Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Struggling with Jesus

Dear Nigel,

I don't know if it is indicative of the new millennium but all is not 'calm and bright' in the stable at present. Molly, who is playing Mary in the school Nativity, decided to start her letter to Father Christmas this evening with the words, 'Dear Santa, I'm struggling with my baby at present...' Obviously, she has been illicitly watching too much reality TV somewhere. The baby Jesus apparently requires all manner of baby paraphernalia, including a bath with shower attachment, a car seat (for the donkey) and a sledge (for all that snow piling up outside Bethlehem).

The Royal Mail requires a stamp for the letter to get to Father Christmas. Gone are the days when my older children were small and letters were simply stuck in a post box unstamped. Several weeks later a badly translated note would come back from Greenland, or somewhere, covered in magical foreign stamps from the land of ice and snow; from the REAL Father Christmas, without a doubt. The Internet tells me we can still do this and Santa takes euros these days. Clever Santa. The girls write their letters and clamour for stamps. I see Baby Annabel has also written a long list for Santa. Good luck to him trying to reason with a two foot piece of plastic who snores louder than my child.

There is a small digger heading its way towards my house. I watch its progress with its mole-like trail following behind. They say it's the Internet. I say I'm quite happy with mine the way it is at present, having spent ages sorting it out. My neighbour has all sorts of electrical appliances short-circuiting or something. We are the end of the line for electricity and falling below the legal minimum, it appears. No wonder I keep trying to up the lumens in the light bulbs and considering another eye test for my failing eyesight. Perhaps I should sit the children on a stationary bike and they can generate our own electricity instead.

The whole village is beginning to look like the battle of the Somme. Cables are being put underground and my friend Liz tells me they have been without a landline, mobile or Internet for over a month now. She'll be sending smoke signals to her facebook pals if this carries on much longer.

Back in the kitchen, I'm making 'Gnocchi dolcelatte' (page 505). I love to cook with blue cheese. I'd much rather cook with it than eat it straight. Best of all are the dishes, like this one, where it is added to a creamy sauce. Gnocchi and spinach are suitable partners in this dish to temper the saltiness and tang of the dolcelatte. Left to bake for 30 minutes it mellows and crisps at the edges. Like a dinner bell it calls to you from the oven as you lay the table nearby.

It has been a miserable wet day today with floods on the roads and a flash flood which threatened to enter the cottage as the stream broke its banks and water from the higher meadows made new waterfalls coming down into the stream. A couple of sandbags by the back door and the water starts receding as the rain eases. I haven't seen it this high in all the time we've been here.

We get out the advent calendars ready for next week. There is a certain amount of filling to be done of the little wooden houses with chocolate coins and novelty sweets. I always make sure I get a paper one too with little pictures behind the doors. This is how I remember advent calendars to be.

Sophie, aged nine, is unimpressed with Matthew Rice's artwork this year. Baby Jesus appears to be about six years old and wearing lipstick (2014 version). Presumably it took the three kings an inordinately long time to find the stable. Mary, meanwhile, has been erecting stair gates using sheep hurdles to try and keep the baby Jesus away from her ironing board. The shepherd has a very dodgy look to him. Methinks he has spent rather too long looking after his sheep. Sophie palms her calendar off on Molly and claims the other one as hers.

I'm using my gnocchi straight from the freezer. I like the idea of having such staples on standby, if possible. I am pleased with the outcome. The gnocchi cook just as well from frozen as fresh. You say to 'take care not to over-salt the gnocchi's cooking water' as 'the cheese will provide enough salt.' I have read that it is better not to salt the gnocchi's cooking water at all as the salt will make the potato starch go sticky and it will end up mushy. In a different recipe it would be better to adjust the seasoning after cooking. Here, there is simply no need - it is salty enough.

Fruit to follow, I think. There are bowls dotted around the house filled with heaps of vivid orange clementines, which look like someone has been at work polishing them all to a fine shine. The best and easiest way to keep winter colds at bay.Every stocking should have one. Every child, an imprint of the smell of Christmas. I cannot seem to smell a tangerine without closing my eyes to do so. And along with the scent there is a certain tingling and anticipation that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I am standing in the kitchen on a grey afternoon stacking plates.


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