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Last minute presents…

24 Dec

Peppermint creams – 2 cups icing sugar, 1 whisked egg white, 2tsp peppermint essence, green colouring if you like them minty looking too. Roll out using icing sugar for dusting, cut out  (lovely cutters from Kitchens) , and leave to dry for a few hours.

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Mince pies – half a cup of butter, cup of plain flour, pinch of salt, juice and zest of an orange for the pastry. Leave at least 2 hours in the fridge before rolling and cutting out. Just 15 minutes in a medium oven.

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Gingerbread trees. Cut out stars of different sizes from gingerbread dough (secret ingredients – dark brown sugar and black pepper). Layer up using plain icing as glue and leave to dry.

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Ice with thin green icing and add silver baubles. Leave to dry again before dusting with icing sugar and edible glitter.

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Covers and ribbons on the preserves!

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And that’s it!

Happy Christmas everyone! I do hope yours is absolutely wonderful xxx

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Crafty ways to speed up your Christmas countdown

21 Dec

Yes, I like to make stuff at Christmas. I like to give homemade presents. I like to cook for people.

But it helps to have a production line mentality. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t put any thought into what you make or give. More that big batches of gifts allow you to make things more quickly, and be more generous at the same time.

Stephanie Dosen’s brilliant Heartfelt Rings are just lovely, and take less than half an hour from start to finish. So I’ve made at least ten (here are just a few of them).

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Lots of pretty presents to go around, each one slightly different, but made with an identical process that’s easy to memorise and do on auto-pilot while watching Elf for the ninth time.

Eierzucker biscuits take considerably longer…

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You make the dough (icing sugar, eggs and flavouring – in this case lemon zest) and then rest it overnight, roll it out painstakingly (otherwise you will be finding icing sugar in your hair WEEKS later) and leave for another 24 hours to dry, before finally putting the moulded shapes into the oven.

They taste good when you make them, but even better after a couple of weeks (they keep practically forever in a tin). So you make a lot in one go. In this case, 36. They’re such a sweet treat you wouldn’t give away more than two or three per person, so that’s at least a dozen people with a sugary smile on their faces (unless you ‘don’t like sugar’ in which case, you are banned).

Chutney and jam are the same. You make lots, but weeks or months in advance. Come Christmas it’s just a question of labels and covers. I made these in September, so fingers crossed, they’ll taste good now.

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People keep asking me if I’ve ‘done everything’ or if I’m feeling ‘stressed about Christmas’. Honestly. it’s no on both counts. I’ve still got plenty to make with just a few days to go.  But doing lots in advance, and in big batches takes the pressure off, and makes Christmas crafting fun.

Joy to your world! What are you making today?

How to light your Christmas pudding

20 Dec

Find a candle with a big flame. Advent candles are perfect.

Fill a ladle half full with your booze of choice. Not more than half!

Get your warmed Christmas pud at the table, and hold the base of the ladle just over (not in) the flame. The candle needs to be close to the pudding for this trick.

Let the brandy/ rum/ Tennants Super heat up for a minute or so until it starts steaming.

Now, tip the ladle slightly so that the candle flame catches the alcohol fumes, and pour immediately over your pudding.

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Works every time and looks spectacular (make sure the lights are off!).

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It should go without saying, this is one for the grown ups. Practise first (use a loaf of bread or a normal cake) if you’ve not done it before.

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Once you’ve got the knack, you#’ll want to do it every year! (spot the difference…)

Now

Homemade Christmas countdown!

1 Dec

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OK, it’s officially December, so at last I am allowed to say the C word. Hurrah!

Last Christmas was the best I’ve had since I was a kid. Because I got to see it through the eyes of my then 2 and a half year old daughter. It was the first Christmas she really started to register what was going on and it reminded me how much fun it is supposed to be. Hurrah!

The fairy outfit and Russian dolls she got on Christmas morning probably helped get things going…

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And there was a lot of festive baking to be done too.

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This year I suspect will be the last before we get the many years of sleepless Christmas Eves, so we are going to treasure every single speck of it.

