The Eurovision Drinking Game – 2014 Edition

Dear visitor – this post is preserved for archival purposes.  Click here to view the fully updated Eurovision 2015 Drinking Game Rules (with bonus ‘Fair Dinkum’ Aussie round).

The 2014 Eurovision Song Contest is due to take place in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Saturday May the 10th. So, without further ado, I present to you – The Eurovision Drinking Game, 2014.

Get those bottles open!Could this be the very best Eurovision Song Contest drinking game on the internet? With all due modesty, I think it might be! Like so many good and worthwhile ideas, these rules started life at a drunken student party, well over a decade ago. They have been carefully curated and updated over the years, and play-tested by a number of kind ‘volunteers’, some of whom even remembered enough the next morning to provide helpful feedback and suggestions!

How to play –

This is a forfeit game. A variety of features of both the song and the performance have been selected, and their appearance triggers a drinking forfeit. This is usually (but not always!) ‘take a swig’.

European FlagsYou will need to divide up the countries and songs between your players. The best way to do this will depend on your personal preferences, and the number of people at your party. It’s probably unwise (though it may well be very entertaining!) for everyone at the party to play for every song. A small party might only want to play a subset of the songs available. You could allocate the songs by ballot at the start of the party, or draw straws before each song. The choice is yours!

The Songs – 

Begin any song that you are playing with a fully-charged glass.

Musical scoreSelected features of the song and performance trigger forfeits. These features can appear more than once in a performance (and sadly, often do!), and ‘score’ each time they appear – so the infamous ‘Bucks Fizz’ skirt removal would represent a single costume change, because it happened in one go, but a song that repeatedly swaps languages or makes major-to-minor-and-back-again key transitions triggers a forfeit on each switch.

Take a drink for each instance of the following:

The song –

    • Is not in an official language of the country being represented
    • Change of language
    • Change of key (take an extra swig if the key change is so egregiously telegraphed you can see it coming for miles)
    • Change of tempo
    • Wordless lyrics (da dum da, mana mana mana, lalalala)

Russian folk-dancersThe performer, costume and performance –

    • Performer(s) not of nationality represented
    • Folk costume
    • Folk instrument 
    • Folk dance
    • Weapons (with an extra-big swig if they’re ‘folk’ weapons – axes, pitchforks, flaming torches etc)
    • Uniforms – military & civil (including costume references to same – epaulettes, insignia, military-looking hats and suchlike)
    • 'Policewomen'Flags & banners
    • Pyrotechnics, smoke, fog
    • Costume change
    • Bare feet, bare torsos
    • Underwear as outerwear
    • Spandex, lurex, sequins
    • Leather, rubber, PVC, bondage wear
    • LEDs or other lighting incorporated into costumes
    • Fur, feathers, wings
    • Trapeze or wire-work
    • PyrotechnicsMagic, circus themes
    • ‘Booby Prize’ This is the big forfeit, down the remains of your drink! – Performer does not appear to be human (note this rule applies whether or not the performer is human underneath!)

The half-time performance (or the ‘Riverdance’ slot) –

Traditionally the host country puts on a performance on during the ‘voting gap’. Everyone plays for this segment. Use the same forfeit list, but all penalties are doubled.

For the convenience of all my lovely readers, I have made you a ‘cut-out-and-keep’ forfeit card this year. Click for the full-size version, print it out and hand out copies at your party, or save to your mobile devices and share the Eurovision love!

Your cut-out-and-keep forfeit card

Graphics for the cut-out-and-keep forfeit card are use under Creative Commons licenses, see links for details: Flags by Anka Pandrea, Glasses by Nora Raaum.

Voting –

The voting round should be considered advanced play, and may be unsuitable for novices. Nevertheless, these rules are intentionally kept simple. They need to be!

Voting!Before each set of results are announced, everyone guesses where the 12 points are going. If anyone gets this right, those who got it wrong take a swig.

‘Booby Prize’: Everyone downs their drink if the presenter gets the country they’re speaking to wrong, calls the national representative by the wrong name, or gets their pronunciation corrected by the national representative.

Well, that’s all, folks! Have fun at all your Eurovision parties, and if you do decide to try these rules, do let me know what you thought of them, and any suggestions you might have for improving them in future years. You can leave a comment, or tweet me @CountrySkills (where it’s likely some Eurovision live-tweeting may follow!).

