Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas Countdown...

After a brief but lovely visit home to Cornwall at the weekend to swop presents and celebrate my auntie's *whispers* 60th birthday, we're back into the joy of the last full working week before Christmas.

This is quite possibly the most frustratingly slow week. Christmas is just around the corner, plans of parties and Christmas catch ups are being made and it would be so much easier to fit everything in if we just didn't have to work...sadly we do, so starts the impossible task of fitting all the little jobs in!

Luckily we've both got next Monday off, but as we are at a boozy lunch on Sunday, that's bound to turn into a boozy evening. I'm not convinced that Monday will be the most productive of days off. Therefore I have come up with the To-Do-List to end all to do lists, my aim is to tick one or two tasks off each day between now and the 23rd December - leaving the house, and us, ready and relaxed for Christmas Eve.

Feel free to use my list as a memo for yourselves!!

Carrie's Christmas Job List:
  • Wrap presents and sort into home, Sister-In-Law's & Brother's piles for opening locations!
  • Write, post & hand deliver Christmas cards (18th Dec for 2nd class, 20th Dec for 1st class)
  • Clean & decorate conservatory (decorations, not paint - I'm not that bad!!)
  • Clear two spare bedrooms and make them ready for guests over Christmas
  • General food shop
  • Special food shop - chestnuts, shell on nuts, spirits for cocktails, posh cheese, posh chocolates
  • Pick up Christmas duck & ham from butchers
  • Slow cook ham
  • Bake sausage rolls, mini meat pies, Christmas tarts
  • Bake & decorate Yule log
  • Take all spare boxes & packaging to the recycling centre to free up bins over Christmas
  • House winter clean - kitchen, bathroom, hall, bedrooms
It's a lot to try to get done in only a day or two, but I think it's achievable if I just do one thing at a time.

What Christmas jobs do you always leave to last?

Linking up with 
#TinselTuesday, hosted by Farmers Wife & Mummy

Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas Craft - Santa's Grotto

As a child I loved making shoebox theatres and scenes. I loved Arts & Crafts at school, and was happiest cutting up endless bits of paper - especially if they were special wavy bladed scissors!!

As time has passed I stopped drawing and creating, preferring instead to create things that I could also eat! But when I was asked to take part in Mobile Mini Christmas Bloggers challenge, my craft antennae was raised!

First to Pinterest where I quickly spent a few extra long lunch hours *ahem* looking for grotto ideas - this is what I came up with

Follow Carrie's board Grotto Ideas on Pinterest.

Lots of snow, wood and a warm, cosy cabin for Santa to sit in. Knowing that a Storage container would naturally be dark meant that I would need to think about lighting. I instantly know that I would choose blue lighting, to mimic that Wintery evening light.

Using a plan with the dimensions of a typical storage container, the next stage was to show the man points of my Grotto theme. After a quick trip to Hobbycraft to stock up on supplies this was what I came up with.


 


But it didn't really show the ideas I had - I wanted to try to bring them more to life. Luckily, I work in a building that has boxes - lots of them! Finding the prefect sized box meant I could set to work, building my own miniature Santa's Grotto.

First, the walls, roof and floor were covered in felt.

Then I made the cabin out of cardboard and used foraged twigs to build up the side wall to mimic a log cabin. My cosy fireplace scene was stuck to the back of the cabin and the roof was covered with white felt.


Next I built on the woodland, outdoors theme by building my banks on "snow" using filling and making "trees" from real conifer trees.

Finally I added little touches, such as seating for Santa and any little visitors, a big Christmas tree and presents leading the way to his cabin.

 
 


And as my final surprise and flourish - the lighting...

Using scissors I punched 50 holes into the lid of my grotto box and then a LED light into each one. (This method is not recommended - I cut my finger straight away!!) This gave exactly the effect that I wanted. 


My grotto is complete! If I had more time, I would live to have made little signs and lanterns to light the footpath to the cabin. I would also make the cabin completely out of wood - unfortunately time and family commitments meant I couldn't quite do everything I wanted, but we'll be keeping our Christmas box scene all over the holiday season.

