Pear and frangipane tart

Serves 8

Henry Hitchings: What is myrrh anyway?

I was brought up to say "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Christmas". "Happy" was supposed to be kept back for birthdays and the New Year. But now, I've noticed, my mother insists on "Happy Christmas". Challenged about this apparent volte-face, she cites the tweeness of "Merry", an adjective which, as she points out, has also been tarnished by its association with drunkenness.

Tasty treats: Cook up some edible Christmas gifts

Still not done all your Christmas shopping? Then head for the kitchen.

Christmas fruit and nut cookies

Makes about 24

Skellig, Sage, Gateshead

Given that Skellig appears to be a smelly old tramp with an appetite for dead mice and decayed bluebottles, it's a relief that the new opera Skellig, commissioned by the Sage at Gateshead, doesn't go in for scratch-and-sniff technology. Even without the chance to experience that particular unattractive aspect of Skellig – a grouchy, winged creature whom young Michael finds and befriends – there is more than enough to engage listeners of all ages in this surprisingly successful children's opera.

Cherry clafoutis

Serves 6-8

Just add fresh air: Skye Gyngell's quick and easy al-fresco summer eats

This past winter has seemed the longest ever, so it is with great excitement and gratitude that we at the restaurant have welcomed in the blue sky and warmer days. We are eating outside most days now and the garden is full of tulips, peonies, early roses and dahlias. Warm-weather produce is also finally beginning to trickle in – asparagus, peas, broadbeans, the first deeply sweet, orange-fleshed melons from Italy as well as apricots and even a box of cherries. Basil has returned, one or two tomato varieties and the first peppers and aubergines.


Anchoïade is a sweet, salty, pounded paste from the South of France that is best eaten simply on toast. Use a pestle and mortar if you can – it gives a much more interesting, less homogenised flavour than the purée achieved in a Magimix.

It happened one Christmas

'Tis the season to tell a cracking good yarn. We asked five of our favourite columnists to reveal their Yuletide memories from first loves, via crazy horses, to doorstepping Felicity Kendal

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