Wednesday 31 December 2014

Out with the Old, in with the New!

Well there we go... Another Christmas done and dusted and a brand new year almost upon us. I hope you all managed happy and peaceful times. Our celebrations were happy, although exhausting. We started calm enough with just Mum, Stewart and I spending a quiet Christmas Day together and then going to friends to share an evening meal with them, which was delightful. Great food and lots of laughter.

Then the hoards descended on Boxing Day for our Christmas lunch. Twelve family members and friends gathered for lunch, games, drinking and more eating... excuse all the funny faces in this second photo... I caught them unexpectedly!

Then before we knew it, Stewart and I were in the car for a whistle stop trip to see his parents in Dundee although this did mean lots of passenger knitting time for me. I was kindly given a ball of beautiful wool before Christmas and managed to finish a pair of socks on the journey there and back.

Quick to knit in dk yarn and lovely and soft to work with...

This pair are for me!

And not only that, I also finished knitting up this pretty brooch from a kit that was another Christmas gift...

And it goes perfectly on my new duffle coat.

Today we are entertaining friends to see in the New Year... Not a party but a relaxed informal meal together... Minimal fuss. And I'm looking forward to taking down the Christmas decorations, making a fresh start, clearing the decks and getting back to some sort of normality. I feel change in the air too... but not sure how that will manifest itself yet. How about you?

Happy New Year!

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Day Twenty Four :: Happy Christmas

Thank you to everyone who reads, follows or comments on my blog. I'm always grateful for the fun and friendship blogging has brought to my life... And there wouldn't be much point without you all. Special thanks too, to all those who have stuck with me during this December blogging marathon. I'm going to take a little break for a few days to eat, drink and spend time with family and friends.

All that remains is for me to wish you all a peaceful, healthy and happy Christmas and festive season.
Gina xxx

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Day Twenty Three :: A Finished Cake

I was going for simple, understated elegance...

But the Ice Blue colouring was rather more "blue" than "ice"...

And then I got a bit carried away with the shimmer pearls... Well, they were pretty...

But it is a job finished and before Christmas Eve no less... That is an achievement in itself. 
I'll be back tomorrow for one last post before I take a break... Maybe see you then!

Monday 22 December 2014

Day Twenty Two :: Peppermint Bark

Every year when Julie posts about making Peppermint Bark as teachers' presents I think how wonderful. In the days when I taught in secondary school I usually went home with boxes of Quality Street chocolates or bottles of bubble bath at Christmas time. Don't get me wrong... I was very grateful that any pupil would even think to buy me a present... but how wonderful it must be to be the recipient of such beautiful home made chocolates. I guess "home made" wasn't much in vogue in the 1980s!

And every year when I read about Julie's peppermint bark I resolve to make some myself but never do! But this year is different... I spent a small fortune on Green and Black's chocolate (other brands are available), found a stock of Candy Canes in a fancy sweet shop and I was all set to go.

So this morning in between putting marzipan on the cake and steaming my Christmas pudding... (I'm going for youth over maturity... maturity is vastly overrated in my opinion!) I made some peppermint bark. If you follow the link to Julie's blog you can find out how to make it.

Mine didn't cut into such neat squares as Julie's but I figure bark can be a bit rough around the edges and it looks just fine packaged up for gifts... especially with Julie's downloadable labels.

Not destined for anyone in particular but ready for impromptu visits or visitors

There were quite a few trimmings left for the cook to sample but they were so delicious I fear the cook may have had too many and is feeling a little sick now! Yes, I know... it serves her right!

Sunday 21 December 2014

Day Twenty One :: A Jungle

Well I got the Christmas cake baked... Although it is a little overdone as I forgot to check it during the Strictly Come Dancing final but I doubt anyone will notice. I also finished clearing the spare bedroom yesterday...

This particular room is a lovely big room at the front of the house and Sam moved into it when he was about eight... Almost twenty two years ago. He was crazy about animals, in particular gorillas and so I painted his room to look like a jungle... Floor to ceiling vegetation and animals that would  never be see in such close proximity to each other in reality.

