a muddy garden and kale pesto

As you can see, it’s been very pretty around here lately but a little tricky to find any veg in the garden. Even before the snow, the frosty days made the bare bones of the garden beautiful but digging a leek from the icy ground was challenging.

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But through all this, the brassicas did me proud. While cooking a thai curry that I normally add chard to, I could see sprout tops rising out of the snow and grabbed a few for ny greens.

Yesterday was the first day without snow. Just mud now. Lots of it and plenty of areas revealed that need clearing in my scruffy garden. The perfect white blanket covered a multitude of sins for over a week, but now I’m reminded of all the jobs I didn’t get round to doing outside. I know, even in the snow it was evident that I didn’t get round to clearing those bean poles. I do feel truly shabby.

Thankfully the brassicas cheer me up. The hardiness of kale, brussels, cavolo nero, even chard often amazes me. Now, having been half buried in snow for over a week, they’re tempting me to cook.

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Different types of kale, sometimes spinach, and often cavolo nero all make it into my winter pesto. I find that not only is pesto a great way of getting greens easily down my daughter (she fiddles and asks suspiciously about “that green stuff” in all sorts of other dishes, yet this healthy, extremely green sauce is one of her favourites with pasta), it’s very versatile with lots of the easy edibles in the garden. Before the parsley is growing in abundance, chervil makes it into pesto, while we often venture into nearby woods for wild garlic. The fragrant green leaves make lovely wild garlic pesto. Pesto with basil is lovely in the heat of the summer of course, but parsley and kale are my reliable favourites for pesto supplies for the rest of the year. Walnuts are great in pesto, Louisa at chezfoti has a great recipe for parsley pesto with almonds which I’d like to try. But mostly I use pumpkin seeds – they’re tasty, healthy and normally lots cheaper than pine nuts.

As well as being so easy to grow, kale is full of nutrients. I always forget exactly which nutrients, but Trine Hahnemann has been reminding me in the nordic diet:

“Kale is a fantastic source of soluble fibre, the antioxidant vitamins A, C and K, and the energy-relasing B vitamins as well as large amounts of sulphur-containing phytochemicals now known to prevent some cancers. ”

Once made, pesto keeps in a jar in the fridge (covered with a layer of rapeseed or olive oil) for at least a week providing several easy suppers with pasta. I also like to diagonally slice a ciabatta (have done this with home-baked spelt baguette from the nordic diet too) part way through, spoon in some pesto and drizzle with olive oil then bake then wrap in foil and warm in the woodburner oven too. And am planning to try Trine Hahnemann’s baked fish and parsley pesto sandwich.

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Recipe Kale Pesto:

75g pumpkin seeds

About 50g of kale and cavolo nero, I tend to use the young leaves for this.

1 garlic clove, roughly chopped

200ml rapeseed oil  or olive oil

50g grana padano, parmesan or hard English cheese

Blitz all ingredients in a food processor or with hand-held blender then add cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. If the kale leaves are particularly bitter, you may want to add a teeny bit of sugar. If the pesto is too stiff, add oil to suit.

If serving with pasta you can add another drizzle of oil and maybe eat this Ligurian style, adding some green beans or pieces of potato to cook with the pasta.

shower buns and wild nordic food

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Always a fan of home-baking, being surrounded by snowy fields has added to my enthusiasm for the joy of bread. The fantastic homely aroma and knowing exactly what’s gone into my loaves are factors. Then there’s the fact that we’re snowbound, with no shops in walking distance.

So on reviewing ‘the nordic diet’ by Trine Hahnemann, I was delighted to read of the emphasis on “home-cooking with fresh ingredients, including home-baked bread.” Home-baked bread that appears both healthy and enticing too, using interesting, nutritious flour such as spelt and rye.

I’m also quite partial to easy bread recipes, ones that are nutitious and tasty but fit easily into everyday life. Flatbread is a favourite of mine, and I make a Norwegian mountain bread from Nigella’s ‘How to be a Domestic Goddess’ regularly, one that feels healthy including lots of oats, wheatgerm and seeds but requires no kneading and ‘proves’ in the oven. But now I’m very excited about trying some of Trine’s nordic recipes. Crispbread, with rye flour and crushed caraway seeds look easy to make and should store well too, while the “sweet and nutty” blueberry buns look delicious and very realistic for a weekend morning. I’ve already made the spelt baguettes to go with supper one evening; they were tasty, wholesome and described by Ruby as “the most wonderful bread in the world!” Playing in the snow beforehand may have had something to do with it, but still quite a compliment!

