Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

I had thought of travelling across country to see my parents for Christmas lunch, but the inclement weather has called a halt to that notion.  I'll speak to them on the phone instead.  Fortunately I took their presents over last month - I must have known it was going to snow!!  Or been super organised?  ... Yes, you're right, I time-travelled ahead to see what the weather was going to be like, saw the snow and wrapped the pressies up quickly - well done you:-)

So, the snow is still with us, and we're getting used to it.  I'm lucky, I bought a house within walking distance of most things I need.  I can even walk in to the city centre in an hour if I need to.  I sympathise with those in isolated villages who are cut off.  I have to admit that when I lived in a village, I had a very large freezer, and plenty of tinned and packet standby basics!!

We went to the Christingle service this evening, which made a pleasant change.  All the congregation was given a Christingle, not just the children.  We carried ours home through the cold, and the candle burnt steadily all the way , even though we didn't protect it at all.  I wonder how many others did the same.

Whatever you do this festive season, I hope that you enjoy it and give some pleasure to others.  Best wishes for a happy and peaceful 2011.

Monday, 20 December 2010

snow, snow, quick, quick, snow!

We seldom see large amounts of snow here in Lancashire.  On Wednesday, as we walked up to the church for the Christmas sing-a-long, it was snowing gently.  When we emerged later in the evening, after singing several seasonal songs, and consuming the odd mince pie and glass of mulled fruit juice, the world was shrouded in a white blanket, and white flakes danced thickly before our eyes.

This was the scene next morning across the road from me.  A winter wonderland had appeared, fresh from the song, and everything looked magical, clean and fresh.

Fortunately, the snow plough appeared as we were walking to post an item to an eBay customer, so, as you can see, the roads became passable.  Stay safe and warm wherever you are!

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

chocolate dipped stuffed dates

When I was a girl, we had dates at Christmas.  They came in long, oval boxes, and were very exotic.  They were also very delicious, a chewy then melt in the mouth sweetness that was something we didn’t have, as a rule – there wasn’t much money for such things as sweets when I was young.  However, for years Dad worked at a wholesale greengrocers, so we had plenty of fruit and vegetablesJ

So, dates are an important part of my Christmas memories.  Mum loved them, I loved them, and my daughter loved them in her turn.  Mum never stuffed them, but I've done it for years.  Not just for Christmas, but for dinner parties, or just for indulgence.  I can even kid myself that they're relatively healthy (are you skilled at self-deception, too?) - after all, they are fruits, the marzipan is essentially almonds (ok, with a lot of sugar, if we must be honest), and chocolate produces endorphins that make us happy.

For a change, this year, I've given my stuffed dates an extra twist.  I've rolled the marzipan around candied peel and walnuts.  Still healthy, well, the walnuts are, anyway!

They are ridiculously easy to make, yet scrummy.  I hope you'll have a go at making them.  Just think, if you have a vegan coming to dinner, this is an ideal treat that you can all enjoyJ.

You'll need some dates,  marzipan, chocolate and candied peel and walnuts.

Stone your dates, if necessary.  Cut your candied peel into pieces slightly smaller than your dates, to allow for the marzipan to wrap around and seal it.  Trim your walnuts into slim slivers, too.  Mould the marzipan around the fruits and nuts so that it's date-stone shaped and will fit into the cavity left when the stone was removed.  The  picture is a cross section of the two that I've done, the walnut is on the left and the candied peel is on the right.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave or over boiling water on the hob, then dip one end of the stuffed dates in and set aside to cool and firm up.  You can see one cut open along with some completed examples.  I don't spend hours making the chocolate level, I like my home made treats to look just that, home made and rustic.  But you can smooth away to your heart's content.  You might find it easier if you add some vegetable shortening to the chocolate when you melt it, if that's what you plan to do.

Be inventive - you can use other fruits and nuts to stuff them with.  Look in the store cupboard and see what's around.  Glace cherries would be lovely, but I used all mine in my Christmas cake and haven't got round to replacing them yet!  Or green angelica would look stunning.  Dried apricots cut into slivers would be good, cranberries would be a festive touch, slivered almonds would echo the marzipan, you get the idea. 
Enjoy - but not too many at once!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

triple chocoate flapjack - pure indulgence for the WI party!

Although I love Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies, Stollen and all the other delicious goodies packed with dried fruits of all descriptions (well, except bananas, of course, I wouldn't want to be ill, now, would I?) I know that there are others who dislike dried fruit products for whatever reason.  In fact, the top tier of our wedding cake was Victoria sponge as my ex-husband was just such a person!

