I had a busy few days since my return from Parma, visiting friends and tootling around town. I decided to avoid the main shopping craziness of central London but had to pass through it a few times en route to here and there. As you can see, they’ve gone all out with the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, which is busy at the best of times and quite insane at this time of year. However, I do like the fact that at Christmas London pretty much empties, and because Christmas Eve fell on a Saturday, everyone scooted out of town on Friday, which meant the shops were quiet on Friday night, and everything quite calm on Saturday. Better news for me than the shopkeepers who are hurting badly this year.
It is always a bit surprising in this hemisphere to catch a glimpse of green among the brown at the bird feeders, but apparently escapee parrots have made themselves at home in England. I’ve been watching the bird feeders with interest and notice the big bruisers – wood pigeons, starlings and magpies – are getting most of the action, while the smaller songsters hop around the edges. The year round birdsong is something I do miss about England.
On Christmas Eve I thought I’d try to get into the carol service at St Paul’s but what with one thing and another just got there too late and was turned away with several hundred others. I had hoped they might have speakers set up to soothe the outsiders with music from within. But they did not, so I wandered about the tent city for a while before heading onwards to Islington where I had an alternative Carol service from my eponymous hostess who served up some mulled wine and Christmas cake while we caught up. I returned to Chiswick and settled in with The Young Victoria and a nice bowl of risotto, and reckoned that was a fine old evening.
My Christmas gift to myself was a leisurely day of cooking, which always makes me happy. I had bought a plump little pheasant from the lovely butcher, Macklen Bros, and pot roasted it in wine according to a Katie Stewart recipe. Stewart is revered by many of today’s celebrity chefs including Delia Smith, Sophie Dahl, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Anna del Conte. The stained old copy of The Times Cookery Book I was working from would not command the full £50+ you’d expect to pay elsewhere, but it has been well loved, and for good reason. The bird was very good – finished with a buttery wine gravy made with beurre manie and pan-fried mushrooms, accompanied by brussels sprouts of course, and some Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall roasted aubergines and potatoes … best of all I managed not to crack a tooth on the buckshot. Outside, all was peaceful and mild. A Christmas walk around the neighbourhood revealed almost nothing was stirring on Chiswick High Road at five-ish in the afternoon.