Archives

Woodchip Paths & Christmas Decorations

Before I start today I wanted to remind anyone that is interested, that my usual monthly blog post of

‘What To Do In The Kitchen Garden In December’ can be found here.

Don’t be fooled into thinking there is nothing you can do this month……..

There is loads of information in this post e.g. weather conditions expected, what to sow / plant / harvest in December, jobs to do and pests and diseases that you may encounter this month.

I hope it helps someone out there.

SAM_5091.

.

This week in the home:

.

This week my youngest daughter turned ‘sweet sixteen’….how on earth did this happen so quickly?

We all had a lovely day together and my eldest daughter made a birthday cake, in the shape of a ‘Dairy Milk’ chocolate bar (my youngest daughter’s favourite food) and it was absolutely delicious!

SAM_2413

.

Unfortunately my step father is still not well, so this is taking up a lot of my time with phone calls, hospital visits and taking my mother shopping.  My mum and dad both remarried and so between Mr Thrift and I, we have three sets of elderly parents (though my father-in-law sadly died last year).  With two teenage daughters this means that myself and Mr Thrift are part of the ‘sandwich’ generation and recently I have felt quite run down from it all, especially as I have also spent the last year trying hard to train Judy, the RSPCA dog that we adopted on top of this (though we all adore her).

However, I have no choice but to carry on with things the way they are at the moment and I can only hope they will get better over time.

SAM_2430

.

So this week in the Thrift household we put our Christmas tree up, as decorations in the house always cheer us up.

As we now have a three piece suite in our front room it was hard to find a place for our trusty old Christmas tree.  After trying different places in the room we finally wedged it in the corner, however it looked very small and hidden by the furniture…..I came up with the idea of standing it on an old plastic box to give it some height, which I covered temporarily with one of the curtains I recently brought from a car boot sale (to cover two old reclining garden chairs that I was given).

SAM_2421

We put on some Christmas music and all four of us decorated the tree with a bit of singing and daft dancing in between.  All in all it was lovely afternoon and we all think the tree looks nice due to the box it stands on and you can actually see the tree lights twinkling outside our front window for the first time:

SAM_2423

We also decorated our stair banister in the hall with our old garland and I fixed our Christmas wreath to the front door.

SAM_2436 SAM_2433

We have used the same ‘artificial’ decorations for many years now and they still look good.

This year I decided to add to our decorations with a cheap garland I brought for the fireplace.  I have decorated it with some cones and I will add the slices of oranges I am drying on my radiator when they are ready too:

SAM_2432 SAM_2424

The room is looking beautiful now (except for the carpet that we still haven’t managed to save up for yet but we are trying to ignore it for the moment).

.

This week in the garden:

.

Last week I brought some primroses for 50p each as I thought it would brighten my garden in the dull December days ahead.  This week I planted three of them in a pot next to my back door and the rest I planted in a hanging basket outside our front door….and I am very pleased with them.

SAM_2403 SAM_2405

I love primroses as they flower each year and look beautiful.

.

This week I also tried very hard to finish my new vegetable patch.  I was going to ask Mr Thrift to help me to lay the final three slabs, but unfortunately I couldn’t complete my final two beds until they were laid…..so I decided to do it myself.  I’ve laid plenty of slabs on my own when I had my allotments so this didn’t bother me too much, though Mr Thrift did tell me off!

This meant I could then continue with the final two beds next to the slabs…

SAM_2425

I then created a very small area for a flower to be planted next year, using the edging stones I have spare:

IMG_2868

And I completed the edging next to the bed in front of the fence:

SAM_2420

I then used old weed suppressant to cover the new paths, using old pins from my allotment to secure it down:

SAM_2428

And then I brought some bags of woodchip from our local timber yard and covered the weed suppressant with it.  Over the years I have found that if you place woodchip on weed suppressant, it doesn’t rot down as quickly as it does if you place it directly on the soil.

Unfortunately I was a bag or two short of woodchip so I will have to make another trip to them before I can complete the paths in my new vegetable area.  However it is looking good so far:

IMG_2870 SAM_2429

After completing the paths next week I will start to concentrate on improving the soil.