So ... this is an indulgent treat for those who choose not to participate in the fruity side of Christmas fare - it's only fair that they should get a treat too, and there's nothing to say that you can't share it, now is there?

You've all heard of flapjack, and probably made it.  Usually it's a golden brown, sweet chewy bar, but not very exciting.  I hear you saying, but it's not indulgent.  However, this is triple chocolate flapjack.  Yes, that's right, three forms of chocolate going on in here, if that's not indulgent, I don't know what is!  No, it's not healthy - it's not supposed to be, it's a treat, and treats are allowed to be unhealthy - in fact they probably should be.

It was my local WI Christmas party this afternoon, and I wanted to take along something that was vegan, gluten free, but wouldn't make everyone run away in horror at the thought of it - you know how some people can be "Oh, it's vegan, I don't eat vegan food!", or  "Oh, well, I won't have any because I can eat normal foods."  I decided to make these to take along as most people eat chocolate, and they look "normal"!  

Alas, my cupboard had run out of golden syrup, so I had to make an emergency dash down the road to buy some before I could continue with the baking.  Still, the excercise must have burned off at least half a slice worth of calories, mustn't it? :-)

Triple Chocolate Flapjack

100g margarine
75 g golden syrup
75g soft brown sugar
75g plain chocolate
290g rolled oats
40g cocoa
50g plain chocolate for topping - you could go mad here, and use one of the lovely spiced bars - well, it is Christmas!

Put the oven on to heat at 180C, gas 4, 350F.  Grease a shallow baking tin approx 11" by 7", or line with silicone, or non-stick sheet if you prefer.

Melt the syrup, margarine, sugar and 75g chocolate in a large glass bowl in the microwave, or in a saucepan if you prefer.
Sieve the cocoa and mix with the oats.  Stir into the melted ingredients.

Spoon into the prepared tin and bake for about half an hour until firming nicely.  Allow to cool in the tin for about five minutes, then mark into fingers or squares and allow to go cold.  I was told that only 'finger food' should be taken for the party, so I cut mine into small squares so that they looked dainty, rather than the more usual finger shapes.

When cold, remove from the tin and break into the shapes you marked.

Melt the 50g of plain chocolate and spread over the fingers or squares.

I placed each square in a paper case as they were going to be on the buffet table.

Enjoy.  Or, give to someone else to enjoy!

Monday, 13 December 2010

A new fantasy novel by my daughter - a shameless advert!

Do you enjoy reading fantasy novels?  If so, you might like to check out my daughter's new novel, Rebellion, the first in a trilogy entitled the Chronicles of Charanthe.  This link will take you to the home page, where you can read the first three chapters to whet your appetite :-)

The novel is available in paperback or electronically, so if you prefer to read on Kindle, or an I-pad, you don't need to miss out!

I enjoyed reading it as it was written, and I like to think that it's not just that I'm her mother, although I accept that I would always be predisposed to favour what she writes. 

This isn't a wizards and witches fantasy land, no magic spells to help out our heroine; just good old determination, blood, sweat and tears.  Eleanor is tenacious, and determined to seek for what she wants.  Why not take a look and see if you can empathise with a young girl, brave enough to refuse the safe, steady job she is offered, electing instead for a life of hardship and danger as she chases what might only be a dream?

A great stocking filler!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Why don't I feel "Christmassy"?

I enjoy Christmas.  Really, I do!  When my daughter was at home we decorated the house on the 1st of December, and she was in charge of all the cards that subsequently arrived, either decorating the bannisters, or the hessian hangers we made to display them on.

When I worked at school I also decorated the house, and wore Christmassy ear-rings and a brooch, and even glittery nail varnish.  Nowadays, though, I don't seem to have enough enthusiasm for it.

I strongly suspect that I've answered my own question.  I'm no longer surrounded by children, and without them, the magic just isn't there any more.

I've written my cards, store bought for most folk, but hand-made for the special friends and family.  I've wrapped presents.  I've even delivered some of them, and received some in return.  I've attended a Christmas Fair and listened to a French horn ensemble play carols, but it hasn't done the trick.

Maybe tomorrow will make it seem nearer; I have two Christmas parties in one day, wouldn't you know it?  And, by some strange coincidence, both are book group events.  At one we will be discussing The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper.  If you haven't read this series of books, I heartily recommend it to you.  Although this is the book we're reading as a group, I've read the whole set of five, such was my enthusiasm.

Enjoy your Christmas preparations:-)