Dear Santa…

I thought I’d share my personal ‘wish list’ for Christmas books, both cookery and fictional. I have cheated and also included one book that is top of Richard’s wish list – just in case there are any history buffs reading, or if you need an idea for a history-loving relative!

I try very hard to limit my intake of cookery books these days as there’s so much out there for free on the internet. However, nothing compares with curling up with a cup of tea on the sofa and a beautifully illustrated cookbook!

The novels I have included are definitely not candidates for any Booker or Orange, or whatever, book prize – my reading tastes are very straightforward and, if there’s one thing I hate, it’s pretentious literature that you are ‘meant’ to like as you struggle through it. I want to be entertained by a book, I want to smile a bit, cry a little and definitely feel I can’t bear to put it down until I have finished

So, I offer this list just as a personal – “hHere you go, this is what I am asking Santa for this year!” They are all available on Amazon – as are all my own novels (hah!) – surely you knew I wouldn’t be able to resist a plug!

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Making a Christmas Wreath

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What a lovely day out! From the tutor, to the lunch to the finished article!

Alright, I admit it was a bit of a busman’s holiday, but my goodness I did enjoy myself on Wednesday! I went to a lunchtime course on making a Christmas wreath, held by Karen of 2020 Flowers who lives in Stokeinteignhead, near me. The course itself was held in a dear little café in Shaldon on the seafront, which was fun to go to in itself, and the food they served for lunch was amazing! Honey pumpkin soup and home made bread… it was just perfect.

Anyway, back to the wreath making! I know it all through and through, but it’s sometimes lovely to have a few hours to yourself where the phone won’t ring and the emails can’t get you! Karen is a serene, calm teacher and had all her ingredients so beautifully organised it was such fun to just play.

Using an Oasis ring, which you can get at some garden centres and obviously florist wholesalers, it is so, so simple to make a wreath yourself. A great tip from Karen was to not only soak the oasis in water (knew that) but to add flower food to the water (didn’t know that!) and I can see what a great idea it is.

I’d brought a whole selection of greenery from home as I felt the wreath would mean more to me if it was created using my own greenery and in the end, as I was a touch speedy, (sorry Karen!) I ended up making two wreaths – so my daughter Pippa is thrilled to bits to have a wreath Mummy made!

Another useful tip is that you can use unwanted pieces of Christmas tree – sometimes you trim some away from the base – or maybe you have a Leylandii hedge in the garden that could be carefully snipped at. I used ivy, Leylandii, rosemary and anything else that looked quite tough and long lasting.

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…and this was the second wreath I managed to squeeze in!

To decorate your wreath once the greenery is all pushed in (small lengths only, all the way round) you can use Christmas tree baubles, shells, berries, artificial or real flowers and, obviously, ribbons. As the Oasis is easy to push things in it’s fairly plain sailing until you get to baubles and shells, those are best hot glued onto pieces of bamboo skewer or just hot glued straight on the wreath.

It does make you feel good to have a decoration that you made yourself – I hope my family enjoy mine as much as I enjoyed the course!

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Sleep on it…

Humans, like all animals, need sleep to survive. For we humans, sleep is a vital indicator of overall health and well-being. I am always amazed when I read that we spend up to one-third of our lives asleep!

Most of us know that getting a good night’s sleep is important, but too few of us actually make those eight or so hours tucked up in bed a priority. To make matters worse in today’s busy world, stimulants like coffee and energy drinks, alarm clocks, and external lights—including those from electronic devices—interfere with our ‘circadian rhythm’ or natural sleep/wake cycle. And then of course… there’s our old friend stress, perfect for inducing insomnia!

Anyone who has woken up at 3am, eyes wide and mind racing, knows how difficult it is to get back to sleep or, as affects many people, getting to sleep in the first place! I know when I’ve been going through stressful times, I tend to fall into the ‘middle of the night wake up’ category, which can be utterly exhausting.

There are, however, lots of things you can do to ease your passage into a restful sleep, so here are five suggestions you might find helpful.

Music
Small children invariably fall asleep to the sound of a lullaby and adults can do the same thing too. With modern technology, falling asleep to soothing tunes or the sounds of nature (I love the sound of waves on a beach) is not difficult to organise through smart phones or even a special pillow with built-in speakers!

