Merry Christmas

A few days off to concentrate on family and friends.

But just before we sign off, a last image…

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Minecraft Santa with snow golem and bling elf.

I have no idea either.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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First catch your fairy….

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I don’t know how well you can see them, but these my friends are captured fairies.

No, really.

It’s been a bit of a thespian themed week, what with two evenings of youngest child’s nativity play (body popping Wise Men! auditioning angels! tap dancing! gymnastics! Fab!) and then Thursday evening’s trip to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Wendy and PeterPan.

It was just magical.

Stratford was all lit up for the late night Christmas Market

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And then, as you enter the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, you come across a sideboard with jars of these

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It’s what a child’s Christmas theatre experience should be all about.

The production was just lovely. A slightly feminist telling of the tale of Wendy and Peter Pan (yay, go Wendy! Go TigerLily!), but the choreography was breathtaking, the scenery and props amazing.

If you get a chance go.

Even if it means borrowing a child from someone else for the evening (do ask first of course).

And then birthday celebrations last night at local Lebanese restaurant Meze.

Because I love Lebanese food

And couldn’t face another trip to Pizza Express.

Yes children, we will make you appreciate cuisines other than Italian.

Maybe.

Anyway, it was delicious. 🙂

And followed by

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A local village, Eathorpe, normally a shining beacon of good taste and covet-inducing cottages and half timbering, becomes, at Christmas, a shining beacon to jaw-dropping bad-taste Christmas decorations.

It’s great 🙂

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And all done for charity.

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A Christmas tree in a phone box? I defy you not to feel full of good cheer after seeing that!

Handmade Holidays (Pt 4)

Having nearly broken my teeth on a biscotti I bought in Cafe Nero once, for many years I really couldn’t see the attraction of biscotti. They seemed to go from granite to sludge in the bottom of the coffee cup in a matter of, ooh, hours.

Why bother, when a perfectly nice chocolate hobnob would do the job with minimum fuss and maximum pleasure?

But I am now a convert. I have discovered that homemade biscotti are infinitely superior to the fossilised shop bought ones.

And they’re brill to give as gifts at this time of year.

My annual venture into biscotti land usually involves these beauties

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Triple chocolate almond pistachio biscotti.

These are so nice.

There may not be enough left to hand out as presents.

You will need
200g plain flour
60g cocoa powder
150g caster sugar
60g good quality plain dark chocolate
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten
1tsp vanilla
100g blanched almonds
50g pistachios
50g white chocolate
50g milk chocolate

Heat the oven to Gas 4.

First lightly toast the nuts by dry frying over a low heat for a few minutes until lightly browned.

Put flour, cocoa, sugar, baking powder, salt and the dark chocolate ( broken into chunks) into a blender and blitz in pulses until all the chocolate is broken up into the safe size and texture as the flour and mixed in. Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix in pulses until you get a dough. This will be very sticky.
Dust a counter with flour and tip the dough out.

Knead in the now cooled nuts. You can either mix both nuts in together, or split the dough and have one half with pistachio, the other with almond.

You may need to add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.

Divide the dough into four and roll out into long sausage shapes about 2.5 cm wide and slightly flatten the sausage

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Yes I know this looks anything but appetising at this point. Trust me.

Pop the sausages onto a tray lined with baking parchment or grease proof paper and pop in the oven for approx 25 mins.

Allow them to cool.

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With a serrated knife cut the baked dough into 1.5 cm pieces and pop them back into the oven for 15 minutes.

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Allow them to cool.

Melt the milk chocolate either in a microwave or over a bowl of boiling water and then drizzle the biscotti with the melted chocolate.

Or just splodge the chocolate on in big dollops if you are 7 years old and want to maximise the chocolate content

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Allow this to set a little then drizzle with melted white chocolate

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Enjoy with a cup of coffee secure in the knowledge your teeth should remain undamaged from the encounter.

