Happy Christmas 2017 & Wishing you a Peaceful and Joyous 2018

For my last blog of 2017 I’ll bring you

– a glimpse at this year’s cake (Christmas parcel)

wp_20171222_11_39_35_proA ‘how-to’ may appear in the recipes before next Christmas 🙂

wp_20171222_12_57_04_pro–  this year’s door wreath wp_20171223_15_26_22_pro– and this year’s tree (same as always) wp_20171223_15_27_30_pro

Thank you for dropping in and reading my blog over the year- eclectic and (this year – due to family illness) erratic as it has been – I hope it brings interest, information and entertainment as well as my news on the writing front- and that you’ll be dropping by again throughout the coming year.

Sending You All Good Wishes for You and All Yours for the coming year!

Best – Ann

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Doing Christmas – lametta and cake

Here’s wishing you and yours a very Happy Christmas from this blog.
I have decorated the tree …

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 … and then finished it off with lametta – oh, how I love lametta – regardless of fashion – I love the way it pulls the tree decorations together and gives more sparkle than you would expect! {pictures much clearer if clicked}

And then the cake... and I left it rather late (last weekend) to make but still dropped it, well wrapped, into the freezer for three days – just to help it mature! Oh, Yes! Freezing a fruit cake helps it mature, because the ice crystals that form break the cells and releases the juices and flavours from all that fruit, and, if you had followed a recipe like the Adaptable Rich Fruit Cake recipe I use – then you’ll be releasing extra wine flavour too!wp_20161222_20_43_58_pro

My decorations this year used a large holly leaf cutter and a small heart shaped cutter and roll-out icing. Having covered the cake I mixed a little gum tragacanth, so it will harden, with the remaining icing and rolled it out. The white holly leaves and the hearts were cut out from this, the holly leaves left to dry draped over scrunched paper covered with cling-film to give them shape. (The same was done with some other remaining icing – coloured green)

The heart shapes were stuck together in fives to make the ‘Christmas Roses’ and set to rest in a piece of foil, each in a dip in a bun tin. A little icing was coloured yellow and pressed through a sieve to make the centres, ‘cut’ off the sieve and pressed onto a, dampened, centre, with a few presses of the knife tip.

One of the most useful cake decorating things I ever bought from Lakeland was the sets of letters and numbers. These have been used SO many times over the years – the letters much more than the numbers but both are useful.

With these I cut out my message to go all around the cake …

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I hope you can read it … it’s for you …

it says Merry Christmas and a Happy (2017) New Year … my wish for you All  🙂

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Who put the butter in the jam?

Who put the butter in the jam? No, it isn’t a fussy query from the person who deals with such things as the butter dish on the tea table – this is something I wondered aloud – though there was no-one to answer me  (yes – I talk to myself even when there is only the radio to listen).WP_20160917_20_51_23_Pro

I was making some bullace and apple jam (recipe for Bullace Jam is HERE – but the bullaces (wild damson-like fruit) were not as numerous or as large and juicy as usual so I had a feeling that the 4½ lbs lbs would make nothing like the 10 x 1lb pots I hoped for.

SO, as the windfalls have started to come off – I added half a pound of cooked apple per 2 ¼lb lot of bullace.

I cooked the bullace in the microwave with the three tablespoons of water, allowed to cool a little then drained them and squished them around and around in a large-hole colander until all I had left in the colander were bare stones and tough skins.

The apples I peeled, cored and cut into slices (on the apple/peeler/corer contraption which I love (see here) then just cut the prepared apple into 4 and spread them out in a covered pyrex dish and cooked until mushy.

This I added to the bullace and reheated – proceeding to then add the 3 lbs of granulated sugar and stirred well to dissolve it before returning to the microwave. When this mixture had heated to bubbling point I added a “knob” or ‘walnut-sized piece’ of butter … and said (aloud)

‘Who put the butter in the jam?’ … in fact I added, laughing to myself … ‘Who on earth, while making jam, thought – I know – I’ll put some butter in this!’

The effect of putting butter in the jam is to prevent (or largely prevent) a ‘scum’ forming on the top of the jam as it boils, giving a brighter, cleaner jam, and obviating the need to ‘skim off the scum’ – which always sounds pretty revolting – even though it isn’t.

