I’m not a harsh parent, I don’t think (well, English Dad is always telling me I’m too soft), but I do like my children to be polite. They’re really lucky in that they have a pretty large (and slightly fragmented) family, so they get pressies from all over the place, and even if it’s just a tenner in a card, I do like them to say thanks.
Trouble is, we get later and later, and it causes more and more hassle and nagging (on my part) and annoyance (on theirs) every year. My nephew and niece, lovely Turtle and Jackson, are a pretty good alarm system for thank you cards. When theirs drop through the letterbox, regular as clockwork, in about mid-January, it’s my signal to go hell for leather at the ‘HAVE YOU DONE YOUR THANK YOUS YET?’ reminders, generally yelled from the bottom of the stairs in the direction of closed bedroom doors. And so it goes on.
Them: ‘Lucky I spent my HMV vouchers before they went bust…’
Me: ’That reminds me, have you sent your thank you cards yet’
Them: ‘Sigh, I’ll do them tomorrow…’
Them: ‘This is the t-shirt I got for Christmas’
Me: ‘That reminds me, have you sent your thank you cards yet?’
Them: ‘Sigh, yeah I’ll do them later..’
Frankly, it makes us all a bit stabby.
This year, we’ve negotiated a few ‘modern’ changes, including:
Am I being old fashioned? Is the time of the thank you card gone, along with letter writing and licking stamps?
Anyone got any tips or opinions on the matter?
So how was your Christmas? Mine was, well, interesting. A rather over-exuberant Christmas eve, during which we stayed up singing, dancing and drinking until 2am made for a hideously hungover Christmas morning, in which I kept having to abandon my turkey duties to revisit my breakfast (thank goodness for my Mum). Still, self to blame, and I felt better by the time dinner was on the table. I got some lovely pressies: loads of scented candles, my favourite Redken shampoo and conditioner, books, DVDs, CDs (ONE DIRECTION, oh yes I did), and a pasta machine from my Mum. I feel really blessed.
So this time last year I was talking about how 2012 was going to be about building memories… snapshots, and not stuff… and I think I managed it. Oh, there was stuff as well, there’s no doubt, but my year was full of amazing experiences.. plenty of snapshots to add to my collection:
January was the month I gave up booze and took up healthy eating. For a whole month. Never again. In February, I got together with my wonderful friends for Bloggers on Tour: the West Yorkshire leg, and visited Yeo Valley’s wonderful Holt Farm too. In March, we were lucky enough to attend the opening of the new Legoland Hotel and meet one of our heroes, Tim Minchin, who turned out to be even lovelier and funnier in person. I also attended the very glam Tesco Mum of the Year Awards along with several of my friends. A fabulous day.
In April, the Death Wish Dude and I spent the weekend in Paris, celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Disneyland, and hobnobbing with the likes of, well, Mickey, obviously… and in May I jetted off to both Tenerife, where we joined in with the May festivities and were gobsmacked by the firework wars AND Florida, where my friend Laura and I toured Clearwater, St Pete’s and Florida’s gorgeous space coast, as well as visiting Universal Studios and drinking butter beer at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
In June, we celebrated the Jubilee in grand style, and in July I looked after my Dad’s gorgeous garden (and made some lovely raspberry sorbet too). I grew sweet peas and filled the house with scented blooms. I’ll definitely be doing it again next year. In August we went Olympic and Paralympic mad – we stayed up until silly o’clock waiting for the Paralympic flame to come through our town, and we cheered on our amazing athletes at the Olympic Stadium. Amazing memories. English Mum also turned six.
In September, we got a visit from my cousin Moon (and helped him smuggle sausages through customs), and the Mad Professor started sixth form over again. October saw us visit Guernsey and beautiful Herm Island, and in November we spent a lovely week in Gran Canaria. I also had laser eye treatment, something that’s changed my life forever. Finally in December I was back in Florida for the launch of Walt Disney World’s New Fantasyland… an experience I’ll never forget (more of this very soon) and my little kickboxing Death Wish Dude passed his grading and got his orange belt.
I’ve learned a lot this year too (proving that you’re never too old). I’ve learned that some people – people that you might have known and looked up to your whole life – are actually not worth looking up to. This was a shock. But hey – people should EARN respect, right?
I’ve continued to believe that you should really try not to judge other people. I’m often saying to the boys that there are maybe things going on behind the scenes that you don’t know about, but hey, even if it’s just as simple as people doing things differently to you, that’s fine. This goes both ways, what you do is YOUR business. Do what YOU feel right doing, and don’t listen to anyone else if you don’t want to.
I’ve also learned that it feels fabulous to pay it forward. I’ve learned that my friends, my true friends, are always there for me (you know who you are) and I’ve learned that all relationships take a bit of effort.
The nicest things this year have been really small, but very important: someone saying ‘thanks so much for that recipe’, or ‘your children are a credit to you’, so I’m definitely going to be going out of my way to give credit where it’s due in 2013.
So that’s it, then. No resolutions, but in 2013, I’ll be having fun, paying compliments, adding to those precious snapshots and looking up to people who deserve it – like, for example, my wonderful Disreputable Dad who is perpetually kind, funny, a wonderful Grandad, and a tiny bit naughty, who got engaged on Christmas Day. *cough BRIDESMAID cough*. Congratulations Dad and my soon to be stepmum (she hates that, sorry)! xx
The thing about Christmas dinner is that the thought of it is worse than the actual event.
Just think of it as Sunday lunch but on a slightly larger scale – a turkey is very forgiving and will happily rest for a good hour (and probably more), covered in foil and a tea towel or two, so there’s no need to rush anything. My one recommendation is that you take ten minutes to scribble a rough timetable somewhere (work backwards from the time you want to dish up), so that when you’re a bit sozzled, you can easily refer back to your timings. Remember if you’re steaming a Christmas pudding as well you’ll need to time that (but they microwave incredibly well too).
And look, I love Nigella, but will I be brining my turkey in about fifteen quid’s worth of citrus fruits, various herbs, spices and maple syrupy water? Nope. It’s waaaay too much effort, and cost. I’ll be preparing as much as I can in advance so that I can have a couple of glasses of champers and enjoy a gentle potter in the kitchen on the big day.
As for prep, here are my top tips:
Prepare in advance
Get as much as possible done 1 or 2 days in advance.
For the turkey
Again, do this the day before. Don’t wally about washing it in the sink – the hot oven will kill any germs and you’ll just succeed in covering yourself and your sink in all manner of bacteria. Just unwrap it, take the giblets out (use to make stock or cook for a lucky pet), pluck out any stray feathers (I use fish boning tweezers) and get on with it.
I use one of those massive disposable foil turkey tray things – I know it’s not the most environmentally friendly choice but hey, it’s Christmas. Just recycle it afterwards.
Add a few extras:
It’s nice to use a few flavours to enhance the turkey so cut up a couple of lemons or oranges, squeeze them over the bird and then stick them into the body cavity along with a halved onion and a nice bunch of bay or rosemary or whatever you have and some salt and pepper, then tie the legs together.
