“Drink now the strong beer,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a-shredding;
For the rare mince-pie,
And the plums stand by,
To fill the paste that’s a kneading.”
“Ceremonies for Christmas,” by Robert Herrick
Despite at times being a rather ornery young man, I do enjoy Christmas. However, when I really stop and I’m honest with myself I don’t particularly enjoy Christmas in my new “home”.
Minor differences, those little differences that makes being a relatively new expat interesting, irritate the life out of me at Christmas. For a few weeks I turn into one of those skin-peeled British expats living on the Costa del Sol. You know the sort, Richard Littlejohn readers who won’t eat any of that “foreign” muck and find themselves in a constant state of exasperation when the waiters fail to understand their English. Come Yuletide, I transmogrify into them, into something I hate. No longer do I find myself charmed by the local traditions, because they are not my traditions and at Christmas that is precisely what I seem to be desperately grasping for.
To damnation with this “home is where you make it” tosh. Come Christmas there is a specific time and place I find myself in. It turns out that this season brings out the inner conservative in me. Yes, there is still an abundance of tinsel and Christmas trees everywhere, but somehow it all feels slightly off. The problem is that my notion of Christmas is a peculiarly English one.
I try listening to Christmas carols but they often end up striking a discordant note to me. I try singing along to them, but I get lost in the music — by which I don’t mean I get so moved I have a transformative experience, I mean I get tripped up by an unexpected rhythm or tune. The American version of Away in a Manager differs significantly from the British counterpart — same lyrics, different melodies. It is all too culturally discombobulating (that would be a good name for a blog).
On television I watch the old Rankin/Bass TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but why? I think I’m hoping that my mind will be tricked into falling for the illusion of nostalgia, the warm memories of a childhood I didn’t have. So each year I force myself to watch that show, hoping I’ll like it. As it happens, I just find myself irritated by Hermey the elf and his dentistry obsession. By the time the King Moonracer, a cross-eyed lion with wings, is introduced into the narrative I decide that Nancy Reagan was right and everyone should “just say no” to drugs (something Rankin and Bass appeared to have found difficult) and turn off the TV.
I try to make the best of a bad thing. I try to educate the natives. I roll down the windows of my car and drive around town with Slade‘s Merry Xmas Everybody convinced that once they hear it they will inately know of its festive superiority over their own efforts. I correct small children when they call Father Christmas, Santa Claus. And like a right old Fanny Cradock (imagine if Julia Child were British — and looked liked Baby Jane), I make mincemeat and force everyone I know to eat mince pies against their own will. Of course, buying mincemeat is a near impossibility here. Even buying all the necessary ingredients is a problem though it can be amusing trying to find them all. I’d advise you to find the most gormless person working at your local supermarket and ask them if they stock suet.
Once I have all my ingredients, I go about making my mincemeat and the heady rich smells of spices and fruit take over the house and at that moment, though it is usually a week before Christmas itself I feel the most Christmassy that I will for the whole season. The next night I make mince pies with the mincemeat along with mulled wine and I have friends over. I put on Carols from King’s and make everyone else put on a ridiculous fake English accent. It’s not quite home, but it’s the best that I can do.
For those at all interested in making mince pies, recipe follows:
MINCE PIE RECIPE
Mincemeat Mix Recipe:
I coarsely chop (though that’s optional) 12oz raisins, 8oz golden raisins and 4oz cranberries (feel free to mix and match the amounts to suit your own taste)
Place all that into a bowl and add a handful (I”m not a great one for measurements) of slivered almonds.
I grate the rind of 2 lemons and 2 oranges into the bowl and then add their juice to the mix.
Add 1/2 tsp of grated nutmeg
Add 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
Add 2 tsp of ground all spice
I peel an apple and grate it into the mix
Add 8oz of soft brown sugar
Add 2oz (or about half a stick) of unsalted butter. This is in place of suet, so if you can get hold of some then feel free to use that rather than butter.
Mix it all together.
Put it in the oven, covered at 200F for three hours.
After three hours take it out of the oven. Stir the contents and add to it six table spoons of brandy.
Put in the fridge for at least 12 hours to allow the flavours to meld together.
With the pastry, it’s just a basic short crust. I use a flour to butter ratio of 2:1 and add a pinch of salt. I also add grated orange rind and then bind with water.
The rest you can probably work out. Roll out your pastry, cut into circles large enough for your muffin baking tray. Place into baking tray and put a tablespoon of mincemeat. Cover with a smaller pastry circle as a lid for the pie. Bake until before you can smell burning. Sprinkle with icing sugar.
Best served warm with a glass of mulled wine.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, our first canine random nomad!
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