hyacinths

October!

I love October.  There’s something about the changing of the seasons and the arrival of the first frost …and the very, very first beginnings of the whisper of Christmas (I know, I know!! I can’t help it).

Here are some of the things we’ve been upto;

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Making yummy gingerbread ghost cookies with some spooky Halloween cutters (recipe here).  I made and froze some extra batches of gingerbread to use at Christmas.  The smell of it – melted butter, ginger spices, caramelising sugar – is just divine.

ghosts3

We used the cutter to cut the same shape out of rolled fondant icing and then added googly candy eyes for maximum effect.  Almost – but not quite – too good to eat.

And then outdoors, planting bulbs for the springtime.  We jammed large terracotta pots full of these feathered tulips bulbs from Amsterdam (my favourite!).

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…and then hyacinths too; I hope these ones will flower in time for Christmas.  We’ve popped them in the shed to kickstart them in the damp and dark before bringing them in in December.

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We’re revelling in a change of pace with half-term break this week, but before that there was a scramble for finishing homework and spellings and projects like this one; the brief was ‘make a Paddington Suitcase out of a shoebox’.

Hmmm.  Quite possibly one of the messiest things EVER, but a very cool result.  I might jettison my reliable overnight bag and take this little number next time I’m travelling with work;

Paddington Bear Shoebox Suitcase

And finally, baking chocolate brownies!  Because this season of jumpers and jeans and big boots and soft scarves can hide a multitude of sins, and there’s no time like the present to begin..

brownies1

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(Our favourite recipe for the choc-raspberry brownies is here…)

Have a lovely week, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing!

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Gifts from the heart and home

gifts from the heart and home

We’ve been beavering away in the kitchen this week, whipping up festive treats to give as gifts.  Harry is just old enough to begin to take pleasure in gift-giving, so making things together for him to give to godparents, grandparents, grown-up siblings and teachers is a source of great pleasure and pride.  Our best and most explosive offering is our proprietary Christmas Cookie mix (proprietary simply because with such flamboyant measuring of ingredients and dosing of spices, no-one could ever hope to accurately replicate our secret recipe…).

cookie mix boxes as gifts

We’ve measured and stirred together all of the basic dry ingredients for our cookies and packaged them up into pretty take-out boxes which I’ve customised with labels and simple instructions for how to bake the cookies.  We of course road-tested these kits ourselves, to excess – so I’m about 6lb heavier and will be unable to look a cinnamon and nutmeg scented raisin cookie in the eye for at least a day month.

cookie mix

The photo I used of Harry is actually of him playing with his toy BBQ back in the summer, and is one which always makes me smile.  If you want to try these, download my recipe and details of how to mix and combine the dry ingredients below; it’s very simple, as you’d expect by now!

Dry ingredients for Bag 1: 80g caster sugar, 80g soft brown sugar

Dry Ingredients for Bag 2: 180g plain / all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda, pinch of salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp, nutmeg, 60g rolled oats

Dry ingredients for Bag 3: 150g of raisins or currants.

Christmas Cookie Mix Instructions

Another of Harry’s gifts are these jars of retro sweets – all current favourites of Harry’s, and designed to transport his recipients nostalgically back to their childhood and to provide them with a dippable stash of the kind of illicit, high-sugar treats that they wouldn’t dream of going into a shop and actually buying for themselves.

candy jars as christmas gifts

I added a gingham fabric top, glass candy cane and festive bell, and then pondered how much they look like shepherds (it’s the nativity week thing; I have a one-track mind at the moment…).  So now they are branded as Shepherds’ Midnight Feasts; an energy-packed snack for those wintery nights tending sheep and waiting for virgin births, which is doubtless a long and chilly old business.  Or perhaps just to accompany a night slumped in front of the TV, which is a tad more likely.

harrys sweet jars

Remember those hyacinths and paperwhites I planted a few weeks ago? They’ve sprung into life and are at the promising, budding stage, so I’ve popped a few into inexpensive but pretty mugs, and will be taking them along to decorate the kitchen windowsills of my nearest and dearest later this month – something both beautiful to look at and useful afterwards; I do hope that William Morris would approve.

hyacinths in mugs

I’ve also made a couple more batches of pinecone firelighters, bagged in cellophane and tied up with ribbon.  Our central heating blew up yesterday so I confess I have already delved into one of these and raided supplies to keep our own fires burning whilst we attempt to dress in every piece of clothing that we own.

pincone firelighter gifts

I’ve wrapped red evening candles with ribbon to accompany the bottles of wine we’ll be taking to friends for dinner; another very simple project whose results outweigh the effort involved (my perfect formula for the attractiveness of a craft..)

candles for christmas gifting

candles on sleigh

And finally, because the holiday season is often as much about indigestion and ill-advised consumption as it is about anticipation, I’ve sourced some luxuriously highbrow peppermint teabags and added my own bauble tags before piling into pretty china cups; useful to have on hand for Christmas Day night, and then for those first few weeks in January when one’s body is a temple and your resolve to never let caffeine pass your lips again has not yet faltered (well alright; the first few days then…)

peppermint tea

And now I must leave you; I have a feisty toddler who needs to be wrestled into his Joseph costume before we wend our chilly way through the gloaming to the church hall where his nativity play is to be held.  I already have a small head wound from being accidentally bashed with his biblical wooden staff; I have impounded it until the moment critique when Joseph needs to make his entrance, and have warned Mary’s mother that Mary needs to keep her wits about her in case there’s any flamboyant gesticulating from her husband in the stable, stick in hand.

Back at the weekend; stay warm!

A Scented Christmas


At this point in the year, you can bet that Martha will have baked her Christmas Cake, completed festive gift shopping not only for her nearest-and-dearest but also for those unexpected guests who may drop in over the holiday season. Mulled wine is probably even now gently steeping on the Stewart household stove, and the turkey is gobbling a little more anxiously than last week. No such preparations are afoot chez nous; we are tardy as ever. Only Harry is our constant reminder that Christmas is not so far away, as his anticipation builds about the arrival of ‘Farmer Christmas’ (something may have been lost in translation there, but I do like the mental picture of Santa arriving on a large muddy tractor).

The one thing I have done today is plant up some bulbs to ensure that the house is full of festive colour and the intoxicating smells of winter hyacinth and paperwhites….

I love the process of choosing the bulbs; visiting the garden centre and filling a large brown paper bag with handfuls of these rustling bundles of promise.  This year I’ve chosen hyacinths of shades of delft blue and rich purples, which I’ll combine with white, silver and wood tones when decorating at home.  I’ve planted some in glass forcing jars so that Harry and I can watch the roots reaching out for the water and see the process of growth and flowering happen at close hand.

We carefully carried these into the dark coolness of the garage where they’ll sit for a few weeks until the tips are about 1.5 inches long, when we’ll bring them inside to flourish and scent the hallway.

Paperwhites exude a more subtle scent and love company, so I added a handful of these to a simple tin basin, tips just above the soil, before consigning them to the dark alongside the hyacinths.  We filled just about every available container with bulbs; they’re so cheap and plentiful, and their beauty distracts from the fact that they’re housed in old tin cans, mugs, mismatched flowerpots and jars (and besides, this was just never going to be a home where stuff matches, let’s agree..).

When we take to the woods this weekend on our usual expedition to hunt for bears (we more often find the ice cream van and the swings, but Harry remains hopeful), we will also be spotting places for the best mistletoe and holly berries, so that in the midst of one cold December morning we can nip out and gather some for our Christmas table.  This may be both the beginning and end of my Christmas preparations for now, but at least we’re off the starting blocks…