But for the moment I am pleased how it is shaping up.

.

Thank you for reading my blog this week.  I will be back next Friday as usual.

Have a great week!

Advertisements

A Yule Log Recipe And Homemade Hampers/Decorations

This week has been another busy week, but I have really enjoyed it.

Mr Thrift was having a ‘get together lunch’ at work and everyone needed to take something for a buffet.  A couple of people had asked him to take in another pumpkin and orange cake, so on Tuesday I made one:

SAM_7884

I was very pleased to say it all went very quickly.

The recipe is here if anyone is interested.

They also judged the Christmas jumper competition (the proceeds were going to the Rainbows charity) and the jumper I made my husband last week won, which made me chuckle.

SAM_7871 SAM_7872

Apparently they all enjoyed the Christmas chocolates that I had sewn on the back.

.

I also started to make up my hampers for my family too.  I had bought little bits and bobs for them over the year, tailoring the gifts to each family.  I also added some homemade jams and chutneys (though not as many as last year due to the builders being here).

I used tissue paper circles (cut out using a saucer) and raffier ribbon to tie the tissue paper over the jars.  I think it always looks nice this way.

SAM_7877 SAM_7879

I have a big roll of cellophane that I bought last year on the internet for a bargain price and I’m sure it will last me years.  I use this to wrap the hampers, tying it with Christmas ribbons:

SAM_7890 SAM_7888

Last year my sister gave me her basket back as she didn’t have room for it in the house, so this year I thought it would be a good idea to add a little note in each basket that said:

“I would really like you to find a use for this basket, however if you can’t please return it to me and I’ll refill it with goodies for you next Christmas”

I thought that this way the baskets won’t end up in the rubbish bin or charity shop if they don’t want them and it will save me money next year, as I won’t have to buy them again (which certainly helps me) and it’s better for the environment to recycle them too.

.

SAM_7796 SAM_7814

Remember the oranges that I left on my radiator to dry for a week or two?…I’m pleased to say that the oranges dried really well on the radiator, without the need to put them in the oven.  I put a little hole in each one when they were nearly dry so I could thread some wire or ribbon through it.

SAM_7934

I sprayed some twigs with a cheap gold spray that I bought last year from Wilkinsons and then decorated them with holly, cones and the dried oranges and finished it with the battery lights from my husbands ‘Christmas Jumper’ and some ribbons.

I was very pleased with how it turned out (though for some reason it doesn’t look so good in the photo’s below):

SAM_7938 SAM_7937

I put it in our old dinning room which we will decorate after Christmas now the old fireplace has been fitted.  It makes the room look really Christmassy.

SAM_7943

.

I also made some individual cakes for Mr Thift’s work colleagues as a gift for Christmas.  I used my muffin recipe here and piped icing on the top using this recipe.

I managed to get some single cake cases to put them in and I was very pleased with the overall result:

SAM_7930 SAM_7932

Another job I did was to make some White Chocolate, Apricot and Brandy Truffles for my dad as a surprise (he really loves them).  The recipe is here.  I can’t wait to give them to him at the weekend.

SAM_7947 SAM_7945

.

A Christmas Chocolate Yule Log

We love a Yule Log for Christmas in our family and it’s now a family tradition to argue over the end piece.  I used to buy them until my daughter became dairy intolerant.  It was then I realised how easy and cheap they are to make if you just know how.

I have searched the internet and found a couple of shop bought Yule Logs to compare the prices to mine.  The first I found was a kit to ‘make your own’ Yule Log and it costs £1.50 to buy.  To make it you need to add:  1 medium egg, 80ml cold water, 80g softened unsalted butter, 100ml double cream and some greaseproof paper.  After reading the instructions, I felt you may as well make it from scratch but I suppose that is just my opinion.

log

I also found a Finest Chocolate log for £3.00:

log 2I have worked out how much the ingredients cost me for my Chocolate Yule Log and it totalled £1.45 for the ingredients plus the grease proof paper that I used.  I used ‘Pure’ margarine to make the butter icing dairy free for my daughter, but normally I would use butter or soft margarine to do this.  I think for £1.45 it is definately worth making.  This is how I make it:

.

