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Christmas Baking by Grace O’Reilly

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Grace O'Reilly

Grace O'Reilly

Well, it seems quite apt for me to be writing this piece right now. I am sat in ‘my’ seat part of mine and my husband Simon’s brown recliner sofa, gifted to us by his Mum Deborah and Step-dad Alan.  It is comfy. The yellowish white Christmas lights are brightly shining beside me on our beautifully decorated Christmas tree, which we bought from Dunnes Stores in Gorey, three years ago. It’s one of those artificial Christmas trees with no back, so ideal for fitting purposes in a corner.  We decorated it, only two weeks ago, on the 25th November, (a Thursday), for the ‘Late, Late Toy Show’, which was on the following day.  On the tree are a mixture of gifted decorations, to novelty decorations, handmade decorations by little hands in playschool and primary school, and even the odd decoration from my own childhood that went on our Christmas tree in Fairyhill, in Bray. As an avid reader and a writer, it has to be said that I adore the Dr Seuss decoration of ‘The Cat in the Hat’, reading a copy of the book entitled ‘The Cat in the Hat’.  A childhood classic, although my all-time favourite Dr Seuss story is ‘The Grinch’.  The Grinch did not like anything Christmas related,

“The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”

Christmas time is a real foody time of the year.  A year to indulge and a time to enjoy the beautiful delights from the kitchen, handmade with much love. Whilst I sit here typing the smell of cinnamon and spice, and all things nice, including ginger and nutmeg, whiskey-soaked fruits and cherries and nuts, is wafting in through the hall from the kitchen into the sitting room. The aroma is amazing. I had my two little helpers, my 10-year-old daughter Olivia and my 8-year-old son Ben who both donned Christmas aprons earlier, and got into the spirit of Christmas, (no not the whiskey, don’t be bold or you’ll be put on Santa’s Naughty List!).  Even our dog Misty is wearing her festive Elf jumper! We made our Christmas cake, and put it in the oven just before the kids went to bed.  I make two or three cakes and usually make the first one for us and then the other one or two I make into several mini Christmas cakes for friends and family.  Either those who live alone or those who are the only one in their house who eats Christmas cake. It’s just like the Christmas puddings, mince pies and even pancakes, in the sense that people either love them or hate them, there is rarely an in between.  So, I make a wedge for my sisters Karen and Susan, our friend Patrick, and a few others. Some I usually make Christmas cake for I won’t be this year and some like my friend Jan it will be a first.  I ice them will roll out marzipan and rollout icing and decorate it, although my decorating skills are about the level of a two-year-old modelling play dough, and they would probably beat me in a cake design competition.  I mean I can barely draw a stick man, although I do it for fun and for the enjoyment level, nothing else. while it may not look that great, I have been told that it has definitely got the ‘Taste X Factor’, so that is good.

Growing up in Fairyhill, my sisters and I would make the Christmas cake with our Mum in the kitchen, licking our fingers and taste testing as we went along, it was and is a very important part of the job, although with COVID 19 germs still lurking in every nook and cranny nearly two years later, the licking was done at the very end before washing up.  My husband is opposed to the idea of eating raw cake batter with the eggs in it, but we have done it for years and not died and have survived pesky COVID so far, so we do have to live a little.  Beside the booze probably kills off the raw egg, (a pathetic attempt to save face for my terrible mothering skills).  Olivia and Ben love licking the whisks before they get thrown into the sink for a thorough wash. When we were little if Mum had dared to make the Christmas cake without us all, she would leave a small bowl of the raw Christmas cake batter in the fridge to eat later, when the said person got back home. As the youngest child my job with the Christmas cake project in Fairyhill was to cut the little sticky red and glossy glasé cherries into quarters, eating the odd one, when my Mum’s back was turned. I will make another Christmas cake on Saturday, so I believe there is the tradition to make a wish when you stir the Christmas cake batter, I had thought that that was for the Christmas pudding only.

