Chestnuts roasting on an open fire

I love chestnuts, we eat them regularly, in stews, nut roasts, cakes… especially since discovering the vacuum packed french version. I heard something on the radio last week about a man who only liked them in Mont blanc pudding (mostly meringue and cream).  (there was also an idiot on Breakfast TV telling the viewing public how to cook sprouts completely wrong, but that is an associated but trivial detail!) I was about to make Chestnut Yule Log (Delia Smith recipe – chocolate flourless sponge, cream and chestnut puree – magnificent… by the way buy the French unsweetened puree for this and sweeten it yourself, the sweet one is horrid and the standard British unsweetened puree available in supermarkets is watered to within an inch of its life and tastes of NOTHING), and I thought, no, maybe something different this year.

I don’t love christmas cake, or christmas pudding. I will eat them, and for years I alternated making them because both in one year is too much: My Christmas cake was another Delia Smith recipe (actually a wedding cake, but who cares) into which I put dried apricots instead of raisins and dried banana instead of sultanas. Delia is a goddess, her recipes are reliable (my copy of her Book of Cakes is in 4 pieces and covered in spillages but nursed carefully whenever it is needed) but she doesn’t understand about dried fruit. Sultanas and Raisins are BORING.

I tend to make a cake for 12th night these days, as yule log is a pudding not a cake, but does excellently for both, and quite enough to last us to new year when we have  a breather. I have, without Delia’s assistance, experimented with making Panettone (unreliable, perfect one year a travesty the next) and Stollen (works every time), both with apricots and ginger in them. A claims not to like marzipan, but eats my Stollen very happily.

A digression: in the spirit of pick something up from the TV or radio and do something else with it, I also made savoury Chelsea buns this year, à la Paul Hollywood. The first lot was cranberry sauce, feta cheese and walnuts and were too dry. The second lot was walnut pesto, smoked tomato and artichoke heart and were fabulous.

I love ginger. Ale, beer,wine, pickled, stem, crystallised, dried, ginger bread, ginger cake, ginger ice cream.

Can you see where this is going yet?

Like the man on the radio I love a good meringue. and I’m fond of Eton Mess.

So let me introduce you to my latest Christmas innovation, Winter Mess.

you will need

Meringues (home-made if you’ve got the patience, but its a waste of a good meringue, use shop bought instead) – as many as you are happy with.

Marscapone (I don’t know whether it’s better for you than cream, but it’s thicker and more fun, so its unlikely) a standard pot as sold in the shop.

Stem ginger –  a couple of lumps and a generous spoonful of the syrup.

Optional: a spoonful of brandy, this tends to take the body out of your marscapone so only use it if you are going to eat immediately or a pudding isn’t a pudding for you without alcohol in it.

Candied Chestnuts  about 10 and as much syrup as covers them in the jar (ours came from the Turkish Deli on borough market, two years ago – they kept perfectly – they don’t have them on their website so this may be the only year we ever have this!) Marrons Glacés aren’t the same – too gooey – but would do at a pinch, or get a tin of chestnuts and candy them yourself, it has to be worth the effort. If you do that, you want to produce lots of syrup, not crystallising.

Whip the marscapone lightly, stir in the syrups from the ginger and the chestnuts (and the brandy if using it), chop the ginger and chestnuts roughly and stir in, then bash up your meringue into pieces about an inch square any smaller and it will dissolve (this is why it’s not worth making them) and stir that in too. put in the fridge for at least half an hour … then eat in front of the TV.

Very rich, so would probably serve 4 people, unless you are greedy in which case three tops.

If you insist on a cake, this year we had banana and pecan cake (another Delia recipe with Pecans instead of walnuts) rather nice with a spoonful of mess on it.

Hmm there’s something about recipes that makes me come over all dictatorial!

© Cherry Potts 2012

Nostalgia for christmas past

more 70s plasticThere’s nothing like being ill just before Christmas. We dragged round to get the  tree, and left it in the hall long enough for Julian to spray it in protest at the Burnham wood aspects of the yule branch.

I washed the cat pee off, cut the bottom off to get it in the stand, then left it in the living room for 2 days while getting up the strength to get the decs down from the loft, an annual torture as I hate the loft ladder, but given A’s capacity for falls, there’s no way I’m letting her up there.

So it was all a bit gritted teeth, and we didn’t even put on our favourite seasonal record  (Wassail! John Kirkpatrick, since you ask) as we usually do.

firconesAnd then I started unpacking the decorations.

My mum gave me all her tree decorations earlier this year, on the grounds that she and dad can’t be bothered with a tree anymore.

So, in the box are:

fircones on treevery early 20th century decorations rescued from my Great Aunt Mattie’s house when she died – pine cones and berries and a little cottage. (I love that cottage when A & I we first had a proper tree together I bought  a replica).

which is the real cottage?

I’m guessing about the vintage of these things but…

50s angels1950’s cellulose angels

turnipsand what I refer to as the turnips – baubles with points to their bottoms a bit like onion domes on Russian churches.

bullseyes1960s: bulls’ eyes – Baubles that have bites out of them and a bit of a Mod feel, and snowflakes and something that looks like Sputnik.

