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"Bauble - a showy but worthless or useless thing"

Collins English Dictionary

In our house it's sort of Christmas Eve today because tomorrow is the day of the big turkey dinner, so I have been preparing as much as I can. My to do list for today is done and I'm done too. So I sat down at the computer to relax a bit and came across these words in the latest Guardian newsletter. It's Ottolenghi introducing the Piloncillo tart shown below Piloncillo? you say? Indeed. And this is what he says:

"Piloncillo is an unrefined, dark sugar from Mexico, packed full of organic impurities that give it a complex, molasses flavour that’s similar to jaggery or panela. You can buy it in Latin and South American food shops, but if you can’t get hold of any, use jaggery instead."

What world does he live in thought I? We are obviously not going to get piloncillo in outer suburban Melbourne. But here's the thing that really got to me - no jaggery either. And what on earth is panela? (Well I googled it - it's just another name for piloncillo) - which according to Wikipedia is:

"an unrefined whole cane sugar, typical of Central and Latin America. It is a solid form of sucrose derived from the boiling and evaporation of sugarcane juice."

It looks like this.

Ottolenghi doesn't even bother to explain that one. Now I'm sure there are trendy inner suburban spots where you might be able to pick up jaggery - maybe even in an Asian food store and there are plenty of those around, but Mexican piloncillo - or panela? Not anywhere near here anyway.

Somebody might have given him a nudge about this though, because there in the list of ingredients for the recipe is 220g piloncillo, finely grated, or jaggery or dark brown sugar.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that this is one of those bits and pieces posts, centred around Christmas. I was so ... what? appalled? amused? left feeling ignorant? that I just had to share, although it's not worth a whole post - hence bits and pieces.

So what other worthless bauble can I offer up? Bearing in mind that baubles are pretty and cheerful nevertheless.

Mercers for dinner

Well it was our wedding anniversary yesterday - our 56th as you can see. And so, as usual, - not a bad thing - we went to our local fine diner for dinner. We were asked whether we were celebrating and when asked how many anniversaries we had to do mental arithmetic. We've been married so long, and we knew it wasn't a landmark one. Although I did remember that we were married on a Thursday - a non sort of day don't you think?

It was a gorgeous meal - every dish was superb and the wines were interesting too - I may write about some in the future - and this is the bauble of the piece - dessert - well dessert is a bauble in itself. We never have them in our daily life. which is perhaps a pity. On the menu this is described as: Vanilla 'crème brulée’ with passionfruit jelly, summer fruit and raspberry sorbet.

And yes it was showy and yes it was probably worthless and useless too - in a pragmatic sense that is. All those calories and some would say pretentious. But it wasn't worthless at all. The chef and his crew had put in an enormous amount of thought and work to produce it, and it gave us great pleasure. No not worthless at all. Pleasure seems to be getting rarer in today's world.

Gingerbread crinkle cookies for my grandsons. A couple of birthdays ago I made some of these for the younger grandson who said he liked gingerbread, and I think this recipe was in the Woolworths Fresh Ideas Magazine at the time. They were a big hit and so are made for special occasions. Because the boys are now teenagers - well Cruz will be next year - it is getting harder and harder to buy them presents, and their mother suggested gingerbread cookies. It's beginning to be a tradition. Anyway cookies have been made and packed - in a bottle bag each. I had no other suitable container, and so have piled them up surrounded by tissue paper. I just hope they don't go soggy. Worthless and useless? Yes - worse really. Positively bad for you. But that's what Christmas and birthdays are for aren't they. And these are particularly showy and festive looking. And mine look the same which really gives me a buzz.

Christmas jam

Christmas is a really busy time in this household. Not only is there Christmas itself and all that that entails, but there is also the anniversary to celebrate, and my oldest grandson's birthday on the 27th of December. He will be fifteen this year and is over six feet tall. How time flies.

And then there's the jam. Some years it's just the last straw but it wasn't quite so bad this year. Well it was in that I lost what what would have been a third batch from one of our trees, to the birds. And it is also a pretty tedious and time-consuming process - yet satisfying too. Above are samples from the four batches I made and which will be given as more Christmas presents to the family. It took my family many years to appreciate the Christmas jam, but now they do. It was actually the youngest grandchild who first noted its worth and now I have to supply them all at regular intervals. Which is actually just as well as there are many jars in the pantry. I had to clear half a shelf to house them all. When you're standing there fishing out plum pips and getting a crick in the neck and a sore back you might think that it's all a waste of time. I could just leave the sour little wild plums for the birds. But it's curiously pleasurable and when I have it on my crumpet, croissant or toast for breakfast it reminds me of the satisfying pleasure of making something delicious from something that most people simply disregard. Not worthless at all. Not useless either. It gets me going in the morning. Showy? Yes - jewel like if you hold it up to the light.

It's been a busy day and tomorrow will be too. But our Christmas group is small this year - only eight because half of us are in Germany - in the freezing cold enjoying a white Christmas.

Christmas crackers - There will be Christmas crackers - now they truly are a bauble - completely worthless - but showy. I tried to buy the environmentally friendly ones this year, but couldn't quite do it. I wanted the glitz. Which makes me very shallow. I think it must be something to do with old, old, memories of Christmas - as here - all wearing our stupid hats from the crackers, although I have to say they look a little more elaborate than that. Paper chains, lovingly made by we children were hung around the walls. There I am at the back, posing stupidly next to my mother with dad in the front with brother and sister. Grandma smiles next to her son - my mother's brother, and I think it must have been her sister taking the photo. Poor but happy. Everyone has a smile.

I'm not sure whether my glitzy Christmas crackers will do the same tomorrow. I think the simple fun of Christmas crackers has sort of gone. We are all more cynical these days. But I will persevere.

I doubt you will hear from me for a few days. It's Christmas after all. Certainly not tomorrow - busy, busy, busy.

So I hope you all have as happy a day as I know we shall. Back some time next week.

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