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Posts tagged ‘mulled wine’

Oh I wish it could be Christmas every day!

Yep, that one’s still jingling around my skull, which – you might be interested to know – has the same acoustic effect as the shower.

Apart from the cacophony that is my cranium, our Christmas was a quiet affair. No exploding fairy lights, high-volume Slade or heated arguments over pudding portions. There was a bit of crackling, but it was more of the crispy pork fat variety.

For me, Christmas in New Zealand continues to be a surreal experience – and more so with the parents issuing regular updates from Ireland which was in the grip of the coldest winter on record. Of course, the Middle East was hardly a winter wonderland at this time of year – or even any other time of year – but December was the chilliest month. If you turned the A/C right down, it was cool enough to wear a scarf and drink mulled wine.

West Auckland apparently hit 34 degrees on Christmas Day, so the coldest we got was a light swelter.

Generally I have proved hugely adaptable to Kiwi culture, bending like an all-black in a spear tackle to the various concepts of: perky nana bars, boiling mud, black sand, honesty boxes, the right hand rule.

But I’m not sure I will ever get used to celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer.

The Christmas wind up

In its usual style, Christmas sneaked up and ambushed us.

For the previous three weeks, we entertained noble notions of getting the Christmas shopping done early. Although we technically ‘shopped’ on three occasions – ie trudged sulkily around a mall – up to yesterday we had failed dismally to actually purchase anything. Thankfully, we now have presents for all our friends and Husband organized a production line last night for the gift wrapping thereof.

Husband wanted to get Danny a set of walkie-talkies but experienced difficulties in the supply thereof. Personally, I can’t understand what Daniel would want to do with a pair of walkie talkies. I asked Husband about it:-

“Doesn’t he have a mobile phone?”

“Yes, but a walkie talkie has different applications.”

“Who d’you think he’s going to be chatting to on his walkie talkie?”

“Hmm. Not sure. I don’t know. But! – he could go down to the beach and pick out a hot girl and slip the walkie talkie into her beach bag!”

“Right. But wouldn’t he have to stay within 500 metres of Hot Girl for the walkie talkie to work?”

“Ah, yes.”

“So why doesn’t he just STALK her?”

“Ok, maybe that’s not the most practical of applications.”

In the end he bought Danny a remote controlled helicopter. Just what every man needs.

Yesterday we threw a Chrismas Eve do and told our guests to arrive any time from 3pm. Four weeks ago, this seemed like a simply fantabulous idea – I mean what else would we be up to on Christmas Eve? I now realize I simply don’t have that enough guff in me for 8+ hours of random sociability and Husband certainly doesn’t.

However, I contrived a Grand Plan, the cornerstone of which was the mulled wine. I figured if I threw enough of it around, everyone would be semi- to totally comatose by 6pm and wouldn’t notice the soggy Brussels sprouts or the turkey which was more in the style of chicken. It worked a treat, given that our crappy gas oven turned itself off halfway through the evening – nobody seemed to notice the fact that dinner was served at 10pm.

After the Great Minced Pie Wars of 2004 which almost resulted in acrimonious divorce (I don’t know about Husband, but I actually consulted a lawyer), we reached an amicable agreement to procure whatever format of minced pie(s) were available in Spinneys. Yesterday morning I finished spackling the Christmas cake with almond paste, formally approved the mulled wine recipe and chose the optimal stuffing for the churckey’s nether regions.

[Just an aside – three weeks ago, I came across an Irish cookbook in the Second Hand Bookshop in Satwa. It’s the second edition of ‘The Ballymaloe Cookbook’, published in 1983. I looked forward to some old-fashioned cooking: serving Hsuband Mussels Stuffed With Pig Trotters, Roast Rabbit with Tripe and making my own vegetable bouillon.

Yesterday I consulted my cookbook for what would no doubt be a tastebud exploding recipe for stuffing which would result in a three day sensory high. I turned eagerly to the recipe for ‘Roast Chicken’.

I suspect I may have missed class 101 in my culinary education. Here is what the recipe states:

Prepare a fresh-herb buttery stuffing. Wash and dry the cavity of the bird, then season and half fill with stuffing. Roast in a good quality dripping. Serve with creamy bread sauce.

I reverted to Paxo’ Sage and Onion Stuffing – comes in a bag. Add water.]

Husband was designated Master of the Fowl. For a man into his huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’, he was surprisingly squeamish when it came to stuffing the chickens. He was heard to say: ‘It goes WHERE?’ and then he pulled faces and squealed like a girl.

This morning we all woke up with headaches, but the excitement of opening Christmas presents chased most of it away (that and Panadol/Brufen depending on the class of drug preferred). Husband got a pair of cufflinks in the form of spirit levels, so he can demonstrate to clients that he’s on the level ha ha ha. David got an 8Gb multi media player and is inexplicably very excited about it. I got a mountain bike – I’ve actually had it for a few days now and cycle around the neighbourhood. I felt like I was eight years old again just without the training wheels. I got some bicycle accessories this morning, including the most irritating bell in the world (the hangovers might have influenced that judgement).

