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Archive for the ‘Christmas’ Category

Christmas cake update

Just wanted to let you know that the Christmas cake was FANTASTIC! To cut a long story short, I didn’t decorate the cake, but I did buy a tub of gloriously soft and tasty marzipan to go with a nice thick slice of cake and a cup of tea. You can definitely taste the alcohol, but it is not overpowering, it just adds to the overall deliciousness.

Christmas cake, marzipan and a cup of tea

Christmas cake, marzipan and a cup of tea

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Apologies in advance for what will no doubt seem like boasting! I am so very pleased with myself for tackling this project when I knew it would be a challenge. We are attending a winter solstice party and I wanted to have something special to wear. We don’t go to any parties normally, so I really don’t have much to wear (honest!). This is a modified McCall’s M4491 – hopefully not modified beyond recognition! It is the first time I have used a pattern to make something for myself. My dressform, affectionately know around here as “Maggie”, was very helpful indeed, as I needed to take the dress in. I changed the sleeves and added a button and ribbon loop at the back so I could hook the skirt up, rather than have it trailing around under people’s feet. I left out the lining and made the back plain. Some parts of the pattern were just too fiddly for me to deal with right now. This was made a little more challenging by having my 4 year old take the scissors to a random piece of fabric laying on the table. Not so random, as it turned out to be a sleeve! Lesson of the day: keep the scissors well out of reach.

I will try to post a picture of me wearing the dress, if I can get said 4 year old to cooperate! I found the perfect belt to wear with it, but have yet to decide on shoes. I have my beautiful gold wedding shoes, so will try those and see how they work.

My grandmother, who is now 94 and lives in Scotland, was a hugely talented seamstress and I am inspired by her. Every item I ever saw of hers was always finished with great attention to detail, down to the under garments on doll clothes. Whenever I make something, I have her in mind and I hope she would be proud of me.

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Today I am attending my first ever cookie exchange with some of the other mums from preschool. I am really looking forward to it and hope no one minds the last minute change of plans for my contribution. I was fully intending to bake gingerbread biscotti, but made a batch of cranberry and white chocolate cookies at the weekend and remembered just how good they are. Fabulous, in fact. It is another recipe from the lovely Nigella, in her “Feast” cookbook. Page 82, in case you have it. I have made these little delights many times and they are always delicious. I once tried cutting down the sugar, but it affected the crispiness, so don’t do it. I am not sure whether I am allowed to post this recipe without permission, but here we go. If she complains, I will take it off!

Cranberry and White Chocolate Cookies

Recipe from “Feast” by Nigella Lawson

At this time of year, I think we all find it difficult to keep going between meals. This is the ideal, unnecessary but so gratifying filler, perfect with a cup of tea or, for those of under tea-drinking age, a glass of milk. The oats make these wonderfully chewy and help convince yourself that they are actually very healthy and good for you. Nothing to feel guilty about at all.
Makes 30

140g flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
75g rolled oats
125g soft unsalted butter
75g dark brown sugar
100g caster sugar (berry sugar)
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
75g dried cranberries
50g pecans, roughly chopped
140 white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Measure out the flour, baking powder, salt and rolled oats into a bowl.
Put the butter and sugars into another bowl and beat together until creamy – this is obviously easier with an electric mixer of some kind, but you just need to put some muscle into it otherwise – then beat in the egg and vanilla.
Beat in the flour, baking powder, salt and oat mixture and then fold in the cranberries, chopped pecans and chocolate chips. Set the bowl of biscuit dough in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.
Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into a ball with your hands, and then place them on a lined or greased baking sheet and squish the balls down with a fork. You may need 2 baking sheets or be prepared to make these in 2 batches.
Cook for 15 minutes; when ready, the cookies will be tinged a pale gold, but be too soft to lift immediately off the tray, so leave the tray on a cool surface and let them harden for about 5 minutes. Remove with a spatula or whatever to cool fully on a wire rack.

I always double the recipe now, as these are so very good!

I will post some pics of the event later. It was quite late last night when I finished packing the cookies in their tins, so I didn’t take any photos.

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Big “doh!”

Finally! I just figured out what “OOAK” stands for! Please tell me I am not the only person who didn’t know that it stands for “one of a kind”! I have seen it often enough and I certainly should know what it means, as pretty much everything I make is exactly that. Oh, I’m a happy camper now!

This weekend we took our 4 year old daughter to see “The Nutcracker”. Grandma bought her a new dress, I painted her nails and curled her hair and she was very excited and happy about it all – until the Sugar Plum Fairy came on. Now, the performance was marvellous, the costumes were lovely and our seats were great. So far, so good. The Sugar Plum Fairy, however, was all wrong. “But Daddy, she is supposed to be pink. It’s not right.” From then on, complete sulk. It kind of went downhill from there and, though we managed to get her to stop asking to go home, she steadfastly refused to clap at the end. What can you do? Next time Grandma can babysit them both and we will go on our own!

Yesterday was the big Christmas decorating day. Despite several years of experience, I never, ever think it is going to take as long as it does. Every year it comes as a surprise that I can’t get it all done in a couple of hours.  We put on my all-time favourite Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, cleared a space for the tree and spent the rest of the day covering it in an assortment of ornaments. This is no show tree. I do not do a colour theme or any form of coordination. Our tree is a collection of family memories and meaningful ornaments, filled in with some generic baubles that were probably on sale! I started my collection as a teenaged exchange student in Michigan and my first ornament was a red 1957 Corvette by Hallmark, a gift from a good friend.  Now we have tiny lighthouses, miniature stockings, disco balls, beaded tassles, glass baubles and the essential bird. The tree will continue to look different every year, as the girls’ handmade decorations take centre stage. For us, the tree is about family, building memories and creating our own traditions, not about design and perfection.

