Winter reader service part 2. Enforced entertaining.

It’s awful, isn’t it?  Round about this time of year, just when you are utterly skint, custom obliges you to entertain and feed people you never see from one year’s end to the next.  In the main they are seriously overstuffed anyway and will shovel their way through a dinner party whining endlessly about the diet they are contemplating in the new year just as soon as they’ve finished eating you out of house and home.  If you could text soup to students or were able to post a ready-cooked turkey to a homeless family in a third world country I could see the point of bankrupting yourself – but digging deeper into debt to stuff the whiny bursting?

If this is how you feel too, here at it is our pleasure to make your New Year bank statement another pleasure by making sure everyone gets their just desserts.  And starters.  And middle course, at as little cost as possible.  I’m confident these recipes, inspired by that posh restaurant in the harbour that champions the art of foraging for ingredients and that chap who does the surprise food made of something else, will easily outsell Mr Oliver’s latest oeuvre because it speaks to your deepest, most heartfelt, human feelings at this time of year, namely financial panic and deep loathing of sponging relatives.

Without further delay I’m thrilled to present the
Festive winter menu for enforced entertaining.

Deep fried melon rinds.
Save the rinds from melons you may have enjoyed some weeks ago, drying them out on the radiators, on top of the socks.  Cut them into handy bite-sized pieces and deep fry them in old sump oil.  Not delicious but will keep them so occupied trying to chew there’ll be a pleasing dearth of the usual fatuous conversation.  If you give them enough you may be completely spared the details of how well little Johnny did in the school play as the donkey’s bottom.

Herring nests.
Once again a little forethought in the weeks running up to the festive season can save so much.  Money.  Keep a little empty pot by the sink, scraping all the fish bones into it as you find them.  Spend happy evenings when the winter television is so reliably dreadful, fashioning the bones into miniature woven nests.  To serve, deep fry each in second-hand chip shop oil (out the back of the shop by the bins in gallon plastic drums; they’ll pay you to take them away when the council cuts bite and the bin men go on strike).  Scoop each out of the oil after a few moments, (let’s face it, frying isn’t going to make them more edible, just a different colour) dredge with salt and place three olives (local cocktail bar counter dishes at closing time) in each. Serve on a plate decorated with a blob of tomato ketchup (in little, hardly-used packets in the chip shop bins) put on the plate first and artistically smeared round the rim with a thumb. Once again a reliable conversation killer.

Stuffed bread.
I’m amazed no one thought of this before.  Take bread rolls (from local restaurant dustbins) hollow out with a spoon and stuff with the bread, crumbed, with additional shredded bread (local lawns and park duck ponds) dried mixed herbs (found in the supermarket  display of boxed herbs, on the shelf at the bottom – all the bits that have fallen out of the boxes over many years – take an extra shopping bag) and salt (easily collected in icy weather behind gritting lorries). Bind the stuffing together with egg (listen by the nests of early nesting species of local birds for cuckoos and wait underneath with a hat), stuff the rolls with the mixture and deep fry.

Salted bird nuts.
It’s incredible how many people put out perfectly edible nuts for the birds.  A quick tour of local gardens with a shopping bag should cater for your guests’ snacking needs throughout the festive season.  A little bowl or two on the table, with the squirrels removed, looks festive, a little bowl or four looks abundant. 

No.  Do you really believe they want to stuff themselves with anything so healthy?  If you really can’t break the habit of offering vegetables, a scout round the local dustbins on any newish estate housing  young couples with children at this time of year will provide an abundance of ready-cooked sprouts.  Just peel off the outer leaves and the broken plastic toys and microwave.

It’s hard to credit that people who are already stuffed with more chocolate than the average annual production of Ecuador will still welcome more artery-thickening chocolate.  But they will.  So why not put out an amusing platter of petites fours?

Equal amounts of ground up sugar lumps and instant custard powder or sauce (motorway cafes’ on-table paper packets) mixed together with rubbing alcohol (local hospital) formed into small rolls and coated with free samples of dog chocolate from the vet (at least they’ll have shiny hair).

Dried saved carrot tops cut into circles and coated in smashed sugar lumps (motorway cafes again).

Frozen mint roots. (Straight out of the garden.  It’s a highly invasive plant so you’ll be doing yourself a favour next summer.)

Crispy (deep fried)  coffee filters (local Starbucks).

I’m sure you’re getting the hang of this now.  Tour the pubs at closing time with a bucket to harvest the drip trays and run some compressed air through it at the local garage while you’re filling your tyres and there’s your beer.  Go to a wine tasting for the wine, taking an empty bottle to ‘taste at home’.  Finish with a pot of tea brewed from your ‘one careful owner’ re-dried teabags and there you have it.  Not only the cheapest way of entertaining but also the last, as word of your largesse spreads, so will your visitors dwindle.  Objective achieved.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ wishing you a miserly Christmas.

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