New Year’s resolutions and reflections…

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Ahhh! My partner in crime writing Julia was a big Sir Terry fan and met him a couple of times. She confirms he was a lovely, lovely man.

Well, “Goodbye 2016″! I can’t, in all honesty, say I will miss you one bit – and I am excitedly looking forward to what I hope will be a fabulous 2017 for us all.

There seem to have been so many sad deaths of people that brightened our lives with brilliant entertainment – like Terry Wogan (I love that the BBC have named their building Wogan House). Victoria Wood was another entertainer I loved to bits, great lady. The list is horribly long this year with people such as Alan Rickman, Greg Lake, Prince, Ronnie Corbett, Gene Wilder, Andrew Sachs – oh the list is too long to quote. May they all rest in peace.

We have had dramatic political happenings this year (let’s not dwell on those), war and fighting continue in so many areas of the world I can only pray for more peace next year. In my personal world, which I realise does not impact the main population, I lost both my beloved parents only hours apart at the beginning of the year, and then decided I would pop up again on Create and Craft.

Back on Create & Craft!

Back on Create & Craft!

Life goes on and life is for living and the main wisdom that I have ringing in my ears (thank you, Mother) is the advice to live every day to the maximum. Love those around you and tell them so, help the community around you and be the best person that you can.

That’s as close to New Year resolutions that I am going to get for 2017 … oh ok, that old chestnut, I am going to reach my target weight at Slimming World in 2017, but my guess is it will be nearer the end of the year than the beginning, but I will get there!

I wish you all happiness and health, family and friendship and let’s hope the world decides to take a

turn for the better this year!

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Unusual twist on lasagne

lasagnemontageWith the thought that many of us may have had more than enough turkey… I felt it might be timely to do a quick note to mention the new lasagne sheets I have discovered in Sainsbury’s. I am always on the hunt for new ideas and products when I am out shopping, or chatting to other keen cooks, and this is the newest vegetable offering from Mr Sainsbury.

I did not use it to make a vegetarian lasagne (Richard would shudder at the thought) it’s a normal beef lasagne but instead of using pasta sheets for the dividers, you can now get butternut squash sheets or courgette sheets. If you imagine a peeled butternut squash going through a thin bread slicer – that’s what you get, firm but slim slices that are almost the size of a normal lasagne sheet. Likewise with the courgette version although they were a little smaller.

I layered mince cooked in a tomato sauce, you can make your own or cheat as I did and use a Dolmio version (sorry but I was in a hurry that day), anyway a layer of that then a layer of your veggie sheet, then white sauce or cheese sauce depending on your choice, another layer of the vegetable sheets and then more tomatoey mince. Obviously, easy peasy to create a purely veggie lasagne – just leave the mince out of the tomato sauce.

I continued with this until the dish was pretty full (as you can see from the photo) and then topped it off with some grated mozzarella and a grind or six of pepper. Forty minutes in the oven and hey presto! Even veggie-averse Richard was very complementary – that’s one way to get veg down them!

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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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A winter wonderland…

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kjestenbasket2I love Christmas – I love the preparation, the decoration and the celebration! It is a wonderful opportunity for us crafters to create all sorts of fabulous things and I am always keen to see what new ideas or trends will appear each year alongside traditional decorations.

Everything Scandinavian is very ‘in’ at the moment, but it is such a magical winter wonderland, it is no surprise that they are the masters of cosy (yes, hygge again!) and of creating fabulous decorations from the plants and trees that thrive in such a cold landscape.

I follow a Facebook page that’s linked to Gardener’s World and someone whose posts regularly catch my eye is a lady called Kjerstin who lives in Norway. Her wooden house, built in 1919, looks like something out of a fairytale, and her garden is equally lovely, full of shape and colour even when the temperature has plummeted well below freezing.

kjerstincolourKjerstin has recently posted some great photos of the Christmas decorations and arrangements that she has created outside and she has very kindly said I can share them with you. The arrangements in urns and baskets are, Kjerstin said, simply stuck into soil, with branches the pushed well down.

I thought Kjerstin’s ideas might inspire us to come up with similar designs and, if you swap soil for oasis, many of her ideas would work well inside as well as out. I’d love to hear about your own Christmas decorating ideas, so please share!

Smiles, Joanna.

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