And remember, please drink responsibly (*ahem!*), and definitely don’t drink and drive, attempt DIY, deep fat frying, change important passwords or operate heavy machinery. Finally, your hangover is your problem, not mine, so don’t come crying to me in the morning!

As our Danish hosts might say – “Bunden i vejret eller resten i håret!” (Bottoms up or the rest in your hair!)

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Courgette or Zucchini – this is a pickle you will relish!

Not so very long ago, though it’s hard to believe it now, the long hot days of summer were with us and the vegetable garden was in full flood. As well as the tomato glut, I did end up with a few more courgettes than I knew what to do with.

Garden-fresh courgettes

Now, I absolutely abhor the idea of wasting food I’ve gone to the trouble of growing – but I struggled a little to work out what to do with a kilo of courgettes all needing using up at once! Pickles, of course, are the almost-universal solution to making tasty preserves from gluts of vegetables. So I had a flick through some of my cookbooks, and when that didn’t turn up anything I particularly fancied, I did what we all do and turned to the blogosphere. The pickled courgettes I eventually made are based on this recipe for zucchini pickles, from Lottie + Doof.

For my quantities of courgettes,  I used –

  • 1kg of garden courgettes, mixed sizes (smaller ones are better, but use what you have!)
  • Two small onions
  • 6 tbsp sea salt
  • 1l of cider vinegar
  • 300g of golden caster sugar
  • 3 tsp of mustard powder (Colman’s, of course)
  • 3 tsp whole mustard seeds, lightly crushed in a pestle and mortar
  • 2 tsp of powdered turmeric

The dreaded mandolinYou will also need a mandolin (unless you’re both very patient and a remarkably precise slicer of vegetables), a mixing bowl, sterilised jars with plastic-lined lids (my quantities filled two 1lb jars perfectly), and a salad spinner (if you have one) or a clean tea-towel.

Sliced courgettesSet the mandolin about 1.5mm thick, and then use it slice up all the courgettes, lengthways or slightly on the diagonal, using the guard and taking great care not to also slice your fingers! I’m quite terrified of my mandolin (reasonably, I think!) and I really have to psych myself up to use it, but for a recipe like this there really is no alternative.

Sliced vegetables with saltThen peel the onions, and put them through the mandolin on the same setting. Once all your vegetables are sliced, mix them together in a bowl with the 6 tablespoons of sea salt (yes, I know it seems like a lot, don’t worry, it’s not staying in the finished product!), and top up with ice cold water, mixing gently until the salt is all dissolved. Add some ice cubes if needed to keep the temperature down, and put to one side for about an hour.

Pickling vinegarWhile the sliced courgettes are marinading in their brine, prepare the pickling vinegar, combining the vinegar, sugar, mustard powder, mustard seeds and turmeric powder in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer for two or three minutes.  Then allow the vinegar to cool to room temperature (you can speed this process up by immersing the pan in a sink of cold water). It’s a rather ghastly colour, but don’t be put off!

In the salad spinnerBack to our courgettes – once they’ve sat in the salt water for an hour or so, you can taste one of the pieces, which should be quite crisp and gently salted.  Drain off the salt water and then, using the salad spinner if you have one, finish getting them as dry as possible. If you haven’t got a salad spinner, dry them carefully in small batches in a folded tea towel, trying not to damage or break them if possible.

Mix the vinegar and vegetablesFinally, combine the cold vinegar with the courgette and onion in a bowl and mix carefully, before packing the mixture into sterilised jars. There may be extra vinegar, which you can discard (unless you can think of something really creative to do with it!).  Refrigerate for at least a day before tasting, but longer is better.

I started the first jar more or less straight away, in the spirit of experimentation, but the second I kept unopened for Christmas. It’s a very good pickle, pretty much immediately after making. It has a definite sweetness and I think I might reduce the sugar a little in future batches. The mustard flavour is present, but quite soft and subtle. The onion, too, is clearly present but not overwhelming, and tastes less ‘raw’ as the pickle matures. I don’t know whether I would bother with quite so much turmeric, next time, but it does give a very pretty colour to the finished pickle. It’s great with burgers and sausages, and goes particularly well in a salt beef sandwich.

Pickled courgettes on toasted sandwich

I must admit, writing up this recipe had rather fallen through the cracks until I had some yesterday with a wonderful grilled ham and cheese open sandwich. It is *just* fabulous, the icing on the cake of a wonderful lunch made from wonderful things – home-made sourdough, home-cured ham, and even our homegrown ‘sundried’ tomatoes. The mustard note takes this from comfort food to pure gourmet delight.  It’s quite wonderful.

