What’s the opposite of the Grinch? Probably me. I’m one of those annoying people who loves, loves, loves Christmas. I love everything about it.
I love shopping for presents (in November). I love wrapping presents.
I love listening to Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’ on eternal repeat.
I love that for two days, everyone wears silly paper hats.
I love that my Grandad is with us for another year and will have a new set of jokes to tell at the table after we read out the lame ones from the crackers.
I love seeing a packed fridge and tables heaving with food.
I love cooking a traditional roast on Christmas Day and making a feast of cold meats and salads on Boxing Day.
I love that I can eat ham for weeks on end.
I love fairy lights.
I love knowing children that believe in Santa.
I even love Mariah Carey – but only for this and only at Christmas.
And I love the tree, a real pine tree – that enormous organism of living (well, just surviving a hot summer in a bucket of water) Christmas inside the house. I helped mum decorate their tree last weekend. Mum has the best collection – and they really have been collected for as long as I can remember – of Christmas decorations. And I think it’s from her that I’ve inherited a habit of buying them all over the world, whenever and wherever, I see them. The sight of this pine tree adorned with fairy lights and miss-matched decorations, that all have a story, makes me happy.
These are some of my favourite Christmas decorations on the tree this year…
I thought I stole this from the giant Christmas tree in the foyer of the Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort in Singapore. But apparently I asked the staff there if I could take it (clearly not as reckless a child as I remember).
From when mum went through a ‘cross stitch’ phase – right around the time she went through the ‘folk art’ and ‘raffia hat’ making stage. My brother and I both have one of these on the tree. And I got a raffia hat.
Every year I buy a new decoration (s) for my tree and this is the most recent, a hand crochet sleeping angel.
A felt robin from my last trip to London and a wooden hand painted star from Nepal where we spent Christmas in 1997.
I’m obsessed with elephants. I bought this one in Delhi when I was working on the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
And I love anything that’s glass, set in front of the lights, that start to glow as it gets darker.
All the Christmassy stuff on the weekend got me feeling festive and in the mood to bake. I love ginger bread and thought perhaps this year I’d make them, as we did fruit mince pies for this blog last year (again, I will say they are the best) but for something a little different I made Spice Cookies from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. They have all those lovely warming spices, some Christmas currants, chocolate and a tangy glaze topped with candied peel that makes them look like little decorations that belong on the tree.
I made double this mixture because aside from not wanting to work with ‘1/2 an egg’, I knew I’d need extra for the volunteer taste testers and tree decorators. They were delicious and make great Christmas gifts, so I urge you to do the same. Oh, and if like me, you forgot to get unsalted butter, it’s ok to use the regular kind, just omit the 1/2 tsp of salt from the recipe (and don’t tell anyone).
Spice Cookies (Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi)
Makes: 16 cookies; Prep time: 30 minutes (plus 1 hour cooling); Cook time: 20 minutes
2 Tbsp brandy
240g plain flour
1/2 Tbsp best-quality cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
150g good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp grated orange zest
1/2 medium free range egg
1 Tbsp diced candied citrus peel
3 Tbsp lemon juice
160g icing sugar
– Soak the currants in brandy for 10 minutes. Mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices, salt and dark chocolate. Mix well with a whisk.
– Put the butter, sugar, vanilla, lemon and orange zest in a mixer bowl and beat to combine but not aerate much, about a minutes. Add the egg, slowly, while the machine is running and mix for another minute. Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything comes together.
– Remove the bowl from the machine and use your hands to gently knead until you get a uniform dough. Divide the cookie mix into 50g chunks and shape them in to perfectly round balls. Place them on two baking sheets lined with baking paper, about 2cm apart, and rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
– Pre-heat the oven at 190’C. Bake the cookies for 15-20 minutes or until the tops are firm but the centre still slightly soft. Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool for 5 minutes only, and then transfer to a wire rack. While still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin smooth icing is formed. Pour 1 tablespoon of the glaze over each biscuit, leaving it to drip and coat the biscuit with a very thin, almost transparent film. Finish each with three pieces of candied peel placed at the centre. Leave to set and serve, or store in an airtight container for a day or two.