It’s like Christmas every week

Fridays are my Abel and Cole vegetable delivery day, it’s like like having Christmas once a week as you never know what is going to be in there; it feels satisfying supporting UK organic farmers. The veg is wonderful better even than supermarket organic and I fell in love with mash potato again after years of finding it tasteless. 
It gives an opportunity to be creative in the kitchen, not only in touch with what is seasonal, but it also fresh so cooking in order of what needs eating up fast! We have a wonderful butcher’s shop in the village  it gives me great pleasure not to be giving my money to Supermarkets who treat farmers unfairly and it is doing me good too. 
Supermarket vegetables are kept in a zero oxygen storage for up to a year, so as appetising as it looks, the fruit and veg may not really fresh at all. Often the organic food is flown into the country from the third world so it also makes sense  environmentally and all the packaging is recyclable and not those plastic containers that go in landfill. 

Mindful eating is about the connection we have with our food, we are absorbing what we eat and it becomes part of us, therefore it makes sense to eat things that enhance our health as well as nourish our spirt, so I feel I am doing something good as well as feeling the food is the best it can be. The body follows the mind, so it means my heath is improving and I am hoping that I will be able to cure my terrible two week migraine cycle. 

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Stir up Sunday

I thought I would try and make a Christmas pudding this year; it needs about 6 weeks to mature so I am a little late, Stir up Sunday is usually the first Sunday in November. It is called this because of the tradition where all the family members gather round and stir the mixture and make a wish before the pudding is steamed for the first time and then put aside to mature. 
I am not sure it is something that is known outside these shores, one of my very dear Au Pairs came all the way from Hungary, and she shuddered at the thought of eating Christmas Pudding, mostly because she believed that over the year all the scraps of food would be collected and boiled up to make Christmas Pudding. Of course when she ate the real thing it was something she loved. It really is one of my favourite parts of the meal, and I have been known to stock up on puddings for the year ahead. 
I remember doing this for the first time when I was twelve I used to visit a teacher in her small cottage not far from our home. We lived in a modern house where my mother believed cooking was a necessary evil, however under the quiet guidance of this teacher I learnt the alchemy and bliss you could gain from cooking. I remember her telling me all about stir up Sunday and I helped her measure out the ingredients and making a wish. I also remember making candied peel which tasted sublime and is much better than any type shop bought. It was a completely different lifestyle from my own, she had no television and her house was tiny in comparison to ours, but I would have swapped homes anytime. 
I thought of those days of bliss in the small victorian cottage, and my pantry has large labelled jars holding herbs, jewelled cherries, jam and marmalade. I think I am happiest of all in the kitchen, cooking is the most satisfying easy nurturing activity, right now it is full of the aromas of fruit cinnamon and nutmeg and will remain a day or two as it needs to soak in. 

Place in a bowl, (110g) – 4oz shredded suet, 2oz – (50g) of self-raising flour, 4 oz – (110g) white bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon each of mixed spice, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon. 8 oz (225g) soft dark brown sugar, 4 oz (110g) each of sultanas, raisins, currants and 1oz of candied peel. 1oz (25g) of almonds, 1 small cooking apple finely chopped, Zest and juice of a lemon and an orange. In a separate bowl, put 2 large eggs, 3 fluid oz (75ml) of barley wine, 3oz (75ml) stout, 2 tablespoons rum, mix this together then add to the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly, this is when the family is supposed to gather, each takes a turn to stir making a wish. Leave the pudding to rest for a day. 
 Spoon the mixture into a pudding basin, and make a tin foil lid. It is important to have a pleat in the lid so the pudding has room to rise. Tie the string round the edge of the basin and create a little handle over the top which will help you to lift out the pudding from the steamer. 
 I slowly steamed my puddings in a slow cooker for around 6 to 7 hours on a low setting. Slow cookers are perfect for steaming, as you can leave them to bubble away without worrying about the water boiling dry. This is how the pudding looks after its first cooking. 
I thought I would make some simple little covers, similar to the jam pot covers. Just an elasticated edge round the circles, but the lovely bright fabric makes them look very nice and festive. It is important to feed the puddings with your favourite tipple weekly, either brandy, vodka or liqueur, the pudding will soak up the alcohol.
 All they need is to be steamed again for about an hour or two on the big day, once again the slow cooker is the best way to let it slowly bubble. 
This is how they look when they are finally cooked, serve with cream or brandy butter. (Butter whipped with a couple of tablespoons of brandy). 
Update: These were really delicious, far superior to the shop bought ones even the ‘luxury’ brands! Despite feeding two adults not fans of the traditional pud, they proclaimed the puddings ‘delicious’. I saved the second one for my birthday, (on the 4th January) and it was still tasty, you can keep one by for the following year topping with alcohol, but I could not wait that long! 
As requested, I have updated this post with the recipe if you want to make them yourself. 
Enjoy, Happy Christmas!

Vintage find

It was the local animal hospital charity Christmas fair this weekend, I went along with T and it was a treasure trove of bric a brac, clothing and books! We barely had room in the boot to take our loot home! 
This delightful little juicer was an irresistible find and it works beautifully. I love the colours and decoration but I am not too sure about its age, it could be as early as a fifties piece or it could be from the seventies. 

The top plate is shaped perfectly for juicing and the little holes let the juice through and keeping the pips in the plate. 

The top comes off leaving the bottom an easy poring jug, it is a delight to use, one of those domestic gadgets I shall use time and time again. 

