From ‘I want‘ to ‘I must’, it seems that making lists are all the rage at the moment. We’ve just about got over the gluttonous marathon that is Christmas, save a few left over pieces of turkey, cold potatoes and butter clad carrots that will likely be stored, yet uneaten, in the fridge until next year. And so, we enter that rather strange period of time between boxing day crackers and New Years Eve fireworks, affectionately known to some as ‘The Crimbo Limbo’.
Fear not people, tomorrow you can gear up for bright light celebrations once more. In the meantime, it’s probably time to start making that futile, but necessary, New Years Resolutions list. Here are some ideas.
TOP TEN: NEW YEARS RESOLUTIONS:
1. Say farewell to alcohol for the next 365 days. Apart from a cheeky hair of the dog on 1st January to see in the New Year. Oh, and flutes of champagne on special occasions - you know, like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, Fridays, Mondays…!
2. Battle the bulge for the last time. It’s not all that difficult, just make a few changes here and there. Grow a few inches taller. Snack on dried fruit and almonds, glitter and dust. Reduce portion sizes. BAM! Hello Size Zero.
4. Take up a new hobby. Learn chinese. Start going to those yoga classes that you sign up to at the gym each week but end up finding something
better easier to do. Learn to play the ukelele.
5. Get fit. Go to the gym more; for most of us that means actually going to the gym. Run to work. Replace walking with skipping.
6. Help others. Donate to charity. Support Team Hannah. Adopt a hedgehog. Do the washing up every now and then.
7. Wake up earlier. Repeat after me: you are over that daily battle with the snooze button. You will conquer it. You will be victorious. Good luck.
8. Read more books. Newspapers also count, it’s important to keep up with current affairs, ya know. Magazines provide a wealth of essential information too. Watching film adaptations of classic novels doesn’t count as reading… does it?
9. Make an effort with people. Be nice. Especially to friends, family and siblings.
10. Stop making promises you can’t/won’t keep.
The Mother Earth of Sweet.
Generalise if I may, it seems to me that the sexes are divided once again by chocolate. Men, for example, forever insist on cooling their precious bars in the fridge. Is this a bid to hide a secret habit that might cause emasculation or is it because, as they claim, chocolate is like revenge: best served cold? Whatever the reason, this behaviour is idiotic. Chocolate should be revered, respected. Chocolate belongs in the cozy cupboard next to the desperate times, desperate measures jar of Nutella that doubles as a drinking glass. After all, no household is truly complete without a cheerful mish-mash collection of Nutella glasses void, of course, of spoon hacked hazelnut traces.
The best chocolate is chocolate. Everything else is an imitation. That includes Bruce Bogtrotter chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, chocolate biscuits and chocolate ice cream. Don’t even get me started on the overwhelming disappointment that is hot chocolate. Give me a river of chocolate. Give me an ocean of melted cocoa. Do not give me warm brown water with sodden pink and white marshmallows bobbing amid islands of artificial cream that prides itself on being ‘squirty’.
Give me a bar. The bigger the better. Let me indulge, devour, polish off the whole lot in one sitting. An illicit slab of finders-keepers, all-mine, get-your-own cocoa ecstasy. Break off a triangular square of mouthwatering joy and like an alchemist, transform chocolate cubes into liquid gold. You are the protagonist of your own chocolate advert. Cue a close-up of sultry lips enveloping praline heaven while long-lashed lids melt shut in an expression of indulgence. Switch off your sense of sight to heighten the taste. Close your eyes, trust me. Honeyed taste buds will luxuriate even more as swirls of sweetness coat every inch of your mouth. Maximum gratification is attainable through savouring each and every chocolate chunk. That means lollipop sucking not chomp guzzle swallowing. If the latter occurs, it is advisable to relinquish the remaining mahogany block to its gold foil and purple paper.
