Tag Archives: Christmas

Desperately trying to be crafty


Beset by technical difficulties this week and resorting to my little phone for its internet capabilities, I had to suspend my annual Christmas web buying extravaganza. I can honestly say that I don’t know how one could live without that wonderfully whizzy invention, the internet. It is one thing that troubles me about moving to the countryside as broadband seems to be pretty patchy in deepest darkest Hampshire! Not being able to get my daily fix of browsing luxury or Country Life mag tweets had left me grumpy and in need of entertainment. With Christmas literally around the corner, I had to resort to some old-fashioned craftiness. I can honestly say dear Reader, that Margot and crafting are not a good mix. Noticing that the lovely and very crafty Barbara had already made a start with her homemade Christmas goodies (and not wanting to be outdone yet again!), I set about recreating my very own White Company Christmas.
I had the brilliant idea of making my own wrapping paper. Paint at the ready and armed with my darling crafty Primrose, I made a little robin template and some stars and we set to work. It was a messy business but I was quite enjoying it until Primrose announced that I wasn’t much cop as a painter. She then ditched me for some serious artwork of her own (see below).

20121203-073357.jpg As you can see, Primrose is heaps better at art. It hurt my pride to admit it but a 4 year old seriously CAN do better! I have now relegated the wrapping paper to under the dresser, only to be used in dire circumstances…. Jerry came home, took one look and said “Did you make that or did the children?” I should have lied at that point.

Moving on….I did have some success with my teacup candles. Easy peasy when you follow good old Country Living’s vast source of crafty online ‘how tos’. Provided one searches for the perfect cup (I have now befriended most of the old ladies in our local charity shops), it is remarkably straight forward and doesn’t look too homemade. Taking pity on me, Jerry treated me to a wreath making course and I managed to produce something which did look like a grown up had made it! I think he felt a tiny bit guilty about his wrapping paper comments.


Realising that I was never going to make it as a kitchen table entrepreneur and with a heavy heart, I sought solace in the village and rediscovered some wonderful local shops. Let’s hope the cottage gets its Internet back soon or I dread to think what I will have to conjure up to give the family on Christmas Day!

For now at least, the front door looks glorious and you never know, with 20 or so days until stockings are opened, I might just manage to conjure up some homemade White Company magic! Well one can hope, dear Reader…


The goose is getting fat…..

The dreaded lurgy entered our house this week and Primrose and I have been ill, hence the radio silence.  Neither one of us is known for swooning and taking to our beds, so we simply sat miserably on the sofa, grumbling at each other.  Maladies dampening our thirst for countryside dalliances, we were both feeling more than a little fed up by day 3 of being stuck in the house and even Poppy’s usual joyfulness was beginning to wane.  Having forced Primrose and Poppy to watch a few of Merchant and Ivory’s finests and running out of options for low energy entertainment, I decided that the time was nigh for dipping our toes in the Christmas waters, so to speak.

I adore the glowing mistletoe berries!

To quote the rhyme ‘Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat’, this is usually the time of year when I make grandiose plans for what sort of Christmas we are to have and start the great tree decoration debate with Jerry (white lights = Margot, tacky flashing coloured lights = Jerry).  For some reason, this year, I just haven’t got into the right mindset for it all.  Maybe it is because I keep thinking that this will be our last London Christmas?!  It doesn’t help that Poppy’s 1st birthday is just before Christmas and Jerry made me promise that Christmas would not enter the house until the last piece of birthday cake had been eaten.  Festive desperation will have hit me by that point!  (Sneakily, I had already added the mistletoe lights to the cottage archway on the pretence that it was for Poppy’s party)….

