Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas Dinner for the 7th time

I think it takes at least 3 repeats for something to become tradition. And the Christmas dinner for all our uni friends is now firmly cemented as such. And everytime a new mini tradition is added - secret santa presents, certain drinking games, brownies for pudding, etc.

We never manage to get everyone every year, but there is always a good number and every year there will be someone new (new boyfriends or girlfriend, new housemates, or colleagues) but it never matters - the philosophy has always been the more the merrier.

This year, in true festive spirit the snow came down thick and fast the morning of the dinner. It looked wonderful. But it did make the walk to ASDA a little more problematic. Though not as bad as the day before. When I fell over. Carrying 8 (yes EIGHT) carrier bags of food for the dinner (I had decided to do the booze and mixers on the day, so there were no bottles, however I was carrying all the potatoes, carrots, parsnips, etc - basically everything bulky and heavy) I had carefully balanced myself with four bags of equal weight in each hand. Clearly the planning was not so great as I really did fall totally flat on my back. Carrots went rolling off, broccoli florets were bouncing across the frozen tarmac. And a line of traffic had to stop while I picked myself up. In fact three people FROM SEPARATE CARS (two were the actual drivers) had to get out of their vehicles to pick me and the shopping up. One even got some spare bags for life out of his boot. And to top it all off I still had over half the walk home, and am now sporting a rather impressive bruise on my bum. Great.

The walk on Saturday was slightly less eventful (I only fell down once, and the Wiganer was on hand to pick me up, also a hedge was blocking the view from the road so the humiliation was lessened). And luckily the Boyfriend picked us up in his brand new car (RIP the micra...).

But we were running really late - it was 3pm and the turkey was not even in the oven, and we were apparently eating at 6.30. No chance I hear you snort, but actually we were not far off that. Because we have an ingenious, foolproof, and most importantly, a lazy way of cooking the turkey.

4 Carrots
2 sticks of celery
2 Leeks
3 Onions
4 cloves of garlic
White wine (about half a bottle)
1 1/2 pints of chicken stock

First stuff and season your bird. Then roughly chop all the veg into fairly large chunks. Place in a large disposable aluminium roasting tray and put the turkey on top. Place on the hob and pour in the liquids. Bring to the boil on top of the hob and then cover with two layers of bacofoil and pop in a pre-heated oven (200 degrees) for 2 hours.

That is it. No basting, no need to check it. After two hours take it out, have a look and pierce it with a knife - juices run clear and no one should die. If there don't pop it back in for 20 minutes.

Once it is cooked take it out. Mix together some honey, a little butter/marg and some lemon juice. Using a pastry brush paint it all over the top of the turkey and then sprinkle with thyme. Into a hot oven for 20mins until crispy and brown. Take out and rest for 20mins until ready to carve (or be hacked apart by inexperienced Boyfriend).

We did the usual veggies and trimmings (homemade sausage meat stuffing was my piece de resistance). And rounded it all off with brownies and choc sauce, mince pies and creme fraiche, crackers and secret santa presents. And then we played games and danced and drank and eventually went out (but would not get into the cabs until some people had started a snowball fight).

We went to a club and danced. And got in at 3am to turkey and stuffing sandwiches and leftover brownies. Another tradition. Yum.

NYC.... my new favourite place in the world (apart perhaps from my sofa with the Boyfriend and Elf on TV).

We were there for 5 days. In that time we did as much as is humanly possible.

It was -8 and really cold. Bone chillingly cold. But the good thing about New York is that there are coffee shops and cafes on every corner, between every street, in fact every other place sells some sort of caffinated beverage.

We went to the Top of the Rock (amazing, much smaller queue than the Empire State Building and you can look at the Empire State Building - you can't see it if you climb it!) and Grand Central Station, New York Library and Times Square.

We walked across Brooklyn Bridge and got the Staten Island ferry. We drank in a speak easy and ate in a diner. The Boyfriend drank buckets of beer and ate greasy chicken wings. I went to the Magnolia Bakery and re-lived Carrie's Sex and the City cupcake eating. We went shopping and saw Elf The Musical on Broadway.

We stayed with a friend, who is still a true Croydoner, but is also slowly becoming a New Yorker. He took us to some hidden gems (Whiskey Town - free shot of whiskey with every drink and truly delicious whiskey sours, PDF - old speakeasy hidden behind the wall of a rather scrubby looking hot dog stand, ESS Bagel - best bagel place in New York and when we went inside were accosted by a local asking us how we knew about the place and that we were lucky as it really was the best bagel place in the city).

We got the ferry to Ellis and Liberty Island (FREEZING) and saw the Statue of Liberty up close. And watched a very informative film about the history of New York immigrants and Ellis Island. We also went to the History of New York Museum (bit rubbish apart from the BRILLIANT film about the history of the city, starting with the Native American tribes that lived there, then the Dutch settlers, right through to the modern day).

We wandered through Chinatown and the Boyfriend nearly went to the Chinese McDonalds. We went for dinner in Korea Way (apparently containing the highest number of Koreans outside Korea). Dinner was a BBQ sunk into our table and platter after platter of raw, marinated meat and fish were bought over for us to cook ourselves. It was delicious and also such a novelty!

We wandered through Central Park, went ice-skating, but avoided the extortionately over-priced horse and carriage ride. We went to Bloomingdales (Bloomys) and had frozen yogurt and tried on stupidly expensive outfits. We visited wall street and saw the big bronze bull from the film "Hitch".

