Tuesday 24 December 2019

Merry Christmas

Sending warmest thoughts and best wishes for the festive season.
Merry Christmas.

J. X

Christmas Market

In recent years, on the run up to the big day, once the gift shopping is complete and school has closed until the new year, we have taken ourselves off to visit a Christmas market. This year we chose Edinburgh.
Edinburgh is my favourite city and to see it decorated for Christmas and covered in thousands of twinkling fairy lights is a most magical feeling, especially as many store windows were dressed so beautifully for the season.
The market itself was home to stall upon stall selling wonderful festive goodies and, as usual at these events, the aroma of mulled wine and freshly cooked waffles fillied the air. Children and adults alike were excited to enjoy traditional fairground rides and browse the stalls and attractions.
Yes, it can get busy and crowded at times but if timed right it really can be a wonderful experience.
We took a ride on the huge ferris wheel (Lily's favourite) where, at the very top, we could see right over the city from Arthur's Seat to out over the sea. Lily went on the helter skelter and together we rode the gorgeous double carousel. Afterwards I enjoyed some hot mulled wine, which seemed to taste so much more delicious when drunk outdoors in the cold, even if it was from a paper cup. 🍷
While we were there we bought a new decoration for our Christmas tree and some cheese to have with our meal on Christmas eve, but mainly it was just about having fun and soaking up the festive atmosphere.
I'm almost ready for Christmas Day now. This morning I will be baking some bread and mince pies, and I'm sure we will get out for  a gentle walk at some time today.
Happy Christmas Eve!
J. X

Thursday 19 December 2019


We've decorated the tree, the gifts are (almost) all wrapped and the cards have been posted. With just one week to go until Christmas Day the excitement level is increasing and we've been taking time to enjoy everything about this most wonderful time of the year. We've visited a Christmas tree festival, seen Santa on his sleigh and enjoyed the school's Christmas celebrations - Lily was a rapping King!

Our little tree is spending it's third Christmas with us and has three new decorations this year. A little robin, a snow covered house and a star which Lily made at school. The living room lamps keep getting switched off, so we can sit in just the glow of the fairy lights. The tree is slightly wonky but to us it is perfect, and I expect I'll feel a little sad when I have to return it to the garden again in January.

In the kitchen I've enjoyed a change from making mince pies by baking gingerbread cookies instead. I use this recipe here but with the addition of some ground cloves to give them more of a festive flavour. Lily assisted by rolling the dough and cutting out shapes of stars, snowflakes, Christmas trees and snowmen, and, just like the mince pies, they're disappearing fast. I've strained (and tested 😆) the blackberry vodka and bottled some as gifts, and also made up some jars of hot chocolate mix to give away.

At the weekend we had the greatest surprise when we awoke to a covering of snow.  Lily had been super excited to decorate the tree but it was nothing compared to the thrill of snow, especially on the lead up to Christmas. Lily made a snow angel and there may have been a brief snowball fight. ❄ We enjoyed a leisurely walk and, although it was a very cold morning, afterwards we were able to warm ourselves with a hot drink in front of an open fire.

As we made our return along the riverside I was lucky to spot a long pine branch on the ground, a suspected casualty of the recent strong winds. I must have looked a bit of a sight carrying it over my shoulder but I knew it would be perfect as the base for my door wreath. I collected a handful of pine cones and also added them to the wreath, together with some holly and rosemary from the garden. It smells amazing.

Aside from the period of calm between Christmas and New Year, this is probably my favourite time of the season. Most of the preparations are complete and I can relax and enjoy myself knowing everything is taken care of, except from perhaps a little food shopping, icing the cake and baking some more mince pies.
Will someone please pass me the Quality Street?

J. X

Saturday 7 December 2019

Mince Pies

I baked my second batch of these yesterday and, having tasted the results,  I have changed my mind in that from now on I will definitely be using this recipe for my mince pies. They are delicious. Here it is, for those who would like it (and also that I can keep my favourite recipes in one place). This makes 18 mince pies.

You will need:

225g Plain flour
140g Butter
2 teaspoons Ground cinnamon
30g Caster sugar 
55g Ground almonds
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons of cold water
Around 400g mincemeat (I use a stores own luxury brand)

To make the pastry, sieve the flour and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and rub in the butter until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the caster sugar and ground almonds, then mix together using the egg yolk and water to form a soft dough (I use the back of a fork to do this). Finally, knead lightly, then cover and leave to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Empty the mincemeat into a small bowl and stir in one (or two 😆) tablespoons of brandy. Mix well.
Roll out the pastry on a floured surface and cut out approximately 18 rounds and stars. Place the rounds in a greased tin, dividing the mincemeat between each, then top with the stars.
Bake for 20 minutes at 150°C. Allow to cool and sprinkle with icing sugar. Dont be alarmed, it's not unusual to discover one or two have 'disappeared' during the cooling process.

 J. X

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