So next summer, when you’re faced with a courgette glut, or find some lovely fresh courgettes in your local market, grab them and make this pickle. You won’t regret it!

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The Eurovision Drinking Game – because in the country, you make your own fun!

Making your own entertainment is, most definitely, a country skill. Living out of town, you don’t have access to restaurants, bars and cinemas without resorting to the car or a rather expensive cab. There’s the pub, and village activities – a great sense of community, but necessarily limited in it’s options!

European FlagsIt’s been said that, while the rest of Europe may feel embarrassed or nonplussed, sometimes, by the cultural festival that is the annual Eurovision Song Contest, the British are the only ones who seem to think it’s a drinking game. [If you’re not European, then I’m sorry, the rest of this post is likely to be pretty confusing!].

There are many variations, of course, but this one one is *mine*. I started developing it when I was still a student, and a number of victims have ‘play-tested’ it for me over the years (you know who you are!). Some even remembered enough the next day to make suggestions for improvements, which have been incorporated over time.

So, revised and refreshed, in time for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest, which this Saturday will come from Malmo, in Sweden, it’s time to offer it up as a game for the world to enjoy! Break out the home-brewed cider, and play along!

Introduction –

This game is based on the songs and performances that make up the Eurovision Song Contest. Features of songs and performances are identified, and carry drinking forfeits (usually ‘take a swig’ with a small number of exceptions).

Euro shot glassesEveryone at the party *could* play for every song, but that may be unwise! Better, probably, to divide up the performances between the party-goers, either by drawing lots before the contest starts, or drawing straws between the performances, which adds a more immediate sense of peril and means some people might end up amusingly and disproportionately ‘picked on’ (clustering in random distributions is a bitch!).

Obviously, if it’s a very small party, not all songs need to be allocated, and likewise, in a big group, more than one player can play for any given song. (Also see ‘variations’ suggested below.) Non-drinkers & children can still have fun by identifying and shouting out the trigger rules when they appear.

And now, the rules –

Begin any song that you’re playing with a fully-charged glass.

These are the ‘trigger’ features of songs and performances for which the player should drink. These features can appear more than once in a performance (and sadly, often do!), and ‘score’ each time they appear – so the famous ‘Bucks Fizz’ skirt removal would be a single costume change, because it happened in one go, but a song that repeatedly swaps languages or makes major-to-minor-and-back-again key transitions gets a drink on each switch.

Sheet MusicThe song itself –

  • Song is not in an official language of the country being represented
  • Change of language
  • Change of key
  • Change of tempo
  • Wordless lyrics (da dum da, mana mana mana, lalalala)

Military 'uniform'The performer, costume and performance –

  • Performer(s) not of nationality represented
  • Folk costume
  • Folk instrument
  • Folk dance
  • Weapons (with an extra-big swig if they’re ‘folk’ weapons – axes, pitchforks, flaming torches etc)
  • Uniforms – military & civil (including costume references to same – epaulettes, insignia, military-looking hats and suchlike)
  • Flags & banners
  • PyrotechnicsPyrotechnics
  • Costume change
  • Underwear as outerwear
  • Spandex, lurex, sequins
  • Leather, rubber, PVC, bondage wear
  • LEDs or other lighting incorporated into costumes
  • Fur, feathers, wings
  • Trapeze or wire-work
  • Magic, circus themes

and, last but not least

  • Performer does not appear to be human – note this rule applies whether the performer *is* human underneath or not! – This is the big forfeit. Down the remains of your drink.

Russian folk-dancersThe half-time performance (or the ‘Riverdance’ slot) –

Traditionally the host country puts on a performance on during the ‘voting gap’. Everyone plays for this one. Use the same forfeit list above, but all penalties are doubled.

Voting –

I haven’t got rules for the voting – in my experience the mood of the assembled party generally doesn’t require any further ‘lifting’ by that stage in the evening!

Variations –

Rather than allocating countries’ songs to players by ballot, the enthusiastic party host could assemble a trivia question for each country in the contest (as simple or as fiendish as they like!). Players getting it wrong would play that country’s song. Of course, this is less fun if the host was planning on playing too, as they’ll know all the answers.

Well, that’s it, folks! Have fun at all your Eurovision parties, and if you do decide to try these rules, do let me know how you found them, and any suggestions you might have for improving them in future years.