Essential oils
I have written a lot about essential oils over the years, and they are really not to be under estimated. Chamomile, marjoram and, of course, lavender are all known to help relaxation. Sprinkle a few drops in a bath before bed (the post-bath drop in temperature is also sleep-inducing) or onto your pillow, I find lavender especially soothing.

Bed socks rule
If cold feet are keeping you awake—especially during the winter—warm them up with a soft pair of socks. The extra layer under the covers can help improve circulation in your extremities, which can help you fall asleep more quickly.

A good book!
I don’t know if my novels send people to sleep (probably!!) but reading, or listening to an audiobook is a great way to help you nod off.

Country air
Well actually, it can be country air or sea air for me, but the important thing is clean air and a bracing walk! I can guarantee it will make me feel tired in a really lovely wooly way… if you know what I mean!

 

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Parsley harvest!

parlseymontageParsley grows very well in this part of the world it would seem. I can’t say I grow masses of it, but it appears my neighbour has an entire flower bed full! So he very kindly brought round a massive basket overflowing with curly leaved parsley and said, ‘You’re a good cook, you’ll know what to do with this won’t you!’

Hmm, ok… Well, I do use parsley, but this could be an entire year’s supply, how best to preserve it? Never one to waste anything if I can avoid it – I dived into the Internet (thank you Google) and got cracking. I am lucky enough to have a dehydrating machine (bought from Lakeland some years ago) and it’s really handy for herbs. So, we all stood for what seemed like a lifetime stripping leaves off the stems (the term ‘green fingered’ has never seemed more appropriate!) and filling all the trays of the dehydrator. Phew, coffee time.

Looking at the basket when we returned from our break… It looked even fuller than before! This was rather worrying, so drastic measures were called for. So, it was out with the food processor and we whizzed and processed our way through the greenery until it was all finely chopped. I then packed it into the plastic freezer tubs I keep in the cupboard, labelled it and chucked in the freezer! Using it from frozen is fine – just scrape or crumble a bit off and add to whatever you like. I scattered some over the top of lasagne yesterday and a good tablespoon or more has gone into pumpkin soup today – the only good thing about Halloween, in my opinion!

So, I still think it may take a year to use it all up but it’s going to be really handy and a big thank you to my neighbour!

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Salt of the earth

There’s been a lot of publicity over the past few years about cutting down salt intake as it is ‘bad for you’, especially with regard to blood pressure… but let’s not get too panicky about it. Salt is actually absolutely vital for our bodies to function.

Salt – whether it’s the stuff they spread on the road in winter, common table salt or an exotic pink one from the Himalayas – has the same chemical composition, an equal amount of sodium and chloride. Salt is essential for life and, as the body can’t produce it itself, we have to add it to our diet in some way. Without it, our bodies become chemically unbalanced, our muscles and nervous system cease to function and eventually we will die.

If you think about it, all our body fluids are salty – blood, sweat, tears and saliva. The general consensus among experts is that a healthy adult should aim towards a daily intake of five or six grams of salt to maintain a good balance. It seems the biggest problem with controlling our salt intake is through eating convenience foods as these often contain astonishing amounts of salt – and that’s in both savoury and sweet dishes! If you prepare most of your meals fresh and from scratch, you can govern how much salt you do, or don’t, add and your intake is probably absolutely fine.

Salt is all around us. Underground and on the earth’s surface in the dried up residues of ancient seas. Some salt has even arrived from outer space in meteors. But our biggest source of salt is in our seas and oceans. With an average of 26 million tonnes per cubic kilometre, seawater offers a seemingly inexhaustible supply that, if extracted, would cover the world’s total land mass to a depth of 35 metres.

Apart from its essential health benefits, salt is also a fantastic flavour enhancer. It is one of the key five tastes that we experience on our tongues, the others being sweet, sour, bitter and umami. It can reduce bitterness and enhance sweetness – salt just makes things taste better!

And what an amazingly useful thing it is too. Think how we use it as a preservative (and have done for thousands of years), it improves texture and colour and is an abrasive too. It’s soothing – we take salt baths and my Mother used to make me gargle with it as a child if I had a sore throat and if you spill any, do remember to chuck a pinch over your left shoulder and it will ward off evil spirits too!

Salty facts:

  • Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt – which is where the word ‘salary’ comes from
  • Every cell in the body contains salt – an adult contains about 250g
  • Salt is used to remove traces of water from aviation fuel after it is purified
  • Salt was used to preserve Egyptian mummies
  • Salt removes red wine stains.
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