Monday, 24 December 2012

Ho ho ho.

I have been a bit busy lately, cooking dinners for guests, going to visit family and drop off my home made gifts The weather has been unbelievably awful, pouring down most of the time. Every time I go and visit someone it seems to take twice as long! Not a lot of blogging as a result.
Just wanted to take the opportunity to wish everyone a very merry Christmas. I hope you all have a lovely time and enjoy yourselves. Best wishes of the season to one and all.
Normal service will resume in a couple of days. Ho ho ho.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Finishing the Christmas Cake.

Way way way back at the end of September I made my Christmas cake. I thought I was well ahead of the game getting started so early, but discovered that compared with some of you I was positively tardy! There were readers who had made their cake back last January!
So every week since September it has been fed with a tablespoon of rum and it has been developing a gorgeous heady aroma.

Now as Christmas approaches it was time to finish it off.
Last week I gave it the required layer of marzipan. I brushed it all over with some gently heated marmalade, rolled out the marzipan and laid it over the top. Here is where I discovered my mistake, for a lovely flat finish I should have turned the cake upside down! Never mind, too late now, so my marzipan looks lumpy bumpy.

I left the marzipan to dry out a bit for a week, apparently this is the way to avoid it seeping into the icing and thus discolouring it.

Now I am afraid I did use ready made icing, why? I have no idea. I bought it ages ago and then regretted it when I realised how simple it is to make your own royal icing. Never mind, it is done now. Next year I will definitely make my own.

So I rolled out the icing to the thickness of a pound coin and laid it over the marzipan and smoothed it down. It is not perfect, but it is smoothish and clean looking. Very shiny and appetising.

I wrapped a ribbon around it. I won't properly decorate it until it is ready to serve (because it doesn't fit in the tin with the decorations on), but I have just rested some decorations on for now just for the purposes of a photograph, give you an idea.

I have loved making this cake, I hope it tastes as good as the effort involved warrants. It is certainly boozy!

I will definitely be doing this again each year, it was good fun and didn't cost much at all! I will, of course, let you know how it tastes.

Have any of you iced yours now?

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Santa's grotto

My friend arrived for Christmas from America, via Germany, yesterday, but very quickly has gone off on her travels to visit another friend in the Cotsworlds. She will return to me on Thursday night for a week.
As such, my last bits of Christmas organising has finally taken place. I will get the perishable food items on Friday and then that will be it with food shopping for quite a while. I marzipanned my Christmas cake last week and have finished icing that tonight. The grand unveiling will be in tomorrow's post (don't hold your breath, no really, don't.)
So finally I got my Christmas decs up. Now, don't be snooty about a fake tree, I would love a real one, but at £35 for a decent sized one (and size is everything) I will just as happily have my old fake (which is quite realistic really, if a little too perfect looking)

So, Santa's grotto is here in Lancashire, I've wrapped all my presents and put them under the tree, they will be delivered on Saturday.

 My dried orange slices came out nicely and catch the light like lovely miniature stained glass.

There is something so relaxing about lighting some candles, pouring a nice glass of something home made and sitting with the lights winking around me.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Cat of Pure Evil

I went to visit my parents yesterday, in Lytham. I thought I would introduce you to Diego the cat. He is nicknamed the Cat of Pure Evil, because of his malevolent stare that he casts disdainfully onto you like Medusa. He has a particular dislike of small children (although he is not that keen on adults either) and keeps a paw free and ready to swipe at all times. In fact my neices and nephews won't go into the same room as him. He hates other cats with a passion and all have learned not to come into his garden.

My parents try not to let him go upstairs, a rule that he blatantly disregards.

Many are the scratches his claws have inflicted.

Has he any redeeming features?

He loves my parents more than any other and will climb onto their knee and sleep for hours, purring loudly.

But he will keep that paw free, just in case.....

Friday, 14 December 2012

A wintry walk

When I went collecting the green foliage the other day for my Christmas wreath, I took some photos. Although the snow has mostly melted here, there is a still small spots of it in the woods and hills behind my house. Warmer weather expected this weekend, which is a bit of a relief actually. I don't mind the cold, but I hate driving in potentially icy or frosty weather.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Very Bluepeter

For all of those that don't know, Bluepeter was (is?) a children's TV show over here and most kids watched it back through the 60's, 70's and 80's and beyond. It specialized, among other things, in making things and mums were pestered for old cereal boxes, toilet roll tubes, coffee jars, washing up liquid bottles, sticky back plastic and double sided sticky tape and countless other things.

