Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Christmas Time 2015

Robin painted in Watercolour

I have a really busy time at the moment so sharing on this blog is quite difficult. I am in the last stages of a new book which I have been writing for the last two years. Going Christmas shopping is a welcome break and I love thinking about what I am  going to buy everyone. 
Before I even bought the gifts this year I had started collecting ribbons and wrapping papaer which makes the process of wrapping so much more fun. I hear so many people complain about the time it takes to buy gifts and then wrap them but I must admit I think the biggest thing to complain about would surely be loneliness and having no one to care about at this time of year. And worse still, having no one to care about us.

So if you are bogged down with Christmas chores, cooking and preparations do take time out to think how lucky you are. I'm sure there could be many people so eager to be so lucky!

Have a wonderful time getting ready for the Season of goodwill to all men!

............and women

.........and pets

In fact, goodwill to ALL!


Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Bowl

The Bowl

A slightly different blog post. But one I can't resist sharing. We went out with friends last night and shared a conversation about our different parents and childhoods that brought back many memories. When I returned to our cottage last night I looked at an old bowl that takes pride of place on the table in our living room. I don't particularly like it. But I cannot part with it. This story tells why.
I was brought up by an incredible woman. She had come from a family of thirteen children. As the eldest she spent most of her young life looking after her siblings. Her own mother was so often with child or in labour so the duties of the household fell on my step mothers' shoulders. This was no easy life. One of her chores was to go to the village shop to buy a sack of flour to daily make the nine loaves needed to feed her brothers who all went to work in the coal mines as soon as they were old enough. She used to proudly boast to me how she saved money due to her skill of placing these loaves in the oven so that only one baking session was needed. They could all fit in one go if she was careful. Her family didn't have a lot of money. But they had pride and their home was always spotlessly clean.

Years later when she met my father she was working as a cook in a hospital and until the day she passed away she always prepared the most amazing of meals for us. With the little she had to feed us.  Sunday meals often felt like a banquet to look forward to and what she could create with leftovers was amazing. She was 100% inspirational to me. I remember her watching me peel potatoes once and she told me that I would have to marry a millionaire as most of the potato was wasted by my efforts. I look back now, smile and  understand so much that I did not at that young age.

To support and help my father my step mother worked. Her limited skills meant she had little choice when it came to finding a way to earn an income. Which is why, in one job she cleaned a lady's home in our village. I went with her once and as a little girl I couldnt understand why the lady couldnt clean her own home as it seemed much smaller than our own and should have been easy to look after.  But my step mother took pride in this role. Her employer, a kindly woman always complimenetd my step mum on how hard she worked and how good she was. I am not surprised. My step mum was a perfectionist in everything she did. One of her favourite sayings was " If a jobs' not worth doing well its' not worth doing at all".  And I agree.

This kind employer became elderly and frail. So much so that she had to go and live with her daughter. She didn't want to leave and by then was really sad to have to be missing the regular visits from my stepmother.  Over time they had build up such a unqiue bond of friendship. On the last day that my step mum worked there she was given the bowl as a gift and memento.  It was carried home with great care and for years later sat on the sideboard in my childhood home. I didn't really like it then. But it made my Step mum very happy. She would dust it carefully and talk about the kind lady who had given it to her.  For years I remember her and the bowl and the story behind it. I now have this bowl and I still don't really like it. But I see it so differently now.

I think of my Step mum each time I look at it. I think of how she sacrificed her life for others. First for her brothers and sisters, and later in life for my father and me. She worked so hard to make sure we had a home to be proud  of and we always had food on the table. When I passed exams to go to a Grammar School she worked even more hours to make sure I could have the uniform that was needed to attend. I can't think of one occasion when she did anything at all for herself. How selfless she was and she would give away what little she did have if someone else needed it.

I look at this bowl and know it reminds me to think of others too. And one day I will be giving it to one of my children. I hope when they look at it they will think of me so kindly. But having said that, not one will probably want it. 

It has a story to tell and today seemed like a good day to share the tale.

The story of the bowl.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Pickled Pears and Flemish Onions : Christmas 2015

 Pickled Pears and Christmas Pickles 2015

This is a flying visit to my Cottage Haven Blog today as I am working on a new book at the moment. I really do make or create one thing every day leading up to Christmas.

This morning I made Gingerbread Vodka, which is a first for me and until I have tried it I am reluctant to share the recipe! It certainly looks interesting.

The main thing I made this morning was pickled pears. These are poached in spiced vinegar and then bottled. The recipe is so simple and they look gorgeous when they turn a deep amber colour. They can be sliced as a garnish or decoration to add on top of hor d'oeuvres , or used as an accompaniemnt to cold cuts. I find that the usual Christmas fare can be repetitive so these make a glamourous and fascinating change.

My next task is to add the Christmas material and ribbons to each jar of home made pickle or chutney. I now have enough to set aside some time to do this.  I will then decide which will be treats will be given away as gifts and which will be kept to be enjoyed by our family and friends.

Preparing for Christmas in advance really does make my heart feel so happy. I talked to my son this afternoon and told him about the gingerbread vodka I had made and he has kindly volunteered to be the tester of this new liqueur . So I will let you know what he says!
For now, here is the recipe for Pickled Pears!

Pickled Pears and Flemish onions.

The story about Flemish onions will follow in another blog post!

Monday, 23 November 2015

Making Pickles and Thinking of the Past 2015

Christmas Pickles and Chutney 2015

My cottage kitchen is now a hive of activity as I have a tradition of doing something or making one Christmas thing per day leading up to Christmas. 

Last night I bottled the pickled onions and placed them next to my jars of home made Christmas Chutney which had been made earlier. I have sent away for Christmas fabric and beautiful ribbons which I will now decorate each jar with, so they look tempting and they can now act as decorations in my cottage kitchen until we eat them over the Christmas period.