For extra moistness and flavour, you can take about half a pack of butter, and mush it up with some of the stuff you’ve used in the cavity – maybe some lemon zest, pepper and a little chopped rosemary or parsley? Then separate the skin from the breast with your fingertips (you don’t have to be too careful, turkey skin is like leather), then squish the butter all over the breast under the skin. Now smooth the skin back down, drizzle with a little oil and some salt and pepper. You can also criss cross the breast with some lovely (outdoor reared please) streaky bacon.
To stuff or not to stuff?:
I don’t stuff the turkey, partly because eating something out of a turkey’s innards puts me off a bit and partly because I think it’s better for the hot air to circulate inside it. I make the stuffing separately and cook it in a terrine in the oven once the turkey’s resting. If you want to, though, by all means stuff the neck end just before cooking.
Weighing and preparing:
Weigh your turkey (remember if you ARE stuffing, you need to stuff before you weigh) and work out the cooking time. Write it on your timetable then just cover with foil (don’t bother buying that ridiculously expensive turkey foil – just overlap the normal stuff), then leave it somewhere cool until you need it. Mine’s going in a plastic box in the garage as it’s nice and cold in there, but if we have a sudden warm snap (heh, yeah right), I’ll pack some ice round it (it needs to be less than 4 degrees).
On the day:
I take my turkey out and let it come to room temp on Christmas morning. No point in putting a very cold turkey into a hot oven – it’ll take ten minutes to even start cooking. Then just slosh a bit of water in the bottom of the roasting pan, and stick the turkey on at 190/gas 5 (180/gas 4 for fan ovens), set your timer and go and have a glass of champers. If you want to, you can baste it every so often, but if you forget, don’t worry at all. Some people recommend cooking the turkey upside down (on its breast) which does result in really juicy breast meat. I guess it depends on how large your turkey is and if you’re prepared to wrestle it up the right way for the last half hour or so to crisp up the breast (likewise if you cover yours with foil, take it off for the last half hour.)
If you’ve gone for a free range turkey it will often look a bit less plump than those ones you see being plonked on the table in all the Christmas adverts (check out the pic of my turkey from last year, above). This is because they lead a more active lifestyle though, which is a good thing. They will also be full of flavour and really succulent as they’re allowed to mature slowly (and they’re happier, obviously – happy turkey = yummy turkey). Free range turkeys also take a little less time to took, so check with the retailer for their recommended cooking times. In general though, my lovely chums Lean on Turkey, have both cooking AND defrosting timings on their website). As a general rule:
Turkey under 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 70 minutes
Turkey over 4kg: 20 minutes per kilo, plus a further 90 minutes
Remove the foil for the last 40 or so minutes to brown the top
Do bear in mind that a free range bronze turkey will often take less time to cook. Double check with your supplier. Once your turkey is done (you can wobble a leg easily, and a quick stab with a knife into the thickest part will allow you to collect nice clear juices on a spoon), drain the juices into a pan for the gravy, then cover with foil and forget it while you cook everything else.
Cooking a turkey crown:
Cream some butter in a bowl until very soft, then add the crushed garlic, orange rind, parsley and thyme. Beat well, until thoroughly blended. Gently loosen the neck flap away from the breast and pack the flavoured butter right under the skin — this is best done wearing disposable gloves. Rub well into the flesh of the turkey, then re-cover the skin and secure with a small skewer or sew with fine twine. Finally, cover the top of the crown with the rashers.
Place the turkey crown in the oven and calculate your time — 20 minutes per 450g (1lb) plus 20 minutes, so a joint this size should take three hours and 40 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, which should be removed about 40 minutes before the end of the cooking time. The turkey crown will cook much more quickly than a whole turkey, so make sure to keep basting.
Again, to check if it’s cooked, pierce a fine skewer into the chest part of the crown, the juice should run clear. When cooked, cover with foil to rest and keep warm.
For great roast potatoes
You really don’t need a lake of fat to make them lovely and crispy. Once you’ve taken the turkey out of the oven, whack the heat up high, then just cover the bottom of the roasting tin completely and make sure the fat is very hot before you add your frozen potatoes. Spoon the fat over all the potatoes then put the in your nice hot oven. The turkey will wait until your potatoes are golden and crispy (40 mins to an hour).
For great stuffing
Again, make this in advance. It will keep happily for a couple of days in the fridge.
Easy apple and red onion stuffing:
(serves 4-6, double up as necessary):
1 tbsp butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 dessert apple, grated (don’t bother to peel)
225g pork sausage meat
100g fresh white breadcrumbs
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
Squeeze of lemon juice
Heat the butter in a frying pan, add the onion and fry gently until soft. Add the apple and cook until softened. Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool.
Stir the sausage meat and breadcrumbs into the onion mixture along with the herbs and lemon juice. Once well combined, squish it into a buttered oven-proof dish, cool and bung in the fridge. On the day, it’ll take about 25 minutes (obviously more if you double up).
Bringing it all together
And that’s it. You’ve got the last half hour to fiddle with all your little extras. Skim off the worst of the fat from the stuff left in the roasting tin, then add a tablespoon or two (depending on the amount) of plain flour to the pan juices in a saucepan and cook out before adding plenty of stock (you can never have enough gravy).
Get your veg on, stir fry your sprouts (or whatever you’re doing), and don’t forget to pop cranberry sauce on the table (here’s my favourite recipe). I also serve roast parsnips with honey or maple syrup, oh and peas for the fussy bugger who only likes peas *sigh*.
If you want a lovely cocktail, try a Poinsettia – a slug of Cointreau in the bottom of a champagne glass, then up to about half way with cranberry juice, and top up with fizz. Decorate with a little spiral of orange peel if you have time.
If it goes a bit wrong and something gets burned or forgotten, it’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the day, pour yourself a drink and remember: it’s just dinner.
If you get stuck, drop me an email, but mostly, have a glass of fizz, hug your loved ones, dress up, light a candle, say you love it even if you hate it and please don’t drink and drive. I need you here to keep me company. Have a wonderful, wonderful Christmas. Mwah xx
‘And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?’
I have a lovely friend, Helen, who I’ve known (electronically) for years and who writes the fabulous website The Foodie Gift Hunter. She is THE go-to person for gift ideas and, frankly, if you like food it’s a great read even if you’re not searching for a gift. We both share a penchant for the ridiculous, the kitsch and the corny, plus we also share a love of cook books. This year, we challenged each other to a little Christmas cook book-off, if you will. A kind of ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ of our Christmas cookbook selections.
So without further ado, pop pickers… (and in the style of ‘Fluff’ Freeman), here are my top ten Christmas cookbooks:
A Simply Delicious Christmas by Darina Allen. Published in the late 80s, I love it not just because its Irishness reminds me of my years spent living in Cavan, but because the original owner of my copy marked her favourite recipes with Novena cards (they’re like little Catholic prayer cards).
