Running Ragged

I always seem to get stressed out on the run up to Christmas and this year is no exception, in fact Christmas seems to be catching up on me even quicker than usual. I have been so busy lately I have hardly made a start on the preparations.

What I intended to write about today has gone out of the window. I got very little sleep last night for some reason and I have spent most of today trying to do some Christmas shopping. Not without some success of course, I have managed to buy a fair few of the gifts that need to be posted but there are still some outstanding and I haven’t started on the ones for the family members that I will see over the Christmas period, nor all the little extras – stocking fillers, tree presents etc. – that go towards the fun of the day.

Apart from that I have not even thought about decorating the house and setting up the Christmas tree yet and I shall need to give the house a thorough clean first of course. I have not written any Christmas cards, I haven’t made even my first batch of mince pies this year and I have not yet made my Christmas cake. In a weak moment while shopping this morning I did contemplate buying the cake (I have done on a few occasions in the past) but I do prefer home-made and I have already bought the ingredients so it would be a bit of a waste if I just buy one. The recipe I am using requires some of the ingredients to soak overnight so my plan now is to do that preparation this evening and then I will have to make the cake tomorrow afternoon when I get home from my Spanish class.

Talking of which, this week it is my turn to provide the activities and refreshments for the group (we take it in turns) and the preparation for this occupied my weekend. I have an article for them to read and translate about Spanish Christmas customs and then we shall have a fun game about Christmas Carols and songs – at least I hope it will be fun. Each member of the group will draw a piece of paper from a Christmas stocking and must describe in Spanish the carol or song written on the paper without giving the title away and the others must try to guess what it is.

Other intrusions into my Christmas preparation time include a visit to the dentist this week and then, much more enjoyably two Christmas parties – one for the Spanish group and one for my poetry group. Then it is the final run up to the big day and at last a chance to relax as my son and his family are hosting at their house. Then they all come to us to do it all again on Boxing Day, but by then I should be ready.

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Holly Berries

Already the holly bushes
are almost stripped of berries.
Will there be any left
to ‘deck the halls’ at Christmas?

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

I’m back again, but other than to wish you all a very Happy New Year I haven’t really planned anything to write about so this is on the fly!

I do hope you have all had a wonderful festive season though I confess I have found it hard this year to get into the festive spirit and somehow it seems even more depressing when you know it is a time of jollity and celebration but you are just not in the mood. This has not been helped by my husband’s recent angina diagnosis and the return of the sciatica I suffered last winter which this time seems even more painful, and then on Christmas morning the sad news that my daughter and partner’s lovely border collie Rufus had to be put to sleep on Christmas Eve to relieve his suffering from cancer!  Despite that I did have a wonderful time and everything fell into place just as it usually does, with most of the family around me.

Now is the time, they tell us, for making New Year resolutions. I confess I’m not really into this – if I make any I usually forget what they were within a few days and as for keeping them…. that’s another issue altogether! Perhaps I ought to write them down so that I can refer to them from time to time, but this seems a little too organised for me. One resolution I will make though is to try to look out for all the good news during 2018 and not let myself get bogged down in all the bad news that the media seems to prefer to report in the most dramatically depressing way possible.

One thing I will try to take on board this year is to not plan to use an untried recipe for a special occasion. I had planned to make a raspberry swirl cheesecake when the family all came to us for Boxing Day, having spent Christmas Day at my eldest son’s. This was as an alternative to the Christmas Pudding I was doing for dinner, knowing that not everyone likes Christmas Pud. I had found a recipe that seemed very quick and easy to whip up. Fortunately before I made it my youngest son informed me that his girlfriend, who was joining us, didn’t want to come empty-handed so was bringing a cheesecake as an offering for the meal. I say fortunately advisedly!

I had bought in all the necessary ingredients so I thought, OK I’ll make it later in the week. I made it yesterday when only my husband, my youngest son and I would be present for dinner. Yes, it was relatively quick and easy to prepare but as I was making it, having checked the ingredients several times, it seemed to me that there was rather a lot of liquid and it wasn’t thickening up. I thought perhaps it would thicken once put into the fridge to chill so I poured it onto the biscuit base anyway, and indeed it did seem to set in the fridge – until I went to get it out for the meal. Then I discovered that all the raspberry juice had leaked out of the bottom of the loose-bottomed flan dish and was all over the shelf in the fridge! Needless to say I couldn’t risk taking it off the flan base as it had an exceedingly soggy biscuit bottom. One the plus side, it did actually taste delicious but if I make that recipe again I shall cut back on the liquid. I’m glad I didn’t make it for Christmas after-all, though I guess we would probably have had a good laugh about it. Now I have the problem that there is rather a lot of it for just three people and it is going to take several days for us to eat it up – we’ll probably be sick  of cheesecake by then. Ah well, worse things happen at sea, as my mother used to say.

As a footnote I must say that my gluten-free Christmas Cake was a success and that recipe is definitely one to use again (see previous post here). I hope all your culinary experiments were successful and that all your dreams come true in 2018.

Season’s Greetings

Season's Greetings

As usual I am taking a break over the Christmas period so this will be my last post until the New Year but I couldn’t depart without wishing you all the joys of the season.

