to see the original house owned by Petronella Oortman, in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

But with one eye always on a possible subject for the next blog post in the Christmas Feasts series, I remembered Nella’s love of marzipan (a sweet taste we both love). The book goes into more detail about the importance of marzipan in her memories of her home:

‘My mother used to roll it into shapes’. There was always marzipan in the pantry, the only predilection for indulgence in which Mrs Oortman echoed her husband. Mermaids, ships and necklaces of sugared jewels, that almond doughiness melting in their mouths. I no longer belong to my mother, Nella thinks. One day I will roll sugar shapes for otber little clammy hands, voices baying for treats. (p.15)

This takes me back to one of my earlier posts in this series, about marchpane sculptures, inspired by E. T. A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. I wonder if Petronella’s mother ever created such works of art, and if Petronella herself has the talent and patience to do so.  

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