Talking of Christmas puddings, I am going to look like a Christmas pudding come the new year, as I joked with the kids and Simon, telling them to feel the weight of the metal bowl, before transferring the mixture into the paper lined tin to go into the oven. Simon is the Christmas pudding man of the house and he will make them with Olivia and Ben next week.  He uses stout in his Christmas puddings. I never really made them growing up, Mum did.  They take ages to cook, by steaming and I remember a few of the years, when Simon worked nightshifts as a security man and foolishly trusted me with steaming his precious Christmas puddings what a catastrophe that was, and how he had to start over and remake again from scratch.

What is it about gingerbread that is so Christmassy? I do like a good gingerbread man, with all the chocolaty toppings and sprinkles. We didn’t make them so much when I was a child, although I have made them every year with Olivia and Ben.  They are either hit or miss, as I can never master the gingerbread dough, so it’s always a gamble.  Gingerbread houses are a huge thing too the last few years. These gingerbread houses always remind me of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy-tale of ‘Hansel and Gretel’.  As times became more cosmopolitan since I was a child to an adult, and the artisan coffee culture came in, now spiced lattés and gingerbread or even pumpkin coffees are a seasonal trend, at this festive, cold, wet wintery Irish time of year. Ginger and spice are great for warming up the body, so then you can indeed, “Run, run as fast as you can”, although unlike the gingerbread man you will definitely catch me with my tortoise speed.  My little family and I had a very rare break away last week in Waterford, where we enjoyed` Winterval there.  We had a selfie with the giant red elf, saw the main man in red and his team of elves, and even had a family photo taken not only on a sleigh but with a giant gingerbread man, (who looked like Gingy, the gingerbread man from the Shrek films).  For politically correct purposes I use the term gingerbread man as a product of its time. We have a giant gingerbread man cutter and a small gingerbread boy and a gingerbread girl, or they can be the other way around, just one is legged shaped while one is skirt shaped.

Mince pies wow. I LOVE them! My late Granny used to make really, really good mince pies, and she would sieve an icing sugar dusting over the tops of them, which looked like a thin coating of light snow.  Granny Eileen’s mice pies are one of my pleasant mined memories instilled.  Like Tinker-Bell, “think happy thoughts”.  A huge Tinker-Bell fan, Christmas is a time to believe in magic, be like Peter Pan and Tinker-Bell, letting the inner child inside you to come out. Play, enjoy the season, have fun!

Baking is a wonderful thing to be able to do and to enjoy. Baking with parents and grandparents can make some lovely memories. I am hoping that I am mining nice, positive and happy memories with my children, and that they don’t look back at our time baking in the kitchen with me as a hot-tempered Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen, because I am far from the angelic angel that sits atop of many a Christmas trees presently around our Emerald Isle or indeed around the world.  Christmas is about goodwill and peace, a piece of cake.

(c) Grace O’Reilly

About the author

Grace O’Reilly resides in Co Wexford, Ireland. She likes writing various forms, but poetry’s her preference. A member of several writing groups, including ‘The Gorey Writers’, (where she is chairperson), ‘Write Club’, in association with Red Books in Wexford town, ‘The Writer’s Ink’, (with us writing.ie) and ‘The Writer’s Pen’. Grace’s works have been included in two anthologies ‘Fledglings’, 2016 and ‘Taken Flight’, 2019, published with ‘The Gorey Writers Group’. An avid reader and a member of Co-Operative Housing Ireland’s first Book Club, ‘Page Turners’, and Grace reviews books on writing.ie regularly and for Children’s Books Ireland. Grace’s publications are both online and in print, in Literary Journals, magazines, and newspapers. Longlisted in 2012 for ‘The RTE Guide/Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition’. Grace suffers with an array of various health conditions including the debilitating condition Fibromyalgia, and hopes to raise awareness for it through her writing. Writing acts as a therapeutic remedy for Grace and many others.

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