Apparently, so we are told, to say ‘Merry Christmas’ can be offensive to those for whom it doesn’t accord with their own religious or non-religious view. I tend to feel this is quite untrue, but here in the UK we do try to bend over backwards not to offend those of other religious views. I am sure that most reasonable people are just as happy for us to recognise our own traditions as they do their own. These days Christmas has, for most, become a very commercial concern anyway, with very little to do with religion at all.

The ‘Nativity’ has been side-lined, despite the name Christians give to the season being Christ-mas. However this is a country based on the Christian ideals and even if we are not regular church goers, those ideals are none-the-less a great moral code to live by. What’s wrong with a good seasonal story about a baby (the son/sun) born into poverty but destined to bring ‘light’ into the world? Besides, I confess that hearing young children singing ‘Away in a Manger’ always brings a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat.

In order not to cause offence some people have decided that the Christmas season should simply be called ‘Winter Festival’ and people should say ‘Happy Holidays’ as a cover-all, but to me these are all too vague. Mid-winter Festival might be more accurate and mankind has always held festivals at this time of the year, to celebrate the winter solstice – when the year turns and the sun (or son to Christians) returns, bringing light back into the world. As for ‘Happy Holidays’ – for me this is utterly meaningless. It could just as easily apply to our summer break or a holiday at any other period of the year. It is non-specific, vague and sounds insincere and bland.

In the past the season has been called ‘Yuletide’ – a name which due to its Pagan association has now been  phased out from mainstream awareness and yet to the Scandinavians ‘Jul’ is the word they use for Christmas. I miss the Christmas cards we used to see when I was a child which were just as likely to say ‘Yuletide Greetings’ as ‘Christmas Greetings’. This is the term I favour for the season, I like traditions, I like to keep these things going, also it recognises our northern heritage.

But even ‘Yuletide Greetings’ may be considered ‘offensive’ to those of other traditions (and some Christians), or so we are led to believe. So the problem remains; what term can we use that is potentially least offensive to the greatest numbers of people. I have settled on a phrase that says exactly what it is – Season’s Greetings to one and all! See you in the New Year.

Seaonal Banner

Gobblers

Red berry gobblers have stripped the holly
almost overnight!
I have salvaged the few bits they missed,
for Christmas.

Christmas Cake

One of the problems with going on an Autumn holiday and not getting home until Christmas is only a shout away is that everything becomes a rush to catch up. However, I have today at last made my Christmas Cake and have just extricated it from the oven.

We don’t eat a lot of cake these days so I don’t do much baking, but Christmas is that bit special and I usually make a point of making my own. Last year I didn’t get home from our Autumn vacation until early December, giving me even less time, so I admit I cheated and bought one. It was nice, but this year I was determined to do it myself once more. (Sorry, no picture as it is still cooling down in the tin and won’t be decorated until nearer the time.)

In the past I have made a recipe inherited from my mother but this has caused a few problems in recent years. It requires the cake to be put in a cold electric oven which is then turned on and the cake baked for however many hours, then you turn it off and leave it in until the oven is cold. I usually arranged to turn it off just before I went to bed and it could then stay there cooling down until morning. The first problem with this is that the recipe was devised pre-fan ovens and although my oven is electric it is a fan oven. This simply fact actually alters the required cooking time and I never managed to perfect the adjustment so sometimes the cake came out just a little too well done around the edges – still nice in the middle though. The other problem is that most of my family are not actually over-fond of rich fruit cake (I love it!) and now the offspring have all-but left the roost this particular recipe makes a cake that is far too big for my current needs, and again, with the cooking problems it presents too much of a problem to half the quantity and re-adjust the cooking time – it’s not as if it is something I do on a regular basis so that I can practice variations, it needs to be right first time.

For the last several years I have been thinking of trying a different recipe to make a smaller cake and have from time to time researched in various recipe books. Just before we went away and conscious of the fact that I am trying to edge towards a wheat/gluten-free diet (see previous post here) I found a couple of recipes in two gluten-free cook books I have acquired and decided to try one of those. Gluten-free? The only discernible difference from your average rich fruit cake recipe is that it uses rice flour rather than wheat flour.

I have made the one that I thought sounded easiest, though there was not much to choose between them. If I am sufficiently well organised I might make some notes on what I think of it and maybe try the other one next year so that I can decide between the two which one to favour in the future. I can’t wait to try it.

 

Seasons Greetings

Home made holly wreathFor the first time in ages I have made my own Christmas wreath this year. I always used to make them myself but in recent years there just hasn’t seemed to be enough time. However, they really are unnecessarily expensive to buy when my garden is full of holly, ivy, and fir trees as well as many other evergreens, so it seems rather silly to spend the money. It really didn’t take me very long to do despite bleeding all over it from holly scratches, so I thought I would share the result with you. I have also made a few other ‘natural’ decorations and hope to find time to post pictures on my ‘Words on Weaving’ blog in the next day or two.

I am taking a short break as usual over Christmas but before I go I would like to wish all my readers a very happy Christmas and hope you enjoy your winter celebrations in whatever form they take. I will, of course, be back to welcome in the New Year – see you then!

January Joy 6

Packing Christmas away, stripping the tree,
carefully wrapping each bauble,
some made by my Mum, some by me,
some gifts from absent friends;
each one holding a precious memory.

On the Way

Still the days
are dark and grey.
No white Christmas on the way.

List

I have a list of things to do
before Christmas.
Dentist visit this morning;
done – that’s one thing less!

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