Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Into December





So, here we are, at the beginning of the final month of the year, and it made me so happy that it arrived with the most wonderfully bright and crisp weather. Overnight, the landscape turned into a winter wonderland. It looked quite magical and I couldn't think of a better way to get me in the festive spirit, except for maybe some gently falling snow. ❄❄❄

Last weekend the advent stockings were hung in preparation for the annual countdown to the big day and Lily could hardly get to sleep with the excitement of it all. Goodness knows how we will get through Christmas Eve this year! And yet, I still haven't got any further with my preparations. I know I said I wanted to take a relaxed approach but I really do need to get on and make a proper start.

On Saturday morning I was up nice and early in order to make some mince pies. I have a favourite recipe which I use every year but wanted to try something a little different for a change. The pastry called for some ground almonds and cinnamon, whilst some additional brandy was required for the already 'enhanced' mincemeat. They were delicious. In fact, they have all disappeared already! And, although I think I will return to my usual pastry recipe for my next batch, I will definitely include the extra brandy in the mincemeat in future. 😉














Sunday brought with it another early start but this time it was for a walk in the beautiful Borrowdale valley. Another hard frost had made for a sunny but bitterly cold morning, the shores of Derwentwater were iced over, and I was grateful to be wearing my woolly sweater, hat, scarf and mittens. We began our walk through the woodland. Frosted branches glistened in the sunshine, the ground was crunchy underfoot, and we needed to remain vigilant for patches of ice as we continued along the rocky track, then upwards towards the final steep climb to the summit. As well as the cold frosty weather, cranberry sauce in our sandwiches, along with mince pies in our lunch boxes provided a delightfully festive feel to our day.
During our descent we made a brief detour to visit Milican's Cave, where we rested a while and Lily enjoyed some hot chocolate. It wasn't long before she discovered an icicle which she really, really wanted to bring home with her, however, she soon changed her mind when her gloves  became cold and wet. Fortunately, I had some spare gloves with me, while Lily took ownership of my already warm mittens.


Following an early Christmas meal out with friends on Friday evening, this weekend has made  a lovely start to my festive season. Plans for the week ahead include making a Christmas wreath, visiting a Christmas tree festival and possibly baking some more mince pies.
A glass of mulled wine, anyone?
J. X

Thursday, 28 November 2019

Making a Start






The gloomy weather continues, and so I've been keeping myself busy in the kitchen making preparations for Christmas. It's creeping ever closer and, although I don't like to start too early, I also don't intend to leave things until the last minute. At the weekend I baked the cake and made the cranberry and apple sauces. I've put the cake in an air tight tin and it will be fed with brandy over the next few weeks, while the sauces have been tucked away at the back of the freezer. I have yet to make any mince pies and I'm putting off straining the blackberry vodka too soon, so as I'm not tempted to drink it, but that's a few jobs off my list, at least, and for a while the house was filled with the most delicious aromas, lifting my spirits and allowing my mind to wander to activities and plans for the festive season.

There are a few places we'd quite like to visit during December and I must remember to book to go ice skating very soon. It's been a few years since I've been on the ice, so there's a chance I may regret this particular activity, but Lily is so very excited to go that I simply can't disappoint her.  In the next few weeks I've a gingerbread house to create, cards to write and gifts to buy, but first things first, I need to hang the advent stockings in time for the weekend.











Last weekend, during a break in the wet weather, we went for a morning walk from Wray castle. From the castle, our route took us along the shore of Windermere, through woodland and up over Latterbarrow fell. An early start, along with the misty weather meant it was lovely and quiet and we hardly saw a soul the whole time we were out. Unfortunately,  the weather also meant the views were rather limited (apparently, on a clear day, you can see the sea from the summit, we could barely see the lake!) but it was a very enjoyable walk nonetheless, and we rounded it off nicely with some delicious soup and hot tea in the café back at the castle.




