The girls are agitating for a Christmas tree, but I am holding out until next weekend. In the meantime, these hazel twigs are satisfying their desire for decorations. I am wondering why I haven’t thought about doing this before. It’s so simple and satisfying, and really easy – apart from the moment when I nearly fell off the wall trying to reach a particularly nicely arched stem. It will probably acquire a bit more bling – less is definitely not more where children and decorations are concerned. But at the moment they are mess-making elsewhere in the house, so I am enjoying the lovely shadows it is casting in the last of the day’s sun.
The hoar frost and has gone, and the snow never really did settle properly. These beaded snowflakes will have to do until the next bout of arctic weather, which I am hoping will coincide with Christmas day. Fingers firmly crossed.
The decorations above are very old now – I bought them years ago, probably before the children were born. They are a staple of my Christmas tree, and dragged out every year along with the baubles I accumulated during my years as a shopping editor and interiors journalist. In those days I celebrated Christmas twice: once in July, when all the ranges were launched, and then again in December. I really enjoyed the weirdness of Christmas in July – we’d all stand around eating mince pies and Christmas pudding and then walk through completely over the top room sets, groaning with decorations and seasonal nonsense. Meanwhile outside it was sweltering, or more often, this was July, after all, it was raining and shoppers were hitting the sales in search of bargain holiday gear.
A star! Well, a star of sorts – Nigella Miss Jekyll White. What on earth is it doing flowering now, all alone? It has survived several nights with temperatures below -5, but sadly, this morning it looks rather tragic, its head lolling alongside the papery seed heads of the flowers which did their thing at the expected time, way back in the summer.
A cherub – not a particularly Christmassy one, it’s true, but then this advent calendar is being put together on the hoof, and I am sure there will be glitzier cherubs and angels to come. This one is carved onto a grave at the tiny church of St Mary the Virgin at Capel-y-Ffin in the Black Mountains. The church and graveyard are worth visiting for several reasons: first, this is the smallest church in Wales; second, it sits in the most beautiful location, surrounded by ancient yews; and third, it contains two headstones carved by Eric Gill – but I don’t think this is one of them, I’ll track them down on my next visit.
A popular local landmark, I decided that the Albert Park camel had to feature in my advent calendar. He’s been on this wall for several years, but was recently given a makeover in the form of a new outfit and a new speech bubble – he used to say “bling, bling, me babber”.
This afternoon I dug out all the Christmas decorations, and was pleased to discover this little paper bird. Of the five or so I made last year, this is the only one to have survived. And just in case you think you are seeing double, it’s just the light revealing the fact that the bird is made from two pieces of heavy paper – almost card, really – stuck together. I decorated it by punching patterns through the sheets with a darning needle.
You can’t really have an advent calendar without a snowman so, although it hasn’t snowed properly in Bristol, yet, here’s a rather charming one from earlier in the year. He was bowing to us as we walked through St Werburgh’s City Farm back in January when Bristol was completely blanketed in snow. Fingers crossed that we may get at least one day’s tobogganing this Christmas.
A cosy photo for a cold day: here is Spooky, curled up on our bed. That’s where I would like to be too. I have never really kept track of how many hours our cats sleep – but I know it’s a lot. Spooky usually starts the evening in the sitting room, stretched out along the back of the sofa so that most of her body is in contact with the radiator behind. Later, she is scooped up by my eldest daughter who likes to cuddle up with her, and can’t seem to sleep without her. But once she is asleep, Spooky tiptoes up to the top floor to do a stint on Bea’s feet, before ending the night on mine. Such dedication – but to what or to whom? Sleep, comfort, us?
And now, the cake recipe I tried to post yesterday but had to delay because I was stuck in italics which I think would have been irritating to read.
Jenny Baker’s Christmas Cake from Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool
THE DAY BEFORE you wish to make this, you will need to soak the fruit. Ingredients: 450g currants; 350g raisins; 50g glace cherries – chopped; 50g mixed peel; 300ml cider; 100g chopped almonds; 100g chopped walnuts; 4 tbsp brandy; 225g butter; 225g soft brown sugar; 2tbsp black treacle; juice and grated peel of one lemon; 4 eggs; 350g self raising flour; 1/2 tsp each of: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, mace, mixed spice.
Method 1. Soak currants, raisins, cherries and mixed peel in cider over night. (I substituted dried apricots for the cherries because I hate glace cherries and I used 350g sultanas instead of currants as I didn’t have any and bumped up the raisins to 450g.
2. Grease and line a 23cm tin using a double layer of greaseproof paper. Cut two circles for the top of the cake as well. Preheat oven – gas 3/325 F/160C
3. Add almonds and walnuts and half the brandy to the fruit mixture.
4. In a large mixing bowl (it will need to be large – this is a big cake) beat the butter and sugar until soft and creamy. Beat in the black treacle and the grated peel and juice of lemon. Beat in eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour if the mixture seems to curdle – I added a spoonful after each egg. Next sift flour and all spices into the mixture and gradually fold in. Finally, add the fruit mixture and stir together so that nuts and fruit are evenly distributed.
5. Transfer mixture to the tin, place two circles of greaseproof paper on top and place in the oven, marveling at its weight as you do so.
6. Leave cake to bake for 2 hours at gas mark 3/325F/160C and then lower to gas mark 2/300F/150C for a further 1 1/2 hours. Test that it is cooked with a skewer and leave until completely cool before removing from the tin.
7. Once cold, turn the cake upside down and pierce with a skewer in several places and carefully pour brandy into the holes – repeat this as many times as you wish in the days before Christmas.
I like to cover my cake with homemade marzipan – which is a complete doddle and much, much nicer than the shop bought stuff, so much so that people who hate marzipan concede that it is rather delicious. I’ll post the recipe nearer the time.