Elizabeth David’s Christmas. I have quite a few of Elizabeth David’s books. Like Rick Stein, I love her writing for the elements of travel (and wisdom) as well as her recipes. This Christmas compilation by Jill Norman is wonderful. I love the eccentricity of it all (goose giblet stew, anyone?) but there are some Christmas classics in there too.
the cnristmas cookbook (I love that Amazon have spelled it incorrectly) - by Nanette Newman. Another 80s classic here. Nanette Newman is so full of warmth – the perfect family Christmas positively oozes from these pages. This is also a great one to refer to for some lovely oldy fashionedy recipes if you’re going a bit retro at your party: chicken with avocado and grapes, for instance, and an AMAZING cheesecake recipe called Eli’s Cheesecake, which I make throughout the year, not just at Christmas.
Not strictly a Christmas book, but Cooking With Mickey and the Disney Chefs by Pam Brandon gets my vote. As you know, I’m a bit of a Disney nutcase, and I was lucky enough to have dinner with Pam Brandon at Walt Disney World on a press trip. I nearly spontaneously combusted when she introduced herself. She writes the Disney Food Blog as well, which is a thing of beauty. This book contains THE BEST Eggs Benedict recipe I’ve ever tried, perfect for Christmas morning.
Peterson’s Holiday Helper: Festive Pick-me-ups, Calm-me-downs, and Handy Hints to Keep You in Good Spirits by Valerie Peterson is a great fun book which comes out every Christmas at English Towers. It contains great recipes, hilarious tips and great cocktails and is a total giggle to read. Everyone should have one.
Scandinavian Christmas is a new one this year. Trine Hahnemann’s delightful book contains scrummy Skandi recipes (including some great cookies to make with kids) and is a joy to read. It would make a great present for any Christmas addict.
Possibly my favourite, just for the sheer joy I get from reading it is Christmas with Paula Deen: Recipes and Stories from My Favorite Holiday. Completely bonkers and full of her more mental recipe suggestions, including ‘The Best Damn Blueberry Muffin You’ll Ever Eat’ – you’ll need to stock up on massive amounts of cream cheese and sticks of buddderrrr, and may die of a coronary afterwards, but God you’d die happy. Merry Christmas Y’all!
The original and best, Merry Kitschmas: The Ultimate Holiday Handbook by Michael D Conway is the book that started my love of Christmas books. Here’s my original post on the subject. I still love it, and try to recreate those AMAZING candy cane cocktails every year.
Christmas would not be Christmas without Martha Stewart telling you how to hand make a personalised gift tag made out of gingerbread. I have several Martha Stewart Christmas books (I know, right?), but Christmas With Martha Stewart Living is still my favourite. It doesn’t matter that I sit and flick through it whilst drinking a cocktail and eating my way through a box of Celebrations – in my head I’m at my sewing machine, painstakingly making presents for each of my loved ones.
Lastly, but certainly not leastly, is the wondrous Nigella. This one comes out every year too – her Chocolate Christmas cake has been made many times, and hey, who cares if you need 8 eggs and several hundredweight of specialist items to create the dishes. It’s Christmas. No cook should be without Nigella Christmas: Food, Family, Friends, Festivities.
And that’s it. Around the Christmas tree in my ten favourite books. Do tell me yours!
Oh and by the way, this post contains affiliate links, which means that if 100,000 of you buy a book via the links, I’ll get about 2p. Thanks!
I’m so lucky to have fabulous friends. I know, I know, lots of people have friends, but not too many people have friends who are wine experts. I know, right? Still, it comes with its downsides – she makes me spend hundreds on wine y’know.
It’s been a busy year for the gorgeous Helen, who was not only voted Blogger of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition, but HAS A BOOK OUT THIS YEAR! The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club: Everything you ever needed to know about wine – and much, much more. And if that’s not enough she also won Red Magazine’s Hot Women Award in the blogger category. PHEW!
Luckily for me, she is vey vey lovely, and has decided that she’s still not too famous to write her lovely annual Christmas wine guide for English Mum.
Over the last few years, I’ve written about the ideal wines to go with traditional Christmas feasts for my mate, the very fabulous English Mum. We’ve done the classic route – Champagne, Chablis, Claret and Port. And we’ve done the not-so-classic route – Prosecco, Maconnais, New Zealand Pinot Noir and Sauternes. Then last year, we did more of a food-and-wine-matching thing. All useful stuff, hopefully. But what we haven’t done is How Wine Can Save Your Life. In other words, what wines you can buy as perfect last-minute presents that make you look like a) you know what you are talking about and b) show you really care…
So, you could go for classic Bordeaux, but this in fact gives the game away. You’ve thrown money at it in the hope that you’ll blind him with expensive wine. There’s a better way: Rhone red. Something from the Rhone, made with the Syrah grape, delivers power and knowledge and love in a glass. Now that’s a present. Go for Hermitage (about £20), or for a slightly cheaper option, Crozes-Hermitage (about £10).
This is where a bottle of Bailey’s isn’t going to cut it. (Quick fact: I know the man whose dad invented Bailey’s. Imagine that! What a legacy). No, Bailey’s will betray the fact that you really didn’t know what else to buy them. What you need here is sparkles, possibly pink. So, either a bottle of Rose Champagne or – more fun but similar in price, about £20 – a bottle of Prosecco and a bottle of Campari. Then you can bond over Dirty Prosecco (just add a splash of Campari to a glass of Prosecco and marvel at the colour and taste).
The Favourite Auntie
My sister – known to my children as Auntie Alex, obviously – is, according to them, the funniest person they know. And she’ll be even funnier after a few lugs on what is quite possibly the most delicious sloe gin I’ve tasted this year: Sipsmith’s Sloe Gin (£23, Waitrose). Not only does it taste quite delicious, it is also beautifully packaged. Says I love you like no other gin can.
So, hope that helps and here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas.
As usual Montezuma’s, my favourite chocolate brand, have brought all sorts of deliciousness out for Christmas this year. I’m particularly taken by these milk chocolate Christmas tree baubles (so pretty, with gorgeous ribbons attached) and their fantastic advent calendars – nothing worse than hideous ‘plastic’ chocolate in your calendar – they look fabulous and festive too. I’ll also be putting their chunky chocolate snowmen and chocolate snowballs on my list too.
halfwine.com specialises in half bottles of quality wines. The bottles are 37.5cl which is about one large glass each. A lovely idea for a gift, and also handy if you’re matching your wines with each course and want to prevent wastage. the Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010 shown in the picture was absolutely delicious – soft, rich and fruity. It comes part of their winter collection which, at a cost of £35.65 for four bottles: the red, a decent sparkling white, a St Emilion and a good Chardonnay is cracking value.
Joe & Seph’s
Gourmet popcorn makers Joe & Seph’s have bought out two amazing flavours in time for the festive season: the new mince pie flavour has pieces actually coated with mincemeat and contains brandy infused fruit, caramel and almonds. The brandy butter flavour is coated in a rich butter and Spanish brandy – it is quite alcoholic tasting though, so one for the adults! Both flavours are available in lovely gift jars as well as 70g packs. Really scrummy.
The Kraken is a fabulous black spiced rum (RRP: £22.99) from the States that is now available in some UK supermarkets (I’ve seen it in Waitrose already and, frankly, makes Morgan’s Spiced look like a bit of a sissy girl. Try it in this fab cocktail called ‘The Perfect Storm’: 50ml Kraken Black Spiced Rum + 25ml freshly squeezed lime juice + 5ml sugar syrup + 2 dashes Angostura Bitters. Top up with ginger beer. Serve with ice in a tall glass and garnish with two squeezed lime wedges. It comes in a lovely flagon bottle too. Yummers.
