Cranberry Vodka

It’s always useful to have a stock of ideas for home made birthday or Christmas presents and this vodka could be made all year round. Although this recipe uses cranberries to be festive, you could choose blackberries or raspberries or all sorts of berries instead!

  • 70cl bottle of vodka
  • 300g of cranberries
  • Peel from one orange
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 large sterilised jars

To start with, prick all the cranberries with a darning needle or any sharp pokey tool you have. Now divide all the solid ingredients between the two jars and pour half the bottle of vodka into each jar.

Now put the jars somewhere safe and leave for about three weeks, shaking them each day.

Then strain the liquid out of the jars into a jug and bottle up into suitable gift containers and label  and it looks lovely. Easy!

 

 

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My top five festive reads

One day, I will have more time in my life to read. But at the moment my hectic lifestyle means that there is rarely time for me to sit down and get immersed in a book – despite it being one of my greatest loves! However, this Christmas, Richard and I are having a relatively quiet time, so I am optimistic that I will get a chance to get my nose in a book… but it’s just as likely that book might be the second novel I am busy writing with my partner in crime Julia!

But anyway, let’s suppose I do get a chance to read – here are my top five recommended reads for this festive season:

Recipe for Life – Mary Berry

Gosh, I do admire Mary Berry! She built a successful career and raised a family at a time when it was still a very unusual thing for a woman to do. She’s suffered tragedy and ill-health and come through it all with the support of her husband and family. Now, aged 78, when most people are putting their feet up, she’s possibly more famous than ever through her part in the ‘Great British Bake Off’! I’m really looking forward to reading all about her

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (AKA JK Rowling!)

Like many people, I hadn’t heard of this book until it emerged that the author was J K Rowling, so I decided to give it a go – and very good it was! Rowling is a wonderfully talented author and, although this is a million miles away from Harry Potter, all her dash, style and storytelling skills are in evidence. It’s quite gritty, a bit quirky but the lead characters are endearing. As a bit of a detective fiction fan, I hope she writes more novels featuring Cormoran Strike… which, surely is a bit of a Potterish-name for a character!

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells – Sebastian Faulks

I have always been a Bertie Wooster fan (I adored the TV series with Fry & Laurie too!) and I just love the gentle and utterly ‘silly’ old-fashioned humour. So I was somewhat shocked when I read that Sebastian Faulks had been commissioned to write a ‘new’ Jeeves and Wooster story. But the reviews of this book have all been so positive that I have hinted (unsubtly – how unlike me!) to Richard that I would really like a copy for Christmas! 

Preserves: River Cottage Handbook no. 2 – Pam Corbin

As you know, I love preserving and I really liked this little book. It has a lovely ‘feel to it’ (yes I know I like Kindles, but there is something very tactile about books!) and the recipes are straightforward and delicious. There’s also lots of really useful practical advice like sterilising, filling and sealing tables. If you’ve never preserved anything before – this book will give you an excellent grounding. Pam Corbin is a friend of Julia’s and used to run a jam company. Hmmm… jam company now I wonder why that sounds familiar…?

A Sticky End – Joanna Sheen & Julia Wherrell

Oh come on! You didn’t really think I would leave my own novel off the list, did you? It’s the perfect Christmas read, light and funny and, we have been told, hard to put down! The reviews on Kindle, and the lovely emails and letters we have received from readers of the paperback have been truly heartening. If you haven’t already bought a copy… go on!

It’s available on Kindle or through the website.

Happy reading!

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Festive decorations

I don’t have many decorations around the house – the main focus is always my huge Christmas tree. I have an eight-foot high Nordic spruce and we love covering it with happy family memories and decorations made by both the girls over the past 30-plus years. This year there’s going to be a small angel on the top with ‘Grace’ embroidered on her skirt – thank you John Lewis website!

The other items I concentrate on are a lovely wreath for the front door and, lastly, a table centre for the big meal itself. This year I decided I wanted a combination of the lovely country look of oranges and cinnamon with the elegance of orchids and roses – and it looks amazing! I am not blowing my own trumpet – this year my wreath has been made by Karen at 2020 Flowers who is an outstanding florist based here in the village. She delivered the wreath this morning and it really is fantastic. It must have been hard to incorporate everything I asked for and to get it just right, not that I am a demanding customer or anything!

I hang a wreath outside on my front door as I am lucky enough to live in rural Devon where the crime rate is pretty minimal, so I never worry about people stealing it from the door, which I realise might not be the case in a more urban setting. There are good things and bad things about having a wreath outside. It’s great because the cool air keeps it fresher longer and, as it is made on an oasis ring, it’s really easy to water. However, if we are unlucky enough to have a frost over the next couple of weeks, the orchids will get more than a little grumpy. Being near the coast, we often escape really bad frosts and it has worked pretty well most years – but then of course I haven’t had orchids most years!