Shower buns though, are the ones that I’m most eager to try. The idea is that you make the dough on an evening and leave it to prove slowly in the fridge overnight. So that the next morning you can pop your rolls in the oven to bake while you’re in the shower. Freshly baked rolls for breakfast and all those reassuring smells wafting around the house without too much trouble sounds very tempting to me.

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One of the other things that immediately appealed to me about ‘the nordic diet’ is the way that Trine has so many interesting recipes that I can make with home-grown and foraged produce. There’s brussels sprouts with apples and walnut oil, potato and kale salad, and recipes with nettles, ramsons (wild garlic), elderberries, rosehips (some great cordials) and lots of herbs. Her explanation of a Nordic diet and its benefits is also very appealing:

“It is based on the produce available in the Northern hemisphere, where many grain and vegetable crops grow naturally or have ideal conditions…”

Describing the balance that we need in our diet for a healthy and happy life, Trine continues:

“The Nordic diet offers such a balance, with its focus on lots of different whole grains, root and green vegetables, locally caught fish and game, grass-fed lamb and free-range poultry. It comes allied with a growing organic, eco-conscious movement and a focus on seasonality, so that during the year we dine more or less according to what nature has to offer.”

She describes how it’s possible to lose weight by eating less, following a Nordic diet and combining this with regular exercise, but I also like the fact that this isn’t a book about depriving yourself. It’s full of good, home-cooked food that’s full of flavour, and Trine writes a lot about enjoying meals with family and friends. With its emphasis on an outdoor lifestyle too (whether growing, foraging or eating outdoors) this is a book that celebrates the simple pleasures of life as well as food.

There are some lovely ideas for fish and shellfish. Fried herring with beetroot and horseradish (another wild ingredient) sauce looks simple but delicious and nicely frugal too. I also want to try Trine’s fishcakes very soon; they use healthy English ingredients including salmon, porridge oats, grated carrot and squash and look delicious. I like the addition of lemon thyme to these healthy fishcakes too, especially as it’s something that still grows like crazy here in the winter. I think it is, anyway, will have to wait until the snow’s gone to see quite how hardy it is.

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The Nordic diet includes plenty of great vegetable dishes too and Trine is keen to point out that dishes such as rye pasta with kale and garlic and brown rice risotto with mushrooms can be satisfying main meals. She says that the fundamentals of the Nordic diet includes eating fish twice a week at least, eating vegetarian meals twice a week and eating game, chicken or meat only 3 times a week at most. The meat recipes in this book mainly make good use of either free-range chicken or wild meat, from leg of wild boar, to venison meatballs or tarragon chicken with jerusalem artichokes.

This is a very attractive approach to me – I would far rather rear or buy the best meat I can afford and use it sparingly or for fewer meals, than try to feed my family with cheap, intensively farmed meat for most meals. Surely this is better for us as well as our environment. And I definitely plan to cook more venison this year. It’s plentiful, as organic and free-range as you can get, healthy and affordable. I like Trine’s take on game/wild meat:

“Growing in the wild, game meat is healthier, leaner and more digestible. If cutting down on meat intake, it makes sense to cut down on farmed meat and poultry and switch to wild game when it is in season.”

Trine also points out that the nordic diet is comparable in terms of nutrition and health to the sun-ripened mediterranean diet. It includes so many ingredients that we can easily grow, forage for or buy locally in our northern climes. Root vegetables, brassicas, herbs and berries are key components. All very attractive reasons for me to incorporate it into my way of cooking. Especially as there still seems to be room for homemade cakes.

Will definitely be trying to remember Trine’s advice:

“Getting back into the kitchen, cooking healthy food from fresh ingredients, regularly setting a table nicely and sitting down to share a meal: these are among the keys to healthy and happy living.”

