Top 10 gifts for gardeners

It’s that time of year where I am continuously asked what I want for Christmas and usually, the answer is simple, I don’t need anything, but this is rarely the answer that’s desired so again but what do you want?

So I thought to help all you folk out there who are being asked, I would put together my personal top ten gardening gifts, that way you can just send people a link to the blog post. Job done.

Number Ten

Knee Pads – as a gardener, I spend a lot of time crawling around, kneeling and generally crouching. This means sore, skinned knees and trousers get trashed. The answer is most definitely big, padded knee pads to just make my knees happier. You can also get kneeling stands etc, but I just find they can be a bit cumbersome and get in the way, knee pads go where you go. I don’t know any gardener who would say they couldn’t find a use for a good pair of knee pads.

Knee pads – https://amzn.to/2Qq1Op0

Number Nine

Useful tool box / lunch box –  I already have one of these tins for keeping all my seeds organised (you’ll see it pop up in the blog and youtube videos often). I don’t think you can ever have enough organisation type boxes and these tin boxes with latched lids are fantastic. I can absolutely picture my flask of tea and a sandwich in this one.

Tool and tuck tin – discounted https://amzn.to/2Qt0At7

Number Eight

Down to earth gardening wisdom by Monty Don – Gardening books are a fantastic gift for any garden from beginner to advanced and Monty is a British treasure not only for his gardening, but also his fashion sense, advice and honesty. Let’s not forget Nigel the dog too.

Down to earth gardening wisdom by Monty Donhttps://amzn.to/2QLsy2M

Number Seven

Alan Titchmarsh – How to garden (greenhouse)  – sticking with the bok theme, this one is actually a bit sentimental for me. This is one of the books Kate bought me when we bought Ar Bruidair to help me create and manage my first garden. It’s full of fantastic advice.

Alan Titchmarsh – How to garden – greenhouse – https://amzn.to/2zVu6NY

Number Six

Alan Titchmarsh – How to garden (growing veggies) – again one of the books Kate bought me and my absolute inspiration for my greenhouse. This book is great for a first timer, taking you thought all the things to think about like sun postition, hot spots etc.

Alan Titchmarsh – How to garden – growing veggies – https://amzn.to/2LeDVLf

Number Five

Paper pot maker – space is an issue every gardener faces. Not just space to grow things, but space to store things too and every year I had a battle on my hands to find space to store all the pots I needed for spring. This little paper pot maker solved all of that and now we make pots out of old newspaper and they break down in the soil, no storage needed. It was one of those genius things Kate came across while surfing the web on Sunday morning and I’m glad she did.  See it in use: https://youtu.be/ml38gTKcNZ8

Paper pot maker https://amzn.to/2LcZvzS

Number Four

Chilligrow planter – You guys all know how much I love my quadgrow planters so no christmas wish list would be complete without one of these. This one is the chilli version, so slightly smaller but I’ve had fantastic success with mine and I use it for way more than chillies, I have herbs in mine too.

Chilligrow planter – https://amzn.to/2Bi4JFS

Number three

Quadgrow planter – I’ve mentioned Chilligrow planters, now meet it’s much bigger brother the quadgrow. Holds and looks after 4 tomato plants easily, keeping watering even and giving my bumper crops. I love this guy.

See my journey from newbie to lover in my video playlist: https://youtu.be/ucI6Vl76oUc

Quadgrow planterhttps://amzn.to/2QIHEWT

Number Two

Gardening gloves –  now let me clarify, I don’t mean big, heavy gloves to protect your hands from thorns etc. I mean these delicate little things that you can do all sorts of jobs while wearing, even potting on seedlings.

I have fallen in love with these gloves over the last couple of years because quite simply, they let me get on with things. I have tiny hands and it is impossible to find gloves that I am comfortable wearing because the fingers are always too long. These were not only a great fit, but they let you still “feel” meaning you can do all sorts of garden jobs without that gloves on, gloves off, gloves on, gloves off thing.

Gardening gloves – https://amzn.to/2Cbj6hb

Number One

A Journal – my number one gift idea. A journal to keep track of the garden from season to season is one of the best gifts you can give any gardener. I was given mine from friends and I have since bought the same one as a gift for my sister. My number one gift for gardeners!

