Monday, 26 December 2011

The Mince Pies, The Table And The Tree

Yes, some got  a little burnt!  Must have been the cooking sherry!

The Gingerbread House 2011

I don't think I need to say anything more about Gingerbread Houses that hasn't already been said, but here is our latest one that we made on Christmas Eve.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas

I know I've not been blogging much recently and I intend to rectify this next week - I'm going to start as I mean to go on.  But to all those who have taken the time to read my meagre offerings - thank you and I wish you and your families a very happy Christmas and I hope that Santa Claus brings you all that your hearts' desire.  Good luck with all the cooking over the next couple of days and hope that you find the time to enjoy every moment of it.  MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT.


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Time Is Running Out ......................

Does any one else feel that they are running out of time already?  I haven't had time to blog or make any cakes - I feel pulled in so many different directions - and this week is the last week to finish the girls' presents because school finishes at lunchtime Friday.  I like to have everything bought and wrapped for them before school finishes, otherwise there is the risk of being "caught in the act", so to speak.  When they were small, I would hide everything until Christmas Eve and then after they had gone to bed I would wrap their presents - doesn't quite work like that anymore really.  I think once I get to Monday I should be able to concentrate on just the food - if not, I think a stiff drink of something will be called for (to be taken with food every four hours - not really, only joking).

And, I'm sorry if this is going to offend but did anyone actually ask Sally Bercow for her opinion on Kirstie Allsop's programme?  If it was so awful, why was she watching it?  So, for the record, I like it, my younger daughter and I like watching it together and  are planning to have a go at the snow globes and the gift tags - I've ordered my metal letter stamps - just need the acrylic paint.  So, Sally - it may not be your cup of tea - but it suits many of us and if you think you are being insulting - you are not.  I would rather be like Kirstie Allsop any day than be anything like Sally Bercow - my advice to you would be to spend a little more time being a supportive wife and mother and less time on your self promotion and ridiculously childish attention seeking behaviour.

Right, I've got that off my chest, I should really get a twitter account - in fact that's going to be on my list of things to do for the new year.

So, off to continue with the Christmas run-up frenzy - good luck.

Friday, 2 December 2011

The Gingerbread House

Finally we made the Gingerbread House yesterday, although I had originally planned to make it earlier so that we had plenty of time for decoration.  Anyway, we decorated it last night - spent a good hour and a half - felt rather sick at the end from eating so many sweets!  The house has gone into school this morning - hope it looks just as good tomorrow and that it sells raffle tickets!

Here are the photos, although they're not as good as I would have liked, and it's too late now to take more, will just have to wait until we make our own - next week probably.

The snowmen are looking a little drunk, but on the whole we are rather pleased with it - maybe the photographs of our own - when we make it - will be somewhat better.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The First Wish of Christmas

I received an email from my sister in Australia this morning - so I thought I would share this with everyone ..............

Dear God,

My Prayer for 2012 is for a fat bank account and a thin body,

Please don't mix these up, like you did last year.


So, pinch punch for the first day of the month to you all.  Day one of the Advent calendars has been opened.

Today's task is to prepare the Gingerbread House for decorating this evening by myself and youngest daughter to take to school tomorrow - raffle prize for Saturday's Christmas Market.  Pictures to follow tomorrow.

My second prayer would be for the parcel I sent to my sister on 9th November to arrive today!  Can you guess what it is I sent her in what I thought would be good time. 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Sugar Plum Fairy Cupcakes

Okay, so Christmas is the time for the Nutcracker ballet, and the ballet is about Christmas so this was my inspiration for these cupcakes.  The second inspiration was a tv programme about cupcakes in America and some cupcakes that once cooked had their centre removed with an apple corer and were filled with buttercream, well, I didn't want buttercream inside and outside a cupcake so I decided to put damson jam inside them instead.  So, I made six plain cupcakes and six with jam inside them whilst baking.  With the cakes cooked with the jam sandwiched in the middle, some of the jam seeped out and down the side of the cake case - not good - but tasted wonderful still warm.  The other cakes, I removed the centre with an apple corer, put half a teaspoon of damson jam in the space created and then popped the small piece of cake from the apple corer and put it back to cover the jam filled hole (hope this makes sense).

Once cool, I made up some fondant icing (fondant icing sugar from a packet mixed with water) - unfortunately I didn't weigh the icing sugar nor measure the amount of water used, then covered the tops of the cakes with the fondant, sprinkled with a little edible pink glitter and topped it off with a white chocolate blackcurrant.

There are so many cupcake recipes around that it seems pointless giving a recipe here but I will list the ingredients and the method for making them just in case there is someone out there who needs it!


