12 days of LIFE at Christmas

For a bit of holiday cheer, join us over the break at LSE LIFE. Starting on Monday, 14 December, for twelve days until Christmas Day, we'll share some of our holiday favourites with you. From baked goods to films, views and walks in London to arts and crafts, a few tunes, and more! We'll unwrap new festive treats each day until Christmas!

14 December The great outdoors (in London!)

I recently visited Walthamstow Wetlands. Highly recommend a walk around the reservoirs. Make sure you wrap up warm and take a flask of coffee or vodka. I couldn't believe that I was still in London/ on the threshold of where the city ends and something else takes over at the upper edge of the reservoirs.

Like a good LSE student, the first thing I realised was that there was no definition of the urban takes into account the networks of pipes that allow for the flows of new (clean water) and the old (waste). So are the wetlands as much an urban landscape as the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street or the Strand?

Anyway, I really enjoyed picking up the canal towpath along Regent's Canal which runs right alongside the reservoirs. There is something nice about going from narrow, mucky canal water with quaint longboats with wood-fires burning to absolutely HUGE expanses of very blue, fresh water.

I can well image that for a Londoner who had never seen the sea before that they could be utterly convinced that they were staring across the English Channel and seeing French houses on the other side of the water. (I had to do a double take and I knew full well that I was in East London). The scale took me by surprise because I’m used to seeing reservoirs in the countryside not 5-minutes from a tube stop.

Overall, a good walk but brace yourself if you’re going in the Winter.



A popular walk for Londoners around Christmas time, and a particular favourite of mine, is this walk around Box Hill (10m/16km). It is quite hilly, so it's great for working off all of that Christmas food and drink!  It's quite easy to get to by train, and the website tells you the best way to get there. The website also offers suggestions for pubs to have lunch in - food and drink are important elements of a walk for me! A great day out!



15 December Sweet Treats & Baking

My mother started her own baking business in her early 50’s after completing a Return to Work programme. This was one of her best sellers. The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice reminds me of the family home at that time especially at Christmas when the kitchen and dining room were covered in a layer of icing sugar from all the mince pies being made in the kitchen.

Carrot Cake Recipe

Bowl 1:

1 medium egg

70 ml of light olive oil

100 g of soft brown sugar

Handful of grated carrots

Bowl 2:

90 g of self-raising flower

1/4 tsp of bicarbonate of soda

1/2 tsp cinnamon 

1/2 tsp mixed spice

1/4 tsp nutmeg

Handful of raisins (rolled in self-raising flower [to stop them sinking])

Mix together bowls 1 and 2 and put into a loaf baking tin and bake for around 40 minutes at 160 (fan oven) - test with a knife and if it comes out dry the cake is ready.

Take out of the oven, leave to rest for ten minutes and then take it out of the tin.

For the topping combine 100 g of full-fat cream cheese, 30 g of icing sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.



Hungarian baigli / Romanian walnut cake

Being half-Romanian, half Hungarian means that Holiday season (especially Christmas) has always been the highlight of the year. As both Romanians and Hungarians feel strongly about their dishes I found myself in the sweet spot of getting the best of both worlds.

One of my absolute favourite Christmas recipes is the Hungarian baigli (which my mother usually bakes 10 of each year as it is common to give some away to friends and family). The baigli is closely followed by the Romanian walnut roll. The filling to dough ratio is the reason why I prefer the baigli (which basically consists of 80% filling), but admittedly the Romanian walnut roll savoured with coffee in the morning is probably my all time favourite breakfast.

The recipes are not particularly easy (you do need some patience for baking a perfect dough) but it’s an especially fun activity to do with your family or flatmates. Why not try both and see which one best satisfies your sweet cravings. 

Hungarian Baigli recipe

Romanian Walnut Roll



16 December Books & Stories

East of Eden – John Steinbeck

This was one of the best swaps I ever made at Alpha Books – giving Simon three old paperbacks of mine in exchange for a copy of East of Eden that at most had been flicked through by its previous owner (despite a lovely message from a friend on its first page).

Up until that point I hadn’t read this novel, despite my passionate love for Steinbeck, because I was rather sceptical of its biblical allegories. Granted, I could have done without them, but the book remains so very beautiful.

