Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Frank innocence and mirth: some thoughts on Christmas

* 'Frank innocence and mirth' is how a gypsy in one of Canadian novelist Robertson Davies' books hears 'frankincense and myrrh', a creative mishearing I remembered while listening to the local ABC radio's Saturday Quiz in the car the other day (Saturday, in fact; fancy) when one of the questions was 'What were the gifts the Three Wise Men brought to the manger?'

The first person who was asked this question got it right, but while everyone knows what gold is, no definition of either frankincense or myrrh was forthcoming. FYI, both are resins obtained from trees native to Africa and/or the Middle East, used in incense, aromatherapy and perfumes.

* The Robertson Davies gypsy mishearing is a version of the mondegreen. There are a number of well-known Christmas-carol and Christmas-song mondegreens, among which my favourite is 'Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names'. Others include 'Holy imbecile, tender and mild', and 'Frosty the Snowman / is a ferret elf, I say'.

But the other day, also on local ABC radio, I heard a new one; a woman rang in to say she'd been singing carols to her granddaughter, who kept saying 'Sing the one about the zebra, Granny, sing the one about the zebra.' After much discussion, the penny finally dropped: she was talking about Silent Night. 'Christ the zebra is boooo---ooorn, Christ the zebra is born!'

* Memo to this year's wrapping paper manufacturers: pink, blue and lavender are not Christmas colours. Christmas colours are red, white, silver, green and gold. Sheesh.

* 'Tis the season of casually-employed checkout chaps, who were either not trained or not listening while they were trained, and who therefore put the Harpic in with the bread, and then put the raspberries at the bottom of a bag containing several 400 gram tins.

Even without training, you'd think some sort of native intelligence would kick in at some point. But then, if I were more organised and less overworked, I would never have been buying either raspberries or bread at the supermarket in the first place.

*Those inexplicable people who are not berry fanciers might like this variation on the theme of Christmas trifle. I haven't tried this yet, so don't blame me if it doesn't work, but I do plan at some point to try a sort of Trifle Tropicana variation (NB no pineapple or coconut, so if the idea of either was putting you off, do read on) on this recipe, thus:

BOWL: a pretty, transparent bowl with a wide bottom is best for trifle.

GROUND FLOOR: A layer of Savoyardi (sponge finger) biscuits. Break and crumble a few in order to fill up all the spaces; you want a firm foundation of stodge. Slosh at least half a cup of good dessert wine (I favour Brown Brothers Orange Muscat and Flora) (hi there, Devil Drink) over the biscuit layer and let it sink in. If it doesn't look wet enough to you after ten minutes or so, put some more wine on it, but don't forget there's passionfruit pulp to come.

SECOND FLOOR: Mango, bananas and passionfruit in whatever quantities you fancy. I'd be inclined to go one, two and three of each respectively and then layer them, starting with banana and ending with passionfruit: cut up the mango into pieces about the size of a cherry, slice the bananas, scoop out and (if you're like me and a bit squicked out by the seeds, and yes I know they're part of the point of passionfruit) strain the passionfruit pulp. If you do plan to strain the pulp, maybe chuck in an extra passionfruit. Don't let the sliced bananas lie around uncovered for more than a few minutes or they will go brown and icky.

I don't recommment pineapple as it is chemically odd and might react badly with the custard. I suppose you could use custard apples, if you don't mind custard with more custard.

THIRD FLOOR: Um, custard. Enough to blanket (I believe the correct culinary term is 'mask') the fruit layer and give yourself a flattish surface to decorate. If you make it yourself with cream and egg yolks it'll be lovely. If turns out lumpy, just strain it. Otherwise, Paul's do a good ready-made cucky though it is a bit thick for trifle purposes. Bought 'pouring custard' is probably a bad idea for the opposite reason -- too runny. At this stage, let everything bed down together in the fridge for at least five or six hours and preferably overnight. Glad-wrap on the custard surface will stop it forming a skin.

FOURTH FLOOR: Decorate with whipped cream and little cocktail umbrellas, or plastic parrots, or whatever you think looks tropical.

Serve. Devour.


Chris said...

I do like a good mondegreen. "Good King Wencelas' car backed out, on a piece of Steven" is a another Christmas one. There's also an extensive deviation possible from the orignial lyrics of "We Three Kings", but I don't think that's accidental.

Ampersand Duck said...

I adore trifle. I'm always begging people to make trifles for me! Nothing beats my Auntie Jan's, and it's just your basic sponge cake, tinned fruit, slashed-up jelly, buckets of custard jobbie with lashings of alcohol. It's my ultimate comfort food.

Pavlov's Cat said...

I think 'lashings of alcohol' is the key phrase, triflewise.

Mindy said...

It's 9.21am on Thursday 20 December and I'm craving trifle. I suspect the dairy free/grain free relos we are spending Xmas with won't have it on the list. Dammit. A bit like watching Nigella do boiled eggs with bread soldiers last night and hubby having a sudden craving for boiled egg.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but grain free/dairy free relos are NOT the kind of people to spend Xmas with, let alone any other situation that requires feeding.

Nabakov said...

A childhood favourite was

"Deck the halls with parts of Molly, tralalala."

Suse said...

Don't forget 'sleep in heavenly peas'.

I also like the [non-Christmas] national anthem which begins "Australians all let us ring Joyce"

Sam said...

Aw yeah, baby, I'm all over that trifle action. We had a little Discussion this morning at the markets about trifle, and I reiterated my stance on bullshit canned fruit/trifle/slop/rubbish. We ended up buying awesome Tasmanian berries, and will have the pav trifle again this year. YAY!
Right now we're cooking ham and there's mince tarts in the offing (only made the mince today, but heck, we're on it).
I also have plans for a fruit cake type sponge. All sorts of exotic dried fruit (wild figs, etc) in a nice sponge cake that's got more ground almond than flour. Yay.

seepi said...

mother in law makes trifle with no alcohol.

nuff said.

genevieve said...

My mother-in-law used to make the best trifle on the planet. I still miss it.
Have a great Christmas, PC.