This would be a really good Christmas holiday project for a family to do  - any sized box can be used, a shoebox is always a good starting project.

I'm entering my Grotto into Mobile Mini's Christmas competition, along with other Interior Design, Craft and Lifestyle bloggers - wish me luck!


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christmas Biscotti





Back in November I spent a beautifully sunny day visiting the poppies at the Tower of London. I was actually up in the Big Smoke to visit Maria Mayerhofer who runs her own baking school Bake With Maria in Hampstead. She was holding a little Christmas party along with Victoria Eggs, a homeware designer.

As soon as I walked into the room I was hit with the scent of mulled wine, cooking away on the hob and the sight of so many little Christmas delicacies like these -



It wasn't all kicking back and relaxing though. Maria soon had four of us at the benches making traditional biscotti. Whenever I've made biscotti in the past they always came out small and dense. Maria showed me that the dough needs to be looser and sticky, this will spread better on the tray to give the traditional wide looking biscuits. I'll be honest, it was only the thought of Sion waiting patiently at home, that stopped me eating all my little biscuits on the train home!

It was these biscotti that I decided to bake once my cold had subsided enough this week. The basic "Cantuccini" recipe was kindly given to us by Maria although I used roughly chopped orange flavoured chocolate  brazil nuts for that festive flavour, you can add whatever fruit, nuts & chocolate you like. Note - I'm not sure of the difference between cantuccini & biscotti, I just know them as biscotti!

Ingredients

300g Plain Flour
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
Pinch of salt
200g golden sugar
1 tsp orange zest (I used one large orange)
50g roughly chopped nuts
50g chopped chocolate
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat your oven to 190C

Sift the flour, bicarb & salt into a large bowl. Carefully mix in the sugar, zest, nuts & chocolate.
Make a small well and add the two eggs. Using a fork gather the dry ingredients into the egg to make a soft dough that you can just handle. If it is too wet add a little more flour, if too dry add a little milk.

Shape into 3 long sausage shapes about 4cm wide and 1 cm thick and place onto a lined baking sheet with space around them to rise and spread. Brush with an egg wash and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.

Take out of the oven and carefully transfer each log to a chopping board. Using a serrated knife cut each log diagonally into 1-2cm slices. Spread the biscuits out onto the baking tray and put back into the oven to "dry" for a further 10 minutes.


I decided to serve my biscotti alongside a grown ups ice-cream sundae, using my new ice cream sundae dishes from BuyCatering.com.


What made it grown up?

Limited Edition Haagen-Daz vanilla & Florentine ice cream, crumbled almond thin biscuits, chopped 70% dark chocolate & segments of satsumas...layer upon layer. All that was missing was a little shot of Cointreau to really set it off. Not to worry - I also brought a tub of Bailey's ice cream...and I know we've got a bottle of that. I'm pretty sure if alcohol is used in cooking it doesn't count against the "no mid week drinking" rule?!


A full timetable of Bake With Maria classes can be found on her website

I was kindly sent a complimentary set of sundae dishes, currently retailing on BUYCATERING.com for £19.95 + VAT


Linking up with 

#TinselTuesday, hosted by Farmers Wife & Mummy

and

#CookBlogShare

and
  
Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

Monday, 8 December 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...






Despite being visited by the dreaded Christmas Cold Fairy we ploughed ahead with our weekend plans of bringing Christmas into our home.

Saturday was spent in London having a lovely (but very busy) day at Winter Wonderland, followed by a slap up dinner and Champagne ride on the London Eye. I think it was a bit too much for me though and I spent most of the train ride home asleep, waking only to blow my nose or cough pitifully! An early night sorted me out though and we were up bright and early to go on our Christmas tree hunt.

Last year we had an artificial one that sat on our coffee table, this year we decided to go all out and buy a real one. This one came cut, with a large log to act as it's base. The seller assured us that we won't need to water it, but I'm not so sure.

