Cranberry Cookies for Christmas

I’ve been doing a bit of baking and thought you might like to try these cookies. They’re tasty and sweet and go down well with a good coffee. They’re not so much dunkers but are moist and chewy – try them for yourself.

Every year I buy a few tree decorations. Do you find that no matter how carefully you put yours away there’s always some damage to them? This year I bought a little robin on a bell. Robins are special to me. They remind me of my mother. We didn’t have the greatest relationship and now she’s gone. Her childhood was very sad. Her own mother had died on a Christmas Eve and she had ended up in care. Her life wasn’t easy and she didn’t get a lot of love.

She always tried to make Christmas happy, though. And she loved birds, especially robins, so decorating my tree with them is one way I honour her memory and wish her a Happy Christmas to let her know she will never be forgotten and is in my heart.

And so I spotted  this sweet little robin and soon had it perched in my tree:

Remember the Fat Face robot santa – here he is!

I bought a couple of other Christmassy bits  – I have to confess I bought the snowman for the tin and not the shortbread. He is so cute and will come out again next year – he’d make a great jellybean tub!

I got some linen pieces out to practice embroidery stitches and found some nice little things I’d been working on a while ago. I want to work on some new stuff and am inspired by a book I got for Christmas, ‘Zacca Embroidery’ by Yumiko Higuchi. Watch this space!

The Christmas cake finally got marzipanned so good progress there. And now for the ambitious bit. I want to make some gingerbread panels in the shapes of houses and trees to go around the sides and a mini gingerbread house on top.

First step was to measure the circumference of the cake to find out how many and how big each panel should be. I then measured the depth. I don’t mind the houses and trees standing a little proud of the cake but not too much.

Next step was to sit down with Illustrator and design the panels to the size of the cake. Here are mine:

 

 

 

I’m going to make up the gingerbread dough and cut around the outer shapes and bake them. The houses will be stuck to the cake with Royal Icing. The trees will stand slightly in front in ‘snowfalls’ of icing.

When it comes to decorating the panels those mavens of the internet recommend that the gingerbread be left for two to three days to soften slightly. Then comes the genius bit – prick the design through the paper  and either dust over the top of the paper with sifted icing sugar to leave an outline or remove the paper and join the dots of the patterns by scratching them together with a pin. Then you have your guide lines for piping icing. Brilliant.

To decorate the top of the cake, I want to make a miniature gingerbread house. Here is my template:

I’m going to say right here and now that the lacy-edged roof panels won’t happen! I got a bit carried away on the frilly detail there. They will be rounded off for sure! The panels will be cut from gingerbread and ‘glued’ together with royal icing.

What’s left to say?

Would you like the recipe?

GINGERBREAD
275g / 9.75 oz Plain Flour
100g / 3.5oz butter
90g / 3.25 oz Golden Syrup
75g / 2.5 oz sugar
40g / 1.5 oz Treacle
1 Egg Yolk
1 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
1.5 tsp Ground Cinnamon
0.5 tsp Ground Ginger
0.5 tsp Ground Cloves

Mix the butter, syrup and treacle into a large saucepan over a low heat until melted and blended together. Stir in the spices. Take the mixture off the heat and allow it to cool for a few minutes then stie in the egg yolk. Add the flour and bicarbonate of soda into the mixture and blend well.

Take the mixture out of the bowl and wrap it in clingfilm. Put it in the fridge to firm up.

When the mixture is ready, roll out as evenly as you can and cut out your biscuit shapes. Place them on a baking tray with more space than you’d usually give for other types of biscuits (this mixture tends to spread) and then put the tray into the fridge for ten minutes or so.

Finally, bake at 180 fan oven or gas mark 5 for 10 to 15 minutes.

Leave them to cool thoroughly before icing. If you want to prick your design, leave them for two to three days, by which time they will have softened to make this a relatively easy task.

ROYAL ICING FOR PIPING AND FLOODING
2lbs / 900g Icing Sugar
4 Egg Whites
2 fl oz  / 60 ml Water

Whisk the ingredients together in a large bowl. For piping thin lines, see how many seconds it takes for the surface of your icing to smooth over. Between 9 – 10 seconds is a good consistency for piping. You’ll need a fine piping nozzle for this.