Just remember to brush and floss afterwards 🙂

Glastonbury -wow!

Glastonbury.

Wow.

(You just have to follow Glastonbury with a “Woooowwwww” – said in a long drawn out Neil the Hippy sort of way. It’s obligatory)

Did the trip down to witness the Cutting of the Holy Thorn ceremony.

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The Glastonbury Thorn

Glastonbury is a unique place in that long traditions of pagan and Christian pilgrimage and ritual coexist. Not always easily, but coexisting nonetheless.

So we were there to experience a Christian ritual this time ( two years ago we were there for the pagan Beltane celebrations which was a completely different kettle of fish.

Or cauldron of herbs. )

The legend is that Joseph of Arimathea visited Glastonbury with the Holy Grail and thrust his staff into Wearyall Hill. The staff then grew into the original thorn tree. The thorn is a type of Hawthorn, but the plants around Glastonbury are unusual in that they flower twice a year instead of the usual once. In some traditions this is counted as miraculous.

Whatever truth, or not, lies behind this, it is traditional for a budded branch of the Thorn to be cut at Christmas and sent to the Queen to decorate her Dining room for the Christmas Lunch. So that’s what we went to watch.

The Church was looking beautiful, hosting, as it was, a Christmas tree festival

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Dead people and Christmas trees. My cup runneth over.

Then the Mayor and associated official type people arrived

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Followed by what seemed like several hundred children.

All gathered around the Holy Thorn and the Mayor and two children chose a budded branch.

And chopped it off.

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I’m sure the Queen is very grateful 🙂

And it is a very pretty tree.

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Sorry the photo is a bit fuzzy. The weather was grey and my camera refused to focus on the appropriate spot (the blossom).

We spent a happy few hours wandering around Glastonbury’s many pagan and esoteric shops but it was a bit like when I visit Ikea. All I came away with was a bag of pretty candles.

We ended our spiritual journey with this

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Ha! The Christmas House at Melksham. A new cathedral to the modern aesthetic.

Peace man.

Alpaca ma bags

Sorry!

In amongst all the hectic to-ing and fro-ing that is the run up to Christmas, a little slice of me-time.

A chance to spend a morning learning a new craft and “interacting” with Alpacas.

Who could resist?

So this morning saw me and Tracey (hi Tracey!) heading out to Toft Alpaca for a workshop that would teach us how to crochet a snowflake decoration.

With hindsight a workshop that would “teach us how to crochet” might have been a better bet given that neither of us had picked up a crochet hook before today.

The workshop space is fantastic

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Our crochet skills less so

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Can you tell what it is yet?

But it was so nice to get away from it all for a few hours

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(Hello again Tracey!)

have a laugh, and meet some really nice ladies (who were all demon crocheters and were very generous in sharing their expertise and putting right some of the messes I made with the crochet).

Even the alpacas were quite cute in a slightly scary don’t get too close sort of way

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Did you know there are only 2 varieties of alpaca in the world? This is one of them.

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And this is the other.

And as for my snowflake?

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I can’t help thinking I was following an alternative pattern for crocheted seaweed.

Windfall

We don’t have an apple tree in our garden. But we know someone who does 🙂

So I am now the proud owner of a large carrier bag full of Bramley apples.

I love apple crumble, and I love apple pie, but I was in the mood for trying something a bit different.
I wanted … cookies

Why is it that you can find just about every flavour cookie under the sun but you rarely see apple featuring?

Mmmm, moist chewy apple cookie with a hint of cinnamon spice.

‘Scuse me whilst I drool a while.

I combined sugar and butter with peeled, cored, chopped and cooked Bramley.

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Added flour, bicarbonate of soda, and baking powder

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Dolloped it onto a greased baking tray

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Baked at gas 5 for 15 mins and got

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Cow pats.

Again.

And not even nice tasting cow pats (did I really just write that?)