70s plastic

1970’s: psychedelic plastic tat – all day-glo orange and swirly patterns and bits of card and foil, and most importantly, see-through.

The photo cannot do these glorious things justice, they have to be held in the hand and turned to and fro, to catch and filter the light. I adored these as a child.

plastic on the tree

And then there are the icons of our modern era (relatively speaking) Our first proper tree was in about 1984. We bought the decorations from Lewisham market, and the back-of-a-lorry shop round the corner. a Fanfare please for… kitten-in-a-sock and Pink Bunny, without whom Christmas doesn’t have a hope.

pink bunny

I do occasionally make an attempt at a refined elegant tree, we once had two, one with all the glitz, and another one with nothing but glass on kitteninasockit. (We actually have too many decorations now for only one tree, no matter we get the largest that will fit in the house.) I prefered the glitz.




The crowning glory of our tree (he says) is Cedric. Cedric is a teddy bear in a dress and angel wings who normally sits on the bookshelf with his more conservatively dressed buddies Adrian and Clive, who have matching jumpers and cricket flannels. Cedric lives for his two weeks in the spotlight (or fairy lights) A & C are grateful for the rest from him going on about the view.

cedric's big moment

So tree finally dressed, and in appropriate mood, the final addition to the event is the cherub’s candle driven carousel. This the ultimate kitsch item, which I can remember being entranced by aged about 6. You aren’t the video because A was chatting in the background, so you’ll have to imagine the incredibly annoying tinkling that gets louder as the candles get hotter and send the cherubs flitting about faster and faster, in hysterical tribute. How did I ever find that sound attractive?!

© Cherry Potts 2012

Welcome Yule

The to do list is getting smaller.

Presents bought and wrapped. √
First batch of mince pies cooked and eaten.√
Cards written and posted or delivered.√
Christmas concert sung√
Carols sung and money raised for Crisis√
Someone else’s carol singing event attended.√
Family visits lined up.√
Christmas tree bought.√
Decorate tree√
Gather winter fuel.√

Still to do:

Shop for food, cook, attend poetry reading and possibly read… one more days at work…

So the Blackheath Halls Concert on Friday went better than we expected; we didn’t make too many mistakes in Navidad Nuestra, and The Lamb sounded very good. Despite not being well, Nick Sharratt sang beautifully.
The children’s choir were brilliant.
Raise the Roof were enthusiastically received and had the audience clapping along in no time… and Mel won the raffle!
A woman passing me in the corridor said that Navidad gave her tingles.  Just think what it could have been with another three rehearsals.

SAYL at our first pitch, Crofton Park Library

Saturday Summer all Year Long went carol singing in aid of Crisis, with me muttering as we headed off that I wasn’t in favour of us performing ever again too much hassle, just meant to be a bit of fun, etc. etc. Apart from completely losing the low harmonies in Wassail, we sounded very good; I think our voices blend well and we make a nice warm noise – we even had someone tweet positively about the Crofton Park Library gig. However, a learning process: while the Library has a lovely acoustic, it’s not a great venue. The nice men selling Christmas trees outside gave us a substantial amount of their float, but most people in the library were plugged into computers and waiting for us to go away; everyone contributed something though.

The mulled Wine does its work

A more positive reception at Hills and Parkes, where we were fed mulled wine, and Emma joined in on Wassail.  One customer was thrilled and stayed right to the end of the set. We stopped on the way to sing to a housebound neighbour, much to the amusement of the people up the scaffolding a couple of doors down.

We were early at the Broca so had a cup of tea and waited to see if any audience were going to turn up, and when they didn’t, we went and sang outside the station instead (with their permission), which worked very well, people emptied their pockets and gave us handfuls of money.

final stop the station

I think with H&P’s mulled wine sales we’ll have raised a reasonable amount, but you can make it MORE by donating on our fundraising page. (Thank you).

we are now considering becoming the Overground Choir for a day next year, and travelling up and down the line singing on station forecourts.

What was that about not performing again?  The others talked me round in about a nanosecond, and we’re wondering about a set of shanties and other sea related songs at the National Maritime Museum at some point (if they’ll let us), perhaps in aid of RNLI.  Anyway, the new year will bring new songs with possibly a spring theme, we’ll see.

Voice Lab getting carried away

Sunday to Welcome Yule! Voicelab’s bash at the Southbank.  A most enjoyable collection of drinking songs and warnings (you don’t want to know what happens to people who plough on Christmas day).  These were carols after my own liking, steeped in ancient beliefs and passions, sung with gusto, accompanied by a bit of piano, fiddle and brass, and Morris dancing. The excellent Morris Offspring, a very young side wearing black and denim, with just a token sheaf of ribbons and no bells:  I don’t know whether Morris is getting better, but each time I see it I like it more. It seems to be less and less about men getting into their beer and then thrashing about with a staff or a hankie, and more and more about some magnificently  pagan ritual.  This was some seriously beautiful dancing, a real highlight of the season so far; so good I forgot to take any photos…!

