Christmas stockings

My major task this week is to find lovely little stocking fillers for my daughter’s stocking. I realise I have very few Emily-free days before she is home from university and will be as nosy as a five-year old about where presents might be hiding even though she is now 21!

Christmas stockings have been hung for ages but there’s no definitive history, it’s all folklore or tradition. Some people just have presents in the stocking – all supplied by Father Christmas. Some have a stocking, and then Father Christmas comes along and leaves larger presents under the tree. In our family’s case, we have stockings, and then all the presents are from real people rather than Father Christmas.

We always leave gifts for the reindeer and Santa – I don’t mean for a moment that Emily still believes – but I think we all just enjoy the little ritual of carrots for the reindeer, orange juice for Father Christmas as he is driving (Father Christmas was a little disappointed about that!) and a mince pie or chocolate brownie depending on what’s in the cake tin, to sustain him through his busiest night of the year.

When the girls were little, it was easy to have a limit of £4-5 for anything in the stocking, now it’s so much harder. Not only have prices gone up – I saw a £45 cashmere scarf advertised as a stocking filler today – but also adults are much harder to find things for than little girls! As tradition dictates, there’ll be a satsuma, some gold chocolate pennies and then a few other sweet treats, the obligatory amusing bubble bath and sadly this year I have stooped to a parrot key ring that swears – not a very good example but it is highly amusing.

So it’s full speed ahead for me – a personalised cupcake making apron (she loves to cook), some underwear, funny socks … thank goodness for the internet!

So, what are your stocking traditions?


Chocolate Bailey’s Cake

We had a wonderful birthday gathering for my stepfather’s 92nd birthday on Saturday, which coincided with my brother’s 52nd so celebrations all round! I was up in Peterborough on Friday so preparation time was limited and I am so grateful that Jo B our bookkeeper stepped in and made the cake in the picture for me. It is really yummy, and despite it being a very large cake, there is surprisingly little of it left after the weekend! Goodness knows how that happened…

The Cake

Mix 1                  

  • 640g plain flour, 400g golden caster sugar
  • 160g light brown sugar, 80g cocoa powder
  • 3½ tsp baking powder
  • 2tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp salt 

Mix 2                   

  • 5 eggs, 225ml buttermilk
  • 2tbsp vanilla

Mix 3                  

  • 280g melted and cooled butter
  • 200ml corn oil

Mix 4                 

  • 250ml Bailey’s
  • 230ml water 
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C (fan)/gas mark 4/350F.
  2. Grease and line a 10” springform pan.
  3. Add all of Mix 1 (the dry items) into a large bowl. Place all Mix 2 (eggs and milk etc) into another bowl and whisk. Then using a third bowl, put in all of Mix 3 (butter and oil) and beat using an electric mixer, then add in Mix 4 to this same bowl. Then add Mix 1 and combine together on a low speed, then add Mix 2. When all ingredients are combined pour into the prepared tin.
  4. Bake for 50-55mins, or until a skewer pushed into the middle comes out clean, then cool the cake.

Bailey’s Fudge icing

  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 300g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 80ml (or so) Bailey’s 
  1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, and let cool slightly.
  2. In another bowl beat the butter and then add the icing sugar, and then slowly add the melted chocolate and finally the Bailey’s. You can add more or less Bailey’s depending on your taste and how thick you want the icing to be.
  3. Split the cake in half and fill with icing then spread the remaining over the top and sides.

Jo used chocolate curls and tiles to decorate the cake which were all made with thin layers of melted chocolate, but other options like more frosting and chopped nuts or chocolate vermicelli could be used just as effectively. Have fun!  


Winter birthdays

Much as we all enjoy Christmas, there are lots of people who have winter birthdays too and I think it’s always important to think of something non-Christmassy for them.

My daughter, who has a birthday on December 27th, was plagued by joint cards and presents from some people throughout her childhood, so we try really hard to keep them separate so she doesn’t miss out!

This is a very sweet use of our Signature die planter and lattice and the beautiful winter flowers stamp sheet.

Sylvie Ashton made this sample and as she drew the flower stamps for me, I knew she would come up with something brilliant if it needed to include them. I love the little snowflakes coming down and the “snow” that has landed on the early bulbs.

It’s never as hard as you might expect to make a scene for a card – in this case just using some midnight blue for the sky and white layers for snow make it really easy to see the planter in position.





Piccalilli – great family favourite!

This is a real family favourite for Boxing Day, with cold ham and turkey and baked potatoes. It’s a good idea to get it made and maturing at least a month before Christmas. It’s best to keep it in a cool, dark cupboard – so not the airing cupboard! Once you have opened a jar then I suggest keeping it in the fridge and eating with a month or 6 weeks.


  • 1 small cauliflower, 2 medium carrots, 125g French beans, 125g runner beans,
  • ½ a cucumber, 1 courgette 10 silverskin onions
  • 75g salt, 600ml white malt vinegar, 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds, 8 black peppercorns, ½ teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 3 allspice berries, 2 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons plain flour, 1 tablespoon English mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground turmeric, 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 75g caster sugar


  1. Prepare all the veggies into similar sized pieces, then place in a large ceramic bowl. Dissolve the salt in 1.2 litres of cold water and pour over the veg, cover and leave overnight.
  2. Mix the vinegar, bay leaf, mustard seeds, peppercorns, coriander, allspice and garlic into a non reactive pan (non stick is good). Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  3. Mix together in a bowl, the flour, mustard powder, turmeric and ginger. Add a couple of spoons of the spiced vinegar and mix to a paste. Using a sieve, strain in the rest of the vinegar and add paste and vinegar back into the pan. Add the sugar and bring to the boil stirring until slightly thickened. The sauce should be glossy and coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Drain the veg, rinse and pat dry with kitchen paper. Add to the hot vinegar mix and simmer over a low heat for about 5 minutes until tender. Spoon into hot, sterilised jars and cover immediately. As a tip I use my dishwasher to heat and sterilise jars – works a treat.



Playing with stamps and diecuts

I love stamping, but that is such a broad term. There’s stamping direct onto a card, stamping onto paper and then matting and layering onto a card and masses of other ways too.

Best of all, in my opinion, is the technique where you stamp onto paper, colour and then cut out. I just love playing with decoupaged stamp images and, in the case of this card, scenic images.

The whole concept behind these stamps was to produce a range of garden flowers that would fit, scale-wise, into the Signature dies garden containers. So, to fulfil all my needs, we ended up with summer, winter and climbing flower stamps.

This card is 8 inches square and uses a gradient coloured background to represent the sky. Some backing paper that looks like wood has then been cut into “planks” and some brickwork made into a patio beneath the sky.

The fun for me starts with stamping away three or four of everything on the stamp sheet and colouring. I keep them all in a small box, so that if I don’t end up using them all they are there to start my design next time. My favourite flower on this whole card has to be the poppies – I just adore poppies!

Once coloured (I am currently using Graph’it markers) you can then start playing and arranging and I could happily do that for hours. It’s a bit like playing with my fuzzy felts toy when I was little – well you know what I mean!