Happy Christmas!

In case you were wondering, the moment I broke about not being able to go home for Christmas was, of course, during the last minute of The Snowman.

I was forty-one years old.1

But! Yes, it was not the Christmas we were expecting, but we still had a good time, with foam bullets flying here there and everywhere. And now, a rundown on THINGS THAT WERE MADE!

  • Preston Bus Station — a moderate success. It didn’t exactly match the idea in my head, but I don’t think the gingerbread would have maintained integrity if the bay sections had been too much longer.
  • ANZAC biscuits — simple but tasty!
  • Bakewell tart — I’m actually getting pretty good at these by now.
  • Pavé potatoes — Yes, I did make a Thomas Keller recipe and then slathered it with HP Sauce. You’d have done the same.
  • Tiffin — dubbed the Marie Antoinette Tiffin after I realized I had made it with Valrhona chocolate, amaretti biscuits imported from Italy, and raisins soaked in Foursquare Rum. I will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes. But I did also buy a three-year subscription to Tribune this Christmas, so maybe that offsets some of the crimes?
  • Mince Pies — I decided against going to Jungle Jim’s again this month, so instead I built my own mincemeat using this recipe from The Guardian. Complete with a single malt from Oban.
  • Sous Vide Carnitas — cooked for 24 hours and always great.
  • The Roses tin. This consisted of:
    • Dark / Mint / Milk / Orange Neapolitans — made the custom molds I had made back in September. Perfect for the Cadbury miniature machine you have stashed away in your loft somewhere.
    • Milk chocolate & hazelnut — straight out of the Roses tin circa 1984
    • Hazelnut and Caramel — from the Roses tin in 1985.
    • Muscovado Ganache — om!
    • Laddie — a bit of an afterthought, but it actually turned out to be one of the best chocolates I’ve ever made. A water ganache with a shot of The Classic Laddie added.
    • Toffee — what happens when you cook caramel just a touch too far? Why, a festive treat that you always intended to make and not something that happened because you weren’t paying attention to the induction hob, oh no.
  • Christmas Dinner — I think my favourite part of this was that there were no surprises. A standard roast dinner with everything that just came together at the right time (okay, some burning of the parsnips and carrots, but that was actually a popular outcome) and shared with everybody.
  • The Black Forest.

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Again, I feel this didn’t turn out exactly how I’d have really liked (there’s actually four more trees in the freezer. Oh, and I should probably mention that Tammy and Robert saved Christmas by loaning me their new freezer after mine apparently died last weekend), but the trees that did get sprayed do look good. Inside, they’re a mixture of Luxardo cherry, kirsch white chocolate namelaka, kirsch 71% water ganache, milk chocolate & almond discs, and supported by a dark chocolate cake. The snowmen are white chocolate panna cotta, with a Migoya-inspired liquid red cake ball inside. I didn’t come to play. Oh, and the logs are a fig & cinnamon ganache coated in velvet spray, because my log wall mold didn’t arrive in time.

There’s a few more desserts to come next week, but the week of dawn-to-dusk baking has drawn to an end. Tomorrow is Boxing Day, of course, and I will be having Mexican / British fusion (carnitas sandwiches with brown sauce. Trust me they’re going to be great), and attempting to make pickled onion crisps like a crazy man.

  1. My antipathy towards The Snowman and the Snowdog is legendary back home, but I stand by it: the mistake that the sequel makes is that the sense of loss and grief at the end of the film is the central point of the story. And that the Boy is left with the scarf at the end of the original is perfect: it’s a trinket that lets him know the night happened…but it could be easily explained away by other factors. A dog? Not so much. In short: burn the Snowdog. [return]

A Gingerbread Preston

Normally at this time of year, I’d be writing this blog entry through the haze of jetlag, having spent the weekend wandering around random airports on the East Coast and failing to sleep on an eight-hour overnight flight. This year is different, obviously. It’s nice of the British Government to unlock a secret new Tier just before Christmas…although over here the administration doesn’t seem to care that the daily death total has broken past the four thousand barrier. We just continue to countdown the days until the baby has its pram taken out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. With arms, if necessary.

But, given I’m trapped here for Christmas, we’re going to make the best of it. Including a return of BRUTAL GINGERBREAD!