I decorated it with an "anything goes" theme, beading, glass ornaments, wooden ornaments and felt ornaments. The general colour theme was white and red, although I purposely chose decorations I liked rather than ones that matched ones we already had. Topped with our special Cornish Fairy the lights were switched on to oohs and aahs!

 
 
While I took control of the inside of the house, Sion was in charge of lighting the outside. We were sent these 3m cluster lights from the LED Hut. As they are safe to use indoors and outdoors, we choose to put them outside. They came with a super long 5m cable which easily reached back through the window and down to the plug socket on an adjoining wall. With 280 lights gently twinkling, the effect was beautiful. 


We finished off by decorating the window with some re-usable stickers and some snow stencils, I don't think there's any doubt now that we are a Christmas loving household!



All that's left to do now is to decorate our conservatory ready for Christmas day and to decide on our Christmas table decorations. Christmas tablecloths are so expensive though so I'm thinking of maybe using a white sheet instead and decorating with star confetti & glitter...you've got to have glitter at Christmas!!
 
We were kindly sent a complimentary set of 3m LED cluster lights from The LED Hut. A full range of Christmas lights are still available to purchase. Currently you can get your purchases VAT free by using the code VATFREE at checkout.
 
All thoughts and opinions remain my own.


Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Getting into the Yuletile Spirit...

As an accountant I don't get much opportunity to be creative. I think that's why I like baking so much. It gives me the chance to make something from scratch that gives enjoyment to myself and others.

The run up to Christmas is an especially creative time. I hand stamped my own wrapping paper last year and want to make a few gifts this year.

I was asked if I would like to take part in Topps Tiles' Yuletile Greetings Christmas campaign, and when I heard it would involve getting crafty I thought it would be a perfect thing to work on slowly in the evenings.

I was sent a plain white tile and lots of lovely paints & brushes to come up with my masterpiece *cough* and this is what I made...


My first thoughts were to go with a traditional 12 days of Christmas theme and I carefully measured out my boxes ready to put my designs into. I quickly realised that my artistic talents were limited and that my partridge, turtle doves, French hens, calling birds, geese & swans all looked exactly the same and there was no way I would be able to fit all the drummers, pipers, lords, ladies and maids into my little boxes...a new theme was needed - quickly!!

I came up with our personalised 12 Days of Christmas. In no particular order these little pictures are snippets of what I hope our Christmas this year will be like;

Our favourite foods prepared by all of us, ready to be enjoyed.
Stockings to be opened while still in bed on Christmas morning
Frosty days perfect for woodland walks
Gingerbread men fresh from the oven with a big mug of hot chocolate
Our first real Christmas tree, probably way to big for our little living room, decorated with new decorations
A special posh scented candle, saved ready for Christmas
And a real hope from snow, just a sprinkling to give Christmas that magical air...

Most of the pictures were outlined using ceramic pens and filled in with ceramic paints. Once the base layer had dried I went over it with any top colours like the white dots on the Christmas pudding. I was sent 6 different colours of paint so if I needed a colour outside of these I mixed them in a little tray before using.

I finished the tile by writing Christmas 14 in fairy lights. Fairy lights are the epiphany of Christmas to me, delicate, sparkly, magical.

 

I know this tile isn't going to win the Turner prize, my holly leaves are not quite perfect and it looks childlike - but isn't that what's good about Christmas? It's a time for us to all forget about work for a day or two and allow ourselves to remember the childlike pleasures of playing with new gifts, eating chocolate for breakfast and staying up late. It's a time for imperfection - who cares if lunch is later than you expected, or if you want to wear PJs all day?

Christmas for me is a time to gather together all that you love and enjoy, to remember past Christmas' and look forward to future ones - maybe we should all paint a family Christmas tile?

This post is an entry into Topps Tiles' Yuletile Greetings Christmas campaign. I was sent the tile & craft products free of charge.