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December 2017

Ate, Christmas, Made, Recipe

A Last Minute Gift. Lemon, Thyme & Pistachio Biscotti.

Last year I made a pact with myself to start making more of the presents I was giving in an attempt to reduce the amount of things I bought at Christmas. It’s not that I don’t love the huge array of things out there to buy, but that it just feels so much more satisfying to give someone something you’ve had a part in creating. It doesn’t need to be something grand or all that elaborate, I think it’s just nice for it to be something you spent time on.

 

Pistachio Biscotti Recipe

 

Each year I make large batches of chutney to include with my friend’s and family’s Christmas presents. I try and do this a few months in advance to a) get it out of the way, b) make use of particular fruit being in plentiful supply and c) allow the flavours to mellow. As Christmas starts to draw closer and the presents start to be given I like to add some kind of baked good in there too.

Through trial and error over the year I’ve settled on biscotti being the perfect gift. Some years I’m in the mood for something citrusy and others for something involving a little more chocolate. (Next year’s is going to be chocolate orange, I’ve already decided.)

 

Lemon, Thyme & Pistachio Biscotti Recipe

 

It keeps perfectly well for days and when combined with a tin of tea leaves, a bag of freshly roasted coffee or a bottle of something is the perfect last minute gift for someone. No matter how hard we try there’s always someone we didn’t think we’d see but now seemingly will or maybe even someone who got you a present you entirely weren’t expecting. This is where the biscotti and the coffee come in.

This year I played around with adding herbs to the mix before finally settling on Lemon, Thyme & Pistachio. When you’re done simply add a good handful to a bag, tie up with string and add a label.

 

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas

 

These little brown paper bags are from IKEA and perfectly match the wrapping paper I went with this year. If you’re into your wrapping you can take a closer look at that here.

 

Lemon, Thyme & Pistachio Biscotti Recipe

Lemon, Thyme & Pistachio Biscotti

150g plain flour

125g caster sugar

2 tsp baking powder

Zest of 2 lemons

100g dried apricots

150g unshelled (and unsalted) pistachios

A handful of thyme sprigs

2 eggs

2 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees fan.

In a bowl combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and lemon zest. Once this is done set it to one side and roughly chop the apricots and pistachios – you want to be able to see the colours from both as you slice the biscotti. Pick the leaves from the sprig of thyme and add them to your flour mixture and stir in the apricots and pistachios.

In a separate bowl lightly beat eggs and milk together before adding to the dry mix. Fork through until it starts to clump together before getting your hands in and bringing together into a dough. If it feels a little too sticky add a fraction more flour.

Tip the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface and need briefly to make sure all of your fruit and nuts are combined. Split the dough into two equal balls, roll into a fat sausage and place each on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Once it’s on the sheet you can perfect the shaping, don’t worry. You’re looking for them both to be around 20cm long and 6cm or so wide. The mixture should be playable so shape as you will.

Bake the biscotti in the oven for 25-30 minutes. In this time you’ll see it will have risen and spread out slightly, along with taking on a soft golden colour.

Remove from the oven and careful transfer the loaf to a chopping board by just picking up the greaseproof paper. With a serrated bread knife cut the loaf diagonally into 1cm thick slices.

When both loaves are slices, lay the pieces out flat on the baking trays and return to the oven. As you do turn the temperate down to 130 degrees fan and bake for 10 minutes before flipping the biscotti over and baking for a further 5 minutes.

When you take the biscotti out of the oven it should be firm and crisp but when pressed still retain a slight toast-like texture when pressed. Transfer to a rack to cool down before packaging up the biscotti in little bags or glass jars.

 

Lemon, Thyme & Pistachio Biscotti Recipe

 

 

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Christmas, Interiors, My Home

The Perfect Host. Getting The Guest Bedroom Ready For Christmas.

Soak & Sleep Jacquard Bedding

 

When I made the move back from London two years ago I was adamant I had to have a place with a guest bedroom. There was going to be long weekends, filled with friends who’ve made the journey up to Newcastle to visit. I’d make them epic breakfasts, they’d revel in the glory of the soft guest towels and it would be an all round glorious experience for all involved. The reality is somewhat different it has to be said. In those two years the room has been used just twice as a guest room. The rest of those days have seen it filled with everything I didn’t want to appear anywhere else in the flat. From hoovers to Christmas wreaths and mountains of shoe boxes, it’s been a little abused.

Upon receiving the message to say someone was coming to stay I was stupidly excited. I do love to play host. Rather quickly however the dread set in. Where would the hoover go? Where would I put those ladders I had to buy to paint the hallway without realising I wouldn’t be able to store them anywhere afterwards? Exactly where had I stored the spare pillowcases?

