Opening the spice cupboard and lighting the Advent candles

Still Life Luis Melendez

Luis Melendez (1716-1780)

I love this time of year: the vibrant cocktail of Hebridean weather, woolly socks and snuggly snoods, candles and a glowing stove on dark afternoons, the gutsy flavours of Northern European peasant food, the indulgent aromas of spices and intense sweetness of dried fruit. I particularly enjoy Advent, I like the concept of looking forwards, anticipating, waiting and preparing; and it is immaterial whether it’s Christmas, Yule, or Shabe Yaldā. It is the antidote to the modern cult of instant gratification and it is a great shame that it has becen usurped as the festival of the cult of shopping and consumerism. Fortunately living on the edge of the world I can dismiss the siren calls of the marketing men with bah humbug, consign their spam to the great cyber darkness, put the junk mail into the recycling bin and get on with enjoying the preparations for a simple croft Christmas.
At this point I should explain that the croft house will not be decked with holly, ivy and the folderols associated with the Dickensian, New England, Scandinavian or whatever contrived version of Christmas is currently in vogue. There will be candles, driftwood, bowls of spices and herbs, clove studded oranges and definitely no bling. Who need fairy lights when I have velvety dark skies strung with skeins of stars?
If you think this sounds a little dour and fundamentalist perhaps the influence of the Wee Frees (apologies Free Church of Scotland) lingers throughout the islands even though South Uist and Barra are predominantly Catholic. Originally Advent was all about spiritual preparation and abstinence, and as an atheist with hedonistic, pagan leanings (or is it the other way round?) neither are on my agenda. However, the Lord of Misrule and the Abbot of Unreason will both be invited to preside over our Feast of Fools.
My Christmas shopping list reveals that I am seriously at the risk of committing one of the sins of excess or more likely developing type 2 diabetes. The dried fruit, nuts, spices. exotic condiments, conserves, sugars and syrups, not to mention the pomegranates, cranberries and citrus fruit are purchased without guilt despite the accumulation of food miles. I enjoy cooking the traditional Christmas foods, both savoury and sweet, probably more than eating them. Essentially it is all about sharing with friends and delighting those you love. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, a glass of mulled wine with some mince pies or farmhouse cheeses with homemade bread and chutney.
Now that I no longer have an extended family to cosset I have eschewed the fruit-laden Christmas cake and pudding in favour of smaller confections. I have now recovered from the trauma of the Revenge of the Gingerbread Men and I am going to try some new recipes. To mark the start of Advent, a little something that’s not too rich and fruit laden. A minor success as the Apple and Pecan Muffins vanished in a thrice so this afternoon I had to put on the apron and start again. There is no higher praise than a rapidly emptying cake tin.

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15 thoughts on “Opening the spice cupboard and lighting the Advent candles

    • It is a very individual way of celebrating mid-winter and a rebellion against the media Christmas hype that seems to lead to disappointment when the festival doesn’t live up to expectations.

    • Thank you. I’m a minimalist at heart so less is best for me. Although I’m not a fan of Christmas trees, I do miss having a small amount of Christmas greenery, but I’ve failed miserably to grow holly and ivy.

      • I’m not keen on Christmas trees either and we do not put one up any more, holly and ivy always seem to come with an assortment of creatures into the house, your ideas sound perfect to me.

  1. The Head Gardener is a lucky man! ps your weather widget tells me that it is 9.7 degrees on your doorstep… you may be interested to hear that our doorstep is considerably chillier this morning 😉

    • It is mild here in winter, the average day-time temperature is about 9 with a max low of -2. The weather station is in a more sheltered position so up here on windy point you need to factor in the wind-chill and add an extra layer. So it’s likely to get a lot chillier in your part of the big island so I hope you’ve got the woolly socks and thermal unmentionables ready.

      • Of course, I had momentarily completely forgotten about the almost complete lack of frost and snow at my Mum’s and of course your island will have its own peculiar weather – weather peculiar to it, I mean 😉

  2. Delightfully scribed!
    Reminds me of my black cake with lemon curd and steamed ginger/pumpkin puddings I no longer make. Those cranberries are headed toward chutney today! Cheers and happy snuggling! Diane

      • Cranberries are very expensive and only available for a few weeks around Christmas in small quantities. I always buy some for puddings and Christmas treats and if there are some left (rarely) or if I find some on special offer after Christmas I will make a few jars of chutney. I usually combine them with orange and ginger. I’ve also made cranberry and orange jam which was delicious.

  3. Smaller confections are always very welcome by some of the extended family in British Columbia…:0) Perhaps you can put your creative head to work on a way to get them past the border police…??? and btw….How come I didn’t inherit any culinary, or literary genius? I’m proud of you, big sis. You have created an amazing life in ‘retirement’ xo

    • Welcome to the world of the croft gardeners little sister. Sending you treats from the croft kitchen would probably land me in all sorts of trouble with the Canadian authorities and would not be good for the sniffer dogs.
      I obviously failed miserably to teach you any science, but the reason why you have a different set of talents is the same as why I’m built for comfort and you look like a supermodel!
      So Frazzle Dazzle I hope you and Fat Lad are having a wonderful Christmas and New Year and be careful when you go out on the piste!

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