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The last time I attempted something like this, it was a very 2D version of the Trellick Tower. This year, I scaled my ambitions a bit too high and tried to pull off Preston Bus Station. It’s not too bad - I had to shorten the width of the thing for stability reasons, but the curves have turned out really well (thanks go out here to Tammy, who suggested the casserole dish after I’d spent a day experimenting with other, less good ideas). There is a lot of royal icing behind the scenes to try and improve the structural integrity, and I don’t think my attempt to replicate what I call “the Arndale tiling” really came through on gingerbread once it was baked. Still, it holds together! And next year, I have plans for something that’s a little grander, but will probably be easier once I work out how to use Tammy’s new CNC machine that she’s getting for Christmas…

(yes, it’s a bit twee, but heck, it’s celebrating a fantastic building made at the height of the post-war consensus. We never had it so good)

That counts as 1 of the next two weeks’ 26 desserts. I need to start picking up the pace!

(more to come as the week goes on)

Tenko & Crackers!

For the record, it was Tenko that made me realise I’d forgotten to sort out crackers. And it was the Internet that allowed me to pay a somewhat extortionate amount to get a box on its way (Amazon does have Christmas crackers, but none of them have snaps inside, which seems to defeat the entire point of the things. Americans).

Again, though, not a week where a lot happened otherwise. I have begun planning and experimentation for a gingerbread construction that will hopefully take place next week, and the upcoming Sunday may in fact see the first real addition I add to the house. It’s just a chalkboard wall, but it has also been three years. I also dreamed I owned a shed last night, so apparently my lockdown dreams are also getting lockdown fever. Oh! And I have Christmas lights up now. It’s pretty festive now. Roll on the 26 desserts of Christmas! (yes, that is a real thing. I have told Americans it’s thing a we do. Don’t ruin what I’ve got going here…)

Check back here next for…well, it’s not going to be all that exciting, as I’m still not going anywhere…but it is my final week of work for the year, so after that’s it’s going to be festive pictures on here until 2021. You have been warned.

Mask On Mask Action

After talking about remaining indoors as much as possible, I think this week I went outside more than I’ve done in the past month. But! I employed the ‘double-Biden’ mask set-up (N95 mask covered with a normal disposable cloth mask on top), and I have all the meat sorted for Christmas. In the first week of December! Planning! Or something like that.

Quiet week otherwise, so have a picture of a cat being somewhere she shouldn’t:

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Another Dessert, Perhaps?

“We won’t go too crazy for Thanksgiving.”

Also: “How does twelve desserts and 15lbs1 of meat sound?”

In fairness, I think it’s fair to say that we’re getting rather good at this. There was a checklist and everything came out at the correct time (except the carrots and the parsnips; they were sadly forgotten and left in a 220ºC oven whilst we were eating. They were discovered hours later, even though we switched the oven off shortly after dinner itself). But they turned out pretty good despite that. Behold!

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Highlights? Obviously, the croissant cubes were pretty amazing, and the disc eclairs make me want to do a lot more choux pastry work. The Viennetta came together quite well, but next time I’d want to make the chocolate sheets even thinner. Perhaps the greatest surprise, though, were the crisps. They were little more than the idea of “hey, we have a lot of potatoes and the Japanese spirializer here…”, and yet they were some of the best crisps I’ve ever tasted. And yes, I am already at work putting together a pickled onion variant for Christmas.

It was a great few days; the house was packed and yet everybody still had space, food was plentiful, and we watched Addams Family Values. A good proper Thanksgiving, held safely even during a pandemic.

The tree is up, and snow is forecast for the coming week. The December of 25 desserts is coming. Be afraid…

  1. Tammy would like it to be noted that the “15lbs” weight includes the bones in the chicken, so it’s not as bad as it sounds. Everybody needs a kilo of meat for dinner! [return]

Bunkering Part Two

Given that this country seems to be looking at this Thanksgiving as a way to get a breakout section in “crazy things people did during the pandemic” when the history books are written, we’re locking things down again.

The country is broken, and half the population is acting like the infected in Crossed. So, one more shop outside just before Christmas, but for now, it’s the contents of the freezer and home delivery until…well, maybe March?


Yellow Lorry, Fused Lorry

In local news…well, we have a bridge. A bridge that is rated ‘functionally obsolete’, has impressively rusted beams spanning its length, and oh, this week a crash between two lorries that started a hazmat fire, resulting in one of them being fused into the road and burning the hell out of the support beams. Did I mention this is essentially the main connector between Cincinnati and Kentucky? And that the incident has closed the Ohio River to water traffic as they’re a little concerned that it might fall down? AMERICA! WE DON’T NEED NO PUBLIC WORKS!

