Monday, 23 December 2013

Christmas Part 4 - Merry Christmas - The Tree and the Wreath

The tree in situ.  I propped a mirror behind it
to catch the sparkle of the lights.
 This is my last blog before Christmas. I will be spending my time draping the overmantel with holly, making cookies and wrapping presents. but I just wanted to share my tree and wreath with you., This year we decided to have a small, living tree.  We hope to plant it in France where we have a lot of land, as opposed to our tiny London garden.  If it grows well, we will be able to take fir branches into the house during the holiday season. Having a tiny tree has made the holiday season easier.  As we have a big open house on Christmas Eve, a large tree looms in the room,  it gets in the way. Before it goes up, I must get all my dishes, etc out of the corner and ensure that nothing I need is behind it.  And then on Boxing Day, it all has to come down as we usually go to France for New Year.
  All my life I have been opposed to 'designer' trees, loving the colour and mix of ornaments from different stages in my family's life.  There are Disney ornaments from relatives in the States, some rather psychedelic ones from the 60s, some from my mother's tree and even a rather ratty looking Boy Scout star made of waxed paper, which has been hung on the tree since I was five. When my children used to help me decorate the tree, we would talk through the origin of each ornament as it went up. I miss that, but the kids have their own homes and their own trees now. Anyway, they will be home for Christmas.

So this year, I had to be very selective about the ornaments, using mainly white and gold, inspired by the tin angel I found for the top. I have been collecting ornaments since I was a teenager - a long long time ago - and I love every single one of them. So, in spite of the colour scheme, the pickle, the onions and the pears had to be on the tree. It wouldn't be Christmas without them.  Maybe next year we will revert to form and have a big tree again, but for this year, I will enjoy the tiny tree and think about  how easy it will be to pack up.

Our wreath.
My local florist is a magician with flowers and greenery, but this year she surpassed herself. I chose the fruit and nuts that she had on display, but the arrangement is hers and isn't it wonderful.  I refuse to take it down until the end of January.  We get comments, but I don't care. It adds life and colour to a month which can be very grey.

A close up of the wreath with limes, oranges, apples, nuts, berries, cones and lotus flowers.
Being a foodie, it combines all my favourite things.

Merry Christmas

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Christmas Part 3 - Christmas Fortune Cookie Bags

Ho Ho Ho
There is still time to make these bags before Christmas as once they are cut out, they take about 1/2 an hour to sew. I made mine for wrapping oddly shaped presents, or for carting things to our friends' house on Christmas Day.  We will be able to use them year after year.

You need one metre of fabric.  If it is furnishing fabric, you may get two bags out of it.  If not, you will only get one.

The larger bag here measures approximately 25" x 25" and the two smaller ones are 24" x 21".  My original ones were 30" x 30".

The basic pattern is made from a square as shown below.  Diagonal lines are cut and then the pieces are stitched together again.  I cut my larger bag from an oblong, following the same principles. For full instructions, you can look an my blog from 31 March 2012,  which has a link on my side bar.

You can make your own pattern by drawing diagonal lines on a square or an oblong.
You need two of each piece

Here is what a bag looks like opened up.  It has a large opening on the top,
perfect for putting presents in.
A close up of the fabrics.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Christmas Part 2 - Easy to Make Cushion Covers

These cushions are for a friend who has a large piece of land, a beautiful garden and a new summer house which she built last year.  It sits on top of a slope and looks out over the garden and the town nearby.  In the garden are flowers and vegetables, sheep, a goat and some chickens. The summer house is furnished with sofas, chairs, book cases, fairy lights and other lovely things. We spent a glorious afternoon last summer, looking at the view, drinking tea and enjoying the warm weather. When I saw this fabric, I thought of her.  These cushions will be perfect for her little house. They can be made in two to three hours (if you are not photographing each stage as well). The glory of cushion covers is that you only need 1/2 metre of fabric to make two and therefore you can buy more expensive fabric if you fancy it.

You will need furnishing fabric and a little over 2 metres of wide bias binding as well as 2 1/2 metres of cord.

I bought 1/2 metre of fabric which was 150cm wide, enough for two square or one oblong (44cm x 27cm)  and one square cushion (33cm x 33cm). I really had to squeeze the oblong cushion out, but I have done it before and by only putting cording on the two short ends, it becomes a bit posh.  The square cushion has the cording on all four sides.

Here's how I did it:

The fabric.  Who could resist it?

The cushions.  Both just cheap cushions from IKEA.
Warning.  If you are going to cover a bold print with a light fabric, you will need to line it. These were okay as the fabric is heavy.

For the oblong cushion, I measured the length of the fabric and doubled it, adding as much seam allowance as I could.  (2 cm is best but I didn't have that much to play with). The cushion cover is made by folding the fabric over. This means fewer seams and better use of limited fabric as this print cannot go vertically. Measure carefully, adding 2 cm for seam allowances on all sides and mark your fabric using a straight edge and chalk or pencil. 

Here you can see the fabric folded over and I have measured the bias binding to be longer than the sides of the cushion. Better to err on the big side.

