Sunday, 29 January 2012

Scottish saying for New Years: 
Literally translated: "Long may your chimney smoke"
I'll hold my hands up and admit I'm horribly late getting this posted. I could use the excuse that I was fighting colds during the first weeks of January (true) and that I was having technical problems with Blogspot in which everything I had previously done seemed to disappear or reappear in the wrong place (also true) but really, there were times when I could have forced myself to sit down and write this but I didn't. 

It's hard to recapture the holiday spirit after so much time has elapsed and it seems, although it's only been a month, that Christmas was a long time ago. There's been a dusting of snow on the ground today from the last evening's flakes so I guess that's the closest I'm going to get here to re-create a Christmas feeling--although this year, unlike the last 2 years, we did NOT have a white Christmas. 

The tree in "soft focus"
Most of the people I've heard from or about said that this year's holiday was a very good one. Many people said that they had scaled back and bit and enjoyed it more. It was one of the most enjoyable I've had since I've been here too so hopefully this will remind you of happy memories of your Christmas and New Years.

First of all, I wanted to try to do as much ahead of time and plan and organize things so that it would make it easier and I wasn't running around like crazy at the last minute to get everything done on the day. I talked Robbie into at least getting out all the boxes from the "cupboard under the stairs" on the first of December. Now that doesn't mean that we got the decorations put up, we just had lots of boxes sitting in the living room for a while until I felt like tackling them or I could coerce Robbie into putting the lights on the tree. I think it took another week to finally get everything out and up. 

Robbie said that it looked very nice this year and someone else remarked that it was a pretty tree but I don't think I did anything differently than last year. I just have accumulated a few very nice ornaments and I love my old-fashioned glass Thomas Pacconi ornaments I got from QVC many years ago. Unfortunately quite a few of them got broken being shipped over here but I still have enough left to pretty much fill our small tree. One of the things I like best about getting out the decorations is seeing all the lovely things that you accumulate year after year and seeing old "friends" again! 

My Christmas Boyd's Bear--
he plays music too
This is like my snowmen set but
Robbie broke one of the little ones
last year  :(
It's always nice to see things you'd almost forgotten you had and that bring back so many good memories of happy times.

So I guess you could say that one of the reasons this Christmas was nicer was that we were able to get our decorations up earlier than in past years and thus could have longer to enjoy them!

This year, like times in the past I didn't want to go to a lot of unnecessary trouble and mess by going overboard on the food and baking and cooking. If you look at past blogs I've written about Christmas here there are very specific foods that are "necessary" for Christmas dinner. Usually it's turkey with dressing or stuffing balls, surrounded by chipolatas (small sausages) wrapped in bacon called "pigs in blanket , roast potatoes in goose fat, brussel sprouts and maybe roast parsnips followed by the steamed Christmas pudding, mince pies or Christmas cake. 
The typical Christmas dinner. Around the turkey you can see the pigs in blanket and stuffing balls. To the left going counter-clockwise is sprouts, probably mashed swede (turnips), roast carrots & parsnips, might be broccoli, I'm not sure, gravy, bread sauce and roast potatoes.

Traditional Christmas Pudding
("Oh bring us a figgy pudding")
usually set alight with brandy
Cute little mince pies

A Christmas cake
Looks lovely doesn't it?
But--inside is hiding the terrible fruitcake that nobody
wants to eat!

See? Fruitcake surrounded by
marzipan covered over with fondant
Or for further information and recipes you can check out this link:

Now having said all that, that's NOT what we did for Christmas dinner! Other than the roast potatoes,  sprouts and mince pies we had a different dinner. Robbie's aunt Nancy doesn't like turkey or chicken and it's customary (can't really say traditional because it's not always the case) in his family to have steak pie for Christmas dinner. And Robbie doesn't really like parsnips so they were off the menu. None of us were really keen on the Christmas pudding or cake so forget that too.

Not knowing how to make--and to be honest, not really wanting to know--the kind of steak pie (or we'd call it a pot pie) that they're used to, I turned to the frozen ready made kind from the supermarket. Asda (British Wal-Mart) was having a 2 for 1 sale on frozen pies in many varieties so I called Robbie up to the computer a week before Christmas and asked him which kind he thought would be the best. 

He had cleaned out and defrosted the little freezer we have in the garage so there was plenty of room to keep the stuff and I was determined to get my shopping done ahead of time to not only avoid the rush (even when you shop online you can get disappointed if you wait too long) and the shortages plus I wanted to take advantage of the sales. 

