Sunday 31 December 2017

And Another One Bites the Dust

One the eve of another new year it is always nice to reflect on the year just past, something that blogging makes it easy to do. January as ever started with lots of good intentions and a new healthy eating regime that we have stuck to for most of the time. Well, maybe not this past month but it will soon be January again and time for more good intentions!

In February I realised a long time ambition to direct a production of Charley's Aunt which not only was lots of fun but also resulted in some new friendships made and others cemented.

Another long time ambition has been to complete the London Moonwalk and I did this in May, raising lots of cash for breast cancer charities as well as having brilliant fun... Looking at that photo I can't say it did much for the old bingo wings though!

May also saw a rather fabulous wedding like none I'd ever seen before when my brother celebrated his marriage to Grainne. Steam punk meets Alice in Wonderland and a fabulous excuse for members of my family to dress up. "We're all mad here!"... but then all the best people are!

In July I celebrated my sixtieth birthday with sixty of my women friends from right back to college days. Another excuse to dress up and eat cake!

In September we said au revoir to Joe who was off on another adventure. He has been to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Belize, Guatamala, Honduras, Nicaragua and he is now in Costa Rica where he plans to settle for the forseeable future.

But it wasn't long before we were celebrating the success of his younger brother when Jacob graduated having gained a first class degree. We were all so proud of him.

So 2017 was a year of special memories and it looks like 2018 will bring many more of its own with three family weddings scheduled for next summer. 
I've not made any resolutions or declared any intentions for the coming year other than to carry on living life to the full.... starting with this evening. I'm just taking a quick break before we get together with friends to see in the New Year. 

I've just read this back and it sounds like one of those awful round robin letters people used to send at Christmas and now I'm not sure I want to publish it! It was meant to be a thoughtful reflection on the year just past but in my rush to write it I haven't quite hit the mark.... but I've no time to edit as I really need to start getting ready so all that remains is...
I'd like to wish you all a happy and healthy New Year!

Wednesday 27 December 2017

And so that was Christmas

Well that came and went all rather quickly. Our celebrations started on Christmas eve with the arrival of my Mum, two eldest sons and partners plus one of their Mums... nine of us here for dinner which was quite modest compared to some years. There was some last minute present wrapping of some homemade Limoncello which I was happy that I'd made, as DPD managed to mess up on a next day delivery that was due on the 19th... it arrived today!

Christmas day was quiet as the eldest boys went on to other places leaving just the three of us and Mum here. Jacob and I had Salmon en Croute but I cooked a turkey crown for Stewart and my Mum. We spoke to Joe in Nicaragua who had just had breakfast and was heading off to the beach, and to James in Australia who was setttling down for the evening having had a warm and sunny Christmas too. It was very relaxed and low key and we only ventured out for dog walks. Someone in our village had added twinkly lights and baubles to a tree in the woods... it really is the little things that make lovely memories.

And talking of dogs Hector amused us all by being very excited to have his own present. He ran off to the kitchen with it (just in case it was a big mistake and we changed our minds)...

and then proudly came back with his new bone toy having very cleverly removed and discarded all the packaging. He was very pleased with himself.

On boxing day we were joined by Stewart's daughter and family and it was lovely to spend time with this gorgeous little chap who really could not see the point of wearing silly hats... nor having to eat sprouts!

He entertained us all on the piano!

So now today it is all over and everyone has gone home. "The weather outside is frightful" as they say so there is no desire to venture out. One cold and slushy dog walk was quite enough for me this morning. There is plenty of left over food to keep us going for a few more days and I'm trying very hard to embrace the down time before the New Year celebrations. To be honest I'm a bit fidgety with no definition to my days but I have been keeping myself occupied with some knitting. It was meant to be a Christmas present but didn't quite get finished in time. Navy blue yarn wasn't my idea but I had sent his grandad out to buy it and told him he could choose the colour, so I couldn't really complain... Well I did when I went wrong for about the fifth time because I couldn't see the blasted stitches.

But I think I have cracked it and I'm looking forward to finishing it off whilst watching the second episodes of both Little Women and The Miniaturist this evening.