It is a good idea to press the bias binding flat.  I failed to do this but I would do it next time as it kept folding over as I worked.  Very annoying.  Place the cord in the centre of the binding, fold over and stitch with a zipper foot as near to the cord as you can get.
Pinning the binding and the cord.

Stitching the binding with a zipper foot as close to the cord as possible.

Fold the oblong fabric in half and mark the fold with a little notch.  I have put the seam binding under the notch so you can see it better.

Place the seam binding (with cord) on the right side of the fabric with the raw edges all matching.  Stitch in place with a zipper foot, twisting the cording at the last moment near the notch so you will have a finished edge when you stitch the cushion cover together.

Twisting the cording at the very end to give a neat finish when you stitch the cushion together.

Fold the cushion cover in half, right sides together and stitch along the previous line  of  stitching, ensuring that you  have twisted the raw edge of the cording for a neat finish.

Stitching the end with the cording twisted to the outside and coming out a little. This will give a finished edge on the right side of the cushion cover.

Stitch  about one third of the long edges together from each side.

Backstitch to secure the seam.

Turn the cushion cover to the right side and press.  Stuff the cushion in.  This was a bit of a mission for me, but it is best to have the cushion nice and plump. Turn under the raw edges and pin.  Stitch by hand making your stitches as invisible as you possibly can. 

For the square cushion, cut two squares to the size of the cushion plus 2 cm on each side for seam allowances.  I tried to 'fussy cut' as much as I could. Measure the bias binding to go all around the cushion and add at least 8 cm if you can.  Best to have more than not enough. Stitch the cord inside the bias binding as shown for the oblong cushion.  This will be much longer.

Pin or tack the cording around the edges of one side, clipping the binding to ease around the curve of the corners.  It will look better if it is curved and it is easier to sew this way.

Stitch the cording onto the right side of one square, overlapping and twisting both ends and stitching right through them to make a neat edge.  I always do this at the bottom of the cushion.

With right sides together, stitch the two pieces of the cushion cover together, making sure that the pattern goes the same way on each of them.  Leave a gap on the bottom edge.  Clip the corners, turn, press and stuff the cushion in.
Turn seams allowances under and stitch closed by hand.

The finished cushions (almost).  Just waiting for hand stitching.

Here are two I made earlier.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Christmas Part I - My Mother's Fruitcake

Making my Mother's fruitcake is like having her in the kitchen with me.  She made these fruitcakes every year and gave many as gifts. While I was growing up I always helped her.  My  main job was shelling nuts.  Thankfully, I no longer have to do that. A trip to Holland and Barrett and I am all set with shelled nuts and candied fruit.
When I moved to England, she used to send me one every year. I must have asked her for the recipe several times.  Eventually, I got a note to say that that was the fourth time she had copied the recipe out.  After that, I kept the recipe in a safe place and started making the cakes myself.  It was difficult to get the candied pineapple and one year I bought candied peel and used that as a substitute. It didn't really work well. The taste of citrus was overpowering.  It would have been better to leave it out.  But that's how we learn.

Here is the last copy of the recipe she sent me.

My dear ...
I just finished baking our Christmas fruit cakes, so before I put it away and forget about it,   I thought it might be a god idea to copy the recipe for you.  Here it is and may you enjoy baking as I have for the past forty nine years.

White Fruit Cake
3/4 lb butter
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups white sugar
5 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb white raisins
2 oz or more glace cherries
1/4 lb orange peel
1/4 lb candied pineapple
1 teaspoon almond flavouring
1 - 1 1/2 lb shelled nuts, (walnuts and pecans)
1/2 cup sherry, wine or fruit juice

Cream butter, eggs and sugar.  Add flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well. Add liquids, a little more or less if batter is too thick. Add almond flavouring.
Have fruits (washed) and nuts in a large bowl. Pour batter over and mix well with a large wooden spoon or your hands. Line your tins with brown paper and grease them well. Bake in a slow oven (250F) for 2 hours. Keep checking them to make sure they don't burn after the first hour. They need to be nice and dry to taste good.  After they cool overnight, wrap them in cheesecloth soaked in sherry, wine or fruit juice.
Good luck and happy cake baking.
Love, Mother

Over the years, I have made changes to the recipe.  I add more fruit and nuts and include Brazil nuts (bashed up in a plastic bag) almonds and hazel nuts.  I line the pans with baking parchment. This year I made half the recipe.  I got two 1 pound cakes and one 1/2 pound cake.  I baked them at 150 C.  The small one took one hour (my fan oven cooks very fast). The larger ones took one and a half hours.

The fruit in a very large bowl and the its at the side.

The fruit.

The bowl with fruit and nuts.

The batter. It looks like a small amount, but the fruit is the star of this cake.

The greased and lined tins.

Adding the batter to the fruit and nuts.

The batter in the tins.  Ready to bake.

The cakes when they come out of the oven. They look over done, but they are delicious. 

You could put paper over them for the last 1/2 hour to prevent burning.

Wrapping the cake and soaking it with wine.

Peeking at the cake.

The finished cake. Lovely with a cup of tea.