Godminster has joined up with famous wine merchants Yapp Brothers to produce this lovely ‘Classic Red’ gift box, containing a 200g Godminster Organic Cheddar, 200g Godminster Smoked Organic Cheddar, a lovely jar of Godminster Beetroot and Apple Chutney, and a bottle of Yapp Brothers’ Cotes du Ventoux Rouge: Chateau Valcombe 2008, which is a delicious soft red. Scrummy. The Classic Red Gift Box is available from www.godminster.com for £40.00 inc postage and packing.
Bakerdays.com send delicious little ‘letterbox cakes’ just three or four portion sized that, as the name suggests, fit through the letterbox. The cakes come in gorgeous little tins, with all sorts of personalisation, and I can definitely recommend the double chocolate chip cake which is dark, moist and deliciously chocolatey.
Soreen’s Cinnamon and Raisin Loaf
We’re massive malt loaf fans already, but this one is utterly delicious. It’s very moist, as usual, but with extra ‘Christmas Puddingness’ thrown in! Gorgeous toasted with a splodge of butter too. Nom. Available from Asda, Tesco and Morrisons nationwide, retailing at RSP £1.29.
I am loving Asda’s Extra Special range again this year. Last year, if you remember, I travelled to Leith’s to see (and taste) a little of the Extra Special Christmas range they’d developed in association with Asda, and this year, they sent me a few of their wines to try. I don’t have an Asda near me, sadly, but I’ll be having a drive to stock up. Here are my top picks:
Chardonnay La Maison Elyse £7.17 - don’t be put off because it says Chardonnay – hey, it’s what makes Champagne, remember? This isn’t oaky AT ALL and is deliciously creamy. I ate it with salmon and pasta so I reckon it would be a winner with your smoked salmon starter.
Asda Extra Special Falanghina 2011 £5.00 - I cannot believe this wine is only a fiver… peachy, fruity and rich but still crisp, I LOVED it. I’ve never had Falanghina before but will be seeking it out. We had it with halloumi, rocket and pancetta wraps, but I it would be a delightful party wine, to be sipped with friends and nibbles. Yum scrum.
Asda Extra Special Pinot Grigio 2011 £5.00 - I don’t usually buy Pinot, but we both thought this was delicious, so I’m kind of changing my mind now – light, crisp and appley, but not so acidic that you can’t drink it on its own. Which I did. All of it.
Asda Extra Special Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 £5.00 - gorgeously fruity, full of ripe berries and – I’m not very good at this, but – chocolate? Raspberries? Whatever, it’s delicious and if you come across it, stuff your trolley. You’ll thank me.
Wine Selection Cava Rosado £3.78 – A beautifully soft, crisp and fruity rosé sparkler that’s bursting with lovely strawberry flavours – perfect for all festive celebrations and SUCH a bargain! I’ll be drinking this on Christmas morning and I’m not even sorry.
Thank you to the lovely team at Asda for sending me the wines. I love you all xx
Nessie Maclay has a scrummy website with all her lovely designs on really nice quality cards. My favourites are the personalised Christmas ‘thank you’ cards. They cost £7.50 per pack of ten and there is plenty of room to write on the front of the cards and the reverse is blank so there is loads of space for your tiddlers (or bigguns) to write or draw pictures. Gorgeous. I’m also tempted by the personalised correspondence cards at £60 for 100.
Lovely Fiona at ’Have a Gander’ designs tea towels and cards and has two adorable Christmas designs out at the moment. They are 100% cotton, hand-drawn in Kent and printed in England. Have a gander (see what I did there?) at their products
Not a gift, but rush out and buy Persil’s Warm Spice washing up liquid – it has the gorgeous Christmassy scents of cinnamon, clove and a dash of warm orange. If you’re stuck at the sink you might as well enjoy the smell!
Jardins D’Eden have created a gorgeous limited edition Christmas candle with sweet orange, cinnamon and clove oil and made with 100% natural wax and pure essential oils. Delicious and with the added benefits of aromatherapy too. They were really lovely and sent me one of these and the scent has been wafting through English Towers every evening making us feel really Christmassy! While you’re there, check out their other products too – absolutely lush.
For the man in your life, why not try the lovely Neals Yard grooming products from Big Green Smile. My boys both adored this face wash which is fabulously good quality and smells gorgeous too.
For those readers who live in Australia there’s a big selection of Toys at Big W. If you’re shopping for little ones why not avoid the mall altogether?
A while ago Waitrose sent me a cute little gingerbread cookie Christmas tree kit. I’ve done a similar thing before for the Britmums blog last year so I know it can be a bit fiddly, and I kept putting it off. Then last night the oldest decided to have a few mates round so I thought I’d crack out the gingerbread as a surprise.
Well as usual it all went a bit Pete Tong as I went upstairs quickly to do something and didn’t hear the oven timer. The festive chiming of the smoke alarm reminded me that they were still in the oven and I came down to find my little gingerbread stars a bit charred, so I’m afraid I can’t tell you how they tasted!
No matter. I started again with my own easy shortbread recipe, the old faithful 2/4/6:
2oz/50g caster sugar (I use vanilla sugar)
6oz/150g plain flour
Just melt the butter then mix in the sugar and flour to make a dough. Wrap in clingfilm and rest for a little while somewhere cool, then roll out.
The kit gives you a cardboard template for different sized stars (you need two of each size) but I’ve got cutters, which are slightly easier. The stars take literally 10 minutes to bake once you’ve cut them out. Keep checking on them because – ahem – they burn quite easily.
Next, make up some glacé icing (or the kit contains white fondant icing). I made mine lime green with some food colouring paste in ‘lemon/lime’. Ice each star and leave to set. Then just decorate with more icing and little silver balls and copious amounts of glitter (it IS Christmas), then just stack ‘em up, rotating each biscuit slightly to get your tree shape.
Ours was a bit wonky (‘the leaning tower of tree-sa’, if you will) but hey, it only lasted about two minutes, so no matter.
Do give it a go, it’s terrific fun and would make a wonderful Christmas tradition to recreate year after year (oh and if you do give it a try, do send me a photo!).
So it’s just ten sleeps until the big day, and if you’re starting to have anxiety dreams about being chased naked down the street by a giant turkey (or is that just me?) I’ve got some top tips to help you keep calm and enjoy your Christmas day. I mean, just because you’re cooking the dinner, it doesn’t mean that your Christmas day should descend into a big sweaty panic attack:
Christmas treats for kids don’t get much better than going to Lapland and meeting the real Santa Claus. Children will fall in love with this wonderland where the deep, velvety snow is dotted with frosty pine trees and (if you’re lucky) illuminated by waves of blue light. If you’re fortunate enough to be planning one of these enchanting breaks, there are ways to make the most out of visiting Santa’s homeland. There are tons of things to consider: the best age to take the kids, how long to stay, which company to pick and where exactly to go. Here’s how to make seeing jolly red himself a little easier and give you some much-needed tips for any Lapland holiday:
There are many tour operators offering some great deals on breaks to Lapland; prices are competitive so root around and dig out the best deal for you and your family. Christmas is an expensive time of year as it is and with the added financial hardship at the moment, many companies will be struggling to sell these Christmas trips. Esprit Holidays (although actually their site is called Santa’s Lapland) offer a range of decent deals for short breaks for families with quite hefty reductions.
