Monday 15 December 2008

Tree, Tarts and Punch

The weatherman said Saturday was the wettest day in Melbourne for a year. The rain never stopped bucketing down. It felt cold – a mere 17 C. A balmy summer’s day in Scotland, we joked. Poor Zinc took a step or two outside, shook a disdainful paw and headed back inside.

When we parked at the florist to buy a Christmas tree, most of the trees were wet and bedraggled. At this time of year, we expect some sunshine in Melbourne. We only wanted a small tree. The saleswoman suggested we would get a smaller one up the road and asked us to drive her with us because the rain was so heavy. It being the ‘season of surrender’ (according to the A2 Magazine of the The Age), we agreed to buy a stand for the tree as well.

Then onto the supermarket where I spied redcurrants. These are quite unusual in our parts. I was tempted but couldn’t think how I would use them. I know they are so sour that I wouldn’t be eating them in their natural state. Bereft of ideas, I put them back o the shelf. It was only later when I bought lemonade for baking scones (coming soon) that I thought I could add some redcurrants to the leftover lemonade to reduce its sweetness. An idea for a festive punch came to mind.

Back home, I did some work on the punch and then we attended to our tree. Firstly we moved the bean bag, where Zinc has taken up sleeping lately, to fit the tree in the corner of the loungeroom. Her favourite thing to do is sit on the stereo and then jump into the bean bag - if you look closely at the tree photos you will see her on the stereo. We dug out our Christmas decorations and checked the string of lights. The new tree stand worked fine and the decorations brought back memories but the lights ceased to shine after working a couple of times (and one photo!).

The tree is is a dark corner and without lights is hard to photograph but I will pass on a tip I got from a friend long ago. Buy Christmas decorations as souvenirs on your travels! Rather than your souvenirs becoming dusty and unnoticed, you taken them out to be admired and talked about once a year. Among our collection is a tartan teddy from Scotland, a wooden manger from Bethleham, a clog from Amsterdam, a Pinocchio from Italy, a Tiki from New Zealand, Santa climbing the Eiffel Tower from Paris, a San Francisco Santa outside one of the Painted Ladies, and a wombat from Australia.

Once the tree was decorated, we sat down with a glass of Spiced Redcurrant and Orange Punch and some mince tarts. With a Christmas album on the stereo, we reminisced as we admired our handiwork.

The mince tarts were from the supermarket. I don’t usually make my own but I often buy them from a nice bakery if I get organized. The best mince tarts I have area always the ones my mum bakes but she doesn’t start her baking til close to Christmas. Something to look forward to!

The punch was my own creation because I couldn’t find a recipe. The tartness of the red currants worked well with the sweetness of lemonade. I was surprised at the chunky seeds and quite glad I had decided to sieve them. Although when I threw a few leftover red currants in a smoothie, the seeds didn't bother me too much.

Making the spiced red currant and orange 'syrup' took a little time but it made a huge improvement to the lemonade. Worth getting the sieve out for! I was pleased to find a chilled drink that felt appropriately festive. It felt like a summer version of mulled wine. (Yes, I see the irony of discovering a fine summer drink on a cold wet day!) The splash of Cointreau at the end also helped reduce the sweetness further and gave a little alcoholic kick but if you choose not to add it, the punch will still taste great.

I am sending this picture of the punch and tarts to Holler who is hosting this month’s No Croutons Required (NCR). This is a vegetarian soup and salad event which Holler and Lisa organise together. But for December, they have decided to have some fun and ask for festive pictures to be sent in rather than recipes.

I have enjoyed participating in NCR this year. It has inspired some most delicious soups and I have had some gratifyingly positive feedback in being voted best dish of the month twice this year. The second of these winning entries was my Laksa in November. So thanks Holler and Lisa and all the lovely people who have voted for me. I raise my glass to you!

Spiced Redcurrant and Orange Punch
Serves 3-4

125g redcurrants
1 orange
Knob of ginger (about 2 tsps)
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1½ - 2 cups sparkling lemonade*
¼ cup Cointreau or other orange liqueur (optional)
Extra redcurrants to serve

* Alternately use sparkling soda water and add a little sugar to the redcurrant mixture. Or I'd be curious to try substituting ginger ale or champagne.

Remove redcurrant from stalks. Cut orange in half and cut a couple of thin slices of orange. Juice remaining orange halves. Finely grate ginger. Place redcurrant, orange juice and grated ginger in a sieve and use a spoon to press juice into a small saucepan (or just squeeze ginger juice out of ginger with your fingers like I did). Add cinnamon stick and nutmeg to saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes. Cool for 2-3 hours. Remove and discard cinnamon stick.

