Thursday, 23 December 2010

Our Lapland adventure...

Yes, many of you guessed it... our surprise was a visit to Lapland to meet the big man, Father Christmas himself. We managed to keep it a complete secret from the children until we were queuing at the airport. I don't know how we kept it a secret for so long and it was quite a relief to finally tell them. Thank you everyone who wished us luck getting there... we were delayed at Manchester for quite some time due to ...snow of course! But we did eventually take off and arrive safely in the land of more snow... and boy was it cold!

When we finally arrived at Father Christmas's hideaway it was very dark even though it was only late afternoon. Thankfully we were well wrapped up as it was minus 29 degrees Celsius - no wonder Santa has been working the wool and fur look for so long, if it keeps him warm then stick with it I say!

This was the home of one of his helpers...

These guys didn't seem bothered by the cold, they were just building up there strength for Friday night!

We stopped for a refuel and warm up before heading to see you know who...

 Bionic and Freerangenan got thawed out...
 this Freeranger didn't stop smiling all day, it took her brother a while longer...I think he's had enough snow for now!
Even the Elves and Helpers had there outfits hanging up to warm up!

But finally we made it...we really met him...

he read our letters and amazed the kids when he knew their names. I confess that I am right next to the littlest Freeranger in this picture and according to my family looked as though I might leap on his knee at any second!

He did promise he would come on see us very soon as long as we left him a mince pie and some thing to warm him up - I'm not surprised he gets through all those drinks on Christmas eve, he needs something to see him through another year in the snow!

We eventually got back to Yorkshire, driving through more snow, with very tired children, grandparents and grown ups - to find even more snow ( I think we brought it back on the plane!), so its only fitting that this is our Dec of the day...

because after all, home is where the heart is...

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Surprise, surprise!!!

This is what surprise looks like...

and you'd look like that too if you'd just realised your mum hadn't got you up at the crack of dawn to go shopping... But you were in fact going to meet someone very special..

As long as this takes off...

fingers crossed we'll be in Lapland for breakfast. Keep you posted...Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, 17 December 2010

The waiting game...

I want to tell you, I'm dying to tell you. But right now I'm in Manchester watching the snow fall wondering if I'll have anything to tell you... Fingers crossed and keeping you posted...

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Thursday, 16 December 2010

Goodbye Prada...

I planned to write a Christmas deco blog tonight getting ready for our weekend surprise, but real life got in the way today, as is its want. Our crazy old cat had to be put down today and were all still taking it in really.  We got Prada when we bought our first house, she was the kitten that ran up the tree, the girly cat that stayed on my knee purring contentedly during my pregnancies and the family cat that my children wrapped in bandages and tried to sneak into bed with them. She was also the crazy old lady cat who snored so loudly under our bed that I thought it was BH, the hair shedding machine and the culprit who left unpleasant parcels on the landing!

Prada Cat had got very frail recently but nothing suggested that she was terminal when I left the house for work. Today my was busiest day of the busiest week of the year, the day of my big meeting and to get a phone call from BH 30 minutes before going in to the meeting telling me that shed been taken to the vet and it wasn't good...well I certainly wasn't expecting it.
The vet offered to keep her going until I could get there but my meeting ran from 1 till 5, so I said that I would rather she didn't suffer, but pulling myself together to lead our review meeting was something I'd rather not repeat. The meeting ran, it all went very well, all the hard work has been worth it, but all I could feel was sad. Poor Pradacat...her blanket is still on the box at the bottom of the stairs, i don't think I can move it yet. Poor BH had to bring her home and bury her in the rain before the snow set in and the ground got too hard.

Animals huh? Who'd have them....

As for our Christmas Surprise - no baby Jesuses are to be appearing soon but I can tell you it involves some serious thermal thats it, no more clues!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The yuletide moose...

Decoration of the day...

