Hello friends! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas, saw 2010 out with a bang and welcomed 2011 in with joy and excitement!
What a year it was. In some ways, because I have been so busy, I feel I'm still swimming in the shallows of the old year a little, still making my way into the shore of the new year and all that it holds and all that is to come. But more on that later!
How did you spend your Christmas?
Mine started on Christmas Eve Eve (December 23rd) when Tom and I had a special meal just the two of us and he gave me an early Christmas present:
Ha ha!! He also got me a "Go away, I'm reading!" book bag!!
We went to bed with the alarms set, a bit terrified that our train would be cancelled and we would have to make our way into deepest darkest Wales some other way. This was the week of travel chaos caused by the blizzards of snow across the UK, and all week Tom had been watching the Paddington departures live board online like a man possessed. Every day the train we were meant to be taking on Christmas Eve came up with CANCELLED like some sad, morose fortune cookie. At least we weren't camped out at Heathrow like some poor friends of ours were!
But we showed up at the station at 7am on Christmas Eve and hoped for the best - and everything was fine! As soon as we got out of central London, everything was a blanket of white. Snow had formed a thick crust on every roof, every field, every piece of pavement, every tree, every train platform. We changed trains in Cardiff and got a smaller one out to Tom's parents, and with every stop the snow grew whiter and sparkled more in the sunshine, the sea and the sand lay still, the streets were all but deserted.
It is always lovely going out to Tom's family's home. The countryside reminds me a lot of Tasmania - in fact, if there were gum trees dotted about the place instead of oaks, firs and birches, and kookaburras instead of badgers and hedgehogs, I would swear I was there. It is so quiet. The air is so fresh. I could feel a coil unwinding inside me as we neared the house, a knot being untied.
And, of course, there was snow everywhere. The stream that flows through the property, babbling and cascading, was frozen solid.
Sunshine on fresh snow sparkles brighter than diamonds.
We were able to chill the champagne and wine for Christmas lunch in the snow! It was so deep that it went right up the bottle neck - in fact you could have easily fully submerged the bottles. An hour or so out there and it was perfect drinking temperature. My mother, who loves her champagne so icy almost to the point of being frozen, would have loved it.
The snow was so soft, it was like a fine powder in the hands. The snowball fight had to wait until Boxing Day, when it had iced a bit over night!!
We had a lovely dinner on Christmas Day - Tom's family feed us so well, and one thing I love about going to visit family is that I very rarely have to cook, it's all done for me, it's like being on holiday :) I remembered last year when we hosted Christmas dinner in our tiny flat, and how tired I was afterwards, so it was nice to have a year off, as it were! We had all manner of treats and delicious things. These were some of my favourites:
Hotel Chocolat chocolates! Fast becoming my surrogate Koko Black (my favourite chocolate shop when I lived in Melbourne)
Port! A compulsory Christmas drink, surely?!
Sainsbury's Free From Mince Pies and Fruit Cake slices, which were dairy free, wheat free and gluten free. I didn't think that sounded like a recipe for deliciousness, but I was mistaken. My mother in law has a mostly dairy free diet and has also been cutting out gluten recently, so when the kind people at Sainsbury's sent me some of these to try for Christmas, I was thrilled to be able to bring something she could enjoy too. There's the whole "what about just making your own Phil?" argument, but I can't even make normal pastry, let alone a dairy free, wheat free, gluten free one! I leave that to the pros! I was a bit dubious because whenever I've had wheat or gluten free baked goods before, I find them a bit sandy in texture and I've never been all that bowled over by them if I'm honest. But on this occasion I was proved wrong! My in laws, for whom Christmas is never complete without a mince pie, loved the mince pies.
Sis-in-law gives the thumbs up!
I have my mouth full!
And I loved the fruit cake. For me, it's always about the fruit cake at Christmas. At my first job at a homewares store in Hobart, one of my duties was to slice up a cupboard full of Lion's Christmas Cakes and walk around the store offering them to customers. I loved the smell. And usually snuck a few slices on my way back to the tearoom to replenish. The only time I have ever made a fruit cake myself it was a disaster.
Oh, these little slices were so yummy! Full of fudgy, scrumptious fruit! Having been doubtful about the deliciousness, I was happy to be proved wrong. If you can't do the whole homemade thing, then I think these are a great option, and free of all the yucky E numbers and stodge factor you usually associate with festive food. We'll definitely get these again next year! Thank you Sainsbury's!
And finally.......the yuletide sundae!
Again, dairy free so everyone could enjoy. I crushed up some Lebkuchen gingerbread biscuits I bought in Germany, and layered those with vegan vanilla ice cream, fresh raspberries and a little Hanuta wafer at the top. Oh my goodness, this was so delicious.
Right, I hear you saying "Phil, was your gut the size of Santa's after all this food?"
Well, kind of.
But, I kept active!
I did yoga in the snow....ish.....
We went for long walks in the snow nearly every day - and when you're almost up to your knees in it, it's hard work! Especially with about five layers on - brr! And we also went sledging in one of the fields, which was almost at a ninety degree angle - I spent an afternoon marching up the hill, sledging down it, and then climbing up again. My thighs ached afterwards, and I couldn't feel my nose or ears, but it was So. Much. Fun. I love the snow!!
I also had to try out my new Christmas present:
The Manduka Pro Lite Yoga mat!! I've heard Mary praise hers to the skies for years, and my old turquoise Toronto mat, which has been my old faithful and been to every class with me for over three years, was getting a bit tired. When my in laws asked what I would like for Christmas, I put this on the list, not really expecting to get it, so I got a lovely surprise when I saw a yoga mat shaped package under the tree with my name on it!!
It is wonderful. No slipping! No gathering in messy folds when I try to do a Warrior 1! My practice has already been transformed. For some reason, yoga has really become more of a focus for me since the onset of winter, with it being so cold outside. Perhaps it is an outward expression of my desire for balance? Regardless, I am enjoying making it a focus in my life again.
And so we came back to London a few days before New Year, as I had to go back to work. We had a six hour train journey, which turned out to be quite wonderful. We were in a near deserted first class carriage the whole way, and were kept satisfied with lots of hot tea, and I took advantage of the stretch of time ahead and ploughed through a difficult part of my novel and reached a bit of a milestone by the time the train rolled out of Banbury. Yay me. My aim is to have a complete first draft by my 30th birthday. Five and a half months to go :) Even if it ends up going nowhere, I just want to have finished it.
And so we rolled back into grey, slushy, but still beautiful London, into the limbo period between Christmas and New Year, and prepared to stock the wine rack and larder for more festivities, and I tried to get back some semblance of routine!
More to follow...............