Christmas Wish List

imagesPredictable, but I’d really like this book….(I think my brother might be on to this already)

imagesI made one of Kat’s oxtail, steak and kidney pies a few weeks ago. Actually I think I made three and it took four nights (some coming from the freezer) to eat them. However, I didn’t have a proper pie dish and it was difficult to get the pastry to stick down at the edges. Steak pie has been one of our dinner menu ‘hits’ this year so I’d like to continue that into 2014 without resorting to Fray Bentos (unless we are in the caravan). So, Father Christmas, I’d like one or two (or three) of these falcon ware dishes from 24cm upwards to 28cm.

imagesMmmm, now, I don’t usually go for a lot of make-up but I quite fancy some of this. Having been told today, in no uncertain terms, that now is the time to “invest in your skin” a bit of Clarins Beauty Flash Balm could be just what I need.

imagesI’d love a pair of pinking shears. I’m not sure why because I don’t sew much. Can I really justify a pair of these when the most exciting thing I’ll make is jam pot covers?

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6a00e551101c548834019b01bfaec2970b-500wiBuying a magazine is such a luxury, they are quite expensive and I don’t indulge in them very often. I’m bored of the glamourous end of women’s magazines because I’m not particularly interested in celebrities, make-up or fashion. I could have a very happy time reading one of these though. I’d get to enjoy the reading and visuals and then perhaps make some of the projects they contain. I’d love a subscription to these but I’d be more than happy to receive just one of them (it’s my birthday this month too you know). Look here and here for subscription pages. Simply Crochet has an offer at the moment…

imagesI’ve been using blue and white cornishware since I bought some in a sale before I went to University. I have only ever owned seconds so some of my plates are a bit wobbly, but that’s ok, I’m fine with that. Unfortunately there have been a few breakages over the years and I am now down to three, 15.5cm cereal bowls. The pattern I have got is not so easy to buy either, it’s called cloverleaf and only has the stripes on the inside of the bowl. I’m trying to bid for a few on ebay but if anyone spots any…

Oral-B_Vitality_Precision_Clean01_DetailImg_OWMy electric toothbrush has conked out after three years use. I changed the head onto my son’s but then that started playing up. It kept switching itself on in the middle of the night! Anyway, I will be getting myself a new one eventually unless Father Christmas comes up trumps. Maybe I could just have a voucher for Boots to contribute to the cost?

imagesOur sofa could do with some new cushions like this and this and this and this and this and this and this. Get the idea? I like checks and stripes and geometrics in reds, naturals and maybe a bit of aqua/light teal. Actually, what I really want is a LARGE cushion cover to go over the large cushion we already have. It’s approximately 22″x22″, is regularly fought over by the children and is becoming rather threadbare. What I like about the current cover is that the pattern is very busy and quite dark. Great for not showing marks. So although I like the look of the cushions I’ve linked to above, if anyone sees something with those general themes and colours but much bigger, I’d be very impressed. Failing that, maybe I’ll have to get stitching. Ideally I’d like another two cushions in the same big size so that there are no more squabbles. I’d be happy just to get the cushion pads and then I’ll have to get crafty to cover them.

Well, I think that’s the end of my list. This is completely self indulgent so please forgive me (and please don’t ask me what my husband wants).

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Happy Christmas

IMG_5698Happy Christmas everyone. I hope you are still enjoying the festive season.ChtiIMG_5813Christmas takes a lot of organising. I think I spent most of the weekend at my table wrapping. I am eternally grateful to my brother for taking my eldest two children out on Saturday and to my Mum for entertaining them for a big part of Sunday.

IMG_5819It’s not all hard work though. The Husband and I were able to enjoy a proper breakfast on Sunday as I wrapped gifts while still wearing my PJ’s.