I’ll keep you posted on how well it’s lasting!

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Dates for Christmas!

One of the little traditions in our house are stuffed dates at Christmas time – apparently they are not allowed any other time of the year except those few days over Christmas, which is a shame really as they are just delicious. I can remember my grandmother making these and being most put out when I suggested I would like some for my birthday in September. “Oh no dear, only at Christmas.” Maybe dates were an expensive luxury back in the day and not easily available all year round?

Stuffed dates also make an excellent little hostess gift or small present to have tucked away in case a visitor drops a present in and you have nothing to give in return. This seems to have been a constant worry for my mother as I can remember her always having some signed cards in blank envelopes – for the cards she received but hadn’t sent to or little presents on the hall table, so it looked as though she had been planning to pop out and distribute at any moment!

Anyway back to the dates. There are a variety of things you can use to stuff the dates and I love all the different options. One of my favourites is to slit the date, remove the stone and then fill the gap with Boursin cheese. I particularly like the black pepper Boursin variety.

Other options are marzipan and as pictured, blanched almonds. You could use cashews or any other nut you fancied as well.

Dates often come in a little box so it’s easy to remove them, stuff and then return them to the box. You can then decorate the box with a sprig of holly or a tinsel bow or whatever you fancy – a quick and easy solution to a tiny present… or frankly, just a nice treat to make for yourself!

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Festive balls!

The hanging basket with its chicken wire ‘dome’.This week, my partner in writing crime, Julia Wherrell, has come up with a lovely idea to brighten up the outside of your house in a festive yet very natural way.

I do not claim to have one tenth of Joanna’s skills when it comes to flower arrangement or plant knowledge and most of my gardening ideas are somewhat ‘freestyle’. I work with what’s around and what inspires me and sometimes ideas work out really well and other times… well, let’s just say my compost heap gets a boost.

As December dawned I decide my hanging baskets were beyond saving and took them down, leaving my house looking very plain. Something green and festive, that’s what’s needed, I thought. But what? I vaguely remembered something about making ivy balls using two hanging basket frames wired together to make the ball structure. After excavating my garden shed I could only find two hanging baskets and not the four I would need to produce two arrangements – one either side of my front door. My first bit of improvisation was to wrestle two bits of chicken wire into rough dome shapes to form the top half of the ball. This actually turned out to be a very good idea, as you will see…

Next I set off round the farm, with the dog, a large carrier bag and my secateurs. Half an hour later, I was back with lots of ivy, some holly, someStarting to wrap ivy around the ball…old dried cow parsley heads and a surprising quantity of rosehips. Being a good forager I only took a few pieces from any one place, leaving plenty of cover and food for the birds and not disturbing the habitat too much. The dog was quite bored by all this and stumped round the walk carrying a large piece of wood as I was too preoccupied to throw her ball. Don’t worry if you don’t live on a farm, you could find plenty of material in areas of woodland or hedgerow.

Back in the garden, I spread out my haul on a tarpaulin and started to cover the balls. I began with lengths of ivy and wound them around. The chicken wire worked really well as it was easy to poke the ends of the ivy through and get them to stay put. I worked on the balls alternately to ensure they were looking fairly equal. I paused briefly to spray the dried cow parsley heads silver – and most of my hand at the same time – and left them to dry. 

Next, I added holly and more ivy, trying to cover as much of the ball structure possible. I soon realised I didn’t have enough, so started raiding the garden, adding some variegated ivy and holly and finding quite a bit of ivy in bloom on the back wall. The design I had envisaged was starting to come together, but lacked a bit of oomph. It suddenly dawned on me that the enormous pieris that I kept squeezing past where it had overgrown the I worked on the balls alternately to try and ensure they looked balanced.steps (I think it’s Forest Flame) was looking rather fine at the moment. A bit of judicious pruning later and I had the final part of the design. The pieris added some lovely red colouring and the flower spikes softened the shape really well.

The final touch involved me wiring up the various bunches of rose hips and dotting them around the two spheres. And absolutely finally, I added the silver cow parsley heads for a bit of subtle glamour.

And there you have it, two festive balls outside my front door! You could obviously use pretty much anything that you think will last and, even if it The finished festive ball!wilts a bit before Christmas, take out the wilting bits and add something else. If you could find mistletoe, that would be lovely and if you want more glitz, you could wire up some small silver or gold baubles and add those as well.

 

 

 

 

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