Life on the Shelf

I have been trying to sit down and write about Christmas, but it just isn’t happening. A tiny 4 kg black hole has opened in our lives which absorbs all time, energy, and effort. Not only that, but another lockdown has arrived limiting the amount of exciting things we could do. Enough waffling, let’s get down to business. (To defeat the huns? Or just the legacy of an enjoyable film…)

Christmas!

Christmas has come and gone for another year, and while our tree remains in-situ, we can take a fond look back over a weird Christmas period. It was our first (and hopefully last) Christmas spent in a country under siege by a global pandemic. Covid-19 shaped every part of 2020, so it’s only fitting that Christmas was included as well. After Boris predictably reneged on his promise of a relatively restriction-free holiday period, the mood of the country was rather glum. Our Christmas was always going to be different with the addition of the little monster, but we ended up hosting my sister and brother-in-law as their NI-bound travel plans had fallen through.

Boris pictured aboard the Serenity

Our Christmas as a result ended up being bigger than last year (four adults vs two) which was a really nice surprise. Since most of my family is scattered across the globe it was great to get together with some of the less geographically disparate clan members on something other than Skype or Zoom.

Foodmas!

And now we come to the real meaning of Christmas. Sure the family, friends and presents are great, but the food is a key element for me. It has to be ambitious, delicious, abundant and obtundent (when you’ve eaten enough of it). A well cooked turkey and a showpiece dessert are two of my absolute must-haves, and after that the rest falls into place.

The final plate – but how did we get there?

I planned too much, but delivered quite a plate in the end. Turkey has been the traditional Douglas Christmas fare for as long as I’ve been alive (and before, I expect). Traditionally granda would buy the turkey from a local farm and we would pick it up from him on Christmas Eve. The obligatory weigh-in would follow, with the turkey being placed on the bathroom scales in the utility room. To keep the tradition going, I ordered a turkey from Rosamondford Farm in Perkins Village just outside Exeter. It was a bit of a trek in poor weather on the 23rd of December but at the same time I was excited to pick up the free range bird. Memories flooded back of Christmases gone by.

The dry-brined turkey on the night before Christmas

Ordinarily I like to brine the turkey at least overnight, placing the bird in a large bucket filled with water, copious amounts of salt and aromatics. This year I decided to try a different approach with a recipe from Delicious magazine for a dry brine. Dry brining involves rubbing the turkey skin and cavity with salt, sugar and other spices. Simply pop the turkey back in the fridge and leave it overnight, then take it out of the fridge on Christmas morning and give it a wipe down. This recipe also involved a cranberry sauce glaze which worked really well.

The white chocolate and mango cake ended up being a little disappointing, as the buttermilk sponges were rather dense, but the end result looked excellent and tasted pretty decent. I topped it off with Physalis for a little extra flair. The layers were sandwiched with mascarpone, covered with cream cheese icing and topped with whipped cream. Pure decadence.

White chocolate and mango cake

Building the Shelf

In an attempt to semi-childproof the house, I have been eyeing up a wine glass rack to mount to the ceiling or somewhere else suitable. There were a few possible locations, but most looked unwieldy or would’ve been technically difficult to mount. An alternative option came in the form of an alcove.

Sorry Frank, but you’re going to have to move

We have a little alcove to the right of the fire which proved ideal. Mounting the wine glass rack to the ceiling was going to be a little awkward so I decided to make an oak shelf and mount it to that instead. I trawled the web for a place to get some suitable wood, but ended up buying some oak furniture board from B&Q. They were unable to cut it down to size at the time, so I ended up cutting it in the workshop. I tidied up the ends with the belt sander, then hand sanded the whole shelf and finished it with Danish oil. At this point I had intended to use brackets to fix the shelf to the wall, but the brackets were causing problems with fitting the rack.

After a dry fit of the brackets, I started researching some alternative fittings. The shelf was being fitted to a block wall so all I needed were some wall plugs and no fancy plasterboard fixings. I could do away with the brackets by using floating shelf fittings or battens. I was sceptical of the strength of floating shelf fittings at first, but then after watching some YouTube videos and reading myriad reviews, it was time to give them a chance. They require more precision drilling than brackets and some judicious hammer usage. I drilled 10mm holes in the wall for heavy duty wall plugs, and 12mm holes in the shelf to fit the rods.

A corded hammer drill is a must for drilling block or brick walls. I bought new drill bits for the purpose and had no issues at all. Getting the shelf onto the rods was a bit trickier. The shelf fixings were off-centre, allowing a little bit of adjustment for levelling. Once it was in place, the final step was to screw the glass rack into the holes I had pre-drilled. I had to glue some of the bark on to the shelf that fell off in the fitting process.

All that was left was to give it a wiggle to make sure it was strong enough, then get the glasses up. The fittings are robust, and the alcove sides help to give some additional stability. I’m really pleased with the final result. It’s not perfectly level and required a bit of bodging to get it into place, but it’s not bad for a first attempt at my own floating shelf.

Sky bar! the finished floating shelf

Games

It has been a tumultuous time for gaming with the great Cyberpunk 2077 scandal. Despite this, I’ve been really enjoying the game. I’ve encountered a few game breaking glitches and a lot of graphical funk, but the core gameplay and combat are fun and the story is quite compelling. We’ve also picked up the remade Resident Evil 2 again after a year long hiatus and spending a proportion of each day being terrified by zombies.

That’s pretty much it for now. I’ll keep gaming and DIY-ing, and hopefully keep this blog more up to date for 2021. Happy New Year to you all!

3 responses to “Life on the Shelf

  1. I have to say that Christmas dinner looks amazing! You have put a lot of thought into it and I am sure it was really tasty. And that shelf! Wow. The best way to deal with the covid blues is to definately stay creative in every way possible. A really inspiring post 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

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