Tag Archives: presents

What I’ve been doing instead of writing articles for you.

Sorry I have posted anything for the last couple of days, I’ve just been a bit knackered which is a pretty poor excuse really; I have a job to do and a public to satisfy!  I’m going to Marlow tomorrow to see my mother on Mothers’ Day and also  to see 10cc in concert on Sunday night with Sister the Second.  You see, I do take your advice.

I’ve had a lot to prepare; obviously a card and gift for The Aged Parent, but also there are Easter eggs to deliver and a present for Sister the First whose birthday is in a couple of weeks.

Below are some pictures of how I attempted to make a gift of Lindt Chocolate Bunnies more exciting and also a small Easter Basket for a mildly diabetic mother who can eat one tiny egg a day without fighting the desire to eat the whole lot.  I wish….
The photos aren’t great, but they give you an idea.

Four Bunny Basket

Two Bunny Basket

Easter Basket with Coalport China Egg

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Filed under Food, Food Presents, Slider

Some Last Minute Christmas Tips & Ideas

Balls

If, like me, you’ve left everything to the last minute, here are a few Christmas tips and ideas for food, cards, presents and activities.

If you’ve only just made your Christmas Cake, feed it with a teaspoon of brandy three times a day for the next week, then apply the marzipan.  Leave it overnight to dry.  Buy a ready mix packet of Royal Icing Mix and spike it all over.  Supermarkets now have some super and classy-looking ready-made decorations, so pop one of those on the top.

If you’ve left it too late to post your Christmas cards abroad, go out with your camera and take a photograph of something Christmassy.  E-mail this with a short note, and a grovelling apology for your wretchedness, to all your foreign or ex-patriot friends and family.  This could also work with other friends if you’ve really messed it up.

If you’re really stuck for a present for someone, most supermarkets now have a fantastic range of gift cards for both local and larger High Street shops.  I think vouchers are a great gift, especially for difficult teenagers for whom there is absolutely no chance of getting it right unless they’ve given you a list.  Monsoon, HMV, iTunes, book shops, cinemas, restaurants etc – you can’t go wrong.  Click on these links to High Street Vouchers and  The Gift Card Centre and see what’s out there. Fed up with buying expensive wrapping paper that just gets ripped off and thrown away?  Wrap your gifts very neatly with newspaper and tie up the parcels with thick brightly coloured ribbon.  The ribbon can be rolled up and used again and so can the paper.

Can’t think of a gift for an older female friend or relative?  In this cold weather, skin really suffers.  Some really nice hand cream, eg. Crabtree & Evelyn, Molton Brown, Aveda, Floris, and The National Trust does a lovely range of flower scented hand creams and co-ordinating products.  It will be well received, I can assure you.

Men can be terribly difficult to buy for, particularly if the chaps in your life don’t have any discernable hobbies or interests.  Again, vouchers for HMV or a favourite clothes shop will never go to waste, but the following sites have some good ideas.  Presents for Men or Find Me a Gift could give you some clues or what about buying them an activity gift to get them interested in something?  Also a decanter and a bottle of something nice to put in it would surely bring a smile to any bod’s face.  A local antique market would be a great an inexpensive place to start or many high street jewellers sell them now.

Don’t be afraid to ask people what they want.  My family doesn’t see enough of each other to know what we have in our houses and we want to spend our money carefully on something the person really needs or would like as a treat.  Get everyone to make a list and then you know you’ll get it right.  This isn’t cynical and horrid, it’s practical and sensible at a time when people want to spend their money wisely.

CHRISTMAS FOOD

Don’t tear your hair out worrying about making Christmas Lunch for the family.  Think of it as Sunday Lunch XL!  It doesn’t have to be a great extravaganza; after all the point of having people over is to share Christmas with them, not to show off how clever you are in the kitchen.  Planning is the key and prepare as much as you can in advance. 

Starters – an unusual soup can be prepared the day before and reheated. Smoked Salmon with some coloured salad leaves and a twist of lemon will never be sneered at or failing that, buy some pre-prepared salmon mousses wrapped in smoked salmon and pop them on a bed or rocket.  Lovely. 

Pudding – Christmas Pud can be reheated in the microwave then served with fresh cream or brandy butter.  If some people don’t like Christmas Pud, make a trifle or make/buy a special ice-cream dessert.  A good cheese board with nice savoury biscuits and fruit takes no effort and can be brought to room temperature while the dinner is cooking.  More importantly, allow people to help you.  There are no prizes for being knackered and grumpy because you feel pressured and put-upon.

