came and went. Glorious sunshine, and deep blue sky, as the backdrop to dismantling the Christmas Tree - which, as usual, has been out in the barn for the entire Christmas period. Rather than go through the usual apologetic pretence of planting it in the garden, where it will struggle to survive for the next six months, only eventually to be removed to the compost heap once it has been finally declared dead sometime around the middle of June, this year I decided to cut to the chase, and instead fed it branch by branch into the stove, and enjoyed the flames and the scent, as it was devoured piecemeal, efficiently and in its entirety. Since it was still relatively green, the amount of smoke was impressive - worthy of the appointment of a dozen new popes - although we might not have been hugely popular with any of our neighbours who might have been taking advantage of the weather to hang out their washing. It might even have been that Monsignor G ended up with smutty smalls (with any luck!)
Christmas came and went, in a welter of braising and stewing and roasting and boning and generally feasting. The Belfortini were here for Christmas Dinner (salt-cured foie gras, with toasted brioche; boeuf en croute with a walnut & coriander stuffing, roast celeriac; praline-flavoured Paris Brest, with blackberries in orgeat) and for lunch on Boxing Day (asparagus feuilleté, with savoury zabaglione; duck legs confited with cardamom, and duck breast roast, endives in cream; blueberry and almond cheesecake), and then guests two days later en route from Naples to Milan (scallop mousseline; tournados rossini; christmas pudding and brandy butter - since the Belfortini eschew christmas pudding, but I like to find an excuse for it at some point)...a quiet New Year's Eve, with just the two of us and an early night (tart tatin of celeriac and truffles; roast haunch of pork; and an incomparably delicious soufflé of mincemeat).
In the doldrum period between New Year and twelfth night, the Pauli invited us for supper, since they had been given a white truffle that somebody had come across near San Miniato, which they thought we would appreciate. The thing was the size of a tennis ball, and we consumed it all, grating slices over meltingly splendid plates of fettucine in cream with the abandoned decadence of a collection of russian oligarchs!
And, finally, the Brancolis came for dinner on the 4th, and we effectively saw out the Twelve Days against the backdrop of a thunderstorm of transylvanianly dramatic proportions, whilst consuming pheasant roast with juniper and thyme, and finished off with burnt lemon cream, before a digestif (brought by the Brancolis) called Amaro Montenegro, which all present agreed was disgusting beyond description and fit only for cleaning the drains. Or possibly corroding holes in them. To be handled with great care.
The tree has gone; the decorations packed away for another year, and a host of new recipes added to the tried-and-trusted repertoire for future reference.
We re-plant trees later this week (Technical Dept currently awaiting a final confirmatory email), and at that point 2014 will be considered to have been well and truly kick-started.
Happy New Year!