Putting the ‘festive’ back into Christmas shopping!

In my opinion, Christmas shopping – whether you are battling a busy high street, overwhelmed in a mall or sitting hunched over your keyboard shopping online at 3 in the morning – none of it is as festive and fun as it should be! So why not take the stress out of your festive shopping with a visit to a Christmas market?

I’m going to start with a fairly local one in the very pretty town of Tavistock on the far side of Dartmoor.

Tavistock Dickensian Christmas – 25th November 2016

The Dickensian evening includes the switching on of the Christmas lights, and an opportunity to start your Christmas shopping and enjoy the festive atmosphere. Be transported back to the ‘olde world’ with shop owners and staff wearing Dickensian dress, stalls selling roasted chestnuts and even steam engines adding to the atmosphere. You can find out more here.

Blenheim Palace Living Crafts for Christmas fair 17th – 20th November

On a rather grander scale… stock up on stocking fillers at the Living Crafts for Christmas fair in this stunning Oxfordshire stately home, where you’ll find more than 150 selected designer-makers, including artists, milliners and jewellers. Indulge in some hot chestnuts or a hot chocolate, then choose handcrafted decorations to adorn your home. Magical! Click here for more information.

Bath Christmas Market – 24th – 11th December

I love Bath any time of year, but this magical Christmas market makes it extra special. There will be more than 170 traditional wooden chalets lining the streets of the centre of beautiful Bath, transforming Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths into a wintry wonderland. Along with stalls from craftspeople from all over the South West, there is also the chance to go ice skating, ride on a carousel or enjoy a glass of mulled wine in the Après Ski Bar.

Find out more here.

Edinburgh Christmas Markets 19th November – 7th January 2017

If you really, really enjoy Christmas markets, then Edinburgh is the place to go as this lovely city has TWO markets, one Scottish and one European and they run through into January! The Scottish Market in St Andrew Square showcases food and drink from the country, including seafood and sausages, chocolate and cakes, plus handcrafted items. The popular European Market has been running for 20 years and is held in East Princes Street Gardens, offering traditional toys and gifts.

Click here for more information.

And finally… another Dickensian market. The trouble is the Victorians and Mr Dickens, did Christmas so well that, for many of us, it has become the ideal Christmas!

Ulverston, Cumbria Dickensian Christmas Festival – 26th & 27th November

Ulverston puts on a tremendous show every year marking the start of the Christmas season and bringing a little Christmas magic to both young and old. The historic market town is full of fantastic shops, great pubs, cafes and cobbled streets. The Dickensian Festival boasts a huge variety of free entertainment, free events for children, fabulous Christmas market stalls with lots of unique gifts and festive food, costume competitions, horse-drawn carriages, music and dancing. If you really want to get into the spirit of the festival, why not come in costume and take part in the grand parade around the town?

Find out more here.

Photo credits, top to bottom:
tavistockbid.co.uk, nmctours.co.uk, www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk, Visit Scotland, OxfamBirdsEye.

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A different twist on a quiche

I know ‘Real men don’t eat quiche’ is a well known saying, but I found several men really enjoyed this quiche over the weekend. Technically, I made it for me as it is Slimming World friendly, but with the addition of some Charlotte potatoes from the garden and a lovely salad – tomatoes, radishes, lettuce also from the garden – everyone seemed to really enjoy it. As autumn draws in, I shall miss the warm weather and the free salads sitting outside just waiting to be picked!

The joy of this recipe is that it is endlessly flexible – have a look in the fridge and see what you have left – onions work well, courgettes, spring onions, bacon, prawns, the list goes on and on!

crustlessquicheCrustless quiche – serves 4-6

  • 150g chopped mushrooms
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2/3 tomatoes
  • 3 thick slices of ham
  • Small tin of sweet corn drained
  • 100 ml milk
  • 3+ tablespoons grated cheddar cheese
  • Chives or parsley and salt/pepper
  1. Stir fry the mushrooms in a non-stick pan – use a tiny amount of oil or butter if you like. The reason for cooking these first is to get rid of the grey liquid that can seep out of mushrooms while they cook – so fry them until they are well cooked and then drain thoroughly.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the chopped ham, mushrooms, corn, seasonings and herbs. Once mixed turn into a fluted flan dish as pictured or a cake tin or skillet or whatever cooking pan you want. Slice the tomatoes fairly thinly and arrange on the top of the quiche in a circle
  3. Now mix the eggs well with the milk and cheese. Pour over the other ingredients.
  4. Put into a medium hot oven about 200°C and cook for 25 minutes.

This can be served hot or cold depending on your preference.

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Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!

widecombemare“Tom Pearce, Tom Pearce, lend me your grey mare.
All along, down along, out along lea.
For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair,
With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney,
Peter Davy, Dan’l Whiddon, Harry Hawke,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all,
Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all!”

