Here we are in the no-man’s land between Christmas and New Years’ Eve. Our wallets are light, our bellies are full and those of us not back to work are eeking out the days in a haze of sofa-slumped telly watching, bobbing in a sea of sweetie wrappers. Or so the newspaper columnists would have us. Perhaps on Christmas Day itself, or more likely Boxing Day (December 26), this might be true, but I seriously doubt many of us enjoy an extended wallow in the calorie and sloth-induced torpor of the festive season. If you are used to a good diet, modest alcohol consumption, and a bit of exercise you soon get itching to break out the steamer or whap on the running shoes. Or at least not eat your body weight in leftover ham and roast potatoes.
But even if we don’t wallow it is a bit strange how the days morph into one another when we are left to our own devices. Like letting Christmas sneak up on me, I have also let Miss R’s passport become dangerously close to expiring. For weeks now I have been telling myself that I would sort it tomorrow. Despite not having a Latin bone in my body the concept of mañana comes naturally to me at this rudderless time of year. What about you? Does the heady combo of no alarm and no fixed schedule free you/condemn you to revisit your adolescent self, but with less hair and clearer skin?
Anyway, Mr A and Miss R are off to Switzerland soon and my only involvement is to make sure they are allowed into the country. Not much to ask. The forms have been filled out and photos taken, but somehow the walk to the post office has been beyond me. Mr A, with a suppressed sigh, finally gave up on me and yesterday took this task in hand, only to be told by the post master that Miss R’s photo was ‘too smiley’. He recommended a second opinion by the local key cutter chap, who also does passport photos (and repairs shoes, and blows glass figurines for all I know). He took one look, sucked in his teeth and gruffly muttered, “Too much hair and smiling. This isnae Glamour Shots. It’s for a passport, not a fashion shoot”. That was us told. So I now have a gorgeous, smiley photo in my wallet where money used to be.
I have also been wiling away time making stacks of blinis – buckwheat ones, rye ones and spelt ones. For research purposes, you understand. Although Miss R and Mr A know to keep out of my way in the kitchen, they really couldn’t help themselves. Miss R has been taking frequent breaks from studying for Prelims by way of the kitchen, filching steaming hot blinis off the wire rack. Her favoured topping seems to be lemon curd, while Mr A all but inhaled those with yogurt, chopped hard-boiled egg and red onion on their springy tops. Me? Well, having tried at least five toppings I can’t pick a favourite, but the ones pinched straight from the pan taste mighty fine.
Blini are of course Russian. Whisked up and flipped on griddle pans over the past 1000 years or so, the toppings of old were caviar, wild honey, berries and smetena (like a more sour crème fraîche). Today there is no typical blini topping and, like tortillas and other warmed flat breads, pretty much anything goes, so feel free to pop whatever you like on top. They are utterly delicious – very light and with a tang from fermentation and wholegrain flour. Perhaps do what we do and whip up a batch or two for New Years’ Eve and top with horseradish-spiked creme fraiche and strips of dry-cure smoked salmon. A skoosh of fresh lemon and a scatter of dill and you have an elegant but easy appetiser that everyone will love. I give you other topping ideas below. Make plenty and freeze the rest for breakfast, snacks, parties or study breaks.
Now it’s blini time. Brush a heavy, non-stick pan or flat griddle pan with a little oil and heat over a medium heat. Some recipes want you to get it nearly smoking hot, but this is unnecessary and unhealthy. Drop a small amount of the batter in the pan; if it sizzles, it’s ready. Now, dollop in tablespoons of batter – about 4 to a pan. You don’t want to over-crowd the pan as it makes the blini more difficult to flip. Spread each dollop with your finger or spoon if you need to. Fry the blini gently for about 1 ½ - 2 minutes, until the tops have dried out and are freckled with small holes. Flip and keep frying for a further minute. Continue with the rest of the batter, adding the merest hint of oil as needed. Eat warm, with sweet or savoury toppings. These also reheat well in a low oven. And you can freeze them, too: defrost and warm in the oven.