Christmas Cards: yay or nay?

I asked my family to tell me what were their highlights of 2016. I had this vague notion that I might type them up, print them and send them out with our Christmas cards. This plan rests on a vital activity that is yet to happen: sending Xmas cards. Maybe next year one of my highlights will be that I sent all my Xmas cards by 15 December 2017.

(More anon on the highlights of 2016. I’ll take my sweet time with this too!)

Maybe next year I’ll send Oíche Nollag na mBan cards.

Every year we get a fabulous letter from friends in New Zealand with updates about all that has happened in the preceding year. Every year I swear I will respond in kind. This has never happened.

Being honest, receiving your Xmas Card was very pleasant, but not a highlight. I’m very conflicted about Christmas cards and, coward that I am, I am now admitting it because I know many of you feel the same way.  I’d love to know your thoughts on Xmas cards.  I did sit in front of the telly on St. Stephens’ Day and during the course of some festive film I managed to write all 50 odd cards. Like all procrastination, it actually didn’t take me as long as I feared it would. It allowed the opportunity to take my new pen (thank you Himself!) for a drive. The completed cards with fully addressed envelopes are currently stamped, sealed and sitting on the hall table. Imagine! And after that Herculean task. Or is it more Sisyphean? I understand the logic of sending cards to people abroad that I am less likely to see but sending cards to people I will be spending at least some of the holiday season with seems a bit pointless. Probably they wouldn’t mind if I didn’t send them.

Update: after I had happened upon the genius idea of kee ping the cards until next year and sending them all on December 1st and being super smug I discovered Himself had whipped them off the hall table and posted them on his lunchtime walk. Happy Christmas y’all! (Except Neela, Lizzy, Benny and Gill and a few others whose addresses I’m dubious about!)

It might snow

On Christmas Eve our neighbour said he thought it might snow . It was late. We had all been visiting neighbourhood friends.  A teetotaler, he was giving us a lift home. The kids were drowsy in the back seats of his car, their excitement sated by good food and the effort of good behaviour. He said, “I think it will snow.” in his soft, roundy, cheery voice. “Really?” I said brightly.

Later I realised he had said it for their benefit, to squeeze another smidge of excitement out of the day. But it was I who believed him, eyes wide, mind tingling with thoughts of a world writ new and fresh and crystal clear with his idea of snow.

Synecdochal snow.

The little things bring it: Cannellini Bean and Bacon Soup

Cannelin Bean and Bacon Soup

Serendipity. Sometimes the little things bring it. Rocking up to my local Supervalu to restock after two weeks holidays and finding a new line of Batchelors tinned beans* give me a little blasht of serendipity. You take it where you can get it, right?

I’m all for change but, gosh darn it, I want to be the one making the changes! When my local Superquinn switched to Supervalu I saw a few of my favourite products disappear off the shelves. Admittedly there are some new or expanded ranges but I can no more buy Doves Farm Yeast, for example. I have to schlep all the way to The Hopsack in Rathmines to pick it up. I use this nearly everyday. The range of De Cecco pastas has shrunk to insignificant – no more fusilli or lasagne sheets – but thankfully The Best of Italy in Dunville Avenue, close to the ancestral home, seems to be the importer for this brand and so stocks a dazzling range of my favourite pasta. I’m easily dazzled, folks.

Back to the beans. We were just back from our holidays. I was still in my one pot cooking mode after 2 weeks of Trangia creativity and rooting around my “Get into my mouth” Pinterest board when I came across a link to this beautiful photograph by Rachel Hathaway with accompanying instructions which fitted my mood: comforting, warm (it’s gotten colder), and easy to prepare ahead. I’ve made it three times since and I think I have it now. This is also a hit with the Nippers.

Cannelini Bean and Bacon Soup

Ingredients for Cannelini Bean and Bacon Soup
Ingredients for Cannelini Bean and Bacon Soup

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
125g smoked bacon lardons (I use the Dulano lardons from Lidl, always have a stock of them in the freezer)
1large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 tbsp Selection chopped fresh herbs, chopped (I use sage and rosemary which taste great with beans and bacon and grow well all year round in Ireland. Do it!)
1tbsp tomato puree
2 cans (400g) canellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 litre chicken stock
1 Parmesan rind (optional)
  1. Heat the oil in your favourite soup pot and, once hot, add the bacon.
  2. Once it’s beginning to render a little add the onion and cook until soft.
  3. Add the garlic and soften but don’t burn and lastly add the carrots and cook for about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the drained and rinsed beans, tomato puree and the herbs.
  5. Cook, stirring, until all the ingredients are evenly mixed.
  6. Lastly add the stock (home made or sure, feck it, from a good quality cube. I like Kallo Just Bouillon Stock Cubes which are low in sodium.)
  7. If you are using the Parmesan rind, add now.
  8. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes.
  9. Remove Parmesan rind and discard
  10. You can if you like blend some of the soup but I didn’t think it needed it. Some of the cannelini beans will soften into a lovely mush.
  11. Serve with delicious crusty bread (both the aformentioned Hopsack and Best of Italy stock lovely sourdoughs.)
Cannelin Bean and Bacon Soup
Cannellini Bean and Bacon Soup

A couple of notes:

You can, of course, make this with fresh beans correctly prepared.
You may find that smoked bacon makes your soup too salty so do try with an unsmoked variety i.e. chop up some traditional rather than smoked rashers.
Adding a Parmesan rind is a soup tip I got from the Corkonian and I save all my rinds in the freezer for this very purpose. It brings an extra depth to the flavour. Try it!
I’ve tried this recipe with black eyed beans and while this will render the kitchen table very tuneful the cannellini beans really are a must.
* So new, in fact, that they don’t even feature on their own website. You heard it hear first!