The Downton Grand Finale and the final curtain to the very last possible chance to purchase mince pies, Cadbury’s chocolate and any other festive treats.

Downton Abbey update.

We have finally finished watching all six seasons. We set aside last Saturday evening to watch the finale, complete with Champagne and adorning some finery, you know the usual pomp and ceremony that should be reserved for all such very special occasions.

In fact, so carried away were we that we had managed to drain a bottle of bubbles within the first twenty minutes despite using the tiny, dainty Deco champagne saucers. There is obviously nothing dainty about my champagne guzzling habits.

Thank goodness for the ‘pause button’ whilst replacements were hastily recruited.

The following morning, whilst still in bed having a lazy Sunday morning lie in (accompanied by a slight headache I might add), my husband switched on episode one of season one with the intention of watching just the first five minutes to see how much everyone had changed in the many years that followed, unsurprisingly we became rather engrossed and shamelessly ended up watching the whole episode again, followed later by episode two and thus on it goes. A never-ending Downton Abbey circle; who could believe that it was only episode 3 of Season 1 that John Bates purchased his rather barbaric limp corrector device. I would have sworn it was much later, perhaps even Season 2. Having just watched the entire six seasons, back to back in a matter of weeks, I was amazed at how much I had already forgotten, for instance, the dastardly Duke of Crowborough from the very first episode. We intend to watch it all again, just to see if there is any tiny little snippet we missed, or if we feel differently towards some of the characters now that we know their full story. I still can’t quite get my head around Lady Grantham, Cora Crawley’s accent, I’ve never known anyone to have such difficulty with vowels since Paula Abdul’s rather public ‘prescription drug dependency’ on American Idol all those years back. Ha Ha Ha…. but at the risk of boring you all to tears, let’s leave the Downton subject alone for a while now.

So what else have we been up to recently? I’ve momentarily lost my train of thought, as my neighbour’s cat has once again invited himself in and curled up on the sofa next to me and let off the most nauseating cat fart making it rather impossible to concentrate! Which reminds me, I made a lovely and very hearty, homemade Mulligatawny soup the other day from some leftover slow cooked beef casserole and a rather large helping of Madras curry powder. It was very good, even if I do say so myself, and my husband polished off three bowls of it with unreserved fervour for dinner that evening after which he proceeded to treat me to an onslaught of revolting and gag-inducing flatulence for the rest of the night. We awoke the next morning to the bedroom being bathed in a mustard coloured hue which I’m not entirely sure was altogether due to the new gold-coloured drapes.

My man-child was due to be spending a week working in Cambridge this week, which despite that he can be a horribly stinky boy sometimes, I was not looking forward to him being away for a whole week even if it did mean that there would be a last minute opportunity for the purchasing of mince pies, table crackers Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut and cheddar cheese, all of which could be brought back in his luggage. Ultimately, however, the trip was cancelled almost as last minute as it had been arranged, it was first notionally mentioned on the previous Wednesday, confirmation of the requirement came Thursday morning. Flights, taxis and a hotel were booked and communicated to all on that Thursday afternoon and the cancellation came the very next day on Friday morning, along with our final chance to purchase all those things that so many of you take for granted.

Perhaps now you can begin to understand how an average week for us can change at a moments notice. It really is impossible for us to make any plans outside of the weekends, I never even know whether to do a weeks shopping at the weekend.

Also, perhaps many of you are wondering why, having mentioned them several times now, I don’t just make some mince pies? Lazy cow! Well, I can confirm that I did try but they were not what you would call a stunning success. My husband dutifully scoffed all eight of them but I don’t think he is desperate for me to repeat the experience. My mistake, of course, was buying a jar of ‘luxury mincemeat’ which apparently contained brandy but like so many alcohol laced ingredients it ended up tasting much like that awful rum flavouring. Again, mincemeat is not readily available over here so it’s not like we have a multitude of choice, I purchased the one and only jar that was available and regrettably it was bloody awful. I did think about making my own mincemeat in order to then make my own mince pies but it was all starting to sound rather far-fetched.