Useful … yes … but who would have known this would be the result? Why would they even think to try it? Beats me!

(you know – it is the jam recipes that keep bringing random new people to the blog – maybe I should be writing microwave jam recipe books instead of fiction – lol)

On another jam note altogether – people will go and eat it! Unfortunately I couldn’t even enter this year’s village Autumn Show – though I had promised I would enter some jam this year – as people had only gone and eaten ALL the jam I made last year! I’m hiding a nice jar or two this year – so at least I can participate next year!

So – that’s my blog for today …

And the question still remains – if you know – do tell – Who (first) put the butter in the jam?

best

Ann

BTW – just to keep you good folks up to speed … my new book* A Respectable Life will be released on 28th October! (*for which you can blame my absence from the blog)

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Finding joy in Mindful eating

Mindfulness – yes, you have probably heard this term bandied around in many contexts I am sure – and it does sound a little bit airy-fairy, doesn’t it?

However, mindful eating is some thing that can lead to joy of a sort. How’s that? I hear you ask. DSCF5093cropped

Well, I have advocated eating this way for a while – however not necessarily using that precise word. From my weight-loss notes (under the drop-down from About Ann) when I was on my year of blogged weight-loss we have “have to remember is to give each piece of food it’s due consideration. If we eat knowingly, concentrating on the eating, our bodies are more likely to tell us we are not hungry – as we have already eaten – than when we eat while doing something else – watching TV, or playing on the computer or reading.”  In other words – mindfully – eating mindfully.

And mindfulness comes into play also when I am ‘feeling hungry’. It is so easy to wander where there is food and have a snack, telling yourself that a few nuts are fine, as they are, but not on the third trip in an afternoon!

Mindfulness eating starts with asking questions. Am I really hungry? Well, mostly the answer is no – peckish maybe, but not hungry. Peckish isn’t a reason to eat.

What is driving this peckishness? Thirst? Number one reason for that feeling – have a Non-Carb-loaded drink – ideally water. Tiredness? Take a power nap, or do some exercise – yes, that does help some kinds of tired. Boredom? Find something else to do – or do some exercise to wake up the brain.

WP_20160110_13_15_54_ProIf it is a meal-time, or you missed your last one, and you are truly hungry, first drink a glass of water then take the time to prepare something delicious, make it colourful and healthy with a number of different colour vegetables to accompany your main protein – but keep the carbohydrate loading low.

Sit down at a table – cast aside books, tablets, phones, TV – and concentrate on the food – flavours, textures, colours, aroma. Wait for five minutes before deciding it you need anything else other than a cup of tea or coffee. If you do – keep the carb-loading low with your choice – and concentrate on the food again – use a smaller spoon maybe, savour the aroma and the flavour.

Enjoy your food more – that is where the joy comes into this very everyday activity. Maybe not ‘thrilling’ but an enjoyable experience rather than just a re-fuelling.

Enough about eating – it is making me peckish!

Is mindfulness a part of your daily life?

What do you try to do mindfully?

Do share – you know I love to hear what you think.

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Converting the Americans

Converting them to what – or from what? You may well ask!

One of the things that the internet has brought us, is recipes from round the world.  Recipes from far flung countries with different climates and different languages do not seem to be a problem – usually someone, somewhere, has taken the trouble to convert the recipe from whatever units it is usually made in – into (nowadays) grams and millilitres. Apart from American recipes!

If you are ‘of a certain age’ you are probably still thinking in ounces and pints for cooking. In fact there are a few recipes I really do not think I could work in metric, so long ago were they learnt that I make them on automatic pilot and in imperial. They are, at least, proper measurements.

DSCF5371I have been looking for a particular type of biscuit to set as a competition for our WIs next group meeting. Now, for the uninitiated, a group meeting is where a designated group of WIs in an area get together for a cut-throat friendly set of competitions and a talk – frequently one that would be beyond the reach (financially) of one WI on its own, though not always.