110g/4oz unsalted butter, room temperature
110g/4oz caster sugar
2 eggs
140g/5oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbs milk

damson jam - or jam of choice

fondant icing

White Chocolate blackcurrants
Edible glitter

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Cream the butter and sugar together and add the eggs one at a time.  Sift the flour and baking powder together and add to the mixture a little at a time.  Add the milk and mix again.

Either - spoon one teaspoon of mixture into the bottom of the paper cases, then one teaspoon of jam followed by a further large teaspoon of mixture or just fill each paper case with two teaspoons of mixture.
Bake in the centre of the oven for approximately 20 minutes and then test the cakes with either a skewer or a cake tester.

Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Once cool, remove the centres of the cakes with the apple corer, place half a teaspoon of jam into the gap created and top with the removed cake piece.

Make the icing according to the packet but make it quite thick so that it stays on top and doesn't run down the sides.  Decorate however you like.

Keep them for yourself or box them up and give as a gift - I would be happy to receive a box of these.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Christmas Stockings ....... Again ....

Mini Moo Cards and Stickers

I try very hard to choose gifts that will please the recipient, whether it be something they want, need or love, sometimes though I manage to choose a gift that the recipient didn't even know they wanted and I think the Mini Moo cards and stickers are one such gift.  What child or adult wouldn't be pleased to find some mini moo cards in their stocking.  They are mini sized business cards that are printed with your chosen details and chosen pictures, whether it be a picture of your own that you upload to their site or one of their own pictures.

I have some delightful stickers that I chose from their range with the words "Let's Eat Cake" - I use them when giving cakes as gifts and stick them on the wrapping to seal the package.

Anyway, my suggestion is to check out the website for Moo Cards where I am sure you will be inspired.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

An Alternative Christmas Cake

As someone who is not very keen on fruit cake and has never made a Christmas Cake before, always relying on my mother to fulfil this duty, I felt it was time to make my own.  However, not being a fruit cake lover rather spoilt the idea of making my own for the simple reason that I would not be able to enjoy it - selfish I know.  I will make a small traditional Christmas Cake for my parents this year, but found this lovely recipe for Bolognese Christmas cake in Ursula Ferrigno's book La Dolce Vita.

According to the book, this cake is made in Bologna at Christmas time and was created by the monks of Certosa, who made it for the Cardinal Lambertini.

As I have never made it before I cannot vouch for its taste, it has been wrapped in parchment paper and foil and needs to be stored for a month before eating.  I will let you know how successful it has been.

In the meantime, here's how to make it.

It does look a little burnt at the edges, so I would suggest a slightly shorter cooking time of one hour and test it, the recipe calls for it to be cooked for one and a quarter hours - will serve sixteen.

250g raisins
3 tbsp Marsala
5 tbsp fragrant honey (I used organic runny honey)
225g caster sugar
85g unsalted butter
1 tbsp fennel seed or aniseed (I used fennel seeds)
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
115g dark chocolate with 50% cocoa solids
6 eating apples
115g candied orange peel
500g plain white or 00 Italian flour
225g blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
115g pine kernels
1/2 tsp baking powder.

Soak the raisins in the Marsala for at least 30 minutes (preferably overnight).

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.  Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm (9in) loose bottomed round, deep cake tin.

Heat together the honey, sugar, butter and 2 tbsp water until the sugar has dissolved.  Crush the fennel seed or aniseed and add to the mixture together with the cinnamon.  Pour into a large bowl.

Coarsely chop the chocolate.  Peel, core and grate the apples and chop the orange peel.

Add the raisins, chocolate, apples, orange peel, flour, almonds, pine kernels and baking powder to the bowl and mix well together - it really does need to be a large bowl because it is a lot to combine.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 1 1/4 hours - or as I said above, bake for one hour and then test with a cake tester.  Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

Wrap in parchment paper and foil and store for a month before eating.

After this time - decorate as you wish or brush 2 tbsp of apricot jam on the top and stud with crystallised fruit and blanched toasted almonds, then brush with a further 1 tbsp of apricot jam.

I hope this tastes as good as it sounds.

Christmas Pudding Cake Balls

I made some Chocolate Cake Balls at the weekend and decorated them to resemble christmas puddings!

They make either a great gift for Christmas or for something to go with afternoon tea at Christmas time as an alternative to mince pies - or in addition to mince pies.

As a gift idea, I packed some in a box which I had lined with tissue paper and will tie with a ribbon.

For how to make these, please see my other blog -

Friday, 21 October 2011

Christmas Stockings

Now, before you think I've lost my marbles, posting about Christmas Stockings in October, I can assure there is method in my madness.