© Cherry Potts 2011

music is taking over my life

Raise the Roof at the Horniman

Haven’t written anything here (or anywhere else much) for a while, and I blame that pesky singing lark. It has taken over.
We are rehearsing Ramirez’s Navidad Nuestra, carols and RTR stuff for Blackheath Halls on the 16th December, end of term concert for Raise the Roof at the Horniman Museum TODAY!!!! 2.30pm,
and a selection of more unusual carols with Summer All Year Long in aid of Crisis for 17th December,
3pm at Crofton Park Library, 4pm at Hills & Parkes Deli 49 Honor Oak Park and 5pm at The Broca Cafe Coulgate Street Brockley, right by the station.
It’s all huge fun, but time consuming, and there’s always room to be made for just one more extra rehearsal, or (Latin American) Spanish to be written out phonetically and big enough to be read (Score is unreadable), or posters to be designed, printed, distributed.
Would I have it any other way?
But the garden is neglected, I was writing Christmas cards at 5am this morning, and Christmas shopping started yesterday – normally I’d have it all tied up by September!
That said I highly recommend Cockpit Arts in Deptford (and Holborn) for Christmas presents of a very classy kind. I won’t go into detail or everyone will get previews of what will be in their stockings on the 25th… but check out their website.
And when not rehearsing or performing I’m attending musical events.
Highlights recently Coope Boyes and Simpson at the Goose is out, Goose is out singaround at the Mag, two versions of Figaro… and yet to come Lewisham Choral Society at St Mary’s Ladywell on the 10th, and Nunhead Community Choir on the 11th
I had high hopes of getting to lots of the Spitalfields Winter Festival, which has some really exciting things on, but there’s so much on locally that I think I’ll be lucky to make it to even one, and then of course there’s the Welcome Yule at Southbank on the 18th, might try to squeeze that in.
And there’s been less successful outings, a disappointing Eugene Onegin at ENO, which was too static, under characterised, and had a very odd libretto although the sets were wonderful (I worry when the sets are what I’m praising – I also worry when people laugh at Onegin’s anguish when he realises what a disastrous mistake he’s made), I really think rough edges not withstanding our Blackheath production was vastly superior… followed by an APPALLING Castor and Pollux also at ENO, which by comparison made Onegin look like a shining light of dramatic excellence. I know I shouldn’t judge an opera by it’s dramatic punch, but I do, if I just wanted the music I could listen to a disc. Rameau’s music is exquisite and I can’t fault the orchestra nor the singers, particularly Allan Clayton as Castor, but the director showed very little respect for his singers, who were required to (I was going to say act, but really; no) behave like disturbed and sexualised toddlers. I winced for them I really did.

The storyline was rather throw away too, I didn’t much care which of the brothers died and I wasn’t moved by their dilemma, mainly because the production (and lack of it) detracted from the music in a depressingly consistent way. I can only assume the budget for scenery and costume had been blown on the other productions, This was naff, and I was not surprised that Roderick Williams (Pollux) was taken ill, the amount of compost and glitter they were probably breathing in, I hope no one sustained permanent damage… My dad was groaning in anguish and muttering imprecations through out. This would have been better as a concert performance, then we could have allowed Rameau to light our imaginations and conjured up Hell and Jupiter for ourselves, rather than having it channelled for us by Little Britain doing zombiesRus.

I found myself wisting after the productions of Handel (Xerxes, Ariodante) that ENO did many years ago, which were directed with wit and aplomb, and with a knowing nod to the audience; and still manage to move me; I still quote a tiny bit of recitative from Xerxes where Arsemenes is asked to woo his own beloved on behalf of his brother, the timing and phrasing of his ‘I’d rather die’ summed up his entire character.  That was great singing, great acting and great direction.  Handel had a hand in  it too, but Rameau is good enough to deserve that kind of attention.

Enough grumbling, got to go and SING!!

copyright Cherry Potts 2011


Wintermiddle Santa rally

Merry Wintermiddle

Wintermiddle is, as far as I know, an invention of Michael Rosen.  His alternative to Father Christmas is Aunty Wintermiddle, a cheerful rainbow-wearing bringer of good times and merriment.  When I was going through my ‘its all a patriarchal construct’ phase, I found Aunty very comforting.  These days I’ll go with any celebration on offer regardless of its antecedents, but Wintermiddle, and mid winter and Yule retain a special place (or is that time?) in my affections.

Its all about surviving the darkness, and some of my favourite carols are about this too.  I like a good wassail, but the best songs are turn-of-year songs, by the likes of  John Kirkpatrick who has written and or recorded several seasonal songs that hit the spot.  We usually have his Wassail! CD on when we decorate the tree.

On the shortest day of the year, complete with lunar eclipse, it is no surprise that we want to fill the house with light, set fire to  the yule-log, snuggle down with a mug of mulled wine and think about our friends.

So Merry Wintermiddle!

copyright Cherry Potts 2010