So the week before, I did my shopping online and ordered everything we could think of needing for our Christmas meal. It was great because in addition to the frozen ready made pies I didn't have to cook, I also ordered frozen sprouts with chestnuts and bacon and frozen roast potatoes. In the past I was never able to make my roast potatoes crispy like they do here so these were pre-basted and ready for the oven. I don't think, other than frying up some bacon to add to the sprouts, I cooked one thing! It was all just heat from frozen. I loved it! 
Steak Pie and Roast Potatoes

Brussel sprouts with chestnuts & bacon

Our Christmas table
Now that's not to say that I didn't do any baking. I made two of the "pumpkin" (aka sweet potato) pies like I had made for Thanksgiving and also decided to make two kinds of Christmas cookies. This year I thought I'd try Mom's butter cookies she made every year at Christmas when I was growing up. One of the things she always complained about was how hard it was to find chopped blanched almonds but here they're easy to get. What was hard for me to find was the vanilla bean! Since I'd never made them before I wasn't sure how they would turn out but they weren't too bad. ALMOST tasted like Mom's but, of course, not as good. Along with those I made ginger snaps which were always Ben's favorite cookie. 
Mom's Butter Cookies

Ginger Snaps
Selection of nibbles,
 smoked salmon pate, cheese plate
and mince pies.

If anyone would like the recipes for any of these just email me and I'll be happy to share. 

Ok, we have food, decorations, now....Presents! For my part I did all my shopping online and, of course, got all my gifts for friends and family in the US that way. I ordered a lot of gifts from one of my favorite places:  They make THE BEST English muffins and baked goods--at least I think so. Another favorite I used is: My sister turned me on to their teas, especially the peach tea. 

Robert, being a man, is hard to buy for, as you'd expect. I usually go to my default setting and buy him clothes because he always needs them. As the "absent minded professor" he will throw any old thing on, colors irregardless and go. He's not color blind but you'd never know it, sometimes, by the clothes he wears. For example, I once caught him putting on a black and red plaid shirt, brown trousers and a red & blue tie. (I'm sorry, honey, but you know it's true). At Asda I found these sweater and shirt sets where the shirt is attached to the cardigan so there's no confusion. Perfect, I thought, so I got 2 sets, a grey and a blue set. Later, when he tried them on we found that the blue shirt could be detachable but that's ok. 
Robbie with his two shirts & sweaters

I also got him a fluffy soft bathrobe and slippers since he really needed both of those too.

His other present from me was a spur-of-the-moment type. I suddenly remembered that he had once told me, I think when we had watched "The Santa Clause 2" (the part where they talk about the gifts that they had asked Santa for when they were little and hadn't gotten)  that he had always wanted a train set but had never gotten one. That set me thinking and I checked Amazon UK because I thought I'd have a better chance of finding just about anything there. They had 2 offerings: a Thomas the Tank Engine type and a couple of other regular ones. Not being a hobbyist and knowing nothing about gauge, one caught my eye because it said "Caledonian Belle" and one of the cars had "Edinburgh" on it and it was a "starter set" so that was the one! This is it:

What could this be?
Oh my! It's a train! 
Santa finally got my note I put up the chimney!

We all know that Robbie is hopeless at present giving (this is him speaking, not me) and so usually I have to not give hints but clearly spelled out lists along with specifics and where to buy, etc. I always tell him that jewelry is always in good taste but that he seems to ignore...
A Senseo, like mine but mine is RED!
I had been wanting a one cup coffee machine ever since I'd see the Keurig, Nespresso, Senseo, and Dolce Gusto machines. I wavered back and forth between them, researching each one for pros and cons. The price was the big obstacle and in the long run, the features were similar, and to me, it really didn't matter which one I got. All I really wanted was an easy cup of coffee in the afternoon if I wanted it. Right before Christmas one of the big electronics stores Argos had Senseo machines less than half price (and in a really cute red color) and I remarked a couple of times what a good price that was and how I would like to have that. Yes, it went in one ear and out the other until a few days before Christmas Robbie flat out asked me what I wanted and I told him. Of course by this time all the ones on sale were gone at the local store because I helped him check online so I pretty much gave up on the idea of getting that for Christmas.