Once you’ve got your package right, then shop around to compare various travel insurance prices in order to find the right family solution. At this time of year, every penny saved can make the difference, after all.
Consider day trips carefully
It seems to be all the rage to take a day trip to Lapland but I am wondering why parents inflict this upon themselves. Yes it’s cheaper, but it comes with many downsides: firstly your kids will be up a the crack of dawn, fly three and a half hours, have an afternoon in Lapland, fly three and a half hours back and arrive home in the early hours of the next day. It sounds like a recipe for bad moods and temper tantrums. Plus there is no room for error – if you miss your plane, the bus breaks down, or your flight is delayed then you will enjoy no day trip whatsoever.
By far the best way to see Santa is on a short break, for a two or three night stay. You will have plenty of time to go sledging, ride snowmobiles, toboggan and have husky-dog rides. A couple of nights will give you time to relish the blue tinted stretches of snow and possibly catch the Northern Lights. Though they are more expensive than day trips they are better value; try Transun for an impressive deal.
The main commercial resort in Lapland is Rovaniemi; a small city with Santa Claus village, which is the heart of the Santa industry. However there are other, smaller villages, which are less commercial and utterly picturesque – these include Karesuando and Saariselka.
The window of opportunity for taking an authentic Santa trip is relatively small; too young and they won’t remember it and might not enjoy the cold. Too old and the Santa gig is up and it will lose its magic. Roughly between the ages of five and eight is pretty perfect for a visit to Father Christmas.
Check the deal you are buying carefully and ask yourself these questions: will we get a private meeting with the man in red? Will it be special and not tacky? How will we get there? Nordic Experience is great for trips that aren’t commercial and they always add something special to the holiday, for example they can organize Santa to have your child’s wish list and a present from you.
Lastly remember to kit yourselves out in proper winter gear: thermals, big boots, waterproofs, thick hats… you name it you need it. All that’s left to do is plan your magical trip to Santa’s secret grotto. Oh, and put in a good word for me, won’t you?
This beautiful hatbox is, admittedly, an expensive option, but it’s packed with loads of luxe goodies and would be a perfect present to receive from, say, your best friend or your husband. There’s a romantic, heart theme running through the contents, including little shortbread hearts and chocolates, and a little gold heart on a ribbon too. The toiletries are fabulously scented and really good quality and the candle, although quite small, packs a powerful punch and smells delicious. There are also two bottles of rosé in the hatbox: an Italian frizzante and a very nice French from Daylesford’s own vineyards. £150 plus delivery at www.harrods.com. Of course if you want non alcoholic food hampers, there are plenty of those too.
Verdict: luxe, but pricey
Yankee Candles have brought out this gorgeous woven basket wrapped in a lovely red ribbon, and filled with one of their scrummy jar candles, three of the small ‘Samplers’ votives and a glass hurricane votive holder, all in delicious, spicy Sparkling Cinnamon scent. £27.99 from www.yankeecandle.co.uk or call 0845 050 2623 for your local stockist.
Verdict: gorgeous, and Yankee Candles just mean Christmas to me.
Bouton stacker rings. Designed by Adrian Buckley – these beauties are £65 each and meant to be worn stacked (but obviously depending on budget, they’re beautiful on their own too). On the website you can click on different ring designs to see how they looked stacked together too. Clever.
Verdict: perfect Christmas sparkle, and collectible too.
The Seagate External Drive is a fab gift for the techy girl in your life. I’m not techy at all, but I can’t live without mine now. It’s a little box about the size of a mobile phone (well, maybe a tiny bit bigger, but I can’t think of anything the right size), and you just plug it in to one of your USB ports with a wire and it basically becomes another drive on your computer. Click control panel > system and security<backup and restore (Windows) and you can pick exactly what you want backed up, and even how often. I’m impressed. And now I can sleep easy at night knowing I won’t lose those precious photos, or all my stuff for my tax return either. They do a Mac version and difference sizes too. It’s priced at £54.20 and comes in a choice of colour – the pinky red is lovely.
Verdict: perfect for music, photos and other precious stuff you don’t want to lose.
Gifts for Europe do these lovely gift boxes that you can personalise with different wine choices. This is a great site if you have friends in different places as you can order from anywhere in the world for delivery anywhere in Europe. We tried the white wine and snack collection with a rather fabulous bottle of Bordeaux (you can choose other wines as well), lots of lovely little crispy snacks, cheesy biscuits and delicious macaroons too.
Verdict: scrummy and perfect for ex-pats or those with loved ones abroad
Arran Aromatics have the most delectable selection of Christmassy candles and reed diffusers. My favourite candle by far is the absolutely gorgeous Mandarin and Petitgrain which leaves the whole house smelling delicious and lasts for hours.
Verdict: A gorgeous gift for someone special
Don’t know about you but I absolutely adore the new John Lewis Christmas advert. If you’ve not seen it, it’s the story of the journey of a romantic snowman who travels many miles across fields and rivers to get his snow-girlfriend a present from John Lewis for Christmas. I know I’m a bit of a wuss, but I cry every time (but it IS lovely). Gabrielle Aplin’s beautiful version of ‘The Power of Love’ is spine chillingly beautiful. Lovely Johnny Looloos have given me this fab exclusive video which shows the making of the advert. Enjoy. And here, have a tissue. Click here for the perfect John Lewis gift for your special someone this Christmas!
I absolutely love doing giveaways just before Christmas. Giving someone the chance to win something that will cross a pressie off their list gives me such a great feeling. This one is brilliant – I’ve teamed up with Argos to give you the chance to win probably the best toy in the whole of the LEGO Star Wars collection: the amazing Millennium Falcon!
This huge beast, with (and I quote) ‘hull plates that open to reveal a detailed interior, twin flick missiles, rotating quad laser cannons and detachable cockpit cover’, as well as including Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Chewbacca, Ben Kenobi, Princess Leia Organa and Darth Vader, is worth £129.99 and will make some small person’s Christmas this year, I’m sure.
Just comment to enter and tell me what you’d do with this amazing 58cm long beast of a toy!
The small print:
Click here to check out the rest of the LEGO Star Wars at Argos!
****THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. THE LUCKY WINNER IS EMMA DUNN!****
So I think I’ve told you about these little beauties before. They”re a bit of a tradition in our house – originally pinched from Hubby’s mum, who used to make ‘pastry jammy cakey things’ – basically a jam tart topped with sponge. These are just a mincemeaty version. But be warned, they’re VERY addictive.
First of all you need to make some festive, orange scented pastry:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 clementine, zest and juice
1 jar mincemeat, with added booze if you like
Firstly, preheat the oven to 180/gas 4. It’s easiest to do this in the food processor but you can do it by hand, or indeed just buy your pastry. I won’t tell.