SAM_7922

A Christmas Chocolate Yule Log Recipe:

.

Greaseproof paper

Olive oil or marg for greasing

3 eggs

75g caster sugar

75g self-raising flour

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

Icing sugar for dusting

.

For the icing you will need:

300g icing sugar

150g butter or margarine

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

.

Preheat your oven Gas 4 / 180C /350F.

Lightly grease a baking tray 9inch x 12 inch

SAM_7891

Line it with greaseproof paper, snipping the corners so the papers lies properly without creasing and then grease the paper

SAM_7892 SAM_7893

Put the caster sugar and eggs into a bowl and whisk for a few minutes

SAM_7900 SAM_7901

Keep whisking until the mixture turns from a yellow colour to a soft  creamy white colour and if you make a figure of eight on the top of your mixture, it will stay visable for a second or two (you can just see this on the right hand picture below)

SAM_7902 SAM_7905

Sieve the flour and cocoa into the bowl

SAM_7906

and fold them into the egg and sugar mixture until it’s all combined

(to ‘fold in’ just keep turning the mixture over without mixing it so the air stays in)

SAM_7907 SAM_7908

Pour it into your greased baking sheet and spread the mixture to the edges

SAM_7894

Bake for 8 minutes only

(if you over bake the sponge will crack when you try to roll it).

While it is baking, spread out a piece of greasproof paper and dust with icing sugar

SAM_7895

Take the sponge out of the oven and immeadiately turn it out onto the greaseproof paper and peel off the old greaseproof paper

SAM_7896

Sprinkle some more icing sugar over the sponge and quickly lay some more greaseproof paper over the top of the sponge.

Using the bottom piece of paper, roll up the sponge with the top piece of paper inside the sponge:

SAM_7897 SAM_7898

Leave it to cool still rolled up.

When it is cool, you can freeze it at this stage and defrost and ice it later

SAM_7899 SAM_7924

To Ice It:

Mix the icing sugar, marg and cocoa in a bowl until it is fully combined (this can be hard work at first)

SAM_7909 SAM_7910

Fill a jug with piping hot water and add a few knifes, as this helps the butter icing spread if you keep swapping the knifes.

SAM_7912

Unroll your sponge and spread a thin layer of icing over it

SAM_7911 SAM_7913

Roll the sponge up again using the greaseproof paper to help

SAM_7914

Spread the butter icing all over the rolled up sponge.  Leave it as it is or make log patterns with a fork or use a knife to make ‘spiky’ patterns by lifting the knife up quickly from the icing

SAM_7916 SAM_7917 SAM_7918

Decorate with whatever you have

SAM_7920

Sprinkle with icing sugar for ‘snow’

SAM_7922

Enjoy!

.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

A Perfect Christmas

This weekend I have been busy making Mr Thrift a ‘Christmas Jumper’.  They are having a competition to raise money in aid of the Rainbows charity.  He didn’t have a jumper so I converted an old one by using the felt from a ‘pound shop’ Christmas stocking, some old baubles, tinsel and cheap chocolates.  I also bought some cheap battery lights from Wilkinsons to add to the effect.  I chuckled all the way through making it.  You can’t see very well on the photo, but it actually says “Ho Ho Ho” on the front of it:

SAM_7871 SAM_7872

.

Our old fire place was fitted into the front room on Saturday and we are very pleased with it.  This meant that we could finally put our Christmas tree up on Sunday.  After Christmas we need to concentrate on decorating this room, but for now it feels like Christmas has begun for us.

SAM_7866

.

This made me once again think about my perfect Christmas.

When I think of Christmas I have a warm glow inside.  I imagine children with smiles on their faces, beautiful decorations and a wonderful turkey with all the trimmings.  I can hear ‘White Christmas’ playing in the background, while family and friends all sit around laughing and chatting with a glass of mulled wine in their hand.  What perfection!…

….but this never happens.

