Yesterday N and I finished worked at lunchtime and headed into the city centre to do a bit of Christmas shopping. Manchester pulls out all the stops in terms of the number of Christmas markets that it features – around 5 or 6 dotted around the centre. Albert Square is the European Market, St Ann’s Square the German Market, Brazennose Street the World Market, Exchange Street the Arts & Crafts Market, and New Cathedral Street the Manchester Christmas Market.
We hopped off the tram at St Peter’s Sqaure and cut through to Albert Square – the European Market held here is probably the best way to start off your tour of the Manchester Christmas markets as it is a large square with lots of “streets” of wooden market cabins and a large log chalet bar in the middle selling Gluhwein. It’s a hub where everyone seems to congregate and there’s a nice feel to it. We then made our way down to the World market which I always seems to find the least interesting, which is odd considering a great many treasures in our house are ethnic pieces collected from around the globe. On to St Ann’s Square and finally to the ‘posh’ market in front of the designer shops.
A couple of hours later and we left the markets laden down with our goodies…two Camembert from Normandy… It’s safe to say N and I have discovered we aren’t really into the whole Christmas shopping thing. It made me feel strangely odd, like there was something wrong with me. Why wasn’t I rushing about in Marks & Spencer with my basket (I didn’t even have a basket) full of selection boxes of biscuits? Why wasn’t I in the crowd at the market stall selling large glowing rocks? Why didn’t I think my granny would like a giant plastic-wrapped iced gingerbread Christmas tree?
We really enjoyed the buzz at the Christmas markets; the fantastic wafts of cooking sausages, Raclette, mulled wine, and soaps as you passed different stalls; the lines of Christmas trees and bunches of red berries; even the fake snow shooting from a fake chimney atop a fake log cabin which combined with the smell of burning frankfurters resembled ash from a bonfire. We enjoyed all these things. We really enjoyed putting the heaters on full-whack in the car to defrost our numb fingers and bums after spending five minutes sitting on a platform after getting on the wrong tram.
So even though I had a crisis of confidence in my ability to be a British citizen and enjoy frenzied Christmas shopping for tat, I am comforted in the knowledge that I still like that Christmassy feeling – and part of that is (watching other people) on their made Christmas shopping sprees. I am firm in the knowledge that I love shopping, but it’s for food. There were some truly fantastic cheese stalls and I wish I had more money and a set of spare arteries to indulge in my love for cheese. To come home with only two Camembert is very restrained and probably due part to N being there for that look that says ‘Charlie, do we really need more cheese…?’ The Camembert will be saved (somehow!) for Christmas eve, removed from their wrapping, replaced in their box, bunged in the oven to be baked to a gooey deliciousness and served with crusty bread.
For those who share my love for all things cheese here is the recipe for the baked Camembert.
Camembert baked in the box
Enough for 2
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Remove the cheese from its plastic wrapper and put it back into the wooden box.
Slice a cross into the top of the Camembert. At this point you can put the lid on and bung it in the oven, but if you want you can do the following to it first. Rub the top of the cheese with the cut garlic clove, drizzle a little white wine into the centre where you made your slices, and stick a sprig of thyme into the top.
Bake the Camembert in its box with the lid on for 25-30 minutes when it should be hot and bubbling.
Serve with crusty white bread cut into chunks that can be dunked into the melted cheese. Eat beside a crackling fire on Christmas Eve.
*This dish also works well with Vacherin Mont d’Or – a fantastic French cheese that is wrapped in spruce bark and only available in the Autumn and Winter months – perfect for Christmas. Best served for more than two as it’s larger and richer than baked Camembert.