Chocolate bars are selfish. Choc-boxes were created for sharing. This doesn’t mean, however, that you will be more inclined to generosity. Take, for example, the dinner party fiasco. The polite box of chocolates offered dutifully at the beginning of an insipid meal, largely surrendered in the hope that your hosts will return the favour at the end by laying the chocolate tray atop the wine stained table cloth. When it’s your turn to host, a subconscious battle rages within you throughout the duration of the meal, cunning plans reveal themselves to help postpone the awkward moment when the fleeting chocolate prize must be sacrificed: stall guests with coffee, ply them with heavy food, let the wine floweth, enthral them with riveting conversation, anything but chocolate. Keep them away from my chocolate. Then the inevitable: a satisfied pat on pregnant tummies, the leaning back in the chair, the irritating smack of indulged lips. Finally, the typically English suggestion-demand: “Oooooh, I wouldn’t say no to something sweet. Round that delicious meal off nicely”. Wink wink, nudge nudge. Need I say more? Acquiescent hosts give in at the first hurdle, while others will ignore the hint with a pedantic air, nose lifted ceilingwards, saving the treat for themselves.
Rounded cardboard corners are stroked lovingly then prised apart to reveal silky treasure, a pair of heart-shaped rubies glittering boisterously amid cadences of sepia: chestnut, coffee, beige and ebony, caramel, tan, hazel, mahogany. White chocolates join the growing list of extinct species while milk chocolates are hunted relentlessly but manage to endure to the bitter end. Camouflaged against safe black plastic, dark chocolates crouch tentatively, hoping to escape consumption until, like the unpopular schoolchild waiting to be picked for the team, all the best have been chosen. Never, since the introduction of Michelin starred restaurants, have menus been so diligently studied. Eager eyes peruse classic and exotic combinations in search of the perfect partner for their too-sweet tooth. Wrappers twist and sing only to be tossed recklessly in the direction of the rubbish bin. The lucky few bounce off the rim like a basketball and are recycled in a betting game between two competitors who both claim imperious authority in the AIM-SHOOT-SCORE department.
That joyful moment when the rejects are finally plucked from a near empty top layer, chomped hurriedly and swallowed alive, in the manner of Augustus Gloop, impatient to unveil the darkened under-layer. Alas, you’re too late. The sacred chest has already been plundered. This counts as a criminal act and should be punishable by law. The culprit should be subjected to eating the strawberry creams. Unless, of course, said culprit has a penchant for fruit flavoured chocolate. See below for more details.
Research has recently revealed that the secret of relationship longevity and happiness is directly proportional to the degree of opposing preferences in chocolate. Not sure if you and your partner are ‘meant for each other’? Complete this simple test. When you next find yourself in the Willy Wonka aisle of the supermarket, bypass the astronomical selection of chocolate on offer in favour of a lucky dip style packet. Orange, strawberry, coffee creams on one side. Nutty, caramel, raisin centres on the other. They say opposites attract. This could not be more applicable to harmonious chocolate sharing. If you’re an tangy orange cream, your ideal match would be a smooth caramel or a nutty nougat.
In the same way that binge drinkers and ‘social smokers’ meet their downfall on Friday nights, the resolve of chocolate addicts is tested to its limit at the petrol station check-out counter. One for the road.
Lessen the guilt. Go organic. Choose Green & Black’s.
Bread is a staple. Toast is a necessity.
No one can get toast wrong. Or can they?
The first test arises with the yielding of the bread knife. Even the slightest of distractions could affect the outcome of this critical carving; the tut of the kettle pronouncing boiling point, the stubborn crackle of a newspaper being bent into shape. A door stop slice will doubtless end up incarcerated behind toaster bars; the price of release amounting to nothing less than electrocution. A paper thin slice, on the other hand, could lead to inadvertent arson. Best to stick to the straight and narrow.
Twist the dial on the toaster. Two? Three? Four? Most of us prefer to err on the side of caution, selecting a safe setting three in an attempt to avoid sandpapering black dust into the bin’s reluctant mouth. The popular setting ‘one’ is used to top up the crunch factor in accordance with personal taste. Choices range from Crisp Burnt to Golden Touch, Soft and Yellow to Al Dente Crunch.
Those with a penchant for stiff as a board style toast should avoid plate to bread contact at all costs. Sweaty toast is unforgivable. For a poor man’s toast rack, one might lean the sun kissed slice against a fellow member of the breakfast table entourage; the trusty teapot can always be relied upon to support a friend in need. Otherwise, a two slice crust to crust kiss will suffice.