DSCF5377At these events the friendly competition is usually set to reflect the theme of the talk. Hence – the last one we set up was a talk from a man who had owned a Zoo … the competitions were: Floral – a flower arrangement to represent a wild animal, Craft – a decorative border for the poem Tyger Tyger, by Blake and, Cookery – a Zebra Cake!
Just a few of the entries shown Right>

DSCF5369Now the only available versions of this zebra cake were in American Cups – and using a tin size that is just not commonly in the British cupboard. So a lot of conversion and changing of quantities took place until the recipe worked in metric … and then it had to be converted to imperial and checked again, as some ladies of a ‘very certain age’ only measure and cook in imperial.
Zebra Cake!  my metric / imperial recipe here

I struggle to understand why the Americans use their form of measurements in their cooking. I have heard that it was from when they had nothing to weigh with, that recipes using ‘cups’ were simple enough that any vessel could be the ‘cup’ and as long as the proportions (the cup) used was the same the recipe would then work. Understandable then, if true, but when we live in an age when even ‘sophisticated’ scales, that swap between imperial and metric, are available for small amounts of money – why use a method so random?

Just try getting a ‘cup’ of butter  to be right – or using a different type of sugar to the one specified when you run out of one but have the other in the cupboard (granulated, demerara and caster all give different cup measurements) – or even flour – which has to be ‘fluffed-up’ before making up the cups ‘best spooned into the cup and then levelled off!’ What?!

Looking it up I see that many American Chefs and Cookery writers are trying to convert the Americans to use scales and recipes that are more accurate – but there is a huge resistance – ‘Cups’ ‘Spoons’ and ‘Sticks’ are almost seen as patriotic! (by the way – ‘spoons’ as in ‘a spoon of butter’ – not just spoons of fluid ingredients)

At our next group meeting in May 2016 we have the lovely Anthea Lay who was a competitor on The Big Painting Challenge on the BBC, bringing us an interactive Big Painting Challenge Experience to our WI Group meeting – I’m looking forward to it … but before that I have to work out the cookery competition to fit the theme, and soon – so we can notify the other WIs.

I am after a particular type of biscuit that I saw on the internet, one that can be made to look like an artist’s palette. Can I find it in metric or imperial? Can I coco!

So once more I shall set about converting the American measures into Metric and Imperial. It does mean that I’ll have another recipe to add here eventually – which can’t be a bad thing.

Have you ever tried an American ‘cups’ type recipe without converting it?  How did it go?

Do you *sigh* when you find a really nice looking recipe and see it is all in ‘cups’ ‘spoons’ and ‘sticks’?

Do share your thoughts – and any good recipes too, you know I love to hear from you.

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Rhubarb, Rhubarb … Rhubarb & Ginger Fool!

DSCF0198This damp August in Cornwall seems to suit some plants, the courgettes are going mad and the rhubarb, which I had feared was on its way out, is flourishing. So what to do with rhubarb when crumbles and pies might seem inappropriate for summer (note: though not in this house where a crumble is the favourite dessert of all the menfolk whatever the weather!)

I decided on a cold dessert – a Rhubarb and Ginger Fool – I included the ginger as I like this taste combination. I wasn’t quite happy with the recipes I found so created my own – and now present it for your delectation.

Ann’s Rhubarb and Ginger Fool

This recipe makes sufficient for 4

300 – 400 grams of prepared rhubarb  (3-4-or 5 sticks of Rhubarb – depending on size)
150 ml double cream
Teaspoon or two of ground ginger – to taste
4 – 6 chunks of crystallized ginger – depending on size
Sugar to taste / Sweet Cicely if you have it
Optional – Green food colouring  DSCF0188

  1. Wash, trim and slice rhubarb into very thin slices. About 1cm, easily and swiftly done if you bunch the stems together and slice them all at once. (Only slice longer sections if you actually like ‘stringy’ rhubarb – which I do not!)DSCF5419
  2. If you have Sweet Cicely place fronds over the rhubarb – if not sugar will be added laterDSCF0196
  3. Place in oven-safe glass dish, cover with lid and cook for 4 mins in the microwave on high, remove lid, stir and cook for a further 2 – 4 mins on high until all the rhubarb is cooked and separates easily. Place somewhere to cool. sliced ginger
  4. When Rhubarb is cold (remove the Sweet Cicely leaves if used) taste – sprinkle over a teaspoon or two of sugar, beat in well and taste. You want it to have a bite but not be too sharp. Add more sugar as required.
  5. Sift a teaspoon of ground ginger over the mixture – mix very well – taste. Repeat until a hint of ginger comes through the rhubarb – not overwhelming.
  6. Whisk double cream until thick.
  7. Add ¾ of the cream to the rhubarb mix and beat in well until totally blended.
  8. At this point you can decide to leave this au naturel, or drop a drip or two of green food colouring in to give it a fresher colour – if you do, beat it in well.
  9. Add the final ¼ of the whipped cream and swirl together.
  10. Place in 4 pretty cups and saucers / sundae dishes / wine glasses – or pile into a serving bowl.
  11. Slice the crystallized ginger in to VERY thin slices and dot about the top to decorate.