Anyhoo, delighting in a long forgotten Christmas book (recently rediscovered and printed in 1985, The Oxford Christmas Book for Children is STILL a gem), I was reminded of the old custom of walking Christmas geese and turkeys to London.  Stories of seventeenth century plump white geese wearing little boots (yes REALLY!) or the now über fashionable Norfolk Black turkeys, feet painted with tar and sand for the long walk, filled my head.  These tales sat alongside visions of gloriously smocked Suffolk ‘flock’men ushering the birds on their way from country to town to arrive at Leadenhall market for the week before Christmas.  Puts a whole new perspective on the ‘oven ready’ bird!  Preparations in mind and realising that it was the last weekend before the beginning of Advent, what else could I be doing but my very own Christmas bake off?  Stir Up Sunday was upon me.  Being a pudding hater, I had already indoctrinated the girls, convincing Primrose at least, that Christmas cake was FAR superior.  Poor Jerry is the only one in our little cottage who loves ‘the pud’ but dearest Mamma had already solved that dilemma, buying him a couple of mini puds to satisfy his craving!  Last year, heavily pregnant and yearning for the merest whiff of alcohol, I made my first ever Christmas cake but got a bit too enthusiastic with ‘feeding’ it ginger wine.  If that wasn’t bad enough, I also accidentally marzipaned the top AND bottom of the cake, much to Jerry’s horror.  Turns out that even Jerry knew that I wasn’t supposed to do that….

Pausing for some tea, I decided that maybe I wouldn’t start the cake making until later and instead, would share with you, Dear Reader, a potted history of that ‘love it or hate it’ festive fruity football.
Dear old Mrs B!
Most will know that ‘Stir Up’ Sunday takes its name from the collect read from the Book of Common Prayer to churchgoers on the last Sunday before Advent.  Other references allude to 13 ingredients to represent the apostles and stirring clockwise to remember the journey of the Three Kings from east to west on their way to that little stable in Bethlehem.  However, the provenance of the pud is hotly debated!  The majority of pudding aficionados will agree that early versions consisted of chopped meat, suet, oatmeal and spices and were cooked in blanched sheep intestines.  Sounded a bit like haggis to me.  They were also served at the beginning of the meal rather than as a dessert.  Some believe that it was the sixteenth century which fashioned ‘plum duff’ as we know it today as puddings were boiled in a cloth bag in the washing copper.  An abundance of prunes (aka plums) is also said to have changed the original recipe but innovations in meat preservation might account for the absence of meat and the inclusion of fruit.  It was Eliza Acton in 1830 (followed by Mrs Beeton) who actually penned the first recipe for the fruity cannonball, giving it the name ‘Christmas Pudding’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
Feeling a little more perky and armed with my pudding knowledge, I took a leaf out of old Mrs B’s book this year when making our Christmas cake.  Well ‘Twelfth Night’ cake at any rate.  Baked for the Epiphany feast on Twelfth Night (5th Jan), it formed the centrepiece of the table and traditionally contained different charms buried deep within its dense plumminess.

‘A bean for the king

A pea for the queen

A clove for the knave

A twig for the fool

A rag for the slut’

(or tarty girl as one source uttered rather more kindly)!

Fearing receiving any of the charms in a slice of the cake quite frankly, I went ahead enlisting Poppy and Primrose in the baking, leaving our cake well and truly charmless.  We did stir it up (clockwise, in the spirit of the pud tradition) and I have to confess that I did make a teeny little wish.  The wish?  THAT my dear Reader, will be my little secret.  Maybe just maybe, it might have something to do with starting our new life in the country?  Bet you anything Jerry wished for his jolly green Land Rover!

Off to the oven…

Jam, Jerusalem, Judges and maybe a little chutney

Apparently the entry must be all your own work. Back to the cupboard for this one then…

Some time ago, Edie, a staunch Margot supporter, set me a challenge and I have found countless ways to evade that particular gauntlet, as when it was thrown down, it made me rather nervous.  The challenge: to enter a Real Jam Festival competition.  Dear Reader, you will realise my fear straight away.  Jams, jellies, chutneys: staunchly Barbara’s territory.  Margot, making jam?  Whatever next?!  Growing vegetables and knitting my own yoghurt….. I stewed on it, for want of a better word.  I couldn’t let Edie down and after all, this is all about my journey from townie to bumpkin.  I simply could not pass up this opportunity to try my hand at some real  ‘Jam and Jerusalem’.  With the deadline for entries looming, I felt that maybe little old Margot might be welcomed into the billowing bosom of the Women’s Institute with this little challenge.  I so dearly wished to  see myself clutching a winning entry with its WI seal of approval.  Oh to have an awardwinning chutney!

