Well, I've done my bit so far, which is the Brussels sprouts, though Tom started these while I was in the shower, so at one point I was standing in said shower while he stood in the pool of water I am incapable of not making holding out a Brussels sprout and asking exactly to what extent this wee brassica needed to be undressed. I noticed, strangely perhaps for the first time, that Brussels have a kind of fractal growth habit: emerging as they do from a central stem, when you start to take the outer leaves off one, there are tiny, embryonic sprouts already forming on its own central stem. Brussels sprouts have smaller sprouts upon their stems beside'em...
My other duties involve putting the Christmas pudding to steam in the slow cooker (hope this works), functioning as sous-chef and lab technician ('I need a measuring cylinder...' was one instant this morning, I kid you not. But I can forgive this in the knowledge that I live with a man who for a brief time worked under Jacob Bronowsky), and mixing and drinking generous quantities of fizzy cherry kir.
I have not yet had much opportunity to sink myself in Noma, Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine, which Father Christmas brought me, a book so beautiful and so preposterous it makes your eyes water, mad Nordic food. Something about it takes me back to the copy of All in French (can't find anything on-line so far about this book, perhaps I'll have to post about it sometime) that appeared under the Christmas tree when I was five, or Emil Schulthess' Africa, that did likewise when I was nine ( I still have both of them). Books which are vivid and awesome and so huge you can hardly lift them, their bindings heavy and solid and formidable, and containing words and images of worlds beyond the imagination, which one day I might transcend to an acquaintance with, or perhaps not. I can't yet decide whether the Noma thing is decadent, bizarre, precious and deeply ironic, or whether it is art in its highest and as yet not fully-grasped form, with something profound to say about our end-time state, our relationship with nature, land, time, place, beauty and one another, of how we came to and continue to be human, or whether perhaps it is both. I don't even know whether it's really got much to do with food as we generally understand it. I just know that when I knew about the book I had to get my hands on it for the photos alone, and once I did I almost shook with excitement, as I did all those years ago with All in French and Africa. So far I can tell you that old-fashioned, pale, elegant cloth binding draws black cocker spaniel hairs as the sparks fly upwards. I might get around to finding more to say later.
Anyway, here is a wee snipper-snapper collage of stuff around the idolatry of hearth and home, as befits the season.
Straw decorations, figs and rosemary (the former foraged from a tree near a car-park in Lamballe. They are small and green, but the last ones I picked ripened quite well inside), holly from real wild trees, cards, walnuts and poinsettia. Plenty of red, which is good for the heart at this time, I find.
And as promised, a stocking full of small stones. No clear rules about what's small enough, three lines maximum seems about right. One or two I collected earlier in the year, kept in a drawer, sort of.
An abandoned pumpkin in the long wet grass of a potager, its pale, collapsing state and decaying cavities are much more eerie than any Halloween Jack 'o' Lanterns.
The wind's eyelid of a white shutter batted against the sunlight.
The walls are flaking and saltpetered, shaded with mould. I work my way around them clearing cobwebs and dead woodlice, and throwing old bits of disused living into bin bags, washing and saving others, burning some.
Viscous raindrops slick on the paving slabs, a headlight from across the road lights the top branches of the sycamore like white paint.
I spill ink then coffee. The boys deal with it sympathetically and competently with lots of kitchen roll.
She tells me about Wittgenstein and Claude Simon, and then the new television her son has just bought them, to replace the very old broken one. 'It's absolutely beautiful! I've been watching Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman.'
Five red bowls, five white ones, in two stacks of alternating colours, one predominantly red, one white.
The morning is measured out in small clipped chunks of time. There are ten tumble-dryer minutes free for coffee, a small white cup, roasted on the premises, they say, enjoyed alone with an almond covered in powdery chocolate.
He announces an extra something, despite her protests, and comes in with two mauve plates and a stollen cake he has found in town to eat with our tea.
The sausages are really rather Rabelaisian, hard and meaty and pungent and mis-shapen. I buy four different flavours, including a Christmas' one, then buy slabs of salty, aged Swiss cheese. It's Christmas, and market traders work so hard, get up so early.
The thick murmuration of starlings is coming from the monkey puzzle tree behind the square. To the right a blackbird is singing. Mild.
At first I feel resentful of the phone call's intrusion, but then I relax and listen to her envisioning of a life of variety and purpose, far away from here.
These straw angels, stars, bells and baubles, strung with red cotton glow and cheer, delicate and without a shred or speck of plastic. Yet I feel worried and compomised by them, they could only have been made by small fingers in factories far away.
Getting on the downward travelator from the supermarket's upstairs car park, the trolley's wheels lock fast, so you are carried passively, no one can pass, and the wall opposite is an expanse of featureless matt anthracite. It is a moment of complete repose amid the noise and bustle.
Both sister and brother call to pick my brains, about chestnuts for stuffing and health insurance. And maybe other things.
I'll try to visit y'all in the next few days. Once again, happy Christmas.