And remember, please drink responsibly (*ahem!*), and definitely don’t drink and drive, attempt DIY, deep fat frying, change important passwords or operate heavy machinery. Finally, your hangover is your problem, not mine, so don’t come crying to me in the morning!

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Growing and Healing – back after an unscheduled break from blogging

So the blog’s been quiet for a bit! Sorry about that! I feel like I owe you all a bit of an explanation, so here goes – 

Back at the end of March, Hubby and I set off for a well-earned holiday, our annual-if-we-can-manage it ski trip.  We left my lovely in-laws looking after the house, garden, Dave the dog and the gaggle of poultry. A few days into our holiday, news came that Dave wasn’t well.  We tried not to worry – after all, we were almost half-way around the world, and there wasn’t anything we could do from there – he was in good hands and had been to the vets.  The days went by and rather than getting better, he was getting sicker.  By Easter weekend, he was in the hospital on a drip, having refused food for most of a week. By the time we arrived home the following week, he’d been admitted to a specialist referral centre – they were concerned that his liver might be failing, and didn’t know why.

We both hate to leave Dave and had been looking forward to the joyous welcome-home he normally gives us.  Instead the house was silent. We went to visit him at the referral hospital and he barely had the strength to give us a squeak of greeting.  A few more days went by, and after a CT scan which yielded a few answers, perhaps – ruled out some really sinister possibilities anyway – and a plan, kind of, he was fitted with a feeding tube.  Meanwhile, in a silent house, we were both struggling to keep our heads above water.  Times like this, if there were ever any doubt, we know what these creatures we invite into our lives truly mean to us.  I wonder if they understand how much they’re loved.

Dave with his feeding tubeAfter five day with the specialists, still not eating for himself but being fed through a tube inserted through the skin of his neck and into his oesophagus, Dave came home for us to care for.  He was incredibly weak and I really feared we wouldn’t be able to bring him back to health.

But one pill at a time, one liquidised-feed at a time, his strength returned and he started to eat for us again.  A week and a half ago his feeding tube came out, and he has continued to do better in the days since.  He’s still taking a pharmacy full of medication, and looks like a patchwork dog with all the hair that was clipped off to allow investigation and treatment, but over the last few days I finally feel like we’re getting our wonderful, beloved dog back, and while there are never any guarantees in this life, we have hope, and real joy.

Dave enjoying the sunshine

Some of you have been following the saga of Dave dog’s illness on twitter, and I would like to thank you all from the very bottom of my heart for your kind words and thoughts over these past few very difficult weeks.  They’ve been an immense source of strength and comfort, and have meant the world to me.

Of course, it’s a truism that whatever our personal turmoil, time doesn’t stand still.

It’s spring! At last! It really did feel like the winter that would never end! And while the blog has been quiet, we’ve still been very busy.

Dave the dogThe greenhouse we built in March is now stuffed full of seed trays and little emerging seedlings.  It has been performing wonderfully, and the automatic opening vent – a birthday present for myself and admittedly a bit of an indulgence – has been working brilliantly and prevented it becoming a seedling-cooking device on sunny days when we’re not around!  Incidentally, the giant climbing triffid in the foreground is one of my hop plants, grown from a bare root rhizome this year. It’s quite something, isn’t it!

Vegetable bedsOutside, we’ve almost finished sorting out the vegetable beds, and the potatoes are planted.  Now I just need to get a bed prepared for the cutting flower patch I’m experimenting with this year!

My window ledges are packed with chillies, tomatoes, and other things too tender yet to survive in the unheated greenhouse.  I’m hoping we’ve now had the last of the really cold nights and they may be able to go into the greenhouse in the next few days.

Chilli seedlingsI’m especially pleased with my chilli plants, despite an initial disaster (top tip here – don’t take your beautiful heated-propagator-raised chilli seedings outside on even a lovely sunny early March afternoon to prick out and pot on), the survivors, and second sowing are now thriving. I’ve grown two varieties – ‘Vampire’ (the purple-leaved ones in this photo) and ‘Twilight’ this year.  What is it about naming chilli varieties, incidentally???

Seedlings for the cut flower patchStarting these seedlings, and waiting for them to grow, has been the most amazing therapy and displacement activity against the stresses and worries of the past few weeks.  Seeing them start to grow and thrive is always such a great source of faith and hope for the year to come, but this year it’s felt particularly poignant somehow!

Oh, and I seem to have accidentally taken up crochet… more of which, no doubt, another day!

