Caught red handed (hoofed)

As I mentioned in my last post Mr G has rigged us up with a camera security system to go with the security lights. It’s like Fort Knox around here!

And thank goodness he did because we caught some ‘activity’ on camera the very first night! As Mr G was going through the footage he shouts to me to come and look. Well my thoughts immediately run wild thinking we’ve caught a sneaky burglar. Or perhaps it was the big bad wolf returning for a second time?

But no, it wasn’t anything remotely scary or threatening. It was a pretty little deer. She was snooping around the garden having a good old nosey. I think Santa sent her to do a recce so he knows where he’s going on Christmas Eve. As it’s our first Christmas here he probably wants to know where he can safely land his sleigh. Strategic Santa!

So we’re counting down to Christmas on multiple levels in our house. We have a chalk board stating how many sleeps we have left and we have three advent calendars – two chocolate ones and one string of mini Christmas stockings with gluten-free sweeties in them for Amelie. Mr G and I are sharing a chocolate calendar this year, which has slightly more posh/grown up chocolates in it. I opened it yesterday and Amelie liked the sound of the salted caramel chocolate delight. I didn’t eat it immediately as it was 8.20am and we were off on the school run. Amelie then asked me if it was gluten free and if so could she have it. I told her I’d check the ingredients later. And when I came to check later on it was indeed gluten free and therefore safe for Amelie to eat.

I was at home with the deliciously named chocolate all day. I kept looking at it longingly and I have to be honest the thought did cross my mind to tell Amelie that it wasn’t gluten free and therefore I ate it. Bad Mummy!!! But I didn’t. I somehow managed to magic up the willpower not to scoff it. So I’m hoping I’m still on Santa’s good list.

advent-boxesAlthough we have three advent calendars, we have tamed it down from previous years. A few years ago Mr G presented me on the 1st December with THE BEST advent calendar ever. It was made up of little boxes, all threaded on red ribbon and each box contained a gift! It was like a little mini Christmas every day. I loved it! (Obviously).

Since then we have split the calendar between us (only fair) and we have filled it with little gifts for each other. This is lovely but trying to find gifts small enough to fit into the little boxes has proved more and more difficult each year. Last year we squeezed gifts, (which were far too big) into the boxes and had to hold it all together with tape. I would spend hours searching the Inter-web for gifts and treats that would fit into the boxes. One of my searches brought up a knitted warmer for a certain part of a man’s anatomy. Well, I immediately put that into my virtual shopping basket as all I was thinking was that it will fit into the damn box. And give us a giggle when he opens it. Which it duly did!

But the funniest part of this purchase was when the online store emailed me to review the knitted warmer! Do people really use it??? I assumed everyone who bought this was doing so for a joke. Perfect for Secret Santa at work to embarrass your boss – that sort of thing. My review was just two words – too small! 🙂

 

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It’s official. The countdown has begun…

christmas-sleepsI always know when I can ‘officially’ start thinking about and planning Christmas when I receive the December issues of my magazines. I’ve subscribed to Ideal Home, Country Living and Country Homes & Interiors for years, as I love interior design and enjoy having a nosey at other people’s homes. Often getting a serious case of house envy!

The pages are full of photos of homes beautifully decorated with gorgeous trees, twinkly lights and candles. There are always shots of doorways with posh red wellies lined up outside, a luscious wreath hanging on the door, a pile of Christmas presents (all beautifully wrapped) and a lantern. I know it’s fake – as who really piles up their gifts outside their front door? But I’m still drawn in and it kickstarts my Christmas planning.

I’m looking forward to decorating our home this year, as this will be our first Christmas here. I have lots of new places where I can hang decorations and fairy lights, which is very exciting and means I have to buy yet more Christmas lights. (You can never have too many in my view). And to add to the excitement, this year we are going to get ‘Dave’ a friend. Dave is our Christmas tree. We always have a real tree and at the beginning of December you’ll hear me announce: “It’s time to get Dave”. We have had much discussion over what to call Dave’s friend, but we have settled on ‘Bob’. So it’ll soon be time to get Bob and Dave. I think we may need a bigger car!

jens-bauble_1As Bob is new I’ve obviously had to buy lots more tree decorations and lights for him. I’ve gone for white and blush as a colour scheme. I’ve been buying baubles like something possessed and also making my own baubles (see photo), which is a faff and very time-consuming but can be done in the evenings whilst sat in front of the telly. But it will be worth it to see Bob looking so pretty, or perhaps I should say handsome?