I had a brainwave.  I would make a chutney and make it Christmassy.  There is nothing like the smell of Christmas and I thought I might just be able to capture that in a chutney.  Christmas is all about aromas for me.  Those which bring back powerful memories like the heady scent of oranges and cloves, brandy in the mincemeat, fresh pine needles…. I could go on for hours!  I had already gone slightly stir crazy buying Frankincense and Myrrh scented candles much to Jerry’s glaring disapproval.  To try and get back in Jerry’s good books, I did splutter that I could enter the competition and then, in the spirit of all things ‘Margot tries etc’, I could even pass off the leftover jars of chutney as Christmas presents.  This, of course, appealed to Jerry’s frugal nature.

Just reading the entry requirements alone made me quiver with anxiety.  I hadn’t realised quite how seriously these things were taken and perhaps I had bitten off more than I could chew.  I had half thought that these jam jousts were the preserve of ladies in lavender and little old biddies in hand-knitted cardies.  Still, always up for a country challenge, I set to work.

It seems that chutney had its origins in India (in Hindi, chatni).  Generally a relish or pickle made with fruits and spices, it was brought home in the days of the Raj by the British.  No doubt it raised eyebrows at dinner when produced by footmen in silver pots and accompanied by a large clove-studded roast ham.  Through the haze of time, I could just make out guffawing monocle-wearing gentleman crying “By Jove, what is this?” “The Indians call it chatni mi Lord.” “Chutney you say Dawson?  A spicy number what what!”  Scouring through hundreds of recipes ancient and modern, it was clear that coming up with my own unique recipe was going to be tricky.

I decided the only way to safeguard a good entry was to create my very own scent of Christmas.  Haphazardly, I threw all the ingredients on to the kitchen table and approached the making of Christmas chutney with careless abandon.  Chopping all the fruit and the onions took an age and I only thought of the food processor when I was on the last onion…  Plopping it all in my giant pan, it looked awful.  No.  It really did.  Take a look for yourself.

Not very appealing at this point

I was beginning to feel a little light-headed from the fumes of the cider vinegar (no recipe seems to mention that a gas mask may be needed) when I realised that making chutney was going to need one other ingredient.  Patience.  Something which, dear Reader, I have never had much of.  After the 2 hour mark, I stirred and tasted.  CRUNCHY onion.  Oh dear.  Not sure a chutney should have crunchy onions in it.  Hmm.  Most of the liquid was gone too.

Is it supposed to look like this?

Right, time to improvise a little more.  Adding enough water just to loosen the slop, I then left it to simmer away with the pan lid on.  In the end, it simmered gently for 4 hours.  I know, I know.  Far too long for chutney but I had to do something to stop the judges choking on onion slivers.  Sniffing the wafts from the chutney cauldron, it did have a faint whiff of Christmas.  It would have to do.  Sterilising the empty jars in the oven for 10mins, I then filled them and cut a greaseproof circle to cover the top.  (The jars had been a rigmarole in themselves.  I made Jerry, Primrose and Poppy devour their contents to cries of “Not jam again!” so that I could reuse the jars).  Carefully going through the last of the instructions, I readied my jar of passable Christmas chutney.  Entries must be plain – no labels, logos or ribbons.  They do take entries from young jam enthusiasts but I wasn’t sure I would get away with passing the jar off as Primrose’s work!  So there it was, my entry.  I wondered if they might give me some extra marks for the quirky jar?  I had, after all, recycled an old Indian pickle jar for good karma!

Could this be the winning chutney entry?

Well, Jerry gave it the thumbs up and I was quite proud of my first attempt so Dear Reader, we shall just have to wait and see what the WI judges think….  You never know, dear old Margot might just manage a little mention!  Well one can hope, can’t one?  In the meantime, Edie darling, at least you know what you are getting for Christmas and have time to rush out and purchase a jar of trusty Tracklement’s to replace it!

Margot tries…..chutney (and REALLY this is all my own work….I can’t blame any chefs, cooks or foodie bloggers for this concoction)

1kg apples, plums, fresh cranberries (mix all the fruits and then see if they collectively weigh a kilo)

2 onions (I think they weighed 400g in total)

200g raisins

half a reasonable knob of ginger

around 250ml of cider vinegar

around 300g soft brown sugar

3 star anise

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp cinnamon

1 tsp cumin (although it felt like more as the aroma was evocative of sweaty Londoners’ armpits on the tube.  Beware of this)

Plop it all in the pan and then wait a serious number of hours.  Improvising required.