Thanks for your patience in the hiatus, folks, and I’m hoping that more normal (and frequent) blogging service will now be resumed!

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Stocking Fillers – perfect home-made giblet stock – Blog Advent (24)

We made it, WE MADE IT!  First of all, a huge thank-you to those of you who’ve followed me through this little blogging adventure, for your kind comments, ‘likes’, and contributions.  We did it!  24 days of daily blogs for Advent.  Well, it’s Christmas tomorrow, NORAD is tracking Santa towards us as I type (best get to bed before he gets here!), the Boxing Day ham is boiled and glazed, the gifts are wrapped, and the giblet stock is made.

Giblets are so often overlooked.  The grotty little plastic bag that accompanies any ‘special’ roasting bird (sadly now completely absent from generic supermarket chickens) and which, I fear, most people will be throwing away some time tomorrow morning.  Offal is so horribly out of fashion that an awful lot of people – certainly those who aren’t of the older generation – have no idea where to start.

Last year, on Christmas morning, while I was waiting for my guests to wake up, I blogged my ‘how to’ for giblet stock.  I didn’t have any photos at the time, so here it is again, in the hope it’ll be useful to some of you, re-edited and with some new photographs to help you along!

If you’ve bought a bird for roasting today, there’s a good chance it’s come with a little plastic packet of ‘bits’.  Whatever you do, don’t throw them away!

All the gibletsThese bits are the giblets – the offal – from top-left, clockwise –  the neck (in one or two pieces), the gizzard, the liver, and the heart.  The gizzard is a thick, muscular structure with two hard abrasive grinding plates that the bird uses to crush up corn and other food items to make them digestible.  

Giblet stock is quick, simple, and makes the most wonderful Christmas gravy.

I have a goose this year, but the following applies just as well if you have a chicken or turkey.  Personally, I use the goose heart and liver in one of my stuffings, so only the neck and gizzard are available for the stock.  But if you’re not going to use the heart and liver this way, just chop them roughly and add them to the stock-pot with the rest of your giblet meat.

Stock vegetables, herbs and spicesIn addition to the giblets, you need the following:

  • Stock vegetables.  I use one onion (red or white) and a couple of carrots.  I don’t like celery so I don’t use it, even though it’s the often-quoted third member of the stock vegetable trinity.  But if you do like it, you should add a couple of sticks.
  • A bouquet garni.  This is just a posh culinary term for some herbs. I use some bay leaves, rosemary, and sage, along with some whole peppercorns.  Dried herbs are fine, if you don’t have fresh to hand.
  • Water.  Glug of white wine (optional).
  • A splash of olive oil.

Prepared gizzardsPrepare your gizzard by cutting away and discarding the hard plates (use a small sharp knife inserted below and parallel to the plates).  It can be a bit tricky to get your knife through the outer membrane, but once it’s in, as long as it’s sharp enough, you can just run it behind the plate.  Discard the hard plate material, along with any grotty-looking offcuts.  Then, simply chop the rest of the meat roughly into cubes.

Brown giblets and vegetablesAdd a splash of olive oil to a nice big saucepan, and brown the neck and gizzard meat, and then add the roughly chopped onion and carrots and sautee for a couple of minutes.  Now add about a litre of water (and the splash of white wine if you want) and the bouquet garni, bring to the boil and simmer for about an hour.  

Stock, before simmeringOnce you’re happy with your stock, strain it, discarding the solids, and return the stock to the pot and boil again until reduced in volume by half.  That’s it.  Set aside in the refrigerator until you make your gravy (the stock will easily keep overnight – so make it on Christmas Eve if you have time). You won’t regret it!

Well, here we are – the advent candle is all but burned down, and the Blog Advent journey is over.  I’d love to say it’s been an undiluted pleasure – more than one evening I’ve got home from work, sat down after dinner, and muttered something about ‘still having to do the sodding blog!’, but it’s great to know that I can do it, even at this time of year.

Advent - day 24

I plan to have a few days off now – I think Hubby’s feeling like a bit of a blog-widow!  I wish you all a wonderful Christmas (don’t forget that tomorrow is only the start of the 12 Days of Christmas, which go on until Epiphany – it’s not called Twelfth Night for nothing!), and after the dust has settled I’ll have a few updates, and things which are still secrets for now, to share with you.

Merry Christmas everyone!