Chop the cold butter into squares and add it to the flour, salt and sugar. Process it until it looks like breadcrumbs. Grate in the clementine zest and squeeze in the juice.
Now plop in the egg and pulse slowly until it comes together, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of water until you get a nice soft dough.
Flour the work surface and squish the mixture together into a ball. Wrap it in clingfilm and chill for about 2o minutes. Next, roll it out to about 5-6mm thick, then cut out rounds using a pastry cutter and pop each round into a muffin tin.
Take your jar of mincemeat and pop in a couple of tablespoons of booze: brandy/sherry/port – whatever you’ve got. Stir well. Place a teaspoon of mincemeat into the bottom of each pastry case.
Leave them somewhere cool while you whip up a quick sponge mix (if you’re making lots, make it 170g/3 eggs):
115g caster sugar
115g self raising flour
1tsp vanilla extract
Cream the butter and sugar until really light and fluffy, then add in the vanilla extract, then the eggs, beating after each one. Now gently fold in the flour. If the mixture’s a bit stiff (this’ll depend on the size of your eggs), add a splash or two of milk. So now blob a spoonful of your cake mix on top of each mince pie.
Mix a teaspoon of sugar with half a teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle a little pinch on each cake, for added festiveness, and to fill your house with the gorgeous seasonal scent of cinnamon. Then just whack them in the oven for about 20 minutes and you’ll be delighted to discover a light muffin with a pastry base and a little mincemeat surprise in the middle.
But what happens if you’re not quite there yet? Maybe you’re still searching for Mr Right (or Miss Completely Perfect) – the Santa to your Mrs Claus, if you will? Well, on the run up to Christmas, that most lovey dovey time of year, eHarmony want all English Mum’s readers to be as loved up as Mr and Mrs Claus. First thing you can do is pop to the eHarmony dating site - it’s really easy to get started with free dating by filling out a relationship questionnaire.
1) Leave a short comment answering this question: “If you could have any famous couple (dead or alive) at your Christmas dinner, who would it be and why.”
Then as bonus entry methods:
2) Tweet the following phrase “I’d love to #win a John Lewis voucher via @EnglishMum and @eHarmonyUK http://tinyurl.com/EMeHarmony ” - leave a comment saying you’ve done so
3) Follow @eHarmonyUK on Twitter – leave a comment saying you’ve done so and specify your username
4) Like eHarmony on Facebook – leave a comment saying you’ve done so
And that’s it. Easy peasy. You’re on your way to sharing your own special Christmas with someone you love. But hey, if you’ve already found them, feel free to enter too. You can keep the vouchers and give away the eHarmony membership to someone deserving!
Oh and new commenters: don’t be surprised if your comment doesn’t appear straight away – all new comments go into moderation.
The small print: entrants must be over the age of 18. The prize will be sent out within 28 days. UK entries only. No cash alternative. Competition closes Sunday 9th December. Entries after that date will not be valid.
****THIS POST IS NOW CLOSED. THE LUCKY WINNER IS LISA WARNER – CONGRATULATIONS!****
Of course, regular readers will know that I have something of an obsession with Christmas books, but I’ll spare you for the time being (lots of madness to come!) and give you some great recommendations for fab pressies for Christmas.
First up is my lovely Twitter friend Genevieve Taylor’s new book Marshmallow Magic. Marshmallows are majorly trendy at the moment, but if you think they’re too difficult for you, do buy this gorgeous little book stuffed full of great recipes for gourmet marshmallows. Check out the recipe for mojito marshmallows too! A gorgeous little stocking filler. I’m also looking forward to Genevieve’s new book A Good Egg, based on her fab blog.
I remember Rachel Allen’s first TV show years ago when we lived in Ireland. I love her recipes which are always easy to follow and pretty foolproof. Her newest book, Cake, basically contains every cake recipe you could ever need. This is the perfect pressie for any cake lover.
Andy Bates’ Street Food series on Food Network UK has been absolutely amazing (see if you can catch it – well worth it if you’ve got a bit of a food obsession). This new book, called simply Andy Bates, is a mix of recipes from his company, Eat My Pies, along with some really creative ideas for eating with friends, and proper British classics like roast dinners and home made tarts. I hate to be sexist (ahaha) but I think this would make a really good man pressie. Gorgeous.
Next up is the ever scrummy Nigella. Her Christmas TV programme is my absolute fave for getting me in the Christmas spirit. I wasn’t quite so sure about the Nigellissima series, but even if you were equally nonplussed, do buy the book – there are some really great recipes – even if the ‘meatzza’ didn’t grab you. The veggie section is particularly inspiring.
Lastly, here’s some proper ‘food porn’: Gordon Ramsay 3 Star Chef is such a clever idea. The book starts with 50 classic Gordon Ramsay restaurant dishes. The second part of the book show you how to recreate these recipes at home with step by step instructions. It’s quite full on, but if you’re a serious foodie and fancy having a go at recreating gorgeous Michelin star food at home, this is the book for you. It’s also quite beautiful, making it perfect for a present.
‘I have worked for the last 15 years for some of the largest premium beauty companies helping them to find out what British women really want from their beauty regimes. In that time I spoke to literally hundreds of women who just felt that as they got older, their makeup routine didn’t really work for them.
‘When you have a hiatus such as having children, you pare your routine down to the absolute minimum because you just don’t really have time to think about it. Then things start to calm down a bit, you look up and find that everything’s changed and also you have changed and so what you used to do doesn’t really work anymore, but it’s hard to know where to start, especially as a lot of the looks you see in magazines are modelled on very young women and it’s hard to tell if they might be appropriate for you as you get older.
‘I did go back to work after I had my kids, but I increasingly felt I – and they – were missing out on spending time together, even though I loved putting my heels on a going into Bond street to work. So that’s why I set up Beautyland – really to try and bring back a bit of fun to people who have lost some confidence in their makeup and skincare but also so I can spend a bit more time at home with my kids.
I recognised myself in so much of this, and thought it would be fun for one lucky reader to try out a fabulous Christmas look. Suji’s very kindly agreed to put together a special selection of items perfect for Christmas (worth nearly £100). The kit contains:
The small print: the winner will be chosen at random. No cash alternative. UK only. Judge’s decision is final. Competition closes Sunday 25th November at midnight.
So this Sunday, 25th November is ‘Stir-up Sunday’. I ADORE making Christmas pudding: it’s my first real Christmas job (because I’m lazy with the Christmas cakes) and the house just smells divine. Actually, because I soak the fruit overnight, I tend to start on Stir-up Saturday (what? it’s a thing, honestly), but you could start in the morning, soak the fruit all day and make the pudding in the evening too…
So first things first: shopping.
Have a look at the ingredients list now so you’ve got a chance to put anything you don’t have on your shopping list before Saturday. And don’t forget the pudding basin!
The best thing about listing the dried fruit in one 500g item is that you can tweak the recipe as you see fit. I HATE dried peel, so you won’t see any of that in any of my christmas baking (it’s made of the devil’s toenail clippings, don’t you know?) but I love the glistening gold that little snipped up bits of apricot add, so I always add in some of those. You can just buy a 500g bag of mixed fruit if you’re in a rush too.