I’m going to go and try it out on the neighbours.

Have a great Christmas!

Bristle rating: low

In an effort to generate more festive spirit, Husband and I always buy a real Christmas tree which usually prevails until April against Husband’s protestations. Last week, Husband and I went to Spinneys to purchase a tree in a high state of excitement (to be entirely honest, Husband was in more of a high state of weary resignation.)

We got home and while I brewed up some mulled wine to lubricate the occasion, Husband unsheathed the tree. Well, we could have draped some tinsel around an upended brush for better effect – there would certainly have been more bristles on it.

The emotion quotient was now registered at a medium state of excitement, yet still sufficient to press on with decorating the tree.

An hour later, I switched on the fairy lights. Raff and Carole made encouraging comments like: “It’s very minimalist. I hear that’s all the rage for Christmas trees this year,” and “Well at least there will be less pine needles to sweep up,” and “Perhaps it will look better after another mulled wine. Or several.”

Husband said very little, but he was probably feeling guilty about the fact that he had chosen the tree. He tried to make out later that he had warned me, but I have no recollection of his hissing ‘Get down!’ then pushing me to the floor and shielding me with his body.

The following day in the sobering morning light, I sat on our sofa and glared at our tree. Without benefit of mood lighting and mulled wine, it looked scrawny and frankly geriatric. A tree not so much in the twilight of its years as the darkest, deepest night.

“I’m very unhappy with that tree,” I announced.

“Mm-hmm,” said Husband.

“Very unhappy.”

“‘S fine,” mumbled Husband.

“I think it’s outrageous that Spinneys can charge US$ 150 for a crappy yoke like that,” I persisted. “I’m really not happy. On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m not pleased at all, AT ALL.”

Husband finally realized he was not about to get to read his motorcycle magazine in peace. (The giveaway was my prodding him with my toe.)

“Look Niamhie, we BOUGHT it-”

“It was covered with plastic at the time-”

“Well we can’t take it back-”

“Hey! That’s a great idea! We’ll demand a refund. After all, Spinneys sold us faulty goods-”

“It’s a TREE! What’s faulty about it?”

“It doesn’t have any branches, so technically it’s not a tree as much as a very large twig.”

“Niamhie, they won’t take it back-”

“They will if we turn up with it and wave it threateningly at them.”

Husband dredged up a great sigh from the bottom of his diaphragm.

“Ok look. If you really REALLY don’t like it, we’ll take it back.”

I would like to invite you to reread the sentence above.

I bet you’re thinking, ‘Gosh, what a lovely man. Look how far he’s willing to go to keep his wife happy. WHAT A TREASURE.’

You would not be mistaken on the treasure bit; however I’m sorry to say the rest is a lapse of judgment. Don’t feel bad about it; he has everyone fooled. Husband is a master of reverse psychology. His guilt trips come complete with complimentary truffles. Allow me to offer a direct interpretation:

“Woman, when I pledged to spend the rest of my life with you, I didn’t realize you were crazed. I trust my demonstration of logic and good sense highlights and contrasts your unreasonableness, thereby putting an end to the matter.”

“Great,” I said. “I’ll take off the decorations. See if you can find the plastic cover in the bin, will you? It should be about a third of the way down, under the fish heads.”

Husband made me call Spinneys before scrounging through the bin, in the vain hope that Spinneys would refuse to take back the tree and suggest some alternative storage places for it. However, upon hearing my tragic tale of woe, the Duty Manager offered to refund the full amount complete with interest, and apologized profusely for any mental trauma inflicted. He even offered to send someone around to pick up the twig, but I graciously agreed to return it in person.

Fully refunded, we went to the Garden Centre and procured a tree for US$ 35 less.

The Spinneys tree had been so spindly that we had been able to press our outdoor umbrella stand into service for the presentation of the tree (that particular brainwave attributable to Carole). The Garden Centre tree was so BEEFY that the trunk would not fit into the umbrella stand. Husband and Raff spent a lot of time competing over who could come up with the most colourful swearword as they tried to prop up the tree in a bucket, but it remained stubbornly lopsided.

I left them to it – after all, erecting the Christmas tree is Man Work, there’s no doubt about it.

Returning half an hour later, our tree was proudly perpendicular in the corner. I was engrossed in decorating it, when I noticed what looked like a brush handle nudging the star at the top of the tree. Ever practical, Husband had upended a rake handle in the umbrella stand, lashed the tree to it and swaddled the base in tin foil.

