Year of Grace, Day 78. Tulips in midwinter


NACHTIGAL pink tulip vg_0627I have taken a rather long respite  while my children and a friend came to stay for the holidays.  It is said that the things that happen during the first weeks of the New Year set the tone for the entire year. I spent New Year’s Day sketching the white birch trees that I see as I look out from my living room. I also tried out a recipe of caramel chocolate  tartlets from David Lebovitz’s Living the Sweet Life in Paris.

The sketch is still ongoing as I have been concentrating on the negative spaces between the tree trunks and shrubs.  Rather complicated — and my “right brain” or more likely my “left brain” baulked at the complexity. However it is a heartening start.

Caramel chocolate tartlets

Caramel chocolate tartlets

The tartlets were more successful and got overwhelming votes from the younger generation. Even M who is normally not a dark-chocolate fan joined in promptly scoffing the lot. Proof of its success is that both children asked for the recipe. I shall most definitely be making these again. As ever, I reduced the sugar called for by 2/3: from 1½ cups to ½ cup, and it was sufficiently sweet, even for M’s oh-so-very sweet tooth.

My next creation was a cake for M’s birthday. I decided to make a sponge meringue layer cake with a pecan frangipane cream filling and a ganache topping. There was extra custard and cream on the side.

Sponge meringue layer cake with pecan ganache filling -- M's birthday cake

Sponge meringue layer cake with pecan frangipane cream  filling and ganache topping

NACHTIGAL flowers oranges g_0618It is rather early to grace the table with tulips – their natural season is not for another 5 months, but all the same it was wonderful to receive a bunch of these spring harbingers in the bleakness of midwinter. Nonetheless, there have been several sunny days these first weeks — presaged by the first day of 2015 being  spectacularly sunny. The other day it was 15 ºC – positively summer!

It has been truly wonderful to have family around and so satisfying to do the most mundane things that we used to do when the children were much younger and we all lived under the same roof — sitting around the dining table leisurely chatting, preparing food, eating, and then clearing up together. One of the best moments was being asked for the secrets of my fried rice from No. 1 son. He said his never turns out the way I make them. How heartwarming is that? A demo was definitely in order. It reminds me of No. 2 son going off to university and asking for recipes, in particular Bolognese sauce. When I said, “oh, there are plenty online – just google,” his response was: “But I want the way you make it!” Aren’t those some of the most endearing words a mother gets to hear?

This quaint numbering system we use for the children – a family endearment taken from Chinese and Japanese as well traditional Tagalog usage — always gets us weird looks from those not used to our family’s eclectic cultural adoptions and humour. Once an English work colleague zealously corrected me – “It’s eldest son,” she said quite sternly and emphatically, “not No. 1 son.” She was new to the department and obviously did not know me and my eccentric sense of humour. “Ah… yes…of course…,” I replied, trying my utmost to be polite.

For the lovely time spent with family and friends and to be surrounded by warm affection, for having the time and inspiration to sketch and bake, for traditional British Christmas fare received as presents (including a generous round of M’s favourite Stilton cheese), for sunny days and a present of spring flowers from my daughter’s friend, for a great start to this new year with renewed health, energy, and creativity, and many, many more besides — I am most deeply grateful.

I leave you with more yummy treats from Christmas and New Year.