Saturday, 29 December 2012

2012 was a bad year for...

~ Quinces. A stormy April destroyed all the blossom and The Quince Tree produced only one rather shrivelled quince.
~ Crochet. None was produced. Not sure why - just didn't feel the urge. I did however unravel one of my projects because I had a better idea for it. Unfortunately that's as far as I've got so please don't expect any pictures of work in progress in the near future.

2012 was a good year for...

~ Being British. Jubilee jubilations followed by Olympic and Paralympic spectacle -loved it all.
~ Meeting fellow bloggers. The highlight of my year.
~ Eating cake. I enjoyed writing my Cake of the Month posts but now I feel the need for something a bit healthier, a Salad of the Month perhaps. 
~ Blog self esteem. When I wrote about the unpleasant email I received in October so many readers left me positive comments and emails that I was actually grateful to the person who sent it. Thank you once again to everyone who took the time to be nice :)

December 2012

The Quince Tree 2012

See you in 2013!

Merry Christmas


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Before I retire to my kitchen for the next two days may I take this opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas.

Thank you so much for visiting.


Sweet and Sticky


Thursday, 20 December 2012

I seem to have spent the last couple of days stirring a pot of melting, sugary goo. I have been using my last few days of solitude to make sweet treats and surprises which are now concealed in airtight tubs labelled 'lentils' or hidden in the freezer under the peas.

First there were these apricot and white chocolate bars. I used to make these often when the children were little. Tom recently expressed a nostalgic wish for them. They are very easy to make -melt together white chocolate, golden syrup and butter, stir in oats, rice krispies (does not have to be Kellogg's), apricots and nuts.

Next there were several attempts at hokey pokey. Simultaneously easy and difficult to make -timing is crucial. Success came on the third try -neither burnt like my first effort nor sticky like my second, this was Goldilocks hokey pokey.

Then came a batch of chocolate biscuit cake with mini marshmallows added. I added the marshmallows so that I wouldn't scoff it all -can't stand marshmallows.

Lastly there were four batches of florentines -an essential part of my Christmas.

I now have a strong desire for stilton, bacon and salty nuts.

Cake of the Month ~ A Mincemeat Cake


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The obvious cake for December is Christmas cake. But not everyone likes it, in fact it's the one cake I find quite easy to resist. Charlie and George are big Christmas cake fans while Tom and Katie prefer a Bûche de Noël, but I find that has too much icing -at least it does the way I make it, all those cracks as the cake is rolled to cover up! 

This cake is a nice festive alternative. It's easy to make and can be done at the last minute. It is a simple almondy sponge topped with mincemeat and crumble. I used the recipe for Crumbleberry cake in this post with a couple of alterations.

I used about one and half 1lb jars of mincemeat instead of berries.*
I added the zest of a large orange to the cake batter.
I added about 1 oz of ground almonds to the crumble mixture.

If you don't like mincemeat this would work very well with cranberries- fresh or frozen. Keep the orange zest as that will work well with cranberries otherwise follow the crumbleberry recipe.

Because of the moisture in my mincemeat the cake took a long time to bake -about one and half hours. I lowered the temperature to 170°c (150°c fan oven) and covered the cake with foil for the last 20 minutes.

My mincemeat has suet in it. This made the cake very rich and moist. I like this -it reminds me slightly of lardy cake. You may not like the idea of suet and butter all in one cake in which case use a suetless mincemeat.



Sunday, 16 December 2012

Charlie says it all looks very 'festering' here at The Quince Tree.

The tree is lit and decorated, lights are strung around the living room and I cannot find the little red baubles I put on the door wreath anywhere. No matter, everything looks fabulous.

Those little glass baubles I bought a few weeks ago just disappeared when I hung them on the tree. All the other decorations and the lights made them look insignificant so I had to rethink. 

I have a lot of these little tumblers which if I remember correctly cost 40p each from Ikea. Arranged on the mantelpiece amongst my tealights they look so pretty.

Twelve Twelve Twelve


Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Twelve things making me happy on this twelfth day of the twelfth month of the twelfth year of the century:

pouring the last drops of coffee from the jug and watching it soak through the coffee grains

neighbours' Christmas tree lights twinkling through the morning fog

marmite toast

the words twelve and twelfth

snowberries (symphoricarpos)

beginning a new jigsaw

using my  teeny quarter teaspoon to measure bicarb for a recipe

cleaning out the fridge to make room for a grocery delivery tomorrow

slipper socks warm from the radiator

this arrangement of O Little Town of Bethlehem

last night's leftovers for lunch - spicy bean soup

baking cookies* - chopping dark chocolate for chocolate chips, creaming butter and sugar, watching the colour of the mixture change when I add eggs, shaping the dough into balls, squashing them a little and sprinkling with crunchy sea salt before baking, patting them down as they come out of the oven to make them bigger and crisper, trying to wait for them to cool before tasting

* Salted oatmeal cookies with addition of 6oz chopped dark chocolate and no cinnamon. I made 24 large, thick and chewy cookies although the recipe said it would make 18.

All Is Calm


Monday, 10 December 2012

I take a calm approach to Christmas preparations.

Admittedly not all my ingredients for a calm Christmas will apply to everyone, but this is how it works here at the Quince Tree.

Ingredients for a calm Christmas;

A very small extended family.
Children who are no longer primary school age.
No job.
A computer.
A fondness for cooking.
A few simple family traditions which don't involve going anywhere or spending any money.
An abundance of alcohol.