…so goes the well-known Devon folk song about a man called Tom Pearce, whose poor old horse dies after someone borrows it to travel to the fair in Widecombe with his many, many friends. Although not at all funny for the grey mare, it is a humorous song and often performed by rowdy crowds (all NINE verses of it!) that have enjoyed a little too much cider! It’s such a well-known song that the term ‘Uncle Tom Cobley’ has come to be used as a colloquialism meaning “anyone and everyone”.

widecombehistoryPossibly because of the song both Widecombe and its Fair are famous throughout the country. Widecombe-in-the-Moor, to use its full name, is a picturesque village in the middle of Dartmoor, with a magnificent church (the interestingly named Church of Saint Pancras!), visible from all the surrounding hills and tors and known as ‘the cathedral of the moor’.

widecombeproduce

Widecombe Fair takes place annually on the second Tuesday in September, attracting thousands of visitors to the tiny Dartmoor village. It is still a traditional event full of farmers and local craftsmen and as popular with locals as visitors and well worth a visit. My partner in crime writing, Julia, went along this year to take some photos and soak up the rural tranquillity and a way of life that has gone on for centuries in the Dartmoor valleys.

widecombeanimals

There were sheep shearing competitions, cattle, sheep and pony classes, vintage cars and agricultural machinery and some stompingly good live folk music in the beer tent from morning through to midnight! The obligatory produce tent, crammed with huge vegetables, jams and flower arrangements (and you wonder where we get our inspiration for the Swaddlecombe books?!) is always worth a visit. There was also an interesting area dedicated to ‘Living History’, complete with thatchers and other traditional craftsmen demonstrating their skills. Add to this ferret and terrier racing and the intoxicating smell of steam engines and you have the perfect rural day out!

widecombeadam

Left to right: Was the Reverend Ruminant present at the Fair? Certainly looks like his car! Adam Henson and his BBC film crew… and a traditional bit of ferret racing!

Such is Wideombe Fair’s fame, Julia spotted Adam Henson, the farmer presented from BBC1’s ‘Countryfile’ programme, busy filming at the fair… so, if you keep your eyes peeled you might get to see it on TV!

 

 

 

 

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The perfect hanging basket!

HydrangeaBasketI love hanging baskets and every year I promise we will have really splendid ones as you see in commercial places like pubs and shopping centres. I have discovered my problem – they all rely on an automated watering system, hence the beautiful and prolific blooms. I, however, have to rely on a Richard watering system, which although wonderful, amazingly hard working and… (what else should I say?) – just doesn’t seem to want to water the hanging baskets many, many times a day and do you blame him? He did try suggesting we had plastic flowers in the baskets this year – and I said I felt my Mother would send down a bolt of lightning onto him if he did that!

This card shows one of many ways to use our brilliant Signature hanging basket die, together with the Signature Busy Lizzie die and the Signature Sabrina Lace Border. The embossing folder is called Tied Together and must, I am sure, have been one of the best-selling embossing folders of all time.

Layer some embossed white card over a gentle mustard or mid-green card. Layer a smaller panel of white card with the same green and some pink. Assemble the card with the embossed layer, then some Sabrina Lace, then the smaller panel. Now put the hanging basket in place with the filling/soil made by cutting out some beige card or white card coloured with pens.

Now cut lots of the Busy Lizzy flowers and colour those with pens too, you could cut them out of pastel card if you hate using pens. Attach the hanging basket to the smaller panel using glue gel to raise the basket slightly. Now arrange your flowers and leaves as shown.

As an important embellishment, there is a self-adhesive pearl on every visible junction of the embossed card and a little dot of glitter in the centre of the flowers. Add the chains from the die and a ribbon bow and you’re all set!

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Longer lasting lavender…

LavenderBiscuitsI adore lavender. I love the scent and the colour, I have it in dried arrangements around the house and I also use it in cooking – lavender shortbread is delicious. However, it can be a surprisingly tricky plant to grow successfully. When the plants are first established they look wonderful and give off their gorgeous smell as you brush past. But I always struggle to keep lavender for more than three or four years as it becomes woody, gappy and just plain tatty and I end up digging it up and replanting.

Early September is the time I usually give my lavender its summer trim. The flowers have lost their colour and the bees have lost interest. So I thought I’d look for advice on pruning English lavender (the French variety has the little tufty ears and needs different pruning), to ensure I was doing it correctly.

LavenderPruneI always prune my lavender rather timidly having been told that if you cut into the wood it won’t regrow. However, looking online, I have found that specialist lavender growers say that English lavender needs hard pruning and you should cut right down into the brown part, where little lavender shoots can just be seen. They suggest cutting back as much as 9” just after the plants finish flowering.

A neighbour (with enviable lavender plants!) says he cuts it right back to the brown, especially in particularly spindly areas of a plant, and it shapes up well again before Christmas. In fact, you can prune lavender into a sculptural shape for winter – it looks lovely in the frost. So, this year, I am taking the bit between my teeth and will be chopping back the lavender plants a good 6” and see what happens… if it’s a success I may be bolder next year!

Top Tip
LavenderChair
The experts say you should use good secateurs for cutting lavender. This makes the job a lot longer than using shears, but it seems to give a tighter, more sculptural finish. And you need to not go mad and chop at it willy–nilly or you will kill it. Secateurs mean you can see what you’re doing. You need to be careful and cut just above the tiny shoots at the bottom of the stem – if you cut the lavender down below them, it won’t regenerate and it will die… So wear your reading glasses!

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