So it’s almost, just about that time of year when it becomes acceptable to say ‘it’s that time of year again’, when the nation splits into the half of the country that roll their eyes at every Christmas advert and shop window display (and in the case of mum, shouts ‘IT’S NOT BLOODY CHRISTMAS YET’ at every opportunity), whilst the other half buy in their sprouts a month and a half early and freeze to ‘save the hassle of the Christmas crowds’ and dig out that 10-year-old Christmas CD that will play incessantly on a loop in the car right up until the sweet release of Boxing Day where normal music is allowed back into our lives. I say this, but I would place myself somewhere in between the two of these camps. I eagerly await the release of the John Lewis Christmas ad, but I shout down anyone who plays a Christmas track before December 1st, especially anything by George Michael, The Pogues or Band Aid (or East 17, John Lennon, Mariah Carey or anyone else with a Christmas song to their name. Apart from Michael Bublé; his songs shall not be played at all). Browsing the Christmas section of shops is allowed; watching Christmas films is not. We all have our rules for when Christmas can officially begin. I stick to mine rigidly.
One element of ‘that time of year’ that is totally acceptable to begin thinking about, however, is what advent calendar to invest in, with this year being tougher than any before. In just 10 minutes of Internet searching I’ve found a variety of ways to celebrate the Christmas countdown, some absolutely genius and some utter shite – if you fancy diversifying your calendar choice and parting ways with the trusted Dairy Milk calendar (or Lidt if you want to feign class but can’t actually bring yourself to splash out on a Hotel Chocolat one), here are five interesting options I discovered:
- Pork scratching company, The Snaffling Pig, have released a pork scratching calendar, revealing a different flavoured pork scratching every day. The only problem being that pork scratchings are what you eat in the process of getting drunk, and no man in the history of getting drunk has every satisfied himself with a single pork scratching, making this the most unsatisfying advent calendar ever invented. The only solution is to finish your night out by opening every door of the advent calendar in your drunken slog to bed via the kitchen, and getting yourself that trusty Dairy Milk one the next day.
- A much better idea is the cheese advent calendar by So Wrong It’s Nom, available at Asda. Crackers not included though, definite improvements to be made (unless Jacob’s release a corresponding calendar).
- For a mere £300, you can have yourself a Jo Malone advent calendar complete with different perfumes and creams for every day. You’ll start off smelling of earl grey and cucumber and end up smelling of an entire afternoon tea.
- Trying to bulk/cut/chop/pump/whatever ridiculous monosyllabic verb is used to describe obsessive gym use? MyProtein has answered your festive prayers with their very own protein chocolate calendar, because no Christmas celebration is complete without whey isolate.
- Much more up my street is the mini wine advent calendar from Aldi, priced at a reasonable £49.99. Get your loved one the cheese calendar and every night can be a miniature wine and cheese night (still no crackers though, Jacob’s you’re missing a trick).
So there we go, advent calendars to suit every possible need, from improving your odour to maintaining your physique. I still couldn’t fulfil my dream of an advent calendar filled with actual useful things like money off petrol or items I inevitably forget to buy every year like wrapping paper and name tags, but there’s always next year (I just read that sentence back and realised how unbelievably boring that makes me sound but petrol is expensive and I’m unemployed so I stick by this).
The recipe I’m including today is a rough adaptation of a Nigel Slater recipe, perfect for eating from a bowl when it’s cold and you want nothing more than a good sausage. It can very easily be cooked in bulk to feed a crowd/to go in the freezer – just go easy on the harissa and taste as you add. I used rose harissa in mine as it has a much more mellow flavour, making the end product warming and sweet rather than hot.
Baked Sausages with Harissa, Apricots and Beans for 2
4 sausages, or as many as you think you can eat between you
1/2 a leek (the whiter half), halved lengthways and sliced into half moons (you could use an online, but I only had a leek and it turned out great so I’d recommend a leek)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 sprig of rosemary, the needles removed and chopped finely
1-2 tsp rose harissa paste (you don’t have to use rose, but I would recommend a more mellow one rather than a hot one)
1 tin cannellini beans
1/2 tin plum tomatoes
Around 100ml stock, or as much as it takes to cover half way up the sausages
A handful of dried apricots, halved.
- Start by heating oil in a heavy based frying pan (one that can go in the oven), and brown the sausages all over before removing and setting aside. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees c.
- Next, add the leeks and fry on medium until soft and beginning to brown. Add the garlic, followed by the rosemary, stirring to combine.
- After a few more minutes, add the harissa paste and stir to coat. Add the apricots, cannellini beans and tomatoes. Break up the plum tomatoes with a wooden spoon before adding the stock, seasoning to taste and a pinch of sugar (if needed). Add the sausages back into the pan and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, until the sauce is sticky and reduced.
- Serve with mixed root mash and greens.