Our tree is positively bristling with pine needles and emits a wonderful foresty aroma in the living room. I am now happy . . . and I would even venture out on one of its sturdy limbs to suggest that Husband is too

Niamh’s top secret mulled wine recipe

Given that we’re coming up to Christmas, I have been refining my mulled wine brew. In case you are stuck, following is a recipe that combines just the right amount of taste sensation with head explosion. I hope you enjoy it:-

Niamh’s top secret mulled wine recipe


1 x bottle red wine

500ml port

500ml fruity herbal tea (eg blackcurrant/lemon/raspberry tea) or cranberry juice

1 x lemon, cut into slices or wedges

1 x grapefruit or orange, cut into slices or wedges

3 x 3inch long cinnamon sticks

12-16 whole cloves

Small pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)

1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

1/2-1 teaspoon secret ingredient

Add sugar to taste


Put a large saucepan over a low heat and pour in the red wine and port. Add the rest of the ingredients in the order listed. Or not, you know, like, whatever. Just get everything in the saucepan, add sugar, stir until dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer indefinitely. Keep a lid on it or the alcohol will evaporate. Drink. Take off clothes. Dance around living room in the nip

Freakily large minced pie

We had a few friends around for Christmas. Being Irish, I over-catered by a factor of roughly twenty-five. We could have comfortably fed a football team along with their wives and mistresses.


For a week prior to the event, there was plenty of bulgy-eyed, tongue-clenched concentration applied to almond paste, frosted icing, and pastry the lightness and fluffiness of which defied all laws of physics and human expectation.


Unfortunately, I applied a little too much ambition to the minced pie production. Having prepared the mince, I spent hours trying to wrestle flour, castor sugar, butter and eggs into something resembling pastry after which I decided I really couldn’t be arsed twaddling around with pastry cutters and bun-trays. I therefore – sensibly, I felt – decided to fashion a Freakily Large Minced Pie, as opposed to several individual pies.


When I proudly presented my Freakily Large Minced Pie, Husband found it almost hilarious enough to merit its own stand-up comedy show. But – “Seriously though, Niamhie” – he decreed that individual minced pies were compulsory for Christmas Day.


He got very Hollywood-In-Its-Heyday Movie-Star-ish about it: “But you can’t, Darling, you simply CAN’T. I won’t HEAR of it.”


Not to be dissuaded by my argument that there is no difference between a Freakily Large Minced Pie and several small minced pies except, well, the SIZE, Andrew bought some frozen shortcrust pastry that he spent ages pressing ever-so-precisely into bun-cases.


[He made a right mess of my kitchen].


[What is it about men? All Andrew has to do is step into the kitchen and there are crumbs over every level counter top, evil viscous brown drips adorning every receptacle, and a mountain of crockery quivering in the sink].


Unfortunately, he neglected to cook the pastry cases before spooning in the mince (I wasn’t about to suggest pre-cooking, since I was still sulking over his mocking my Freakily Large Minced Pie) so the bottoms were soggy.


With a maximum of confidence allied with a minimum knowledge of the operation of an oven, Andrew decided the most effective way of eradicating sogginess was to grill the pie bottoms.


I’m struggling to remain objective here, but really: when it comes down to a choice between a slice of Freakily Large Minced Pie and a Freakily Crunchy Minced Pie With Char . . . well, all I’m saying is: I know which one I’d choose.


On the day itself, we drank our way through several gallons of mulled wine, crunched down copious amounts of chestnuts, and gnawed our way through a vast Christmas Cake (with real almond paste and shiny white icing, you will note). It was not exactly your traditional Christmas – although in Dubai it never is. The sun shone. John and Andrew smoked hubbly bubbly on the balcony. The minced pies were crunchy.


However, we did eat far too much food, and there was a Christmas tree, and presents. So some things were pretty seasonal.


I had awful difficulty buying Andrew presents, and being Andrew, he wasn’t dropping many hints. We had a big “What do you want for Christmas?” discussion, and apart from a Ferrari, a property in Monte Carlo and an adjustable steering dampener for his motorbike, Andrew was spectacularly unforthcoming. I tried to acquire the latter on a trip to London since you cannot buy steering dampeners here, but no joy. And knowing Andrew, I’d have got a steering dampener with a single helix dual-spring action, when in fact he actually wanted one with triple side-motion bevel-swivel. Or, you know, whatever.


In the end, I stuck to some fairly simple options: a leather sports bag, a Disk Doctor for repairing scratched CDs and DVDs, a rather Andrew-looking aluminium CD case and a portable mug.


Embarrassingly, Andrew had about twice as many presents for me, but in my defense I had dropped several well-placed hints along the way – along the lines of:-


“Can you get me a 7mm wetsuit please, size ten, thanks.”


Which was altogether more helpful than Andrew.


Mind you, he’d also – bizarrely – got me a tub of bath salts, so he evidently struggled at some point.


On New Years Eve we went around to John and Hazel’s for a fairly relaxed dinner. There was a lavish amount of wine consumed. At midnight, we climbed a ladder onto the roof of their building and watched the fireworks go off around the city. It was a magical, magical evening – as demonstrated by the fact that nobody broke their necks coming back down the ladder. That might have been more a miracle than magic

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