Despite numerous suggestions that perhaps we should paint over it as he got older he always resisted. Two years ago he moved out but he is in such a small space now that most of his "stuff" stayed at home... And boy does he have a lot of stuff... Especially books!

So my good intentions to redecorate never materialised and I have tended to shut the door on it all. But yesterday I actually managed to sort out the stuff into manageable chunks and tidy piles... Necessary for my Mum to be able to get in the room, never mind sleep in it over Christmas. And now that it is tidy and clean I am determined it will get a coat of paint and a re-vamp in the new year.

It will be sad to see the animals go but time to move on I think. I just won't tell Sam until the deed is done!

Tempted to leave the salamander on the door frame though!

Saturday 20 December 2014

Day Twenty :: A Cake

Can't stop... Mild panic starting to set in as I attempt to make a Christmas Cake, write a blog post and compile lists whilst at the same time clearing and cleaning bedrooms ready for visiting family next week... In particular the bedroom of son number two who left home two years ago. Probably should have cleared it two years ago but it didn't seem so urgent then.

Back to that cake... Mary Berry says to soak the fruit for three days... She's having a laugh... Mine will get three hours and go in the oven this evening. Marzipan tomorrow, icing on Monday... Sorted! Who says I'm not organised.

Probably should try to concentrate on one thing at a time though... I was in the middle of doing something else when I sat down to write this and now I've forgotten what it was. Ah yes... that bedroom...

Friday 19 December 2014

Day Nineteen :: Socks

Today I had to take my Mum to hospital for an out patient procedure that meant she couldn't drive herself. Which meant I had time to do very little else other than sit with my knitting watching people come and go...

So much time in fact I finished this Christmas present while I was waiting...

So that means there will be two pairs of socks in someone's stocking this year instead of the more usual one finished sock and another on the needles.

Or if you look at it another way...

Four pairs of socks for the price of two!

Mum is back home and absolutely fine. And I'm back home thinking perhaps it would be a good idea to start wrapping some of these presents... Or possibly starting a Christmas cake. On the other hand... It is almost wine o'clock. Have a lovely weekend and I'll be back tomorrow.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Day Eighteen :: A Party

For the past couple of years we have hosted the reading group's Christmas Party. Instead of our usual December gathering to discuss a book, we get together for a lovely evening where everyone contributes to the food and drink and we play "wordy" games, the most popular of which is always Literary Consequences... "Jane Eyre met The Hobbit on a windswept moor etc..." It always has us in fits of laughter.

For me it is also a chance to play with my food... if you get my meaning! Two years ago I attempted some cocktail cupcakes. Strawberry daquaries and pina coladas in cake form. Last year I was inspired by the Christmas bake-off which aired the night before the party and I ended up making a gingerbread house
I made the mistake of watching the bake off again this week and although I would have loved to have made the very impressive Kransekake, I don't possess any of the cake moulds so instead I made Paul Hollywood's Christmas Couronne... which proved to be very popular!
Which was just as well because the dessert I originally planned to make were these chocolate profiteroles which didn't look all that appealing (I won't tell you what the choux pastry looked like when I piped it out!) As a result, they were nearly all left over at the end of the evening. However they taste much better than they look and my boys polished most of them off whilst we did the clearing up!

Today I braved Cambridge for a bit of Christmas shopping and have now come home for a much needed cup of tea... which is funny because reading back over last years post-reading group party blog post, I was in exactly the same situation... presents still to buy, cards to write, christmas cake to bake... I could go on! Luckily there were still a couple of slices of couronne left over...

I would definitely make this again if only for the layers of wonderful orange flavoured marzipan. In fact I don't think I will ever make marzipan any other way...

Orange Marzipan
Mix together 90g caster sugar, 140g icing sugar and 220g ground almonds. Add the finely grated zest of one orange and mix it all together with a beaten egg.
This will be going on my Christmas cake... if I ever get around to making one that is!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Day Seventeen :: A Day Out

I had a day away from all the Christmassy stuff yesterday when I went with my Mum and Sister-in- law for a trip to London. My boys bought my Mum a visit to the top of The Shard for her 80th birthday which was back in September. Anne and I were lucky enough that Mum chose us to share the day with her.