For me East of Eden doesn’t have the literary significance of The Grapes of Wrath, and Adam Trask cannot compete with Tom Joad (chiefly because he’s just way, way too good a person). However, it is not too far behind, thanks to its epic family (hi)story and, crucially, the utterly fascinating secondary characters – the evil Cathy Ames, Samuel Hamilton (who, as far as old wise men go, is really second to none), and also Charles, whom I was really sorry to see disappear after Adam moves west.

And then there is Lee, who might be the best character Steinbeck ever created and who encapsulates so many of Steinbeck’s defining features as a writer – his dry humour, his wisdom, his awareness of the struggles of common people. 


Why Christmas tales? 

In our family the Christmas tradition is to gather around the Christmas tree (with real candles) in the evenings, eat our homemade cookies (grandfather’s recipe), and read stories to each other. However, we would not read the nativity story, but rather Christmas tales from around the world. Coming from Switzerland, most of these stories were based in continental Europe. This link presents five short Christmas tales from around the world (in English, of course) and thus stands in the same family tradition. 



17 December Arts & Crafts

Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)

Is a pile of sweets in the corner of a room a work of art? 

Yes, when it’s a commemoration of the love of your life, it has a weight of roughly 80 kg (the weight of said love before HIV started to take a toll on his body), and when visitors are encouraged to interact with the piece, unwrapping and eating the sweets and in this way becoming part of the death of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s partner Ross (and simultaneously taking part in an extremely touching celebration of his life). 


Origami Christmas

I was never into origami Christmas ornaments until I noticed my colleague from LSE LIFE create an origami star for our Christmas tree at LSE LIFE. Every year I look at the origami star and feel inspired by how creative one can be with paper. Thus, this year I’ve decided to create an origami Christmas ornament to put up on the LSE LIFE Christmas tree. Why not join me, here is a guide on how to create simple origami Christmas ornaments, select one to make and pop it onto the LSE LIFE Christmas tree when walking past. 

I very much look forward to seeing your Origami Christmas ornament on the tree.

I wish you merry Christmas and a Happy New year.


The Annunciation by Zanobi Strozzi at the National Gallery

Why this painting? There are so many reasons! Firstly, I love the National Gallery and can still remember how moved I was when I first visited it many moons ago. Secondly, I am a big fan of Renaissance paintings and, in particular, of Early Renaissance ones. Thirdly, this painting is full of symbols and I spent a lovely afternoon with my daughter, when she was very little, listening to one of the National Gallery curators telling us all about them. Go and see it. It’s free!



18 December Film, Theatre, and Dance

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Get into the festive spirit by watching the best Christmas movie ever Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Every Christmas day I snuggle up on my couch with a hot chocolate watching an 8-year-old Kevin McCallister protecting his family home on Christmas from two con men that plan to rob the McCallister residence. So, this year, why not join me from the comfort of your very own home by watching Home Alone 2 on Channel 4 on Christmas day (Friday 25th December) at 5:30pm.

Make it feel like Christmas this year by watching this Christmas classic. Believe me, it’s not to be missed!

Wishing you all merry Christmas and a Happy New year. 


Paterson – Jim Jarmusch

Winter break for me has to be slow-paced, and I can’t think of a better way to relax than seeing Adam Driver write (and read) poetry while the wonderfully energetic Golshifteh Farahani comes up with pretty wacky ideas on a daily basis and nightly encounters at the local bar appear as the best way to end a day for the characters. 

Personally, I think Jim Jarmusch is a genius, and if you’d like to read about his rules of filmmaking, you can find them here: https://www.faena.com/aleph/jim-jarmuschs-golden-rules-for-filmmaking



I absolutely love ballet and the more traditional the better. I have been privileged to see The Nutcracker a few times at Christmas but, last year, decided to innovate and went to see Sleeping Beauty instead. It has now become my favourite ballet and I would pay a lot of money to see the Rose Adage again!



19 December Keep Fit Indoors

Morning yoga

I never really got into yoga until my children introduced me to Yoga with Adriene. I really like her way of teaching and I’m in love with her dog! This particular session is the best way I have found so far to wake me up on cold morning.



