Are you a morning lark or a night owl? Or something between the two?
I’m definitely a morning lark. I think best in the morning. I wake up with a new idea, that I can’t wait to try out, or the solution to a problem, that’s being gnawing away at me. I literally jump out of bed. The family sometimes find me downstairs, with already an hour of work under my belt before they emerge.
I think I must be a nightmare. I do rather bounce in to wake them up in the morning for school. They have requested that I sing a little bit quieter. I don’t think they even see my dance routine from under their duvets. Honestly. I am not appreciated. Who wouldn’t want a rendition of “Good Morning”, first thing? Or my version of it, at least.
If it is any consolation to the night owls among you, I am flagging by the evening. No one is allowed to ask me homework questions after supper. Fortunately my husband is a night owl, so he takes over. He jokes that he only has to show me a pillow in the evening, and I fall asleep. If only I could deny it.
One of the upsides of being a morning person is that breakfast preparation is not a chore. I love making porridge for everyone. Or toast, which is popular in our house.
We don’t have a toaster or a grill. We use the Aga instead. No need to clutter the surface with another gadget, when the Aga will do it. The children get super excited when we go on holiday and there is a toaster wherever we are staying. New fangled magic box that makes toast!
Last summer in Scotland, we hired a cottage, with a toaster in the kitchen. That wasn’t the reason we hired the cottage. It was the location mostly. Honestly, the first morning, all three children waited to see the toast pop out of the toaster. With “whoops!” when it did. Much discussion about how the toast looked different and gave a different crunch. Novelty waning as the week went on, thank goodness.
So what is different about the toast I make? To start with it has a grid mark on it.
The bread is sandwiched between two wire meshes that are shaped like table tennis bats, but larger. Hinged at one end and long handles opposite. I can fit about 3 slices in.
The bat is put on the hottest plate of the Aga, left, then turned over when ready.
There is no ping to tell you the toast has toasted, and I cannot recommend waiting until the smoke detector goes off. Been there. Done that. Got the burnt toast to prove it.After a while, you seem to develop an inner clock and know when to turn or rescue the toast.
It is also brilliant for toasted sandwiches. No need for more butter, making it less greasy.
(That’s how we make toast, Val, with grid marks. Much easier to explain with a photo. Or two.)
So, are you a morning or night person? And how do you like to start the day?
I have a dream every year. To make a homemade Christmas. Every part of it handmade. Admittedly, there is also part of me that would quite happily go away for Christmas and leave it for someone else to do, but that’s unlikely.
It does appeal.
I had a feeling this year, that it had been less of a homemade triumph. Then sifted through my photos last night, I realised that there were lots of little bits of homemade goodies. I had made socks as gifts, handprinted wrapping paper and, not forgetting, the home baked food.
First up, I seriously loved seeing all the presents wrapped up in the hand printed paper. A couple of sheets weren’t quite dry when I was wrapping the presents. I left them in front of the Aga to dry over night, which confused the children, when they came downstairs in the morning. They thought I was hiding something behind the wall of wrapping paper.
I did try to persuade everyone that they should leave everything wrapped. Pine trees and snowflakes held together with ribbon. What is not to love? Alas, they missed the vibe and preferred to see the contents. Ah well. Can’t win them all.
(As an added bonus, the paper is easy to re-use and recycle. Some I have already re-used to wrap presents, some I’ve stored for next year and the rest has joined my firelighter supplies. Very little left to go out in the recycling bin.)
Second success, apart from the Christmas lunch, was the Christmas pudding. I like to make our Christmas pudding round, and use a sphere as the mould. No photos unfortunately.
The resulting pudding, with its holly on top, would not look out of place on a Christmas card. We remembered to remove the holly, this year, before setting the pudding on fire. Nothing like seeing the blue flames lick around the outside of the pudding before settling in the bottom of the bowl, as if the pudding is sitting in a sea of flames.
Third success. No, not homemade pyjamas, (maybe next year), but my homemade fire lighters were a success. Each one is different. Depends on the recycling materials available. I’ve discovered one well known high street shop’s paper bags burn with a delightful green flame. I’ve found myself experimenting a bit more.
I made fudge and peppermint creams to give as presents. Some may have been kept back too. Yum. I also made three pairs of socks as gifts. I made them one after another. Felt odd when I had no more to knit. Twiddles thumbs. The yarn was mostly from my stash too. Great feeling when making homemade as there is very little packaging. Just the wool band and a paper bag.