Christmas Tea – most people will still be stuffed from lunch so don’t go overboard.  Have a cold collation prepared: cold turkey, nice ham, a bowl of salad and a choice of dressings, some good bread, crisps, Christmas Cake, Mince Pies.  Alternatively buy a selection of party nibbles from a shop and dig in.  Again, get people to muck in and help.

If you’re going to be flying around in the style of a fly with a blue bottom, the trick is to think ahead.  Make (and freeze) or buy a curry sauce and make sure you have some rice in, then on Boxing Day or the day after, if you can’t face any more cooking, a turkey curry can be knocked up in 20 minutes.

ACTIVITIES

Christmas can be a time when people can get grumpy and dyspeptic if not carefully managed.  Think about having a walk before it gets dark to allow the grown ups to walk off their lunch and to let the children run off a bit of steam.  Everyone will feel better for it and it breaks up the day.

Have some games planned that everyone can join in with and have a laugh.  Charades or Give Us a Clue can involve the whole family as can Trivial Pursuit.  Heads, Bodies and Legs is easy for little ones and more fun than you’d think, likewise Consequences, where everyone writes a line of an agreed story and then passes the paper round and everyone writes the next line etc.  Kerplunk had us all in  stitches last year as did the game where someone sticks the name of a person on your forehead and you have to ask questions until you guess who it is.

I would also suggest that you discourage the children from sitting in front of their new computer games all day.  It’s rather bad manners to ignore everyone else like that, the game isn’t going to go away.  Take the opportunity to make the day something out of the ordinary and have a bit of fun!

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Filed under Christmas, Community and shopping, Family and Friends

Hedgerow Happiness – Part 1: Sloe Gin, Sloe Sherry and Rosehip Syrup

Sloes

Sloes

The hedgerows are a rich source of wonderfulness; sloes, rosehips, blackberries, elder, hawthorne , all of which have great culinary merit.  I will cover all these as they come into season. 

Today I’m going to tell you about sloes and rosehips.  Sloe Gin is one of the great pleasures of winter and is unbelievably easy to make.  I then use the sloes again to make Sloe Sherry, which is a greater pleasure still in my opinion. 

Rosehips

Rosehips

Rosehip syrup was a wonderful wartime essential when citrus fruits were so hard to come by, because it is packed full of Vitamin C.  A dessertspoonful every day is a far cheaper alternative to taking vitamin C tablets and more natural.  Personally I like it poured over vanilla ice-cream, waffles or pancakes.

Also remember that home made preserves, alcohol, cordials and syrups make lovely presents for your friends.  Chose an attractive bottle or jar and decorate it with your own label and a ribbon and you will be loved forever.  Incidentally, you will be amazed how many people stop and talk to you when you’re foraging in a hedgerow, and they will often have interesting things to tell you.  Some are nutters of course, and they are the most interesting of all.

SLOE GIN:

Utensils:
1 x large bowl or clean bucket with a lid (old nappy buckets are perfect for this)
a needle, cocktail stick or corncob fork
(eventually) bottles for putting it in
1 x sieve
1 sheet of muslin or a coffee filter

Ingredients:
2 ½ lb sloes – approximate – this is not an exact science
1 litre of very cheap gin (or vodka if you prefer)
4oz (120g) white sugar – honey can be used instead for a more meady flavour
 
Method:
Take off all the leaves and twigs
Prick all the sloes and put them in your bowl or bucket
Pour in the gin and add the sugar
Put the lid on and leave until Christmas (although preferably 3 months)
Shake gently every day
Then strain off the liquid and filter it through fine muslin or a coffee filter
Bottle it.  Ideally it should be left to mature for 6 months but I can never wait.

SLOE SHERRY

Put the sloe berries back into the bucket and pour over a litre of cheap sherry
Leave for another month, shaking daily
I challenge you not to drink it immediately (and you too will be shaking daily!)