When it comes to thinking about Christmas shopping, every year I always contemplate the idea of making something rather than buying. (Cute I know). We have often discussed this as a family over the years; as between us we have a range of talents and are very ‘handy’ or ‘crafty’. (To be clear: ‘Crafty’, as in glue and glitter and stuff, not devious). For example, Mum makes yummy damson gin, and as we now know Mr G has a workshop (which Santa will be envious of) where he can build all sorts of gifts. My brother is a builder so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind building my new kitchen-diner as his gift to his bestest (only) sister. But each year we all cop-out due to either time restraints or lack of confidence in our own abilities.

Instead we all fall back on buying each other something that in all honesty we could buy for ourselves at half the price come January. Obviously for Amelie I wouldn’t dare present her on Christmas morning with something ‘Mummy has made’. Can you imagine the disappointment in Santa when she had written an in-depth letter to him clearly stating the latest in kid’s gadgets and over-priced plastic tut! Although this years (draft) letter to Santa literally brought tears to my eyes. Of course she has asked for gadgets and gizmo’s and plastic-fantastic tut, but she also asked for ‘lots of money’. At first I was disappointed, but when I read the rest of the sentence my heart swelled with pride. She wants lots of money to give to children in need. It was a real ‘proud mummy’ moment. So I (Santa) will definitely be including an envelope of cash, which she can then donate to charity. Bless her.

One idea I’d actually like to try this year is the Mason jar cookie kit. The humble Mason jars are being used for all sorts of wonderful things. Oh no, we’re not using them for just pickling and preserving anymore. We are now serving cocktails in them! They are the ‘new’ lunchbox – filled with layers of healthy salad stuff (Hmmm…). The jars are being used in the shed to house screws and bolts and bits and bobs in bathrooms. They are even being used as pendant lighting. But at Christmas time they come into their own – their use is endless,  with twinkly lights, sweets, craft kits and storing ingredients for Christmas cookies or cake. Pinterest has loads of fabulous ideas here. I’m now wondering if I can squeeze Mr G’s Christmas jumper in one ready for Christmas day. And then he can use the jar to keep nails in for his workshop. Two gifts in one – genius!

Gingerbread men are a classic Christmas biscuit. So giving the ingredients, method and even the cutter in a Mason jar would be like ‘Christmas in a jar’. As Amelie is Coeliac most of my baking is now gluten-free (GF). Unfortunately for GF baking you can’t just replace a wheat-based flour with a GF version. You usually have to have a pantry full of all sorts of different flours, from cornflour to rice and coconut flour. Then add a generous spoonful of unicorn dust and a sprinkling of various other ingredients which most of us wouldn’t have previously heard of and you’ll have the GF version. Baking without gluten takes practice and when you first start out it can be very hit and miss. Mr G has witnessed me shouting at various GF cake and biscuit baking disasters. It’s therapeutic! Thankfully there are some GF recipes such as cookies that don’t require a mix of four different flours or essence of unicorn and are easy to make. Yey!

gingerbread-2The Gingerbread man is one such recipe and it makes loads of the little dudes! AND you can freeze them so you don’t have to scoff them all at once. But feel free if you want to – it’s Christmas after all. (The diet can wait until January). All of the dry ingredients can be layered in a jar (so they look pretty) and sealed with a Christmas ribbon and a gingerbread man shaped tag (use the cookie cutter as a stencil). Ta-da!!! A simple homemade gift for Christmas.

Amelie’s favourite GF Gingerbread man recipe is from Adriana Rabinovich:

350g     GF plain flour (I use Dove’s)
2 tsp     Ground ginger
1 tsp     Bicarbonate of soda
100g     Cold butter, diced (For the gift jars, include a note that they need to add this)
100g     Dark brown sugar
75g       Caster sugar
1            Egg (For the gift jars, include a note that they need to add this)
4 tsp    Honey

Method:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5. Lightly grease a baking sheet. Or sheets as these little guys multiply like Gremlins in water!
  • Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the ginger and bicarbonate of soda. Rub the butter into the flour mixture using your fingers (remember to take your rings off first) until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugars, egg and honey and blend to make a soft dough. If the dough appears to be too wet, add a little more flour. If too dry, add a few drops of water or a little more egg. (I find water works just fine).
  • Knead the dough until smooth on a lightly floured surface. Roll it out evenly as possible to a thickness of 5mm, or thereabouts.
  • Using shaped cookie cutters, cut out gingerbread shapes (kids love this bit) and carefully place on the baking sheet(s). At this point you can add raisins or glacé cherries for decoration.
  • Bake for about 12 minutes until just lightly brown. Leave to cool.
  • We usually decorate our Gingerbread men with icing.