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

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Pressing The Flesh – home-made coarse farmhouse pate – Blog Advent (23)

While I suppose a lot of people have their eyes firmly on Christmas Day at the moment – family and friends, food and drink, gifts and treats – I’m also looking through and out the other side, to Boxing Day.  Probably if I’m honest I put more time and effort – certainly ahead of time – into the food on Boxing Day than I do to the food on Christmas Day itself.  After all, Christmas dinner, in the end, more or less boils down to a roast dinner with pretensions!

Boxing Day dinner so often is Christmas leftovers – but in my house it’s a feast of cold cuts.  The ham, which I smoked earlier this month, is slowly defrosting ready for cooking tomorrow. I have a handful of lovely cheeses, all ready.  The spiced plum chutney I made in the summer is now nicely matured.  The sourdough, of course, I made yesterday.  There may be some leftover goose, depending on our appetites.  There’s a game pie, which we collected today from our local farm shop butcher.  And to complete the feast, of course, we’ll be wanting some pate.  I’ve always bought this in the past, and always been slightly disappointed compared to the rest of the wonderful spread.

This recipe is mostly inspired by Delia Smiths’ recipe for Coarse Country Pate, and by the Farmhouse Pate recipe in Raymond Blanc’s classic ‘Cooking For Friends’ which I picked up in the Oxfam shop last time I was in Launceston.

Pate ingredientsTo make this pate, you will require –

  • 800g of really good quality minced pork.  Mine was a mix of minced shoulder and minced belly pork from the butcher. The unidentified packs of minced pork in the supermarket will work, of course, but I suspect at the expense of flavour and quality.
  • 275g of smoked streaky bacon.  I used my home-cure smoked Christmas bacon – so I suppose you could substitute the most expensive artisanal pancetta money can buy… not that I’m biased!  More seriously, make sure it’s dry cured, you don’t want nasty phosphate water from smoke-flavour brine-injected bacon leaking out into your pate!
  • 225g of liver.  Strictly the recipes call for pigs’ liver, but I couldn’t get any this morning I used lambs.  Actually I prefer lambs’ liver, it’s softer and creamier in flavour, but it will be interesting to see how this affects the flavours.
  • To season, 20 each of juniper berries and mixed peppercorns, a teaspoon of salt (I used smoked salt, but this isn’t compulsory), a pinch of mace, two crushed cloves of garlic, and a heaped teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme leaves (dry would do, but make it a level teaspoon).
  • To lubricate, a small glass of dry white wine, and a single measure of brandy.
  • Finally, to decorate, some bay leaves, a few more juniper berries, and a couple of slices of streaky bacon.
  • A 2lb loaf tin, or terrine, and a roasting tin big enough to contain it.

SeasoningsMince up the bacon in a food processor, leaving a bit of texture to it (how much texture is up to you!).  Then, seperately, mince up the liver, again to leave a bit of texture though this will go smoother faster, so watch carefully!  Combine all of these together in a mixing bowl, do it thoroughly and for goodness’ sake use your hands!  Now crush the juniper berries and peppercorns in a pestle and mortar along with the salt.  Add the herbs and spices to the meats, and again mix as thoroughly as you can.  Finally, add the liquids, and mix again.

LubricantsSomething magical happens when the wine and brandy mix with the meats – what started out a bit like a big bowl of sausage meat suddenly becomes silky and the aromas, oh my! Allow the bowl to rest for an hour or so in a coolish place.

Arrange the bay leaves and juniper berries in the bottom of your loaf tin.  Now take your two rashers of streaky bacon, and place then between two sheets of baking parchment.  Roll them out really thin with a rolling pin. They will easily double in width, and a bit more.  To get them into the loaf tin, I cut away all but the parchment under them, and push this rasher-side-down into the bottom of the loaf tin before carefully peeling away the paper.

Bay leaves & juniper berries   Streaky bacon  Rolled out streaky bacon

Now pack all the pate mix into the tin, levelling it carefully.  Put the loaf tin into the roasting tin and fill this half way up with boiling water, and put the whole lot in an oven at 150 degrees for an hour and three quarters.

Bacon in tin  Before cooking  After cooking

The block of pate will shrink back from the sides of the tin during cooking, and will be surrounded by fat and jelly juices. Let it stand until nearly cool, and then it’s time to press the pate.  It’s pressed for two reasons – firstly, to compact it and reduce the risk of it crumbling when you slice it, but secondly – and just as importantly for me! – to compact the bottom so you can turn it out neatly!  It smells *wonderful*, just as I would have hoped.  To press it, I covered the top with a double layer of tinfoil, put an old tupperware container on top, and then piled it up with all the weight I could muster.  So, four tins of beans, and four litres of fruit juice ought to do the trick!

