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
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
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