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!

2 Comments

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!

3 Comments

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.

1 Comment

It’s crab apple time

Crab apples are a very old-fashioned fruit. They are not readily available in shops, or perhaps only in the odd specialist one, but never the less they are a little autumn treasure that shouldn’t be ignored!

crabapplejelly

My crab apple jelly… and some other garden produce (just showing off a bit!).

I have a tree in the garden – and yes, I guess I am a little unadventurous with the fruit and produce crab apple jelly like most people do! I think I might do some research next year and see if I can find something more unusual to make with them. Meanwhile, here is the result of this year’s crop – it’s a lovely sweet tasting gentle jelly that is delicious with pork, or on warm scones, or on toast… and now I am going to go away and type the recipe before I get too hungry! But crab apple jelly and warm scones, mmm that does sound nice doesn’t it?!

The recipe is from the BBC Good Food site – love so many of their recipes!

Ingredients

  • 4 kg crab apples
  • 1 kg caster sugar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Makes 6 x 500ml jars

Method

  1. Wash the apples, removing any bruised fruit. Put in a saucepan, fill with water to just cover the apples.
  2. crabappletree

    Crab apple trees are very attractive, as well as providing lots of delicious fruit. Credit: PhotoLibrary RM.

    Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit is soft (about 30 minutes).

  3. Pour the pulp into a jelly bag or several layers of muslin and let drip overnight into a pan. Do NOT squeeze the bag or it will make the juice cloudy.
    ————
  4. The next day, measure the juice, and add sugar in the ratio of 10 parts juice to 7 of sugar. Add some lemon juice, then bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  5. Keep at a rolling boil for 40 minutes, skimming off the froth. To test the set, chill a dessertspoon in the refrigerator.
  6. When the jelly is set, it will solidify on the back of the spoon. Pour into warm, sterilised preserving jars and tightly seal while still slightly warm. Store in a cool dark place.
1 Comment

Putting your garden to bed…

scabious

Scabious, always so vibrant.

Gardening is such a wonderful thing! It’s good for you physically and mentally and you get lovely flowers of fruit and veg as a reward for all your effort. I must say I am really enjoying the new hour-long editions of Gardener’s World. I did wonder if an hour might drag but it is a tranquil, yet inspirational, hour on a Friday evening – just lovely!

It is easy to think that come the Autumn the garden just goes to sleep until Spring but that’s not the case. Your garden needs help ‘putting to bed’ in all sorts of ways. Put in the work now, and it will pay dividends in the Spring.

It’s always good to be thinking about colour in the garden next year, planning ahead and sowing now will save you a lot of money too. Sow hardy annuals, such as cerinthes, scabiosa and cornflowers, for flowers early next summer. You can also plant wallflowers, pansies, forget-me-nots and other gorgeous spring bedding in pots and borders. And, to keep interest in your garden now, how about planting up containers for autumn colour, using cyclamen, heathers, heucheras and other colourful bedding plants?

One of the best ways to save money and feel chuffed by your own efforts is to collect ripe seeds from your favourite flowers and store in labelled envelopes, ready to sow in spring. I can confirm it is a very good feeling to see the seeds start to germinate.

As you know, I have really been getting into growing veg this year and I want to try and keep greens growing in my raised beds so I am going to sow some hardy greens such as kale, lamb’s lettuce and mustard, for delicious winter pickings.

Rather than splashing out on supermarket-grown herbs, why not pot up herbs, such as chives and parsley, and place on a sunny windowsill to use during winter?

If you are lucky enough to have a greenhouse you could plant prepared hyacinth bulbs in pots or hyacinth glasses, for fragrant indoor flowers at Christmas – lovely! You could also plant dwarf spring bulbs in pots, including irises, crocuses and scilla, for early flowers. Remember to keep your eye out for pests and diseases in the greenhouse, and tackle any you find immediately.

Finally – garden maintenance! I know it sounds dull, but these routine jobs can really make a difference. If you have a pond, put netting across to stop autumn leaves falling in and rotting. And, finally,­ and this one is very important – clean out water butts and check downpipes in preparation for autumn rains and leaves. There’s nothing worse than looking out at the pouring rain and seeing your gutters overflowing and knowing that someone (ideally Richard!) will have to go outside and clear the blockage!!

1 Comment