To serve pour approximately 1 part redcurrant mixture to 2 to 3 parts lemonade and 1 part Cointreau (or to taste). Garnish glasses with orange wedges and fresh redcurrants.

On the stereo:
Ultra Lounge Christmas Cocktails: Various Artists


  1. What a good idea for the currants - I never think of punches and cocktails to use up fruit but it sounds rather delicious.

    I'm glad that Zinc has forgiven you for moving her bed. I love the way she's perched on the stereo!

  2. Isn't it funny that those European Christmas traditions are almost appropriate in Melbourne's weather this year? Buying Christmas decorations as souvenirs on your travels is a great idea!

  3. Great idea for a punch, though I've never thought of lemonade as "overly sweet"!! And I love the pic of Zinc looking over at the tree as if it's some kind of interloper on her space! Sounds like a lovely, festive evening.

  4. Awww Zinc is so adorable! It's been pretty chilly here lately too, although Christmas day last year was gray, overcast and icy cold (I'd made a whole heap of summer food, ugh).

    The punch looks awesome! Yum!

  5. One of my favourite desserts in the world uses red currants: Red Fruits Salad (it sounds better in French; salade aux fruits rouges.

    To make it you buy a punnet each of red currants, strawberries and raspberries, sprinkle some sugard over, then gently mix and leave to sit for an hour or two. The sugar combines with the bruised berries to make a lovely sauce over that time.

    Serve with thin cream. It's a bit expensive to have often, but a beautiful celebration of summer fruits...

  6. thanks Lysy - I occasionally use surplus fruit in smoothies but don't often do punch or cocktails - yes Zinc is ok but still looks a little confused when she looks for her bean bag!

    Thanks Cindy - yes feels very chilly - and we have zinc shedding white hairs for that snowy look!

    Thanks Ricki - we like drinks with less sweetness than lemonade but it is quite drinkable on occasion - however it just seemed a good way to use the red currants - and yes Zinc has given the tree a few stern looks!

    Thanks Vegetation - isn't zinc a cutie - and the good thing about the weather is we get to let her out without fear of sunburn - but shame about your summer food last Christmas - am wondering if it will be much warmer this year

    thanks becstarr - great idea next time I am tempted by red currants I need to remember this dessert - actually it sounds like it would be delish with a good rich chocolate cake!

  7. mmm..loving the picture of those mince pies! a punch sounds fabulous right this moment..17dCelsius!! nice one. in england, tt would be a really lucky temperature during the summer. how sad are we? :) x

  8. Your tree looks lovely and I absolutely adore that punch recipe! What a great use for those red beauties! Happy Holidays Johanna! :)

  9. Beautiful tree!

    Personally I cannot wait to get home to Sydney to see my mum's tree all done up.

    All the rain is doing my head in, but it's the cold that I cannot fathom. Parts of the US are really warm and sticky, I'm told. Parts that really should be snowy right now!

    Colin Spencer does a salad with lentils, goat's cheese and redcurrants. It is exqisite.

  10. We always make a punch up on Christmas day, perhaps I will tweak it a bit this year and hunt down some red currants.
    Perth is a charming 28C today and apparently it should be about 33C on Christmas day (much better than the 40C it was last year!)

    Merry Christmas to you and your family Johanna

  11. Johanna that's a lovely list of travel decorations! The great fun of decorating is remembering all the stories connected with each one.
    Beautiful punch! Like the spicy.

  12. thanks Diva - yes I know I don't have much to complain about - but once it gets to 40 degrees I will be wishing for a summer day of 17 :-)

    Thanks Jenn - the red currants do look gorgeous don't they!

    Thanks Lucy - never thought of red currants in a salad but like the idea - enjoy your christmas in sydney - hope the weather is less fickle there

    thanks Catherine - 40 degrees on Christmas day is a bit much - hope the weather is kinder to you this year

    thanks Tanna - yes the decorations do have stories attached to them - it is amazing how many places have christmas decorations among the souvenirs!

  13. Thanks for participating in No Croutons Required again this month Johanna! And your punch sounds delicious.

  14. I totally agree about ornaments from overseas. I've bought lots from overseas as they're unusual and have a nice memory attached to them. Your tree and your tarts and punch look so delightfully Christmassy!


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