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THE NORDIC DIET by TRINE HAHNEMANN, published by Quadrille

Photos ©LARS RANEK

welly socks and magic wool

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While I’m getting breakfast most mornings, a tapping at the glass doors by our kitchen table alerts me to the fact that I have another mouth to feed. Often it’s just as I’ve sat down to eat my own breakfast. Soft as I am, I leave my porridge to jump up and reach for the handy jar of seeds and corn. The semi-wild guinea fowl who roosts in our Oak tree appears at most mealtimes in fact. He’s getting on a bit and he looks so pitiful at this time of year that I always spring to my feet.

At the moment he often appears later than normal. Poor guinea doesn’t like the cold (these fowl were originally from warmer climes) and each step across the icy ground looks difficult for him. I take pity and put out far too much food – anything left by the guinea fowl attracts lots of garden birds who are of course very welcome too. In fact must make more birdfeeders with Ruby. We have some large pine cones to pack with fat and seeds.

Often Guinea looks as if what he really wants is to come in for a warm. Don’t blame him, I’m lighting the woodburner ever earlier, loving the stove-top coffee pot on a weekend morning.

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In the increasingly chilly evenings though, my treat by the woodburner is to either browse seed catalogues and read Joy Larkcom for planting inspiration or to reach for my knitting bag. I know, it’s wild here in the Cotswolds.

But honestly, for those who don’t yet partake, it’s so cosy and relaxing to knit. I’m addicted and other blogs such as the wonderfully creative Soule Mama and welsh hills again keep reminding me of the lovely things I might make.

Then I remember my capabilities. And a look inside my knitting bag reveals lots of unfinished projects. There are some beautiful fingerless gloves – well, they’re beautiful on the pattern photo which was passed on to me by a more capable knitting friend. I believed her when she said they were “so easy.” Then there’s a charcoal chunky woollen cardigan in gorgeous Debbie Bliss Glen wool that will be so warm in this snowy weather. Except of course, at my speed, it’ll probably be more like summer when it’s completed.

But for anybody who has my sort of enthusiasm for making things, but a beginner’s ability, I can definitely recommend a very satisfying, easily achievable project. Welly socks. For children’s socks particularly, they’re so quick (even for me) to complete. Giving you lots of relaxing time knitting in front of the fire on a chilly evening, with that lovely feeling you get when making something that isn’t very taxing to the brain; you half switch off, can watch telly at the same time but have the satisfaction at the end of the evening that you’ve achieved something.

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The pattern I’ve used is Sirdar Crofter and uses nicely chunky wool and big needles so knits up very quickly as well as being simple to follow. There’s a pattern in the wool that also knits (with no skill at all on my part, thankfully) into a fairisle style just by knitting straightforward stocking stitch. Magic wool I call it.  I love to support (and am addicted to browsing in) my local knitting shops but as they don’t stock Sirdar, I bought this from Deramores online.

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My daughter loves her hand knitted socks and has been putting them to the test on this very snowy weekend.

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They’ve kept her snug in her wellies while she’s sledged, made snow angels and built a snow house. I’m starting knitting the next pair for her – in fact Ruby has been reminding me today that I need to get a move on! My own feet seem rubbish at keeping warm though. Despite three pairs of socks inside my wellies, I feel like poor Guinea in the snow. Maybe homemade woollen ones are what I need. So there’s the next project….

 

dinner at demuths

I’d heard wonderful things about Demuths, a restaurant with a passion for vegetables in a Georgian townhouse in Bath, from my vegan friend and food photographer Chava.

Chava raved about the puddings here, particularly “THE BEST sticky toffee pudding” and the chocolate cake she’d scoffed here previously. She told me that she ate here after being vegan for several years and the choice of vegan puds was a revelation: “I didn’t think I’d ever eat a dessert like this again!”

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I’m totally passionate about growing, cooking and eating vegetables but have spent the last 4 months enthusiastically making chorizo, salami and air-dried ham from my own rare breed pigs. So a restaurant review from the two of us of a vegetarian restaurant seemed an interesting idea.

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We arrived feeling extremely relaxed, even before the lovely sparkling wine that we sipped as we perused the menu. Having just spent a blissfully decadent day at ThermaeBathSpa, where we’d floated in mineral rich warm water and had aromatherapy hot oil massages, our bodies were soothed from all the Christmas rushing around and we felt amazing. We probably looked like the main course of ‘Mike’s Beetroots, cooked several ways’  with oily hair from the wonderful head massages.