 

Soak & Sleep Bed Linen

 

I think to some extent we all like to play the host. Inviting someone into our home and doing our best to make them feel welcome isn’t just about making the guest feel good, but it’s about the desire to make sure you’ve made someone else happy. I don’t think that’s ever more the case than at Christmas, so when a Christmas guest is coming, it just makes it all even more exciting.

After a ruthless clear out involving equal quantities of charity bags and bin bags, I set about preparing the room for the arrival of its temporary inhabitant. I first like to start with making sure it smells welcoming, which you may think is a little odd, but to me scent is one of the most important things about a home. The room is unused for the most part so there’s always going to be the familiar smell that goes with a forgotten room. Light a candle or bring in a diffuser a day or two before so it has time to alter the room’s scent. If (again, like myself) you haven’t had the radiator on in there in a while, make sure you do it a few days before. Even the most thorough cleaners can’t get rid of the scent of a disused radiator kicking into action. If anyone was to make a candle of this unpleasant scent I imagine it would be entitled ‘Scorched Dust’.

I plump the pillows that have now been extracted from their vacuum packed storage beneath the bed and jostle with the feather duvet. There’s nothing like sinking into a squishy cloud of a bed. When it comes to bedlinen, I’m picky to say the least. I like things to remain white or neutral so everything feels as fresh as possible. This beautiful jacquard set from Soak & Sleep are a soft oatmeal in colour, flecked with a light grey slub.

 

Soak & Sleep Bed Linen

Soak & Sleep Bed Linen

 

I team them with white sheets and layer with a grey waffle bedspread. A throw or bedspread is essential in my eyes – we’re all very different when it comes to temperature. I find myself cold approximately 99.7% of the time, never more so than when in bed. Folding it neatly across the bottom of the bed allows your guest to adjust as they see fit without having to ask.

 

Soak & Sleep Jacquard Bedding

I’ve still not quite got around to buying a full set of furniture for the room so a bedside table arrives in the makeshift form of a stack of magazines. They’re satisfyingly white and if my guests can’t sleep, there’s something to read. A win/win. As it’s Christmas – and I have an abundance of decorations I’ve still yet to find a home for – I add a simple felt stocking and the star garland I spent the night before making. Having just discovered exactly how to make the stars I’ve now thrown them at just about every surface, present and person I’ve come into contact with.

 

Soak & Sleep Bed Linen

 

Finish with a carafe of water (I hear guests like to be hydrated) and a set of your fluffiest towels. Giving guests a set of white towels always makes me slightly nervous, 1. because I’ve seen the level of eyeliner some of my friends adorn themselves with and 2. because I know it also makes them feel nervous as they too know the level of eyeliner they adorn themselves with. With that in mind, my guest towels are always grey. Let’s preserve both of our nerves.

The bedding featured in this post was kindly gifted by Soak & Sleep

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Christmas, Shop

How to add a touch of style to your Christmas wrapping.

I’ve often thought that my true calling in life was actually as a present wrapper. The reality of this not really being all that much of a feasible profession has held me back from pursuing the dream. In an attempt to make up for this I go all out with my Christmas wrapping. There’s even an annual theme that everyone has to follow.

Some may say I have too much time on my hands, I prefer to think of it as just a very real dedication to making sure everyone feels pretty darn special upon receiving a gift.

 

Christmas Wrapping With Origami

 

Last year I went monochrome (a surprise, I know) with a bit of brass thrown in there in form of a metallic polka dot. The majority of the wrapping was done with a relatively cheap white Kraft paper, the polka dot serving as a highlight here and there. The ribbons were varying widths of black and white grosgrain, with the gift tags being the main event. I found the embossed ‘Ho Ho Ho’ tags in M&S and knew immediately they were me in a gift tag. Sadly for 2017 I wasn’t able to find anything quite so cool on the tag front.

 

Monochrome Christmas Gift Wrapping

 

And so without further ado, I present to you this year’s Christmas wrapping. For 2017 I’ve based it around a set of three papers I found in IKEA (the purveyors of great wrapping paper), each with a painted white design on. For the glorious sum of £4 you’ll find yourself with three different designs – 21 metres of paper in total. Unless you’ve got a really rather large family, that’s probably going to do your entire haul.

