I know we all want the ‘perfect’ Christmas – the elusive nirvana of a huge gathering of happy relatives where nothing ever goes wrong… Everyone adores their presents, they praise the lightness of my gently warmed mince pies, the mulled wine is irresistible and yes, nobody gets too tipsy…
I could go on – my cards are all beautifully made and not one person forgotten, the presents are wrapped as if by a professional and my hair and make up are flawless as can be seen in all the rose-tinted photographs of the event…
OK back to reality! I will overheat the mince pies and only the dog will appreciate them, my naturally inclined to frizz hair will do just that as jets of steam shoot out of the oven as I check the turkey – and I just know I will forget a present or a card!
So why not join me in some clever forward planning this year – and let’s catch all those little ‘fails’ before they happen.
1. I will have a stock of Christmas cards sitting in the letter rack ready to be addressed and sent when the inevitable “Oh no, I forgot them!” card arrives through the door!
2. Buy something small but lovely for a male and a female gift, so that if someone arrives unannounced you have something that might work – if not – have them yourself as a treat after Christmas!
3. Use a portable kitchen timer – I have one that you hang round your neck – then you can’t get chatting with someone in the sitting room while the mince pies harden to stone in the oven!
4. Frizzy hair – well any of you that struggle with frizz will have your own best cures – but mine is strong hairspray – apply way more hairspray than you are used to using and then the oven can try and do its worst and there’s a good chance you will survive!
5. Try and remember that nobody has a picture perfect family or Christmas and if yours brings happiness and is pretty OK – then you have worked your own little bit of Christmas magic!
If you have any ‘top tips’ to help us all get through the festive period – please share!
Every design we have featuring the House-Mice makes me smile. Ellen Jareckie the artist has an amazing talent and a gift for just adding a spot of humour to everything she draws. Here the mice are checking their homework but in terms of seeds, oats and raisins!
I have sent House-Mouse cards to all ages, both male and female – their humour seems to appeal to so many different people – I am such a fan – oops you knew that already!
This card is pretty simple to make. Layer the main decoupage image up on some lilac card and the sentiment too. Then build up the decoupage using Pinflair glue gel, or similar.
Using an 8” x 8” scalloped card – add some layers of lilac card and a toning backing paper, rounding off the corners to blend with the scalloped edges. Add the decoupaged image at a jaunty angle, then add the sentiment beneath it.
Finally embellish with silk or paper leaves and flowers and a butterfly with a bit of sparkle!
Now is definitely one of my favourite times of year for scavenging and trawling the local paths and woods. Pine cones are of IMMENSE use to a crafter and can be used so many different ways, but my particular favourite is to use them as a Christmas pot pourri.
The fibrous material that makes up a pine cone is also, fortuitously, really good at retaining scents. So I capitalise on this ability and have a lovely big basket or bowl of pine cones near the open fire, or around in the kitchen throughout the dark wintery season.
The first and most important task is to dry out the pine cones – take great care as small bugs seem to lurk and these need to be removed. Start by shaking each cone well, outside on a sheet of newspaper. Tap it and give it a good shake – some people wash them in a very dilute bleach solution, again to eradicate any bugs – I usually just shake them a bit and then the drying process sorts out bugs as you will see. However the bleaching technique can be used to vary the colours of the cones in your collection if you’d like some lighter ones.
Once you are happy they are well shaken, bring them indoors and arrange on a wire cake rack, over a baking sheet and put in a very low oven (sort of thing that would be perfect for an Aga if you have one!) and leave for 4-5 hours. This should dry them nicely – if they were sopping wet then you might need a little longer – just check them and see.
Then decide what fragrance you want – either a bought pot pourri oil (like a refresher oil) or your own mixture of essential oils. Drop some oil onto each cone, stick them in a sealable plastic bag and leave for 24 hours or more. Then bring out of the bag and arrange in your chosen container. The scent can then be topped up by dropping oil onto the cones and shuffling them around in their container.
I adore chutneys and jams, probably due to being brought up on them – my Mother, Diana, is a demon preserver!
Well, it’s certainly been a bumper year for green tomatoes… as they have resolutely refused to ripen in the dismal wet summer we have just endured. So, what better way to use up produce than to make hot and spicy chutneys to see you through the winter months?
Below are two really tasty chutneys for you to try – and they are really straightforward to make. If you’re new to preserving, it can seem a bit daunting, but really, it’s not!
