‘The doors of the train slide open, and the air, whatever the weather, is a balm, the welcome, always benign. Relief, relaxation, a sense of ‘all is well with the world’ descends. Aberystwyth carries on, enduring and mostly unchanging. I am back in this self- contained world, this parallel universe, this Aslan’s land, beyond the mountains, at the end of the line. Renovation and renewal for the soul and the psyche is at hand. Here is a world where centuries peacefully co-exist. When I look around Aberystwyth I am reminded of a kaleidoscope. A slight twist of the lens and a different pattern appears. One twist, I see an ancient castle, the next, a Victorian seaside town. A third brings the medieval facades of the town into focus and a fourth, up the hill, overlooking their own roots, the university, the Welsh National Library, the hospital, the present and future Aberystwyth. Above and beyond all that, the spirit of the people here prevails. I have met their warmth and generosity, their personability and non-intrusiveness, grace and tact in the best coffee emporium anywhere, the best dress shops, the cook-shop, the Arts Centre, the hospital, the flower shops and more. In a large world, where news is synonymous with trouble, news in Aberystwyth is balanced with acknowledgement, appreciation and celebration of a coherent community in action.’
I wrote these words over 15 years ago, when I made the gruelling train trip weekly from London to Aberystwyth. The Cambrian News, still that bastion of all news local and beyond, kindly published it. Not much has changed. Aberystwyth is about 15 miles from ‘the cottage’ or a half hour by car and when I need anything, a large grocery order or a boost to my spirit, I go to Aber.
No time is more magical than Christmas. From the moment I see those feathered creatures hanging outside Rob Rattray’s butcher shop, I know Christmas is on its way.
There are Christmas fans and Christmas foes. I am well, truly, firmly in the fan camp. What a glorious feast for the senses-colour, scent, sound, taste, and for the spirit- generosity, humour, fun, joy. Mecca, No 21, Columbine, Polly’s and many more. They capture it all. And so, the timeless magic prevails.
Most of all, Christmas is a time of connection and it sparks for me an immense sense of gratitude-
- For my children, Lisa and Kevin -they are truly lovely human beings.
- For my friend Mary Ann in Los Angeles who brings passion to everything.
- For Karen Pearce who brings joy to art.
- For members of the Tuesday group- for being there.
- For Lina who brings love to action.
- For Dr. Carl Langley for being a true healer.
- For my sister Susann for her everlasting wisdom.
- For my sister-in-law Laurie who brings inspiration and determination.
- For my dear husband -for his absolute integrity.
Of course, I can’t let you go without a little morsel to sustain you and to share with others. It does make 60 cookies.
Ina’s Fruitcake Cookies
1/2 pound dried figs
1/4 pound raisins
2 ounces candied cherries, coarsely chopped
2 ounces dried apricots, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons (approximately of chopped peel) I think this adds a bit of extra zip.
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6 ounces chopped pecans
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 extra-large egg
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
Snip off the hard stems of the figs with scissors or a small knife and coarsely chop the figs. In a medium bowl, combine the figs, raisins, cherries, apricots, honey, sherry, lemon juice, pecans, and a pinch of salt. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, cloves, superfine sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the egg and mix until incorporated. With the mixer still on low, slowly add the flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt just until combined. Don’t over mix! Add the fruits and nuts, including any liquid in the bowl.
Divide the dough in half and place each half on the long edge of a 12 by 18-inch piece of parchment or waxed paper. Roll each half into a log, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4-inch thick, making an 18-inch-long roll. Refrigerate the dough for several hours, or until firm.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
With a small, sharp knife, cut the logs into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices 1/2-inch apart.
art on ungreased sheet pans and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly golden.
Another wonder from my sleepless friend Fran
May you have a peaceful and joy-filled Christmas.
Lots of love,