Gardening Journal – https://amzn.to/2SKVHsa




Panettone – Italian Christmas Bread

We all grow up with family traditions based around certain times of year – birthdays, special events, cultural holidays etc, but as an adult, you get to choose which traditions you carry on and share with your family or indeed which ones you choose to leave behind.

The creation of our own family traditions has been one of the best things about sharing Christmas with Kate and over the years we’ve developed a few which are unique to us, for instance, we have french onion soup for tea on Christmas Eve. Kate makes the soup and I make the bread croutons. We open our presents while sitting on the floor at the tree and we each give each other one silly present, like a onesie, just to have a giggle on Christmas morning.

There is one thing that Kate has been asking for all this time and we’ve never done though. Kate asks every year if I could make panetonne as she is a massive fan. I’ve never made it for her, because it always seemed terrifyingly complicated.

That will change as we add a new tradition this year, we will be having panettone and coffee for breakfast on Christmas morning.

I have really been learning about bread making over the last couple of years, and now, I’d say there is nothing complicated about panettone at all so I’m going to share the recipe I’ve come up with and my hints and tips so that you can make this too.

Makes 1 large or 18 small individual panettone

Treat additions
120g mixed dried fruits
120g candied lemon and orange peel (finely chopped)
200g of chocolate chips
4 tablespoons orange juice

For the Dough
1 1/2 tbsp fast action dry yeast
150ml warm milk
50g fine sugar
650g strong bread flour
1 tsp salt
6 free-range eggs (5 for the dough and 1 to glaze)
250g (1 pack) softened unsalted butter
zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange

Get prepared

Put all the dried fruits into a bowl and cover with the orange juice. I like to do this a good 5 or 6 hours ahead to give the fruit a chance to plump up. You could do this overnight.

Make the dough

TOP TIP – this is a wet dough, it’s much easier to work in a stand mixer than by hand.

Heat your milk to warm, but not hot and stir in the sugar until it dissolves, then add the yeast and leave it aside to let the yeast come to life a little.

Add your flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook and sprinkle the salt in, let the dough hook mix this gentle for a few seconds before adding your yeast and milk, which hopefully is showing signs of life by now.

Keep the mixer on a slow speed and begin adding your other ingredients, first the Start by mixing on a slow speed to combine the ingredients. Add 5 beaten eggs slowly, letting them incorporate into the dough and then turn the mixer up to a medium speed to get things properly incorporated.  

Add the zest from the lemon and orange.

This is where my experience may be useful for first timers with enriched dough. This is a very wet and sticky dough, don’t worry, that’s why it ends up being so fluffy. Just keep going, I promise, it will all come together and make the most gorgeous, pillowy soft dough in the end. It just takes a bit longer.

Next, again top tip, don’t try to rush this. Add your butter about a tablespoon at a time and let it properly mix in before adding the next amount. It is going to take time to get that oily butter to properly mix in rather than just make the dough greasy, be patient.

When you first add it, you’ll see it smear all over the mixing bowl, just let the mixer do the work and suddenly just before you give up hope, it will vanish. That’s when you add the next bit of butter.

Now let the mixer knead away for at least 5-10 more minutes, this is when the dough becomes that pillow of softness I spoke about. Don’t worry about how soft and unmanagable it appears, remember this is all texture 🙂

Grease a large baking bowl and put your dough in there to let it prove. Cover it with cling film or put it in a baking bag to stop a skin forming on top. Leave your dough aside and be patient.

You want this to at least double in size, but ideally treble, so be patient.

Turn the dough into panettone

Ok so now that your dough is HUGE and you are a little worried it may eat you… time to add all your treaty bits and shape it.

Tip your dough out onto a floured worktop and gently spread it out with your fingertips. It will deflate but don’t worry, although try not to be overly heavy-handed.

Strain the soaked fruit and discard the juice. Mix with the choc chips and candied peel and spread about half of it out over the dough, and then fold the dough over the fruits and lightly roll the dough around to distribute the fruit evenly through the dough.

Do this again, spread the dough and repeat as before with the remaining fruit.

At this point, the dough is going to be an ugly, bumpy sod. Don’t worry about it, but look it over to make sure the fruit is as evenly distributed as possible.

Now you can choose to make one traditional panettone loaf or lots of smaller indiviudal ones.

For one big loaf, make the dough into a ball.