The forecast for the next few days is cold and sunny, which will make a lovely change from the grey days we've been experiencing lately. I hope this will mean we can get out and enjoy a longer walk. I might even bake some mince pies.
J. X

Tuesday, 19 November 2019

November Gloom


It's been a little while. The last couple of weeks have felt like an uphill struggle and I've neglected this little space as November began to take its toll. A combination of dark, damp days and various other trivial issues have left me feeling just a little disillusioned and low in spirits.
I'm happy to say there's nothing serious, and some of the issues which are troubling me don't even affect me personally - my tendency to overthink and dwell on things does nothing to help in this situation. I have been making sure to take more time for myself and focus on the positives, which has helped enormously. I've also managed to continue running several times a week and I am finally noticing some improvement.












I find that getting outdoors always has a calming and restorative affect, so with this in mind, at the weekend Lily and I went for a walk through the fields and into the woods. The trees are looking rather bare now and I'm sure the recent frosty weather will have since seen off many of the remaining leaves. Dampness hung in the air and I could feel the chill rising up through the earth. A brief pause for some chocolate and a decision was made to return straight home into the warm rather than visiting the nearby café for a hot drink.



In the afternoon we baked biscuits. At Lily's request - gingerbread, and definitely heart shaped. Simple, delicious and all gone now! I think I will use this recipe for our Christmas gingerbread house this year.  Yes, I've allowed myself to start planning ahead for the big event and there is a gentle simmering of excitement here. This week I've been browsing magazines and I've sourced the ingredients for my Christmas cake. I might also have watched a cheesy Christmas film (or two).


Gingerbread Biscuits:

75g butter
60g light brown sugar
3 ½ tablespoons of golden syrup
175g plain flour
pinch of bicarbonate of soda
2 teaspoons of ground ginger
Put butter, sugar and syrup in a pan and heat gently until sugar is dissolved. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix well together to form a dough. Chill in the fridge for half an hour then roll out to around 4mm thickness between two sheets of greaseproof paper and cut into shapes.
Bake at 150° for approximately ten minutes. This makes around 18 biscuits.

J. X

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

November 5th





Almost as quickly as it took for me to turn the page in my diary it has turned very November-ish. The once crisp, freshly fallen leaves are gradually turning to mulch and the days have become grey, misty and damp. The air smells earthy and gentle wisps of smoke rise from chimneys. I am trying my best to embrace the dark evenings by hunkering down with a good book and lighting candles. 
At this time of year I often feel like I'm just biding my time. The fun of Hallowe'en is over once again and yet it's still a little too early (for me anyway) to get excited about Christmas.




Last Saturday evening we went to a nearby village to watch a firework display. It was  a cold damp night and the sky was clear, perfect for fireworks. Although it was a little short lived as, because we were stood so close to the action, it was much too loud for Lily. It didn't stop us enjoying my homemade bonfire toffee, however and we will be lighting some sparklers in the garden this evening and drinking some delicious hot chocolate with marshmallows. There might even be some sticky ginger cake left over from when I baked at the weekend.





I've been getting out for a run several times a week and my route takes me past a crate of help yourself apples. Not one to miss an opportunity, I returned later in the day* and transformed them into a delicious apple and cinnamon crumble.
*running is challenging enough for me in itself, without trying to carry apples at the same time 😀




If you're heading out this evening, I hope you have a safe and enjoyable time. And if you'd like to try some delicious bonfire toffee, here is the recipe:

In a large pan melt together 75g golden syrup, 75g black treacle, 150g soft brown sugar, 75g butter and ¼ teaspoon cream of tarter. Gradually increase the heat until the mixture reaches a rolling boil, stirring all the time. When the mixture reaches 145° pour into a lined tin and allow to cool. This was approximately seven minutes for me, although this can also be tested by dropping a small amount of the mixture into cold water. Once cool the toffee should break easily using rolling pin. Store in an airtight container.
Be careful! It's very moreish.


J. X