It’s the television and magazines that make us believe that this perfect world exists and in reality this rarely ever happens.  Unfortunately, this usually puts people under pressure to achieve this imaginary world and they end up feeling disappointed and disheartened as it’s almost impossible to live up to these unrealistic expectations.

 ‘Real life’ for most people is a Christmas dinner that isn’t ready when you want it to be, kids running round madly as they are over excited and for some people it can even be friends or relatives coming round, who they don’t even like….sound familiar?  We put so many pressures on ourselves that no wonder we don’t achieve the perfect Christmas.

SAM_5417

Last years homemade Christmas Crackers

I like to concentrate on what is ‘real life’ at Christmas, I refuse to be drawn into this ‘imaginary’ perfect world.

I like to enjoy my Christmas too, so all year I plan towards it so nothing is rushed at the end.  Every single thing I do from wrapping presents to cooking the Christmas dinner is planned so I can enjoy it.  I have found that if I don’t plan things, I tend to try and achieve too much and then I end up feeling stressed and unhappy.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Home made truffles

I also try very hard to remember that nothing is ever perfect and things do go wrong.   For example, I know it will be unrealistic for my teenage girls not to argue over the Christmas period so I won’t expect this. I’m also sure my Christmas dinner won’t all be ready at the same time, but it doesn’t matter.  If everything was perfect, life would be boring.

It’s how we deal with the not so perfect things that matter, if we laugh about things and keep them in proportion, they are easier to deal with.

Homemade Hampers

Homemade Hampers

.

So for anyone out there that is running around, trying desperately to achieve the unrealistic Christmas that we see in the adverts, please stop and remember that this is not reality and you certainly don’t need to try and achieve it.

Maybe then you will begin to enjoy it and look back for the first time in January and say

“it really was a perfect Christmas”.

Last years Christmas dinner table

Last years Christmas dinner table

.

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Friday at my usual time.

Christmas Decorations In The ‘Thrift’ Household

This week has been a lovely, creative week for me, but very busy.

.

I started off by making my laundry liquid as I had ran out of the shop bought box that I had to buy when the builders were here.

Incidentally, I never use the amount it says to use on the box, I only ever use half the amount to make it last longer and it always washes well and this saves me money.

SAM_7775

I prefer to wash our laundry using my homemade laundry liquid as I know what goes into it and it is really really easy to make.  It only takes 10-15 minutes to make up a batch and it lasts for weeks.  It is great for every day washing and the last time I worked it out a few months ago, it cost me approximately £1.75 to make and I managed to get 71 washes out of it.  This works out at a staggering 2.5p per wash….the supermarkets can’t beat that!

SAM_7776

I’ve stored my laundry liquid in old ‘pop’ bottles as they fit nicely under my new sink.

You can find the recipe I use for my laundry liquid here.

.

I nipped into the supermarket as well this week and found a lonely pack of bananas in the ‘whoopsie’ aisle for 10p.  They were all nice and yellow except a couple which had started to turn brown (which was probably why no one wanted them)… so I bought them.

After we ate the yellow ones, I made a lovely banana cake with the others.  You can find the recipe I used here.

SAM_7853 SAM_7856

.

I’ve also finally got round to writing and sending my Christmas cards.  I bought my cards in the 2011 New Year sales, for a fraction of the price that they were before Christmas.  They don’t take up much space and it saves me a bit of money.

To save time, I have a Christmas card list that I print off from my computer every year.  The list tells me exactly who I need to send Christmas cards to and if I have any extra people to send cards to I just update the list ready for the next year.  It makes writing the cards so much easier.

SAM_5052.

I also made some strawberry jam this week ready for my hampers.  I didn’t get chance to make it over the summer as I was packing things away ready for the building work, so all my fruit was washed and put straight into the freezer.  I am hoping to make some other things for my hampers during the next week as well.

SAM_7854 SAM_7860

.

I started to put up the Christmas decorations this week too (except the tree, as we are still waiting for our fireplace to be installed).  Our old faithful cheap and cheerful door wreath was looking a bit sad as it had lost it cones, so I replaced them with some more and it looks much better now:

SAM_7849

I hung up our trusty old garland along our stairs too.  I bought this approximately fifiteen years ago from Wilkinsons and it still looks as good as new and makes the hall look lovely and Christmassy when you first come in the house:

SAM_7847

.