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Now, to turn my mind to the glut of courgettes (or marrows as they like to become almost overnight!)

Do tell me if you try this and like it …

What is your favourite summer pud?

Do share – you know I love to hear from you  🙂

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Another ‘sweet-treat cheat’ Mini-Mille-Feuille

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Apricot Crowns

Back in January I showed you how to make Apricot Crowns (method and recipe here) – an easy to make but great looking  finger-buffet dessert I created.

Earlier this month I did a demo for our local WI on making these and two other finger-buffet desserts – and now I am going to share another one of them with you.

These finger-buffet desserts are also ‘cheats’ in that they are really quite easy – but look and taste as if they have taken ages to achieve!

This one, like the apricot crowns, uses all-butter puff pastry. I use the ready made – not because I cannot make puff pastry but because this is one thing that I think the machines do better – besides I do not have all day –  and making puff pastry properly Takes All Day!

I also use ready-rolled puff pastry – not because I cannot roll my own – but because our local branch of Tesco (as in this is the only one of the two local supermarkets that does the All-Butter puff pastry at all – and I do want butter) – does not do the blocks … only the ready rolled!

So here goes! To make Mini Mille Feuille:DSCF0119

Mini Mille-feuille – makes 48

1 pack All Butter Puff pastry (ready rolled)
Half pint double cream – whipped
Half jar of seedless raspberry jam

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Top and base – two halves of same rectangle of puff pastry

Method:
Take out puff-pastry – roll to flatten only.
Measure – trim to discard wavy edges – you should be able to make 48 rectangles of 2” x 1”  from the sheet at 12″ x 8″
Cut with a sharp knife and place on greased baking tray in hot oven (200 degrees C fan – 220 standard)
Bake for 10 mins or until risen and golden.
Remove from oven – slice open sideways, tipping tops to one side, return to oven for 2 mins to crisp soft pastry.
Remove and leave to cool.
When cool spread a little jam on the base of each one.
Using a piping bag with insert but no piping nozzle, pipe along inside of top section.
Place on top of the jammed base and set onto serving dish
Finely dust with icing sugar when all completed – YUM!

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Mini-Mille-feuille

Two bites and they are gone!

Ideal if you are having a party, the pastry pieces can be made up well before (even frozen if a long, long time before)  and just finished off in the afternoon (they’ll keep well enough in the fridge til the evening)  Great if you’ve been asked to ‘bring a pud’ to a finger-buffet – as they look stunning and soon get snapped up!

Has anyone tried the Apricot Crowns already? How did it go?

Do you have a favourite dessert that you always like to make?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you

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January Magic – inedible to delicious

What fruit can you only buy in and around January? What? You want another clue. What fruit tastes bitter and inedible but makes a delicious breakfast accompaniment when turned into a preserve? Ah Yes! I’m sure you have got it!

In this day and age you seem to be able to buy any fruit at any time of the year, providing it has been shipped far enough, however, miss the Seville orange season and you are stuck! Unless, of course, you have some in the freezer. Which is what happened this week. OK, so I know it is January, but the husband pointed out a couple of weeks ago that he was opening the last jar of marmalade. Unbelieving, I looked. He ( for once) was right. Now I knew I had some Seville oranges in the freezer and, being a good girl and rotating the freezer stock, I decided to make the marmalade with these and then buy more to put in the freezer for when this batch of marmalade ran out.