This was the famous advent triangle something or other (what the hell do you call it?)
I did give it a go once, but not with any great success.

I was an avid watcher and made pretty much everything on there that it was possibly to make. I remember countless coffee jars with decorated lids, filled with cotton wool balls that my poor grandmother used to get from me every Christmas. The problem for me, was that usually I didn't have all the correct materials and had to make do (nothing's changed then) so nothing ever really worked all that well. Still the fun was in the trying.

So it was with a feeling of deja vu that I set out to the woods today to collect 'green things' to make my frton door Christmas wreath. As usual I didn't have any of the correct materials and reckoned I could use an old wire coat hanger as a base and make it up beyond that. It was quite hazardous up there on the top of the hill in the woods, I did slip once and got a bit turned around in the trees, but managed to come back with a bag full of something or other.

Anyway, long story short, some very pricked hands later, I came up with this. Be kind, it is very very home made looking and I never claimed to be artistic, but it did cost me £0.00 (yeah, go on, you can tell can't you?)

10 minutes in the rain and it will probably be a bedraggled heap, fit for the bin, but the fun was in the trying.

I then used the leftovers to try and make a table candle thing. It is when I realise how hopeless I am when I find myself just shoving things together on a plate and hoping for the best.

So a bit of crafty fun was had, no money was spent and I have something that may last a few days at least - watch this space!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Nearly missed it!

Very nice to hear from so many people yesterday, new and old followers alike. I loved the desctiption from Jane and Chris that blogging is like a frugal coffee morning with friends coming in for a chat. It's so true. I have tried to reply to everyone who commented, just to say hello.

A year ago this week (last Monday I think) was the day that I got the keys to this house! So I have owned it for a year now and how brief that is, yet it feels like it has always been my home, I just didn't know it.

Although I got the keys a year ago, I didn't actually move properly until mid-January. I use the Christmas holidays to get started on cleaning, wallpaper stripping and painting, and slowly my home was born.

Living room before and after.

I would like to say that I knew the moment I walked in that this was the house for me, but that would be a lie. Usually I am good at seeing the potential of a house, whatever the state is, but this one was a stumbler. I knew it was right on paper, it had everything I wanted, but on the two viewings I had, I was unsure. Empty, uncovered floors, grubby and cold, it seemed pokey and empty of life and on both occasions I went away unsure and slightly disappointed, but then would look at it on paper again and realise that it actually ticked every box. I loved the views, loved the location, but the garden was empty and lifeless and the house seemed totally without love.

Kitchen before and after

But once I got my own stuff in, begun to get the dingy wallpaper off, and my colours up, give the house some personality it began to transform into my home. In the last 20 years since I left my parents house I have lived in 9 houses/flats and this is the one they were all leading to, the one I call my forever house, (unless life takes unexpected, exciting turns)

Bedroom before and after

I have worked really hard, every room has been done (except the bathroom) on a shoestring. I have done all the work that it was possible for me to do, alone and only called in help on really difficult or dangerous stuff. I am proud of the things I have done and if you knew how little money I had really spent you would be very surprised. Paint, elbow grease and a strong back don't cost much money. I have begged, borrowed, stealed (well free-cycled), I have used imagination and I have spent hours working on a project rather than buy something new.

Garden before and after

It is fun to look back on what I have done to the house, I am not done yet, the bathroom never gets photographed because it is SO hideous, but one day I will re-do it all myself (give me strength!).
I have big plans to convert the garage into a room one day, but it will be years until I do, woodburning stove would be a dream come true too.
But I keep my eyes and ears open for good deals, ways of learning new skills and cheap or free items to help me on my way. let's see what my second year here brings......

Monday, 10 December 2012


5 foot 7, 13.5 stone, gingery-blonde hair, green eyes..........

