Archive for December, 2011

White Christmas cake

I was so last minute with everything that my Christmas cake was marzipanned and iced in the early hours of Friday morning – two days before Christmas. Oops.

As usual, I used Nigella’s recipe, fed it with brandy, and then marzipanned with golden marzipan. I adore marzipan (Mr S&S doesn’t) so I am winning the children over to marzipan love by feeding them the scraps from the cake. It seems to be working. I didn’t have the energy or the time to faff with royal icing, so it was packet fondant all the way. The white Christmas tree obviously set off something in my creative subconscious, because the cake was similarly minimalist this year:

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Weekword: Box

This week’s word, courtesy of Katy, was inspired by her choosing on Boxing Day.

Source: <a style='text-decoration:underline;font-size:10px;color:#76838b;' via >Elle on Pinterest

When I was growing up, the TV was known as ‘the box’, as in ‘Is there anything on the box?’ (or, inexplicably, the cod-French ‘Est-ce qu’il y a quelque chose sur le boite ce soir?’). One of the things that surprises people about our house is that we don’t have a TV. Well, we have a TV, but it’s not connected to receive broadcast. We can watch DVDs, but if we want to watch broadcast TV we have to go to someone’s house, or, for BBC programmes, use the iPlayer and watch them on the computer. Which means that we don’t watch much broadcast TV at all.

We didn’t make this decision deliberately, in an attempt to be ascetic – we moved into a house with bad reception and didn’t get round to fixing the dish. For months. After which, we realised we didn’t really miss it, and decided not to bother. By this time, not having a TV had become normal, so we weren’t prepared for how odd people would find it. We frequently get asked if we miss it. (No, or we’d have a TV). What do we do in the evenings? (We talk or read or knit or sew or play games or have a bath or… um, put a film on). Don’t we feel we’re missing out on the good stuff on TV? (Not really – we spend our TV licence money on DVDs, so we invariably catch up on the good stuff eventually, even if we’re a year or so behind.) Don’t our kids miss out? (I hope not. They do have DVDs, so we can choose their viewing, and as well as the contemporary stuff, they love Bagpuss, Ivor the Engine, Willo the Wisp and the Clangers. They watch some TV at their grandparents’ house, but thankfully they stick to CBeebies so they don’t see too many adverts!.) Several people assume that we think we’re terribly intellectual, or somehow superior, which we don’t – we’ve had TV for most of our lives and I can readily imagine that we may well have it again, but it’s interesting that this perception surfaces.

We get our news from the radio – Radio 4 is on almost all day if we’re not working – which means that I’m quite well informed but sometimes I don’t know what a key player in current affairs looks like until I see a picture on a news website, which is quite disconcerting. We both work from home so we don’t have the issue of the ‘water cooler’ conversations about what was on TV last night, but on internet forums and at social occasions I notice – in a way I never had before – how much people talk about the television. I also notice that when people complain about something (an election, the football, the Olympics) being ‘everywhere’, they might not know it, but they don’t really mean ‘everywhere’, they mean the TV – I’ve never felt that sense of something being ubiquitous since I stopped having one.

When I watch TV at other people’s houses I’m always taken aback by how strident adverts are – I have definitely become more sensitive in 5 years without a telly. It took a year to convince TV Licensing that we don’t have a TV – they are incredibly reluctant to believe that anyone without a licence could be that way because they don’t have a TV. But we’ve heard nothing from them for nearly 4 years, so they have probably put us on a list of dangerous subversives.

Go and see Katy to check out the other Weekworders!

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Christmas tree

I have lots of decorations – I like to ring the changes with my colour scheme. This year I was going to go for red and white, and bought a few extra white decorations. I also had the bright idea of using ribbon to make some bows. I planned to get the tree done at the weekend, but what with everything, it was yesterday before I managed it.

When I do a two-colour tree, I do one colour first and then the other; that way I don’t end up with it lopsided and with pools of one colour that I notice later and then have to rearrange. So I got all the white stuff on and thought, ‘Actually, I quite like that as it is.’

So here’s my all-white (apart from a little red and white bird which snuck on courtesy of my daughter) tree.

Did I mention my bows? I bought 15 metres of cheap uber-synthetic satin ribbon; I didn’t want to splash out too much until I knew the idea worked. And my goodness, it’s hard to tie that stuff into proper, even bows. I managed it in the end, by devising a two-ribbon and needle and thread loop-loop-stitch-pinch-tie process.

I am very happy with them.

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Last day of term

The Little Girl finishes school for Christmas today, so yesterday she and I made some presents for her teacher and the teaching assistants. I made some vanilla spice cookies, and some lemony icing, then covered the Little Girl in aprons and unleashed the creative whirlwind. There is no creative force to rival a four year old who’s been supplied with glitter, icing, smarties, jelly tots and the contents of Mummy’s cake decorating box. The glitter was applied by me, under close supervision and direction, but otherwise, these were her own artistic creation. Every sweet applied with total deliberation.

Here’s the recipe for the biscuits, by the way:

Vanilla Spice Biscuits

175g butter, softened.
200g caster sugar.
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
400g plain flour (this recipe works very well with gluten free flour)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
pinch of allspice

For the icing:
250g icing sugar, sieved
Juice of 1 lemon
Food colouring and sprinkles as wished

Cream sugar and butter til pale. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In another bowl mix flour, salt and baking powder, and then add them to the butter and eggs, mix gently. Halve the dough, form into discs or balls and wrap in clingfilm to rest in fridge for 1 hr. Roll the dough on a floured surface to half a cm thick, then cut shapes, and place on baking sheets – I flour my sheets as these do have a tendency to stick. Bake for 8-12 mins at 180C, until golden brown.

