A Vegetarian Christmas

Burlington Arcade

I am sure you are wondering what I may be talking about as a vegetarian Christmas is an oxymoron to some people.  After all, Christmas dinners usually consist of a bird of some sort such as turkey, duck, or goose.  Well, there was a period when I was a vegetarian for a many number of years and we used to have a vegetarian Christmas.

A very good friend gave me Rose Elliot’s, The New Vegetarian Cookbook , which has a recipe for a nut loaf made with chestnuts in the Entertaining section.  Since the first time I made this, I haven’t looked back.  Although I am back to eating meat on occasion, I still like to make this for Boxing Day as an alternative to all the meat that is on offer over the holidays.  It is full of protein and very rich.  It is just as tasty in a sandwich with stuffing and cranberry sauce.  I thought it would be nice to share this with all of you, especially if you are tired from the turkey over Thanksgiving and now again  for Christmas. (By the way, I am also making a rack of lamb as well!) Enjoy!

I am now taking a little break from posting as my kids are all home and I am going to be very busy cooking and socialising over the holidays.  See you all again in 2009!  All the best.

Chestnut, Walnut and Red Wine Loaf (serves eight)

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 celery stick, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¾ pound cooked fresh or canned chestnuts roughly mashed (I use canned pureed, as fresh can be too dry, or you can try frozen)
  • ¾ pound cashew nuts, grated (sometimes I mix the cashews with pecans)
  • 1 cup walnuts, grated
  • 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
  • 2/3 cup red wine (I have been using mulled wine instead, for the spice)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon brandy
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon dry thyme and basil
  • 2 eggs
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Garnish

  • sprigs of parsley, tomato and lemon slices (I don’t use the tomato)

Preheat the oven to 3750F or gas mark 6.  Grease and line a 2 pound bread pan with a long strip of grease proof paper to cover the base and the short sides of the pan.  Fry the onion and celery in the butter for 7 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.  Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients, seasoning well with salt and pepper.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan.  Cover with a piece of aluminium foil and bake for 1 hour, then remove the aluminium foil and continue cooking for a further 15 minutes, until firm in the center.

Remove the loaf from the oven and allow to stand for 4-5 minutes, then loosen the edges by slipping a knife between the loaf and the pan.  Turn the loaf out on to a warmed serving plate.  Garnish with parsley, and lemon slices.

Can be served with roast potatoes, vegetables, gravy, and horseradish sauce.


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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings 2008

From the SouthbankI am writing to you while watching crime TV.  I have CSI Miami and CSI New York to get through.  I love watching the CSI’s, NCIS, Law and Order, Law and Order Special Victims Unit, Law and Order Criminal Intent, and the one about the lawyers in Boston with William Shatner (that is funny).  Perhaps it comes from my dark side.  I am fascinated with pathology and anatomy and physiology and the psychology of what makes people do the bad things they do.  Now you know something about me you didn’t know before.

Since my unemployment, I have been pretty much attached to my laptop.  Since the Lodger left, I haven’t really cleaned the house or left it much except for a couple of excursions, errands, food shopping, signing on and dancing.  I have been slack in the housekeeping department.  Sue me.

My Tango blog is doing well and I have had some really positive comments about it from some of my Tango associates.  My posting on Personal Hygiene is getting a lot of visits and seems to be the top post at the moment.  I am providing a public information service and doing women a favour.

Having this time off has provided me with an opportunity to set up my blogs and to post my thoughts.  So although my house is not as tidy as normal, it is because I have been busy.

I have also been thinking about what I want to do for a living.  I have realised that I have been looking after people most of my life one way or another.  I have looked after my brothers, I have been the mother to my mother, I have been the wife, I have been and still am the mother to my children, and I have been a PA and Office Manager on and off for many years.  After all of these years, I am pretty tired of all of that and I need something for me.  As I don’t expect anyone else to be looking after my needs, although it would be nice on occasion, I am going to look after number one – me.

My children have pretty much flown the nest.  My job is relatively done there.  They are young adults and can look after themselves.  I am very proud of them.

It is my turn to fly the nest.  I would love to travel more.  I would love to do something creative and be a part of something really interesting.  I would love someone to give me a job where I can utilise my creative and practical skills and that doesn’t involve being a nursemaid, I mean support, to some executive.  I would like to be part of something big and still be autonomous.

So this is where I am right now.  I have been having tutoring/mentoring for my writing.  I have been setting up and writing two blogs.  I have signed up for a Dreamweaver course and a How to Sell Your Writing course at the local adult college.  I also read other writing blogs.

