Sunday, December 27, 2009

Turkey lurkey

So Christmas came and Christmas went
And all we have to show
Is a wrapping-paper mountain
And a bird that seems to grow.
It started off enormous
And then it just got gross
It’s not even a favourite
Not chicken, quail or goose – oh -

Whatever can be done with too much turkey?
It’s glowering upon me from the fridge.
Whenever I begin to feel more perky
It peers around the dish of cold damp veg.

This wasn’t on the wrapper
It said ‘feeds just 6-10’.
No mention of disaster
With an ever-expanding hen – oh -

Whatever can be done with too much turkey?
I’ve curried, frittered, stir-fried all I can.
I’m taking sandwiches with me to worky
Now I swear there’s more than when we first began.

I’ve consulted Delia
Who says make saltimbocca;
I’ve sliced and diced and stripped it
This turkey is a shocker – oh –

Whatever can be done with too much turkey?
Whate’re I try there’s always more to come
The recipes have started to get quirky
A strange addition to a Chelsea bun

I’m starting to make headway
Soon I’ll be at skin and bone;
But then there’s still the soup to make
I’ll be eating this in June – oh –

Whatever can be done with too much turkey?
I’ve foisted meals on everyone I know
But still this bird just sits there, being lurkey
How I wish that it weren’t flightless, and just go!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Food for thought

One of the lovely things about Christmas is the opportunity to cook: favourite dishes to share with family and friends, or special dishes that only come out once a year. Over the years I have collected a number of recipes from people that have been, and continue to be, special in my life; this means that, every time I cook 'their' recipe, I think of them (and if I'm feeling especially spiritual they get a prayer, too!). Today I did a marathon cook, starting at around 8:45 and finishing at 5pm (actually I still need to go back and do a bit more). So: thank you to Mark and Ruth (for carrot and courgette bake); to my mum ( for apricot and cashew nut stuffing); to David and Helen (for puy lentil and feta salad); to Richard's mum Sue (for winter coleslaw); and to my Dad for cranberry sauce.

And of course thanks to Saint Nigel, Brother Jamie, and Our Blessed Lady Delia.

You should all feel especially blessed tonight!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Things the Wheelers learned in 2009

Dear all

Apologies if you have read this already; this is our Christmas letter this year. Yes, I know, one of those dreadful round robin thingies. Here's a confession: I actually quite like them, as most people I know seem to make some sort of effort to entertain or provoke thought. So here's my little effort, and also apologies to those of you I haven't sent cards to this year - my organisational skills only got me so far!

January: that the neighbours like kissing, after a ‘few’ drinks at New Year.

February: that nothing exciting ever happens in February.

March: that a dental injection administered at 10am leaves Tracey unable to speak at an 8pm meeting without causing general hilarity.

April: that all Richard has ever needed in life to make him totally happy is a shower with a decent water pressure.

May: that Jordan (then aged 14) can hike up a mountain. And hold her pee in until back down the other side, all night if necessary. And that when travelling to Venice it is a good idea to check you know where you are staying when you go for a little walk at 11pm, or at least that you have an 11-year-old child with you who pays attention (unlike her parents).

June: that Jordan is rather good at dancing the cha cha cha, paso doble, salsa, etc etc…

July: that Annie is brilliant at both drama and art, as evidenced by leading roles and prizes. And that Tracey can still make her grey matter remember stuff, as evidenced by her top-of-the-class prescribing exams; but that this may cause both her and her family to tip into nervous breakdowns.

August: that there is no law that says just because you had a soggy fortnight in Cornwall last year, it means you won’t get one this year too; but that taking a Nintendo Wii Fit with you makes the days go with a swing, even if mother has to limp through the streets of Fowey following a Wii-related injury (no alcohol involved, honest). Also that Richard loves live music, but Tracey contrives to feel bored even during a U2 extravaganza; and that 20 years of marriage has mysteriously flown by, almost as if they were enjoyable.

September: that Annie was made for secondary school; that she is a Big Hit with the boys; and that she pulls a mean pint of cider. That Jordan is a little peculiar when suffering with pneumonia. And that writing off a car can have good (financial) rewards .

October: that however many times you sing ’There’s a rat in ma kitchen, what am I gonna do…’ sooner or later you do actually have to do something, and your cats will be of No Use Whatsoever. And that small rats eat surprisingly large amounts of poison.

November: that Tracey needs to write even more articles for nursing journals to pay for the Wheeler’s Grand Trip in the US next year. That Richard Dawkins is married to an ex-Dr Who assistant. And that much rain + dodgy roof = big hole in the US trip fund.

December: that writing songs for church as a couple could possibly lead to the breakdown of the aforementioned Happy Marriage. That mock GCSEs cause much sorrow, but in the morning there is rejoicing. And that there is nothing that cannot be solved by another mince pie and a glass of mulled wine, even if the neighbours are looming again…

Have a wonderful Christmas! With our love, Richard, Tracey, Jordan and Annie

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Carpenter's Tale

Working by the light of a lantern, the man’s practised hands carve and shape the wood. His skill and imagination has formed countless objects, many practical, some beautiful, usually for the price of his daily bread. Now, he turns his thoughts to a more precious goal – a gift for his new-born son.

What will this be, my son? What will you be?

