It’s hard to believe that Christmas is a week away. We’ve just come out of our second lockdown, to be replaced by an 8pm curfew. Shops are open but restaurants and all places for entertainment, theatres, museums, cinemas etc remain closed. This has been an undeniably tough year for everyone and I know, like many people, we’ve really enjoyed decorating and bringing some festive cheer into the house. I wanted to share a few of my easy and inexpensive ideas for this year that might give you a little inspiration if you need some. Although I know so many of you are far more talented than I am!
I am a huge fan of sticking to natural materials as much as possible, not just during the holiday season but at all times and this year more than ever it seems right to keep things simple. We’ve gone back to my childhood in many ways when aside from our beautifully decorated tree everything else featured greenery cut from the garden and the farm. Mostly copious amounts of holly and ivy, and if there were red berries on the holly too, well that was just the icing on the cake! Once cut this was draped over every picture and mirror, above doors, filling spaces above corner cupboards and surrounding the mantel. Then there was mistletoe hung in huge great big bundles over doorways. It was terribly practical and very beautiful.
This year I’ve tried to replicate this down to earth and back to basics approach as much as possible with the addition of a few twinkling lights, because I just love a few sparkly lights!
I wanted natural candle holders and so out came the glue gun and a little creativity. I had bought these candles in wooden pots weeks ago thinking I could make them a little more unique. Using some of our hazel sticks, again from our garden, Roddy cut them for me into short differing lengths and I simply glued them to the wood.
Very quick, very easy but I’m really pleased with the result.
Our Christmas table is going to follow the same theme, simple and sustainable. Sticking to natural materials I’m going to use a natural hemp runner down the centre of the table and then use this bronze stag and the deer that I found at a brocante during the autumn and instantly snapped them up picturing exactly where they would be used on our table. Then I shall add the candles and finally entwine lots of cut foliage from the garden amongst everything.
Next comes the place setting and this is certainly a time of year to use the special stuff! I always use real table napkins and I thought about tying some cinnamon sticks together to put with them, but that would mean more buying and inline with trying to simplify things and keep it inexpensive and closer to home I decided to cut some fresh rosemary and lavender from the garden. And yes, the lavender is flowering at this time of year! The Charente Maritime has this wonderfully mild temperate climate and things don’t always do what we expect them to! So fresh lavender and rosemary it is. Tied up with a simple bow of natural hessian ribbon. But really any herbs or leaves that are not poisonous would look lovely.
I’m thinking of using circular seagrass placemats and some special glasses, but I want to keep a few secrets for my Christmas table, hence no photo today!
Whilst thinking of Christmas, now of course being mid December is the time to be thoroughly enjoying our fabulous British tradition of mince pies. Quite a few people have asked me to share the recipe for these on Instagram and so I thought I would add it again here. I first wrote about these a couple of years ago, but I’m really happy to share again. Trust me they are delicious. Mincemeat is mainly made from just dried fruit, although some bought varieties (and many recipes) still use suet; happily I find the trend is turning slowly away from this altogether and I use butter.
Just before we get started you will also need a simple shortcrust pastry, if you haven’t the time to make it, a good organic store bought one will suffice, because at this time of year time always seems to be in short supply.
For 24 mince pies you will need :
20g finely sliced or chopped almonds
45g butter chopped
2 apples (cored and chopped into small pieces, but not peeled)
70g brown sugar optional (I don’t add any sugar at all as I think they are sweet enough without it)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger
The juice and grated rind of 3 large oranges
The juice and grated rind of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons of cognac (rum or brandy) (if you don’t want to add alcohol you can substitute a little more orange juice)
Place all the ingredients except for the alcohol in a large heavy based saucepan and very gently bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Then turn the heat down as low as possible and simmer slowly for about 25 – 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If it appears too dry add a little more orange juice. (store-bought is fine!)
After the thirty minutes or so, take off the heat and allow to cool a little before adding the alcohol and mixing well.
You can either cook with this straight away or you can store in clean sterilised jars in the fridge for several weeks, just remember to bring to room temperature before you want to use it.
Roll the pastry out and cut into rounds and place inside greased cupcake tins.
Fill each uncooked pastry base with a good teaspoon of mincemeat, I like to cover these with a pastry star, but you can choose a complete covering hat if you prefer, or you can make a latticework out of strips of pastry, you see the choices are endless.
Bake in a medium oven, 180C/350F for about 15 minutes.
Enjoy! And watch this space, there should be a special surprise for you on Saturday, fingers crossed!!