Monday 24 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Dear Reader!

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Noël! Noël! 2018

Vintage German Xmas card image with snow and pinecones, ein frohes Weihnachtsfest

It's feeling a little bit German around here this Festive Season. No, not like the illustration above; it is, after all, a topsy-turvy world here in the Antipodes. It has been distinctly stormy and steamy this week (or sultry, as my Italian father-in-law was wont to say), as we run headlong toward the Summer Solstice. We've even had some Dramatic Wind to contend with around the Pipistrello roost and the emergency services came to salvage a neighbour's crushed car from under half a decades-old Ficus rubiginosa that had split down its middle in our driveway, but I digress...

I had thought to put paid to the ghastly, commercial, boxed Italian Panettone by baking my own this year (I do have plenty of candied citrus peel to get through) but have been distracted by a recipe for Stollen with a great hunk of marzipan through the middle (and thank you, Clever L for pointing out that they are to be found aplenty at Aldi, but That's Not The Point). It's not something I've ever eaten but it sounds delicious and the picture looks amazing. There are no longer 3 weeks left to have it Mature if I make it today but who's to know the difference? There are no connoisseurs of German baking around here. Not that that stops me from mucking around with new things. I can say now that after a few variations, Lebkuchen is not on my Greatest Hits list and won't be revisited again but Bethmännchen is a keeper and Pfeffernüsse is on my list for today. Yes, I shall be whipping up my own marzipan and Lebkuchengewürz before dazzling myself with some new hausfrau skills. I am optimistic! I'm loving my new German vocabulary, too.

Black and white photograph of woman in vintage kitchen cooking
This'll be Pipistrello later today

These past years, we've musically launched ourselves into Christmas by taking in some olde worlde carols with a group of friends at the concert which rounds out the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir's season. We regrettably missed 2017, so Mr. P and I were determined not to miss the Noël! Noël! Baroque-fest this year. Off we trundled, our little group of carol faithfuls this year limited to just us and J&P, to the acoustically atmospheric St. Francis of Assisi church in Paddington, our expectations high. And we were not disappointed!

John Melhuish Strudwick, Evensong, St Cecilia, 1897 Pre-Raphaelite painting of harpsichord and singers
Not Paul Dyer!
Artistic director and harpsichordist-extraordinaire Paul Dyer assembled an exquisite programme of delights, showcasing twenty carols and songs across 700 years of music. To present as guest soprano the very talented and glamorous star-in-the-making, Bonnie de la Hunty, he first paid tribute to 12th Century polymathic abbess, Hildegard von Bingen, then all the performers launched into a commissioned arrangement of her song, O eucharia in laeta via, and Bonnie took the stage in the first of four stunning gowns.

Hildegard von Bingen, 12th century German polymathic abbess woodblock print
Hildegard working hard
My favourite pieces were mainly German, and as fluent German-speaker J says, the language sounds so much better in song. The 17th Century tune by Johann Crüger, Nuch komm der Heyden Heyland was particularly glorious, with Baroque drumming, surging choir and Bonnie singing like an angel, sparkling in a sequinned black number, and sporting dazzling gems at wrist and ears. (Possibly paste, so hard to tell from the pew, but when the Brandenburg Orchestra's principal partner is Macquarie Group, who knows!)

Martin Luther's 16th century choral, Nuch komm der Heyden Heyland, from the Erfurt Enchiridion
Johann Crüger's Lutheran chorale

We heard a range of pieces, from Gregorian chant to Irish lullaby, instrumental arrangements of crowd-pleasing carols like We three kings of Orient are, and vocal arrangements of the likes of White Christmas. A stunning piece by contemporary choral composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, Only in sleep, with its shimmering cymbals was as traditional and carol-y as Johannes Eccard's early Baroque polyphonic work, Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier.

German engraving of three musicians, Nach der Music, circa 1580
Like the Brandenburg, dressed by the C16th M.J. Bale

George Frideric Handel's colourful Baroque aria, 'Let the bright seraphim' from Samson, was a terrific showcase for Bonnie's voice (now cutting an elegant figure in a white Grecian-esque gown) and the Baroque trumpet  talents of Leanne Sullivan. Like the magic of agrodolce, what sounds on paper to be a very unhappy pairing makes for an exquisite surprise!