For flood icing, to fill in between the piped lines, the icing will smooth over in approximately 6 seconds. You don’t want it to be watery and runny but gently flowing and pourable. I use a coffee stirrer – those wooden lollipop sticks you get in Starbucks to spread the flood icing.

Obviously, you will make more or less depending on the quantity of biscuits you make.

I will make more to cover the cake and will add some gelatine to it to stop it from setting like concrete. The consistency for that will not smooth over and will stand in round peaks if slapped with a spatula. I want it to look rough and snowy. It will coat the cake and will constitute the adhesive for sticking the panels on with.

So, you have my ambitious plan and the templates and the recipes! Maybe you have a go – I’d love to see the results and yours will probably be a lot better than mine!  Wish me luck and on that note, I hope you all had a lovely Christmas.
x

Merry Christmas 2016

Life has been hectic enough without Christmas coming along so suddenly! Just a few weeks ago we had visitors and had a lovely week out and about. We popped off to Belfast to see the Titanic exhibition. It’s really awesome and well worth going to. Here’s a shot of the famous yellow cranes of Belfast shipyard:

The building itself is really cool and you can see the shape of the ship cleverly incorporated into the design.

Fast Forward. It’s Christmas Eve.

By now, everything should be done. Amazon shelves totally bare and the shops emptied out, though, probably not, it just feels as though they should be judging from the piles of presents and the debits mounting ever-higher on the bank account statements… The house spick and span…

Or not… My house still looks as though the builders are in. Today I really (* I really must*) tidy round and clean the loos  and get the place looking less ‘lived in’. As I type, I can hear the washing machine getting through a wash load. The cake is sitting in its Lock ‘n’ Lock admonishing me for not giving it a coat of golden marzipan. I am definitely doing that today. The cake won’t be ready tomorrow but that’s not a bother. There’s plenty to eat and we won’t starve for the want of a slice of fruit cake. But. Bleh. Cleaning up on Christmas Eve.

I can report that the presents are bought, wrapped, delivered or under the tree. That is an amazeballs achievement for me who leaves wrapping to the last minute usually.

This time last week, I was in Manchester visiting family and naturally had to have a wander around the spectacular Christmas market! Apologies for the blurred picture – it was packed and there were were no little niches or spaces to stand still for a photo. It was a constant jostle.

The market is H-U-G-E – absolutely GINAGEROUS and sprawls for several blocks between the big stores there. The DJ on radio Nova said it ranked as one of the top five Christmas markets in the world. It would take some doing to get around them all in one evening. I didn’t but enjoyed three or so happy hours there. The squares were lit up and the atmosphere was vibrant and festive. The air had wonderful smells of bratwurst sausages cooking (bought a pack, uncooked, obviously, for Mr Tree)  and the log cabins selling steins of German lager were plentiful. I bought the heaven of headwear – a sheepskin hat, fluffed up like a Russian Cossack. (The Aer Lingus check-in guy asked me if I was going to Russia when I came back to Ireland). It’s flamboyant, champagne coloured and gorgeous. Fifty English squids but it made me feel like a million dollars.

Despite my love of robots, I didn’t succumb to these vintage temptations. I really wanted to but only had hand luggage and knew that I’d probably not have the room….(turned out I was right, groan).

The following day we went to Skipton.  A very celebrated pork pie shop indeed – Mr Tree was delighted when I brought back a huge pork pie (I went over to England by myself). This fine establishment should be a national treasure. The pie was superb.

We drove on to Ilkley and stopped for a mooch around the lovely little shops there. Loads of charity shops! I popped into each and every one of them – glorious! In one, I picked up a bag with 8 or so full square yards of cotton fabrics – gorgeous designs, four Amy Butler designs – and a brand new ball of knitting/crochet cotton for a fiver (one of the UK’s new plastic ones)! I would have paid in the region of €70, or more, for it all over here. Brilliant find.

There was a small Betty’s Teashop there. Betty’s is a quintessentially English tea room and has a flagship store in York that I’ve been to a couple of times. I didn’t know they had a little one in Ilkley. There were some lovely decorated Lebkuchen on display:

Think this is pretty?

