11 January 2013

christmas past and present

Christmas was a bit of a non event this time for me. But I think for many of us, it becomes so as we grow older. We no longer see Christmas through child's eyes, or even a young adult eyes. The excitement is somewhat dimmed a little more as each year passes. And often what passes as 'family tradition' becomes meaningless when everyone just goes through the motions of the day. I noticed that it often doesn't get better until we have children of our own. Then there's a reason or two (or more) to celebrate Christmas again in a festive...and well, more fun way. The wow factor if you like, for Christmas comes back. 

I did try to make an effort with putting up the Christmas tree and dotting the house with decorations like I always do.

And this.

The look that my furbaby graced me with when I took this photo suggests, wow factor, not so much.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no Christmas grinch. I'm all for Christmas. When I was still living in Singapore, I used to 'do' Christmas in a big way and not just in a food kind of way. There would be weeks of carolling, musical production of the nativity, followed by more carolling and singing at midnight mass. And after Christmas morning with the family and doing the presents thing, my friends and I would drop in to each other's house for more celebrating (a lot of people I knew then had an open-door policy during Christmas). After dinner, there would usually be more music and games and festivities. These festivities would continue for at least another couple of days. In NZ, everyone kinda droops after dinner and Christmas day often ends with such an anti-climax. And dropping in unannounced at your friends' is almost unheard of, especially not on Christmas day.

But as I've grown older, I've found myself celebrating Christmas less and less. So perhaps why it's become such a non-event for me is due to both age and also living in NZ.

There is one thing I do miss a lot during this time though. Have you ever been to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur during Christmas? If you have, you'll know that all the streets in the city, up and down, are decked out. So are the shops and hotels (almost all the buildings really), are festooned with lights and decorations, inside and out. It's all sparklies and lights at every corner, so much so that a magpie would need a lie down from it all! You could argue that what I'm describing is the commercial side of the season, but it goes a long way to lending that 'Christmas is in the air' feeling! Now that, that I miss.

But event or non-event, I did manage to sneak in some edible Christmas gift making.

Once again, I made marmalade, balsamic onion jam and my festive granola, but with slight variations from the previous Christmas. For the marmalade, I followed a tried and true recipe from the lovely Emma of My Darling Lemon Thyme (it's never failed me) as a guide and added grapefruit and lots of lemon and ginger to the oranges, and also spiced it up a little with cinnamon (a stick of cinnamon when boiling and then removed before bottling, not ground cinnamon). 

The balsamic onion jam had minced up sultanas through it this time.  And I made a slight variation of my Glorious Granola for the Festive version. You can find the recipe for my Glorious Granola here. And the recipe for the Festive version below.

My granola recipe makes quite a large batch of granola, so I was able to save some for myself after wrapping up what I needed to give away as presents.  And with the glut of strawberries we've been having this summer, I've been enjoying some of that granola with strawberries and creamy thick Greek yoghurt. I must admit that it tastes pretty amazing!

I also made a batch of strawberry, lemon and vanilla jam. 

I didn't take any photos of the balsamic onion jam I made, nor did I write down exactly how much I used of each ingredient. But if you've made jams and chutneys before, making this is a no brainer. The recipe below is an approximate - go by taste and you won't go wrong.

Balsamic Onion Jam

10-15 red onions, thinly sliced
3/4 cup sultanas, roughly minced
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup of soft brown sugar (packed)
Oil (I used rice bran, but you can use any type of light oil without a strong taste)

  1. Mix the sliced onions with some oil - not too much, but enough that all the onions are coated with oil.
  2. Heat a heavy based pan/pot over medium heat and fry the onions until soft and translucent.
  3. Add the minced sultanas, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar - cook until the onions become dark (caramelised) and sticky.
  4. Bottle in sterilised jars and seal.

Strawberry, Lemon and Vanilla Jam

Ripe Strawberries - 6 cups once hulled and roughly chopped
3 cups sugar - for every cup of strawberry I used 1/2 cup sugar. Traditional jam recipes ask for 1 cup sugar to 1 cup fruit. I like my jam less sweet, so 3 cups is plenty for me.
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, and vanilla seeds scrapped out
Zest and juice of 1 large lemon

  1. In a large heavy bottom pan/pot, stir the sugar and chopped strawberries together. Set aside for couple of hours.
  2. Stir in the lemon zest and juice, the vanilla seeds and bean. Bring to boil. Stir to ensure that the sugar has all melted and that the jam doesn't stick at the bottom.
  3. With a handheld wizz/blender, blend the mixture until roughly half the strawberries have been blended, leaving the jam with small lumps of the fruit.  I don't like my jam smooth, but if you do, then go ahead and blend away.
  4. With a clean sterilised spoon, skim any scum/foam off the surface.
  5. Once the jam is ready, remove the vanilla bean halves.
  6. Here's the method I use to check if my jam is ready - place a saucer in the freezer so that it's cold. Once the jam starts to coat the back of the sterilised spoon, take the saucer out from the freezer. Pour a little jam onto the saucer, wait for 10 seconds and then run a finger through the jam. If the jam stays separate, your jam is done. If not, boil for a few minutes longer and test again.
  7. Bottle in sterilised jars and seal.

Festive Granola

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw cashews, roughly chopped
1 cup almonds, roughly chopped
1 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup cranberries
1/2 cup currants
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup rice bran oil (or you can extra virgin olive oil)
3/4 cup honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 150C / 300F. Line a couple of large baking trays with baking paper.
  2. Except for the dried fruits, combine all the other ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.
  3. Spread the granola mixture out onto the trays evenly.
  4. Bake for 40-45 minutes, stirring the granola around every 10 minutes. Stir in the dried fruit when you've got 20 minutes more baking time before the end.
  5. Your granola is ready when it's all golden and sticky.
  6. Cool the granola in the trays completely before breaking them up and storing them into airtight jars/containers.

This granola will also be my contribution to January's Sweet New Zealand, hosted by sweet Arfi of HomeMadeS.