Toast deserves the best. That means butter. Real butter. That does not include duplicitous butter that dubs itself as ‘spreadable’. Can’t believe it’s not butter? Hit yourself over the head with a frying pan and knock some sense into yourself. As for those of you out there who truly believe that bypassing the butter will accelerate weight loss, my dad being a prime culprit, well take another look at that heavily dented frying pan.
One vies for superiority, flaunting a grandiose label from an upper-class supermarket superciliously across its chest. The other stands self-assured, humble, waiting patiently. Summer fruit flavours line up for inspection on the snow covered table: Forest fruit, Peach and Cherry. Blueberry, Strawberry, Every Berry. Fridge chilly glass shields tender fruit. Armour against breakfast swords. A victim is prised from amidst the huddle of its conserve comrades then decapitated. Crimson glucose bleeds onto sharp silver edges.
The remains of the jam are scrutinised. You could probably get a generous serving if you let your knife poke around and explore each angle of the jar. But no. Alas, the proud pot of raspberry conserve nudges its way into your hazy mind like a valiant knight through fog. The scarlet jelly sighs as metal pierces silk. Pure. Chaste. Shine meets shine. There is nothing like it. A sensible hand replaces the checkered roof over its precious contents while immature fingers click the centre of the lid. A playful pop or two signals first come, first served victory.
Having endured the flames of the furnace, toast is finally rewarded. Lashings of jam transcend into a generous caress, smooth and thick, covering the entire surface area. Crust to crust. Edge to edge. Patches of creamy white butter peep through the glimmering sugar glaze, determined to behold an aerial view of the tablecloth, newly adorned with crumbs, before being blanketed in red velvet.
Ladies and gentlemen, please raise your glasses.
Firstly, the mug. Choice of mug is crucial in determining the level of enjoyment when it comes to the tea drinking. Everyone has a preferred mug. Sometimes, the mug may vary according to the type of tea selected and indeed, the time of day it is brewed. Akin to choice of partners, some people have a mug ‘type’ from which they choose to refresh themselves. My mum, for example, will only drink tea from medium sized, bone china mugs that are ‘MADE. IN. ENGLAND’.
Others stumble across their ‘one and only’ mug, thereafter embraced and cherished as THE mug. Beware that you do not inadvertently reach for this special vessel of tea leaves amongst the chipped and cheerful collection in the cupboard. Narrowed eyes and hushed tuts will follow aplenty and can, on occasion, cause silent rifts between the most pleasant of friendships.
Sometimes, mugs are not appropriate. Sometimes, it is preferable to drink from cups and saucers. More refined. More special. More… The Ritz. Fingers and hands feel decidedly superior clutching a delicately curved handle. Without knowing it, you’re even sitting up straighter. For those who suffer from chronic back pain, then, it is advisable to sip jasmine tea from expensive, hand painted tea cups with floral saucers and matching tea pots. Three times daily.
Tea is also a cure for depression and sadness and anger and loss and boredom and anything not good and happy that needs to be right for a small, short, tea drinking time.
Method. There’s method in the tea making madness.
Tea bag always goes in first. Some people add milk then water then stir. Others add water, remove tea bag, add milk. Some brew. Some squeeze. Some even leave the tea bag floating like a buoy in the tea sea. Each to his own. Everyone is right.
The final, crucial decision rests with timing. Regular, tentative caresses against the warmed curve of china hint at the ideal drinking temperature. Hot? Warm? Lukewarm? Who is Luke anyway? My tea is best served marionwarm. Click-click-click. Three sweeteners please.
A distracted hand sweeps the mug from its coaster, one eye concentrated on the task at hand (television, over-sized newspaper, loquacious friend), the other mindlessly avoiding tea overflow with an upwards slight of hand before settling the rim on patient lower lips. Pursed and nervous, lips whistle an airy tune which crinkles and cools the liquid gold until it passes, cautiously at first, past razor rock teeth into the dark cavern behind. Eager taste buds twinkle then drown a hundred times. A satisfying gulp sends the milky cascade on its downward flume, warming from the inside out. Warm heart, wet smile.
The only trace that remains: a rusty halo traced on a red square which reads “Keep Calm and Carry On”.