Next week being half term, although you will have your children with you, is a good opportunity to stock up on some small gifts for  a child's Christmas Stocking. 

Museum shops (Science Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert etc.) have some great little gifts, as do the shops attached to RHS gardens and National Trust houses.

Even if you just make a mental note and buy at a later date, the offerings at these institutions are guaranteed to fill a gap or two.  And why stop at children's presents?  There are so many little gifts to tempt and inspire.

Have a great half term.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Advent Calendars

If you want an Advent Calendar that is rather more lovely than the pathetic offerings in the supermarkets then you need to think about purchasing one very soon.   You may be lucky enough to find a good selection in your shops but I have to say that the selection near my home is very lacklustre most years. 

Of course there are many that you can use year after year whether they be a hanging calendar with pockets to fill or a box with drawers to be filled. 

Personally I like my Advent Calendars to feature a Nativity Scene.  My daughters would disagree with me, poor deprived children that they are - they fail to understand why we must always have a Nativity Scene whilst their friends have something from the supermarket!  I can't understand it.  I always try to buy them calendars that contain chocolate, failing which I have bought the Advent Chocolates to go with the chocolate free Nativity Calendar that at one time I could only buy from Lakeland but now are becoming available in several local shops.

So, here are just a few of those that I have seen online and have found to be particularly pretty.

The above two calendars are from Emma Bridgewater.

Advent Chocolates above and Santa below - both from Lakeland.

The above are just a few from a glorious selection that are available from Amazon.  Sadly, some of the detail has been lost where I have enlarged the pictures which is a shame.

I know we're still in October - but it pays to be prepared.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Homemade Gifts

On the continuing theme of homemade gifts for Christmas I made some Apple, Blackberry and Cinnamon Chutney and also some Grape Jelly.

Chutneys are so easy to make and for this recipe you can either see Lorraine Pascale's book Home Cooking Made Easy or have a look on the blog where you will find full instructions for making this chutney.

For the Grape Jelly - I have full instructions for this on my other blog Jennifer's Journal - do have a look because, again, this is an easy recipe and I am hoping to make further jellies using various fruits quite soon.

It's so easy to add a ribbon and label to the jars to instantly turn them into a gift that anyone would love to receive.  For jars you can look on Lakeland who have a good selection, or of course you can re-use glass jars that are empty, just remember to wash them well and keep the lids!  A little ribbon makes all the difference.

More ideas for foodie gifts coming soon.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

More Books ..............

More new books out now in time for Christmas:

Craft - Kirstie Allsopp
The Liberty Book of Home Sewing
Tilda's Studio - Tone Finnanger
Patch - Cath Kidston
The Crochet Book - Cath Kidston
The Knitting Book - Cath Kidston
Queen of Crafts - Jazz Domino Holly

The Bees - Carol Ann Duffy

Mrs Beeton: How to Cook: 220 Classic Recipes Updated for the modern cook
A History of English Food - Clarissa Dickson Wright
The Hairy Bikers' Perfect Pies
How to Drink at Christmas - Victoria Moore

So many books - I wish I could have them all for Christmas, but I know lots of people who would like at least one of them.

Happy reading.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Christmas Pudding - Joy

I've just been looking on the Emma Bridgewater website - initially looking at Advent Calendars - yet another item that needs to be purchased early to get the best of what is available (this is a subject for another post) and discovered the pattern "joy" which has a beautiful pudding basin for cooking your Christmas Pudding in - what joy - some lovely tea towels and oven gloves too.  I really think I have to have one of these!  Check it out on

Time to Order Bulbs

If you want to have a house full of perfume for Christmas, now is the time to buy bulbs for forcing.  Many early flowering bulbs need to be planted in September in order to flower in time for Christmas, so we could be a little late!  However, if you want to give them for presents it is not necessary for them to be in flower when they are given, it's always lovely to receive  a gift that gives pleasure after Christmas and flowering bulbs are one such pleasure.  Paper Whites only need planting in November in order to flower for Christmas so we still have plenty of time for them, however, we need to buy the bulbs as soon as possible, and it's never too early to buy some pretty pots to plant them in.

One Christmas I bought a few pretty mugs and planted a few Paper White bulbs in them add a pretty ribbon to the handle and give as presents to teachers at school and anyone else that I felt needed a little thank you.  These are quite a nice gift for say the "Lolly Pop" man or woman at school, they must get fed up with all the chocolates and biscuits that they get!  School office staff too would welcome a small mug of these pretty and perfumed bulbs, in fact there are so many people who would welcome such a gift as a thank you for their efforts during the year.  Another option is to check out second hand shops, charity shops and boot sales for second hand fine china cups and saucers for planting up with some small bulbs, such as miniature iris and crocus bulbs.