Pressing the pate

Once it’s had a really good squeeze, and cooled right down to room temperature, put the pate and whatever weight you can conveniently keep on top of it, move it into the fridge, where it will keep quite happily in its juices and rest and improve for three days before serving.

It’s a new recipe to me, so I’ll be back to tell you how it worked out!  But the smell, oh my, I can’t see it being anything other than lovely!  With crusty (maybe toasted, even?) home-made sourdough.  And pickles!

Advent - day 23

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

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Not Long Now – final preparations for Christmas – Blog Advent (22)

So, somehow it’s got to be the final weekend before Christmas, and it feels like only a few days ago that we hung out the fabric advent calendar, and I started on my mad-cap plan to blog every day in Advent, as if there wasn’t enough to do in the run up to Christmas!

There’s always a lot to do in the final few days, and while today has been almost entirely occupied with preparations for the big day, there’s not an awful lot in there which is very blog-worthy, mostly for reason of avoiding spoilers for guests and gift recipients reading this blog.

christmas sourdough

The sourdough loaves for Christmas and Boxing Day are baked.  Sourdough has been one of my great discoveries this year – I really can’t figure out how I lived without great home-baked bread!  On Christmas Day, we’ll have it as a starter, with home-cured and smoked trout and goats’ cheese.  On Boxing Day, it will be part of the traditional day-after spread of cold ham, meats, pates, cheese, pies and pickles – and I think it’s going to stand up to that, really, very well!

We did our final shop for food and drinks today – it’s always a blasted nuisance, but fortunately we’ve planned ahead and sourced as much from local suppliers, farm shops, and home-made as we could, so it was less of a chore than it might have been.  Good to feel everything is under control, and we collect the goose from the local farm butcher’s tomorrow.

I spent quite a bit of time this afternoon sorting out, labelling, and wrapping the Christmas gift hampers that are a big part of my gift giving for close family and friends.  I know that some of them read this blog, so no details for now I’m afraid!  But here they are, all packed in recycled boxes (I’ve been saving, begging and borrowing Amazon boxes and suchlike from colleagues the last few weeks!), and the contain jams and preserves (which, if you’ve been paying attention over the last six months, you may have had a hint about!), hedgerow liqueurs, and some other home-made surprises which I’ve carefully not been writing about here!

Hampers almost ready to go

And we’re very close now, three sleeps ’till Christmas, and the Advent candle that started burning 22 days ago is now very nearly gone…

Advent - day 22

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

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Not The End Of The World – but the beginning of the return of the light – Blog Advent (21)

We’ve made it to December the 21st, and while this might be a bit premature, I feel reasonably confident in saying that it’s not the end of the world!

Winter sunrise

It is, however, the Solstice.  Hurray!  In the northern hemisphere, the shortest day is over and the light is coming back into the world.  We’re a few days from celebrating Christmas, of course, but there’s very little doubt that the early Christian churches essentially crashed the existing, pagan, solstice parties for the second biggest ‘do’ of their religious year.

Like a lot of people, I feel the dark days of winter pressing down on me.  I joke sometimes that I must have evolved from something that hibernated, because I could quite happily pull the duvet over my head in mid November and not come out until March.  Honestly, I really wish I could!  Christmas is a bright light shining from the long dark days of winter, and I fully understand why our forefathers would have celebrated the arrival of the solstice – and the return of the light – with much feasting and drinking, even though the hardest, hungriest days of winter were still to come.

Token reindeer!I’m always fascinated to find out how we come to hold the folk beliefs that we do, so I was particularly interested to hear a couple of years ago about the Sami goddess of spring and fertility. Her name is Beaivi (or variant spellings), and she was widely worshipped among the people of Fennoscandia (broadly modern Scandinavia).  Her main celebration was winter solstice, when she was believed to fly through the sky with her daughter in sled of reindeer antlers.  Her followers would sacrifice a white female reindeer, and thread pieces of the meat onto a wooden stick, twist it into a circle, and decorate it with bright ribbons.

Beaivi, incidentally, is the goddess of fertility and sanity – particularly beautifully observed, I would say, as both are brought back by the light of spring.