IMG_1172As you can see, I found a fruit cake to decorate. It’s been wrapped up in a tin for a while (not sure why we didn’t eat it)  but it seems ok. On the 23rd The Husband and I had a busy night in the kitchen. Between us we made florentines, cranberry sauce, sweet pastry, special jellies and a batch of royal icing. Actually, I made the florentines, The Husband made the rest (and our supper). In my defence, florentines are very labour intensive and I did also manage to put a layer of almond paste on the cake.IMG_1167The next day, while I was out doing some last minute shopping with The Middle Miss, The Husband baked mince pies with Babykins and covered the cake in icing. I love a good snow scene. It’s completely in the spirit of Christmas – over the top in every way. We had so much icing left over he decided it would be a good idea to dab some on the mince pies.IMG_1171The jellies were made in our relatively new but very well used, tree shaped, silicon mould. I bought some lime jelly a week or two ago with this in mind… IMG_1173It worked well as a gluten-free pudding on Christmas day as well as treat for the children. Using the silicon mould worked really well. They all popped out easily without being dipped in hot water.

Father Christmas was good to us this year.

IMG_1175Our living room is still trashed from the present opening. I really should be sorting out all the piles of paper, plastic and cardboard ready for recyling. Instead it’s still stuffed into the biggest gift bag I had, cluttering up the corner of the room.
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My Mum’s house is probably tidy now but on the evening of Christmas day there was a big box full of waste paper in her living room too. As you can see, my children had a great time diving in it. They kept shutting themselves in the box so we teased them that we would parcel them up and ship them off to visit their Great Aunt in Canada. You can’t beat playing in a big box at Christmas.IMG_1261
I hope you had fun this Christmas.

Christmas Traditions

All families have their own favourite Christmas traditions. Here are a few of ours (NB: if you are a family member you are hereby banned from reading any further or one of your Christmas surprises may be spoiled)…

Receiving cards that the children have made at school.

IMG_1149Bottling up eggnog. Do you like our special, patriotic 2012 Christmas tree?

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Wrapping ‘tree presents’. After Christmas dinner the fairies leave little gifts around the Christmas tree. They all come with a riddle-like clue attached and you have to try and guess what your gift is before you open it.

IMG_1152Making decorations for the top of the Christmas cake. I’ve been very lax with icing Christmas cakes in the last few years but tomorrow will see the creation of a full-on, traditional ‘snow-scene’.

IMG_1154Cranberries popping their skins in the process of becoming sauce

IMG_1156Baking florentine biscuits. It’s been a few years since I did this and my word, it is a faff. I think I have perfected the technique tonight after a lot of trial and error. Now I just have to dip them in chocolate and work out how to package them.

IMG_1163As I write this it is officially Christmas Eve. In about seven hours my children will wake up on the third most exciting day of their year (after Dec 25th and their birthdays). We have got a really busy day planned tomorrow and it will no doubt be a long one. However I think it will be a lot of fun. We’re going to the Panto, a trip that could well become another Christmas Eve tradition along with putting out a snack for Father Christmas.

I’d like to wish you all a very Happy Christmas and to all hard-working parents, may the god of deep sleep be with your children tomorrow night!

Birthday Treats

Well, yes, it is in fact my birthday and yes, I love having my birthday so close to Christmas.

As one gets (ahem, whisper it) older, one requires much less from a birthday celebration.

My only requirement these days is Breakfast In Bed.

As you can see from the picture, it doesn’t have to be gourmet. Tea, toast and orange juice are perfect as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure why Son Number One thought I would like a cream cracker. May I say I don’t normally drink out of plastic lidded beakers or camping mugs. Husband deemed it wise, for son number one was intent on carrying the breakfast tray in to me. I think I may have spent the day in the burns unit if it hadn’t been for Husband’s foresight. Son Number One was soooo excited about organising my breakfast in bed. He had also been at great pains to create a specially decorated box. Grandma had helped with the gift inside. He has obviously been having lessons from his father because the box was big and the gift was…small (but appreciated).

It was probably lucky that the Middle Miss slept in while he did it. Sharing such responsibilities can be tricky for all concerned.  Luckily for me, they took their turns at giving me birthday cuddles. Even Babykins stayed asleep a little longer than usual so I could get in the shower in peace.

Do you want to see what was inside those two packages?

Lovely things. Made by mmum. There was something else too. A very cleverly made, large, paper bauble. MadebyMum’s Mum is big into paper craft at the moment of which, more evidence later…

How about my cards, would you like a peek a those?

Slushy eh?

We made a hasty exit to my Mum’s place because our hairdresser was coming to give us our pre Christmas trim. There was another present and card to open. Here is what was inside.