ROSEHIP SYRUP

Utensils:
2 x large pans – a good sized hob-safe casserole will do nicely
1 sharp knife or, better still, a blender or mini chopper
1 x colander
1 x jelly bag (or fine muslin and a sieve)
Sterilised small bottles or jars

Ingredients:
2lb / 960g ripe rosehips – stalks and leaves removed
4 pints boiling water
2lb / 960g white sugar

Method:
Roughly chop the rosehips
Put them into the pan with 2 pints of boiling water and bring back to the boil
Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for half an hour
Strain off the liquid through a colander and then strain again through a jelly bag
Return the hips to the pan, add another 2 pints of boiling water
Bring back to the boil and leave to infuse for half an hour
Strain as before
Combine the two liquids in a clean pan and boil until it is reduced by about half
Take it off the heat and add the sugar, stirring until it is dissolved
Bring back to the boil and boil hard for 10 minutes
Pour into the warm, sterilised bottles or jars, seal,  leave to cool, then store

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Filed under Children, Christmas, Family and Friends, Food, Hedgerows, Outdoor Activities, Recipes, Seasonal

Presents: incorporating the courteous and judicious use of lists

Presents 1 - 30.07.09 There was a programme on the excellent Radio 4 this morning, in which the presenter discussed the ethics of the growing trend for making lists of the presents one wants for birthdays and Christmas.  I immediately pricked up my ears, as my family have done this for years.  The reason that we started is because we all live apart, we all have very different tastes and, most importantly, we don’t want to waste our money on fripperies that may have no use.  Some of the best presents the Wartime Housewife has ever had have been a glorious set of chisels (in their own box with little covers for the blades) and a cordless screwdriver, but I know that, on receipt of such a gift, many of my female friends would have been on the ‘phone to the family solicitor within the half hour. 

In times of austerity, however, the courteous use of a list is invaluable both to the giver and the recipient.  It is so hard to know what will be useful and appreciated and whilst one should be grateful for any gift, it’s sometimes hard to put on a delighted expression in the face of some ill-conceived monstrosity.   I was once given this handbag …. let’s just say a drag queen in Hackney was delighted to find it on ebay and we’ll say no more about it

Small electrical appliances, such as hand mixers, toasters, kettles etc frequently only last a year or two these days and on a restricted budget, an unexpected £15 or £20 can be hard to find, but the items are very hard to do without.  Books, CD’s and DVD’s bring so much pleasure to our lives and  are undoubtedly a treat but people who don’t live with you are highly unlikely to know what you do or don’t have, or even what your taste might be.  Following the Wartime Housewife’s creed that we should always attempt to repair before we replace, even simple tools can be expensive to buy and there are some lovely basic tool kits for men and women which would make super gifts, whose benefits would last for years.  Cosmetics and cleansing products are a regular expense and always seem to run out at once.  If there is a particular brand of lipstick for example, that you like and can’t quite justify buying for yourself, again it is a gift that could last a whole year. 

If your family and close friends are not in the habit of list writing and you feel it would be beneficial, I would suggest approaching it like this.  As a birthday or Christmas approaches simply tell people that, as we are all having to pull our horns in, you would like to make sure that any gift you buy for them is what they truly need and would be helpful or a treat.  Maybe suggest a rough budget at Christmas time and stick to it.  Christmas in particular can be such an appalling orgy of consumption that I feel it would be rather nice to change the focus from profligate gift giving to a more thoughtful celebration of what we truly have.  The key here is courtesy.  Never present someone with a list unless it has first been discussed or requested.  Keep the list to a reasonable length – too many items are overwhelming and frankly a little greedy – and don’t include anything that is hideously expensive unless it is appropriate to do so.

The other big consideration is whether you give everyone the same list; if you do this, you need to make sure that everyone is communicating with each other in order to avoid getting three sets of chisels or four copies of ‘The Best of the Andrews Sisters’ CD (the modern e-mail system is so handy for this).  One major benefit of the list is the potential for ‘Joint Presents’ and this is particularly useful for children whose accoutrements get ever more expensive.  For my birthday this year I asked my sister and mother to club together and buy me a year’s membership of English Heritage.  This has given me and the boys a whole year of free entertainment which will have the knock-on effect that we will do far more fun and educational things together on a regular basis.  The National Trust also offers excellent value.  My other sister paid for me to have my hair done at my favourite salon which was a lovely treat and gave me tremendous boost.

Do not be afraid of The List.  Simply approach it with courtesy and sensitivity and it will result in less consumption, more appreciation of what you have and significantly more space in the cupboard under the stairs.

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Filed under Behaviour and Etiquette, Christmas