Our school hold a Christmas Fair each year and I usually plant up pots of bulbs and donate them for raffle prizes.  It is so easy, I buy a few large terracotta pots with saucers, a few sample pots of paint in various shades of white/grey and when the pots are dry plant them up with the bulbs, some moss on top of the soil, a little edible glitter sprinkled on the moss which looks so pretty when the light catches it and finish it off by wrapping in a large sheet of cellophane with a pretty ribbon to hold it together.  Cellophane can be purchased from floral suppliers and the roll I bought cost only about £8 and I still have lots of it left over.

The list of flowering bulbs that can be potted up in this way is quite extensive and I would suggest the following:

Amaryllis - one on its own would look good, but three planted together in a pretty bowl or pot would be beautiful, these will take approximately eight weeks to flower after planting.

Tulips - although these will not be in flower for some time a large pot planted up for the garden would make a delightful Christmas gift, as would daffodils, anemones, crocus, iris and hyacinth - and see the impressive selection of colours, I particularly love Woodstock which is a beetroot colour and I have noticed there is now a yellow one called Yellow Queen.

Bulbs are available for sale at garden centres and supermarkets but I prefer to buy my bulbs from Peter Nyssen - where the selection is wonderful and instructions on how to grow the bulbs.  I would suggest ordering early for Paper Whites and the more unusual colours of Hyacinths and Amaryllis because they seem to sell out quickly.  Sarah Raven - is a good source for bulbs and floristry kit.

Alternatively for boxes of scented narcissi for delivery try Isles of Scilly Scented Narcissi - .

Well, I'm off to order my bulbs and start looking around for unusual containers for planting and for painting.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

History of Demre

Firstly, I must apologise for the poor quality of the above photograph!  It's a photograph of a Christmas Card that I received a couple of years ago, I did try to scan it, but my scanner would not co-operate so I was reduced to photographing it, I might try again tomorrow - without the flash!

Anyway, this card was sent to me by a family member who lives in Istanbul and on the back of it was a short history of a town called Demre in the southwest of Turkey.  It reads as follows:

Myra is the historic town where Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, served as a Bishop in the fourth century.  The ruins are located in what is today the picturesque town of Demre in the southwest of Turkey.

Myra, once a capital city in the Lycian region, showed the greatest development in the second century BC.  Between the sixth and eighth centuries AD two Churches were built, one of which housed the sarcophagus of St. Nicholas.

In the eleventh century, Italian traders took part of Saint Nicholas' bones to Italy.  The remaining bones, hidden in a box by the native Christians, are displayed in the Antalya Museum today.  The Church, which was buried six metres below the surface by alluvial mud over the centuries, has recently been uncovered.

The custom of hanging stockings at Christmas stems from a story about Saint Nicholas where he secretly provided three bags of gold as the dowry of three daughters of an impoverished merchant.  One of the bags of gold, which was tossed through a window at night, happened to fall into a stocking hung by the chimney to dry.

And there ends the tale.

I always bring this card out at Christmas time and hang it in a frame because it is so pretty.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Super Thursday

Yesterday - 29th September - is known in the book trade as "Super Thursday" this is because three times as many books are released than would normally be released in an average week - due to Christmas!  For a book to get into the Christmas Bestseller Chart it needs to be out now so that sales can build up.  So, almost 500 books (in all formats) are being published in UK and Ireland.  There will be a second group of books released two weeks after this first release - on 13th October.

It's a very important time if you have a new book for sale - last year nine hardback books that had been released on Super Thursday took more than £1M through the tills during the twelve weeks leading up to Christmas.

I do love books and a book or two are my favourite Christmas presents - I also like giving books as presents for Christmas and try to find the most beautiful books to give as presents.  I know Kindles and ipads are the most convenient way of reading a book but (and I say this as a person who has neither) a traditional book is by far the best present because of its beauty.  Cookery books that I sit and read through as much for the photographs as for the recipes just wouldn't have the same impact for me.

I always buy my daughters at least one book each as one of their Christmas presents and sometimes more!  It's just so hard picking out just one.