I’ve been making and giving homemade presents at Christmas since I was a teenager. It started at uni when I had no money, and each year I make more and buy less. The trick is finding pressies that don’t take weeks to create (unless you have oodles of spare time) – otherwise you are swapping the stress of The Shops with sitting up ’til 2am on Christmas Eve finishing socks (been there).

I can’t talk about all of what I’m up to as some of the intended recipients read this blog, but there will definitely be chutney, jam, scarves, biscuits, cakes and more. I’ll talk you through as much of it as I can.

I’ve also got some decorations to sew for the tree, so over the next few weeks, I’ll occasionally pop up with one of those too. There are some great festive makes out there in the interwebs, and Christmas is all about giving, so why not try these for a start…

Candy Cane playdough

Cookie Cutter ornaments

Fabric ‘paper’ chains

OK, let the countdown begin!

Postcard from Cornwall

9 Nov

We got back yesterday to my favourite place in the world (Bristol) after a few restful days in my second favourite place in the world – Cornwall. Or Kernow, as it should be known.

We stayed at The College in Week St Mary at the very generous invitation of a good friend. And it was lovely.

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We rocked our country best…

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Saw Merlin’s Cave at Tintagel – that place is spooky!

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Tackled killer hills!

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Ate like kings (yes, indeedy, marshmallows on the fire)

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And ventured onto the beach, and in Storm’s and my case into the sea at Bude! (I swear they are plotting in this picture…)

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After much Monkees style wave-chasing in the winter sun, I got lulled into a false sense of security… There are no words to describe how cold I got when I had to scoop my crazy daughter out of the waves (she was lying down in the shallows pretending to swim) and clasp her tight to stop her leaping back in. Her puffy, sodden winter coat had acted like a giant icy sponge in the sea, which squeezed out all over me, soaking me from neck to knee with freezing water. It was so so cold – and also one of the funniest moments of my life.

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Sadly there are no pics as Al was laughing too hard to take any. Here they are at the beach cafe anyway, just after our awfully wet adventure. I’d cleverly brought a change of clothes for Storm, but not for me…

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Even with my unexpected soaking, it was exactly what we all needed, so thank you Abby and Steven for sharing your weekend with us. It was just marvellous.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a lack of knitting posts here of late. I have had RSI for the last month, so I haven’t been able to knit much. But slowly, slowly, my powers are returning. Stand by for more on that very soon…

Pumpkin Carving Challenge…

26 Oct

My good friend Abby laid down the pumpkin-carving gauntlet after my last post about bread-making.

Well, never one to shy away from a challenge, I ordered my £1 carving pumpkin from Asda (BARGAIN) and set to.


Al and Storm were my instructors, Googling tips for me (plenty online and I’m not giving Abby any help!) and finding me a Hello Kitty-esque design to work on. Ta da!

The not-so-secret forager in me couldn’t resist saving the seeds, which I washed, tossed in olive oil and salt, and roasted on a v low heat while I whittled away. They taste like popcorn, nom, nom nom.

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The bits of pumpkin I managed to salvage went into our weekly roast too. Bonus.

Best of all, Storm thought it was the coolest thing ever. It’ll go on our outside window sill to welcome the trick or treaters on Monday night. I want to make another one already!

Over to you Yabba Dabba…

The tiny breadmaker

17 Oct

Words fail me…

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Al and Storm, kneading 75/25 wholemeal/white, with the singular concentration of newly initiated breadmakers.

I’ve been making bread since I was 12, but the River Cottage bread handbook I gave Al for his birthday (plus 6kg of flour – oh, the romance) proves you can teach a (slightly) old dog new tricks. The basic bread recipe takes 50 pages (!) but the detail it provides gives almost infallible results.

If I say it’s the best bread I’ve ever tasted mum (who sent me off to school with home-made bread every day) will never speak to me again. So I’m not going to say it. What I will say is, if you’re even slightly interested in making bread, you need (knead?) this book.