My small family means I only buy presents for six people and four of them live in my house. It also means I don't have to cater for a large amount of people.

Having older children means I don't have the teacher presents thing or the Christmas play/concert torture. Also, although Father Christmas is lovely for a few years, when you are still up at 2am waiting for them to fall asleep before you can fill their stockings knowing that they will be awake again at 5am you can't help looking forward to the time when they no longer believe.

Having no job means no ghastly Christmas parties, secret Santas or exchanging cards with people you see everyday. And of course it means I can complete all the special Christmas cooking at leisure.

Having a computer means I can do all my Christmas shopping in November online and have it all safely delivered well before Christmas Eve. It also means I can do all my food shopping online by placing orders well in advance. I have two placed at the moment; one for this Thursday, one for next Wednesday, these can be edited until the evening before delivery. The turkey will be collected from the farm on the 23rd. You may say that internet shopping is responsible for the demise of small independent shops and you would be right, but I can't help but think it the most wonderful, wonderful thing, staying away from shops in December is the most calming thing you can do.

Enjoying cooking means that I simply don't see tasks like making mince pies as stressful.

We have only have a few family traditions which include our Advent calendar, lighting a candle on each Sunday in Advent, buying a real tree two weeks before Christmas (to ensure getting a good one), putting it in the garden for a week before bringing it in and decorating it. Bushels of sausage rolls must be made on Christmas Eve, a ham must be baked for Christmas Eve supper and during the week before Christmas florentines and mince pies must be plentiful.

Alcohol  - needs no explanation.

Christmas things I don't do 
Not doing the following helps keep things calm and stress-free.

Buy my kids everything they desire. Luckily they have a pretty sensible idea of what constitutes a Christmas present ie nothing with an 'i in front of it'. George has requested a Warhammer model and a computer game, Tom some new headphones and a computer game, and Katie has asked for books, dvds and make up (God help me).

Send cards to everyone I know. I send to people I don't see very often as a way of keeping in touch.

Make lots of handcrafted gifts. This is because only one person on my list will appreciate them. I am however making a couple of edible stocking fillers for the children this year.

Make lots of handcrafted decorations. I already have decorations. I like looking at lovely pictures of other people's creations though.

Have colour co-ordinated decorations.

Listen to Christmas songs such as 'Last Christmas', 'Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas time' etc. Not going into shops helps enormously with this.

Go to my husband's work  Christmas 'do' which this year was a Grease themed dinner dance. 'You Are Joking!' I said to him when he revealed this treat 'You want me to dress up as a Pink Lady and spend an evening with people I don't know and with whom I will have nothing in common when I could be at home watching The Killing with a glass of red and my comfy trousers on?' He didn't want to go either.

Decorate the outside of our house with lights. Because we won't see them and everyone else in the street decorates theirs. Remember that scene in Scrooged where Frank is taken back to his childhood home and his house is the only one not lit up? That's us.

Christmas things I do do
Watch Christmassy films, but not Elf, The Santa Claus or anything else vomit-inducing.

Listen to beautiful Christmas music such as this

Transform our front room into a pine-scented sparklefest of coloured lights and glittering baubles - but not until next weekend.

Bring in Yuletide evergreens to remind us of continued life during the winter darkness.

Light lots of candles to remind us that the sun will return.

Cook lots of delicious things to eat.

Eat and drink a bit too much.

Enjoy giving and receiving presents.

Have a lovely. lovely time.

Just Now I Am....


Friday, 7 December 2012

~Wondering if my hair has been sticking out all day.

~Wearing my new grey tunic from Gudrun Sjödén. 
~Thinking it is the most useful garment I own.
~Wanting to buy at least two more in different colours.

~Capturing the sunlight while it lasts.
~Feeling stretched and supple after a Pilates class.
~Piecing my new jigsaws

~Baking a variation on the pumpkin and walnut squares recipe. I left out the honey (unintentionally) and added a crumble topping. Very good. 

~Glad to see the last of the halloween pumpkin.
~Thinking about baked potatoes stuffed with cheese, onion and bacon for supper.
~Looking forward to a glass or two of wine.
~Anticipating reading more of my new book. Thank you Grannie Annie for the recommendation, I can see I shall have to read them all.
~Loving Friday evenings.

Advent Sunday


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Finally finished the last jar of quince and pumpkin chutney which I made over two years ago.

Begun this year's damson chutney.

Made another batch of mincemeat. I have ten jars now for; mince pies, baked apples, apple and mincemeat tart, pancakes, porridge and icecream.

Spent birthday money and vouchers on a stack of jigsaws.

Eaten quite a lot of chocolate.

Lit our advent candle.

And posted November's sampler.

Silver Birthday


Saturday, 1 December 2012

'I've commissioned a piece of jewellery from Emma' I told Charlie
'Who's Emma?' he asked
'I've told you about Emma, she makes lovely silver jewellery and has amazing hair' I said.
'I thought you could give it to me for my birthday'
'Oh, ok'
'Don't worry I've paid for it, you just need to pay me back'
'Oh, ok'
'It's going to be a really beautiful and unique piece of jewellery. No one else will have anything like it.'
'Oh, what it is?'
'A tiny silver quince of course'
'Oh, that's original of me isn't it?'
'Yes, it is. Thank you'

A perfect miniature quince complete with a quince's bumpy bulges and starry calyx. It more than makes up for the absence of real quinces this year. Thank you Emma for perfectly realising my silver quince.

For more information on Emma's jewellery go to Silverpebble.

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