(please, build us a bridge, Joe)

As our Government seems to be spending its entire focus these days denying the reality of ballot counts, rather than, say the extra 150,000 cases/day that the pandemic is generating, we are once again going back into hibernation. Not that I’d been doing much more than going out to the supermarkets anyway, but we’re going to be bears and come out again in the Spring. If bears spent the rest of 2020 in the kitchen making desserts. But! We did have one last hurrah over the weekend; a very socially-distanced picnic in the second-largest cemetery in the United States. Who knew it was a ten minute drive away from my house, eh? Don’t mind me, I’ve only had the house for three years…

Next week, we begin the Thanksgiving preparations! Five different types of pastry dough! 12 different desserts! What could possibly go wrong??

Gritty Beats Trump

When we tell our children the story of 2020, we will tell them of the Endless March, wiping down shopping with disinfectant wipes, and sniffing cinnamon late at night to make sure we still have our sense of smell.

We’ll also tell them of the week in November. The week of Five Tuesdays and when the call finally came down, how the country donned its masks and danced in the streets. The tales of Gritty, the chaos monster that kept us waiting for days and days, then slapped the hammer right down. Because there can only be one Orange Monster.

As you might imagine, I have barely slept at all since Tuesday. Going to bed distraught at the loss of Florida on Tuesday night, up at 4am and getting involved with blistering arguments with die-hard Sanders supporters, then crawling back to bed after realizing that Wisconsin had flipped. The long day after and coming to the conclusion that yes, Pennsylvania was going to flip. It was just a matter of time. And then the waiting. So much waiting until Friday morning when it finally turned blue. The day was then spent yelling at the networks to call it and to step out of the deferential shadow that they’d been under for the past four years.

But maybe Saturday was the right call, as it allowed most of us to just hit the streets and celebrate. We have stepped back from the brink; while we have a lot of work to do, things look so much better now than they did on Tuesday night.

Also, they’re partying all night in DC and he’s in there having to listen to the entire city celebrating his defeat. It’s petty, but after the past four years, I hope they keep him up all night.

Maybe one day, we will also know the complete story of Four Seasons Landscaping. But tonight, we celebrate. Then we try and take the Georgia Senate seats. Just reading Biden’s EO plans for Day 1 is heartening. Imagine what could be done with a Democratic Senate.

Election/Crisis Times Five

In case you were wondering how things are going, I woke up at 5:30am this morning. You might think I woke up because of the clocks going back and everything associated with that, but in fact it was because my brain knew that the final NYT/Siena polls of the election cycle were being released at 5am. So I woke up. Better than any alarm clock.

(they were good polls, Brent)

In other news, oh, I’m sorry, I’ve just been staring at a monitor full of twitter, polling, and campaign news all week. I’ve got a new massive 4K monitor which gives me so much more screen estate to fill with websites of figures, returns, historical comparisons, and it has a second source for picture-in-picture viewing so I can dedicate an eight of the screen to cable news.

You may need to send help.

Hmm, well I guess also this week I learned that my house probably isn’t falling apart (hurrah for structural engineers), and I continued my voyage into Play For Today-land with the folk horror trio of Robin Redbreast, Penda’s Fen, and A Photograph. The moral seems to be “never go to the country, lest you be used to bear a new sacrifical lamb for the village, or find yourself paralysed after drinking ‘country wine’ and be strangled to death whilst still being conscious.” Great times!

And that’s it for now. We now head towards the Great Barrier of November 3rd.

Everybody Up! Everybody Down!

After four years of doing the work from home thing, I have finally joined the hipster set and have a fancy motorized standing desk (it was subsidized by my company, who are also going to start paying for everybody’s internet connection too as we move to what seems to be a permanent COVID era…or at least until we get somebody who is actually interested in doing things to prevent the spread of the virus instead of running all over the country hosting super-spreader events. In other news…nine days).

Programmable memory, lots of space…and a little more mouse-friendly than the glass desk I’ve been using since 2012. Helvetica misses the crossbar where she could sit on a higher perch, but as somebody that has bashed their knees on it at least once a week for eight years…I don’t mind it being open down there now!

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Nemesis Cat now has a quite comprehensive shelter (with an inner, insulated chamber!), food, and we’ve discovered that she’s a lap cat. And a petting cat. And that she wants to come inside rather badly. Helvetica is…much less keen on that idea, mainly spending her days alternating between guarding the patio window and pouting in sunbeams. We’re trying to work out options (slightly hampered by the oncoming winter COVID storm, naturally) for a more permanent home for Nemesis, but for right now, she’s fine…and somewhat better fed.

Hold on tight everybody, it’s going to be a long nine days.