I have made so many things before, but none so frivolous nor serious as this. I want this block of wood to become for you a plaything and a memory; a keepsake of me, your father. But what to make? What can I fashion for you, when you are as yet unformed? Oh, I can see you, touch you, smell you; but you are a mystery to me; both your origin and your destiny lay shrouded in mists. Here, I hold the certainty of this wood, and feel the definite grain and splinter beneath my fingers. What is the pattern and pain of your life to be?

Perhaps I shall make a house for you; a dwelling in miniature, to mimic the place where you and I and your mother now live. Something that will recall for you in later years the home of your childhood. Perhaps too it will mimic the home of your future, where you and a wife and child may live out your days. Is such peaceful existence to be your lot? Is your remarkable beginning to settle into ordinary existence?

Or a set of bricks, that your small hands can build and rebuild into houses and cities of your own imagination. Will you be a shaper and builder, like your father? Or will your desires lean more towards destruction? Will you tear down the self-protecting walls others have so carefully built?

I could make for you a Noah’s ark, with the animals lined up two by two. A rescue ship, that saves and protects whilst looking out on so much wasted life. Will your inclination be to save, or to punish? Would your ark be one of liberation, or a means to select only those most deserving?

A boat… a simple boat… on which you could imagine setting sail to cross the lake called Galilee. Would you be a fisherman, my son? Or content to follow in your father’s footsteps? I somehow think that you will carve out your own path. Would you sail to further shores, to experience more of this strange world (that at present must seem strange with every breath)? Will you long to travel, to break free from the constraints of this small town? Will people in far-off places know you by name?

Maybe I could fashion a tree, a diminutive version of the whole from which this wood was taken. A symbol of rest, shelter and provision. A safe haven for the birds of the air; a shade for the weary traveller. Would a tree speak to you, in your life to come?

No… this wood shall become a box. A box, that now your mother can fill with all manner of surprises and trinkets for you. She may place there the gifts which you have been given, strange and wonderful things that we do not yet understand and perhaps never will. They seem to speak of kingliness, and of adoration; and even of death. Still fresh from the watery womb, and already our thoughts turn to the end of your life. But rest, child; be content in your dreams. Death waits for us all, but for you, it is a distant shadow.

On the lid of the box I shall carve beautiful things: the riches I cannot afford to give to you. Gold coins, and pearls, and hidden treasure; Feasts, with a father holding out his arms to his son, and proffering an ornate cup. They are just stories, my son; for stories and this crude wood are all I have to offer you. Do with them as you will. But for now I will love you, with all my being; I will hold you, and sing songs to you of redemption and promise.

I will protect you from the world, for as long as it is in my power to do so.

Happy Christmas, all.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Cereal Killer

I like cereal.

I like it at practically any time of day: early morning, obviously, but also as a late night snack or an insomniac's comfort. I have even tried the 'cereal twice a day and one proper meal 2-week diet', and didn't find it too onerous. I'm a bit hard-core with my choice of cereal, and almost always eat the same: organic sugar-free muesli with a few added linseeds (you can never have too much fibre), topped with a light sprinkling of Special K red berries, all gently basking in a puddle of cold semi-skimmed. I use the same bowl, and the same spoon, every time.

My cereal habit started young, my first love being Weetabix. Weetabix with sugar and milk; with banana; with cold stewed rhubarb, or gooseberries. I didn't even mind that it went soggy within about 10 seconds. I progressed through fruit and fibre and Alpen, with a brief flirtation with Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. Now it's just the above concoction, with occasional seasonal changes - fresh fruit chopped on top, or porridge when it's freezing outside. This constant in my life is very comforting when I consider a healthy lifestyle - at least one part of my routine is definitely under control.

Except that it isn't. According to some nutritionists, cereal is Of the Devil and Definitely Going to Kill You. Even if the worst offenders are avoided - those sugar-coated pretend-chocolately affairs - the onslaught of so much wheat into the system will build up intolerance, and predispose one to type II diabetes. Allegedly. Your best option is porridge, which is a slower-burning grain in the body (although once the salt / sugar / syrup / chocolate drops required to make it taste like anything other than cardboard have been added, it probably no longer rates as a healthy choice).

So what else to eat, given that I really am rather peckish in the morning? Eggs (now apparently OK again)? - no time. Toast? - see cereal. Bagels / croissants / pop-tarts / muffins? - see toast. Apparently we're all supposed to eat natural yoghurt, preferably live and organic, with fresh fruit. Although I am allowed to keep my linseeds (whoopee). Do these people have any concept of what I do in my day? That sort of breakfast would get me half-way to work, whereupon I would have to stop walking and have a little lie down. In the road.

The first time I had any concept whatsoever that other people on the planet didn't choose between cereal, toast or eggs for breakfast was a trip to Greece when I was 9, where I ate a piece of fruit cake and a slice of ham each day. Still, I thought such affectations were for weirdy foreigners, who presumably hadn't yet invented Shreddies. When I was about 14 I read 'Rebecca' by Daphne du Maurier, and was fascinated by the scene where Maxim carefully peels a tangerine for his breakfast with a silver knife. How exotic, I thought! (Don't think tangerines had reached Birmingham in the mid eighties; we were still on satsumas). I imagined that one day I too would be grown-up and elegant and eat a tangerine for breakfast. But Max de Winter probably never had to do half of what I have to do to get out the house, leg it up the hill and do a busy clinic of a morning. One tangerine would barely be enough to fuel me as far as the end of our front path.

Think I'll stick to cereal.