Today's decoration is a Festive shout out to our friends on the other side of the pond! Mr Moose was carried back from Wolfboro, New Hampshire where good friends of ours live and where great holidays have been had. Although we've only been there in the sunny months Ive seen the photos of their seasonal snow drop and I always feel a little pathetic moaning about the snow we have when I see how much they get! Their beautiful house is only a stones throw from the woods, where they assure me Moose are to be found. I haven't seen one yet, but I keep hoping!

Not long to go now, tonight I'm busy preparing for Saturdays surprise - you wont believe it!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Sticky finger festive fudge...

I've been frantically wrapping parcels of Festive Fudge to send back to Leeds with my sister. We used the Recipe from Nigella Express, which is a kind of cheats fudge. Basically its a tin on condensed milk, 350g of chocolate, 30g of butter, a pinch of salt and whatever you choose to flavour them with. Nigella uses pistachios but we were feeling a bit more festive tipped some whisky and maraschino cherries into the I love a maraschino cherry! You heat, stir and then tip into a foil lined to tray to refrigerate. They never quite set and are best kept in the freezer when they ready. They stay pretty gooey then and can be eaten straight from the deep freeze. I wanted to photograph some of the ones I saved for us, but found they didn't last long enough to get the camera out. The sticky finger marks around the kitchen were the only evidence to be found!

Decoration of the day... in the spirit of all things scarlet, i love these cranberry glass decorations, they totally transport me back to being a little girl and looking up at the lights in the tree glistening through the baubles!

Not long now till the 17th...oooh I cant wait!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The first angel...

My decoration of the day...

the first decoration BH and I ever bought, before we had a Christmas tree! I think when we first bought her she was hung on a twig in our first flat together. Most of our furniture at the time was improvised by covering BHs tool boxes in throws and sheets, so Christmas trees were not the highest priority...2 houses, 2 children, 2 dogs a cat and several chickens later - shes still with us and still looking as surprised as ever!

I cant believe its only 6 sleeps until the 17th  - when I can reveal our christmas secret...i'm absoloutely bursting to tell you!!!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Saving a seat...

The cold snap has left BH at a loose end of late. To take his mind of the building work waiting to be done and to give him a brief respite from swaddling condensing pipes to stop them freezing I asked if he could have a go at reupholstering the chairs we use in our kitchen. I acquired them many years ago and I've been loathe to part with them despite only having three and the fabric being worn out.

This is how they appeared when I went to work...

 and this is what I found when I got home...

A perfect fit, and it means I get to keep them for many more years! What BH doesn't realise is that now he's revealed this hidden talent I'm already compiling a list of future upholstering projects!

Decoration of the day

At last, a calorie free pudding!!!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Going snowhere...

 Why is it that even when it comes at the same time every year, the shops are full of it, the songs are on the radio, I still wake up in a panic and think ' i cant believe its almost Christmas!' Our readiness for festivities has definitely been put out of sync by the weather. Everything has been on hold for the past week, apart from igloo building that is...

We can make igloos that you can go in and come out of, but we draw the line at lids on top! Oh well, its nice to have a room with a view!

At some point we must thaw out and start wrapping some presents!

We did put the tree up this weekend and at last we started to feel the festive fuzziness, I'm going to post a favourite decoration everyday to keep my yuletide spirit topped up! Right now I think I'm most pleased with my Christmas kitchen, whether that's because we decorated the dresser or just because we decluttered it I'm not sure...but either way the end result makes me feel like digging out the cranberries!

Whats are your favourite decorations, Id love to it the hand painted crystal Faberge set or the cotton wool covered toilet roll holder carried back lovingly from nursery school ( I know which mine is, it gets unfluffier every year but he's coming out for many to come!)

p.s. Ive got a secret I'm dying to share about a coming blog - I'm sworn to secrecy until the 17th but I don't know if I'll make it that long!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Our morning walk

We went exploring this morning to see just how snowed in we are...

The snow clouds gathering didn't bode well, but it didn't bother Arthur...

True to form the clouds burst before we got home. Very pretty but pretty cold too!

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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Chilly chicken...

The chucks have taken to freeranging during the day. The idea was to give their diet a bit of variety , but I think they're planning a go on the swing!

