I 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!
As 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!
The 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
- 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!