We're off to Colombia this year for Christmas ~ we alternate each year between our families. It's always lovely to top up with daylight and sunshine part way through the dark European winter months, but I do miss one or two British seasonal traditions all the same!
One of the things I enjoy a lot about Christmas in the UK is mince pies, or more specifically my Mum's mince pies! She has a brilliant festive culinary repertoire (ask Mr DI about her chocolate log cake!) and homemade mince pies always, always make an appearance during the holidays.
Here's the recipe we've come to know and love, this time with a cute bell-shaped lid...
Mum's Mince Pies
Ingredients 225g cold butter, diced
350g plain flour
100g golden caster sugar
1 small egg
1. First make the pastry: rub the butter into the flour, then mix in the sugar and a pinch of salt. Combine the pastry into a ball ~ don’t add liquid ~ and knead it briefly.
2. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6/Fan 180C. Roll out the pastry and use a circular cutter larger than the holes in your bun tin to form the pie bases. Grease the tin and lay a base into each hole.
3. Spoon mincemeat into each pie.
4. Roll out the rest of the pastry and cut into shapes of your choice to form the pie lids (or use simple circles if you prefer). Make sure the shape is big enough to just rest across the diameter of each pie.
5. Top the pies with their lids, pressing the edges lightly together where they touch to seal them. (At this point you can freeze them for up to a month if you wish ~ top Mum 'get ahead' tip!).
6. Beat the egg and use it to brush the tops of the pies.
7. Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then remove to a wire rack. They will keep for 3 to 4 days in an airtight container ~ although not in our family!
There's something about Mum's pastry that makes her mince pies so much tastier than the shop-bought version. My mouth is watering just thinking about them! Hopefully she'll whip up a few early ones before we visit in a few weekends' time : )
Are you a mince pie lover or a hater? Do you have a favourite family treat that you enjoy at Christmas?
It's been a getting stuff done kind of week around these parts. I've been having a big clear-out at home ~ 'use it or lose it' is my new motto!
This is the last semi-chilled weekend we have before things crank up in the run-up to Christmas. We're planning a quiet couple of days, including a relaxed meal out with friends on Saturday evening.
Check out these links if you need a little inspiration this weekend...
It's almost the end of the year and that means Christmas will be here before we know it! As an overachieving type of person, I've always been pretty organised with my present-buying, but no more so than since I've been working just off Oxford Street, slap bang in the middle of one of London's biggest shopping areas.
You might think that this is a happy coincidence which makes shopping easier ~ a quick few lunchtime pop-outs and you're done, right? Oh no, no, no sir, you would be so very wrong there! For as soon as mid-November hits, the whole area becomes a frenzied mess of workers all trying to get their shopping done in their lunch hours or after work. Throw a few hundred "Christmas Tourists" into the melee and it's a pretty explosive retail cocktail I can tell you. Hideous! Hell like! Traumatic! Yes, indeed.
So, over the last few years I've started using a few tried and tested tricks for getting my Christmas shopping done and dusted without having to battle the crowds. As a result, you'll find me chilling with a hot chocolate during my lunch break at this time of year!
Here's what I do:
1. Make a list
Obvious, but in my opinion more than essential for keeping track of things. I always have a Christmas list: the people I need to buy for and any immediate ideas I have/requests that I know about. I use the same format every year so I can easily see what's what.
2. Check what you already have
Christmas cards left over from last year? Wrapping paper? Gifts picked up during the year because they are just perfect for the recipient? Gather what you have and save time, waste and money!
3. Make an idea-gathering trip
We usually have a relaxed amble around the shops on a couple of Saturdays early in November to get the creative juices flowing and help us to see what's around and what might make nice presents for our family & friends. I find once I've got a few ideas in my head, others quickly come to mind, making the whole process a little bit easier.
4. Ask for ideas
It's always a bit of a shame when you receive a gift that's not really your cup of tea, which you know you'll never use. I think there's no harm in asking people what they would like or if there's anything they need. You don't necessarily need the finer details, but 'a fruit bowl for the kitchen' for example is a loose enough brief to allow you to choose something special, still knowing that it will be well received.
5. Research Online
After we've done our November recce of the shops I usually spend some time looking online, based on the ideas we've gathered. So much less hassle than dragging from shop to shop and you can easily compare items via store websites.
6. Pre-order or have deliveries made to your home or office
Rather than flog through the crowds in stores like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, I like to pre-order online and collect in store. Great if you are easily able to get to the shops, equally so if you can have items delivered to work or when you are at home.
7. Consider Secret Santa
If you have a large family and lots of people to buy for, why not consider a Secret Santa style Christmas? For the last few years we've done this with our Colombian family. Everyone's name goes into a hat and they are then randomly matched with someone else who they buy for. Usually we all give a small suggested list of things we might like to help our Secret Santa (or Amigo Secreto in Spanish). The budget can be whatever you agree within the group. We find it works well ~ it's fun and if you're travelling overseas it's seriously good news for your baggage allowance, believe me!
8. Get to the Post Office Early
If you need to send gifts or Christmas cards, I recommend buying your stamps well in advance as queues at the PO can get grim in the run up to Christmas. Check in advance how many cards you plan to send and buy what you need accordingly.
9. Make Present Wrapping an Event
I like to pick a Sunday afternoon, stick on some Christmas music, make myself a drink and grab a mince pie or two, then get down to some relaxed, but productive present wrapping. So much better than wrestling with the sellotape on the bathroom floor the night before you're giving your gifts! Enlist a cute helper too, if you have one!
10. Sit Back & Enjoy!
The best thing about getting ahead of yourself and being a bit tactical about Christmas is when you walk past queues of stressed-looking people and you don't need to join them, when a friend asks you to go to a gallery on a December Saturday and you are free to go. Call me over-organised, but it works for me!
How do you approach Christmas shopping? Do you, like me, do all you can to avoid the stress of it or do you love the last-minute buzzy thrill of the season? I'd love to know!
I've never seen as many fruit trees in my life as in Andalucia! We travelled around by train and on each journey as far as the eye could see were groves of orange trees. Ditto on the streets of Seville, Cordoba and Granada ~ they were everywhere we went.
Most of the fruit was green when we were there in October. I'm told that the oranges ripen and are picked around February time, which in fact is when Seville oranges start to appear in the shops here in the UK.
A few pictures of some of the delicious-looking fruit we saw during our trip...
I'll be remembering these beautiful fruits as we edge closer to winter time!
Good week? We made a good start on our Christmas gift list last weekend and I've been cracking through the rest with online shopping ~ hurray! We joked about getting this big guy for my Dad, but he just wouldn't have fitted in our Mini ; )
Back to the real world, here are some of my favourite picks from this week ~ enjoy!