We were so lucky with the weather and couldn't have picked a more beautiful day with brilliant sunshine and clear blue skies... far better than when Stewart and I went in August.

The view was amazing and like before it was the river that seemed most impressive. The way it snakes through the city and looks just like it does on a map, meandering through is just wonderful.

We had wonderful time, followed by lunch before heading home. And the birthday celebrations are not over yet because we still have afternoon tea at The Ritz to look forward to next year... I like this birthday lark!
Today you'll find me back in my kitchen, but you'll have to wait until tomorrow to find out about that!

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Day Sixteen :: Mince Pies

What ever other cake baking might go on around here you can guarantee there will always be a fully stocked tin of homemade mince pies during December.

I've experimented with various recipes, using different pastries or different toppings but the recipe I always come back to is this almond paste version with its sweet crumbly pastry and generous amount of fruity filling

I first made them about twenty years ago when I attended a "Cooking for Christmas" day class at the local village college. We made several things most of which I've long forgotten but the recipe that stuck with me was this mince pie recipe. I have shared it on the blog before but as it is one of the most requested recipes I make I hope you don't mind if I share it again.

If you make them, I promise you'll  love them. But warning... They do contain traces of nuts! (The warning on the packet of flaked almonds)
Almond Paste Mince Pies
For the pastry, whizz together in a food processor* 4 oz soft unsalted butter, 8 oz plain flour, 2 oz of caster sugar, 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of water until the mixture holds together. Wrap in cling film and chill while you make the topping.
For the topping, again whizz together in the food processor 6 oz soft unsalted butter, 6 oz plain flour, 2 oz caster sugar, 1 egg yolk and 1 teaspoon almond essence.
Roll out the chilled pastry and cut out circles to line 24 tart tins. Fill each one with a rounded teaspoon mincemeat and then pipe the topping mixture in swirls onto each tart. Top with a few flaked almonds.
Bake for 20 minutes at 190 deg C
* I'm sure this could be done without a food processor but it would be a lot more hard work and despite the faff of piping the topping these are really quick and easy.

Monday 15 December 2014

Day Fifteen :: Hello Dolly

You may remember this bevy of young ladies that I made for Prism Exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching shows?
Well after spending a week in North London they had quite an adventure... first of all they sailed over the Irish sea to Dublin, then back to England for a few days in Harrogate, after which three of them went their separate ways  to live elsewhere and three returned home to me.

This young lady seems to be delighted to be in her new home and in particular with her strange looking companion, who is in fact Mr. Sock... the original sock monster and a prototype for many who followed.

But these girls are the ones back home with me unless someone out there feels they could give them a home?

I'm not sure if she's sad or just plain grumpy... but she certainly has a touch of the "Bah Humbug" about her.

This one looks as if she's just seen the ghost of Christmas past... no wonder her hair looks like that!

And last but not least - my favourite of all these girls who was meant to look surprised but in fact looks as though she has been up to mischief and is faking innocence. I can just hear that whistle.  I bet she's been feeling the presents under the tree!
If you fancy giving any of these girls a home then they are £45 (to include p & p). Just drop me an email.

Sunday 14 December 2014

Day Fourteen :: A Tree

I slept ten hours last night... What was that all about? Feeling refreshed we had a walk, and then had a bit of a blitz on the housework and tidying before putting up decorations. And now I feel shattered all over again!

But at least the tree is up...

And my angel with her broken wing has taken up position. Now I'm about to write some Christmas cards. At least I can sit down to do that. See you tomorrow!

Saturday 13 December 2014

Day Thirteen :: Snowflakes

I had an idea that I would like to make some snowflakes so crocheted these using a pattern from Attic 24.

Then I thought it would be good to add some beads. I've never crocheted with beads before so made it up as I went along.

And then I thought, like you do, that they might make pretty cards

And I was pretty pleased with the results.
Little things please me!