Here are some useful preserving hints and tips to get you started…
- Jars – Make sure you use sterilised Jars and lids, wash in hot soapy water, rinse and put on a baking tray and put in and warm oven (140ºC) and make sure your jars are completely dry before filling. Also make sure there are no chips/cracks in Jars. You can also sterilise all jars and bottles in a dishwasher.
- Vinegar – When making chutney and preserving it is important to use a vinegar with 5% acidity and above. Malt, white, cider, red or white wine vinegars can all be used.
- Equipment – When preserving I like to use different pans and wooden spoons, one for Jams and one for chutneys, this avoids cross contamination of flavours. A slotted spoon is useful for taking the scum off the top while cooking. A thermometer is handy for jams, but not essential. The most useful bit of equipment I have when making jams and chutneys is a funnel to fill the jars – it avoids drips and ending up with worktops covered in jam and chutney!
- Produce – Make sure that when you prepare your fruit or vegetable for preserving you use only the good fruit and veg and ensure that they have been washed.
- Sugar – When making jams you will need preserving or jam sugar – it has extra pectin in it to make it set, you can buy this from any good supermarket.
- Storage – Once jams are made they can be used straight away and can be stored in a dark cupboard for up to 12 months. Once opened, they can be stored in the fridge for about one month. When making chutney it is best to keep it in a dark cupboard for at least a month before opening, to let the flavours develop. Once opened keep in the fridge. Unopened chutney can be kept in a cool, dark cupboard for several years providing they were packed into properly sterilised Jars.
If you’re an ‘old hand’ as this preserving game… why not share some of your own hints and tips?
Spicy Tomato Chutney
This makes about six standard sized jars
- 1kg (2.2lbs) chopped tomatoes (red, green or mixture)
- 2 onions peeled and chopped
- 200g (7oz) raisins
- 200g (7oz) caster sugar
- 6 chillies (red, green, purple or mixture) deseeded and chopped
- 2tsp mustard seeds
- 2tsp cayenne pepper
- 1tsp salt
- 1stp ground ginger
- 500ml malt vinegar
Put all ingredients into a large pan and cook for about 3 hrs.
The amount of chillies can be reduced or increased depending on how hot you like it.
Tomato and Apple Chutney
This makes about six standard sized jars
- 1kg cooking apples
- 1kg tomatoes (red, green or a mixture)
- 500ml (18fl oz) vinegar (malt, cider or white)
- 500g (Ilb) onions peeled and sliced
- 250g (8oz) dried fruit (raisins, apricots etc.)
- 500g (1lb) soft brown sugar
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- ½ tsp mustard powder
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1tsp salt
Put all the ingredients in a large pan and cook for 2-3hrs, stirring occasionally. Put in to sterilised Jars and keep for about one month in a dark cupboard before opening, keep in fridge once opened.
There are literally millions of books out there to choose from and if, like me, you are constantly on the look for new titles and recommendations, I thought it might be interesting for you all to have a look at some of my favourites from this year. Maybe you could suggest some of yours too?
I have a very wide taste in the types of books I enjoy reading – I am not good at reading horror (baby that I am!) but I have loved some fantasy and magic related themes… my suggestions there would be; ‘The Hollows’ series by Amanda Hocking and ‘The Dresden Files’ series by Jim Butcher. Both are amazing series that kept me enthralled and rank among my all-time favourites.
However if you are thinking “Oh no – hate magic but love romance” well, I read a lot of those too! How about trying ‘Long Time Coming’ by Edie Claire or historical romance like Glenna McReynolds ‘Chalice and the Blade’.
Jojo Moyes is a very powerful writer and it’s worth trying “Me Before You” – a really strong book, and my daughter has just finished ‘The Girl You left behind’ also by Jojo Moyes, so I am hoping there will be a copy winging its way over!
Another author that I have to recommend is Debbie Maccomber. I adore gentle series about people I have ‘met’ in other books and got to know and, although Debbie’s books are based in America which might not be everyone’s choice, I find them wonderfully comfortable and have read every one in the series.
A huge favourite of both Richard’s and mine is the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom, we listen to the audio version on our long drives to do TV shows and it makes the time fly past! Finally I have to give a mention to one of my main romantic author favourites and that would be Katie Fforde – her best (I think!) is “Going Dutch”.
So – what are your recommendations? Do you read on a Kindle, or prefer the good old traditional book? Or do you, like us, enjoy audio books too?