I have had a quick trawl of the new cookery books that went onsale yesterday on Amazon and found the following:

Home Cooking Made Easy by Lorraine Pascale

Jamie's Great Britain by Jamie Oliver

Short and Sweet by Dan Lepard

The Primrose Bakery Book by Martha Swift and Lisa Thomas

Made in Sicily by Giorgio Locatelli

Then I had a look at other books relating to Christmas and found hundreds!!  The following list are just a few:

The Oxford Book of Christmas Stories

Night Before Christmas (Children's Book)

An Irish Country Christmas

Twelve Days of Christmas

Father Christmas Needs a Wee (Children's)

Letters from Father Christmas (Children's book and one that I have previously bought and it is lovely)

All I Want For Christmas

The Best Christmas Present in the World (Children's book and again one that I have already - lovely)

Last Christmas (Good Christmassy story about a woman who blogs)

The Xmas Factor

Happy reading to you all - hope you find a good book in your stocking and also that you find a good book to give as a Christmas present this year.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The True Meaning of Christmas

As a timely reminder of what Christmas is really about I found a leaflet that my youngest daughter had brought home from school several years ago.  The leaflet was entitled "The True Meaning of Christmas" and had been prepared by Woodlands Junior School in Kent.

The story within the leaflet is entitled "Teach the Children" - this is it:

I just finished the household chores for the night and was preparing to go to bed, when I heard a noise in the front of the house.  I opened the door to the front room and to my surprise, Santa himself stepped out from behind the Christmas tree.  He placed his finger over his mouth so I would not cry out.

"What are you doing?" I started to ask.  The words choked up in my throat, and I saw he had tears in his eyes.  His usual jolly manner was gone. Gone ws the eager, boisterous character we all know.

He then answered me with a simple statement.


I was puzzled;  what did he mean?  He guessed my question, and with one quick movement pulled a miniature toy bag from behind the tree.

As I stood puzzled, Santa said,
"Teach the children!  Teach them the old meaning of Christmas.  The meaning that now-a-days Christmas has forgotten."

Santa then reached in his bag and pulled out a Fir Tree and placed it in front of the fire place.  "Teach the children that the pure green colour of the stately fir tree remains green all year round, representing the everlasting hope of mankind, all the needles point heavenward, making it a symbol of man's thoughts turning toward heaven."

He again reached into his bag and pulled out a brilliant Star.
"Teach the children that the star was the heavenly sign of promises long ago.  God promised a Saviour for the world, and the star was the sign of fulfillment of His promise."

He then reached into his bag and pulled out a Candle.
"Teach the children that the candle symbolises that Christ is the light of the world, and when we see this great light we are reminded of Jesus who fills our lives with light."

Once again he reached into his bag and removed a Wreath and placed it on the tree.
"Teach the children that the wreath symbolises the real nature of love.  Real love never ceases, like God's love which has no beginning or end."

He then pulled from his bag an ornament of Himself.
"Teach the children that I, Santa Claus symbolise the generosity and kindness we feel during the month of December."

He then brought out a Holly Leaf.
"Teach the children that the holly plant represents immortality.  It represents the crown of thorns worn by our Saviour.  The red holly represents the blood shed by Him."

Next he pulled from his bag a Gift and said,
"Teach the children that God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son ...We thank God for his very special gift."

"Teach the children that the wise men bowed before the Holy Baby and gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  We should always give gifts in the same spirit of the wise men."

Santa then reached in his bag and pulled out a Sugar Cane and hung it on the tree.

"Teach the children that the sugar cane represents the shepherd's crook.  The crook on the staff helps to bring back lost sheep to the flock."

He reached in again and pulled out an Angel
"Teach the children that it was the angels that announced the glorious news of the Saviour's birth.  The angels sang "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace and good will toward men."

Suddenly, I heard a soft twinkling sound, and from his bag he pulled out a Bell.
"Teach the children that as the lost sheep are found by the sound of the bell, it should ring to guide us to God.  The bell symbolises guidance and return.  It reminds us that we are all precious in the eyes of God."

Santa looked back and was pleased.  I saw the twinkle in his eyes as he said:
"Remember, teach the children the true meaning of Christmas and do not put me in the centre, for I am but an humble servant of the One that is, and I bow down to worship Him, our Lord, our God.

I had forgotten that I still had this leaflet but am glad that I found it again.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Time To Start Thinking About Christmas ..............

It may only be September and true to say that I was horrified to see mince pies for sale in my local supermarket - BUT - I fully intend to be thoroughly organised this year.  No more last minute dashes to buy presents, no more holding my breath wondering whether a present ordered online will arrive in time.  I am reviewing my list of people to buy presents for and I'm going to make sure that overseas gifts will be despatched in good time.

So, as a start I direct you to where Ruth Clemens gives instructions on how to prepare the fruit for your Christmas Cake - assuming you are making your own.  Nothing too difficult, but with dried fruit being so expensive, preparing now will help to stretch out the cost of Christmas.  You now have lots of time to find a design to apply to your finished cake later on.

I'll be back very soon with some more tips and suggestions.