114. We’ll Be Home For Christmas

Even if we wanted to go away! Fear not, said she, don’t let dread seize your mind at never seeing one of my blog posts again. We are having issues with our internet signal, since December 21st (over ONE WEEK ago, shame on EE, abandoning two elderly decrepit souls to have to use old fashioned methods like the telephone). As well, we have had two power cuts, very eerie being in total darkness with not another light in sight. I started this post but never managed to get it online before the problems. I’ll not change the tense so you can see what I was thinking.

As I think I mentioned, my brother and his wife were planning to come down for Christmas so we could be together as the last remaining family. That was until Tier 4 was introduced with Stay At Home orders from midnight on Sunday 20th (with only a few hours’ notice). Even though we in Somerset are not (yet??) in Tier 4 or even 3, the border between Scotland and England is closed.

Thank goodness we had our haircuts!

Sorry, just heard (23rd) that we are going into Tier 3 on Boxing Day (St Seven’s Day or December 26th depending where in the world you live). In Tier 4, now covering much of East and South England, including London, all non-essential shops, hairdressers etc are closed. You should not leave or enter Tier 4, although the pictures on the media of the crowds fleeing London on Saturday night leads me to believe that there will be no-one left there. Even in other Tiers, we have been told to stay local. Luckily, this time we got our hair cut not long before the new restrictions and I think we’ll survive. Christmas is not as planned for most people: instead of the original five days allowed, we can meet for Christmas Day only unless we are in bubbles. We’ve been told that New Year is no excuse for the breaking of restrictions. Just listening to the BBC on 30th January, we are now in Tier 4 and are not allowed out.

A couple of the pictures today relate to a tree made up of beer barrels: Happy Christmas! This was some years ago (spot the crowds) and sponsored by Jack Daniels, which is my remaining brother’s favourite tipple (very much in moderation though, I’m not planning on losing two brothers to alcohol). So even though we cannot be together we can remind ourselves of each other.

A little light relief after the bad news. To start, an update on both the Jules Verne trophy and the Vendée Globe. Um, sorry, more bad news. The only entrant in the Jules Verne had to pull out on December 11th, Day 17 of the attempt, due to damage to the starboard (right) rudder which meant they could not sail fast enough to beat the previous record.

Back to the Vendée Globe. At the last update there were still 28 boats in the race. The four who had gone to the rescue of Escoffier will get their finish times adjusted when (if?) they finish to compensate for their diversions. Fabrice Amedeo retired on 11th December as his computers stopped working. I’m sure Sir Robin would have kept going!

Covent Garden Jack Daniels tree

I’ve not mentioned another sailing event, the America’s Cup. Ben Ainslie of the UK is competing, in New Zealand. It is a totally different event from any others as the boats are built specifically for this race and are technologically at the leading edge of sailing. Unfortunately, our UK entry is not proving to be very good at sailing in these races. The America’s Cup won’t be coming home this time. Close to there (from the UK), the Sydney-Hobart race, which is traditionally held on Boxing Day (see above) and in which the Clipper yachts competed for some years, has been cancelled due to a Covid outbreak in Sydney. This is the first time in 76 years (since it started) that it will not take place.
Ah yes, some good sailing news. Sailor of the Decade, as awarded by the YJA (Yachting Journalist Association I think) was won by a school teacher from London who set up a sailing programme for disadvantaged kids in 2014. It’s worth a read to see how one person can have such a positive influence.

YJA MS Amlin International Sailor of the Decade winner announced (yachtsandyachting.com)

I feel with all these announcements, we are maybe being driven to drink. No, let’s not go there, but we can drink sensibly. Here are a few cocktails as I’ve not been keeping you up to date. One last K drink: Kirsch (short for Kirschwasser or cherry water). This is an eau-de-vie, described previously (Blog Post 88 dated 18 April 2020), but usually Kirsch itself is cherry (aka cough mixture). This bottle just says ‘fruit’ but we cannot distinguish a predominant aroma. We bought it on a trip to Alsace so it’s officially French, although Alsace has a chequered history of passing between France and Germany over the centuries so it has the atmosphere of both and worth a visit when we can. The scruffy label is partly intentional marketing but also due to snails entering the old storage place we used and nibbling it! I made a Lorraine cocktail: 50 ml Kirsch, 50 ml Benedictine and juice of half a lime. Tasty but strong.

The next bottle was Limoncello, lemon flavoured spirit from Sicily. Many years ago, we had an Easter holiday in Sicily. I had a client there and she invited us to have the Easter weekend with her family. I think I can safely say I have never eaten so much. We had the traditional Italian courses of antipasto (‘nibbles’ before pasta), primo (pasta, we had two different ones), secondo (main course, meat or fish. We had both), contorno (vegetables) then dolce (pudding). I can’t remember all the courses but there were fresh nuts off the trees in their garden, lasagne, other pasta, steak, kid goat. We then went for a short stroll and returned to be greeted with ‘you must be hungry, here are some very traditional Sicilian pastries, Cannoli’. Fried pastry with a filling of ricotta cream. We had some home-made limoncello as well and JD asked how it was made. My friend’s mother went into a long explanation, with her daughter translating as she went along and JD taking mental notes so we could try making it when home. After many minutes she concluded with ‘of course, you must pick the lemons from your tree that morning’. Then went into peals of laughter, she knew we’d not be able to make anything tasting as good as hers!

It does seem to be a Marmite-type of drink, in The Times a few months ago there was a stream of letters suggesting what else it could be used for (toilet cleaner being popular). I managed to finish off the bottle by making a Renaissance. Mix 40 ml sweet (red) vermouth, 60 ml brandy, 10 ml limoncello and 2 dashes of bitters. Again, tasty but strong.

The final spirit, to bring you up-to-date, was Marc de Bourgogne. Marc is a French brandy distilled from the gunk leftover after grapes have been pressed to make wine. Officially known as pomace I think. From Bourgogne it should be Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. As I could not find a recipe for this, I used one for Grappa, an Italian drink made from the gunk leftover from Italian grapes. It’s called Genoa and is made up of 10 ml red vermouth, 10 ml Sambuca and 45 ml Grappa. Yet another tasty but strong. Could I make this into a slogan? ‘Tasty, strong and long’. Not as catchy as ‘hands, face, space’ but more fun?

After all of these, (not all on the same day or even weekend) I decided to go for something tasty but weak(er). A lovely classic cocktail is French 75. Champagne with gin, lemon juice and fine sugar. I had to tweak the amounts to get something that we liked the taste of. We ended up with a little amount left over from each of the above, so I then used then all to make a House Champagne Cocktail. We enjoyed this but can never repeat it as the proportions were not recorded.

I think I’ll keep Christmas for another day, there will be nothing else to talk about now until we all get our vaccinations. Just a quick final note in case you’re wondering what I decided to do with the Christmas Cake. The answer is nothing, we decided on a blank canvas. Here it is. Roll on 2021, Happy New Year everyone.

2020 Christmas Cake