Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Poffertjes - a new treat

There is very little as exciting as discovering a new dessert. Yesterday while the rain kept us in doors, a friend arrived with her new Poffertjes iron and some batter ready to go.

Think little dumpling like pancakes covered with butter and sugar. They are just the right size to keep little hands happy. Poffetjes are a street food in Holland with stalls that can turn them out in the blink of an eye. Apparently, you can't buy just one, you need a whole bowl. I can see why.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Christmas Book

This book* is my one of my favourite picture books and certainly my favourite Christmas book. I grew up with it. It returned annually to our bookshelves, in early December. My mother read it to us at bed time in the weeks before Christmas and then like the tree it disappeared for another year.

I love the simplicity of it. It pares the story of the nativity right back to the main characters. You will not find any St Nicholas or talking animals here**. There is a child like charm to Dick Bruna’s flour dusted angels with nearly there wisps of hair and brightly coloured wise men.

The story stepped out of the book and illustrated my childhood Christmases. Mum carefully sewed a sheep onto my stocking. My brother had a shepherd. My cousins were given stockings too as Mum sewed her way through the book. It seems only fitting that my children should get the same treatment.

I was delighted to see that the book was republished last year and mean to get hold of a copy for each of my daughters. For now, my “all the better for being loved” copy will be just perfect.

* The Christmas Book, Dick Bruna, First printed 1964, My copy -1978

** I have to admit my second favourite Christmas Story “Room for a Little One” features a few discreetly talking animals.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Santa Debate

Father Christmas is coming to our house, whether we like it or not. I thought we were going to get some choice in the matter, but I was wrong. At the tender age of 18 months both of our girls were fully aware of the man in red and the magic surrounding him. In the interests of world peace, we are going with the masses on this.

I remember overhearing my 5 year old sister being told a few hard truths about the man in red. I could see her bottom lip crumpling as she asked me if her friend was right. There followed some explanations that not everyone believes the same thing and some arm waving about what you believe being the most important to you. All the while I was silently vowing that my children were not going to be that friend.

I like the idea of keeping to the bare bones of what Christmas means. No unnecessary snow or seasonal trimmings that tie you to one location. Perhaps Santa could be pulled back to the feast of St Nicholas on December 6th too? We had every intention of a simplified Christmas, until we had children. From the earliest age they started to bring home ideas that they picked up from elsewhere – Father Christmas, sleighs, reindeer.

It’s been fun listening to Little E sort out the logistics of Father Christmas. We have told her that adults don’t get presents from Father Christmas because there isn’t enough room in his sleigh. Little E has, sweetly, offered to help carry them for him.

Already there are signs that the illusion is waning – Little E turned to Grandad and pointed out “That’s You!” when she saw the above photo of herself waiting for her presents. There was some very quick denial and my father is considering hanging up the red hat next year, just in case. It seems that this moment of belief is, at best, fleeting. As the illusion fades, I wish for my children to treat others with a fair tolerance, understanding that what they believe and know, may be different from other children.

While it is true that we do have a choice in the matter, in the interests of world peace we will be letting Father Christmas in this year. Our children’s stockings will be hung over the fire and should we happen to hear the patter of reindeer hooves the door will be wide open.

Monday, December 20, 2010

My New Felt Trees

When it comes to craft for public transport, felt generally does it for me. When it comes to Christmas crafts with felt, you really can't go past Jenny B Harris over at Allsorts. Her annual series of Christmas blogs is legendary. She has had me yearning for a white Christmas tree for years now. These trees above use her Festive Felt Trees pattern (and it's free!). If you are planning to make more than one, I'd suggest you cut them all out at once so that the pieces nest together nicely when you are laying them out on the fabric.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Printing Our Own Wrapping Paper

With a little time, spare potatoes and poster paint we are well on the way to our very own wrapping paper production line.

To print your own wrapping paper, with the help of small hands, you will need the following:

1 Roll of plain wrapping paper
Poster paints
Sharp knife
Newspaper to cover everything
Aprons to cover the little ones

Step 1 - Carve your potato. This is a job for the adults. Cut the potato in half and draw lightly on the cut surface with a pen. Carve around the shape. Remember simple is good. The Santa hats you can see above did not turn out nearly as well as the crescent moons.

Step 2: Get your little one stamping. I started by inking up the potatoes myself before handing them over to stamp. Press carefully as the stamps can get a little slippery when the paint and potato mix.

Step 3 - Leave to dry.