While the boys indulged in the constant sport shown on every TV in every bar I wandered the streets of Soho and Greenwich Village, trying on vintage one-offs and restraining myself from buying 101 trinkets. In fact it was the wandering of the city that were perhaps my favourite part of the trip. It is just the best city for that - not too big, easy to navigate thanks to the ingenious grid system and just FULL of amazing things at every step.

Friday, 10 December 2010

The tree!

The Boyfriend and I have put up our enormous tree. It is a 7 footer (not as big as Louise's at 8foot but the Micra was not going to cope with another inch, let alone foot). It comes with a state of the art stand (the Boyfriend was possibly more excited by this than the actual tree, demonstrating its merits to me a total of 4 times) and the Boyfriend got a LOT of lights.

The tree decorating got off to a wonderful start. We twined the lights round, taking the time to place them the correct distance from the centre of the tree, but not too close to the edge, evenly spaced as they ascended the tree, and finally twirling the last few around the top. We switched them on and.... nothing. We tried everything (including changing a fuse, and checking every bulb) until 30minutes later when I suggested that perhaps they were broken, and needed to be returned.

So back to Homebase, who were very obliging and even gave us a further £5 off (the already half price lights - bargain!). And set two worked perfectly - twinkly and multi-coloured and magical looking.

On went the decorations, and tinsel, then off came the tinsel as I disagree with it on the tree and despite the Boyfriend's attempt to sneak it on, it is not inconspicuous enough to be overlooked. It went over the picture frames and the window. Much better.

It looks amazing. Though it is minus an angel at the top. This is partially due to the argument of angel (me) versus star (the Boyfriend). And the result has been the purchase of neither. And also, as we are off to New York tomorrow, I'm harbouring a secret hope of getting a statue of Liberty wearing a Christmas hat to pop on the top.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Christmas shopping

I'm doing rather well on the Christmas shopping front so far this year. And not just because I have completed a fair amount, but also because (given my dire financial situation - reconciling lifestyle and salary has elluded me for the last few months) I have managed to not pay full price for a single present.

It could just be me noticing for the first time, but I really don't think it is. Every high street shop seems to be offering some sort of discount. Our Christmas decorations, courtesy of Debenhams were 3 for 2 AND 10%. All department stores seem to be having weekends of 20% off, or matching the cheapest price elsewhere. Even smaller shops have discounts if you can be bothered to do a bit of hunting, or do day specific shopping (much easier if you finish work in central London by 2pm I know, but hey, I need some perks for the rubbish hours and low pay)

Online discount codes and free delivery has also helped me out, as has internet checking for the cheapest deals. All in all I'm feeling a little smug. And ready to totally NOT be frugal on my upcoming trip to New York City.

Festive baking

I have found a cheap, quick, low fat and practically fool proof way to make mince pies.

All you need is a pack of ready made filo pastry sheets, a jar of mincemeat and some milk.

Get a sheet of filo pastry and fold it in half. Cut it into 4 and place a teaspoon of mincemeat at one end. Flatten it out and then roll up the pastry like a cracker. Pinch the ends and repeat until all the pastry and mincemeat are used up (should you run out of mincemeat substitute with jam - especially if the Boyfriend has recently purchased some fancy stuff from Borough Market).

Place on a baking tray and brush with milk. Bake for 8-10mins until golden brown.

Leave to cool as molten mincemeat is hotter than the sun.

Perfect weekend

I have been ill for the last three weekends. It has been rubbish. And this weekend was the first one I felt like a normal person.

Friday - had friends round for a drink and a catch up.
Saturday we bundled up nice and warm and went to Borough Market. It was fun and festive, and we had a chippy lunch (warm chips, cold hands, equals perfect match). We returned home with beer and jam (both chosen by the Boyfriend - how quaint!).

Went to coffee house The Black Lab in Clapham to see my sister. We drank tea and gossiped, and laughed and laughed and laughed. Friends came to meet us, and they laughed (mainly at us I think) and then it was time to go home and even though it was dark it wasn't late and the walk back was chilly but not freezing thanks to a bellyful of warm tea.

Train to Wandsworth town, and appreciation of a beautiful Christmas tree accompanied with a gin and tonic. Dinner was Thai and then drinks at The Ship (big bizarre and beautiful pub right on the edge of the river). And then things got hazy and there were cabs and shots and dancing, unexpected friends and a broken tooth (not mine). And then home and bed and a long long sleep.

Sunday was lazy. There was tea and scones (a McDonalds for the Boyfriend) and a walk and some baking, christmas cards, fajitas and then X Factor.

Everything just came together to make the weekend exactly what I needed

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Tree Envy....

The Boyfriend and I have come to a disagreement regarding the Christmas tree. He wants to get it now, I want to wait until we return from New York (is there much point having a tree when we can't see it? Especially when we risk returning home to a tree with no needles?). He however, is adament that it is vital to get the tree as soon as December commences.

This weekend we went round to our friends' house. They too have had an argument regarding a tree. Needless to say it was won by the female, and there is now an 8 foot (yes EIGHT!!) tree wedged in their living room. The furniture has had to be moved, and you can only see half the TV but this tree is actually one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

It is red and cream and twinkly. There are little wooden decorations, big glass baubles, and glossy silk stockings. There is even the odd poshy chocolate. My moral stance on Christmas trees has totally vanished. The minute the Micra is rescued from snowy Croydon we are going straight to Homebase, home of the festive tree.