It occurred to me this long weekend that although red and green and dried fruit are synonymous with Christmas we could go for a brighter and more fragrant combination for the season. I plumped for the orange and here are three examples of how this colour is brightening up the shortest days of the year in our home.
There were slim pickings of fresh flowers in the new florist that has opened up in old stable block by Greenwich market and even less in the stall at the Clock Tower market on Friday. Both had made place for Christmas trees, poinsettia and foliage sprayed in red and gold. As the combinations of tulips and anemones or hyacinths would have clashed, I plumped for some hypericum berries and roses. I was torn between stunning rusty orange and flame vermillion and at Mr M’s request we went for the orange ones. The market stall provided plenty of green foliage and some white Phlox for a shot of contrast and half an hour later a rustic bouquet with seasonal berries brightened up the living room. In fact, Mr M is such a fan of the berries that this year instead of a Christmas tree we made a seasonal arrangement of white amaryllis and red hypericum berries, popped it into a steel bucket and placed our gifts around it.
Mr M and I owe much hospitality. Living in two cities has not made it easy to entertain friends but this week we started to put some of the deficit right: lunch for good friends. The traditional roast with a Greek twist – lamb studded with garlic and massaged with olive oil, lemon and rosemary – was followed by a classic dessert with a Spanish twist. Bread and butter pudding with Seville oranges. My cheat’s version made a nod to France as well because instead of spreading bread with butter and bitter orange marmalade, I used brioche, cut out the butter and lathered up double helpings of bitter orange marmalade. A home-made custard and handful of candied peel, the zest of a blood orange and a sprinkling of Demerara sugar completed the mix. After 35-40 minutes in the oven at 180 degrees the result was a tangy and gooey desert that was as comforting as any home-made bread and butter pudding but whose zingy orange flavour conjured up the promise of summers to come.
A seasonal air freshener
My final orange offering is a seasonal classic: a pomander. Like many generations have done before, I spent an evening sitting on the floor with plump oranges, a jar of cloves and a skewer. Piercing out patterns in the orange and squeezing cloves into the holes fills the room with a heady mix of citrus and clove that will linger till twelfth night. The process too is cathartic. The rhythmic repetition and focused attention plug into so much that is familiar from religion and meditative practices. Like rosaries or worry beads, meditative chanting or turning the wheels at a pagoda, you can be in the moment and enjoy the beauty of simple things.