To my surprise I hadn’t got my marmalade recipe on this blog yet.DSCF0109 Well, this may be because it isn’t, strictly, my recipe. It is, in fact, the traditionally-made recipe from a good friend, that I adapted to make in my microwave. However, unlike so many of the other recipes, I cannot make this into short-time short-cut recipe in the microwave as the fact is the segments of orange have to boil in sufficient water to cover them and then this must be reduced with a good rolling boil after the sugar is added.

However, there are the usual benefits of no sticking to the pan or constantly stirring a steaming pot. So here goes.

Ann & Fiona’s Microwave Marmalade recipe

For 5 one pound jars of the golden stuff  DSCF0096

2lb of  Seville oranges and 1 lemon
1.5 lb jam sugar
2lb granulated sugar
walnut-sized nub of butter
1 litre water

1.   Wash the fruit in very hot water to remove wax and dirt.
2,   Quarter the oranges, cutting down and then across
3,   Cut the lemon in to 8 pieces
4,   Place in very large pyrex or similar heat-proof glass dish (3litre size)
5,   Pour over 1 litre of water boiled in kettle.
6,   Heat on full power in MW until boiling. (About 10 mins)DSCF0102
7,   Simmer for another 10 mins – or until the inner peel looks translucentDSCF0105
8,   Strain through a colander saving all the liquid, squish all juice from fruit, then allow peel to cool.
9,   Using a knife skim-slice off the membranes and pith from the outer peel of the orange segments
10, Place the orange segments into a food-processor, add about a tea-cup-full of the juice and chop until the peel is of the desired fineness (if you want very little peel or thin strands of peel omit this stage, just select the nicest peels and slice very thinly with a sharp knife)
11, Place cut peel and all the juice back into the large glass heatproof dish and add the sugar – stirring well. DSCF0106
12, Heat on full power until bubbling – about 10 – 15 mins – stir well then add the nub of butter (this helps prevent ‘foaming’ and makes a clearer marmalade)
13, Heat on full power for 5 mins then for 5 at medium (half power) to prevent boiling over DSCF0112
14, Test for set (see here), teaspoon of marmalade onto a cold dish, put back into the fridge. Continue to simmer the marmalade while this cools.
15, If set is achieved (test portion  ‘wrinkles when pushed with finger and is sticky’) then prepare jars. If not – continue simmer until set achieved – test every 5 mins.
16, Prepare jars for potting up (see here) and fill. Cover with a jam-pot cover and elastic band. Label when cool and ENJOY!

I’ve now been out and bought enough Seville oranges, with accompanying lemons, for three more batches and dropped them into the freezer, each bag containing 2lbs of oranges and one lemon.

There’s no mass-produced alternative to beat home-made marmalade!

Do you make your own?

Do you have a favourite recipe – there are so many – some without Seville oranges at all!

Do share, you know I love to hear from you

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Why a dishwasher could be the healthy option

HOORAY for the dishwasher! I know not all of us can afford one, or feel we need one as there are not so many dishes to do, but I, for one, would miss my dishwasher more than my washing machine. DSCF0094 crop

Now this isn’t just because I am lazy (moi?) or that I think there are better things to do with my time than wash and and dry dishes, but because I am convinced that dishwasher use is better for the health of the family as a whole.

I remember a time before I had one, and talking to a friend who’d had one for over a year. She said she was sure her family, including two children, had had fewer infections of any kind, including colds, since she’d been using the dishwasher. It sounded almost silly. I mean.. you catch a cold by air-transported viruses, don’t you?

After we got ours, which with 8 people in the house was an absolute godsend, I was minded to agree. Those childhood tummy bugs that children pick up in school (you know the ones that are ‘going round’, if one boy came down with it… that seemed to be it. Just the one boy… we didn’t all follow on.

You may recall my plea in a previous (very popular) blog for understanding about the importance of putting the LID of the toilet seat down before flushing (click here to read if you missed it). (No, not the old chestnut of male versus female, SEAT up or down.. but the scientifically backed need to put the LID DOWN to prevent an aerosol of faecal-carrying moisture being puffed up into the bathroom) When following up on the research on that I came across the evidence for the most germ-laden part of the home … and thought that one day I’d blog this too. Today is the day.