 

Contemporary Chiristmas Gift Wrap

Contemporary Christmas Wrapping Idea

Origami Paper Christmas Star

Gift Wrapping For Christmas

Contemporary Christmas Gift Wrapping

 

To contrast the brown paper I’ve used white Kraft and folded in into strips, as well as using it to create some origami stars to neatly tuck beneath the white and grey grosgrain ribbon ties and subtle touches of jute twine. Whilst trawling Berlin’s homewares scene earlier in the year I came across some wooden Christmas decorations, printed with a copper feather. I’ll be using them as a tag on some presents, with stamped luggage tags everywhere else.

 

Contemporary Christmas Wrapping Idea

Handmade Stamped Gift Tag

 

As a kid I remember having so many Christmas cards that we struggled to find a home for them, pinning them to ribbons that hung down the walls until they were so heavy they inevitably fell down. Today I get just one or two, but I still make sure I send them out none the less. This year I have two different types; a beautiful embossed snowflake card from Smythson and a contemporary bauble design from one of my favourite brands, Mark + Fold.

 

Smythson Christmas Card

Smythson Christmas Card

Mark + Fold Christmas Card

Mark + Fold Christmas Card

 

If you tend to find Christmas wrapping a little too much of a chore to be all that enjoyable I’ve put together my six tips on doing it like a pro. If none of these work for you, I’m available for hire.

 

  • One. If it’s an awkward shape, box it.

    ‘Awkward’ I suppose can be altered to match your own wrapping abilities; cylinders aren’t exactly fun but they can be done. Teddy bears however? Buy a box. When it comes to wrapping, like most things, I like neat edges and crisp shapes. This can mean the thought of wrapping irregular shapes makes me wince. If you think it will be difficult to wrap then there is no shame to be had in boxing it up. Whether it’s a gift box you buy or simply one you reuse (and preferably cover with paper), it’s going to make life much easier.

 

  • Two. Never underestimate the power of brown paper and luggage tags.

    I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve wrapped with brown paper. It will never fail to look good and forms the perfect backdrop to a contrasting patterned paper or even just another colour. Luggage tags work perfectly as gift tags, especially if you’ve opted to use brown paper too. Tie them on with some twine and stamp the receiver’s name on to make it personal. Or just write it nicely, I’m aware not everyone will want to spend as much time as I do on a gift tag.

 

  • Three. Invest in a good paper and use it wisely.

    Sometimes I find myself falling for a wrapping paper that comes with a somewhat hefty price tag. This year I found some beautiful handmade papers in my local Paperchase, but at £2.75 per A2 sheet, they aren’t too feasible for wrapping a tree’s worth of gifts. So instead, buy a sheet of each to slice up and use as narrow bands over brown paper wrapping. Or, if you’re feeling particularly crafty, fold it neatly into origami stars to decorate each package. You’ll get a whole stack of stars out of a sheet and they’ll work perfectly with a presents wrapped in a plainer (and somewhat cheaper paper).

     

    Handmade Paperchase Wrapping Paper

  • Four. Magic Tape is your friend.

    It’s invisible and far less of faff than double-sided. You notice how I only mention those two types, that’s because those are the only options. General shiny Sellotape is not okay guys.

 

  • Five. Take your time and do it bit by bit.

    If you try and do it all in one go you’ll burn out and end up with some questionable Christmas wrapping by the end of it. Just take it easy, wrap a few whilst you watch the TV each night. It’s far less painful.

 

  • Six. Use eBay.

    All of my grosgrain ribbon, Washi tape, Kraft Paper and jute string comes from eBay. I assure you it’s the most affordable source for the extra pieces. You can find every width and colour of grosgrain or satin ribbon imaginable on there, all available in larger volumes.

     

    Origami Paper Christmas Star

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Christmas, Interiors, My Home

The first Saturday in December.

Decorating The Christmas Tree

 

Like clockwork my Christmas tree always goes up on the first Saturday of December. It’s a ritual I’m very particular about and I take it very seriously. I’m going to warn you of this from the get go.

The week leading up to Saturday I begin to dust off the decorations from their resting place beneath the bed and take stock of what, if anything, needs to be replaced or added to. Most of you will more than likely now be over the shock of discovering my tree doesn’t consist of white decorations, but rather a sort of clash of any kind of burnished metal I’ve been able to lay my hands on. If this is brand new information for you, head to my blog post on baubles and decorations here.