What does all this have to do with Christmas you might be asking?  Nothing.  I just wanted to let you know what I have been doing and how I am.  Fine and dandy thank you very much!  In this time of relative uncertainty, I have found a peace deep inside of me while chaos reigns around me.

I want you all to know that I have actually printed off mailing labels for my Christmas card list this year!  I have printed off mailing labels many times at work, but never for myself till now.  I have sent off the cards in time, except for the ones to the States.  I was a day late, so you might get them in time for New Year.  The one upside to being unemployed is that I had time to send everyone a card.  It will be a different story next year.  Going on the unemployment theme, I have used up all of my leftover Christmas cards from the last few years.  So if you got one like the one last year or the year before- uh I can’t remember if I sent any last year – and are having déjà-vu about your Christmas card, remember, it is the thought that counts and I did write a brief message in each one.  I probably won’t be sending any next year as I am going green to help save the forests, and I am also hoping that I will be somewhere warm this time next year.  So I guess it was a complete waste of time doing a Christmas label list.  I also sent off Christmas e-cards to those not on my paper card list.  I hope you had fun with that, and the sentiment is genuine.  So next year you all will either get an e-card or a phone call.  So I hope you all get Skype so we can make it economical (free) as well as making it the next best thing to being there.

I got rid of the fake tree this summer in preparation for the sale of my home that hasn’t happened yet – so we will be having the other Christmas ornaments out as usual and we will have the little eighteen inch Christmas tree instead.  The presents will sit in a pile on the floor in the corner of the living room.  Speaking of presents, I managed for the first time in years to get everything I wanted way ahead of schedule and I didn’t even start before December!

By the way, I am not sending any presents to the States this year.  I am unemployed.  So there will be no Texas fruit cake arriving at your front door.  I have sent them to you for the last couple of years and I still don’t know if anyone likes them.  I personally love them, and since no-one has bothered to say thank you or to say it was really thoughtful of me to send them but we aren’t really crazy about Texas fruitcake so would you send me something else instead next time, I won’t be bothering anymore.  I will make a telephone call on Christmas day and give you some of my precious time instead.  And since you all know that I love Texas fruit cake, it would be really nice to get one next year, providing I am still in the country.

The children are descending upon me this weekend and I am really looking forward to seeing them.   Although I have been in regular contact with them via telephone, texting, e-mail, Facebook, MSN, webcam and Yahoo Messenger, there is no substitute for actually being with them.  Incidentally, I just had a chat on Facebook with the one still in Los Angeles!  I love technology.

While my family will be celebrating Christmas en masse in Maryland or New Jersey – my step-mother broke her shoulder so I am not sure if she is cooking and hosting this year – I will be cooking a crown of turkey from Marks and Spencer (turkey breast to everyone else) along with all the trimmings for the four of us.  I am not crazy about Christmas pudding, so I bought a Cherry Panettone Christmas pudding instead and will be making something with chocolate.  It may not be a British tradition, but I’m not British, so no problem.  My oldest son has asked if he could make a shrimp cocktail as starters.  It isn’t tradition either, but what the heck, we might start a new one.

On Boxing Day, I have managed to push back dinner so I can pop out to The Southbank for an hour or so of Tango.  I shall be my efficient self and have everything prepared by lunchtime so I can be there for 4pm.  I will get my daughter to put the chestnut loaf in the oven on my way back and I expect that everything will be ready in time for when the children’s Grandmother and Uncle come over for dinner.  I may not be British, but I do like this holiday.  It’s a good day to catch up on watching DVD’s of films I haven’t seen.  They even have some decent movies on TV.

We will also be visiting some friends during Christmas week.  This year I will finally get to play the Trivial Pursuit game that the children’s dad bought me in the States in the 80’s.  It’s amazing the stuff we hang on to!  The game has been sitting in a cupboard for over 20 years and we have never played it!  At least the adults will have an advantage in winning a game for a change.

As for New Year’s Eve – unless I’ve met the man of my dreams by then, and I certainly won’t be holding my breath for that – I am off to Windsor to Tango in the New Year!

So I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings.  Take the one that suits you best.  I also wish you peace, joy and happiness in your present and for the future.

All the best,

Arlene

A Walk Up Piccadilly

burlington-arcade3I went into London up to Regent Street yesterday to see a preview of a film written and directed by a dear friend of mine, Sasha, who I met through Tango.  When I realised that I was going to be very early due to some excellent timing on my part and astonishingly efficient service on the public transport for a change, I decided to get off at Green Park and wander up Piccadilly to kill some time.