Deborah and Jessica spent the morning trying to work out the slide!

But Nancy and Diana were having none of it - far too haughty for their own good if you ask me!

In the end the girls regrouped for a debrief before being ushered back to the homestead. Its one thing being a Freeranger with a chaperone, but its another story entirely when you're on your own with a hungry fox on the prowl - as the recently deceased Rhoda our Rhode Island Red found out when she wandering too far from home.

Oh well - tomorrow we may try the trampoline!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Snow, snow and more snow...

The east coast has been hit by the snow pretty badly over the past few days, and although we're inland we were certainly no exception. We've had a bit of a mixed response to it this year. On the one hand I love snow, from the first sight it I start making plans for hunkering down, preparing for a snow in, old movies log fires, perhaps a Baileys or two, whats not to love? But this year we are on a countdown to get our roof in place, the struts have arrived we just need on more day of bricklaying to be at roof height but then the white stuff arrived...


temperatures dropped and building was called to a halt...


Its been very tempting to vent and fume and shake my fists at the sky, after all this could mean tools are down till the new year, but what can you do. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade and if snow stops your building schedule then...

tether up your Airedale and go sledging...

The two little Freerangers got the day off to play in the snow and travelled in style to Freerangenans for cocoa and treats...

 Pearl had her first taste of snow, and took to it like, well like a pup to snow of course...
And I got to hear about it all when I got home from hoo! But I did get the Baileys and an amazing view of the Wolds as I made my way there...

So for now, let it snow...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Red, red, rice...

I don't know about you, but I need colour at this time of the year. The golden leaves are now lying in a mud sodden heap, the russet hedges are becoming blackened sticks and as for the glorious hot pink cyclamen I planted, the last time I saw them a small dog was running up the garden with them in her mouth - the less said about that the better. So colour in the kitchen it has to be...

I love Risotto at this time of the year and I'm lucky enough to have a good stock of a really good Arborio rice courtesy of the FriendlyGrocer (who also happens to be Gardengirls husband).

FriendlyGrocer and his family have the most amazing Grocery and Deli in Finchley and we always try to make a trip there when were back in the big smoke to stock up on Cypriot and Mediterranean delicacies that are hard to get hold of. Id been saving my last pack of FGs special rice for a special recipe and this one certainly did the trick.

From Tessa Kiros 'Red plums for jam', the Red rice is actually a Tomato Risotto and very easy to make,

You need

1.25litres Vegetable stock/ broth
Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves (whole)
Half Red Onion, finely chopped
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
200g Risotto Rice
250ml Tinned Chopped Tomatoes
2 Basil Leaves
20g Parmesan Cheese
100g Mozzarella (cut into small chunks)
Grated Parmesan to serve

Saute the onion and garlic over a low heat for a bout 5 mins then stir in the chilli flakes and rice and cook for another minute. Add half the Tomatoes, half the basil and 375 ml of the stock.

Simmer for 10 mins on a low heat and add more stock as needed, stirring it now and them just to make sure it doesn't stick, add the rest of the stock and the tomatoes and simmer for another 10 mins. Fish out the garlic cloves and stir in the Parmesan and mozzarella. As soon as the mozzarella starts to melt your good to go - just sprinkle the extra Parmesan on top!

I served mine with pork schnitzels, but it was just as good on its own and a real winner with the little Freerangers, who whilst quite conservative in their culinary tastes were convinced it was just ketchup and rice, so tucked straight in!

But now my last bag of arborio has gone - so if your listening at Tony's Continental Store - put me some aside for the New Year please, and some macaroni, and some beans, and some octopus, and dolmades and...I tell you what, I'll bring a list!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Rainy days and chocolate cake...

As the songs says, 'I don't care what the weather man says, if the weather man says its raining, then its another excuse for baking, and that's alright by me' ...okay, so that's not quite the words but you get the idea! The weather here in East Yorkshire has been pretty filthy of late. Even walking the dogs round the block is a waterproof and wellies job. The temperatures dropping, the days are dark and the garden looks like one big compost heap...