Also this week, I continued using my bargain charity shop material that I used to make my curtains and my kitchen Roman blind.  For those reading this that don’t know, it only cost me £16 for 10 meters (a piece four meters long and another piece that was six meters long) and it was brand new, never used…I still can’t get over what a bargain it was, I suppose one mans rubbish is another mans gold.

I have now re-covered our old (and stained) seat pads for the chairs around our table and I am really pleased with the result:

SAM_7770 SAM_7781

And I have managed to make a table cloth and eight napkins out of the remainder of the material.  So I am very pleased as my kitchen looks very co-ordinated now and I don’t think anyone would know that the whole lot cost me just £26 to make (£16 for the material and heading tape and a further £10 for all the other bits,  for the Roman blind and for the cotton).

SAM_7825

.

With some of the little off-cuts I still had left, I made some bows for my Christmas table wreath.  They were really easy to make, I just followed  some instructions that I found on ‘You Tube’  here.  I think they turned out well:

SAM_7793

.

I love Christmas decorations that are made out of things that you can pick from your garden at this time of year, so I went out into mine to collect some holly, bay and conifer leaves.

While I was there I noticed there are some lovely sights in the garden at this time of the year:

SAM_7701 SAM_7700

I even discovered that our Lavatera still has flowers on and my Vinca has a flush of flowers on too:

SAM_7697 SAM_7695

I made a couple of ‘sprays’ with some of the bits I collected and tied them with a spare ‘off cut’ of material I had and hung them in my kitchen.  I was very pleased with the result (especially as it cost me nothing to make them):

SAM_7805 SAM_7806

  .

I then began to make my Christmas Table Wreath.

I openly admit that I’m not very good at flower arranging.  In fact, I was the only Brownie that just ‘scraped’ a flower arranging badge due to ‘Brown Owl’ stepping in and rearranging it all for me.  My arrangement was so bad.

Last year I made my first table wreath and I was very proud of it and couldn’t believe how easy it was to make. So this week I made this years wreath.

.

How To Make An Easy Christmas Wreath:

.

I bought an oasis ring from Wilkinson last month for approx. £4.50

I used bits of old ribbon last year and material bows as above this year

Pine cones from my local park

Shrubs from the garden

(I used conifer and bay this year and Viburnum tinus last year)

Large paper clips or florist’s wire)

.

I started by soaking the oasis ring upside down in water for about 5 minutes, until the bubbles stopped coming out of it.  I have read that you should not press the oasis ring down, as this will cause air bubbles to enter the foam, creating dry spots.

0295958_m[1]

I cut the foliage in lengths of approximately 10cm and striped the leaves so there was about 4cm of stem to push into the oasis.

SAM_5428

I layered the shrubs into the oasis by pushing the stems in at a slight angle, starting at the bottom.

SAM_7817

I kept building the foliage up, so eventually the oasis couldn’t be seen.

SAM_7818

Use big paper clips stretched out or florists wire to secure the ribbons and the pine cones to the oasis.

SAM_7823SAM_7824

I have read that it is best to mist the wreath with water each day so it doesn’t dry out

(I’ve got to admit I didn’t do it last year and my wreath lasted ages).

SAM_7844

I’m very pleased with my table wreath again this year and as an extra bonus, the bows match my table cloth.

.

Finally this week, I sliced some oranges to make ‘old fashioned’ Christmas decorations.  I put the slices on a piece of greaseproof paper and then put it on the top of my radiator.  I have read that they will dry this way without having to use your oven, so I thought I will give it a try.

SAM_7796 SAM_7814

I’ll let you know how I get on with them and if it works.

SAM_7841

Thank you for reading my blog today.

I will be back on Monday at my usual time.

Our Decorations And How To Make An Easy Christmas Cake.

Today we put the Christmas Tree up.

SAM_5179

We bought our Christmas tree in the January sales in 1995.  So it is nearly eighteen years old.  I can’t remember how much we paid for it, but it wasn’t more than £25.

