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.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Chili con Carne - A Winter Warmer

Lunchtime chili - served with corn chips, a dollop of sour cream
and some grated cheese.

Thanksgiving is over.  We are stuffed with turkey and pumpkin pie and ready for some simple food before we start again with rich Christmas fare.
Also, it's getting cold outside.  We have dug out our winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves from the back of the wardrobe, put on our wooly socks and boots and we are ready to brave the winter weather. Coming home to a hot meal of chill con carne is just the thing to cheer us up at the end of the day.
This meal can be made with store cupboard ingredients.  All you need to buy (or get out of the freezer) is the meat. And not only that, chili is even better the next day, so you can make it in advance and serve it or freeze  it for later - if you can wait that long.

1 1/2 pounds low fat minced (ground) beef
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium sized onions, sliced or diced
1 or 2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 oz tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin water and one stock cube
3 Tablespoons of tomato puree
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons - 1 Tablespoon chili powder (depending on how hot you like it)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tin mixed beans or kidney beans in a mild chill sauce

Heat the olive oil in a deep pan.
Put in the beef and brown it.
Add the onions and garlic and cook 5 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, water, stock cube and seasoning.
Stir, then cover and bring to a boil.
Immediately, turn the heat down and allow to simmer for one hour. Stir occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the tomato puree and the beans and simmer for 30 minutes before serving.

Serve in bowls as above or with pasta and a green salad as shown below:

Supper - chill with pasta and a green salad.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Thanksgiving Table

Orange flowers and candles, rust coloured napkins and 

little place cards with leaves on them.  Perfectly autumnal.

Closeup of the flowers.

We celebrated Thanksgiving on Sunday, 24 November because it is not a national holiday in Britain.

We have many British friends who join us every year to celebrate a holiday that is essentially American. It is a day filled with laughter and fun, and of course, over indulging in food and wine.

I use my mother's linen table cloths, starched and ironed, and some of her china.  As we use each thing, I remember past holidays and family and friends who are no longer with us. The joy of Thanksgiving is that it is  also a time to celebrate the here and now.  My children now bring their young adult friends who add so much to the occasion.

I always have three small centrepieces ono the table - there is no room for anything large.  This year I used orange bowls, candles and flowers and found rust coloured napkins on line.

The table looked lovely, thanks to my daughter, the local florist and friends and I want to share it with you.

Happy Thanksgiving on Thursday to all who will be celebrating it.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Three Delicious Stuffings for Thanksgiving

Apricot, Almond and Orange Stuffing

We celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday.  Because we live in London and it is not a national holiday, we have always celebrated it on the Sunday before. Most of our guests are English and there are only two of us who are genuine Americans plus our 'half and hawlf' offspring.  Hubby, who is English to the core, roasts the turkey, cooks the vegetables and makes the gravy with practised and relaxed ease.  The food arrives at the table hot and delicious and on time.  I do all the shopping, the side dishes and the pumpkin pies. This year, however, I farmed out the stuffings. What a bonus! No mad cooking in the morning, just time to decorate the table and get myself ready.  Bliss.

Apricot, Almond and Orange Stuffing was made by our friend, Lyn.  It comes from 'Make Thursdays Special', and it is special.  Delicious! I had some for breakfast this morning.


40g butter 
1 large brown onion, finely chopped 

150g ham, roughly chopped 

6 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
1 orange, finely grated rind and 1/3 cup juice 

200g large dried apricots, roughly chopped 

1/2 cup natural almonds, roughly chopped 

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 

2 eggs, beaten 

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Melt butter in a large non stick frying pan over medium heat. Add onion and ham. Cook for 3 minutes or until onion is soft. Remove from heat. Cool.

Combine onion mixture, breadcrumbs, orange rind, orange juice, dried apricots, almonds, cinnamon, eggs, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Use as stuffing for turkey or bake separately in a loaf pan lined with baking paper at 175ÂșC for 35 minutes.

Sausage, Sage, Onion and Apple Stuffing

Our friend, Jo, made the second stuffing, Sausage, Sage, Onion and Apple Stuffing.  This comes from BBC Good Food.


2 onions, sliced
25g butter
1 small Bramley apple, peeled, cored and diced
2 x 400g packs meaty Cumberland sausages, removed from their skins
handful sage, leaves chopped, plus extra for topping
140g granary breadcrumbs


Fry the onion in the butter for 5 mins, then add the apple and cook briefly.
 Cool, then mix with remaining ingredients and seasoning.

Pack the whole mixture into a 1kg loaf tin and top with extra sage leaves. 
Bake with turkey for 30-40 mins. Drain off any fat and serve sliced.

Our daughter, who is a very good cook, made the third stuffing, Apple and Herb Stuffing.  Unfortunately, I slipped up and did not get a photo. so I have used one from the site. The smell wafting up from the kitchen was seductive.  I scraped the bottom of the pan this morning and ate that for breakfast too.  The recipe comes from one of my new, favourite blogs, You will have to go there to look at the recipe and photos.  You will be hooked.