Monday, November 13, 2017

Embracing Winter

It seemed appropriate to sit down with British food writer Nigel Slater's wonderful new book "The Christmas Chronicles" on a cold November day. The temperatures had finally dropped and we just turned back the clocks. The days are gradually drawing in as they make their steady march towards the winter's solstice and the holidays are right around the corner. Nigel Slater was exactly what I needed to complete the picture. He has mastered the fine art of cultivating coziness. Just listen to the opening lines and you will know what I mean:

"I loved the crackle of winter. The snap of dry twigs underfoot, boots crunching on frozen grass, a fire spitting in the hearth, ice thawing on the pond, the sound of unwrapping a Christmas present from its paper. The innate crispness of the season appeals to me, like newly fallen snow, frosted hedges, the first fresh page of a diary. Yes, there is softness in the cold months, too, the voluminous jumpers and woolly hats, the steam rising from soup served in a deep bowl, the light from a single candle and the much-loved scarf that would feel like a burden at any other time of the year."

Nigel Slater loves winter. I love it as well. In Los Angeles we have very different winters from the ones he grew up with in England. And very different winters from the ones I grew up with in New England. There's something nostalgic about his evocation of winter in this book that appeals to everyone I think. Even if you didn't lived through those winters they are the winters of our imagination. So many classic films like "A Wonderful Life" and books like "A Christmas Carol" draw us into their winter scenes. I will now have to add Nigel's new book to  my winter/holiday collection. Because it is so much more than a cookbook. Like some of my favorite authors, he paints the most delicious scenes of escaping into a cozy interior on a frigid day:

"You hang up your coat, tug off your boots and light the fire. You will probably put the kettle on or pour yourself a drink. Not so much as a way to get warm, more to welcome yourself home. Home means more to us in cold weather. Making ourselves comfortable is a duty. Making friends and family comfortable is an art. 
'Come in.' Two short words, heavy with meaning. Step out of the big, bad, wet world and into my home. You'll be safe here, toasty and well fed. 'Come in.' They are two of the loveliest words to say and hear."

He writes of the foods of winter which he calls "The food of fairy tales":

"Gingerbread biscuits with icing like melting snow, steaming glasses of wine, savoury puddings of bread and cheese and a goose with golden skin and a puddle of apple sauce. There are stews of game birds with twigs of thyme and rosemary; fish soups the colour of rust and baked apples frothing at the brim. Winter is the time for marzipan-filled stollen, thick with powdered sugar, pork chops as thick as a plank, and rings of Cumberland sausage sweet with dates and bacon."

He captures some of our most beloved holiday traditions such as looking at Christmas windows at our favorite department store:

"To see Fortnum & Mason's Christmas windows is to step into the pages of a book of fairy tales. Each year they glisten and sparkle, like the frost on a topiary garden, a scene of wonder and delight. The designs are cluttered in the loveliest sense, like looking into a kaleidoscope."

His chapters have the most delicious titles. Here are just a few:

Panettone, a love story
A Christmas list and a fig tart
Frost fairs and braised brisket
A tale of two polentas
Decorating the tree and a lamb roast
The prospect of soup

And we can't forget the recipes. Don't these sound delicious?

Pork Chops, spinach polenta; Apricot and tomato chutney; Bread pudding with ham, Comte and Tallegio; Orange and poppy seed stollen; Banana cardamom cake; Dark chocolate spice cake; Mulled wine

If you are looking for a book to help you get in the holiday spirit look no further than Nigel Slater's "The Christmas Chronicles." Filled with recipes, fables and quick fireside suppers, it will be your trusty companion from November to February. It is filled with so many good ideas for how to make our homes a cozy and welcoming place for the holidays. Happy reading!


  1. I've never ordered a cookbook as reading material, but you've made this one sound so appealing, ordering right away. I love a good, cold winter and miss the east coast at this time of year. I love the image/idea of "welcoming myself home".

  2. Sounds perfect, as usual with Slater! I love to read his books even though I rarely end up cooking much out of them. He is a brilliant, evocative writer and sounds like this will be a pleasure to curl up with on a cold night.

  3. I AM ON TO IT!!!!!!!!!I need to order HUTTON's new book so will ORDER this as well............
    THANK YOU............I need a bit of HELP this year!

  4. Nigel is a bit of calm during a very busy season and I loved the quote about the Christmas windows at Fortnum & Mason. Looking forward to my copy, Sunday!

  5. I love the quotes you shared, esp. the one about making a cup of tea to welcome yourself home. I never thought of it that way...but now I will!