My Mum and I plan to buy or make an ornament for each of the girls every year, so that when they “set up house” they will have a little collection of their own.

I have just completed all my orders for Christmas. I have made 8 children’s aprons, 6 adult ones, 3 bags, several crayon rolls and numerous ponytail holders. Everything else is on hold while I work on things for us for awhile. We are invited to a winter solstice party and I am planning a couple of costumes for us, plus some wide leg lounge pants for Mum for Christmas, a couple of tutus, a reversible dress for the little one and a few clothes for her doll. Once Christmas is done, I promised to work on some new bags and am re-upholstering the cushions on a friend’s boat. Good thing I like to sew!!

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I really like to make things, surprise! These are a few of the things I have been doing lately. I cannot take credit for the advent tree, as my brother made that some years ago, but I did make the bags on Saturday, as Mum couldn’t find the originals. She just had a flood at her house and it is a little topsy-turvy right now. The mince pies are a personal favourite and I am amazed I managed to last until December before making them. They just need a little dusting of icing sugar and they won’t eat better than today so I had better go make a pot of tea to go with them….

Before I go, Mum and I had a little sewing session on Saturday night and blanket-stitched all the little felt stockings. It was very domestic and cozy.

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How could I possibly forget to mention that Christmas is not Christmas without “A Christmas Carol” in various versions, “Miracle on 34th Street” (original) and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”. Hubby loves “Muppets Christmas Carol”. Can’t watch Grinch this year, though, as our 4 year old had bad dreams about him for awhile. I might have to sneak it in one night after they have gone to bed….

Oh, and one more thing. We absolutely have to have Brussels sprouts.

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Now that it is December, I can start to get into Christmas mode! Yippee! I love this time of year and now that we have 2 young children it is going to be even more magical. One of the great things about being a grown-up is that we can start our own traditions for our family, but also combine our favourite things from each of our backgrounds. We both have English parents, so the traditions are very similar, but even so each family does things slightly differently. Thr trick is trying to remember what we told the girls last year and sticking to it!

We are not a religious household, but we are well aware of the significance of the season and are respectful of the beliefs of others. I offer no apologies for the lack of church activities here, but if this bothers you, please look away!

These are some aspects of our Christmas traditions.

1) Writing a letter to Santa

Last year, when our older daughter was 3, we wrote a letter to Santa on the computer and mailed it at the local mall. The girls like to look at Santa, but they don’t want to get too close yet. Pip says she will be brave enough when she is 5. In last year’s letter she asked for a mermaid outfit and dress up shoes (the year before it was a blue dinosaur and a green dinosaur). The highlight of the letter was this “I have a baby sister. She is called Milly and she is too little to write, but I think she would like a pretend reindeer with a pretend reindeer nose.”

2) Leaving snacks for Santa and his reindeer

We always leave snacks, of course. Even when my brothers were too old to believe, we still left snacks. To be honest, I even left snacks when I was grown-up, living on my own and didn’t have children! Traditionally for us, it is a mince pie or cookie and a glass of milk for Santa and some carrots for the reindeer. Last year Santa left footprints on the hearth (flour on a boot!), so we have already been told this year that we may have to clean the carpet. That girl has a great memory, which makes it very difficult to buy things for her. It is no good buying something in June and thinking she will forget about it by Christmas. She doesn’t. Anything from Santa has to be bought when she is at preschool. Which reminds me that we have to find a better hiding place….

Mum even brought some deer poo to leave on the deck to prove that the reindeer had been here. Now that is dedication to a story! She also bought a set of bells and my husband stood out in the dark garden jingling them so P. could hear that Santa was nearby.

3) Stockings

In our house, now, Santa does the stockings. We do the presents, but he is in charge of the stockings. Traditionally for us, the stockings contain an activity of some kind, underwear, chocolate, toiletries such as bubble bath or bath pearls, a book and the all-important mandarin.

4) Christmas morning

We, by which I mean the children, as we decided there was too much excess and the adults didn’t need a stocking, open the stockings and the grown ups drink Buck’s Fizz and eat chocolates. We then have breakfast, still dressed in our jammies, before getting back upstairs to open pressies. We used to do it slowly and take turns, but we are more go-with-the-flow now and fit in with the pace of the children. Occasionally we take a break so I can check on Christmas dinner.

5) Christmas dinner

We have our big meal at about 1pm. This came about a few years ago when I took over the cooking and hosting. The alternative was having to be thinking about it all day, everyone stuffing themselves with chocolate and falling asleep in the afternoon, while I still had to cook. This way, the prep gets done early in the morning, the chickens are cooking while we open presents and we all get a proper meal. Yes, we have chicken. No one is fond of turkey, so we don’t have it. This may have something to do with having a restaurant for many years and having to serve turkey all month!

Once lunch is over and cleared away, we relax, open presents if there are any left, watch Christmas movies, play with toys and fall asleep. In the evening we usually have a hot and cold buffet of appetizers, sliced meats, cheese, crackers, sushi and fruit.

Time’s up! The children are stirring. So much for cutting out a dress this morning! I will edit this later and add a little more.

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