The alpine village scene, made up from panels of Lebkuchen houses and trees was a real show stopper. Isn’t it gorgeous? This was taken outside the shop:

And this shot is of the back of the ‘cake’ from inside the shop. It is actually comprised of three tiered ‘boxes’ of Lebkuchen, each coated with a rough snow of royal icing.

It had a price tag of £500. I didn’t buy it!

Anyway, my fruit cake won’t marzipan itself so I’d better get a wiggle on.

Wherever you are, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Roid Rage Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the rage! Android rage! I received this super robot tree dec in the post last week. He didn’t come from the north pole, he came from the UK  with some other nicey things that I’m delighted with. Apparently, they looked all over the north (of England) in the Fat Face shops – he is a Fat Face Robot – but came up empty – sold out everywhere – until they got to Skipton.  My tree is not yet up so he’s sitting on the mantlepiece until it is.

My Christmas is very behind this year. My cake was made back in August (I think) and has been given a slug of brandy most weeks since to get the fruit matured and rich. But, it’s not marzipanned or iced. There are a ton of presents in carrier bags sitting in the sewing room waiting to be wrapped but that’s as far as I’ve got. The work ‘Secret Santa’ is the only present with wrapping on. I must get a wiggle on or we’ll be in 2017 before I know what day it is and without my feet touching the ground – to mix my metaphors like the kind of experimental cocktail that seems like a good idea when a bit tiddly. Like the vintage gear you bought thinking it looked great (mind’s eye sees a stylish and enviable outfit put togather with eclat – rude awakening of critical faculties suddenly shows you that you’re wearing old clothes that your granny would have put out with the rubbish). The bien pensant comes to the fore and soon gets the M & S cardi two-piece out from the back of the wardrobe.

 

Amazon has been my right arm, shopping-wise. I must be sitting on the board by now. Things are still being delivered this week and some stuff will arrive just after but as they’re for the two of us and we’re both grown ups (I think) so we don’t mind that Santa is prioritising homes with children over us. So long as he doesn’t forget we’re there. Material girl. There. I like presents.

Anyhoo, isn’t he cute?

Next weekend I’m off to Manchester for the Christmas Market there. It’s ranked in the top 5 in the world (so the DJ on radio Nova said) but I can well believe it. I’ve been before and it’s absolutely huge with loads of wonderful Christmassy ambience. Log cabins festooned with coloured and twinkly lights, German beers and hot spicy sausages… lots to see and buy. Proper hand-crafted, good quality goods that can’t be bought from the big stores. I can’t wait and am excity pants thinking about it. My partner will stay home and look after my girls, little Gracie and aunty Jess. I will be staying with my Big Boy and partner so you can imagine what a wonderful treat this all is. I hope I can find a few things to spoil them with. Hopefully, my other lovely boy and his partner will be able to come over just after Crimble so more excitement! I am blessed with an abundance of riches.

Crocheting is still a go-to hobby. This is the small butterfly from the Mypicot pattern I recently posted a link to. It needs a body with a head and antennae to finish then stitching up. The loose ends of each piece have been woven in and is definitely on one of the nine rings of hell that Dante spoke of. It’s such a ruddy chore. The pattern has been ever-so-slightly amended but not obviously so. Isn’t it looking lovely? Thank You Mypicot.

I  started making some crocodile stitch bootees last night and was following a free pattern that I downloaded and printed from Crochet Jewel’s website.  Have a quick squiz – they are really fab. Anyway, I stopped just as I’d finished the first row of V stitches. This morning, I went to carry on and could not find the pattern anywhere. Just vanished. Not a bother. I’ll print it again and soon get on with them.

Have you seen Ms Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children? It’s an odd, quirky, wonderful film directed by Tim Burton so you’d expect it to have the dimension of strange! It’s a lovely film and enjoyed every minute of it, so much so, I now have the three Ms Peregrine books on my reader. So well written, such a good story and full of imagination and intrigue. The author has an odd name, too – Ransom Riggs.

My work is logical, linear and left-brain so I really need some expressive outlets otherwise I’ll turn into an android myself. Probably a bit paranoid  like Marvin. Haven’t read  that book (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) in years!