Grease a panettone tin or paper case. If you have don’t have any of these of these, use a regular cake tin, but line the base and sides with greaseproof paper standing at least 2 inches above the rim.

Drop the dough into the centre of the tin and cover loosely with a tea towel.

For lots of individual panettones

Roll the dough into a long sausage and cut into around 16 equal sized portions. Roll them into small bowls and drop into tulip muffin wrappers and then into a muffin tray and cover with a tea towel.  This acts as your panettone moulds.

Whichever method you chose, leave the dough aside until it rises again. You want the single loaf to be higher than the tin by maybe 2 inches and for the little individual ones, you want them to be just over half way up the muffin wrapper. It’s essential here to be patient. If you want that airy, fluffy texture the essential part is that the dough gets the chance to properly rise.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Once the oven is heated, make an eggwash by beating the remaining egg and brush over the surface of the panettone.

Bake the large loaf in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 160C or 150C for a fan oven and cook for a further 40 minutes. The panettone is ready when a skewer comes out clean.

For individual panettone, Bake for 30 minutes at 160C or 150C for a fan oven.

Let the cake cool for 5 minutes in the tin on a cooling rack, then remove and leave it to cool completely.

Serve and enjoy!




Eye spy mince pies!

Its December, and for me that means only one thing – its finally mince pie season! But Kate, I hear you cry, mince pies have been in the shops since July – don’t get me started on the ridiculously early appearance of Christmas food, suffice to say that for me part of the joy of the mince pie is that its SEASONAL, a mince pie is for Christmas, not for all year round! (OK, rant over.)

I always look forward to the first mince pie of the year, and I am very strict that I don’t have one until the first of December. Last year Eli and I made a special day of it, by combining the first mince pie with the first festive hot chocolate and a wander around the Christmas market for a spot of retail therapy. This year I decided it would be fun to try to make my own mince pies, and as Eli isn’t actually a fan of mincemeat, I thought I would make some spiced apple pies for her so she didn’t feel left out.

I don’t do a lot of baking, so I think Eli was slightly worried when she was banished so that I could get into that kitchen and rattle them pots and pans.

The beauty of making your own mince pies is you can make them exactly the way you like them – your favourite pastry – shortcrust or puff -tasty  filling- with or without alcohol – and even decide on the top – full crust, fancy shapes or even iced!

This is my recipe for mince pies (makes 16):

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 1 large jar mincemeat (about 600g) – or if you are feeling super adventurous you could make your own!
  • 2 satsumas, segmented
  • 1 apple, finely  chopped
  • zest 1 lemon

For the pastry

  • 375g plain flour
  • 260g unsalted butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 large egg
  • plus 1 beaten egg for glazing

Method

  1. Put the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together until they look like breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the caster sugar and one of the beaten eggs, and mix together.
  3. Tip the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and fold until the pastry comes together, but  be careful not to over mix or the dough will get too sticky.
  4. Wrap the pastry in some cling film and put it in the fridge to chill for 10 mins.
  5. Put the mincemeat into a bowl and add the segmented satsumas, the chopped apple and lemon zest.
  6. Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7.
  7. Roll out the pastry to about  3mm thick – a bit thicker than a pound coin.
  8. Using a round cutter (about 10cm), cut out 16 bases and put them into your baking trays – I used non stick muffin trays. Put 1½ tbsp of mincemeat mixture into each. Brush the edge of each pie with a little beaten egg.
  9. Re-roll out the pastry to cut 7cm lids and press them on top to seal. Glaze with the beaten egg, sprinkle with the extra caster sugar, then make a small cut in the tops to let the steam out.
  10. Bake the mince pies for 15-20 mins until golden brown. Leave to cool for about 5 mins before releasing them from the muffin trays and then dust with a little more icing sugar before serving.  The hardest part is waiting for them to cool before tucking in!