Isn’t my Mum clever? I told you she was into paper craft in a big way. If you are local and you want to get into this kind of thing, there is a lovely lady called Angela Dawes who runs classes from her home in Ingleby Barwick. You can find her blog, Sparkly Cards and Paper Crafts here. It’s worth a look.

It felt like there were a million things going on at Mum’s. The hairdresser was chop chopping, there was a team of men outside mending the roof who kept shouting for cups of tea and three children needed breakfast. It felt hectic because every couple of seconds we were looking out to see where babykins was. He is practically running already despite being not quite one (eight more days).

Finally, the activity subsided and some quiet crafting occurred.

Would you like to see ‘The Workshop’?

See the organisation. It’s taken years.

Middle Miss drawing a Christmas Tree

What are we cutting out here?

More of Mum’s clever papery things

Remember I said there was another gift from my Mum? A big, paper bauble? Well, the flowery things being cut out in the photos above are the start of another one. We downloaded the pattern from How About Orange. I haven’t had time to browse this blog but what I have seen looks FAB. The finished bauble looks like this (top left).

Sorry it’s not a great picture (try and ignore the background). The light was fading. It is the solstice you know, shortest day and all that.

Isnt’ that clever? The person who designed it must be really good at thinking in 3D. It really was easy to make, occasionally a bit fiddly but really, not that bad. There are next to no instructions other than ‘cut out the shapes’ and ‘slide them together’. My only complaint was that I couldn’t seem to avoid having two adjacent colours the same. I’m not mathematically minded enough to work out how many different shades I need to cut out in order to avoid  that. There are 12 ‘flowers’ all together so let me know if you are good at that kind of thing. I tried three and that wasn’t enough either. Maybe I should try 12!

So now I am having another little bit of quiet time. Babykins asleep, bigger children still with Grandma. What should I do?

Hmmm……

Birthdays don’t come everyday. You’ve got to make the most of them.

Happy Solstice.

 

 

Under Pressure?

Are we under pressure to create the perfect homemade Christmas? I sincerely hope that anyone landing here doesn’t feel pressured. I like making things, it’s a hobby, a bit of fun (I don’t get out much you know).

I heard Kirsty Allsop talking on this subject a few days ago on the Jeremy Vine show. You might think that she would be all for homemade Christmases. She had obviously been booked because of her ‘Homemade Home‘ programme. In the adversarial nature of the Jeremy Vine show she was clearly expected to oppose the other woman who had been booked. In fact, they both agreed that homemade or home cooked items should be included in Christmas plans only to the extent that you are happy with. For some people that is not at all. It was refreshing to hear two women not attacking each other on this subject.

There are plenty of Christmassy things that I would like to make but can’t or won’t find the time for. When Christmas comes, it’s fairly likely I will have been and bought the stuffing for the turkey. In my BC (before children) days I would have revelled in peeling chestnuts and creating a delicious stuffing (yes I know how sad that sounds). These days, I don’t have  that kind of dedication to dinner. Enjoying time with my family is more important. However, when they are old enough to really help out with Christmas dinner tasks, I will encourage them to get stuck in. For the mean time, they are welcome into the kitchen to ‘help’ in their own way but I have to be realistic about what that means. I don’t think even I can train a four and six year old well enough to peel the sprouts and roast the spuds.

Fourth Generation Fruitcake

Christmas Cake

I started to make a Christmas cake yesterday. I’ve been putting it off for a while because it is a fairly time consuming thing to do. Yesterday it felt like a job that couldn’t be put off much longer. After all, in four weeks, it’ll be the BIG DAY!!!!

I much prefer a homemade Christmas cake. Shop bought ones are not the same. They don’t taste the same, they aren’t the right size and there is just no romance about them. Baking one makes me think of the generations of my family who have made similar cakes through the years.

I remember my Mum confusing me one September morning by announcing that she was baking a Christmas cake. That must have been a super organised year. My child’s brain couldn’t compute the idea of baking a cake and not eating it for three months. Mum always made the effort, despite the fact that she also had a full time job. Inevitably, cake baking was a weekend activity so I could get involved too. My jobs were greasing the tin and then holding the string as she tied the brown paper around. I also helped with blanching the almonds. I still get a feeling of satisfaction from fishing them out of near boiling water and popping the wrinkled skins off.