No, not my stats! My blogs stats. Yesterday I had 1250 page views, an absolute record! It just shows where peoples interests mainly lie, when it is a baking/cooking/crafting day I seem to get more page views and comments than at any other times. The least come when I am having a rant about something - well I can't blame you for that, hahaha.

It got me thinking about you, my readers.  I am thrilled that so many of you enjoy what I write and I wonder what you are all like, what drives you to blog or read blogs. I have begun to form a mental picture of many of you, the ones that comment regularly anyway and sometimes when I write, I know that something might appeal to a particular reader, even just a particular sentence. I can't claim to know you, but I feel like I know an aspect of you based on your reactions to things I say - and of course reading your blogs, which I keep up with regularly (even if I don't always comment, blogger is SO difficult with me leaving comments, sometimes it takes me ages and in the end I give up).

The interesting thing I notice is that by far the largest percentage of you are women, both my followers, those that leave comments and those that blog themselves. We men are definitely in a minority in blogland (certainly on the subject matter that interests me at least). Maybe if I was following blogs on car maintenance or Samantha Fox (there's a blast from the past) there might be more fellow men bloggers. Is it perhaps because women are naturally better with money, or at least more inclined to show an interest in the household finances? More interested in sharing cooking and recipes (this is very likely) or just more interested in blogging. Women, I am told, are much more inclined to share feelings and all our blog territories dip into feeling sharing now and again.

Oh well, this humble man is thrilled by all of you who read, share and take time to enjoy this blog: men and women, students, nurses, bio chemists, dry cleaners, school teachers, retired, grumpy, happy, ex-lorry drivers, Brits, Aussies, Texans, Irish and everyone else. Leave me a comment, it thrills me every time.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Christmas Baking and crafting

Today has been a lovely day. You will all be pleased to know that I very slowly got my car back into my driveway. I did wonder about the folly of this halfway up the hill as the wheels began to spin and then along the ridge where there were cars parked on both sides and my car was sliding a bit. But I went about 1 mile an hour and once it was in the driveway I was content to be snowed in for the weekend. Snow is still here, even though a mile down the road there is nothing.
So what did I do while I was snowed in? baked of course.

The star of the show had to be the simplest. My mincemeat ice cream!
To say that this is absolutely gorgeous is an understatement and I kid you not, it took 10 minutes to make (plus three hours in the freezer of course.)
Separate 4 eggs and whisk the whites, add 100g caster sugar. Whip 300ml of double cream and then fold together the cream, eggwhite and egg yolks. Add your flavour, which in this case was just 100ml of my home made mincemeat. It is a no-churn recipe so that really is it. In the freezer and it is beautiful. It will become a staple in my freezer now, I know and way cheaper to make than even a mid priced ice cream. I reckon less than £2 for a large tub in the end. I will experiment with all sorts of flavours.

Next was my mince pie marathon. I think I have got the knack of pastry a bit more thanks to all your helpful hints. It was good, rolled out fine, no tearing and tastes good with a good texture.

I made 35 mince pies, some with proper lids and some with stars. I actually prefer the stars because they are prettier and actually taste better.

3 batches later and they are all done.

I've popped the majority in the freezer for Christmas, tasted 2 (very very nice, great home made mincemeat) and kept 4 out.

My final bit of baking, as the oven was on, was 12 bread rolls.

A feast fit for a king, even if I do say so myself. Eat your heart out Enid Blyton.

I wanted to dry some orange slices to hang as Christmas decorations, but no way was I going to put the oven on for 3 hours to do it! So I spread them out on grease proof paper and tin foil on top of one of the radiators. Days later, they are nearly dry.

Now that they are nearly dry I have just popped them direct onto the radiator to finish them off. These will get some ribbon or rafia threaded through them and will be hung on the tree, or on a present or somewhere.

Happy days.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Snow, snow snow

Thank you all for your kind words yesterday after my little mishap. I spent the morning shoveling snow out of my driveway and spreading some sand. I am hoping to be able to get my car back into my drive later, if I feel confident, and then I can leave it there until the thaw.

I woke up to a very pretty scene this morning though.

What animal do you think left these very odd, long marks, they go all the way along under the window and across the deck. 

As the sun rose over the hill

Early morning visitor, looking guilty.

I do love how breathtakingly beautiful the snow is, but it is a pain in the arse at the same time!