You know those pan scourers with sponge an one side and tough matted fibrous stuff on the other? Imagine a cold, damp, flattened one of those and you come close to the experience of eating these cookies.

On the plus side I may have just invented the first dessert to also scale and polish your teeth.

And now I know why you rarely get apple cookies.

Handmade Holiday (pt 3)

I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen.
A packed schedule, grandparents visiting, work commitments, the need to sleep occasionally. At what point exactly were the decorations going to go up?

But we have finally, finally, brought them out of the loft, dusted them down, and put them up.

I find the look is becoming more pared down with each passing year.

In the main living areas that is.

We won’t talk about the kids take on dressing a tree.

So for downstairs lots of greenery and candles

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We’ve gone for a real tree this year and it is a real beauty. A bit bigger than originally envisaged – I fear the angel may have a bit of a crick in her neck after a few weeks with her nose pressed against the ceiling- but a beauty none the less.

And isn’t it lovely bringing all the old decorations out and discovering them all over again?

For many years we paid an annual visit to Catherine Shinn in Cheltenham for traditional German handmade glass decorations.

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Small children and glass being what they are we haven’t been for a while.
Looking at the website today I was tempted – but then I saw the torsos which made me think of BoxingHelena, and so I decided to stick with the homemade aesthetic 🙂

Although the garden is looking very sorry for itself at the moment, there’s still lots of evergreen foliage to help make the house feel,Christmassy

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Holly, Rosemary, Ivy and conifer tie together beautifully to make a door decoration

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And then just in case it was all getting a bit too low key and tasteful

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Candy cane colour door wreath!

Another easy one to do with the kids.

First take a base -this could be wire, wicker or polystyrene like this one I’ve had hanging around the craft cupboard for ages.

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Next take some wool- this can be a nice tasteful hue or fairly bright and gaudy like this red- and wrap it around your base.

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Just like you were making a giant pompom….

Once the base is covered, secure the end of the wool.

Now get some felt-again colour choice is up to you and I certainly would not want to impose the bright red and green on to anyone else’s house- and cut out lots (and lots) of star shapes. However many you think you’ll need, double it. And then add a few more. You’ll need them.

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Get some glue. You could use good old upv glue. Or like me, you could decide to use a hot glue gun for the first time.

You know,that old music hall song When Father Papered the Parlour? That was our dining room this afternoon.
Hot glue hung on the dresser
It hung from the doors
At one point it was in danger of hanging youngest child from the ceiling
It floated on the air like spun sugar
Or possibly ectoplasm
Or the gunk from the egg scene in Aliens

But eventually we rescued youngest child and the stars were glued (mainly) to the base and we had a colourful-if not exactly tasteful- wreath for her bedroom door

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The wreath will come down in January but I’m not sure her glue gun PTSD will disappear so quickly.

Fiction Friday

Where does the time go? Can you believe it’s the 6th December already? So much to do and so little time to do it in.

But there’s always time to snuggle up with a good book and a mug of hot chocolate 🙂

Books for little ones

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Another Jan Brett classic. As always the illustrations are breathtaking, the story heartwarming. A lovely book to cuddle up and read together.

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Brothers Grimm story of a selfless little girl who illustrates the true meaning of Christmas. A good one to share before the season of excess completely takes hold.

Books for Older Children

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8 fairy tales with a modern twist.

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Yetis on a road trip? Really what more could you ask for in a winter read?

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I first read What Katie Did at School when I was about 10 and I remember being awestruck by the Christmas boxes they received whilst at boarding school. No real life stocking could ever hope to compete. Even better, the book is available for free from the wonderful people at Project Gutenberg

Books for the Grown Ups

Forget A Christmas Carol, if you want to be terrified this Christmas read

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It’s Phil Rickman, it has ageing rockers, an abbey and the ghost of Lennon. The glass runneth over 🙂

Chris Lit

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Written by the author of Fried Green Tomatoes… It’s another heartwarming tale. Set in the Deep South, in Alabama, it’s a very different scenario to the usual snow and mistletoe offerings; but it leaves you feeling good. And that’s what you want at this time of year. Right? 🙂

Sticky Yorkshire Gingerbread

I wish you could smell our house right now.