We opened our presents a little after midnight and I opened some microwavable slippers that he got for me. They are pink and you can heat them up in the microwave because he knows I always have icy cold feet! 
Yes, I need microwavable slippers for my icy feet!
Then, from behind me, he brought out a big box and when I unwrapped it I was surprised that he not only got the Senseo I wanted but in the cute red color! Turns out he had to go to 3 different Argos stores the day before Christmas. "You ARE magic!" I said to him. We have since used it many times daily and Robert loves it more than I do I think, because you can use round tea bags and make a very quick cup of tea. He thinks it's "brilliant" and makes the best tea ever (according to him). I also ordered an attachment that allows you to use regular ground coffee and not have to buy the special coffee pods so that will save money. We both are very happy with it and I suggested to Robbie that maybe the next time I mention that a certain gadget would be nice to have, he would believe me! 
What? You actually found a Senseo! In red? You ARE magic!

I love my present!
 Christmas Day I didn't have much to do, as I said, other than to put together the cheese plates and smoked salmon, put the food in the oven and have Robbie set the table. So I enjoyed the day too without any stress at all! If you also notice on the table one other tradition we adhered to was crackers

Now where I come from "crackers" means something else entirely.
A cracker, as I know it...
Also crackers...and boy, do I miss saltines!

But here, you pull crackers at Christmas
These look a lot like the ones we had.
They were "luxury" crackers and had nicer prizes.
Robbie got a silver yo yo and he played with it
all Christmas. I got a nice nail buffer
and Auntie Nancy got a book marker.

 The Christmas crackers here are pulled and they give off a crack like a cap gun and inside there's usually a prize (much like a Cracker Jack prize), a joke and a paper hat you're supposed to wear during dinner.
Robbie wearing the paper hat from his cracker
Robert's Auntie Nancy joined us for dinner and we all watched the Queen's Speech and then ate. The food was enjoyed by Robbie and his auntie so I was pleased that something so easy was a hit. 
Robbie's Auntie Nancy waiting for dinner
Now for New Year's. In Scotland New Year's or Hogmanay is a bigger deal, in some ways, than Christmas. Apparently as recently as the 1950's, in some places, Christmas wasn't even celebrated because since the Protestant Reformation it was banned as being "Popish" or too Catholic (Growing up in the Church of Christ I can't imagine what that is like, I say sarcastically). So Hogmanay is the time when families got together and feasted (and drank) and even exchanged presents. It was a time to clear out and one of the good luck traditions was to take the old ashes out of your fireplace. I'm glad we don't have to worry about that but I do miss a fireplace for looks! For more information on the Hogmanay origin and tradition check out:

Another thing you do for good luck is to open your front and back door when "the bells" go at midnight. That's supposed to chase the bad out the back door and the good in the front. There were big fireworks in Edinburgh and London but none here at Fauldhouse. Robert has his own superstition that if you get new clothes for Christmas you don't wear them till the new year so now he tried on his clothes and they all fit him perfectly. He wore his new bathrobe on New Year's Eve. We've never been ones to drink on New Year's--or any time-- but I had ordered a bottle of sparkling rose' Cava (cheaper than champagne) when I was ordering the Christmas foods. We opened that, had a glass each and that was that. 

My own family tradition is to eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day for good luck and I've also eaten black-eyed peas since I lived in the South for so long but sauerkraut, believe it or not, is very hard to find and forget black-eyed peas! This year, for the first time, I was able to find sauerkraut in a jar! What I had to do was look for it in the Polish foods section. There are a lot of Polish and Eastern European workers in Britain (sort of like Hispanics in America) so some of the supermarkets carry Polish foods for them. In Polish, sauerkraut is "Kapusta". 
Polish sauerkraut or "kapusta"
Now, I'm not a big fan of sauerkraut and Robbie had never eaten it before. I cooked the pork and sauerkraut together like my mother used to so that the flavor of the pork would make the sauerkraut less tangy. I have to say, too, that this Polish stuff was really tangy but not too bad. Robbie thought it was fine and I was glad to have been able to conjure up as much good luck as I could. I didn't remember why or even where the tradition had come from in our family and I remember asking my mother once and she didn't know. I looked it up online and it said that pork is always considered a good luck food because a chicken scratches backwards for their food, a cow stands still but a pig roots forward to get food. Interesting. The pork and sauerkraut tradition, apparently, comes from New England and the Pennsylvania Dutch because the wish is that the sauerkraut is the most sour or bitter thing you "taste" (or experience) the whole year long. I think I like that!

So, whatever you did to ensure luck for 2012, or even if you don't believe in that--I expect we all take it with a grain of salt, don't we?--my hope and prayer is that this year becomes a better one for us all. And that's all we can hope to wish for isn't it? I know, now, that some of you haven't had a great start to the new year but, again, we will all believe that, especially with God's help and presence, it will only get better and better!