Why do I do all this instead of simply buying everything from a store? I don't know really because each year the TV adverts seem to be selling us even more delicious new treats. But I strongly believe nothing tastes the same as something that has been especially made for you with love by your Mum or a friend. I take  home made gifts with me when we visit friends in December and the small home made gifts are always welcomed.

When I was little I remember my Stepmum making pickled onions and chutneys every year. She would source chutney recipes annually but her recipe for pickled onions was always the same. I used it until I married my husband whose Stepmum, Jose, was from Belgium. Jose loved adding spices to her recipes and I must confess, her pickles did taste more exciting so now my pickled onions are a combination of both Mums!

I start by peeling the small shallots and I hate this part!  I listen to music or watch a film whilst doing the boring task. Years ago my Dad used to peel the onions for my Stepmum. I loved how they worked together. When she passed away I took the role of being "chief pickled onion and chutney maker" over and made some for my Dad each year. His face would light up far more than any expensive gift I could give him. I knew he loved his home made pickles and chutneys and nothing shop bought would please him in the same way. It was the love that was missing in the jars on display in the supermarket, aimed at anyone who would buy them.

My jars represented my time and the thought I had put into making each gift. Knowing how much I loved him that feeling flowed with each minute spent on creating the variety of home made food gifts.

So now I find myself making the pickled onions that his now grandsons enjoy and I like to think of my Dad smiling down when my sons see what I have made for them to enjoy. My father was a gentle man. Very quiet and very kind. He hardly ever lost his temper and it would only ever be then if he had good reason to. He was painfully shy in many ways. And he worked so hard. I look back and realise my roots have made me who I am. And each Christmas I can feel my family and friends around me , those here and those who are looking down on me .

So I have Christmas Chutney made from the Delia Smith cook book.

My pickled onions are so easy to do, apart from the peeling!

Simply peel the onions and place in a large bowl , sprinkle with a handful of salt and cover with water. Leave overnight. The next day drain them and pat them dry before placing tightly in jars. Now heat vinegar with a small amount of sugar and some spices for pickling. I use mustard seed, coriander seed, black and white pepper and chili flakes. Just a half teaspoon of each. When the sugar has dissolved pour the vinegar mix over the onions in the jars and seal with the lids. The hardest part is leaving these for at least four weeks. I serve them with cheese, salads, cold cuts.

But my Dad would sneak into the larder and eat them on their own when he thought no one was looking, but we could always tell he had been sneaking treats!


I will probably make pickled pears next before moving on to making my home made liqueurs!

Christmas is a time to celebrate the love you feel for your family and friends. This year, I'm making it a special one as its' the last year before one of my sons is married. We are moving into a new era, and welcoming a daughter in law into our lives. We have so much to look forward to.

Happy Days!


Sunday, 22 November 2015

Preparing For Christmas 2015 : Christmas Recipes

 Home made Mincemeat

It is ages since I wrote on this blog but I have been asked about my Christmas recipes and this seemed the best place to share them! Firstly I have to explain why I cook for Christmas. I was always taught as a child that anyone can walk into a store and buy food. But cooking for those you love is one of the very best gifts you can give. You give your time, and the thought behind the pleasure in the eating makes every second cooking worth while. Honestly, I have yet to taste anything from a store that tastes as good as real home made fare! And my cottage smells fabulously inviting during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

I always start by making my Christmas Pudding. This is far lighter than those bought in stores or supermarkets and the joy in making your own is that you can play with the ingredients to suit your own personal taste. Freshly ground nutmeg adds to the feeling that Christmas is around the corner. I usually ask my son or my husband to grate the nutmeg which adds to the family involvement in the preparation. And when everyone is gathered striing the pudding is pretty special.

The best Christmas recipes I have found that improve on those from my family are in the Delia Smith Christmas cook book.

I sometimes place silver charms in the pudding for luck. The history for these wonderfully traditional puddings can be found via this link.

Once my Christmas pudding is made I move on to making home made mince meat. This is something I had never done until a few years ago but once I realised how easy it was to make I was hooked because the flavour really is so much better than shop bought.

Again this recipe is from the same cook book. And is so worth trying!

 I use the mince meat for home made mince pies and it is also delicious with apple dishes like pies or strudels.  Try placing a layer of mince meat under the apple to give your apple deserts a lift!

 My home made mince pies. Mince meat filling in short crust pastry cases.

My step mother was an amazing cook and she taught me how to make pastry.  Mine is usually very light and I am so grateful to her for teaching me. She also taught me that love has to flow into each dish you cook or it won't turn out right. And I still believe her! I made my mincemeat for this Christmas this week and it is now in jars, so the spices and flavours will merge in time for me to make the little pies later on nearer to Christmas Day.

After making the mince meat I turn to my favourite thing of all. The Christmas Cake.
Again I now use Delias' recipe as it never fails! 

Yesterday I made this years Christmas Cake. My husband and I spent an enjoyable evening relaxing and each time one of us walked into our cottage kitchen we came back to the other and said wow that cake smells great! It was a great feeling taking the cake out of the oven and seeing it was a wonderful success. This recipe honestly never fails if you follow all the instructions.

Now the cake is made it goes into a tin and I will feed it with a little brandy each week until I ice the cake to decorate it.

My iced home made Christmas Cake from 2011
An old photo! 

So the Christmas Cake is made, The Christmas Pudding is made and the mince meat is in jars. All the fruit recipes are complete.
But I also make chutneys and pickles. I will add the links in another blog post.

But if you would like a fabulous Christmas recipe book to discover your own favourites I recommend this one. It is brilliant and I use it every single year.

Mine is an old copy. But maybe you can find a used one if you cant get your hands on a new one!