I could have made things easy and just made a double batch of pastry and filled half with mincemeat and the other half with an apple mixture, but I decided to make things harder for myself and so I did a slightly different pastry for the apple pies:

Eli’s little apple pies (makes 16)

Ingredients

For the pastry:

  • 350g Plain flour, plus extra to to roll out the pastry
  • 200g Cold butter
  • 100g Golden caster sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 capfuls of vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoon of milk to glaze

For the filling:

  • 3 large apples, chopped thinly
  • Juice of one orange
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2-3 tablespoons of light brown sugar

Method

  1. Put the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together until you have a mixture like breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar and salt.
  2. Separate the egg and put the yolk into the flour, butter and sugar with the vanilla essence. Stir with a knife.
  3. Add the water a bit at a time and stir with knife until it begins to clump together, then make a ball with it using your hands and knead until smooth you may not need all the water you just have to judge when its holding together without being sticky .
  4. Put the pastry in the fridge to chill for an hour.
  5. Peel and chop the apples and squeeze the orange juice over them, then put the sugar and spice and mix together with your hands making sure the apples are all coated evenly.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 180 fan and roll out the pastry to about 3 or 4 mm. Cut out circles to fit your muffin tray (about 10cm) and place them in the wells of the tray.
  7. Divide the apple mix between the pies then re-roll the pastry to make the tops and place them on.
  8. Glaze them with milk and stab the tops once with a knife.
  9. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until golden brown.
  10. Leave to cool for about 5 mins before releasing them from the muffin trays and then dust with a little caster sugar before serving.  

All in all I had a fun afternoon in the kitchen doing some baking, and dare I say it, its starting to feel a little bit like Christmas!!

 




Having some fun with advent calendars

Advent calendars were lots of fun when I was a kid, generally it meant a wee piece of chocolate before school, but the fun was really the excitement of getting to open that door. Just one, every day in the count down to christmas.

As adults we lose some of that christmas fun and start to become grouchy about christmas and the chores and responsibility it brings. Well you know what? I’m not having it anymore!

When Kate and I met, this was one of the things about us which were polar opposites. She calls me the christmas elf, ever since I christmas bombed her flat (oh it was glorious) with a friend. She came home from work to find the most hideous, tacky and over the top christmas decorations EVERYWHERE… even in the fridge. See the thing was, I love christmas, well the holidays to be precise, but Kate was a complete grinch when we met, she didn’t even put up a single decoration or send a christmas card.

Sorry I am still laughing at the memory of the fridge! We put this little snowman in there that was motion activated, so everytime she opened the fridge door, the snowman played christmas tunes. There was no way to shut him off, you had to leave him running. Ha ha ha ha it drove her nuts.

So, as a special thank you treat for letting her christmas elf out ( a tiny bit), I am going to make her a special advent calendar to give her a christmas bomb of fun every day as she counts down to Eli the christmas elf getting over excited!

Grown up advent calendars

Let’s be honest, a wee bit of chocolate everyday isnt really going to set the world on fire is it, so let’s make this something that Kate will love.

As with all good craft project, it starts with a wee treat for you, to keep you going you understand. It could be a nice coffee, a pot of tea… but it’s Friday night so a wee espresso martini for me I think. You know just to keep me going 🙂

So, Kate… to give her the equivalent of the little door to open, I’m going with little gift bags, all labeled up so she knows which to open every day. I’ll display them just like an advent calendar with the numbers 1 – 24 on them.

And a craft snowflake stamp works wonders to turn a boring, brown, paper bag into a treat, and they will go in the craft box as something reusable for other years once this year is done. 

Now the trick, where to create this, as obviously 24 gift bags are going to take a bit of thought. So how on earth am I going to display these so you can see the bags and numbers and easily get to them each day, but still make it feel like an advent calendar, not just a bunch of bags to sort through?

Tiny little clothes pegs on a string! We already do this for Christmas cards so it will work alongside the decks when they finally go up. Sorted. Eek! It’s going to be huge though, maybe I didn’t think this through enough. Oops!

Now the last thing, how do I make it more Kate?! Mah ha ha ha coffee of course. Each bag has one coffee’s worth of fresh artisan coffee, to give her a different one to try out every day but still get her fresh, good coffee.

So the bags are filled, decorated and numbers are written on them, time to get them out on display.

It’s not elegant, but it’s quite big, bigger than I had planned to be honest, oh well at least she won’t miss it in the morning. It’s very noticeable (remember to mix up the dates to give it that authentic, try to find the door, advent feel).

Em update….. she didn’t notice! Really, she walked past it three or four times before I had to point it out!




