I had a great Christmas, rather overindulging on food, even managing to exceed the 7 special meals that were planned in my calendar. I did a bit of extra riding to compensate for it though, and I’ve included a couple of recipes, so you can taste some of my experiments for yourself.
The company Christmas lunch at the Thistle hotel was pretty much the same as always; a decent quality fairly standard Christmas meal for 200+ people. It was good enough to more than fill my plate though, so I was too stuffed to participate in the disco in the afternoon. It was far too loud to hear anyone clearly, so I sloped off a bit early to finish off my Christmas shopping.
Only two days later, my department went out for lunch at Loch Fyne, which was better quality food than the Thistle, but still nothing spectacular, and hard to maintain conversation even without a stupidly loud disco blaring away. The group splintered a bit after lunch, and the small clique I ended up in spent a pleasant afternoon in the pub talking nonsense before going for the first unscheduled meal, at Cathay Rendezvous. We opted for one of the set dinners, which was easily the best meal so far, and we were still able to hear each other talking. This was the point at which I started calling it BloatFest, as I found it impossible to resist eating far too much of the excellent fare.
After two whole days without excess, the board games club’s Christmas lunch brought back the bloat in style. Greg’s cooking is incredibly good, so I couldn’t resist a second helping of the main course almost as big as the oversized first. However, for pudding he brought out two different bread and butter puddings, one lemon flavoured and one with basically all of the Christmas dessert flavours. Naturally I had to have a huge helping of each, which meant that I had no room for the shortbread Christmas tree stack until half way through the afternoon, once I’d lost a couple of games of Dominion.Another day’s rest, then it was the Bristol and Bath Perl Monger’s Christmas social meeting, held at the Lazy Dog Bristol. That was a fairly normal sized meal, but we ended up participating in the pub quiz, which we hadn’t realised was being held that night. There were quite a few Christmas-themed rounds, such as Christmas number ones and cracker joke punchlines. There was also a mince pie tasting round, in which we had to identify which shop each of 5 different pies had been bought from. We didn’t get any of those right, and did quite poorly in most of the other rounds, too. However, we were saved from last place by our performance in the last round, which involved building a nativity scene from PlayDoh. We didn’t get as much material as the other teams, but our rendition obviously caught the judges’ eyes, and we moved up into penultimate place, winning our team the booby prize of a box of After Eights and packet of pork scratchings. They actually go together surprisingly well, even if you put them on Oatibix. I am a fan of strange food, though.
Two days later, it was the IOPscience development team’s secret Santa lunch at the Llandoger Trow. Nothing too excessive, but a good atmosphere. The next day was Christmas Eve, so we had the afternoon off. I spent it making Christmas pudding ice cream, ready for the big day. This is one of my best ice cream experiments, which I first tried last Christmas, but didn’t get to eat much of, due to flying off to Unicon early on Boxing Day. Here’s the recipe, so you can try it too:
- 10floz/300g brandy double cream (I get mine from Abel&Cole; it was their catalogue in which I first saw it, which inspired this recipe)
- 2oz/55g dark brown sugar
- 1lb/450g Christmas pudding
- 2 large eggs
- Cook the pudding according to its instructions (I bought a pre-made pudding), break into lumps and leave to cool. Ideally, it will be cold by the time you need it in the last step, so do this early, or put it in the fridge
- Separate the eggs: yolks into a small bowl, and whites into a bowl large enough for beating. Beat the whites until very firm
- Break down any lumps in the sugar, and beat into the egg whites until it forms a glossy meringue
- Beat the cream in a large bowl until very firm, but stop before it starts to separate
- Gently fold the cream into the meringue using a spatula
- Break the egg yolks with a fork, and fold into the main mixture. If you stopped mixing at this point, I think you’d have a pretty good ice cream, but this is Christmas, so we need to really overdo it
- Gently stir the lumps of Christmas pudding into the mixture, pour into a suitable container, and leave in the freezer for ages
On Christmas morning I was inspired to make Christmas porridge, which was basically just normal porridge with a bit of mincemeat added. It wasn’t bad, but there was definitely room for improvement. For the Christmas meal itself, we had a fabulous Stilton and veg pie from Abel and Cole, and I also followed their recipe for pork/chestnut stuffing, which ended up being big enough to feed two people on its own. That meant that I could only eat two thirds of it myself. The cloves of garlic roasted with the potatoes were a nice surprise; kind of like a chewy garlic sweet, without being overpowering. I’m quite happy to eat raw garlic cloves, but only one at a time, whereas I easily chomped down a whole bulb of these.