This was the first online exercise video I did during lockdown - a COVID-19 necessity!  No doubt it will come in handy over the Christmas break!



Looking for some exercise to do indoors?  How about handstands?  They require no special equipment - just a bit of space.  Here's a quick way get started, using a wall, from my handstand teacher in London.  Or if you'd like a gentler start - here is a 30-day couch-to-handstand programme, free on YouTube! 

A few seconds and a few breaths in a handstand (or any version of upside-down, even if it's just folding over with your head towards the ground) are really refreshing!  I bet it has something to do with the blood flow around your brain... (a personal view, not a scientific claim).



20 December Easy listening: songs and podcasts

As some of you may know, I was born in Québec in a family where folk music and folk songs were very important. Any excuse for a good party was a good excuse! In particular, we would have large family gatherings at Christmas and New Year and sing and do some square dancing (“danser des sets carrés in French) until the wee hours of the morning. I still cannot hear that music without starting to foot tap (“giguer” in French). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVw6qOnZhF0



Some choice podcasts for holiday listening - or anytime!

Gangster Capitalism - opens the lid on the murky content of American capitalism. Lessons on how the rich and famous have bought their way into prestigious elite higher education. 

DUST - if you need to leave 2020 and for that matter planet earth for a few hours then you can get absolutely lost in these incredibly immersive science fiction stories.  

The Missing Crypto Queen - The Queen rode the wave of bitcoin and turned it into one of the biggest crimes of the century.



21 December London views

Burlington Arcade

For me Christmas in London cannot be without a visit to Burlington Arcade in Mayfair. The boutiques that line the arcade are the quintessence of British elegance. I have yet to buy something there (it’s rather expensive) but one can always dream! The Christmas windows of Fortnum & Mason just across the street are also something to behold.


In my part of town, the Parkland Walk is great for views of north London on cold, crisp mornings  

But of course there are great walks all across London.



22 December Savoury treats

Vegetarian lentil roast 

I discovered this recipe when looking for something that I could replace turkey in the traditional Christmas meal, and would go nicely with the roast potatoes and vegetables. I’ve always found nut roasts a bit boring, and this recipe enticed me with its cheesiness! 

I’ve served it for many Christmas dinners, and I’ve found that the meat-eaters also seem to tuck into it with gusto! 

Prep: 15 mins

Cook: 1 hour 20 mins 



225g red split lentils 

450ml vegetable stock 

1 bay leaf 

1 Tbsp butter/margarine softened 

2 Tbsp dried wholemeal breadcrumbs (or dried white breadcrumbs are fine) 

225g mature cheddar cheese, grated 

1 leek, finely chopped 

125g button mushrooms, finely chopped 

85g fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs 

2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped 

1 Tbsp lemon juice 

2 eggs, lightly beaten 

Salt and pepper 

Fresh flatleaf parsley sprigs to garnish 



1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas mark 5. Place the lentils, stock and bay leaf in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove and discard the bay leaf. 

2. Line the base of a 1kg loaf tin (approx. 24cm x 14cmx 6.5cm) with baking paper. Grease the tin and lining with the butter/margarine and sprinkle over the dried breadcrumbs. 

3. Stir the cheese, leek, mushrooms, fresh breadcrumbs and parley into the lentils. Bind the mixture together with the lemon juice and beaten eggs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour, or until golden.  

4. Loosen the loaf with a palette knife and turn out on to a warmed serving plate. Garnish with parsley and serve sliced, with roast vegetables and roast potatoes, or anything else you fancy! Gravy is also a welcome addition. I’m lazy, so I just use Bisto onion gravy, but I’m sure you can find a nice veggie gravy out there. 




Chicken Adobo

According to the NY Times, Chicken Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines.  As a vegetarian who has yet to visit the Philippines... I couldn't comment.  But I can heartily recommend this Cauliflower Adobo recipe to try!  Very tangy and tasty - and lovely with rice, bulghur, couscous, or another grain of your choice.  Adobo might be the most exciting thing ever to happen to a cauliflower.