Slow cooker ham with a ginger crunch top

We realised today that we hadn’t shared this recipe with you guys and were astounded. It’s so easy to do and gives you not only a fantastic dinner but options for sandwiches and leftover meals too. The ham is cooked in the slow cooker so there is almost no work for you to do, switch it on, make some coffee and go watch that box set of “The West Wing” for six hours. Easy peasy (and that’s exactly what we are doing today as it cooks).

We first did this as a dinner for christmas, we wanted something different, something we’d never done before and decided on a ham, but we didn’t want lots of stress on christmas day, cause lets face it, there is lots of good tv to be watched, so we hunted for something simple and delicious. From that search, a few recipes came to light and we took the bits we fancied from them all to make our christmas ham. It’s apparently a Swedish style recipe originally and funnily enough, a christmas tradition called Julskinka. 

The basics –  Cooking your ham

Like I said, this is sooo simple.

You need a ham, we go with an unsmoked gammon joint. Unsmoked because there are going to be other more subtle flavours in there and we thought the smoked flavour would overpower things. It might seem an obvious statement, but you need it to fit in your slow cooker, so as we say in Scotland, don’t let your eyes be bigger than your belly.

Firstly, very roughly chop an onion and put this in the base of the pot, this stops the ham being in contact with the bottom and reduces the risk of it scorching.

Next…

Ham… cut off the layer of fat from the top. Some folk do like to leave this on and get it crispy when they roast the meat, but we aren’t fans so we cut it off and then put the ham in the pot on top of the onion.

Now for the flavour bit, ginger beer. Yup, a big bottle of ginger beer. It isn’t so common to cook meat in fizzy drinks but its popular in the US and apparently some other countries, but new to us, trying to describe this too you is way more difficult than you realise. I grew up on the west coast of Scotland so we actually call this ginger, a bottle of ginger. We call all fizzy drinks ginger regardless of what flavour they are, I have no idea why but cola is called ginger, lemonade is called ginger, ginger beer is called ginger. Kate grew up on the east coast so she would call this juice or fizzy juice. Again regardless of the flavour or brand, its juice. Elsewhere in the UK, you’d hear it called pop and in the US soda. So basically whatever you call it, top up your pot so that the liquid (ginger beer) comes almost to the top of the ham, next add a big tablespoon of mustard and about a thumbs size pieces of grated ginger. Give it a good old stir, set the heat to low, put the lid on and go off and forget about it for five-six hours.

The topping

I mentioned earlier that some folks cook a ham and for them, it’s all about getting that fat on top to go crispy in the heat of the oven, well instead we are making a crunchy crumb topping out of…. ginger snap biscuits. Yup!

For the topping you’ll need:

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 6 tbsp. grainy mustard (Swedish if you can get it)
  • 6 tbsp. finely crumbled gingersnaps (or breadcrumbs)

Mix the egg yolks, brown sugar, and mustard together and then spread over the top of the ham. Sprinkle the crumbled up gingersnaps over the top of this to make a nice thick layer.

Now put the ham in a preheated oven at about 220C for 15 to 20 minutes to get everything nice and crunchy.

Once you are happy, remove from oven and cover loosely with tin foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.

It should be soft and pink and delicious. Carve it up and nom!




Having fun with table settings

One of the things Kate and I both enjoy is having our dining table looking nice when we have a nice meal or invite friends over. Not exactly formal dinner settings but just a bit prettier than the every day. I think it goes back to when Kate and I first met and I used to look up fancy ways to fold napkins to impress her when I made dinner, we’ve kind of carried that on and we have all sorts of fun from it.

So, since we are now in the holiday season and lots of you will be entertaining friends and family, we thought we’d share some of our fun ideas for you to try out. I may even record some videos to show you how to fold napkins.

Casual and formal

I never set a formal table. Never. Reason being I want my guests to feel relaxed and have fun. I also hate all the clutter that goes with formal table settings. Take a look at this graphic I found online to give you an idea of what I mean about how fussy/cluttered a formal table can be and that’s before we talk about which fork you are meant to use. How quickly this would turn our 8 seater table into a 4 seater.

table setting guide

As I said, we always set a casual table, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring or not pretty.

Whether we are setting the table just for the two of us. Or if we are setting the table for having friends over. Our aim is always for a pretty but fun table setting. Even if we do sometimes overdo it with napkin folding.

