My Mum kept my diet quite healthy when we were kids, but like most children, I loved sweets and chocolate. Being a parent myself I can now see her dilemma – I love to treat my boy – and he’s very motivated by food, but I want him to be healthy too. Just as my Mum did I try to save sweet things for an occasional treat and make sure he has a healthy and varied diet the rest of the time.
One time that went out of the window a bit was Christmas. Ah, Christmas – the only time of the year when it’s suddenly acceptable to have dishes of chocolate everywhere and to start the day with mince pies!
If I was very lucky, one of the gifts under the tree might turn out to be much coveted selection box – 5 or 6 whole bars of chocolate in one go that were all mine! To be honest I liked them all, but a particular memory of the 80s offerenings were the selection boxes in the shape of a stocking, with netting around them.
I remember one year, for a few days after Christmas, I would wake early, grab one of my Christmas annuals and something from my selection box, and spend an hour or so reading and chomping under my duvet before starting the day!
This is Year I’m rather taken with this Cadbury selection box with its special reissue packaging. It retails for around £5 and contains four classic bars in retro wrappers. It comes in a cardboard box – not the crinkly plastic we’re used to – and has some information about the history of Cadbury on the inside. Of course, it is a shame there’s no purple foil in sight, and even more of a shame that the chocolate is not the quality we had in years gone by too, but the spirit here is nice. It would make a great gift for an older relative, presenting them with a little trip down memory lane – or of course a lovely early morning snack!
I’d like to introduce my latest homemade creation: Albert Aneurin Grace.
Albert was an early Christmas gift – born on Christmas Eve at midday, weighing a healthy 8lb 5oz.
My little thinker is a delight and we’re enjoying getting to know him. He brings with him – I hope – a whole host of new vintage experiences. Vintage toys, vintage boys clothes, vintage children’s books and lots more. He’s going to fit right in! Can’t wait to add him to my vintage journey and see what new adventures are out there.
Here’s my yearly round up of the decorations in my house.
I did debate whether to have a fresh tree this year or just to put up a fake one I have. I thought dealing with the aftermath of a real tree might be one less thing to worry about with a newborn in the house, but my Mum was so horrified when I mentioned this that we went ahead with a real one. Must admit I don’t regret it – it looks and smells so lovely. My friend Becca helped me decorate it, doing the crawling around on the floor and the positioning of the lights etc – things I’m struggling with whilst heavily pregnant! It has my two strings of vintage lights and mostly vintage baubles too. I love it!
I’d wanted a vintage sledge for ages and finally found a local vintage seller on Instagram who had some available. I fell in love with this one and I think I paid £40 for it, but it’s well made, in lovely condition and – who knows – there might be a little person who wants to use it for its real purpose next winter. That would rely on us having enough snow to actually go sledging, which is unlikely in the South but I can dream! For now Mr. Sledge is our coffee table for the festive period…
My three vintage Christmas themed prints in the dining room have been flipped! I literally have these back to back with other images that I can just rotate during December. Makes life easy!
As with lots of jobs this year, I’m just glad I’ve managed to get it done before my Baby arrives and other things take over! Baby is currently two days overdue and who knows when they may finally appear. We’re trying to relax and be philosophical about it! At least the house is cosy and welcoming – this may be the most exciting (and demanding) guest we’ve had in a while!
It is with a whole new level of Christmas excitement I say:
I’m not sure if it’s too early or not but I made my Christmas cake this week. Last year I made a 20cm fruit cake using a Mary Berry recipe. It was lovely but rather bigger than I anticipated (I’m terrible at judging sizes!) and most of it ended up in the staff room come January. Why does no one like fruit cake?
Last year in the January sales I bought these cake decorations:
We loved the Raymond Briggs books The Snowman and Father Christmas when we were little so these were a must for me. They’re a nice quality ceramic so will hopefully be an investment and can be reused year after year.
I need to spend a few weeks feeding my cake spirits before I marzipan and ice it. This year it’ll all get eaten!
It is with a tablespoon and a bottle of value brandy in hand I say:
Christmas is all about pushing the boat out, right? Going that extra mile? Finding a few special things to add to the ordinary fare. I was researching recipes before the event and I found Nigella’s Christmas Rocky Road ( www.nigella.com/recipes/view/christmas-rocky-road ) recipe. It looked rather good, containing crushed amaretti biscuits, Brazil nuts and whole cherries.
First I crushed the amaretti until some was sandy and some chunky. Then I roughly chopped the Brazil nuts too. In a basin over hot water I’d melted butter and milk and dark chocolate. i added this to my biscuit And Brazil nut foundation and stirred it all to mix.Add some mini marshmallows and whole glacé cherries and this calorific dream is almost a reality…Press it into trays and allow to set in the fridge – it does make quite a quantity so make sure you give some out to your guests as they leave!I served it as Nigella suggested doused in icing sugar and edible glitter, and populated with little reindeer! My Gran’s cake plate got another outing too!
It it was rather delicious, the almond of the biscuits being a good antidote to the sweetness of the marshmallows. I’m not usually a fan of glacé cherries but they were actually very good in this recipe. It was a hit and I think I’ll add it to my festive repertoire, although I may halve the recipe as I fear it has accounted for several pounds I may have gained in the last two weeks!
It is with a sideways glance at the bathroom scales I say:
The mince pie is one of my favourite festive treats and it’s so easy to make.