But on the bright side, the fires are lit and glowing

the evenings are longer for knitting and crochet (or putting knots in bits of string as BH would refer to it!)

and all the time I would spend in the garden can be put to good use baking cake...

I made this Double Chocolate Loaf Cake at the weekend with the intention of fuelling BH  on the building site this week. The kids loved sprinkling the choc chips and set about scoffing it as soon as it was cool enough to handle. I got the recipe from good food and tweaked it by changing the chocolate chunks to chunks of leftover Toblerone - I know there's no such thing as leftover Toblerone, theres only Toblerone that Mum broke into before Christmas and felt so guilty that she used it up in a cake - there you have it -  confession over, I feel so much better that the truth is out there!

Double Chocolate Loaf Cake

175g softened butter
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
140g self raising flour
85g ground almonds
half teaspoon baking powder
100ml milk
4tbsp cocoa
50g plain chocolate or guilt laden Toblerone

chocolate chips for decorating

Heat the oven to 160C and grease and line a 900g baking tin ( I use the Lakeland liners for convenience).
To make the cake batter beat the butter and sugar until fluffy then beat in the eggs, flour, cocoa, baking powder and milk until smooth. Stir in whats left of your Toblerone then scrape into the tin. Bake for 45 -50 mins until risen and ready.

Then devour and ignore the fact its still raining outside!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Bedtime biscuits...

Our little freerangers are biscuit addicts. Like most children they have no particlar preference. They're not at all elitist in their cookie cravings and given the chance they would probably opt for the nastiest dayglo additive packed fuel on offer. The answer - home made, at least when time allows!

These chocolate and vanilla biscuits are from Tessa Kiros book 'Apples for Jam'. They are super simple to make and rolling them up into twists makes for great fun for little chefs.

You need

180g butter
150g caster sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
240g plain flour
20g cocoa

After mashing the butter and sugar together, add the flour and work it all together. Then whisk the egg with the vanilla and add it to the dough, kneading it well.

Next split the dough and add the cocoa to one half. This needs quite a lot of working in but it will come together I promise! Wrap each disc in clingfilm and chill on the fridge for half an hour.

Finally, roll it out and let the fun begin! They may not look perfect but they do taste yummy!

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Monday, 15 November 2010

Top and tailing...

I couldnt resist this...

Do you think they like their new bed?!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Countdown to Christmas

I know, I know, it's only November - but I have a little tradition to kickstart the season in the right frame of mind. Citygirl, Gardengirl and myself head off to the Countryliving Christmas Fair for a spot of dreamy Christmas shopping. We're also joined by Cookgirl, our lovely friend so named because once you've tasted her Sunday roasts you never look back!

The dates marked on the diary all year and I've been saving my spends since spring. On Friday night we packed up the tribe and headed for the big smoke. We all met up on saturday morning and headed for the show - no need for a map, just following the trail of Cath Kidston and Boden.

This is a shot of inside the show...

It was hard to get any decent pics as it is really busy! It takes serious shopping stamina but it's worth it just to soak up the cinnamon soaked atmosphere and hunt out artisan goodies for special gifts.

We do stop off in the foodhall for a pitstop and my favourite snorker makers Debbie and Andrewa are always on hand with tasty morsels to tempt us into filling the freezer!

I'd love to show you some of the things we bought - but of course they have to be wrapped and sent to Father Christmas for delivery (and Freerangenana might be reading this trying to get a sneaky peak!)But I do have a picture of my dream shed...

This was the view through the windows. I suppose shed is a bit of an understatement, more of a grotto...

Either way, it's a good job it was roped off or I might have had to move in and claim squatters rights...

All in all it was a very successful trip, topped off with mojitos in St Pancras. But now were winging it back up the motorway, back to work and real life. To be honest it's a good job we don't do these things too often as I'd probably be bankrupt... But I do feel ready to head into the Christmas season fully prepared...I just have to wrap it all now!

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