Uplifting … tea

Its that time of the year when it seems that the sunshine has long disappeared and the days are grey, it is so easy to get a little downhearted, especially when the dullness means lights need to be turned on early in the day. It is when I find it more important to search for simple pleasures and one of mine is tea. 
Firstly I love proper leaf first blush assam tea, you can get it from a wonderful tea importer in Portsmouth called All About Tea he even has a little email tea course you can follow with links on youtube all about how to make the best cup of tea. Assam has a strong earthy flavour, and a lovely golden colour often labelled English Breakfast tea. If you prefer something a little more gentle then Darjeeling is a lovely tea but don’t expect a dark colour its pale but packs a punch. 
Tea pots have a glory all of their own, generously pot bellied offering up all sorts of opportunities to keep warm with a knitted cosy. I prefer to use a metal strainer which gives the leaves freedom but makes it easy to lift out once the required strength is reached, so the second, or even the third cup of tea is just as good as the first and not stewed. 
One of my most favourite ways to have tea is from my little china cups, it feels decadent the tiny china cups are so delicate I love the little rosebuds and they are designed so that the tea is at the optimum temperature to enjoy almost straight away. 

I cannot help but grin when I serve the milk from this gorgeous cow creamer, the milk comes out of his mouth! It is a Burleigh design, I simply adore their take on blue and white china from the deep indigo of the calico range to the pale Victorian chintz.

Sitting enjoying my cup of tea, especially if it is with a friend or two, reminds me of the many years of practice I had when I was a child playing with my little tea sets. I don’t recall any child who likes to make their tea in a mug with a bag give me tea sets any day.

Now that is a very good way to cheer up a November day.

tea pot biscuits – domestic child’s play for grown ups

I saw this lovely teapot cookie cutter in TK Max the other week and I could not wait to try it out. It is made up of two pieces one is the teapot shape cutter and the other is a stamp you press out. There is nothing to beat the flavour of buttery biscuits hot from the oven and this recipe can be made ahead of time, stored in the freezer so that when friends drop round unexpectedly, they can be hot on the plate in under twenty minutes, definitely one of those domestic goddess moments with minimal effort. 
Pressing the stamps in the dough feels like child’s play and so much fun sheer domestic bliss! If you can’t get hold of your own teapot biscuit cutter, why not use a stamp from you craft collection, (you can use a surface sanitiser if you need to, but they will be in a hot oven to kill off any bugs!)  There are some wonderful Christmas stamps out that look beautiful stamped across a heart shaped biscuit. They would make lovely home made gifts that are sure to be appreciated. 
8 oz SR flour (If you use plain the shape might stay better) 
5 oz butter
4 oz golden caster sugar
I beaten egg (save some of the white) 
Egg white and sugar to glaze
Sift flour into the bowl and then rub in butter to make breadcrumbs
Add the sugar and mix, then add egg to make a dough
(if the dough is very soft put it in the fridge for 10 minutes to make it easier to handle) 
Roll out on a lightly floured board to about 1/2cm thick
Press the stamps into the dough and then carefully cut round each shape, transfer to a buttered baking tray, wash with egg white and then sprinkle with extra fine/caster sugar.
(or if you wish to freeze place in a plastic tub with a layer of baking parchment to divide them and freeze. When needed can cook these from the frozen, just lay out in a tin)
Let the biscuits firm up in the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes before placing in a moderate oven about gas mark 4, 180c or 350F until golden brown. 

shhh…

I have been playing all day with my glue gun, it has been a delightful pleasure. I bought these little wooden cotton reels back in the summer from ebay. However when they arrived they were too small for ribbon storage and they have remained stored away in a box until I saw the cover of hand made magazine this month. 
I love the nordic blue for a Christmas colour scheme, it works with both white and a deep red. I also have collected some pretty ribbons and vintage buttons. 
I simply cannot resist buttons in charity shops, they have a story all of their own. When I was a child I played with my Nanna’s button box and I used to love the pretty glass ones, it has created a bit of a collection which I keep by colour in little glass jars. (spice jars seem to be just the right size and these little pots of colour look so pretty on the shelf. 
I love my glue gun it makes such quick work, as it gives instant results. Cut strips the width of the reel, pinking sheers make such a nice edge. If you glue a small amount each time and press the fabric with your finger. 
You can decorate the edge with a button, and thread the braid through the holes and tie it in a knot. Add some glue down the hole and push the knot in, add a tiny bit more glue and hold the button down hard on the top of the reel. This will keep the tread in place firmly so you can hang the reel. 
You can use ribbon too I bought this vintage set from the dotcomgiftshop. I am very pleased with the results and they have a lovely hand made feel. Keep quiet though, it’s not quite Christmas yet! 

Leek and potato soup

Some things are simply better home made, and no matter how much you pay for soup it really can’t compete with the satisfying flavour and wholesomeness of home made soup. 
While you can eat this soup cold as a summer soup, (it is know as vichyssoise) I prefer it warm with bread rolls crisp from the oven. 
Simply take two leeks, wash and trim, then slice finely, then add small cubes of potato, (around two large baking potatoes) allow to cook very slowly in butter, with the saucepan lid on. You can add a generous helping of cracked black pepper. It is this process that is key to making really good soup and if you can allow the leeks to gently cook for around half an hour with just the occasional stir. 
When you feel that the leeks and potato are all soft and mushy, add 1/2 pint of hot vegetable or chicken stock. Turn up the heat slightly and allow the mixture to bubble for around 10 minutes or so with the lid off the saucepan. 
Finally add half a pot of creme fraiche and stir in, waiting for the soup to return to the boil. You can leave it thick and chunky or blend with a hand blender to make it smooth. 
It really is a joy to eat, not just warming and satisfying but good for you too.