I’m sure there is more that I have already forgotten. I guess I should include all the knitted mistletoe before Christmas. I’ve lost count of how many bunches I made.
And next year? I’ll start earlier. There will be more handmade gifts. And handcrafted food treats.
Either that, or we’re going away.
Word of the week is most definitely “homemade”.
Each year we exchange gifts with neighbours and friends. Mostly homemade goodies like festive cookies and sweets. Last year chocolate cherry mice were popular. The children love joining in. Especially between school breaking up and the big day. We have so much fun deciding what to make…..and sampling them, of course.
As the tradition has grown, so have my endeavours to package our gifts up in a fun and eco friendly way. Usually its the bag we send them over in, or reusing the Christmas tin our friends sent over the year before. Some go backwards and forwards each year. We have great neighbours.
This year, we will probably include chocolate chip and clementine shortbread because it is amazingly good. (Recipe below.) I’ll probably drizzle icing and gold stars, but they need a good container too. I’ve been saving up black treacle and golden syrup containers. To give them a festive twist, I knitted up candy cane inspired wraps.
The beauty of these simple knitted covers is that they could be slipped off and used as mug warmers. I’m sure they could be used for a whole number of things. Most likely we will see them again, as they cheer up another package. Next year.
As I was knitting the first one, I couldn’t help being reminded of the Grinch. A Christmas favourite.
Can I admit, I didn’t like the book at first? Not one bit. Maybe it was the greeness of the Grinch from the movies or the way poor Max had to pull the sleigh or the general meaness until the end (hope I didn’t spoil it).
Re-reading it with my children, it has grown on me over the years. With each reading, I like it a little bit more. I whole heartedly love the message it gives. We don’t need all the Christmas trimmings to enjoy this time of year. It is a chance to strengthen our community and friendships.
“Maybe Christmas, ” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas….perhaps…. means a little bit more!”
Now I’m not going to argue with that one.
Would you like the shortbread recipe? It is easy, peasy. Almost lemon squeezy, except it involves clementines not lemons.
175g (6oz) butter (cut into small cubes and at room temperature)
175g (6oz) plain flour
85g (3oz) semolina (uncooked)
85g (3oz) caster sugar
2 clementines (grated peel only)
100g (4oz) or more chocolate chips
1. Put everything, except the chocolate chips, in the food mixer and use the dough hook to mix togther. Alternatively, rub the butter into the flour by hand in a bowl and then mix everything in to the mixture.
2. Mix in chocolate chips into mixture
3. Grease a 30cm x 22cm (12″ x 9″) tray.
4. Spread the mixture evenly into the greased tray and press it firmly.
5. Prick it with a fork, but I prefer to use the fork to make lines all over the flattened mixture.
6. In a 2-oven Aga, slide tray onto the bottom runner, with the cold sheet on second runner at the top for 10-15 minutes. Turning half way through.
For other ovens, recipes seem to suggest 190 ºc/375 ºf/Gas 5 for 15 – 20 mins, but I’ve not tested it. Shortbread should be pale golden brown when they are ready.
7. Once baked, cut into desired shapes and sizes, and lift out of the tray individually onto a wire rack to cool.
I love adding semolina to shortbread. It gives a crunch without needing to add demerara sugar. These ones are sweet enough as they include chocolate chip, so cutting down on more sugar is a plus. When buying the semolina, make sure you buy the uncooked dry type, used to make semolina pudding from scratch. Not the tinned, ready-to-eat semolina. Not a crunch provider.
Needless to say, my first two batches disappeared before I had time to package them. It was a job to have enough to photograph with the recycled gift container. I went out for an hour, and they were all gone except a few when I made it home. I had to use a photo from my Instagram feed to include here.
Anyway, I hope the neighbours will like them. The clementines add a fabulous seasonal touch to the shortbread. The containers are ready. A salvaged bow from last year, is fixed on top. Now I just need to make another batch.
dk wool left over yarn from previous projects
For a Lyle’s Black Treacle 454g tin, cast on 48 stitches using the thumb method, or loosely. Stocking stitch 4 rows of red, then 4 rows of white and so on, until you reach the height of the tin. Cast off.
Sew up the sides and slip onto tin.
For a Lyle’s Golden Syrup 907g tin, cast on 72 stitches and follow the black treacle tin instructions.