To keep my hand in, I started work on a couple of paper cuts recently. This one is destined to be machine cut. It’s barely started and nothing is linked but I have a few ideas on how this design will be developed, probably over Christmas break.

 

 

 

 

Beautiful words, poems, sentiments, etc are enrapturing me lately! Floating on this cloud of beatific serenity has inspired me to make papercut frames to surround them. This quote (I think is often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela) is food for the soul.

I typed the words out using a circular frame in Illustrator so that the text and created a round concentric frame outside it. The rest of the design is about placing, welding and deciding which petals go in front of others and which get cut out, etc. This design is nearly ready and will probably go on Etsy after Christmas. I’m also working on a frame for Desiderata, another nurturing and beautiful poem.

I think the dinner is ready. Roast chicken, roast vegetables and sweet potato. Time to go!

Be good! Be kind and enjoy yourself!

Love them meeces to pieces!

mousies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been too long since I did any kind of paper designing or cutting so today I got out some vehicle-grade vinyl and cut a couple of mousies for my car. It’s on the grubby side but was only cleaned last Monday. Since then, it has been up and down the motorway to Dublin and back every day and got grimy and gritty like every other car on the road. I designed them in Illustrator then saved them as SVGs so I could cut them with my Cougar.

Of course, if you have cats, you know that you cannot sit down and get on with something without the help of at least one of them. Gracie is our resident IT expert and the mice were designed under her watchful eyes! As you can see, her gaze is pretty fierce so I didn’t dare mess up or who knows what wrath I could have incurred.

gracie-nov16Once the mice had been cut out, I laid strips of masking tape down the lengths of the mice and peeled them off the backing sheet.

After that first step has been done, it was a simple matter to stick the design down to the car and carefully peel off the masking tape, strip by strip, ensuring it hadn’t lifted the vinyl with it.

Finally, I placed the original backing sheet on top of the vinyl and burnished the mice down over the top of it. I used a small de-icer to apply the pressure and the backing sheet provided a protective layer so the car didn’t get scratched.

I llve the end result. You could say I love them meeces to pieces.

gracie2nov16I think Gracie approved but she would have preferred real mice, I’m sure.

November is here now and the leaves are crunchy underfoot. I love autumn. The leaf litter everywhere is a riot of colour. I’m sure God uses Photoshop and ups the saturation at this time of year!

I think the lawns will have one last cut and then the lawnmower will be put away until the spring. I need to strim around the edges and tidy the sides and then the garden can go to sleep for the winter, pretty much. I still have to pop out regularly to pick up the apples that are falling off the tree, though. Finding uses for the the apples is a bit of a nuisance. Can only eat so many. I mix them with Bramleys in apple crumbles and have enough apple sauce to last until next year and have given lots away. There are plenty out there for the birds. I’ll give it some thought as it’s such a waste not to make good use of them. Talking of the birds, I bought a tub of 50 fat balls for €10 so they will have something to eat once the fruits, berries and insects have died away. I usually throw out a handful of sultanas or raisins for the thrushes and blackbirds as they have a sweet tooth and love dried fruits!

My neighbour brought me round a tub of green tomatoes. She grows lots of things and doesn’t use insecticides or pesticides. Totally organic. Brillo! And, you can’t get them in the supermarkets now – they’re all red – which is fine – but I’ve been wanting to make green tomato chutney and now I can!

If the chutney turns out well, I’ll post pictures and the recipe. If not, you’ll know it was a disaster. Fingers crossed!

Snails Tales or the rant about a set of Addi Swing crochet hooks

swingsA long time ago,  August 20th, I ordered a set of Addi Swing crochet hooks from a seller on Etsy. They were described as a set of thirteen. They looked fab-u-lous and I loved them. They weren’t cheap and nor was the shipping – €16 from Germany to Ireland. The consignment  was to be signed for when it came.

Seller said she would despatch  3 – 5 days from the order. However, she actually despatched on day 6, a Saturday, August 27th.  No matter, I thought. But, a week wasted already.

They were despatched and I was able to track their progress as far as Frankfurt airport. After that they just disappeared. No sign of them. Tracking just stopped.