The kitchen sink / work-surfaces / chopping boards /cloths and sponges ARE THE MOST DANGEROUS GERM-RIDDEN PLACES IN YOUR HOME.

Why? Because we bring dangerous bacteria into our home and usually work on it in our Kitchens.  We ought to be aware of the dangers of raw meat by now – we are told often enough. Only this past summer there was a campaign telling us NOT to wash our chicken as it could ‘splash’ the salmonella all around the kitchen sink and surrounds. (having told us that most chicken meat was contaminated with salmonella but was fine to eat as long as it was cooked properly)

We also bring vegetables into our homes. The danger here lies in the fact that these have been GROWN .. in SOIL.  It is the bacteria clinging to them from the soil that provides the danger here, and, of course, we have to wash our vegetables.

All in all this means that our kitchen sink areas are not clean areas in terms of bacteria, in fact research shows they are probably worse that the lid of the toilet! And you wouldn’t clean your cups and plates and leave them to dry there  … would you?

So is the kitchen sink the best place to wash up your dishes? Is the sink-drainer the best place to stand them to dry?

Add to that the fact that to kill bacteria the washing-up water has to be hotter than  your hands can stand and you can see that a dishwasher has certain advantages. Washed in very hot water then heat dried – dealing with those pathogenic bacteria – especially on the hotter cycles. This goes not just for your crockery but also for your chopping-boards – harbourers of lots of bacteria according to the studies. It seems most people just do not have a different board for each use (colour coded) .. or clean them properly. I find it best to have a number of the plastic ones, using them for the different things, then just put them all in the dishwasher for a proper clean when I wash the dishes from the meal they were used to prepare.

Talking about drying-up… one of my pet shudders – the use of a tea-towel as a hand-drying cloth and a dish-drying cloth! A good way to spread bacteria around. There should always be a dedicated hand-drying towel, distinct from the dish-drying cloth, so that the dish-drying cloth is only used to dry clean dishes (Nor should either  be used as a serving cloth to hold plates of food). Research shows drying-up with a tea-towel to be the worst option – better to let them stand and air dry (as long as what you are standing them on is bacterially clean!)

Cloths and sponges are used to wipe up spills and splashes – that is their job, and as they also usually reside in or near the sink also pick up these bacteria.. and a damp, warmish environment, with ‘food’ from the spills, those ‘few ‘ bacteria will multiply into a veritable smorgasbord of bacteria that we then spread all over out work-surfaces when we wipe them down. The manufactures of bactericidal wipes would have you snatching these out and using them at every turn.  This is all good for their sales, but not necessary. Traditional cloths, a fresh one daily, the previous day’s dropped into a solution such as Milton sterilizer, until you have sufficient for a hot wash, will do just as well.

I’m not a great believer is banishing all bacteria from the home environment. I do believe that we need to meet these to keep our immune system in condition, but simple ways to prevent some of the nastiest bugs getting a grip on us is sensible. So I say. HURRAY for my Dishwasher … and, like my friend before me, I do think it helped keep the bugs from spreading within the household.

Do you have a dishwasher? What are your observations?

Do you have an un-sung household appliance that you’d like to praise?

Do share, you know I love to hear from you!

 

 

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Happy Christmas to All my Readers

DSCF0088Happy Christmas everybody! By the time you get this your Christmas day will be either half over or well over (depends if you decide to have a ban on looking at the computer on Christmas Day or not 😉

Regardless of the time, I’d like to send you all best wishes for the season… and hope you have all you need to make this a happy time.

Here we have family visiting  (#2 son. #3 son and his lovely wife) and will have aunts, uncles and neighbours in for Christmas day, making us twelve.

The Christmas tree is looking it usual crazy self (no restricted colour themes or fashion-following for me)

IMG_1648 cropThe cake is a riot of the holly leaves I blogged about making last week

and, as I write, the veg (including a single 3lb plus stripy beetroot from the garden) has been peeled and chopped by my lovely team of youngsters. DSCF0090

 

 

 

So all that is left to do is wish you all the best and thank you all for following the blog and commenting on the pieces, I really do appreciate hearing from you. Thank you too if you are one of the many people who have read my novels over the past year, I hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.

Hope you have a lovely time – Happy Christmas and Best Wishes for a peaceful and joyful New Year

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