You can really cheat and buy your pastry and mincemeat. Or, like me, you can semi-cheat and make your pastry but buy your mincemeat! My pastry recipe comes from the trusty Be-Ro book ( www.be-ro.co.uk/recipe/showrec34.html ) and I speed up the process by using my food processor. Just make sure your pastry rests in the fridge before using and handle it as little as possible when you’re cooking.
I buy my mincemeat in the supermarket and don’t know anyone who makes their own. I have seen TV chefs adding to the shop bought stuff in recent years. Quiet a nice idea and a good way of improving it and making it suit your tastes.
I use a mini muffin pan from Pampered Chef ( www.pamperedchef.co.uk ) for mine, I have a little tart shaper from them too which works a treat after a little practice.
A little snowy dusting of icing sugar and you’re good to go. The house always smells amazing during and after mince pie baking. I would definitely recommend it. Plus there’s that smug feeling when you offer someone the plate and they say “Did you make these?”.
It is with a rich fruit and spice scented house I say:
Whilst I can appreciate the beautifully colour coordinated trees that you often see at this time of year, for me the only acceptable tree is a multicoloured, tinsel-bedecked 70s style tree. I have all kinds of baubles, old ones of my Gran’s, vintage style ones I’ve found in charity shops and ones I’ve collected or received over the years, many with stories attached. I’m not willing to forgo a single one and so they all need to live in harmony together.
I know tinsel has a bad reputation but I think It adds some reflective glamour. As long as it’s silver. I’m not really partial to any other colours. This stuff came from Poundland and does very nicely…
The one thing I am missing is a Tree topper. I think I might have a look around in the January sales and see what I can find. I looked on eBay but only found scary 70s dolly angels which scared me a bit!
So this is my tree. My very first tree in my new house. The first one where I get to choose where it goes and whether it’s real or not (it’s a real one!)
It is with a twinkling fir in my peripheral vision I say:
These lights are a family heirloom. They came from the home of an elderly relative and we loved them as kids. There’s something about them – the green flex, the big hand painted bulbs and the vintage box they came in.
We treasured them and only left them on for short periods of time to make the original bulbs last as long as possible. I adore coloured glass and these vivid colours make them a dream come true for me. Many of those lovely hand painted bulbs have ceased to work now, and we spent ages tracking down the right kind of bulbs to replace them.
They’re still fab and they give my tree a lovely feel, I think you’ll agree. I found a second set the same on eBay last summer, so I now have a back up! When you find something as perfect as this you have to make provision for the worst thing happening.
I love putting up festive decorations and remember coming downstairs the morning after ‘trimming up’ and the sight of the tree with its lights taking my breath away. I still feel like that now. Big kid, I suppose… It’s lovely to be doing it in a house I own (sort of) and starting my own traditions. My tree has vintage lights and mostly vintage baubles – but more about that soon when I can take some decent pics!
For the uninitiated, Stir Up Sunday is the day on which you’re meant to make your Christmas puddings. These are made in advance and then stored and allowed to mature until you eat them at Christmas.
Traditionally it’s the last Sunday before advent begins which this year would be next Sunday – the 22nd November. We loved making Christmas puddings when we little. We helped Mum shop for the ingredients and then weighed and measured everything carefully. The best bit was the mixing and stirring and the all important wish! Everyone queued up and took their turn the mix the pudding, asking a wish as they stirred. I never did get the Jason Donovan board game I wished for in 1988, but I’m not bitter. I plan to make puddings when I have wee ones and was quite sad to read a survey recently that said over two thirds of people had never partaken in this ritual.
Another tradition, one that we didn’t follow, was the addition of a silver sixpence to the mix. Legend has it that whoever got the portion with the coin would have good luck all year.. I think we skipped this one for fear that Granddad’s false teeth weren’t up to that surprise! If it’s a tradition you fancy upholding you might be interested in this: www.royalmint.com/features/stir-up-sunday/claim-your-sixpence
The Royal Mint are offering a free reproduction sixpence to anyone who has an Instagram or Twitter account. They also have a Christmas Pudding recipe on their website – all you need for a traditional festive dessert! Just fill in the online form and when your sixpence arrives, add a photo of your pudding to your Instagram or Twitter feed. Be quick! You have until midnight on the 18th! It’s recommended you don’t bake it into your pudding, but pop it into a serving and warn your guests! I wasn’t going to make puddings this year, but I think might be persuaded if I have a lovely shiny sixpence. Just need to make sure everyone is looking for their sixpence – rather feel it might take the edge off Christmas Day if we end it with a trip to A&E…
I’m sitting in the kitchen typing this, bathing in the delicious aromas from my oven. My Christmas cake is in there – the first one I’ve made as a grown up! I used a Mary Berry recipe ( www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/celebration_cake_61952 ) – who else? The Goddess Berry suggested soaking the fruit in Brandy overnight before I made the cake. Turns out buying the cheapest bottle of Brandy in Sainsburys made me feel a little bit like a lush – I do hope the parents in my class didn’t spot me stumbling out of Sainsburys on a Friday night with a bottle of ‘Basics’ brandy. Not a good look!
Anyway it it smells fab and I can’t wait to spend the next few weeks feeding it brandy and tending to it carefully. I just need to decide how to decorate it now!
It is with visions of plastic reindeer dancing through my head I say:
I have a dream of a vintage Christmas and the long term goal of decorating my tree with only vintage baubles. I got a step closer when I discovered these beauties in a charity shop in Wales. I’ve been watching lots of these on eBay and they go for crazy money – what a find!