I have been up and down Piccadilly many times over the last 25 years. It is not the glitziest of roads, but it does have some interesting shops such as Fortnum & Mason -they do a wonderful afternoon tea, The Royal Academy, and The Ritz – they also do a lovely afternoon tea.  I really like a proper afternoon tea as a special treat.  You can read about the history of the street here.

As I wandered up Piccadilly to see what was on at The Royal Academy, I got sidetracked by The Burlington Arcade.  Now, I have lived in London (SW) for over 20 years and have been up and down Piccadilly many times, and yet I have never been in The Burlington Arcade before.  There is no real explanation for it – it just never happened!  It never called to me before – it must have been the sparkly Christmas decorations and lights that did it for me yesterday.  I am a sucker for a bit of sparkle and glitter.

The decorations and lights were understated, elegant, very pretty, and were a nice change from some of the garish decorations I had seen in other places.  I admired the shop windows as I wondered up and down the arcade.  Some of the displays were so colourful and pretty, they needed no extra embellishments and complemented the decor of the arcade perfectly.

There were a few door guards and I guessed that these shops must have had some very expensive items in them to require security services.  There was a gentleman shining shoes wearing a little Santa hat.  You don’t see many people shining shoes anymore.  I think it is a great service and I admire the man that makes use of it.

As well as the pretty and interesting shops in the arcade, if you look upwards, you can admire the lovely plasterwork on the arches, and the spectacular glass ceiling – parts of the building have some lovely stained glass work.

* Lord George Cavendish, who lived in Burlington House (now the Royal Academy) commissioned his architect, Samuel Ware, to design a covered promenade of shops – unofficially to stop ruffians from throwing quantities of rubbish, in particular oyster shells, onto his property and officially “for the gratification of the public and to give employment to industrious females”.

* The result – the very first shopping Arcade, nearly 200 yards in length – was opened on the 20th March 1819 to great acclaim and is designated as a historic and architectural masterpiece.

(excerpt taken from The Burlington Arcade website)

You can read more about The Burlington Arcade (here) and (here).  It has an interesting history.

I was drawn into Pickett by their beautiful window display and a promotion they were having on select items.  The portable leather backgammon set, in a variety of colours, was particularly appealing and would make a lovely stocking-filler (hint).

I purchased a couple of Christmas presents and was served by the most delightful and well spoken young man who was working to support his gap year.  I found it very refreshing, if not at first disconcerting, to be called Madam by a 19 year old.  The shop manager trained him very well.  The customer service was excellent and I highly recommend going there.

I think I might ask my children to start calling me Madame when they come home for the holidays.

I took a few photos and if you would like to see the originals, please click here.

I did find a few minutes to go into The Royal Academy to inquire about the Miró, Calder, Giacometti, and Braque Exhibition.  It is on until the 2nd of January, so I may have a day out next week to see that and then go to The National Portrait Gallery to see the Annie Leibovitz exhibition.

dance-w-meI eventually went down Regent Street to The Apollo, where they were showing Sasha’s film.  They were serving tea, coffee and cake when I arrived, and as it was cold I grabbed a cup of tea to warm up and was introduced to some of Sasha’s friends.  I recognised a couple of Tango connections, but most of the people there were in the film or publishing industry.

After being introduced to the producers, cast and crew, we settled down to watch the film.  I am not going to give a review here, but I will say that the theme of the film is very interesting and complicated and I did love the photography, the music and the dance choreography.  I am acquainted with one of the actresses via Tango, and the lead male dancer, Ismael Ludman is well known on the Tango scene.  The dancing is contemporary with some Tango elements and I thought the movement and energy of the dancing was very beautiful and moving.  You can click here for a preview.  The film is called: Dance With Me.

Afterwards, there were more drinks being served – of the alcoholic variety this time -and I had an opportunity to meet some more delightful and interesting people.  I was really happy to be out with non-Tango people and realised that I need to have more of a balance in that part of my social life.  I was really enjoying myself – the time had passed so quickly that before I knew it, it was getting late and I was wondering if I was actually going to manage to go dancing that evening.  The answer to that was no, but I am out for Tango Christmas parties all weekend and need to save my strength for that.

I am a great lover of kaleidoscopes since I was a child, and so when I spotted this little  link on The National Portrait Gallery website, I thought I would share a little bit of history trivia with you.  Who knows, it might come up as a trivia question over the holidays!

On this day, 11 December, in 1781
Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)
Scientist and writer; invented kaleidoscope was born in Jedburgh, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Click on the name of the person to find out more