Happy Christmas 2013

No pretense that this is still an active blog, or is ever likely to be again, but on the off chance one or two of you never quite got around to clearing out your blogroll or rss feeds, HELLO! Happy Christmas. What follows is the virtual accompaniment to the Christmas gift I sent to my dad and his wife and their family in Edmonton. In Edmonton, where the current temperature is:

Edmonton weather 12.13.2013

Proper winter, in other words. For comparison’s sake, today in London is:

London 12.13.2013It’s a bit difficult to get in a proper Christmas mood when it’s so warm, but I’m doing my best.

So, welcome Brian and Teresa – here are the instructions for turning your box of goodies into a several hours of entertainment.

Read All Instructions Before Beginning 🙂

Step 1: Put some Christmas music on. The muppets singing ‘Bring us Some Figgy Pudding’ would be a good choice

Step 2: Pour yourself a glass of something festive (mulled wine, christmas stout, etc)

Step 3: In a large, heavy bottomed pot, bring enough water to cover the pudding to boil. [A big pasta pot with a lift out strainer would be ideal if you have one, but just a plain big pot is most traditional]

Step 4: While the water boils, and to get in the mood for pudding and crime, watch this short Sherlock Holmes story:

Step 5: When the water is boiling, adjust the heat so the water is just at a gentle simmer. Add the wrapped, tied up pudding to the steaming pan, cover with a lid and steam for two hours.

Step 4: Begin the puzzle.

poirot's christmas puzzle

You’ll need to check the water from time to time and maybe top it up a bit.

Step 5: After about 2hrs, carefully remove the pudding. The string loop ensures that the pudding can be lifted out of the boiling water with ease and means that you will have something to hang it by for it to dry. Hang the pudding immediately in a dry place where it is not touching anything. Over the back of a chair, from the hand of an open drawer or from a suspended broom handle are all good options. Hang for about 10 minutes and unwrap.

Step 6: To serve, place the pudding onto a serving plate and place a suitably sized sprig of holly on top.

Step 7: Now warm a ladleful of brandy over direct heat, and as soon as the brandy is hot ask someone to set light to it. Place the ladle, now gently flaming, on top of the pudding – but don’t pour it over until you reach the table. When you do, pour it slowly over the pudding, sides and all, and watch it flame to the cheers of the assembled company!
Allow the flames to flare up and die down before serving (keep the flames well away from your eyes and face). [Alternately – use the enclosed pudding fountain instead]

flaming christmas pudding

“In half a minute Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed, but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.

Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.”
Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol

Step 7: When both flames and cheers have died down, serve the pudding with brandy butter. Also lovely with iced cream or whipped cream if you don’t like the brandy butter.

Step 8: Consume while finishing the puzzle and solving the crime.

This video should help if anything is unclear.


Step 9: When you’ve solved the crime, or if you admit defeat, you can watch Poirot have his turn at:

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas

Step 10: Leftovers are lovely with a nice old cheddar, and/or with Christmas oranges, and should be very nice to nibble on while curled up on the couch reading.

Wish I could be there to enjoy it with you. Have a wonderful holiday and a brilliant start to the New Year.


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Interregnum indeed

I last updated this blog at the tail end of 2009. Gleep! Quite a lot has changed in my life since then, starting with moving to a new country and starting a new job. But since I am back in my old stomping ground of Northampton/Florence, it seems like s good time to try this again.

There is no one reading this who doesn’t know that in the summer of 2010, I was offered, and accepted a job at Queen Mary, University of London, where I am now a Lecturer in Experimental Linguistics. In fact, I just completed my first year of teaching, and am now celebrating with a month long working vacation in North America.

I flew to Boston on April 2nd, spent a weekend in Northampton with friends, then drove up to Montreal to spend a week there visiting friends and family, and reconnecting with colleagues and potential future collaborators.

Last Monday I drove back to Northampton, and I’ve spent the week here working on data analysis, having meetings with collaborators, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. I’ve been able to hang out with the dear old dog and cat who I left behind with former neighbors. Charlie the dog is sliding into mild senility at the perfectly appropriate age of 13. He doesn’t really seem to recognize me, which means there’s no angst about seeing him. He’s not bothered whether I’m there or not, but he’s perfectly happy with the attention.

