The Spirit of Frankenmas

While it would seem that I am writing as we enjoy a brief interlude, perhaps while the celestial cistern is refilled (frankly, I think the directing deity should probably be looking at the ballcock), I find myself living through a period of permanent precipitation.  As the waters rise around me, it is proving a little tricky to manoeuvre my mind into some semblance of the appropriate festive spirit.  The default faith of these isles does seem to lack a suitably watery festival: its key books do mention that a small sea was parted and a stormy lake quieted, but I don’t recall much mention of rain or broader climatic change in my Religious Studies O Level syllabus.  I can’t help feeling that there is a gap in the market here for any worshippers of Tlaloc to fill…

A week today, I shall be driving east to spend the statutory days with my family: and this year it will be nice to be to do this without a medical emergency as the inciting incident.  So, I have roughly 168 hours left to complete my welcome of the three Christmas spirits into my life (and sober up afterwards to enable safe and legal command of a motor vehicle).

One of my attempts has involved my continued creation of a range of chilli-infused Frankenfoods.  I am now on the third incarnation of my Frankenballs (or Frankenkugeln, for the more Teutonic reader) which are my hot-take on the chocolate truffle: I like to imagine that these would be a suitable offering to Tlaloc (though should perhaps be more cartioid in form to satisfy his particular predilections).  In order to retain the childish joy of offering people my balls, it has been important that I should be able to form my ganache into broadly spherical sweetmeats.  This has proven quite the challenge!

My first attempt involved rolling the chilled ganache in my hands.  To prevent sticking, my hands were pre-chilled (under the cold tap, rather than detached and placed in the freezer) and coated in cocoa: this was an abject failure.  For some reason, my body chooses to run my hands very hot (there would seem to be no major issues with my circulation: though it might explain my generally inability to gain weight) and so they quickly overcame any cooling and almost instantly melted the cocoa.  As a result, my balls were horribly amorphous and my hands became increasingly coated in melted cocoa and ganache.  As I dislike my hands getting dirty, this was not an enjoyable process and the balls grew ever larger as I attempted to bring the process to an earlier conclusion.  This would have been my last attempt to make Frankenballs had they not been so annoyingly moreish…

For the second attempt, I acquired a double-headed melon baller and dipped this in boiling water to improve its ability to cut through the cooled ganache.  This produced more even balls, though there is a definite knack to using the baller which became trickier as the remaining material became more distributed round the bowl.  However, the large problem was with the second head.  While head #1 struggled to cut through the chilled ganache, head #2 found it all too easy to cut through the flesh of my right hand.  I think I managed to keep my life blood from entering the ball-mix but they did come perilously close to going “full Aztec”.  I’ve also found that all the thinking about a baller that this project generated has left me with Skee-Lo‘s 1995 hip-hop hit stuck in my head.  Despite considerable thought, I remain unable to see how a rabbit in a hat, even one with a bat, fits into the broader life goals set out in his treatise.

Once again, after the second attempt, my thought was to leave ganache and move on with my life.   However, a chance pub conversation suggested that without a chilli-heavy starter, the Frankenballs could be a tad eye-watering and they could use an additional buffering agent.  Somehow, the idea of adding spiced rum to the ganache arose, in what passes for my mind, to creative a more festive set of balls.  I researched a range of alternative recipes to try and come up with a less stiff ganache and also acquired a single-headed baller with a thick, padded shaft.  And so we came to the Mark III: this used a different (butter-free) recipe and was chilled less severely which I think created a slightly looser ganache.  It might have been a smidge too loose, next time I shall chill it for longer, but the combination of a thicker shaft and my improving wrist action led to a very satisfactory conclusion.  I also feel that the addition of rum helped to tame the Frankenballs blood-lust: my hands even stayed mostly clean!  Having sampled the more deformed, early attempts with the baller, I can report that the Mark IIIs are dangerously delicious: people may find themselves unable to keep their hands off my balls (should I ever release them to a wider audience)…

However, it struck me that chocolate is more associated with a later festival and the current season is more about dried fruit.  (Well, that and Frankenscents – but my signature, chilli-based perfume will have to wait for next year.)  So I decided I should attempt a Frankenmas cake: this would be like the more traditional Christmas cake but the marzipan and icing would be replaced by chilli.  I feel this is a good time of year to celebrate Frankenmas as the original story by Mary Shelley is very much about a birth; though Easter could also work as it is, in many ways, also about a resurrection.

It must be a good 30 years since I last made a rich fruit cake but I found a plausible looking recipe to adapt and gave it a go.  The recipe was basically very simple, though did require the tin to be double-lined (rather annoyingly labour intensive) and to be wrapped in two layers of newspaper!  I haven’t taken a physical newspaper in years, so it had to make do with some A4 work print-outs awaiting shredding.  While the Frankenmas cake cooked, the flat was suffused with the most glorious aroma: it was like Father Frankenmas was in the room.  On its emergence from the oven, in its best business casual, the cake smelled divine: it was all I could do not to drool.  Instead, I allowed it to cool and fed it with spiced rum before wrapping it and putting it away to mature.  Only after a couple of weeks, on Tuesday, did I take it to the Swing Steady Session at the Guide Dog to be eaten and act as an interval refresher.  For me, it was everything I want in a cake – moist, chilli-infused and mostly alcoholic fruit – but it also seemed to go down well with the swingers.  I have already made a Bride of Frankenmas cake for later, but have also considered stockpiling Aldi’s Specially Selected Brandy Infused Fruit Mix – which I consider a key element of its success – to last me through the next eleven months…  Let’s face it, I think we are going to need all the brandy infused fruit we can lay our hands on!

I have not just been relying on food to prepare for the twenty-fifth.  I’ve been to a couple of gigs with a seasonal flavour.  For example, last Friday I headed out to the edge of the land to the Lookout at Lepe – a very superior beach hut – for Sound Level Events‘ monthly residency.  On paper (or a screen), this was in many ways a dream line-up of local musicians for me: Tenderlore, Jack Francis and Bad Cat.  With some Christmas-infused numbers added into their usual repertoire and an appreciative audience, this has to go down as one of my top gigs of 2019.  It was a ridiculous amount of fun and I was sober(!) throughout.  I’d had to drive to the gig as Lepe is not accessible by public transport on a winter Friday evening and it was rather a long bike ride in torrential rain.  Still, it is good to know I can have musical fun without the aid of alcohol, I drank tea and ate cake to support the venue in lieu of my usual drunken excess…

Inspired by the message of the Muppet Christmas Carol, last night I took the bus to a very wet Bishopstoke for the festive Folk and Acoustic Session at Steam Town Brewery.   Despite the sad lack of West Coast IPA, I had loads of fun joining in with a bunch of seasonal songs and, coincidentally, discovering that the guitar chords for most lay well within my grasp (I just need to add a suitable G7 into my repertoire: which I vaguely remember Mr Owen teaching me back in 1978, that and English).  I may have to take my instrument east next Wednesday to ‘entertain’ my family: that’ll teach ’em!

I think after my traditional viewing of Arthur Christmas and, perhaps, of Die Hard, added to some more festive food and a few gallons of mulled wine, my festive spirit may be ready to peak in the middle of next week.  I shall aim to do Father Frankenmas and his monster proud!

Feel free to continue the lunacy...

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