Renaissance era Lady trumpeter illustration
Not Leanne Sullivan!
The Brandenburg concert traditionally finishes with a variation on Franz Xaver Gruber's Stille Nacht (this year in German and with Tommie Andersson leading the orchestral contribution on the theorbo) followed by O come, all ye faithful. Always joyful, always rousing and as ever, we the audience burst forth from the church with big smiles on our dials! The Festive Season has begun!

Saturday 1 December 2018

Citrus Redux

Jacob van Hulsdonck, Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and a Pomegranate, 1620-1640
Citrus Bounty, circa 1620
Jacob van Hulsdonck
First our bowls were brimming with sweet and zesty fruit. It was a Veritable Citrus Cornucopia this winter! And then, just like that, this year's fabulous citrus season was done. Now there are just some Valencia oranges and grapefruit, a few mandarins and some eye-wateringly expensive lemons and Tahitian limes on offer in that department when perusing the shelves at the Greengrocery. Boring.

No complaints from me, however (and not just because the mangoes and melons and stone fruit of summer are filling the void and Look!, cherries!), because during those times of plenty, Pipistrello went all out for Preserving for a change.

Alongside the lemony delicious things like syrup and frozen useful bits I shared earlier about these pages, I did add some candied lemon peel to the list, which is very nice with coffee. And a gift of limes were similarly treated, but I forgot to pare the rinds for candying, so that'll be for another time.

Walter Hood Fitch, Kumquat Fruit and Tree botanical illustration, 1874
Fortunately, we love the Fortunella margarita
My love for Fortunella margarita (a.k.a. Nagami kumquat) dates back to some years ago when I was travelling in an Ancient Land and the mother of my girlfriend served them at breakfast with their preserving syrup alongside walnuts and dates, feta-ish cheese and flatbread, and endless cups of tea from the samovar. I was determined to recreate their deliciousness at home and every season they appear I preserve them with vanilla bean and the glorious little nuggets and vanilla-scented syrup make a fabulous accompaniment to yoghurt in the morning or cheese in the evening.

For a twist on brandied kumquats, I made a batch with a bottle of Brazilian Cachaça, as it was what I had to hand. The resulting fruits are not quite as I expected, they're chewier and of a fire-breathing nature (and a different recipe will be employed next time), but we think that they will work skewered on a cocktail stick in a martini, so we could have a carefree Mad Men Party any old day now. The decanted sugar and Cachaça, too, is a rather interesting spirit now and when we are gripped by needing a caipirinha at said party, we are set, otherwise it's a potent drink to sip neat.

H M Brock illustration for Chivers' Old English Marmalade, 1912
Breakfast at our place these days
The Pipistrello roost was gifted a load of Citrus x paradisi (a.k.a. yellow grapefruit), courtesy of the informal communal book exchange in our building's foyer one fine day, so I set about sterilising every jar in the home as I had Marmalade in my sights. While the recipe I use for my kumquat preserve is indeed called a marmalade, I had up until now never made it before. I remember, with a shudder, the smell every year at my secondary school when the girls who took Cooking (Home Economics, please!) spent a week learning to make marmalade, so making it myself was something that never held any charm for me. Until, that is, I laid my hands on Arabella Boxer's Book of English Food, a delightful and well-used recipe book which celebrates the glory days of Fine English Cuisine (yes, there was such a thing), namely Between the Wars and before Rationing turned the tables on England's culinary heritage for decades.

Off to the Greengrocery, I trundled, in search of some oranges and lo! Citrus x aurantium* (a.k.a. Seville oranges) aplenty were to be had! Armed then with these preciously rare, bitter oranges, I consulted Arabella Boxer's recipe, which boils up the fruit whole, and is thus a doddle to make. Twenty jars later, I made a Blue Ribbon-worthy first attempt at Seville Orange & Grapefruit Marmalade and Seville Orange & Ginger Marmalade (plus four jars of Framboise-scented Strawberry Jam, as I was on a roll!). While 24 jars of breakfast preserve seems like a lot for two people to get through, and it is!, it has been rapidly whittled down as they do make handy gifts and I was keen to get a broader Taste Test.

Verdict: I have a new feather to add to my cap: Marmaladière to Friends & Family!

* Back in the Olden Days when the Pipistrello's had a garden of their own, I did valiantly try growing Citrus × aurantium var. myrtifolia, a.k.a. the Chinotto orange, as I fancied trying my hand at making Chinotto. It all came to nought as the tree never flourished. Notwithstanding these failed experiments, next up on the list is an attempt to make my own Tonic Water, as G&T season is almost upon us. A few more citrus bits will be employed for that recipe, too.

Bats In The Belfry