I think it’s important to buy a Christmas tree and decorations that will last a long time, as it’s more environmentally friendly to use things over and over again and it’s also cheaper that way.  Our tree looks as good as it did when we first bought it and I’m sure we will have many more christmas’ with it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Seven years ago I bought all the baubles etc. in one ‘bumper’ pack that cost me approximately £10.00 and again they still look like new and I hope we will have many happy years with them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Christmas wreath on our front door was purchased from Wilkinsons approximate five years ago.

SAM_5180

Also the Christmas garland was bought from Wilkinsons approximately fifteen years ago.

SAM_5174

I’m sure you will agree they all still look good and it was money well spent.

.

mrs-claus[1]

Today I made our Christmas cake.

I think homemade christmas cakes taste far nicer than christmas cakes you buy from the supermarket.

.

This recipe is great as you don’t need to make it months in advance as it will even taste good if you make it and eat it straight away.  In my usual Mrs Thrift way, I bought the ingredients when Tesco were selling them ‘3 for the price of 2’.

This homemade christmas cake not only tastes really lovely as it is moist and well flavoured, but it fills the house with beautiful christmas smells whilst it is cooking.  Making this cake is one of my christmas pleasures.

I also use this recipe to make three mini christmas cakes, that I give away to my family in the ‘Christmas Hampers of Homemade Goodies.’

SAM_4774

One Of My ‘Mini’ Christmas Cakes

.

I will show you how I ice and marzipan my cakes another day.

First though, you need to line your cake tin:

.

Line your cake tin by cutting a double length of greaseproof paper 5cm deeper than your tin and long enough to wrap around it with a slight overlap.

SAM_5155

Make a 3cm crease along the folded edge, then cut up to the crease at regular intervals to make a fringe.

SAM_5157

Cut two circles of greaseproof paper by drawing round the base of your tin.

Grease the tin and put one circle in the base and then grease the paper too.

SAM_5158

Fit the long strip of paper around the side of the tin, with the fringed edges flat on the base.

Grease the paper and then place the other circle of greaseproof paper in the bottom and then grease it too.

SAM_5160

You are now ready to make your cake:

mrs-claus[1]

My Christmas Cake Recipe

.

175g margarine or butter

200g dark muscovado sugar

750g mixed dried fruit that includes mixed peel

Grated zest and juice of 1 orange

Grated zest of 1 lemon

100ml of brandy (I use the cheapest ‘value’ brandy) plus 4 tablespoons more.

3 eggs lightly beaten

85g ground almonds

200g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground mixed spice

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground all spice

Into a large pan, put the margarine, sugar, dried fruit, zests, juice and 100ml of brandy.

Put on a fairly low heat, stirring all the time, until the margarine has melted and the mixture begins to boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat and leave for approximately 30 minutes to cool.

While you are waiting, preheat your oven Gas Mark 2 / 150C / 300F and line your cake tin.

SAM_5160

After 30 minutes has past, stir your eggs and ground almonds into the pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into the pan and mix until it is all combined.

Spoon the mixture into your cake tin and smooth it down evenly.

SAM_5161

Bake for 45 minutes and then turn the heat down to Gas Mark 1 / 140C / 275F and cook for a further 1 – 1 ¼ hours (1 ¾ hours if you have a gas oven).  If your cake starts to darken too much, cover the top of the cake with foil.

The cake is cooked when it is a dark golden colour and is firm to the touch.  Insert a skewer into the centre, if it comes out clean then it is cooked.

When it is cooked, make holes all over the cake and spoon over the remaining  4 tablespoons of brandy.

Leave the cake in its tin until it is cold. 

When cold, remove from the tin and peel off the greaseproof paper. 

SAM_5164

Wrap in new greaseproof paper and then in foil.  Store in a cool cupboard.

SAM_5167

This cake will keep for up to three months, but if you really want to get ahead of things, it can be frozen for up to six months.

 SAM_5166

If you make this cake, I would love to hear how you get on.

Thank you for reading my blog today