 

Vintage Glass Christmas Baubles

 

I would tend to think of myself as a minimalist who occasionally dabbles in the idea of a very mild and strictly moderated form of excess. This dabbling happens rarely and you’ll most likely see it appear in the way of clusters of vases or candles, or in the volume of cushions I pile onto my relatively modest sofa. At Christmas however it surfaces much more prominently. Whilst my Christmas decorations perhaps aren’t too minimal, I’m going to confess that I do actually remove a lot of other objects from my rooms over the period to make everything feel a bit less cluttered. Clutter unnerves me. Vases, candle holders and even books find themselves packed away into large boxes and slid unceremoniously beneath the bed for the festive period.

At Christmas I also find myself making an unusual journey into a style that’s a little bit more traditional than I might normally go for. For me, the tree has to be real. I appreciate I have the luxury of not having the worry of whether an animal or child will send it flying, but fake tress just don’t do it for me. Too uniform in their appearance and unnatural in their silhouette; I just can’t substitute them for a real one. You can’t take the smell of the pine needles that will invariably find themselves attached to everything you own, although Jo Malone London definitely do a good job at trying.

 

Decorating the christmas Tree

 

As Saturday the 2nd of December arrived I was pretty giddy and entirely unashamed. Having spent the evening prior rearranging my living room to make way for its arrival, I was all set. On my way home I’d called in to purchase some mince pies (a mid-decorating coffee break essential) and a new blade for my saw. Last year – after my local farm shop sold sold the last 6ft tree despite my reservation – I ended up with a 9ft tree that required an hour’s worth of sawing to simply make it fit in the stand. I’m not even going to pretend to you I didn’t first try a bread knife because I did. I swiftly realised this wasn’t my best idea and I needed to purchase a saw. This year I was determined to be prepared for every eventuality.

The music goes on (a dedicated playlist created for this exact that you’ll helpfully find below for your listening pleasure), a winter-scented candle is lit and then it all can begin. First the lights, so here’s a good two hours of your day. One probably to untangle and drape them around the tree, the second to rearrange until they’re near perfect. With having such a big tree I tend to always need two sets of lights and with that in mind I purchased a set of 500 bright white lights from Dunelm. If you’re considering this yourself, don’t. Despite having 500 bulbs, they are arranged on a relatively short flex and are all of about 2 mm apart from each other. I’m sure most people won’t notice the difference between the lighting sets, I however will. Every single day. They also revert back to flashing mode whenever you turn them off, so for the first five minutes of them being on I’m mostly just trying to stop the rave occurring in my front room.

 

 

Next the larger, heavier baubles find themselves spaced intermittently around the tree. These can always prove to be rather tricky I find, particularly with the more vintage styles. Their immense weight just pulls the branches down in a rather ungainly fashion, so the ones that will house these little treasures need to be picked very precisely.

 

Vintage Glass Christmas Bauble

 

Once they’re safely in place and I’ve performed my test (a quick, sharp knock to the trunk to see if anything is a little to precarious),  it’s time for the medium ones. On my tree these baubles are varying shades of matte silver that came as part of an amazing set from Rockett St George a few years back, sadly they don’t seem to produce them anymore. Their dull finish breaks up the copper and bronze tones to stop it becoming too monotone before the smaller ‘filler’ baubles and decorations go on. You’re now becoming aware of how seriously I take this aren’t you?

 

Handpainted Christmas Bauble

Vintage Glass Christmas Bauble

 

Despite several years of looking I still haven’t found a tree topper that can come close to being described as ‘the one’, so instead the top of the tree is adorned by two paper stars I quickly made the night before with a little help from YouTube. I say ‘quickly’, there was nothing ‘quick’ about it I assure you. The recycling bag is filled with the failed attempts. Origami is apparently not my forte.

 

Decorating The Christmas Tree

For the first time this year I also decided to also purchase a second tree. This one’s a little more modest in its size. At a mere £10 from Sainsbury’s it just had to be brought home with me. The ugly black plastic pot it came in however wasn’t going to find a place in my home so needed to be hidden. I wrapped the pot in a plastic bag to hold in any water then set about wrapping it in brown paper and tying it up with twine. The white porcelaine stars from The White Company that decorate it make it all feel rather Nordic – something I’m absolutely okay with. The little orb lights were a much more successful Dunelm purchase: these I can and will recommend.

 

Nordic Christmas Tree

 

Happy weekend of tree decorating people. May it be filled with the scent of pine needles and warm mince pies.

Modern Christmas Tree Stand

|1.| Harbor Housewares Tree Stand |2.| Jo Malone Scented Decoration |3.| The White Company Fir Tree Scented Candle |4.| Ferm Living Tree Topper |5.| Ferm Living Tree Stand |6.| Brass Christmas Tree Candle Holders |7.| Jo Malone Pine & Eucalyptus Scented Candle

 

 

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