Andi-cat is another story. She seems to be utterly furious with me. I’m not sure why, since she is apparently very happy in her new home. But she can barely tolerate my presence for 5 minutes before huffing off. It would have been nice to snuggle with her a bit, but I’d rather she be happy in her new home than pining for me. And her look of disgust when she sees me is priceless.


So I can leave her with a clean conscience, knowing she is not at all sad to see me go. 🙂

Other than being despised by cats, and spending rather a lot of time staring at computer screens, I’ve been enjoying watching spring arrive in the valley. Spring came rather too early in London for me to properly appreciate it, whereas it definitely feels like the time for it now. The earliest flowers are in full bloom.

If anyone can tell me what these are called, I’d be grateful.

The magnolias are just starting to arrive.

Although I only spent one year living here, it feels truly and deeply like home, and it’s been so wonderful to have the time to be here and reconnect with so many of my favorite people and places.

Tomorrow I’m off again. First to Boston to return the rental car, then to Columbia SC for 4 days to visit other friends/colleagues and stare at some different computers. Data awaits.


Filed under home, joy, my fabulous friends, travel

Merry Interregnum!

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is my favourite time of year. The hubub of Christmas is over, and the froufra of New Year’s is still a few days off. The fridge is overflowing with delicious left overs, there’s a pile of new books and dvds just begging to be enjoyed, and there’s usually no where you absolutely *have* to be. It’s a time for loafing on couch.

And for walks in the woods.

How are you spending your holiday week?

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On Saturday we got our first little taste of winter – it snowed all day, but it was so wet that the next morning there was just a wee dusting of snow on the ground.

Enough snow to wet the appetite and make it actually seem like December after a November that often felt more like September. The weekend snow stayed around – we actually had 3 days in a row with temps below 0. I had a couple fun days of biking to work with snow on the ground (but not on the roads) for the first time in 11 years (the winter of 98 I rode all winter long. I was 23 and not yet entirely convinced of my own mortality.).

But this morning, we woke to this.

Now that’s snow! Nearing noon now, it’s still snowing and looks set to continue all afternoon. It’s very wet snow – which makes for very messy roads, but also plenty of snowmen opportunities (I saw two on my way to work).

Definitely no temptation to bike this morning, walking was enough of an adventure. The major temptation was to stay home and curl up on my couch with the beasties and wrap my outsides around some hot apple cider and spend the day watching the snow in front of the windows get higher and higher. But I resisted and left the critters to keep the couch warm without me.

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things worth celebrating

  1. Glorious, unseasonably warm, sunny, Sundays! This is now the third week in a row that after a cold and damp Saturday we’ve got a Sunday warm enough to throw the windows open!
  2. Continue reading


Filed under home, joy, recipe

let’s try that again

Somehow I’ve let more than 3 months elapse since last posting here. Ooops. Suddenly getting a job in another country, packing up everything I own, including 4 animals in varying states of health, finding a place to live, moving, etc, etc are all perfectly good excuses (especially as it took me 2 weeks to get an internet connection sorted at home and I only recently found my camera usb cord for transferring photos). But it’s still rather unfortunate. The first month or two on a new place is precisely the time that’s most interesting to document.

At this point it would make no sense to try to revisit all the impressions of those first days and weeks. But I can still note a few.

Continue reading

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impromptu morning hike

With the sun rising a little after 5am these days, I’m generally awake and walking the dogs by 6am. It’s lovely to be up and out while the neighbourhood is still quite quiet and the temperature and humidity are still low. I don’t go out to the office that often in the summer, but when I do, it’s nicest to do it first thing in the morning, so I can be done my workday by 1 or 2pm. 

So this morning I set off at 7:12, well-breakfasted, happy with my outfit for the day, and generally feeling pretty pleased with myself for being in transit so early. As I went to get on the bus, I suddenly remembered it was now July and I would need a new transit pass for the month. The driver was in a good mood, so he waved me through. Fair enough, I’d be able to get my new pass at the subway where I transfer to my second bus, so I got on board.

About 18 minutes later, we pulled into Vendome, I got off, and headed down into the metro to queue up for the automatic guichet. Continue reading


Filed under travel