Speaking of overdoing it with the napkins,as promised, here is a wee video to show you how you can make some seasonally appropriate napkins for  your table. Elf shoes and christmas trees.

Christmas themed napkin: the elf shoe




Naming the pumpkin beer

name meIt’s time folks.

Your chance to vote for the name you’d like our pumpkin beer to have.

We’ve compiled all the suggestions we’ve received into a poll and we’re giving you the chance to vote for your favourite.

The winner will be announced on the 27th November.

 

What should this year's pumpkin beer be named?

  • Stingy Jack's (25%, 10 Votes)
  • Thankful (18%, 7 Votes)
  • Good Gourd (18%, 7 Votes)
  • Jack's Harvest (15%, 6 Votes)
  • Pumpkin Pie-nt (5%, 2 Votes)
  • Pumpkin unparal-ale-d (5%, 2 Votes)
  • Twisted Sisters (5%, 2 Votes)
  • Pimpin' ma pumpkin (3%, 1 Votes)
  • Pimpin Pumpkin Pinup (3%, 1 Votes)
  • Samhain pumpkin ale (3%, 1 Votes)
  • fómhar (Irish for Harvest) (3%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 28

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The Christmas elf let loose at Ar Bruidair

IMAG1872-1I love the holidays!

It’s getting closer to Christmas day and the house is decorated, the tree looks stunning and ’we’ve crafted our little fingers to stumps. The mince pies and hot chocolate are accompanying the Christmas movies. Life is good.

So as promised you’ve had little insights here and there into how we get ready for Christmas at Ar Bruidair and I suppose it’s only fair that we now do the big reveal and you can see how it has all come together.

So what have we done? Well you’ve already seen the Christmas wreath that Kate made and the Christmas pictures that I made. For any of you out there who are thinking they’d like to have a go at making some stuff but it looks a bit complicated. Give it a try. It’s way easier than you think. Even we managed.

BannerWe also have a banner where the fireplace would be which we bought from Etsy – again someone has taken the time to make it and it’s gorgeous. I’ll add a link to their Etsy shop at the bottom of this post if you want to check it out.

We’ve added little bits and pieces around the living room, little snowmen and Santas sitting on shelves and tables.IMAG1878

We also have some funny little reindeer that we put up every year. I actually got these from a pound store in Glasgow but we absolutely love them. They look like something from “cat in a hat”, just something fun and silly about them and they look great.IMAG1846 (1)

Kate also made a wreath for the inside of the house. I hadn’t noticed but she stuck little hedgehogs on it to make it completely “us”.  If you don’t know the relevance of hedgehogs to Ar Bruidair then read a few of the older posts.

 

 

 

 

wreath-1024x1002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I suppose that’s enough of teasing you with the little things, you want to see a big picture of the living room now don’t you? You really want to see the whole thing don’t you?

You probably want a before and after as well?

Well here you go what a little bit of imagination and silliness can do to Christmas up your house.

 

 




Christmas crafting – the wreath

Tradition of the wreath and other evergreens

In ancient times, northern societies used to enliven the dark days of winter with a celebration of fire, light and jollity at the time of the winter solstice (when the days became longer and the promise of spring returned).

Since these times evergreens have been valued for their ability to retain signs of life in the middle of winter – even in some instances producing berries and flowers and so early cultures displayed evergreen plants in the home to symbolise everlasting life. Holly, ivy and evergreen herbs such as bay and rosemary were the most commonly used, all with symbolic meanings that were familiar to our ancestors. Rosemary, for remembrance, and bay for valour, are still well known. Holly and ivy were a particularly popular combination, the holly traditionally thought to be masculine and ivy feminine, giving stability to the home.

In Germanic cultures this celebration was called Yule and was again about the sun coming back after the dark winter. Yule lasted 12 days and the tradition of the Yule log was born from here where a large piece of firewood was sought to keep the fires burning over this time. This was known as the Yule log and is the source of the chocolate cake many of us eat today.

In the medieval period, the Yule log was ceremoniously carried into the house on Christmas Eve, and put in the fireplace of the main communal room. Often decorated with greenery and ribbon, it was lit with the saved end of the previous year’s log and then burnt continuously for the Twelve Days of Christmas, providing much needed light and warmth.

Living in a house with a front door rather than a flat means we could put a wreath up. Eli was excited about this, as it felt like real Christmas type thing to do.