Settling into the panelled alcove we were seated in, I did wonder if this was so that we didn’t put other diners off their meals. But having enjoyed the cosiness as well as the evening view of Bath Abbey from the large georgian window, I can definitely recommend it.

I can also definitely recommend the starters, possibly my favourite part of the meal. My local leeks with hickory smoked potato, hazelnuts, apple and pickled yellow mustard was delicious, each unique taste (maybe I live a sheltered country bumpkin life but I’d never come across hickory smoked potato before) going so well with each other. Chava had wild mushrooms with a rich mushroom jus, rosemary onions, sunchoke mousse and a sunchoke crisp and, having cheekily tasted hers too, it was fabulous, full of robust flavours.

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When I first looked at the menu I loved the fact that it was short, offering 4 or 5 choices for each course that seemed to be making great use of seasonal produce. This concise menu changes monthly, enabling Demuths to make best use of newly available ingredients, maybe kale in January or local strawberries in summer. The only thing that I was a little uneasy about were the number of options with a ‘jus’ or a  ‘fondant’ or ’emulsion.’ Being a big fan of cooking great ingredients in an unpretentious way, I had slight qualms as to whether this food was going to be a tad fancy for me.

The ‘rich mushroom jus’ and the ‘sunchoke mousse’ with the wild mushroom starter and the ‘orange gel’ that went perfectly with the mulled chocolate ganache with candied beetroot pud, actually turned out to be some of my favourite tastes of the evening though. Nothing poncey about them at all, just delicious ways of highlighting and sometimes intensifying the flavours of fabulous fruit and vegetables.

It’s inspired me to dig more jerusalem artichokes from the garden to puree in fact, so memorable was the sunchoke mousse. I hadn’t realised until my Demuths visit that jerusalem artichokes were originally natives of north america – intrigued by the lovely sounding ‘sunchoke’ describing something that tasted very much like the knobbly artichokes from my garden, I googled them afterwards and found that this is their native name.

For mains, Chava had a twist on the veggie classic, nut roast – a tempura version, this came with a cider and cranberry puree and cider gravy (which she loved), brussel sprouts, carrots and potatoes. I had soft ricotta gnudi with roast butternut squash, pickled onion squash, and cavelo nero in sage butter and thyme pesto. The ricotta gnudi was a little too rich for me – but I have to take the blame here for not making the best choice knowing my own tastes. When choosing I think I was seduced by the butternut squash and cavelo nero, two of my favourite veggies, and they were fabulous.

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Some of the other mains such as curried cauliflower and spiced potato reminded me that Rachel Demuth, who set up this restaurant in 1987, is very much inspired by international cooking. Her two passions are food and travel and she also inspires others with her sense of adventure in The Vegetarian Cookery school, next to the restaurant. Guest chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Tom Herbert and Celia Brooks join Rachel at the Cookery school where courses include Thai and Vietnamese, Southern Indian, Plot to Plate and Flavours of the Middle East.

Rachel also manages to fit in writing cookbooks (Green Seasons Cookbook and Green World Cookbook – beautiful food photos from the books look great on the walls at Demuths) and writing a blog with tempting recipes. Her January recipe for Moroccan Orange and Sultana Salad looks lovely with its blood oranges, fresh mint and pomegranite syrup. She travels regularly, always on the lookout for culinary inspiration and arranges vegetarian cooking holidays in Spain, Italy and India.

I’m often keen to use my home-grown Cotswold ingredients in some far-flung escapism during the winter months, so Rachel’s way of sourcing the best seasonal produce (whether local cheese, artisan bread or fresh vegetables from a local market garden) and adding some culinary exoticism to them, really appeals to me.

As did the puds on the menu at Demuths. Even though we were very well fed, Chava and I really liked the sound of the date and pistachio ‘baklava’, the carrot cake with homemade mascarpone and the vanilla pannacotta with fresh plums and a plum gazpacho. We opted for the chocolate ganache, very rich but perfect to share.

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The mellow music and relaxed atmosphere at Demuths suited our mood perfectly but this is a lovely, intimate restaurant where you’d feel just as comfortable popping in for a slice of carrot cake as you would turning up for a special meal.

