Another year, another furious week of shopping, cooking, baking, saucing and wrapping. Is this supposed to be relaxing?
It has begun…
Yes, in the words of the immortal Fozziwig (from the Muppet Christmas Carol fame), it’s Christmas Eve for certain. The food shopping is over and the real preparations have just begun. My enduring memory of the days leading up to the big event were filled with visits to friends and family, the exquisite smell and taste of freshly baked sausage rolls, and non-stop frenzied preparations. If something could be made from scratch, my mother could make it. (She could probably even make scratch from scratch if it came to it…)
This affliction of an aversion to shop-bought goods was passed on to me, often leaving me with the thought,
“Which of these many ingredients for this recipe could I make myself, maximising the time and hassle involved?”
Of course this does lead to some fantastic meals and baked goods, but there is a not insignificant amount of stress that is packaged alongside it. As I’m writing this, I have a madeira cake in the oven. That’s nice you think, and simple. A nice simple dessert. And you would be wrong! Because it is simply the base for a Bailey’s trifle. Next, the custard. Another easily purchased supermarket staple, and delicious to boot. But life is not that simple, so I will stand over a bain-marie painstakingly waiting for the rich goop to thicken. It’s all a complete faff, but would I trade it for anything else? Nope. Cooking is an intrinsic part of who I am and can be meditative. I am focused on a single task. Make the custard. Bake the cake. Whip the egg whites.
One of the major fallacies of cooking is that it is somehow magical and difficult. What I’m sure many people who’ve tried a mealkit delivery service would attest to is that if you can follow a well written recipe, you can make pretty much anything you put your mind to. Some baking recipes require a bit more spatial awareness, anything with folding or twisting stumps me, but for that I enlist the help of my logic-whizz and crafty wife who can work out pretty much any spatial problem.
This year I’m going to spatchcock the turkey for something a little different, and if I get round to it, brine it in the fridge overnight. I’ve found that brining turkeys, be it a wet or dry brine, makes a big difference to how moist the meat is and how well the turkey stands up to the heat of the oven. The brine necessarily consists of salt and water, and whichever other aromatics you choose to add. Brining adds a lot of moisture to the bird which tends to be traditionally quite dry.
Time to get those secateurs out for the backbone…
Pushing out the culinary boat this year, I acquired a black truffle which will be part of the Christmas menu. There was some ritual involved in getting to it when it arrived, as it was wrapped in tissue paper, surrounded by cool packs, encased in a polystyrene transportation box, and wrapped in a plastic bag. As soon as I cracked open the polystyrene, the pungent aroma started to waft it’s way towards me. I have had plenty of truffle-flavoured things but never tasted the real deal. Will it be a life changing experience? Will I turn into Dee and Charlie in search of that special meat in It’s Always Sunny in Philidelphia? Who’s to say, but it will be an experience regardless of the outcome.
In my last post (written from my office in the hospital one odd Sunday evening) I mentioned about our Nintendo Switch, and our purchase of the Witcher 3. My first thought was “wow, this looks like a trowel full of vaseline has been spread over the screen”, but after playing for a few minutes I found it quite serviceable, and started getting back into the story again. Although the visuals aren’t nearly as nice as the PS4 version, the Switch in docked mode is perfectly playable, without too many jarring frame rate drops. I’m just impressed at how well it plays in handheld mode. Being able to play such an expansive and engrossing game on a handheld console amazes me. The other very nice touch is being able to pick up the game from sleep mode pretty much instantly. No faffing around waiting for the console to boot and a variety of seizure warning screens.
I have also, and only four years late, discovered the joys of Hollow Knight. I picked it up as a free PS Plus title on PS4 back in October 2020, but failed to play it until very recently. I admit, it failed to capture my attention straightaway. The visuals were interesting and the music was excellent, but it just felt a bit slow. I stuck with it and before long I was getting hooked. I want to unpick what happened to the vast underground world I’m exploring.
For anyone who has not yet experienced it, Hollow Knight is a 2D Metroidvania game set in the fictional ancient kingdom of Hallownest. You play as the Knight, a bug-like creature of unknown origin who fights wielding a nail, and later, utilising a kind of magic. Fighting increases your “Soul”, which you can use to regenerate health or power offensive spells. Defeating enemies also gives you Geo, the currency in this strange world, which can be spent on a variety of upgrades and items. It’s a simple game that rapidly becomes quite compelling.
That’s it for now. Merry Christmas to all. Eat some delicious food, play some excellent games and try not to fall out with your family and friends.