Making things ourselves would be something fun that’s a together memory and would be creating Christmas decorations that mean something personal to us rather than just having shop bought ones.

So full of enthusiasm, off we went to Hobbycraft to see what we could find. A short while later we came home laden down with crafty goodies, high on the smell of glitter glue and tinsel.

The challenge was to turn these all of these shinies into something festive for the front door

wpid-IMAG0177_1

 

I’ve never really done any “grown up crafting”, only paper chains and the obligatory random snowflakes, but I figured all those years watching Blue Peter presenters making advent crowns from coat hangers and tinsel must have had some sort of influence, so I went for it.

wpid-IMAG0176

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I reckon it took about 45 minutes, and only a small amount of bleeding from a wire induced injury, and this was the result –

wpid-20131123_141803-1024x768

 

 

 

It was great fun to make and a lot easier than I thought it would be – just take some time to plan, try things out before you wire or glue it all together and its jingle all the way!

And as a bonus, the leftover bits became an indoor decoration –

wpid-IMG_20131209_182937

 




Sprinkling a little holiday magic

Firstly, this isn’t going to be one of those blog posts that forces photos of Christmas trees and decorations at you in November, I promise. However I am going to let you into one of my little Christmas secrets. Are you ready?

I love Christmas in a big way but Christmas fabulousness doesn’t just happen, it takes a splash of planning, a pinch of craftiness and a sprinkling of Christmas elf magic. (I’m the Christmas elf by the way – at least that’s what Kate and some of our friends call me because I love Christmas so much).

I can’t help it, I absolutely love Christmas. I look forward to it from the minute the weather starts to change.

Now I should maybe explain something because I know it could be a little bit of a confusing statement for me to talk about how much I love Christmas, given that I am an atheist. I am not going to get into all those arguments about Christmas and whether or not all the things we associate with it are from one religion or another or where our traditions come from. If you are looking for that kind of debate come see me at work and I’ll pass you onto some academics who could debate with you all day. Simply, for me, Christmas is a tradition of the nation I grew up in, part of the culture of my social group. I don’t celebrate it as a religious holiday, just as a fun time of year.

However it has changed a little over the years and for me Christmas is “the holidays”.

I know – how very American, I’m not going to apologise for it. I love it and it gives me much pleasure. So there.

So what is it about the holidays? Well it’s the traditional turkey dinner, the decorating the house with greens and reds and holly and sparkles and it’s giving presents to people you love and most of all, it’s family and friends. Christmas for me is about spending time with the people I love, sharing that day and all the cooking and fun with someone or some ones that you love. Everything else is dressing up.

For me the holidays start at Mole End. Mole End is a little cottage in Fala ( a tiny village 12 miles from us) where our friends Hayley and Luke live with our two favourite nephews Orran and Innes and every year we go to Moleend to celebrate thanksgiving (Luke is one of our American friends).

So each year we count down to thanksgiving, we make pumpkin beer to take and Luke and Hayley put on the most amazing spread of food and Valerie makes pumpkin pie and sometimes Luke’s mum visits and makes Cat Yak….I’m so going to get her to blog that recipe

So that is the start of our holiday season. It’s followed by trips to the German market in Edinburgh on the first weekend of December where we drink gluhwein and eat bratwurst and every year we take a photo of my silly hat for that season (I love hats). Then there’s the decorating the house and putting up the tree with Christmas music playing and more mulled drinks of some description and throughout the week before Christmas there’s hot chocolate and mince pies.

Ok so as usual I’ve got side tracked. Let’s get back to the point of this blog post – preparing for the holidays.

I’m not going to reveal too much just now, as that would spoil the fun, but in the next month or so we’ll post a few blogs with the bits and pieces we are doing in preparation for things and we’ll also let you in on some of the fun we’ll be having with our friends. If you are lucky, Luke might post a blog about his thanksgiving preparations and we’ll link to it here so you can enjoy it.

So look out for blogs on decorating the house and tree, making our own Christmas crafties, cooking, the pumpkin beer, and if I can get Kate out the house for long enough, I’m going to dress the cats up in Christmas costumes and take photos mwah ha ha ha ha.

Just as a wee taster to keep you wanting more, we started yesterday. Our magnolia living room now has a wee touch of Christmas colour about it to help make it all come together.

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