As yet and as always the Christmas cake remains untouched and I wonder why I bothered to finish it off late on Saturday evening.... but then it wouldn't be Christmas without these traditions would it. All in all it has been a good few days.
I hope you have had a good one too.

Sunday 24 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 24

We have reached the final day of my mini blogging marathon so thank you to everyone who has stopped by to read and/or comment, whether every day or on just the odd occasion. It has been very much appreciated. Thank you all for your friendship and support.

It only remains for me to wish you all a very happy Christmas whatever you may be doing. I hope it will be peaceful and calm

I have sons and partners arriving today so I'm heading to the kitchen... after all where else would I be spending Christmas! I'll see you on the other side.
Gina xx

Saturday 23 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 23

Despite all the baking, making and Christmas prep there has also been a lot of reading going on of late... often in the early hours as sleep has been elusive recently. Although I should probably point out that what follows is a couple of months reading not just the past couple of weeks.

The two most recent book club reads were Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry, which I did not enjoy and Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon which I loved. I could see why Days Without End was well rated, the language was quite poetic at times and there were whole sections that were beautiful to read but I didn't feel I knew the characters and there were long, tedious descriptions of the American Indian and Civil wars that just didn't engage me. It felt like the book without end! But it was not a view shared by the rest of the book club who mostly enjoyed it. Shadow of The Wind however, I found to be an intriguing and compelling read. It's atmospheric setting of post civil war Barcelona, its engaging characters and search for truth pulled me in right to the end.

Wanting something light to read after those two, I chose The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan, recommended to me by my sister-in-law. It was a bit of a far fetched story, rather too obviously sentimental and predictable for my liking, but having said that it was a quick and entertaining read.

Next I read The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler, which I won in a givewaway from Love Those Cupcakes. This one I really enjoyed - no great intriguing plot but beautifully observed characters carefully crafted observation of human behaviour and misunderstandings as it traces the story of a family and a marriage over three generations. It was a delight, so thank you for sending this my way Liz.

Another delight was The Blackwater Lightship from Colm Toibin. It tells of three generations of a broken family who gather together as their grandson, son and brother faces death from Aids. A painful read at times but so beautifully written and with such wonderfully drawn characters I couldn't put it down. Maybe that's why I don't sleep!

After such an intense book I wanted something less taxing for my brain so picked up a Jo Nesbo from the charity shop. Nemesis is a page turning thriller and I like the character Harry Hole (It was also  Liz that introduced me to the charms or not as the case may be, of Harry Hole) but I'm about 80 pages from the end and it is starting to lose me. Too many plot twists and I think I've worked out "who dunnit". It reminds me why I only occasionally read thrillers, although I quite enjoy them when I do.

There are still plenty more unread books piled up beside my bed so I'm looking forward to plenty more reading time over the holidays. What will you be reading this Christmas?

Friday 22 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 22

I first made this Cranberry Upside Down cake with the Cake Slice Bakers two years ago and declared it one of the best cakes I'd ever tasted despite being very simple. The only problem is that is must be made with fresh cranberries, which as anyone in the UK will tell you are only available here in December. It really does not work with frozen ones... the result is distinctly wet and soggy! (Don't ask how I know)

So it seemed a fitting cake to take to our annual book club Christmas party. 

And should you feel the urge to be baking cakes just three days before Christmas or maybe you would like an alternative to Christmas pudding then you must try this. You won't regret it!

You can find my version of the recipe here:

Thursday 21 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 21

I make no apologies... it always makes an appearance at Christmas.

Nigella's Christmas Rocky Road... perfect bite size morsels for after a meal with friends and so quick and easy to make.

Or equally good packaged up as last minute gifts.
I'm the last minute queen, me!

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 20

Five more days of advent posts to go and as Christmas Day looms closer so these posts get shorter!

We are now into last minute gifts and Christmas baking (our cake is in the oven as I type... won't be very mature but I doubt anyone will notice)

But for now I bring you a little jar of Clementine Curd. I would share the recipe but I couldn't find the one I usually use so I sort of made it up. Not entirely sure how successful it was though... at least it looks festive!

