The winter solstice: the shortest day, and the official start of winter.
On Friday, I decided it was about time I did something about the seven bottles of sloe gin that have been doing nothing in the cupboard in our coal hole for the last three years. I gathered the sloes with my friend Carolyn and her daughters at her secret sloe site at the edge of the Dee Marshes. There were two problems that needed to be resolved: the gin was far too sour, and it contained masses of sediment.
The sourness was easily resolved: four additional teaspoons of sugar per bottle. I first tried getting rid of the sediment by sieving (no joy), then by straining through muslin (not much better). Then, yesterday morning, I hit upon the frankly genius idea of digging out our long-forgotten filter-coffee machine from the same coal-hole cupboard, and using its pot and funnel to filter the gin through proper filter paper. It took the best part of 24 hours for the gin to seep through at a rate of one drop every ten seconds or so.
A walk in Crow Nest Wood with Rosie the reluctant cocker spaniel in search of holly. Like last year, I went equipped with hidden secateurs. This time, I was determined to find a tree still bearing berries.
I spotted one eventually, high on a steep, muddy slope. I couldn’t trust Rosie off the lead, as I knew she would immediately make a bolt for home, so I struggled manfully to collect berry-laden sprigs with one hand while fighting against a fully extended dog-lead with the other. I slipped and slided, got pricked and cursed, ending up ankle-deep in mud. I like to think I did great service to the word fiasco. But I ended up with a delightfully seasonal twig-arrangement.
The annual rigmarole of a trip to the garden centre to buy a Christmas tree. This year, I took one for the team and decorated it all on my own before Jen got home. A contender for my second-least-favourite household chore. The uncontested worst household chore will come in a few weeks’ time, as we un-decorate the Christmas tree before Twelfth Night. It’s an awful lot of faff, but there’s something undeniably Christmassy about Christmas trees.
Smoked haddock and leek fish cakes for dinner. A Nigel Slater recipe, modified to cut back on some of the faff. I am a domestic goddess!
The smell of leeks will overpower the house for the rest of the week, but it’s worth it. It’s a smell I associate with my friend’s parents’ house. I never used to know what it was. We almost never had leeks when I was a kid. I don’t think mum was much of a fan.
What a difference a day makes! From cold, sunny and still to warm, drizzly and blustery. That said, I get a perverse pleasure out of walking in drizzle—even though visibility is problematical since I started wearing specs.
Our berry-laden hawthorn hedge was also laden with blackbirds and fieldfares this afternoon. At the rate they were eating, there won’t be many berries left by the end of the week.
I call it our ‘hedge’, but it’s really a straggly line of trees. Every time I come across a hawthorn sapling somewhere it doesn’t belong in the garden, I transplant it to the line. The idea was to let the saplings grow a bit, then lay them down to make a hedge. But hawthorns are very prickly, and they grew a lot faster than I expected, so I never got round to sorting them out—and now they’re trees.
The first day of winter, according to meteorologists’ reckoning. The winter solstice in three weeks’ time will make it official.
A late-afternoon walk around the lanes. Another cold and sunny day, but not quite as still as yesterday. The ruined farmhouse at Far Nook (or Ernest’s, as we call it) was beautifully side-lit in the lowering sun. The brief sunset shortly after I returned home was among the most crimson I’ve ever seen.