So forget about stuffing the turkey this year, and stuff jars instead!

Warning! Trillions of calories…

The clocks have gone back, nights are drawing in, you have to spend ten minutes in a morning de-frosting your car (that was a shock this week) and all thoughts of having salad for dinner have been replaced with pie and mash. And it’s that time of year when there are events in the calendar that mean we HAVE to eat sweets, chocolates and nice treats.

tin-of-treatsIt kicked off this week with Halloween – our first here in Suffolk and it didn’t disappoint. Even the weather was on our side, it kept dry and it was misty. Perfect setting for ‘trick or treat’. Amelie dressed up as a very glam witch and as we were off ‘trick or treating’ ourselves we left a little something for fellow ‘trickers’ outside with our three pumpkins. One of which is ‘Stuart’ the Minion (a traditional Halloween character!).

As we are the newbies in our lane we were kindly invited into neighbours houses when we knocked on doors and wished them “Trick or Treat” which is code for “Hand over the sweets”. I hoped nobody actually said “trick” as I’d have had to have improvised as we hadn’t come prepared for that! Thankfully everyone took one look at Amelie looking cute (and scary) and handed over fistfuls of sweet treats. See, as well as getting use of the parent and child parking spaces at the supermarket, your cute kid also wins you lots of sweets. Those are two reasons to have kids right there! And if like Amelie they suffer from Coeliac disease, you must check the sweets are gluten-free, because if they aren’t Mummy sacrifices her body (yet again) and scoffs them on her behalf.

Halloween_1.jpg

And then there is Bonfire night this weekend which is another excuse to eat comfort food, sweet treats like toffee apples or scrummy honeycomb chocolate fudge which I made for the school firework cake sale this afternoon. I found the recipe on Pinterest (I flipping love Pinterest!) but adding a secret ingredient to make it more in-keeping with Bonfire night – Popping candy. I added it to the mixture and also sprinkled it on top. Being the kind-hearted person I am, I tried some last night to make sure it was OK for the school to sell this afternoon. It’s delicious, but the only downside is there are about a TRILLION calories per chunk! Better get back on the cross-trainer…

Bag of fudge.jpgI bagged up the chunks and tied them with a little gold ribbon and took them into school today, worried that maybe I hadn’t done enough and I should have made the bonfire cupcakes as well. Only to find a lone bag of BOUGHT donuts on the table in the school hall and then in the village shop a parent bought a couple of packs of biscuits to donate. (Us parents have to buy back the goodies this afternoon at the cake sale). So panic over, I think I’ve done enough. Give the recipe a try as it is scrummy. I’ve promised Mr G that I’ll make it again at Christmas. Ooh Christmas. I love Christmas and will introduce you to ‘Dave’ and the newcomer – ‘Bob’ very soon. Happy bonfire weekend.

 

 

Oi! Mickey! Get yer own chocolates!

In an earlier post I mentioned that I’d already bought the large round tubs of Christmas chocolates and have stored them in the loft to stop me from scoffing them before Christmas. Well, this weekend it all went horribly wrong.

The loft is actually a large space under the eaves of part of the house and is much more accessible than the ‘proper’ loft. Having no willpower when it comes to chocolate, I had stored the tubs at the back, behind several suitcases, boxes of shoes (I have a silly amount for a creature that only has two feet), Christmas decorations and boxes of ‘stuff’.

On Sunday morning Mr G decided to do some sort of DIY thing in there and had moved some of the boxes, which were barricading in the tubs of chocolates. Amelie and I were in her bedroom, busy making a rocket (this wasn’t actually on my weekend to-do list) when Mr G shouts: “We have a mouse”.

