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.