Mrs Beeton, I am not. I wouldn’t go as far to say that I hate cooking but I also wouldn’t profess to enjoy it. For me, it is a necessary evil and if there is a shortcut available, I take it. I do a lot more cooking now than I ever did when I lived in the UK with its handy convenience foods and the enormous array of takeaways and restaurants but I still try to do as little cooking as possible!

Thankfully I have perfected the traditional Sunday roast dinner, so everyone eats really well at least once a week and the leftovers are always skilfully turned into pasties, soup or a curry. Sometimes there are even leftovers of leftovers…oh how I embrace those occasions.

I do remember once reading Mrs Beeton’s cookbook and her suggestions as to what to do with “all that leftover venison” or her recipe for “clear turtle soup”. I probably should get myself a more up to date cookbook, as I fear that perhaps this is a little bit out of touch.

With absolutely no implication of smugness at all, just a pure sense of relief really, I am pleased to say that Christmas is all pretty much sorted, we have bought all the presents, we have wrapped them and placed them under the tree. In fact, at the start of December, I was beginning to think that it had all rather snuck up on us and I was a little behind with arrangements, only to find that actually we are more organised this year than in previous years. Aside from the food shopping which cannot be completed until much nearer the time, we have very little else to do, except to keep the wine rack and the decanters topped up.

In place of my husbands trip to Cambridge, his company made the decision on Friday afternoon to despatch him to Lorient instead this week. It is in Brittany, almost a thousand kilometre round trip from home, so I have decided to accompany him and already spent much of the weekend looking at the map and wondering what we might be able to do ‘on the way’ back.

Perhaps a visit to some seaside Forts in Quiberon, Vannes or Guérande or a small detour to Chatelaillon Plage or La Rochelle? Though I appreciate that at this time of year, the seaside is perhaps not the obvious choice of destination but I miss it terribly and it would be lovely to catch just one final glimpse of it this year.

My husband was not overly enamoured with this idea. He said that the sea is meant to be warm and blue and inviting not freezing cold and a horrible gravy colour and whilst I would be the very first to agree with him it was a fairly surprising comment from someone who spent his childhood visiting the likes of Skegness and the many years since on various family caravan holidays, mostly at English East coast seaside resorts and the chilly North Sea.

I can only presume his recent years of being spoiled with holidays to Koh Samui, Phi-Phi Islands, Phuket and some of the most beautiful, glittering coves in Costa Brava have reformed his ideals. I shan’t argue with that, of course, I shall simply take it as an unspoken invitation to get a holiday booked pronto. I certainly don’t need asking twice.

I don’t even need asking once!

Maybe a surprise mid-winter trip to some exotic, far-flung destination is what he is hinting at and if not I’m sure I can convince him that it was a perfectly honest mistake. 😉

Roll on the Kuoni January Sale!

Of course, in the meantime that doesn’t mean I won’t beat persuade him into submission about visiting the wet, wintery and blustery Brittany coastline after our few days here, after which I will then spend the entire journey home moaning about how cold, bleak and utterly horrid it all was and not at all as I imagined it would be from my extensive Google Image search. Not to mention that once again I have come spectacularly ill-equipped for any such outing, sporting just my five-inch heeled Hilfiger boots, my waist-length faux-wolf-fur jacket and my Guess handbag. I’m not really dressed for outdoor pursuits of any kind.

I’ll let you know next week, how we faired!

Until then, all the very best for your final full week of festive preparations.

The Virtual Recluse


Mrs Beeton’s Recipe Number 105
4 lbs. of shin of beef, or 4 lbs. of knuckle of veal, or 2 lbs. of each;
any bones, trimmings of poultry, or fresh meat,
½ lb. of lean bacon or ham,
2 oz. of butter,
2 large onions each stuck with 3 cloves;
1 turnip,
3 carrots,
½ a leek,
1 head of celery,
2 oz. of salt,
a teaspoonful of whole pepper,
1 large blade of mace,
1 small bunch of savoury herbs,
4 quarts and ½ pint of cold water.

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