Remember, if you don’t want to add booze, substitute with fruit juice – cranberry juice is lovely (or more tea), and if you need the recipe to be gluten-free I’ve added tips for that too. If you really must eat peel, though (bleurgh), I shall never speak to you again. Just saying.
Oh and quick tip: tick off the ingredients as you put them in, which will save you doing what I did last year and forgetting the spices.
Right, here we go then:
500g dried fruit – sultanas, raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dates, dried apricots snipped into small pieces… whatever you like.
1 tbsp Maraschino cherries, halved (optional, but it’s nice to see a little glistening bit of red when you cut it open)
100ml black tea
100ml booze – I’ve used Pedro Jimenez sherry, Morgan’s Spiced Rum.. whatever you have.
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp black treacle
1 Bramley apple, grated
100g self raising flour (or rice flour for gluten free – thanks as always to the lovely Pippa for the help regarding gluten)
100g fresh white breadcrumbs (or again, ground almonds if you need to keep the recipe gluten free)
150g veggie suet
150g dark muscovado sugar
25g almonds or pistachio nuts, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
So on to the recipe then:
1. Weigh out the dried fruit, then have a good pick through and get rid of any stems, they’re yucky if you crunch on them. I let them fall through my fingers into the bowl a handful at a time. If you’re using larger dried fruit like prunes or apricots, make sure they’re stoneless and snip them into small pieces.
2. Finely grate the lemon zest, then juice it as well. Add the zest and juice to the fruit then brew up the tea (one tea bag is fine for that amount of water) and pour it over the fruit, along with the rum/brandy/whatever. Add in the cherries and the cinnamon stick and stir it all up. Cover with a plate and leave the whole shooting match to steep (make sure it’s not a metal bowl) overnight, stirring occasionally if you remember.
3. The next day, then, weigh out all the dry ingredients and combine them in a huge bowl. Don’t forget the spices! The muscovado sugar can be a bit lumpy so you might need to sift it to break up any lumps.
4. Take the steeped fruit and remove the cinnamon stick pieces. Add the eggs (give them a quick mix with a fork first), honey, treacle and grated apple (leave the peel on).
5. Stir well, then you can add all that into the dry ingredients. Give it a really good stir (get everyone to take a turn to stir and make a wish).
6. Now butter a big basin (3 pint/1.7 litre) or two smaller ones and bung in your mixture, pressing it down well and filling as near to the top as you can.
7. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper, bigger than the top of the basin/s, then add a layer of foil. Tie the two layers tightly just under the basin rim with string, leaving lots of excess to make a handle. Now there is some weird way to loop the excess string underneath the basin to make a handle, but I’ve never managed it as I didn’t pay attention at Brownies. If you want to be extra sure no liquid gets in, add another layer of foil and tie again. Or you can use a basin with a lid, or tie it in a muslin, or use one of those special circular moulds.
And that’s it, you’ve made a Christmas pudding! Pause here a minute to give yourself a quick round of applause.
To steam it, you can use a steamer if you’re posh, but I haven’t got one so I just use a huge saucepan and balance the basin inside it on a circular metal pastry cutter so it isn’t sitting on the bottom of the pan. This will also stop it burning if you inadvertently let it boil dry. Add boiling water about halfway up the basin and put the lid on the saucepan. Steam for 5 hours, making sure you go back every so often to top up the boiling water.
I rewrap it with fresh greaseproof paper and foil, but you don’t have to. Keep it somewhere cool until Christmas day when it’ll need to steam for about another 2.5 to 3 hours (don’t worry if it gets a bit longer, it won’t ruin it). Or you could *gasp* just microwave it on Christmas day. Much easier, but possibly a little sacrilegious.
On Christmas day, just warm some booze gently, then at the last minute, pour it over the pud and set it alight.
This is my fourth Lean on Turkey challenge, supporting our fabulous British turkey farmers and showing you just how versatile turkey is. In the last three recipes, I’ve told you that turkey’s not just for Christmas,but FINALLY I can tell you that it’s for Christmas too!
This time the chaps have challenged me to create a recipe with leftovers, and it just HAD to be the Boxing Day Pie. It’s a tradition in our house to bake a MASSIVE leftover pie on Boxing Day. If you’ve got stuffing leftover, pop it in too, it tastes delicious. Served with a stir fry of leftover veggies, it’s a feast as good as the one on Christmas Day. Here’s how to do it:
You will need:
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
1 large white onion
Lots of leftover turkey (a good couple of double handfuls, shredded, depending on how large your pie dish is)
Leftover ham: this can be from a roast ham, or just any ham you have lying around
Any leftover stuffing
Small tub of double cream
About 200-300ml chicken stock (cube is fine, or use watered down leftover gravy)
Herbs: I wanted to use tarragon, but apparently there’s a ‘shortage’ (?), so I opted for thyme out of the garden
Shortcrust pastry (bought or home made)
For the pastry
So firstly, if you’d like to make your own pastry, you’ll need:
200g cold butter
400g plain flour
Cut the cold butter into cubes, and add it to the flour. Add in the salt, and then rub in the butter gently with just your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Keep everything as cool as you can, including your hands. Add the egg, and a couple of tablespoons of cold water, just enough to bring it together. It’s less messy initially so use a knife to just stir it around until it starts to form clumps, then, with your hands, bring it together into a dough. Don’t knead it, remember, just treat it very gently. Now just wrap it in clingfilm and pop it in the fridge to rest while you make the filling.
For the pie
So gently fry the onion in the oil until translucent and add in the shredded turkey and leftover ham (snipped into little pieces, or chopped), season well (not too much salt – the ham’s salty) and then add a generous splosh of cream. Pour in the stock and leave to bubble away and reduce a little (you don’t want too much ‘juice’ in the pie as it will make the pastry soggy). Add in the fresh herbs and allow to cool while you roll out the pastry.
This is a good time to preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.
In our house, it’s absolutely obligatory that the pie has a bottom, the boys insist upon it, but if you want, you can omit the bottom and just cover the top with pastry. So flour your work surface AND your rolling pin really well. Divide your pastry into two pieces: one about 2/3 for the base and the other 1/3 for the top.
Roll the larger piece out to about 5-6mm thick, moving the pastry around in 1/4 turns as you roll until you’ve got a rough circle. This will prevent the pastry from sticking to the work surface. Roll the pastry up around the rolling pin, then unroll it over your pie dish. Push it down gently, and use little extra bits to fill any holes or cracks.
Now spoon in your cooled filling. Don’t put hot filling into the pie as it will begin to melt the butter and you’ll get the dreaded ‘soggy bottom’!
Now do the same thing with the final third of pastry. Unroll it over your filling and crimp the edges with your fingers, or a fork so that they’re sealed together.
If you’re feeling arty, make some letters, then transfer to the eggy wash department (I use a stray child) for a brush with beaten egg or milk and pop in the oven for about half an hour.
And that’s it. Hopefully it will become a tradition in your house too!
There’s really no pricing with this as most of it is home made or leftover, but it’s definitely cost effective, and delicious.
