Now, it’s time to relax!

Happy Christmas! I hope you are having a lovely day and that Santa has brought you everything you wished for!

By the end of Christmas day or Boxing day, when the relatives have gone and the tidying up is complete, I think most of us will be longing for some rest and relaxation and I can’t think of anything that fits the bill better than a relaxing bath.

There are many real and apocryphal tales of famous ladies bathing in assorted substances. Cleopatra in her asses milk, for example, while others choose champagne and water from famous spas. All of these indicate one thing – that baths of any kind are good for the spirit! However, I think bathing in asses milk is right out (unless you have a pet ass of course) but milk baths can work just as well with a limited amount of milk and not necessarily from a donkey!

Here is a selection of my favourite soaks for you to try, so lie back and relax… and prepare yourself for the New Year celebrations that are just around the corner!

Smiles, Joanna

Cleopatra’s Milk Bath

1.5 cups of powdered milk or 1 litre/2 pint of fresh milk

This will help relax and soften your skin.

While the bath is running add the powdered milk under the fast-running tap. Fresh milk is also nice in a bath but the convenience of powdered milk is that you can keep it in the bathroom with a scoop or cup, ready for the moment when you feel the need of an Egyptian-style bath!

Lavender bath

A simple recipe for a wonderful, aromatic and relaxing bath is to add 6-8 drops of lavender essential oil under the fast-running hot tap as you fill your bath.

Salt Bath

This could not be easier. Salt baths help to relieve tired and aching muscles and make your skin feel wonderful. Run a warm bath and pour 1-2 cups of sea salt under the fast-running tap. Then enjoy!

Floral Soda Bath

Baking soda can be used on its own to make a bath cooling and reviving, especially if you have been ill. However, it is much more enjoyable as a floral bath. This isn’t an ‘immediate’ bath time treat, but is well worth the wait…

Fill a large glass jar (approximately 750ml or 1.5 pint) with bicarbonate of soda to just short of the top. Then, add a teaspoon of jasmine, ylang-ylang or neroli essential oil. Shake the jar well and leave on the side for a week or two, shaking it every time you pass.

Use about a half to one cup for a wonderfully aromatic bath.

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Home made patchwork pine cones and baubles

I love the idea of having family treasures that come out every year and make a real tradition out of Christmas. My mother has been making these pretty decorations for many years and we all have special collections of examples she has made for us.

It’s easy to use different scraps of fabric for a colourful patchwork effect or you can plan a colour scheme and buy a small amount of fabric for your project. All you need are some polystyrene balls, your fabric and lots of little pins!

I like the idea of choosing a specific colour scheme or theme and making one for each of the family every year. You could write the date on in gold pen to make it a special piece that can go on the tree each year.

Making your own Christmas decorations is a rewarding way to spend some time as you can enjoy them hanging all through the festive period and then tuck them away safely to enjoy next year.

All the ingredients can be bought from Pinflair, who are colleagues of mine on TV – and very reasonably priced they are too!

There are lots of places on the internet that have great tutorials showing you how to make these ornaments so here are some links for easy access – have fun!

Fabric pine cone

Pine cone ornament

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Cute Christmas cupcakes

We loved these so much, we thought you’d like an ‘extra’ cupcake blog this week! These are such lovely designs by another Jo who runs our accounts department. The ear muffs are great fun and sure to be popular with young and old alike!

For the cake:

  • 100g butter, softened
  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 3tbsp milk
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180ºc (160ºc fan). Line a 12-hole standard muffin tin with with Christmas paper cases.

Put all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix until combined.

Divide mixture evenly between paper cases and bake for 25 minutes. Once cooked, leave to cool completely before decorating.

For the butter cream:

  • 110g butter, softened
  • 200g icing sugar

Combine butter and icing sugar together until you achieve a smooth mix. Put a generous spoonful onto each cupcake and leave until a crust has formed (about 1/2hrs), then smooth with a warm palette knife, cover with fondant/regal icing of your choice.

Jo has made: 

  • Snowmen with carrot noses, woolly hats and ear muffs
  • Cute little penguins
  • Yummy looking Christmas puddings – using chocolate flavoured fondant
  • Holly and berries using red fondant.

 

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Spiced Christmas cupcakes

Here are some really sparkly spicy Christmas cupcakes guaranteed to be popular with everyone! The pretty poinsettia baking cups make the cakes look so festive… and if you haven’t tried the clever cupcake plunger yet – do give it a go. Easy to use and very effective.

To make the cake:

  • 110g brown sugar
  • 75g plain flour
  • 75g self-raising flour
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 100g butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 50ml buttermilk (you can use normal milk too)
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat oven to 180ºc (160ºc fan). This mix is enough to make six large poinsettia baking cups and six small poinsettia baking cups. 

Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix until combined. Put all wet ingredients into another large bowl and mix until combined. Then combine both together.

Divide the mixture evenly between baking cups and bake for 25 minutes for the large cakes and 15 minutes for the small cakes. Once cooked, leave to cool completely before decorating.

To make the mincemeat filling:

2tbsp mincemeat, homemade or shop bought.

1-2tbsp Icing sugar

Warm mincemeat and add Icing sugar to sweeten, put to one side to cool. Use a cupcake plunger to cut centres out of large cakes and fill with fruit mince, add as much or a little fruit mince as you like.

(If you want to make your own mincemeat check out my recipe in the filo pastry brandied mincemeat blog)

To make the butter cream:

  • 220g butter, softened
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tbsp milk

Combine butter, icing sugar, vanilla and enough milk to make the mixture easy to pipe. Fill piping bag and pipe onto cakes, add decorations, here I have added edible silver stars and fondant snowflakes.

 

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A lovely traditional Christmas…?

Most of us strive for a traditional Christmas starting with the advent calendar, making and sending cards, dressing the tree, buying the turkey and some of us even leave out carrots, milk and biscuits for Santa and his reindeer. But how much of it is ‘traditional’? And how long does something need to exist to be classed as ‘traditional’.

The Christmas tree became popular in England after Prince Albert introduced the idea in 1841. He brought a Christmas tree over from Germany and put it in Windsor castle. The royal couple were illustrated in a national newspaper standing in front of it and the ‘tradition’ began…

The turkey appeared on Christmas tables in England in the 16th century and popular history tells of Henry VIII being the first English monarch to have turkey for Christmas. A famous Christmas dinner scene appears in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843), where Scrooge sends Bob Cratchitt a large turkey.

Christmas Pudding. For several centuries, a dish called frumenty was part of the traditional Celtic Christmas meal. Frumenty was made primarily from boiled, cracked wheat with almonds, currants sugar and saffron being among a range of ingredients that were added,

Over the years the recipe changed. Eggs, fruit, spice, lumps of meat and dried plums were added. The whole mixture was wrapped in a cloth and boiled… and that is probably how plum pudding began!

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and simply Santa, is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical and folkloric origins who brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve.

His red and white outfit was introduced by an American cartoonist Thomas Nast – working for Harper’s Bazaar in the mid/late 1800s and it is around this time that he acquired a sleigh, reindeer and bells! Although many people believe Coca Cola made him red and white this is an urban myth –bishop’s vestments (St Nicholas) had been red for many years before Coca Cola used him in a long running commercial in the 1930s!

The tradition of sending cards at Christmas began here in England in the mid 1800s – an Englishman called Henry Cole wanted to send a note to his friends to wish them Happy Christmas and look how popular making your Christmas cards is now!

It’s always interesting to know where our traditions come from!

 

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