If lazing and grazing were a sport, I would be a gold medallist. I treat it as an art form. Cosied up in the finest of fleece pjs, I slink around, from bed to kitchen to sofa, and many other possible permutations, munching on treats, planning the savouries, brewing some coffee, and catching up with myself, my books and some films.
Lazy? I am afraid so. In my defence, I have been so horribly busy that I have had no time to laze, and not much time to graze for many months now, so I am making up for lost time. In fact it’s an absolute necessity, I’ve reached the point that if I don’t stop volunatarily, my body will make the decision for me, and I will get ill. I can feel it in my bones.
What a perfect day St Stephen’s Day is for this (we don’t have Boxing Day here in Ireland). After the build up and heavy weight of expectation that preceeds Xmas Day, the sluggishness following the epic Xmas feast and the mellow crevice that is the 26th is most welcome.
Traditionally in our house, we went to Cork to visit Grandparents and relatives. We loved it when we got there but the departure was always traumatic. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was always on TV and we were always distraught at missing it, even though we’d seen it many times. I still love that film, it’s the perfect balance of good and sinister with bright colours, sweets, songs, oompa loompas, what’s not to love? Let’s not speak of the Tim Burton version.
More than any of the above, St Stephen’s Day was always about the ham sandwich, with leftover Christmas ham in bread. We never had leftover Turkey, I was always envious of those who had, but ham we had a lot of, and on arrival in my Grandmothers house we would be greeted with a plate of it.
We would watch the Wren Boys arrive, an old Irish tradition, where children would dress up, and parade around with a fake captured wren on a stick, and knock on the door singing “The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, St Stephens day got caught in the furs”. They would be rewarded with some money, and we would look on enviously. It seemed like a second Halloween to us, but the tradition is very localised, much celebrated in Cork and Kerry, but not so much in Waterford, where I am from.
Those days are gone now and we spend Stephen’s Day at home, but we still have the ham, and better still goose. Leftover roast potatoes, some oxtail this year, and stuffing. Chocolate cake, which I keep sweeping past and cutting slivers off, convincing myself that it’s not very much, then washing it down with a truffle.
For perfect lazing and grazing, I reach for the cheese (Irish of course), spiced nuts, hot port and mulled wine. Hot port is a traditional Winter drink in Ireland and you can get it in every pub. It’s a warming and comforting drink, how I wish the tradition would catch on in the UK. I make them at home, and on occasion treat myself to one at The French House in Soho, the only pub I know in London that serves them. Anyone know any others? I have my own recipe for spiced nuts but that’s for another day.
Today I am all about the mulled wine. Fiona Beckett posted a lovely piece about mulled wine here, and I have followed her advice, but my recipe includes some of my own additions. I love the fragrance of fresh bay leaves and nutmeg in addition to the cloves, cinnamon and star anise. I also like to include a whole tangerine per bottle, tangerines are so Xmas-y, and I love the citrus and the sweetness.
I wholeheartedly agree with Fiona, never mull a wine that you wouldn’t drink, the same goes for cooking. If it tastes bad before you cook it, it ill still taste bad after, so don’t. Today I am using a Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, it carries the spices & fragrances nicely and has enough body to stand up to them. I use whatever port I have to hand, a nice rich one, today a vintage one, about a wine glass full, roughly 175ml.
I stud the tangerine with about ten cloves, and cut it in half, adding it to one bottle of wine, 175mls port, a cinnamon stick, one star anise, a fresh bay leaf and a little fresh grated nutmeg. Be warned, the nutmeg grated finely will be floating in the end product so if you don’t like it, leave it out. I think it’s worth it for the flavour. To sweeten, about 4tbsp of caster sugar will do, although this is to taste and depends on the wine and your own preference. Bring to the boil, and leave to infuse for half an hour or so. Pour through a sieve and heat the wine gently, taking care not to boil the alcohol off, and serve.
Perfect Xmas fare with minced pies, cheese, spiced nuts. Also on its own with a cheesy Xmas movie :) Enjoy!