Happy Christmas! I hope you are having a lovely day and that Santa has brought you everything you wished for!
By the end of Christmas day or Boxing day, when the relatives have gone and the tidying up is complete, I think most of us will be longing for some rest and relaxation and I can’t think of anything that fits the bill better than a relaxing bath.
There are many real and apocryphal tales of famous ladies bathing in assorted substances. Cleopatra in her asses milk, for example, while others choose champagne and water from famous spas. All of these indicate one thing – that baths of any kind are good for the spirit! However, I think bathing in asses milk is right out (unless you have a pet ass of course) but milk baths can work just as well with a limited amount of milk and not necessarily from a donkey!
Here is a selection of my favourite soaks for you to try, so lie back and relax… and prepare yourself for the New Year celebrations that are just around the corner!
Cleopatra’s Milk Bath
1.5 cups of powdered milk or 1 litre/2 pint of fresh milk
This will help relax and soften your skin.
While the bath is running add the powdered milk under the fast-running tap. Fresh milk is also nice in a bath but the convenience of powdered milk is that you can keep it in the bathroom with a scoop or cup, ready for the moment when you feel the need of an Egyptian-style bath!
A simple recipe for a wonderful, aromatic and relaxing bath is to add 6-8 drops of lavender essential oil under the fast-running hot tap as you fill your bath.
This could not be easier. Salt baths help to relieve tired and aching muscles and make your skin feel wonderful. Run a warm bath and pour 1-2 cups of sea salt under the fast-running tap. Then enjoy!
Floral Soda Bath
Baking soda can be used on its own to make a bath cooling and reviving, especially if you have been ill. However, it is much more enjoyable as a floral bath. This isn’t an ‘immediate’ bath time treat, but is well worth the wait…
Fill a large glass jar (approximately 750ml or 1.5 pint) with bicarbonate of soda to just short of the top. Then, add a teaspoon of jasmine, ylang-ylang or neroli essential oil. Shake the jar well and leave on the side for a week or two, shaking it every time you pass.
Use about a half to one cup for a wonderfully aromatic bath.
I’m very fond of cold meats – which is fortunate as there’s always lots left over at Christmas time – and I love adding pickle or a preserve to my plate. This preserve not only tastes wonderful, it looks lovely too! A rich glossy chilli red, you can have no doubt that it is going to pack a punch. Men generally seem to like spicier, hotter things and I think this is always a good preserve to have in the fridge ready to add a dash of heat to a simple lunch or supper, or to just dollop on the side of your plate to add some delicious warmth!
You will need:
- 8 large red peppers, deseeded and chopped
- 10 red chillies halved
- 50g fresh root ginger pealed
- 8 garlic cloves peeled
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
- Put all these ingredients in a food processor and whizz until nearly smooth, then put in a large pan along with
- 750g sugar
- 250ml red wine vinegar
Bring it all to the boil and simmer for about 1-2 hrs, stirring occasionally. It is ready when the mixture is volcanic. Put into warm sterilised Jars and seal. Keep for up to 3 months and, once opened, keep in the fridge.
Makes about 8 small jars.
I love the idea of having family treasures that come out every year and make a real tradition out of Christmas. My mother has been making these pretty decorations for many years and we all have special collections of examples she has made for us.
It’s easy to use different scraps of fabric for a colourful patchwork effect or you can plan a colour scheme and buy a small amount of fabric for your project. All you need are some polystyrene balls, your fabric and lots of little pins!
I like the idea of choosing a specific colour scheme or theme and making one for each of the family every year. You could write the date on in gold pen to make it a special piece that can go on the tree each year.
Making your own Christmas decorations is a rewarding way to spend some time as you can enjoy them hanging all through the festive period and then tuck them away safely to enjoy next year.
All the ingredients can be bought from Pinflair, who are colleagues of mine on TV – and very reasonably priced they are too!
There are lots of places on the internet that have great tutorials showing you how to make these ornaments so here are some links for easy access – have fun!
The arrival of ‘proper’ winter weather has seen the usual flurry of wild bird activity in our garden. I see robins fluffed up like pompoms and black birds looking huge – thank goodness they have such great insulation in their feathers. But it’s important we look after our garden birds throughout the winter months, especially now as so many of them are under threat.
Garden birds need extra nourishment to keep them warm, just as we do and, as I know you are all so keen on cooking and ‘making’, I thought you’d love to have a go at making your own winter bird feeders!
All you need is vegetable suet, or lard, bird seed mix and empty yogurt pots.
Mix one part suet to two parts seed, transfer to a saucepan and gently heat until the fat melts.
Next, make a small hole in the bottom of each pot and thread some twine through to tie the feeder to a tree branch. Pour the mixture into the pots – do this on a tray or baking sheet so if any fat leaks through the hole it won’t damage anything. Set overnight in the fridge, then simply remove the pot and hang up outside.
Don’t forget their water in winter. I keep a stock of old plastic post and cartons from packaging that I fill with water and weight down with a stone to ensure they always have fresh unfrozen water.
Finally, hygiene is very important – when a large number of birds are attracted into an area to feed, the danger of disease increases. Prevention is always better than a cure, and is the best thing you can do to help the birds.
The RSPB has lots of useful information about bird feeding and advice on how to keep everything clean. Click here to find out what they suggest
I do enjoy caramelised red onions, they make a change from traditional chutney and can liven up anything from a cheese sandwich to a sautéed duck breast! This recipe is easy and the result is delicious. If you’ve time on your hands and enjoy preserving, I’m sure a few jars of this would go down very well as presents – hand-made preserves are always so much nicer than shop bought.
My mother has been the stalwart chutney and marmalade maker in the family to date – but this recipe is a quick and easy that all of us make from time to time! Between my sister and mother and myself we have a fair few ‘easy present’ recipes and I will pop a few into the blog next year for inspiration for you!
You will need:
- 6 medium red onions
- 2 medium shallots
- 1 medium white onion
- 2 red chillies (deseeded and chopped)
- 100g raisins
- 250ml balsamic vinegar
- 50ml red wine vinegar
- 220g dark brown sugar
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 1 large spring of rosemary (leaves picked and chopped)
- Olive oil
Peel and Chop all the onions to chutney sized pieces, place in a large pan with the olive oil, bay leaves and rosemary and cook for about 20 minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the pan and simmer for about one hour.
Put into sterilised jars and seal. This can be left for 4-6 weeks for the flavour to develop, or you can eat right away.
Makes four standard sized jars.