I climb into the storage space (it would make a brilliant den if we didn’t have so much stuff) and see lots of specs of purple plastic all around the tubs of chocolates. The mouse had chewed all around the lid trying to get into MY Christmas chocolates! Cheeky, little mouse! (I’m being polite here; this isn’t what I actually said).tub of chocs.jpg

Thankfully we were able to save the chocolates, as he hadn’t actually gotten into them (Huge sigh of relief from me). But a little part of me would actually love to see Mickey on a massive sugar rush.

But this presents me with a problem. The chocolates are now being stored in the larder. This is in the kitchen. There aren’t any suitcases and boxes to stop me from seeing them every single time I go in there. I am seriously panicking about this! Where am I going to get the willpower to stop me from munching the chocolates before Christmas??? But when is the official start to Christmas? Is it the first of December? Is it when the shops start to put Christmas stock on their shelves at the end of August? If this is the case then we are well and truly in the full swing of Christmas time! So “Merry Christmas everyone” – let the chocolate munching commence!

Bah Humbug!

It’s October and already my thoughts are on Christmas. I love, love, love Christmas! Yes, of course I’ve already stocked up on the large tubs of chocolates when the supermarket were selling them two for £7. Cheapskate, that, I am! They are safely stored away in the loft; otherwise I would have scoffed the lot by now.

For the past few years we have taken Amelie to a ‘Meet Father Christmas’ experience at one of those farms that has been turned into a mass money making machine and has little reference to actual farming except for the token pig and lama in a pen. They’re all about indoor play centres for kids (living hell for grown-ups) and a café where they can charge a small fortune for a naff tuna sandwich and a “latte” out of a machine where the operator just presses the “latte” button and ‘voila’ half a cup of pale beige liquid with fake froth on top (can you get fake froth?) You get the gist.

At Christmas time, and for the “experience” they get trigger-happy with a can of fake snow and employ local wannabe actors or desperate students to act as Santa’s Elves for the day, who after the first five minutes become really irritating with their fake jolliness. You queue for a lifetime to see the big man in the red suit, who really shouldn’t speak like the very bored teenager he obviously is when playing Santa.

After Amelie had told him what she wanted for Christmas (It’s Christmas Eve and she has just listed items she has never mentioned before!!!), she says goodbye, to which Santa replies “see yer ‘aters”. In that one sentence all of the fake snow, irritating elves and bloke in red suit with a fat tum disintegrates in front of Amelie who was expecting a big “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas” in a deep and Santa-like voice. And all of this for the bargain price, of a weekend away somewhere nice!!!

So this year we want to do something different. We want Amelie to meet a jolly Santa, who can say (one of the few lines he has to speak) “Ho, Ho, Ho” in traditional Santa style and at a price where we don’t have to re-mortgage to pay for it. Is this too much to ask?

We were discussing this dilemma with our dear friends who also want to find something new for their kids to do at Christmas. This is when my friend Helen said (admittedly after a couple of glasses of Prosecco) we should create a little winter wonderland at our house. My ears instantly pricked up and my imagination went a little wild.

The workshop would become ‘Santa’s workshop’ and a place for the children to meet him. (Mr G would just need a red suit, some white facial hair and ta-da!!!). We would have to hide the tools of course (Health & Safety first. Don’t want this to turn into a scene from the Texas chainsaw massacre), fake snow, lots of fairy lights and Dave (Our Christmas tree is always called Dave, who I will introduce to you at Christmas time) and it could look magical. AND next to the workshop is a stable – perfect for a donkey! And this is where I share with you my plight to win Mr G over in getting a pet miniature donkey.

I have always loved donkeys. My family used to go to Blackpool beach when I was very young and I would be overjoyed that a fair few of the donkeys were called Jenny. A few years later I realised that Jenny is actually the official name for a female ass! Hmmm… But this hasn’t stopped me loving them. They are just so cute and the miniature donkeys are just adorable. Of course I’d also have to get a miniature pig to keep him company. Ssssh!

Anyway, back to the ‘Santa experience’. I could bake Christmas cookies (GF of course) to hand out to the kids and mulled wine for the adults. We could make Christmas decorations and play games in the garden, all prettily lit with lanterns and fairy lights. I have it all planned and if we charge the same as these other ‘Santa experiences’ I’ll never have to do the National Lotto again! “Ho-Ho-Ho”.