Posted in Life, Los Angeles, Running

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s our third Thanksgiving since moving to US and I think we hit the traditional high points this year: I ran a Turkey Trot in the morning, then we baked (made chestnut stuffing and made the Christmas Cake), and then we went round to a friend’s place for a sumptuous Thanksgiving feast.

Turkey Trot

I was up at 6am to get the train to Downtown LA for the Turkey Trot 5k.  I met a colleague from work (who I’m sure wouldn’t want to be named) and we did the obligatory photos and had a walk about. It was cold COLD cold (for LA).

We set off at 8am from outside City Hall and were immediately faced with two significant hills. The second (which was actually part of the first hill, just further up) was almost one to walk, but since we’d only done about 0.5 miles I wasn’t going to give in.  Luckily after about a mile it was downhill for a good amount of time.  Then after the turnaround at 8th Street it was a long gentle (brutal) uphill to the finish line.  It was especially discouraging to note my Garmin registered 3 miles we were still about 5 minutes from the finish line. Sure enough, according to me the course was an extra 0.3 miles long – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but after 3.1 miles it made a difference!

The good news was I finished 17th in my division – my best result since I restarted running in 2012.




Having realized that it was the end of November and the Christmas Cake still hadn’t been made, I put it together when I got back from the run.  Happily my mother-in-law is in town and was able to give it a stir (as per tradition), but the bad news is that I only soaked the fruit in brandy for 12 hours, instead of the usual 24, so I think the cake has come out a bit dry.

We also made chestnut stuffing (as per my grandfather’s mother’s recipe) to take to dinner.  This dish calls for peeling a pound of hot chestnuts, but luckily my husband was on hand for this unpleasant task.  The stuffing came out great.

Christmas Cake on the left, chestnut stuffing on the right

Feast & Thanks

In the late afternoon we went to friend’s house for a Thanksgiving party/dinner.  We had the opportunity to meet lots of new people, and catch up with others we had met at Christmas at the same house.  We had an amazing meal, and the host gave an inspiring speech.  She noted that the group of guests was diverse in many ways, and especially in national origin, and gave thanks for that and said, “let diversity define us, but also let it unite us.”

It was a fantastic day, and when we are recovered from all the food we are seriously contemplating tackling Black Friday shopping!

Menu: all homemade dishes

So much amazing food

Yes, I did eat all that. And dessert.
Yes, I did eat all that. And dessert.


Posted in Life

Making a Christmas Cake in the US

“What’s a Christmas Cake?”, ask my American friends.  Aside from the obvious (a cake eaten at Christmas), this British cake is made primarily of fruit, and brandy.  In the 10+ years I lived in Australia, and the nearly 3 years I’ve lived in the US, I’ve found that finding the ingredients to make a ‘proper’ Christmas cake can be difficult.  I still have not found anywhere I can buy a cake ‘frill’ – i.e. wrap, decoration (something like this).

The recipe I use comes from the book pictured below, and of course, it makes the best cake ever.

Best Christmas Cake recipe inside!
Best Christmas Cake recipe inside!

To help those Brit expats in the US looking for ingredients/substitutions I present here my version of this recipe – an ‘expat-proof’ US Christmas cake.  Photos are at the end of the post.

Ingredients for cake

  • 8 oz butter
  • 8 oz soft brown sugar (to soften rock hard sugar, put it in a bowl with a moist paper towel for a few hours/overnight)
  • 6 small eggs (no such thing in the US, use big eggs)
  • 9 oz self raising flour
  • 5 oz plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of mixed spice (no such thing in the US, use Pumpkin Pie Spice from Trader Joe’s – it’s basically the same thing)
  • 2 oz blanched almonds, chopped
  • 2 lb mixed fruit: sultanas, raisins, currants (of course, sultanas don’t appear to exist here, so just raisins and currants)
    • including 2 oz mixed peel if desired (not sure if it exists in the US – based on my other experiences, I’m going to say it doesn’t).
  • 8.5 fl oz brandy (cheap). Soak the fruit in the brandy for at least 24 hours before making the cake.
  • 4 oz glacé cherries (maraschino cherries)
  • lemon – 1/2 juice, all rind
  • 2 tablespoons black treacle (doesn’t exist, use molasses)

So the recipe is essentially as follows: cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time with a little sifted flour, add rest of dry ingredients, add rest of wet ingredients, add everything else.  Allow everyone in the house to stir the mixture and make a wish (very important).

Put the batter in a 9″ round or 8″ square tin. Bake in oven at 140C/285F for about 3 hours.

Ingredients for Icing

  • 1 lb marzipan (something else I couldn’t find in California – but did find in Massachusetts – so I got some from the internet which arrived JUST in time).
  • Apricot jam/preserve
  • 6 cups of icing sugar (confectioners/powdered sugar).

A few days before Christmas, smear the cake with the jam, roll out marzipan about 1/4 in thick and cover the cake, then add the first layer of icing.  The next day (at least), when the icing has hardened, add another layer.  Decorate if you can.

Voila! Merry Christmas!

Christmas Cake!
Christmas Cake!

Here are the ingredients and the recipe: