Sugar and Spice

Sweets for my sweet, sugar for my honey’, you know the old Drifters’ song? It could be the anthem for Christmas as we enter the annual sugar-fest, gearing-up our already sugar-laden diet to push ourselves beyond the limit of what we know to be good for us. It all looks so pretty though, the shelves and stalls laid out in an irresistible fashion in shops and German Christmas markets. How tempting it is to buy a little something for the stocking, a tiny add-on, a token for someone who has been so good to us all year. My head is easily turned and by pink and white sugar mice, marzipan snowmen, chocolate gold coins, and striped peppermint candy canes. I know I should be going for quality and not quantity though. Quality sweets and chocolates as opposed to those big plastic tubs of ‘Quantity’ Street that are placed at the checkout and reduced to a price where it would seem like bad manners not to.

The old saying, ‘too sweet to be wholesome’ didn’t fall from the sky, though. Applied to a cloyingly over-pleasant person, someone who might be trying that little bit too hard to befriend by ingratiating themselves with syrupy words. Our radar goes up and we can spot them a mile away – we don’t like someone who over does the saccharine. My nana used to say it, I think maybe the older generation was more prone to suspicion and eyebrow-raising than we, the over-sharing generation, are. Nonetheless, she could spot a charlatan a mile off through their over-sugared words and actions. She loved her sweets, though: clarnico mint creams, mint imperials, liquorice torpedoes and midget gems were favourites of hers; and all of them, too sweet to be wholesome. The difference was, we ate fewer of them back then – or is my memory playing a trick on me? I know it is not yet the time of year to pursue new resolutions for a wholesome path, that’s for a fortnight’s time. Sometime in the next 10 days, we are still very likely to utter the words, “I’m stuffed, will someone please pass me the After Eights?” But, without setting any radical resolutions, maybe we could pull back a little on what’s available. Rein ourselves in.

Today, in a marvellous stroke of self-contraction, I’m doing some Christmas baking. I know it is late for the big stuff, the cakes and puddings, but they have already been taken care of. The pudding got the train up from Yorkshire a couple of weeks ago and the cake is soon to fly over from Ireland. (Life hack of the day: enhance your life by organising travelling sweetmeats.) I’m doing the smaller stuff today, things with a shorter shelf life: mince pies, shortbread, and the like. I will use spices – cinnamon and ginger, natural anti-oxidants, so they say. And there will be some nuts in the ingredients – nuts are good for you, aren’t they? But will it all be entirely wholesome? Of course not, it’s Christmas, after all.

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