Chava, who took the fab pictures above of our food, had turned up with high expectations after previous visits. She said the food was just as wonderful as her memory had led her to believe.

I found the imaginative use of great local produce really exciting and definitely didn’t miss meat or fish. In fact I didn’t really think of my Demuths visit as a vegetarian dinner, just as delicious food that had been really well sourced and very thoughtfully put together.

Many thanks to Demuths for a lovely meal!

Demuths Restaurant

2 North Parade Passage

Bath

BA1 1NX

To book a table email reservations@demuths.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

taking the waters

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In the summer my favourite me-time is definitely dusk gardening. In the depths of winter it has to be soaking in a hot bath with a book. But like a lot of Mums I’m terrible at fitting it in. At Ruby’s bathtime when I’m feeling as tired as she is, I’ll often think, “Mmm, that looks nice, later I’ll have a lovely soak myself.” Of course I clear up, put washing away, then think I’ll just complete some writing or do some research on the laptop, maybe fit in a bit of preserving or ironing. Before I know it, I’ve run out of evening and my bath hasn’t happened.

On a very indulgent day last week, I made up for this in style. All I had to do was lie in lovely warm baths for most of the day. And I can definitely vouch for the reviving powers of water.

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I visited Bath Thermae Spa, and heard that the hot springs that feed these baths were once worshipped. The Romans built a sophisticated series of baths and a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva here. Having enjoyed a day of total relaxation, floating in warm, mineral-rich water, breathing in soothing vapours infused with aromatic sandalwood in the Steam rooms and generally being soothed by water, I am in total agreement with them.

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My favourite part of the day was enjoying the open-air rooftop pool towards the end of the afternoon as the sky darkened and lights flickered on across this lovely city. The Thermae Spa is right in the centre of Bath, very close to the Abbey. Lying in naturally warm water on a cool January day, seeing steam rise from the blue pool while enjoying amazing views of lovely Georgian buildings and the surrounding hills, was blissful.

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The Thermae Spa building itself is a great combination of contemporary design and historic spa buildings. It works brilliantly. Lots of light, flowing curves and modern, clean lines add to the calm atmosphere but it’s lovely to turn a corner and glimpse Georgian architecture too.

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What struck me as remarkable though, is that the waters really are natural. In the open air Cross Bath, I felt the warm water bubbling up at force out of the ground. The water temperature is around 33.5c, there’s the large indoor ‘Minerva Bath’ where you can enjoy massage jets and a whirlpool in addition to the amazing rooftop pool and none of them are heated. The water comes out of the ground already heated and containing over 42 different minerals.

The only water heated here is in the changing room showers, so this really does seem to be a very eco-Spa. My friend, Chava (who took the top 3 pics) and I enjoyed wonderful hot oil aromatherapy massages and all the products used in pampering treatments are organic too.

Feeling very mellow at the end of our lovely day, we headed to Demuths, a vegetarian restaurant in a lovely Georgian town house. The imaginative use of local, seasonal vegetables here was inspiring and I’ll report more on this later in the week. The relaxed atmosphere felt just right for our mood. As I ate, I mused that I’ll daydream about my lovely day taking the waters during many future frazzled bath-times.

 

Top three photos by Chava Eichner. Others are by Andy Short and Matt Cardy, used with the kind permission of ThermaeBathSpa.

celebrating ‘hygge’ with Trine Hahnemann

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I’m planning to cook a lovely Trine Hahnemann root vegetable recipe this weekend. It’s very simple, you roast purple and yellow beetroot, parsnips, and Jerusalem artichokes (I may add celeriac), then mix a dressing of cider vinegar, dijon mustard, honey and grated horseradish. Served warm I reckon it will go well with the fish, Christmas leftover smoked salmon and leek pie (turkey and ham for the meat eaters) I’m cooking for a family get together. And I think the root veggies would be great cold with the smoked trout I’ve been given by a fisherman friend of the family.

The recipe comes from Trine Hahnemann’s “Scandinavian Christmas“. I know, I’m a tad late to be reviewing a festive book! But Trine’s enthusiasm for embracing the winter months and her comforting, often very healthy recipes seem to me just the thing for adding some cheer to the next few months.

