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Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas Crafting, Cooking and, Well...That's It Actually

Merry Christmas, my beloved readers! I hope you're all having a lovely day as we all come together to celebrate the birth of a child into a socio-economic group so crappy that he was likely not to have lived into his early thirties.

This should have been the least of his worries.
I thought I'd take some time this festive day of good will and passive aggressive dinner chat to tell you about all of the wonderful things I made that you didn't. Oh yes, what jolly good fun! This would most likely have been much more useful to post before Christmas Day, seeing as all of these crafts could have been made by you, yes you, in the comfort of your very own home for the people you love hate are more or less ambivalent towards this holiday season, but the chutney (yes, chutney. Patience, young one) was actually a present for people who may or may not be reading this and I didn't want to spoil the surprise.

"Please, take this token of my unquenchable loathing towards your very mortal coil."
There's a lot to cover so let's keep it snappy shall we? First up...

Christmas Decorations/Fuzzy Felt Phone Ffffssock

Home-made Christmas decorations are fun. Everyone loves them and they always get pride of place on the tree. Then you turn ten and no-one cares any more, just like wetting the bed. I lovingly made these very original geek-themed decorations and now they're at the back of the tree or propping up the wonky stand or in the bin or somewhere.

The reindeer...
...are always watching.
Production values have increased ten-fold thanks to the lending of my kind brother's camera, haven't they, eh? Ingredients for these are exceptionally simple: just some felt, a glue gun, some scissors and plenty of patience for the portals and a couple of plain black baubles (almost impossible to find, it turns out) and some paint for the bob-ombs and chain chomp. Then just chop, glue and paint your way to adorable geeky bliss. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Now want to see what Fiona made in the same amount of time?

Gameboy games and silver cravat optional.
A flippin' NES phone sock, bitches! And it's all mine, cause she made it for me. 

Suck it.
Again a very simple concept, however it's apparently surprisingly difficult in practice. Putting the pieces together is just a lesson in lots of glue and a steady hand, but it turns out that hand stitching onto felt is an absolute nightmare, so keep that in mind if you're a budding felt mason on his way up in the felting world.

It's the biggest thing since jute.
On to part two...

Super Sticky Sweet Mango Chutney

Mango chutney is a unanimously adored condiment; fact. Indian people eat nothing but mango chutney. Seriously, ask Gandhi; he lived off it most of his life.

Turns out it's not a great nutritional supplement.
As such I decided to make some of my own miracle juice as Christmas presents for various family members and friends this year. You can find the recipe I used here, but if you have a sever hyperlink allergy don't fear, because I'll walk you though it anyway. First off, ingredients:

- 4 mangos, the biggest you can find (that's right, ladies)
- 4 cloves of garlic (cloves, not entire bulbs)
- 450g/1lb caster sugar
- 2 mahusive baking apples
- 1 tbsp English mustard/mustard powder
- 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 600ml/1pt white wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp cayenne pepper

That amount of ingredients should make up just over three 250ml jars of chutney, so multiply as you see fit. The mangos will probably be your most expensive ingredients, setting me back almost two quid a mango, but the rest you'll likely have hanging around the house already.

Pro tip: save space and double your cot as a spice rack.
A quick note on mango picking: be very careful which mango you choose. I, in my child-like naiveté, picked up the last four mangos in Lidl and was done with it. When I got round to making these pulpy blobs into sticky goop, I found that two of them looked like this.

It looks like an aubergine after the very hungry caterpillar has eaten through it.
 This is apparently what happens to a mango when it's picked too early before it's had a chance to go ripe. The brown parts have a nasty bitter taste and all you can do is cut round them or throw the whole fruit away. I lost two good mangos to this abomination. We had to salvage their mangled carcasses for scraps. It was...it was horrible...

Now I know how the Uruguayan rugby team felt. 
You can usually tell if this has happened to your mango by looking for little black patches on the skin of the fruit, but most of the time you won't know until you cut into it, so choose carefully. A nice, squishy, predominantly red mango will be your best choice.

Left: good mango; Right: bad mango
So you've got your mangos, now peel them and chop them up into little chunks, putting all the adorable chunklets into a big bowl. Sprinkle with salt and leave the bowl overnight. Just cover the top and leave it on the side, not in the fridge; you want the fruit to mush up a little.

Dream squishy dreams.
The next morning you're ready to do some actual cooking-type stuff. Turn on your oven to about 120 degrees Celicius (thats 248 Fahrenheit for those of you still using crude flint tools and ignorance) and throw in your jars with their lids to sterilise. Note that you'll also need to take out anything that was already in the jars, so find someone who really likes jam. Measure out all of the other ingredients and put them in a big saucepan. Peel, core and chop your cooking apples. And here's where lesson number two comes in; this is what one of my apples looked like:

"It looks like he was indeed very hungry.  Book him, Lou."
First off, caterpillar. That's just like, so ew! But then, then, it turns out my apple is as bad as the mango. See those brown spots?
This is a common apple condition (along with ADHD) called bitter pit, where your poor apple wasn't nurtured as a child with enough calcium so he's grown up dark and bitter on the inside, and now he's buying bicycle locks off the internet and learning how to use a crossbow and collecting computer viruses and dear god, I think I'm scared of my own son...

"If only we'd got him that hockey mask for his Christmas instead of fucking mango chutney!"
Again, the best thing to do is cut around the offending areas and make the most of a bad situation. Luckily you can usually spot this one by looking for little holes, or the titular "pits", on the outside of the apple or by simply avoiding Bramley apples, which are the most commonly affected type of apple.

Throw your apples in with the rest of the mixture and heat the lot on a low heat until all of the caster sugar has dissolved. You might also want to open a window; the smell of vinegar gets a little overpowering. Once the sugar has dissolved heat the pan until it starts boiling and add your big bowl of mangos. Obviously don't add the bowl, just the mangos, but...yeah. You know what I mean.

Observe, no bowl.
All you need to do now is simmer the mixture for about half an hour, which in practice is actually closer to an hour, until everything starts to thicken up nicely. Now the recipe didn't think to tell me this but the mixture does thicken even more as it cools down, so don't start expecting a proper sticky chutney consistency yet; you'll want something on the same lines as a particularly thick gravy. Think after elevator full of blood but before free-floating full-torso vaporous apparition ectoplasm. Once it hits that thickness (don't be afraid to drain off some excess vinegar if it's taking too long), decant the lot into a big jug and from there into your hot sterile jars. As soon as the jar is full, screw the lid on tight and leave them on the side to cool.

Leave by fish tank for added aesthetic.
Once they're cool you'll know you've sealed the jars right if that little poppy bit on the lid has sucked back in again and the jar is able to turn on a jukebox just by punching it. And that's you done! The end result is a sweet, tangy chutney that goes great on papadums...


...and a variety of other animal species. All you've left to do is label...


...and you've got yourself a lovely 100% bespoke yummy gift for a loved one, friend, or moderately competent delivery guy.

Merry Christmas!

Love from Ben x

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