As you read this, I'm in Berlin (c/f last week on My First Ever Minibreak). But as I write it, I'm not. I leave tomorrow. My out-of-office is already enabled, my bag already packed. So much as I'd like to regale you with tales of affordable accommodation I can't. Yet.
In the meantime, something else: Christmas. No, not Christmas Gift Guides (done), or premature Christmas fever (still to come). But Christmas Cake. Because while I might abhor the artificial cheer that accompanies mid-October carols piping through shops, there's nothing I like more than making the Christmas cake weeks in advance. Leave it much later than the end of November – this year "Stir Up Sunday" falls on the 20th – and you might as well not bother. It won't have nearly enough time to soak up all the lovely booze you're going to feed it.
Which is why I've already made mine. I always make a Christmas cake. I love it: the stirring, casting a wish as you go, the baking, the gradual feeding and nurturing, the big unveil – and the eating, of course. It's not cheap, but it has, to me, always been worth it.
But my goodness, the waste! I've still got currants, somewhere, left over from last year. Buy all the ingredients and you'll end up spending far more that you would on a ready-made cake. Which is all very well if it's not the week before payday, with your bank balance looking perilously low.
It didn't help that, this year, I'd resolved to shake up my recipe a little. Instead of sticking to the usual trio of dried fruit (raisins, sultanas, currants), I'd resolved to introduce some novelties into the mix. I wanted figs. Prunes. Apricots. I wanted variety – and variety costs.
So I did something I would never usually have countenanced. I bought a ready-to-bake kit from Waitrose. A shortcut refusenik, this is virtual blasphemy in my kitchen. But a few factors won me over. First of all – no actual cooking had been done. Just measuring. So instead of wasting money on giant packs of fruit, flour, sugar and – the ultimate cupboard-clogger – treacle, I got just what I needed. Also, it was Delia, whose recipe I tend to use anyway – so the measurements conformed, and I could tinker with them as I pleased. Finally, it was only £10. Much less than the £20 I spent on ingredients last year. Best of all, I even had a few quid left over for figs, etc. So this year, my cake will be cheap and interesting. And what's more festive than that?