No really.

I’ve just baked the first of the season’s gingerbread and the house now smells of cake and spice and general yumminess.

Proper sticky, Yorkshire gingerbread this is. A dark, flavourful, almost chewy cake.

Roll on scratch ‘n’ sniff blogs 🙂

I can’t remember where I got the recipe from. I’d love to say it’s an old family recipe but as my mum once served sweet mince pies with gravy for Sunday lunch I can honestly say a love of baking is not something that previously ran in my family. And as I wrote it down probably about 20 years ago, I can’t even say it comes from Aunty Nigella.

Whatever. It’s very very good. It’s very very easy. It’s Christmas in a cake tin.

Preheat your oven to Gas 3/160C/325F.
Grease and line a 19cm square cake tin.
Beat together 125g softened butter, 125g dark muscovado sugar, 225g plain flour, 200g golden syrup, 4tsp ground ginger, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 150ml milk and 1 large beaten egg. The batter should be well combined but still quite liquid.

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Finely chop 100g preserved ginger or 200g crystallised ginger and add to the mix.

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(Preserved ginger -I’d love to come over all poetic about its amber hues but I’m afraid the term “calf nuts” springs more readily to mind! (Anyone else read Pioneer Woman?))

Stir well.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 1hr 10mins until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for a little while then turn out of the tin and peel off the grease proof paper. Use the skewer to poke some small holes in the cake and then drizzle some golden syrup over the top. If you used preserved ginger then the syrup from the jar is a nice alternative to the golden syrup for drizzling.

Eat a large chunk of the cake, just to check the quality, and then wrap the rest in foil and leave to mature for a few days. The warmth of the ginger will really come through if it’s left to mature in this way, and the cake will get stickier and stickier and even more delicious.

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Handmade Holidays (pt 2)

December already.

Argh.

How did that happen?

A couple of years ago, when I obviously had a lot more time on my hands than I seem to have nowadays, I became irrationally irritated by the plastic inserts in most commercially produced chocolate advent calendars and decided I would make my own (calendar that is, not the plastic insert).

No need to go into the contradiction involved in then filling the home made calendar with chocolates wrapped in, ahem, disposable, wrappers. No sirree we will not go into that now.

(And I do try to get foil wrapped choccies which are slightly less guilt inducing)

Have you been good this year? Hope so otherwise this will be in your Christmas stocking

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Aaaaaaarrrrghhhh

No it’s not the anti-elf. It is in fact Yoda.

Hey I never said embroidery was my strong point.

Hmmm, could be a whole new genre of blog posts… when crafts turn bad

Apart from the embroidery aspect the principle idea behind the calendar is fantastically simple.

You get a large piece of material. You fold the top edge under by a centimetre and then fold it again by about 8 centimetres and sew along the edge to make a sort of channel.
You hem the bottom edge of the large piece of material.
You cut out 24 or 25 (depending on how you like to work the Advent timetable) squares of felt or other robust material. Decorate or embellish them if you wish. Then use fabric paints to write the numbers 1 to 24 (or 25) on the squares. Sew the squares onto the large piece of material in a suitably random fashion.
Insert a piece of dowelling in the channel you created at the top of the piece of material.
Fill the squares with goodies.

This is great because you can adapt the content to your particular ethos. We include a mix of chocolates and small presents.

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It is also easily adaptable so you can make it as simple or as complicated as you want.

Apart from now being terrified of the anti-elf, sorry, Yoda, oldest child is a big Star Wars fan so R2D2 makes an appearance

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Youngest child is more into cute things so we’re working the whole elf/snowman/pudding/furry creatures aesthetic

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Yay, warm fuzzy feelings all round 🙂