1 large cauliflower (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)


2 teaspoons black pepper, plus more as needed

3 tablespoons canola oil, plus more as needed

1⁄2 cup rice-wine vinegar

5 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons brown sugar

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

3 bay leaves

1 chili, halved lengthwise, or 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes

3 scallions, thinly sliced, for serving


What to do with them

1. Trim leaves from the cauliflower, then cut through the root into 8 wedges. Season both sides of each wedge with salt and pepper. Reserve any loose cauliflower pieces.

2. In a large skillet or casserole, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Place one layer of the wedges in the skillet cut-side down and cook without moving them until well browned on one side, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and continue until all the cauliflower is seared, adding more oil as needed. Return all the cauliflower to the pan with uncooked side facing down.

3. Add 1/4 cup water, any loose cauliflower pieces, 2 teaspoons black pepper, rice-wine vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, bay leaves and chile. Cover and let simmer over medium heat until the cauliflower is crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.

4. Uncover, turn the heat to medium-high, and cook, basting the cauliflower occasionally with the sauce, until the cauliflower is tender and the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 3/4 cup, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Serve the cauliflower with plenty of sauce and a sprinkle of scallions. 



23 December Games

My children may have become young adults but we still love to play “Je m’en vais en voyage” (literally, “I’m going on a trip”), a memory game whose goal is to remember as many items as possible each participant proposes to bring, in turn, with them on their fictional trip. We play it during long car trips or just when having to queue before an event and always end up with a good laugh in view of the crazy items we propose to bring with us.


One of the most common phrases of 2020 has been ‘You’re on mute’. This game is made up of two teams plus a chair. The chair writes down three words, mouths them on mute, and a team has to guess the words. This is then repeated for the other team with a different set of words. Each correct answer gets a point. There are also quick-fire rounds where the first team to give the correct answer gets a point.



24 December Holiday Traditions

“He’s behind you!”
For a non-British person like me, of the most curious Christmas traditions in the UK is the pantomime. Slightly tacky, very silly, filled with predictable jokes and predictable endings, one could be excused for not being keen to go and see them. Yet, they are one of the most pleasant ways to spend an afternoon or an evening during the Christmas period. Unfortunately, theatres will be closed for the next few weeks but the National Theatre (just across the river from the LSE) is kindly throwing a Great British Panto Party and will transmit free of charge Dick Whittington on Wednesday 23 December on YouTube from 3pm onwards and this until 27 December. Here is the link to find out more about this.



While I don't really go in for big Christmastime celebrations myself, there is one thing I do at this time of year - sing Handel's Messiah with a few friends (and a few thousand strangers!) at the Royal Albert Hall.  (That's me in red.)

This is what it sounds like there, and here a rather more refined interpretation.  If you ever wanted to learn the Hallelujah chorus, here are tutorials for the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass parts.



My son was born on Boxing Day (and my daughter on Christmas Eve!) and while I was waiting for him to come, I started to decorate a little Christmas tree with childlike decorations. Over the years, my mother added to my stock of decorations. Like my children, the Christmas tree has grown but it retains its naïve character to which I am very attached. Merry Christmas! 



25 December Carols

If, like me, you're missing getting together with others to sing, check out the LSE carol service - where some of us sing Hark the Herald, Silent Night, and Once in Royal David's City.  No, we weren't singing in the same room.  And yes, I felt slightly idiotic singing to my iPad... But the magic of technology added some holiday spirit and (virtual) togetherness!    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiMQNi6q7OY



Christmas carols are awesome.  Rock stars are awesome. 

Put the two together and you have wonderful things like Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town (), with the gigantic Clarence Clemons as the greatest saxophone-playing Santa in history and Little Steven donning what is probably the most improbable piece of Christmas headgear ever seen on a stage. 

And what do you think of one of the most unexpected collaborations in Christmas music – David Bowie and Bing Crosby recording this version of The Little Drummer Boy (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n9kfdEyV3RQ)? 



Having studied Norwegian at BA level and being part of the Christmas Choir, followed by then spending a year in Iceland made me become totally biased when it comes to carols and Christmas songs. so that there is always a Nordic carol playing in the background around Christmas. Some songs are even part of my family’s Christmas playlist

Since I cannot pick one or two favourite songs, I suggest you give this playlist a go as it contains some of the most popular Norwegian Christmas songs.