For the icing, mix the lemon juice with the sugar until you have a thick paste. Add a bit of water if you need to. Colour as desired and then go mad.

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Emily picked Resolution, and here is my very late post. As you can see, my daily posting resolution fell somewhat by the wayside. Things got the better of me – I was in a rush to finish work by last Friday – which I did, and am now on holiday! Yay! – but then I needed to do all the things that had been neglected – Christmas shopping, housework, getting things ready for children’s school plays and Christmas parties and all of that.

This year, we’ve had an Advent Candle instead of a calendar, and it’s alarming how quickly it’s shortened. It’s a very visual reminder that tempus does indeed fugit.

The children love it and we have daily arguments over whose turn it is to blow it out. (The Little Boy has odd numbers, the Little Girl, even). The Little Boy does a big puff and blows it straight out, while the Little Girl faffs around with tiny breaths making the flame flicker and gutter, before the chorusing of ‘Get on with it!’ makes her blow it properly!

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Weekword: New word!

I forgot to pick a picker!

Sorry folks!

I am going to tag….


to choose the next word.

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I’m finding my customary morning listening – Radio 4’s Today programme – to be a bit too much for me the moment, so in the mornings, I tend to find myself listening to this:

Yes, I’ve cracked open the festive music. Mr S&S has stopped complaining since I told him that he was squashing my attempts to be happy and festive and accused him of being a Grinch. Sometimes guilt has its uses. Anyway, no, this is not, despite what it claims, the Best Christmas Album in the World Ever, but it’s pretty good. It has most of the must-have classics (White Christmas, The Christmas Song, an Ella Fitzgerald number), the obligatory Wizzard and Mud and Slade, and some more unusual choices (Mad World and Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s The Power of Love, not to mention a bit of Steeleye Span (Gaudete, one of my favourites). It has Tom Jones and Cerys Matthews doing Baby, It’s Cold Outside, which is a marvellous version. I do prefer Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, but I can live with Kylie’s. There are some fillers – I could live without The Waitresses – and I am fairly sure that the true best album ever would have East 17’s Stay Another Day, which despite being objectively awful, is one of my favourite Christmas songs ever.

But no. The thing that comprehensively ruins this compilations claim to greatness is that while it does contain the marvellous Fairytale of New York, it is not the Pogues version with Kirsty MacColl. No. It is the version with Ronan bloody Keating. Ronan Keating. Yes, him out of the squeaky-clean boyband. And a woman who has a nice voice but who lacks the venom necessary. (‘I could have been someone…’ ‘Well, so could anyone’ , spits Kirsty. Marvellous.)

Whose idea was this travesty? Find them. And … well, what I want to say next may lead to comparisons with Jeremy Clarkson. Let’s just say I skip past that track. In a week or so I’ll be breaking out the Carols from Kings CD, which is my music of choice for baking and decorating and present wrapping. That’s when things get serious.

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I admit it, it was an impulse buy. I can rarely keep these things alive (I suspect that they’re like cyclamen, which are mass-grown for the Christmas market and known in the trade as ‘buy and die’) and when I do, I can never be bothered to faff with bags and darkened rooms to persuade it to go red again. (Mind you, a big green poinsettia can look rather splendid).

But there they were, in the supermarket, looking all red and green and festive. And cheap. So I succumbed, and bought one. And very cheery it looks too.

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Weekword: Colour

I chose this word partly because it fitted in with my general feelings of festiveness (I’d spent ages looking at decorations and lovely Christmassy things on Pinterest) and partly because I thought it would be interesting to see what other people did with it – and mainly because it’s something I love. I love colour. Neutrals are good – as a backdrop for splashes of colour. I like the idea of pale, minimalist spaces, but I couldn’t live in them. I even find it hard to choose a ‘favourite colour’ because they are all wonderful. I never wear orange, because I look awful in it, but for some things, orange is perfect. (If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the blog ‘How About Orange’ – as well as a love of orange, there are lots of crafty ideas and free printables.) But deep-but-muted ‘Farrow and Ball’ style colours, bright pinks and jades, peacock blues and sunshiny yellows, all the shades of green you can imagine – I love them all.

I tried to find something to symbolise my family’s love of colour, and eventually I thought of the perfect thing, as it also fits with my December theme of wintery-cosy-festive things. Here are our slippers.

A former neighbour makes them – they’re crocheted with leather soles. They are the warmest, cosiest slippers ever, and she makes them – to your colour specifications – from a template of your feet, so comfortable isn’t the word. She made some as presents for the children, and Mr S&S and I decided that we wanted some for ourselves and commissioned them. The Little Boy’s were the first – R. made them using a random yarn selection. The Little Girl, predictably, requested pink. (I try, but I am no match for societal conditioning). I asked for ‘mainly blues’ and Mr S&S said, ‘as crazy as you like’. This is the first time I’ve actually seen them all together – usually they’re on various feet (or under beds and sofas). When I took this photo, Mr S&S’s were still warm as he removed them at the last possible minute.

Check out the other colourful posts this week!








And Ruth – but I don’t have a link to her blog, and the link to her gravatar keeps crashing!

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From bubbles to baubles…

Look! Look what has come in the post!

I have been admiring these gorgeous handfelted baubles in Emma’s shop for a while, but sadly, due to various crises (including the cancellation of a large-ish job) couldn’t summon the pennies. But Emma very kindly sent them to me as a Christmas present, which was incredibly touching and generous. Thank you, Emma!

I fear the green will get lost on my tree, and I want to show them off, so I’m planning another way to display them. I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

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