For more information on the Lean on Turkey campaign, head to leanonturkey.co.uk
One of the best things about Christmas is the dressing up. Whatever we’re doing at Christmas, we always make a big effort (although I’ll never quite live down the reindeer jumper and mustard cords of Christmas long past). M&S have teamed up with Disney Channel’s ‘Get the Look’ stylist Electra Formosa to produce a serious of brilliant fashion videos: Styled By Electra. They’ll be broadcast on Electra’s YouTube channel, Electra Loves and will show Electra styling the M&S kidswear Christmas photoshoots, teaching all our gorgeous girls to look amazing this Christmas.
This one is all about bows: one of the biggest trends this Christmas:
Subscribe to Electra Loves at youtube.com/electraloves‘?
There’s nothing better than receiving a present that really makes you smile – a present that you know someone saw and thought ‘wow, that would be perfect’. And so, I was pretty delighted to receive this:
It’s ME! I adore it, it looks amazing in my kitchen and it makes me smile every time I look at it, which is, let’s face it, the very best thing about any present. Mr and Mrs B helped me choose the very best colour frame to complement my kitchen and set off the print and I think we all did a darned good job. You don’t have to have your personalised prints framed, of course, but there are so many lovely frames to choose from it seems a shame not to.
Boo & Boy is a gorgeous new website from the fabulous duo that is Mrs B&B (aka Laura, fellow blogger and one of my very best friends), and Mr B&B, aka Andy, designer of THIS VERY BLOG! So you know that everything they do is going to be darned fantastic, creative and beautiful (not that I’m biased in any way)
Next on my wish list is the very scrummy ‘my only vice‘ print, which, I’m thinking should say ‘cake… cheese… red wine… sunshine and… more cake’
Do yourself (and all your friends and family) a huge favour and bag some gorgeous prints for everyone. There is nothing better, I can vouch, than signing for a beautiful, brown-paper wrapped parcel and seeing those googly Boo&Boy eyes peeking at you from one corner…
Oh wait, there is one thing better: a special code for English Mum readers! Just add the code: B&B/EM/10/2012 at the checkout stage and you’ll get 10% off every order plus FREE Shipping, until 31st December 2012. Just in time to buy all your Christmas presents to show all your family and friends how much you care. Oh, you’re welcome.
I usually have all my Christmas shopping done by mid-October at the latest. This is not because I’m smugly practical or super-organised, the real reason I’m going to confess to you today: I am something of a Scrooge and detest shopping during the holiday season.
I love Christmas, don’t get me wrong, it’s just shopping-mall variety Christmas cheer that gets me stressed. Grotto elves dancing, repetitive carols and blinking lights just wind me up, so I try and get my shopping done and dusted before it all comes out in force.
Here are my tips and a rough timeline to avoid congestion and stress :
Start your list in early September – who you are getting gifts for and what they might like. Sounding your gift recipients out this early will mean that no-one cottons on that you are thinking about Christmas presents.
Set aside a day in mid-September to trawl shops. This day should preferably be a mid-week day if you can manage it, in order to maximise efficiency.
See what can be bought online. This is the easiest way to compare prices and great for people with kids or jobs… ie, most of us.
Stock up on stocking fillers! Again, these are easily bought online. Package delivery is also good for concealing goodies from impatient young eyes.
Note any items that need to be posted early to avoid extra-long queues in the Post Office. Buy up stamps for cards in advance.
So what happens when you’re sitting on a big pile of presents a month and a half before the big day? Well, once you’ve finished wrapping, here are some suggestions for ways that you can spend the lead up to Christmas that will be more fun, relaxing, rewarding and creative.
Make greeting cards with your kids – You can get really get crafty with stamps, illustrations and collages.
Create your own holiday decorations – Perhaps make an angel or star for the tree, some colourful bunting, a garland for your front door.
Get festive in the kitchen! Make a Christmas cake, some festive chocolates or rum balls, mull some wine, bake some gingerbread.
Order your Christmas turkey from your local butcher.
Spend some time volunteering for a local charity or homeless shelter.
Any and all of these are, in my opinion, more productive and pleasanter ways to spend the build-up to Christmas than racing around stressed at the last minute.
What is your typical schedule in the lead-up to Christmas? How do you like to manage your Christmas shopping?
Vivienne Egan writes for Baker Ross where you find plenty of Christmas stocking fillers!
What does Christmas mean to you? For me it’s the scent of pine, frosty walks, tinsel and glitter, cinnamon and spice, the odd present or two and food food food! It’s different for everyone: maybe you’re planning a big get together, musing about going away or maybe it’s just the two of you, planning a quiet day.
If you’re undecided, I think I’ve found the perfect Christmas break. Center Parcs open right through the festive season, so you can go for a weekend to build up a bit of excitement for the big day, meet friends and family, or stay over Christmas. They’ve got really lovely festive things going on across all the Parcs, including *gulp* real, live reindeer!
You can stay in a villa, a luxury lodge or even – and I’m seriously tempted by this – a treehouse! (at Sherwood Forest and Longleat Forest). All the different types of accommodation have well equipped kitchens, but if you don’t fancy cooking, the different restaurants, including Café Rouge, Bella Italia and the Grand Café, to name but a few (they differ depending on the parc) have special menus, including Christmas lunch and New Year’s Eve dinners.
Each parc is planning their own pantomime (Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a bit of ‘he’s BEHIND you!’), the kids can visit Santa in his very own Woodland Workshop, and there are spectacular fireworks to round off a magical stay.
Now who’s going to take me to Center Parcs for Christmas? Come on, hands up…
So finally, finally, we’ve taken the plunge and got a new car. The Mondeo was costing us an absolute fortune in petrol, and Sam was jumping up and down making ‘I want to learn to drive’ type noises. We settled on a Polo, which is a good compromise between big, safe car-loving me and small-engine-because-of-the-insurance-needing him. Suddenly, the DVLA Theory Test book has resurfaced, and the provisional licence has been applied for. Next it will be driving lessons and, hopefully, test success. Then, of course, it will be horrendous insurance and sleepless nights and bitten nails waiting for him to come home.
All this talk of cars and petrol came at about the same time that we learned about the new Morrisons fuel saver scheme. It’s quite a clever way of saving on your fuel bills. Basically, as far as I understand it, you can buy gift cards at Morrison’s (I was thinking that I’d buy them for Christmas pressies – there’s loads of shops in the scheme, like Topshop, Boots, Monsoon, PC World and Curry’s, plus there are restaurants like Café Rouge and Bella Italia… there’s even National Book Tokens), then you get to give the cards as pressies (or use them yourself) and you get the points off your petrol. I like Morrisons anyway – their commitment to using only British meat and poultry has long impressed me – so I’d happily take a longer detour to pop in and get these vouchers. And think about it – you get 1p a litre off for every £10 you spend. So if you spend, say, £200 on cards, for presents or whatever, that’s 20p a litre off your next fill up. Not to be sniffed at. I also thought it was a good way to spread out your Christmas shopping – every time you shop, buy a couple of cards, and you’re not only getting set for Chrimbo, but you’re saving on fuel. Bargainous.
Anyhoo, here’s a video showing you how it works. It’s a permanent scheme, so like puppies and kittens, it’s not just for Christmas. You’re welcome.