Feliz Año Nuevo y ¡cuidado con las uvas!

I thought I’d finish the year with a short post about a Spanish custom which will be going on all across the land tonight. I’m not Spanish so why would I do this ? Well, my husband was Spanish  – a ‘segoviano’ who by the age of 11 must have been almost a ‘madrileño’ as he had been at boarding school in Madrid since the tender age of 8 – not sure your pure ‘gato madrileño’ would agree but,  anyway ….
Of course,  the curious custom I refer to is the  gobbling of 12 grapes at the strike of 12 midnight on New Year’s Eve – I am sure many a Spaniard has choked doing this  – for one thing, Spanish grapes still have pips in them – and it’s not as easy as it sounds: you pop one little grape in your mouth with each little strike of the clock – so far, so easy peasy,  but  after the fourth or fifth they don’t go down so well!
To help them on their way copious amounts of bubbly are glugged down – Cava, naturally,  in Barcelona (¡qué  finos!) but other sparkling wines are available!
Anyway, however you toast in the new year – may it be a good one !

Christmas recipe favourites

What is Christmas without trifle?
My own children never really liked it, but when I was a child we always had trifle for Christmas Day or Boxing Day tea – along with all the other goodies – Christmas cake, mince pies, yule log,  sausage rolls, mounds of ham, and at my dad’s insistence – to accompany the salads, a huge jug of celery sticks  – hate the stuff, personally!
But back to the trifle. This year I made a ‘retro’ version – an ‘homage’ to  a popular drink of the sixties – a ‘rum and black’ – a measure of rum with some blackcurrant cordial – quite sickly, in fact – well, after the third! –  but an excellent base for a trifle.
These are the ingredients for 4 individual trifles:  (obviously there’s scope here to amend / adjust / substitute to allow for personal taste)
1 Pkt blackcurrant jelly (sugar free)
Sponge cake – I found a pkt of 4 blueberry muffins reduced to 59 p – bargain!
Ribena – other cordials are available!
Rum! Of course ! – you only need a couple of spoonfuls – best not to waste it!
Cocoa Powder – 2 lge heaped tbsps
Milk – for the custard which needs to be fairly thick so 3/4 pint of whole or semi skimmed
1 lge tbsp. cornflour to thicken custard
1 tbsp. caster sugar
500 ml double cream
Choc drops or other decoration
Sm punnet fresh blackberries
Blackcurrant jam
Method – well, trifle is more an assembly job than much actual cooking, but it does require some planning – it needs time to chill so it’s not a case of ‘this can be prepared earlier’ more that ‘you NEED to prepare this earlier’  so it can set in stages and chill properly. Do it 1 or 2 days before you need it.
1.    Mix the rum with some cordial and warm through. Soak all the blackberries in this the day before.
2. I don’t like using trifle sponges – too insubstantial, so I used some blueberry muffins I found reduced – perfect. Break into pieces or slice and spread with jam.
3. Divide blackberries  – 2 or 3 in the bottom of each individual trifle dish and leave some for decorating  the top of each trifle.
4. Make up jelly solution and leave to cool.
5. In each dish – place sponge on top of blackberries and pour rum solution from Step 1 on top – you may need to add more to soak sponge. If you don’t want any alcohol – why are you reading this recipe!! No, just kidding – omit the rum! Add the jelly solution and leave somewhere cool to set.
(Next day)
6. Heat 3/4 pint of milk.
7. Blend cornflour to a paste with a little milk. Take the pan off the heat and add the cornflour to thicken into a sauce. Whisk in the cocoa powder and add a very small amount of sugar  – you don’t want this chocolate sauce to be over sweet.
8. Once cooked to a fairly thick consistency allow to cool and then  pour over jelly/sponge mixture.
Allow to cool.
9. This is the fun part – decorating the top!  Whip up some double cream, smooth that over the top and then add whatever decoration you like – the remaining blackberries, steeped in rum and black, obviously, some choc drops and, in my case this year, some little white chocolate and cassis ‘bombs’ I found in a delicatessen on a pre-Christmas trip to Cardiff.

Photographic A, B, C of 2014

I thought I’d round off the year with an a, b, c of photos from my archive:
A is for AC Cobra – a mean, sleek racing machine.
B is for Bull – a Hereford White Face, emblematic breed from my native Herefordshire.
C is for Cockerel – this is a composite image from shapes I was playing around with in Photoshop.
D is for Dragon – we found this one in a park just on the outskirts of Barcelona.
E is for Entrance – the entrance to the Boquería food market in Barcelona city centre – a mecca for all foodies.
F is for Fire engine – this one is Norwegian – they seem to use them more for clearing the streets than tackling fires.
G is for Graffiti – Barcelona has some fine examples of it.
H is for Husky – this one lives in Tromso, Norway with his 299 kennel mates – a vociferous mob but very friendly.
I is for Ikea – that well known purveyor of flat pack furniture.
J is for Jalopy – this one being put through its paces in the  construction stages by my dad.
K is for Kune kune pig – this breed has gained in popularity over recent years.
L is for Lifeboat – slung overhead they make for an interesting photo.
M is for May Fair – our annual fair invades the town for three days in early May to provide fun and entertainment.
N is for Nativity – a traditional alternative in Spain to the Christmas tree – a lot of homes display a nativity scene.
O is for Origami – my son has become adept at this after a trip to Japan – as you can see, this one is a bookmark shaped like a cat’s head.
P is for Patch – a piebald horse I used to ride who is now contentedly retired.
Q is for Quoits – a very competitive game on board ship !
R is for Roulette – a rather more sedentary, but nonetheless exciting, game, played in the on board casino.
S is for Sculpture and this is a beautiful, interactive one.
T is for Tree – this one is at Shobdon Arches, Herefordshire.
U is for Ural owl – this feisty youngster lived at Kington Owl Centre, Herefordshire.
V is for Vegetable – the talented chef on our cruise ship created all sorts of beautiful vegetable animals and birds inspired by cartoon characters.
W is for Windsurfers – there are always some off Barceloneta beach in Barcelona
X is for Xmas starter – I was ready to throw in the towel trying to create this from a Gary Rhodes recipe – only 4 pages of instructions!!XmasStarter
Y is for Youth clinic – children learning to ride at an annual clinic in Monnington, Herefordshire.
Z is for Ziggy – this beautiful animal, owned by friends of mine, was called Ziggy Stardust – sadly no longer around, but aptly named  -a prima donna!