Tuesday 19 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 19

Well, the halls are decked and my tree is up and it is starting to look a lot like Christmas.

Every year I have a secret longing for a minimalist white and silver Scandinavian vibe...

But I realise that would involve a complete house make over! There is too much colour on my walls, too much dark wood and too many textures for me to ever achieve white or minimalist... but I can dream.

There are lots of white lights and candles though and I'm lucky enough to have the perfect bannister for decking with greenery.

The tree does sort of match the decor in the living room, with the gold and red baubles banished back to the loft and only the silver and mauve remaining.

However, the look is somewhat ruined by the cluttered bookshelves behind!

But at the end of the day this isn't a showhouse it's our home and we quite like the colour. And let's face it... I'm never going to be a minimilist sort of girl no matter how much I dream!

Monday 18 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 18

Well the Christmas cards are written and posted. 
I often think that I won't send cards, with all the waste and cost etc but then I weigh up how much I like receiving cards, the joy of actually getting something in the post and connecting with family and friends and it seems worthwhile. And while I was writing them I got to thinking about the lovely Christmas stamps that appear each year, like little miniature artworks

There seems to be a trend in recent years to offer both religious and secular stamps both beautiful in their own right.

And a quick google search turned up lots of beautiful stamps from previous years.

 It is too late and I'm too tired (writing this post late yesterday and scheduling it for the morning) to write much more about them...

But I loved seeing this image of King Wenseslas pop up from 1966 because I remember it so vividly... it was the result of a competition I believe and designed by a child but it was also the first year that commemorative Christmas srtamps were issued in the UK.

Sunday 17 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 17

Please tell me I am not the only one...
There I am looking at one thing, I get distracted by something else, click on a link and before I know it I've crocheted a mistletoe garland!

Well, it wasn't quite so quick as that and I really should have been writing the Christmas cards but it is rather lovely and it used up lots of scraps of green yarn. And if you are as easily distracted as me you can find the pattern here on the Loop Lounge, only I opted to stitch on some pearl berries rather than crochet them... I couldn't face sewing in any more ends!

Totally impossible to photograph well...

and I've not decided where to hang it yet either.

Now if you'll excuse me I must finish writing those cards!

Saturday 16 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 16

Just over a year ago I joined an organisation called "Free Cakes for Kids" where volunteer bakers make birthday cakes etc for children, and sometimes adults, who might otherwise not have a cake on their birthday. Since then I've baked quite a few cakes and it is always a delight to see the smiles on faces and how much they are apppreciated. Baking a cake seems like such a small gesture but it can make a difference when life is hard.

This month a big cake was needed for a Christmas party at a children's centre in Cambridge, so I put my hand up and volunteered.

And this is what I came up with... well I still had lots of that navy icing to use up!

Friday 15 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 15

Present giving at Christmas is a pretty low key affair in our house. We don't go in for expensive gifts or lots of parcels but more for the small, useful, inexpensive, consumable or homemade. We figure that we all have far too much stuff already and definitely don't need anything more, so a small homemade gift is appreciated just as much as anything showy.

So I thought a batch of chilli jam would be useful to tuck into homemade hampers this year. I deviated from my usual recipe that is tomato based and not too hot and decided to try Nigella's Chilli Jam, mosty because it has only four ingredients and couldn't be simpler.

It has turned out rather hotter than expected though... a small taste on a teaspoon nearly blew my socks off! This is definitely industrial strength Chilli jam. Perhaps I should be giving it to my enemies, not friends this Christmas (except I don't really think I have enemies!)

Thursday 14 December 2017

Advent 2017 :: Day 14

Well that was a lovely way to spend a day in the middle of December...

There were presents to open and boxes to explore...

Lunch out with two sets of grandparents...

and a special banana birthday cake made by Daddy.

Happy 1st birthday Logan.
It doesn't seem a whole year since you arrived in our lives.

p.s. a little note for the very observant among you... Stewart does own other shirts and sweaters!