December 6, 2010

After the feast

Filed under: misc — Duchess @ 2:27 pm

Our familiar wind, which usually blows west, damp and mild, across the Atlantic, has swung to the north and east and brings instead arctic cold and Siberian snow. My boat makes odd creaking noises as the gusts rock it against the ice. The canal is frozen.

It is ten days since any boat moved through the lock. Along the towpath we trade weather forecasts and calculations of how long our supplies will last: the man on the squatting boat behind me says he reckons his water and diesel won’t last past tomorrow, and I say my coal supplies will run out next week and I am worried about my water. I think I have another 20 days at least of diesel (to generate electricity), but others are running low already. We are all wondering whether Dusty, the fuel and coal boat, will be able to get through before Christmas.

The days slip away while much of my energy is taken up with keeping the birds fed and myself warm: before breakfast I throw a coat over my PJs and refill the feeders each morning. The birds eat constantly until half past three when the light is already fading. In the spring they wantonly toss the seed about, but now they leave nothing even for the rats that come out at dusk. I’m lonely when the birds are gone.

Every third day I haul a 20kg bag of coal from the roof of the boat to the bow. I fill the scuttle, shovel coal into the fire, riddle the ashes, empty the pan, begin again, many times each day. I don’t, whatever else I neglect, let the fire go out overnight.

The weather turned cold a few days before Thanksgiving and my potential guests began phoning me: Did you really mean to invite us to your boat? And, Just how cold is it on that boat?

I promised them they wouldn’t be cold, and they were not – before dinner I had to throw open the windows – the combination of cooking, the coal fire, and five people on board sent us way beyond cosy.

My cooking facilities are limited and the menu was simple. For the first time in years I didn’t make pumpkin pie, which is always challenging anyway. There used to be a deli in Oxford that stocked Libby’s tinned pumpkin, in strictly limited quantities, a few weeks before Thanksgiving. They kept it behind the counter, and when you asked for it a suspicious sales clerk would inquire, Have you booked? Only if your name was on her list would she hand over the tin. It cost a small fortune.

This year, I made pecan pie instead, which Brits, with their sweet teeth, prefer anyway. Cornbread is another challenge, but after no success at any supermarket within 10 miles of Oxford, I thought of checking a health food store where I found a packet labelled “maize meal”, and duly baked it into something passable, if a little dry.

I cooked the turkey on the barbeque. While I was planning my menu I idly wondered if you could spatchcock a turkey, typed the thought into Google, and found the internet full of advice. My guests were impressed when I told them I had done the spatchcocking (removing the backbone and breaking the rib cage) all by myself. Nevertheless, they (and I) were unconvinced that the turkey (4 and a bit kilograms) could be done in only an hour, so I cooked it another thirty minutes. It was overdone, but at least we all felt confident we wouldn’t wake up with salmonella.

Besides turkey, cornbread, and pecan pie I served sausage and bread stuffing, mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts and grated sweet potatoes with sage and garlic butter. With gravy from stock and drippings to cover it all, of course. I forgot to put the turkey liver in the gravy, so I enjoyed that all by myself, panfried in olive oil, a few days later.

With Thanksgiving over, I lurch, already overfed, toward Christmas. The festivities began Saturday with the Boaters’ Christmas Dinner at the pub, a jolly event overshadowed by sad swan news, of which more in a future post (not 3 months from now, I promise!).


  1. Welcome Home

    Comment by Swoiz — December 7, 2010 @ 3:54 am

  2. Hurray! St. Nicholas delivers!! A fresh post on your blog! It’s hard to imagine living aboard a boat if it’s frozen into the river, but I didn’t realize you could run out of water and fuel! I guess there isn’t a tow path that water & fuel merchants can use if the water route is iced over. Your Thanksgiving meal sounds delicious and cozy and lots of fun.

    Funny about the birds eating every seed when it’s cold, leaving none for the varmints….

    Happy holidays…I do hope things thaw out soon.

    Comment by M.E. — December 7, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  3. Duchess, I am beyond impressed at your Thanksgiving meal considering the limitations you face re: obscure ingredients and cooking facilities.

    Please let us know if you receive sufficient supplies of coal and water. I am worried.

    Comment by Jan — December 8, 2010 @ 3:16 pm

  4. I’m mightily impressed by the Thanksgiving meal you put together, Duch, given the circumstances. I’ve been wondering how you were surviving the frightful weather that’s been slamming the British Isles, while we bask in relatively balmy snow-free temperatures here in Ontario. I’ve lost all my winter bragging rights to my farmer sister, who was snowed in for a week.

    Comment by Tessa — December 12, 2010 @ 2:32 pm

  5. Fortitude, coping with the appalling cold and dedication, producing the full monty for Thanksgiving. I guess that if the canal freezes hard then at least pedestrian mobility is made easier! More arctic coming up, apparently, so good luck, D.

    Comment by Dick Jones — December 13, 2010 @ 2:38 pm

  6. I wish I’d found you earlier. The blog is fascinating.

    Comment by david king — December 14, 2010 @ 3:14 am

  7. Today you commented on my blog, Works Well. The subject, German sausage, was monumental and thus I felt obliged to respond. However, I became so entranced with your archives I chose your post of August 6 2008 rather than something more recent. It may be that that you disown your opinions of such a distant date in which case I suppose I deserve to be rewarded by silence. So be it. It’s quite a long comment, I fear.

    Comment by Barrett Bonden — December 14, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  8. Oh good grief, that’s August 1, 2008.

    Comment by Barrett Bonden — December 14, 2010 @ 10:03 am

  9. Wow – I’m impressed. I can’t imagine pulling off a thanksgiving dinner on a boat. You’re amazing!

    Comment by Twenty Four At Heart — December 16, 2010 @ 8:54 pm

  10. Dear Swoiz — thank you for your welcome, and thank you for your patience; I will try to tell the rest of the journey home.

    M.E. — as ever, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for visiting.

    Jan — cooking and catering praise from you is praise indeed. I will try to keep you all up to date with my wintry adventures, but please don’t worry.

    Tessa — Ontario is usually more of a winter challenge, I know. But yes, I think your sister has had a hard time lately.

    Dick — I am not quite brave enough to try the pedestrian route on the canal, though the ducks do it.

    David — I expect you are spam, but just in case you are not…

    Barrett — Thank you for visiting. A long comment makes me imagine I have provoked thought — what could be more flattering?

    Comment by Duchess — December 20, 2010 @ 2:50 pm

  11. Welcome back — finally! I’d given up hope.

    Comment by Ruth Pennebaker — December 27, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

CommentLuv badge

Freely hosted by Powered by WordPress. Theme by H P Nadig