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‘Hygge’, Trine explains, is “a Danish term that is almost untranslateable, but encompasses comfort, camaraderie and good food and drink.” Getting family or friends together around the kitchen table, ripping chunks off a freshly baked Ruis bread (Trine’s recipe is made with wholemeal rye flour and looks so wholesome) seems a great way of throwing ouselves into the spirit of hygge. Maybe with some orange pickled herrings or beetroot cured salmon (I’m keen to try this recipe with trout from our Cotswold rivers too) or with home-made preserves such as Trine’s blackcurrant jam for breakfast.

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And if we happen to have snow over the next few months, there are recipes for Glogg of course, perfect as a warming tipple after sledging. Her plums preserved in rum sound perfect to go with the last of the port and stilton too.

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Reading Trine’s descriptions of coming in from the cold to warming food and drink sound so enticing. She admits:

“I am a winter person, I love the cold and the way the world turns silent when covered in snow.”

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The lovely pictures of root veg gratins, Scandinavian biscuits such as Hallon cookies, Honey Hearts and Crisp cinnamon cookies all make me want to light some candles, stoke up the woodburner and get baking.

I was glad to see there are plenty of new ideas for my home-grown/reared produce: pork with apples and jerusalem artichokes, quince syrup and kale salad with jerusalem artichokes all look tempting but healthy. While I’m looking forward to raiding the hedgerows in Autumn for the elderberry cordial. I always make elderflower cordial and tried elderberry gin last year, but hadn’t realised I could use the berries for cordial too.

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But equally enticing are the properly Scandinavian sounding recipes such as Apple aebleskiver , Caramel potatoes, ‘Nisse’ (elf) cake, Klejner (apparently “big, soft and lovely with icing” and great with Glogg) and Pulla bread. And I love the sound of the Lingonberry recipes, although I’ve never tried them. A vital part of the Scandinavian food culture, they’re packed with vitamin C and are used by Trine in Lingonberry compote, Lingonberry gin fizz and Lingonberry cordial.

Rosehips and Sea Buckthorn feature too, the preserves made with them sound lovely and I find the foraging element very appealing. In fact one of the attractions to me of Scandinavian food is the close connection between countryside and plate. Many of Trine’s recipes have a lovely simplicity and freshness – this is comfort food but far from stodgy. There are lots of raw vegetable dishes such as Kale salad with pomegranate and Red cabbage salad, all made with seasonal ingredients. In her ‘Gifts from the Kitchen’ chapter, Trine suggests, “You can also use preserving as an excuse to catch up with family members; when certain fruits and vegetables are in season, for instance, I go to visit my mother and cook with her at her home in the country.”

There’s also an emphasis on celebrating advent, and winter, outside:

“Play in the snow: remember there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. Serve hot drinks, salmon sandwiches, and ‘nisse’ (elf) cake, make a stew and bake bread over the open fire…”

Of course there are lots of amazing recipes for Christmas baking, with gorgeous pictures by Lars Ranek of perfectly decorated cakes and biscuits. Looking at them is already giving me ambitious ideas for next Christmas, and I’m imagining myself like Trine, with a house full of ribbons, candles and stars while I fill tins with beautiful Iced almond hearts and several different types of cookies ready for visitors.

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But before I get too carried away, I remember my limitations; my biscuits, even if I didn’t have a keen 5 year old assistant, wouldn’t look like this. And I have to be honest and admit that much as I love the idea of all that Christmas baking, I did get a bit exhausted last month with all the present making, cooking and preparations.

How reassuring then that Trine reminds us in “Scandinavian Christmas”:

“It’s completely missing the point of Christmas to be totally stressed out! Select just those things from this book that you would like to cook, and have fun. ”

Must remember this next Christmas. When I’m tempted by this wonderful book to plan festive brunches, suppers, tea parties and a Christmas Eve feast at the same time as filling jars with cookies and attempting to make a gingerbread house with lots of small children, I must sit down with a lingonberry fizz. And remind myself to keep it simple, remembering it’s all about ‘hygge’.

SCANDINAVIAN CHRISTMAS by TRINE HAHNEMANN, published by Quadrille (£16.99, hardback)

Photos ©LARS RANEK

 

 

 

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