They were due to arrive, no later than the 8th September. But, by the beginning of September I was getting itchy fingers and sent her a friendly query asking her if she had any tracking information as I had hoped they would come earlier.

She then (allegedly) contacted Deutche Post who said it would take up to 12 days (I presumed working days) to get to me. She complained that she couldn’t get to a post office any sooner than the 6th day following the order as she had a shop and couldn’t leave her premises. Hmm, that was a bit of an iffy thing to say considering in her blurb she says she set up her Etsy shop to ensure that us crocheting crafters who liked our nice hooks and things didn’t have to wait. She’d had experience of waiting and waiting and knew the purgatory us craftspeople suffered waiting for our gorgeous things!

Anyhow, when they didn’t arrive a week or so later, I contacted her again and asked her to investigate as I should have had them by then and if they didn’t arrive I would want a refund. She went ballistic.  Said that I HAD  them and that I was trying to scam her and she would NOT give me a refund. WTF??! I was out nearly €100 and no crochet hooks to show for it.

I contacted Etsy. They shut down direct communications between us and mediated but let us see each other’s comments. She then told Etsy that I had them (no proof of that – nothing signed for). Said I had never contacted her for tracking information or further details. She told Etsy that  I was LYING – Yes, that was the actual word she used. How very rude and outrageous of her! Acting the maggot like that! And, dear reader, her words were so untrue.

Well maties, she wasn’t going to get away with that. I contacted Pay Pal and got them involved.

She told Etsy that Deutche Post had said it could take 12 – 14 days to get to me, not the 10 – 12 she had written via our original Etsy communications. BUT I had still waited longer than that. Silly woman was also obviously unaware that both Pay Pal and Etsy had full sight of all previous communications between us and could see I HAD contacted her and could see the dates she had given me.

Eventually, she was left with humble pie all over her chops. She contacted Deutche Post by phone and finally found out they were sitting in a depot in Germany and left me a message to say they would be with me within a week.  I  waited and was literally going to give her 5 working days before demanding a refund. By now, both Etsy and Pay Pal could see that I couldn’t have already had them because of that admission regarding Deutche Post.

But Joy. On the fifth day they arrived. That was September 25th. Did she apologise? NO! She left me a message complaining that it had cost her nearly €20 in phone calls to track down the delivery and expedite it.WHAT? She whinged and whined to me because the shipping method she used did not despatch in a timely fashion and somehow I should sympathise with her for having to fork out money to investigate where they were?!

However, are the hooks lovely? Yes. Very. But, being picky, they are not so much a set but a collection of 13 individually packaged hooks, which, had I known, I would have ordered individually from Amazon for pretty much the same price in total – and would have had them in DAYS.

I see her American buyers  in their feedback to her are happy with the service – she uses DHL (they the right initials?) for them. But Europe? Ner – snail mail. And what’s more, snails with bloody clubbed feet dragging a lump of concrete behind them could have delivered them faster.

So, Grrrr. My rant is done. Did I leave her negative feedback? No. This is my vent and it won’t harm her business in any shape or form. I would NEVER in a million years buy from her again, though.

Now, during all the malarkey between us, my other half was convinced I would never get the hooks and didn’t want me to be disappointed. He (bless his cotton-picking sainted heart) ordered another set that had been on my wish list. They came (in three days from Amazon) in a sweet pink case with scissors and darning needles. The brand is Tulips and they hookey up like a dream.

pinkcase

 

 

 

 

 

 

pinkopen

 

 

 

 

 

So now I have two fabulous sets of hooks. An embarassment of riches, indeed. I feel so spoiled.

mypicotflowerWhat could I do but try them out? I set-to on the final flower to finish a corsage based on the bouquet on the MyPicot website.You can get the pattern if you click the link.

Mypicot also has some drop-dead-gorgeous butterfly patterns to crochet as well as loads of other beautiful things. And now she has an e-book full of her patterns which I think I need to order; I love her designs.

By the way, do you like the fabric? I totally fell in love with it – and another design that was similar in style but different.fab1

 

 

 

 

fabbyfabrics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They just are, aren’t they?!

Hope the rest of your weekend is great and all is well in your world.

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