I’d been thinking about the porridge for a whole day, and realised that the problem was that to get the full effect from the mincemeat, I’d have to put to much in to make a sensible breakfast, so on Boxing Day morning I came up with the following recipe, which makes enough for just me, but may do for two people with normal appetites:
- Mix at least one tablespoon-full of ground mixed spice (mine is cinnamon, coriander seed, dill, ginger, cloves and nutmeg) into 100g of porridge oats in a pan
- Pour in about 350ml of soya milk (I’m sure dairy milk works just as well)
- Add a generous tablespoon-full of mincemeat
- Cook over a low heat, stirring regularly, until it gets to the desired thickness (very thick in my case)
At this stage, I’d already had 8 Christmas meals, so it was time for some countermeasures. I figured that the roads would be almost empty on Boxing Day, so it would be a good day to try the Bastard Hills of North Bristol ride again. I’ve ridden this route 4 or 5 times so far, but never yet without at least one unplanned dismount, so a day without much traffic seemed like a good opportunity for another attempt. Once I was out on the roads though, it looked like the snow hadn’t quite thawed enough for riding up and down lots of steep hills. So I picked a route which included some of the Bastard Hills, but was mostly free from snow and ice, despite looking vaguely like a Christmassy sprig of holly. However, the climb up Bridge Valley Road was entertaining due to a very slippery surface, and Circular Road, despite being quite flat, was even sketchier. I think I managed the whole ride without UPDs, which was pretty good going on my almost slick tyre.
On the Monday after Christmas it was time to use the mincemeat for what I’d actually bought it for, which was another reason I hadn’t wanted to put too much in the porridge. Mince pies are a bit boring, but hiding at the back of my muffin cookbook (thanks again Stevy!) is a recipe for mince muffins. This is the third time I’ve made muffins using this book, and I finally managed to take them out of the oven at the right time, so they weren’t crunchy or rubbery. I’d copy the recipe here, but I’d rather the author got the credit (and the money), so if you want an alternative to boring old mince pies, go and buy the book: Muffin Magic, by Susannah Blake.
Having watched the excellent Doctor Who Christmas special on Christmas day, we watched Doctor Who confidential on the Monday evening, which meant that it was time to make fishfingers in custard again. Last time I tried this I put chard in, which didn’t help, but I could tell that despite sounding like a stupid combination cooked up just for laughs on the show, it could actually work. This time I stuck to the basics: fishfingers in custard, with my usual mostly neutral vegetables thrown in for good measure (swede, mushrooms, cabbage, cucumber, etc). Much better.
On the Tuesday we went to Stevy’s parents for Christmas lunch, which was very nice, and excessively filling. That was because I had to have two main courses again, due to there being two different meats on offer. Actually, I probably would have had just as much for seconds if it had been the same as firsts. To avoid bursting I had to restrict myself to only two desserts, despite there being four to choose from. We did bring home some of the Belgian chocolate cake though, so I didn’t miss out completely.
Wednesday was unicycle hockey practice night, so a chance to burn off some of the excesses of the previous several days. I’d tried to book an extra hour for the evening, as a special Christmas one-off, but had been told that the hall was already booked for the hour after our normal session. However, when we got there we were told that it was now available, so we grabbed the opportunity for some longer games. Despite having twice as long as usual, the play was much more energetic for some reason; two hours of that might have compensated for a couple of my previous indulgences.
Saturday was New Year’s Day, so seemed like it would be another relatively traffic free day. Also, the snow had finally all gone, so after finishing the last spoonful of mincemeat in some more Christmas porridge, I set out to attempt the Bastard Hills route again. It was one of my least successful attempts so far. I haven’t had a huge amount of hill climbing practice lately, so I had to stop for rests a few times, and I had several UPDs, not all explainable by the steepness of the ascent. Still, it was a good two hours of hard exercise, so worth doing to counter some of the Christmas excesses, even if I still hadn’t attained my goal.
Monday was the last bank holiday of the holiday season, so promised to be another low traffic opportunity to make a last ditch attempt on the Bastard Hills. I didn’t have any special food to set me up this time, but fared a lot better than on Saturday. I didn’t manage the whole route without falling, but did at least equal my best attempt, with only one UPD, right at the top of Marlborough Hill. That was also the only rest stop I had, which all bodes well for my next attempt, which may well be tomorrow.
Although the scheduled events of BloatFest were now over, we still had a few mince muffins left, so on Monday evening I reached into the cupboard to get the custard powder out. Somehow, while I was manoeuvring it past the other tins, the lid came off and the jar fell onto the shelf below, causing a massive eruption of custard powder which spread across the entire kitchen, and left me covered with several large spots of yellow dust. Despite its wide coverage, this incident hardly seemed to have made a dent in the contents of the jar, so after spending several minutes with the vacuum cleaner (causing a very minor explosion in the process – custard powder is quite volatile), we were able to continue our fringe festival of enormous repasts.
As of this writing, we’ve eaten almost all of the Christmas food over rather more than 12 meals, so even the unofficial tail of BloatFest is nearly over. We still have one serving of Christmas pudding ice cream left though, and Stevy’s D&D players have just left us some banana bread, which will go very well with the left over brandy butter.