There you have it. A quick, achievable way to involve the children in the gifts that every one is getting.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Stringy Christmas Trees

A quick peek at what I've been up to lately:

Some stringy trees to sit under my little Christmas tree.

Miss E noticed that it went nicely with her play kitchen and so she set the table for us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas in Summer

We have had a few basic geography lessons in our house. This all came about when Little E volunteered that it was going to snow at Christmas. There was some explaining about countries and that it doesn’t snow in New Zealand at Christmas. It does snow in England where Thomas the Tank Engine lives. While there are no snowmen or sleighs, summer Christmases have their own advantages. Sometimes it just takes a little thought.

I find a Christmas without fresh berry fruit hard to imagine. How can you have the family photos after lunch, without the obligatory cherries draped over your ears? Actually how can you have family photos without going outside either?

Then there are the evenings. The combined scents of Christmas cake, coffee and chocolate are nothing with a long hot dusk and a cool porch.

I don’t much fancy the extremes of a Christmas day barbeque, a tree decorated with jandals. I would love to get to experience a white Christmas just once. Sometimes I can be a bit traditional, but I still embrace our summery Christmases with relish.

* Picture from a very summery Christmas Parade. Note the T shirts, beautiful singing reindeer and lack of snow.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Touch of Nostalgic Cooking

Do you have soft spot for old cook books? The hand written marginalia telling you to cook it for a little less time or just that the result was only good as a paper weight? Sometime they read like a domestic history and other times a far fetched wish list.

Once upon a time I collected old cookbooks. I was fascinated with old preserving recipes that might have fallen out of favour and colour spreads of contrived feasts. If only everything could taste so good with a deluge of gelatine glaze. With the advent of kids, we whittled down the collection to only the essential and the entertaining. Somehow we thought “Christmas at Home” would fall into the first category. I always fancied the idea of creating a nostalgic menu, perhaps roasting a goose and how could I resist a goose that happy? Bear with me while I indulge in my nostalgic fantasy. While the book has been useful, entertaining even, I won’t be cooking a thing from it.

This recipe book comes complete with shopping lists, menu plans and price lists. I love the handy hints. Did you know that one bottle of gin will satisfy 20 guests? I’m not quite sure what guests they are planning to invite, but the sort that can ration gin out like that, would probably prefer that the party were dry anyway. Perhaps they were planning to keep themselves satiated with some of the other refreshments to hand. That’s ok, because at 11s. (shillings, maybe?) a bottle of sherry, they can knock themselves out. The prices are deliciously retro too.

One shouldn’t despair at the measly portions, because as the perfect retro host, I will be providing the cigarettes. We will temporarily ignore the fact that I do not smoke. Never have. In fact, the only smoking relative at our family Christmas party does so while retrieving toys from the street below the balcony. It’s a symbiotic relationship that works well for the kids. The hallowed “Christmas at Home” will have us forgetting our nanny state ways, ignoring healthy resolutions, and merrily smoking up a storm.

The Christmas Day menu reads like a gastronomic explosion. No high class culinary feats here, just food and lots of it. Roast goose with brussel sprouts. I’m not sure that goose should be so happy now and with the brussel sprouts cooked to a mush, I wonder about the guests too.

In case you thought fast food was a recent event the menu gets a little simpler on Boxing Day.
The recipe for mushroom soup is one that should be loved by all. It consists of one ingredient – Can of Mushroom Soup. I’m pleased to see that the authors did not feel the need to include instructions. It reads like they had either run out of disasters to cook or space to print instructions.

Cheap cocktail parties, canned mushroom soup and smoke for all have me giggling away and clinging very firmly to the present. Maybe I will keep an eye out for the companion recipe books – Summer Parties and Caravan Holidays or even Teenage Parties.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Decorations in the Post

I’ve put the Bah Humbug away and am getting onto the swing of preparations. First up are these embroidered birds that I have made for the Kiwi Ornament Swap. They have been based on the garland pattern from Scandinavian Needlework.

I have taken a few liberties with their backs as I was short of wool felt. Instead of an unstitched white backing, they have swatches of red and white fabric to cover my embroidery. I hadn’t anticipated the pink tones from our summer sun shining through and maybe next time would go with a cream on cream background. The project was just the right size for my daily commute and I was so carried away that I used every inch of the felt that I had to make extra birds for myself and a garland to send to some friends overseas.

For more Christmas Swapping, check out the flickr pool over here.