We had a neighbour who made beautiful rich fruitcakes. My Mum was always envious of the flat, un-cracked surface that he always seemed able to produce. The fact that he was an old widower was yet another source of confusion to me. What was an old man doing baking perfect cakes? Wasn’t that what wives were for?

My Mum’s maternal Grandmother also baked cakes. However, it was her husband’s role to ice them in crisp, white, piped royal icing. It wasn’t his main trade, he was a joiner/carpenter in everyday life. Apparently he somehow acquired his icing skills by watching an army chef during his time serving in the first world war. It seems like a strange use of time in such a conflict but who am I to argue with the testimony of my oldest living relative – Aunty Betty. When I asked her about Christmas cake traditions in her childhood she told me that her maternal Grandmother used to pay for the ingredients for a small fruit cake (1/4 lb of butter in each, I guess it would be approximately 5-6 inches) for each of her grandchildren. Betty’s Mother would bake them and her Dad did the icing. It was a skill that he passed on to her. She said she used to always have a ‘headache’ when he was icing so that she could stay op and watch. In my childhood, whenever there was an important family celebration, Aunty Betty was called upon to create an iced sensation. I think our wedding cake was probably one of the last ones she did and that was back in 2000. She will be 90 next year and has not quite got the strength to hold and squeeze an icing bag for long enough.

These days royal icing has gone slightly out of fashion. I still love it, partly for the nostalgia and partly because it tastes about a million percent better than ready roll fondant. It’s not really as versatile but it can be extremely beautiful in the hands of an expert. The trouble is that it takes a lot of practice to become an expert.

Anyway, I think I’d rather have no Christmas cake than a shop bought one.

These days, I rarely have enough time to make a large fruit cake in one go. There is always a child that needs attention. Stage one involves measuring out all the dry(ish) ingredients: weigh and sieve the flour, sugar and spices, mix up the fruit, chop the cherries and nuts, grate the lemon rind. I also measure out the butter and prepare the tin. Often I do this in the evening, after the children have gone to bed.

Mmmm, how yummy does that look?

Next day I can get on with stage two, the actual mixing. If I’m making a particularly large cake just cracking and mixing the eggs takes a little while. I learnt by painful experience never to add the eggs directly to those that have already been opened. Each egg gets cracked into a cup and then added to a bigger jug ready to be beaten. I once cracked the last of about 15 eggs into the previous 14, only to discover it was bad. Eeuurggh. An expensive mistake! Mum didn’t teach me that tip.

My (well used) recipe of choice

I have a Kenwood Chef mixer that can cope with the complete mixture for an eight inch round fruitcake. Any bigger than that and I only beat the butter and sugar in it and maybe as much egg as I dare. Then I tip everything into a big plastic trug for folding in the flour, fruit and nuts. For very big cakes I often use my hands at this stage. My husband went to catering college and that was the way he was taught. It really is the easiest way when you are working with such big quantities of mixture.

Teapot at the ready – it’s thirsty work baking cakes

Finally there is the baking. Smallish cakes are not too much of a commitment, only taking a couple of hours. Once you start to get into big cakes you have to make sure you’re not going to have to get up in the night to check on them! At this time of year it is a pleasure to have the oven on all day, wafting the smell of Christmas into the air. It’s not so much fun in the summer. I know. Last year I made four fruit cakes of various sizes in one June weekend.

In our house there are a lot of birthdays (three) over the festive period so in reality, the Christmas cake can often double up as a birthday cake. This year we will be celebrating babykins first birthday between Christmas and New Year so I am intending to make (at least) two small rich fruitcakes. One will be available for a Christmas day supper snack, round about the time the first turkey sandwiches appear and the other one can be a reserve. It might even end up as a gift.

Done, though slightly sunk so perhaps another baking day is in order

I never really leave myself enough time to cover them in almond paste and ice them in the style I would like. Some years we just eat them, as they are, un-iced. Some years I manage a covering on the top (the ubiquitous ‘snow scene’) and a ribbon around the sides. Very occasionally I get myself into gear and ice them all around with proper piping and everything. Whatever I manage, Christmas cake always tastes better with a lump of Wensleydale cheese. Mmmmmmm, I can almost taste it.