Santa ClausThe Father Christmas / Santa Claus character is such a great cultural cocktail of a myth.  Clearly there’s some northern European solstice god(dess) in the mix –  at least that’s the best theory I can find about how the reindeer got there!   Add to this a good measure of Christian crusades Saint (step forward, St Nick!), and then top up with a generous glug CocaCola!  Since, while the Victorians had all but invented modern Father Christmas, his suit is not usually one of red with white trim – his colours ran much more to the spruce green!  It’s not entirely clear that CocaCola were the first people to dress him in red and white, at the start of the 20th century, but certainly they popularised the choice, and then published it widely.  Well, consider the branding…  **holidays are coming… holidays are coming…**

Jolly Fat ManSo the jolly fat man, with a red suit and a big white beard, rides around in a sleigh pulled by reindeer (they’ve got off lightly, then, since Beaivi’s day), bringing toys to all the good boys and girls, but no longer threatening the bad boys and girls with a lump of coal and a righteous beating…

But Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen (and their latterly-discovered friend, Rudolf) have an identity problem, because at this time of year, the only reindeer with antlers are the female ones!

Incidentally, if you haven’t yet come across Terry Pratchett’s ‘Hogfather’, I can heartily recommend it for a great bit of seasonal reading (or viewing, the TV adaptation from a few years back is remarkably good), it’s a fabulous bit of sideways-on myth re-imagining!

Advent - day 21

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>

Light ‘Em Up – candles in Christmas trees – Blog Advent (20)

Like Scrooge, we’re all haunted, a little bit, by the ghosts of our Christmases past.  In my ‘Blog Advent’ post on December 6, I wrote a little about my memories of St Nicholas, from the time I spent growing up in Switzerland as a young child.  These were my formative Christmas memories, so of course I hark back to them every year.

A very Swiss tree

One tradition which is still widely practiced in Switzerland and Germany – and not at all, in the UK – is the habit of putting real candles in domestic Christmas trees.  I love this – it feels so utterly ‘proper’ and festive to me!  Yes, of course it’s a fire risk – but so is any lit candle or open fire.  Our neighbours, in the small Swiss village where we lived, seemed to manage to avoid setting fire to their houses every year!

Tree candlesHubby is very British about this – the whole idea seems to him like a huge fire hazard just waiting to burst into a ball of flames.  I asked him to suggest a title for this post and his suggestion ‘Flaming Torch of Christmas Death!’ rather sums up his position on the issue!  It’s not so black and white, to me – after all, people were managing to set fire to their living rooms with the small incandescent Christmas tree lightbulbs well into the 21st century.

But all good relationships are about compromise, so while I wait for him to come around to my way of thinking (this, folks, may well be some time!) I picked up these pretty hanging baubles designed to take tea light candles.  Rather than equip them with a naked flame, I’ve used some LED tea lights which, while not *quite* convincingly the real deal, flicker gently with a warm golden light, and, at least out of the corner of your eye, might just be little candle flames in my tree.

Compromise candles

Not many days left on the advent candle, either!  I had so many bits and pieces I wanted to get done today – my last weekday off between now and Christmas – but instead I spent most of it gently nursing this nasty cold.  Here’s hoping it’s gone by the weekend!

Advent - day 20

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>

Life’s A Beach – driftwood decorations – Blog Advent (19)

It feels like a very long time since we were on the beach in Cornwall with Dave, back in October!  Dave adores the beach – the seaside is his favourite ever place.

Dave on the beach

After he was done posing for his portrait (well, doesn’t the backdrop suit him??), I indulged in a spot of beach combing along the strand line, and collected up some pieces of driftwood. Only small lengths, the longest was about 8 inches long.  They had to fit in my pocket!

Driftwood Christmas tree

I put them together into this small driftwood Christmas tree.  It’s lashed together with jute twine, a bit like the twig and twine star decorations I made earlier this month.  If you wanted it a bit more solid, it would be simple to add a blob of hot glue or other adhesive between the ‘stem’ and the ‘branches’ before wrapping with twine or ribbon in whatever decorative way you favour.  It makes a very pretty hanging decoration – I’ve got it on the end of a bookcase in the hall.

The scale is a question only for your imagination and your driftwood supply!  I had visions of making a tree a couple of feet high, possibly hanging, with a thick piece of jute rope threaded through a drilled hole in the centre of each of the driftwood branches.  An idea for the future, perhaps – I need to live a lot closer to the sea!

Advent - day 19

I’m trying to write a post a day during Advent, so, please come along with me while I try to Blog Advent – the Country Skills Way – and forgive me if I don’t quite manage it!

Read more from the Country Skills blog >>