Category Archives: Cooking

Christmas Kitsch and Family Arguments

Every year on 1 December, with great ceremony, we bring this creature out of the cupboard.


We are Jewish but this doesn’t prevent us from embracing the spirit of Christmas. And what better way to do so than with a reindeer dressed up as Santa Claus who, when you squeeze its hoof, bobs about playing Santa Claus is Coming to Town?

Every year, as soon as it emerges, the same argument starts: is it a moose or a reindeer? Debating this point is at least as important as actually playing with it in the first place.

We are divided into two factions, with the older children on my husband Anthony’s side (in the moose camp) and the four-year-old supporting me (advocate of the reindeer theory).

Anthony argues that it’s a moose because it looks like a moose. It has a squishy flat nose like a moose, not a pointy one like a reindeer.

But obviously, it is a reindeer. Look at it. It has antlers. It has a Santa costume. It plays Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

I come from a family of scientists and, even though I’m not one myself, I’m a fervent supporter of evidence-based research and rational thinking.

But this isn’t a scientific question, and therefore an objective empirical approach is inappropriate. It’s all about context.

My late father-in-law, the excellent Bryan Reuben, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Technology, was a keen and very good cook. He had a baking tray in his house that he once mentioned had been used by his children, when they were small, to hold frogspawn.

I expressed concern over the fact that he was still cooking with a tray that had been formerly used to hatch tadpoles. (I don’t think I actually said ‘Bleeeuurrgghh!’ because I wouldn’t have been so rude – but that was the general gist.)

He said that the tray had been thoroughly sterilised and any amphibian organisms definitively extinguished many years ago. I replied that I completely understood that – but that it was the idea that it had been used to hold frogspawn that I found revolting. The fact that if you examined the tray under a microscope you would find no trace of its former use was simply neither here nor there.

Similarly, I don’t care how much, objectively, our jazz-playing reindeer looks like a moose. It’s obviously supposed to be a reindeer, and therefore it is a reindeer.

I canvassed opinion on the matter on Facebook and people were strongly divided.

My friend Gemma did have this key insight, though: ‘It could be a moose. They are great saxophonists. Reindeer are usually percussionists.’

Be that as it may, I feel the matter is finally closed.  I have discovered a hitherto unseen label on the reindeer’s back:

image1 (1)

Anthony has implied that I may have planted this message. I can’t believe he imagines that I’m so lacking in integrity and moral rectitude that I would be prepared to fake something of this nature.

Happy Christmoose.


Does your family like arguing for the enjoyment of it? And if so, what about?

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Invisible Fireworks and Burnt Toffee Apples

Every year on 5 November we have a fireworks party at our house, for our extended family. The first time we did so our son was a toddler and found the whole idea completely terrifying. So as it was my husband Anthony’s job to set off the fireworks, it was therefore my job to sit in the house with my son, the curtains closed, distracting him till it was all over.

By the time he grew old enough to enjoy the fireworks, our daughter was around. She was so petrified that she wouldn’t even be in a room with windows. She and I had to sit on the landing, as it was the only window-less room in the house. (Actually, the downstairs loo would have been another option – perhaps I got off lightly.)

This year she was brave enough to watch the display, but our younger son needed looking after…

So, every year we have a fireworks party at our house, but I never actually get to see the fireworks.

This problem pales into insignficance, however, next to the fiasco of the toffee apples. Last year I decided that as it was Bonfire Night, there had to be toffee apples. And buying them from a shop would obviously be far too simple and convenient. Homemade ones were the obvious answer.

Anyone who has made toffee will know that it requires your full concentration as you keep an eagle eye on the sugar thermometer while trying not to scald yourself.

So, with a house full of excitable kids getting ready for the party and asking questions, what better activity could I have chosen?

I got down the 10 litre cauldron we were given as a wedding present, and the satisfyingly enormous wooden spoon that we have to go with it. Into the cauldron went three blocks of butter and two pounds of brown sugar.

Thirty minutes later, I had a cauldron of burnt toffee.

So my immensely practical side kicked in. I realised straight away that it was essential not to let the mixture harden in the pan, making it impossible to clean. And you can’t pour molten toffee down the sink – that would be an immensely stupid thing to do. No, the answer I realised was to pour the whole lot straight into the bin. A cauldron full of caramel at 130ºC, into the bin…

Naturally, the bin bag melted, and as our kitchen bin has no bottom, vast amounts of molten toffee poured on to the floor.

Still I was calm and collected. Clearly, what was left of the bin bag had to be got outside. I doubled it up with another one, then carried it through the house to the dustbin.

What I didn’t realise is that the second bin bag had also melted (obviously), so that as I walked I left a trail of toffee all the way through the house, which stuck to the floor like superglue. The only way to get rid of it was to prise every single drip off with a knife.

Anthony took the bin outside to clean it, and I’m not sure how he did it, but it involved safety goggles. Amazingly, we are still married.

This year I tried again, and… success! The achievement felt even greater, because I managed it despite my daughter marching in halfway through the process and asking brightly, “Mummy, have you burnt the toffee yet?”

Toffee apples

So why exactly do we have a fireworks party every year? I’m really not sure, but it’s possibly something to do with the joyful faces of my older children and their cousins as they oooh and aaah at the magical display in the night sky.

I wouldn’t know – I never get to see their faces – or the fireworks they’re ooohing and aaahing at.

So what are your Bonfire Night experiences – good or bad? Do let me know in the Comments section!

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