Last Christmassy bits

Top of Christmas cake

The ham is all but finished, the tree is swiftly desiccating, the presents have been well and truly played with and we have travelled a scenic coastal route for about 1300 kms in the last few days to be in Sydney with dear friends for New Year’s Eve.

I do loves me a brand spanking new year. A fresh slate, endless opportunities and possibilities. Makes me itch with anticipation.

Just before 2013 dissolves into a shiny new dawn, I did just want to show you the last Christmas-related bits.

We had our big family Christmas on Christmas Eve this year which may well become a new thing for us as it leaves Christmas Day to really relax. It felt kind of European and somehow extra Christmassy and there’s nothing like a twinkling light or two and flickering candle to really up the atmosphere.

We did the whole shebang: 8 kilo turkey and whole leg of ham with all the trimmings. The ham was, if I do say so myself, spectacular this year. I brought it to a festive sheen with a quince paste, honey and mustard glaze. Delish.

whole baked ham with calico handle

My mum always makes Christmas cakes and plum pudding to an old family recipe. This year I decorated the top of our cake with the cutest snowman ever (made by Sophia a couple of Christmases ago), some paint chip pine trees (the colour, appropriately, “fir green”) and a sprinkling of icing sugar snow.

Christmas cake with snowman and pine trees

This was one of the most treasured gifts this year: a new blankie. Think she likes it?

Olive with her blankie

Despite the slightly Euro feel to this year’s celebrations, we went with an Australian bush Christmas theme for the table eating. Mum and I spray-painted gum leaves and gum nuts silver which combined with the minty greens and coral of fresh gum and blossoms made a beautiful centre-piece.

Gum tree Christmas table centre piece

The girls made gifts for each other and this year Sophia’s form Olive was, well, unintentionally hilarious.

The only thing Olive loves more than baby dolls is the thought of herself as a baby. So we combined the two. I printed a photo of Olive’s baby face onto some fabric and then Sophia drew in the other details. After that we cut it out, I sewed it together and Sophia stuffed it. I should have left a slightly larger seam allowance around the head of the doll. Because this is not what Olive looked like as a babe!

Olive doll sibling present

The irony is that her head was more like a pumpkin than this pin-headed weirdo would have you believe.

From this angle she looks slightly closer to herself. But still like an alien.

Olive doll

I made a desultory attempt to talk Soph into us making another but she was happy with it. And, more importantly, as the next photo attests, Olive was delighted. I love the way Soph is looking at her to gauge her reaction.

Olive opening her sibling present

Olive did remarkably well despite her enormous cast in decorating this mug for her big sister using ceramic pens. Sophia fancies herself quite the tea drinker (even though the tea is never actually consumed in any vaster quantities than a sip or two) so she was thrilled to have her very own cup for that purpose.

Sophia's sibling present mug

Last of all, I wanted to show you these sweet little panforte. A heavily spiced dense cake, I used to overdose on these regularly when we lived in Italy. This was my first go at making them myself and they worked beautifully. And my kitchen smelled like Christmas on a stick from grinding all the fresh spices: whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, cardamom seeds and vanilla pods.


Panforte in little cake tin

wrapped this one as a gift for a girlfriend and put it on the Christmas-set the table just to get quick shot but next year I think I might try to make a heap of these in advance and use them as take-home place settings. Tell her she’s dreaming….sighs a voice in the background!

Homemade panettone

See you on the flip side my darlings. Have a fabulous start to 2014.

Christmas Traditions

One of the things I was most excited about when I was pregnant with Sophia, was the thought of future family traditions. And they come easy at Christmas.

You’ve met our elf on the shelf and these are some of the others.

1. Letters to Father Christmas.

In these shots (taken last December) Olive is dictating to her sisterly scribe.

Girls composing letters to Santa  Girls writing letters to Father Christmas

2. Advent Calendar

After last year’s debacle when my daily bespoke creations petered out around the 15th and the mere thought of coming up with new ideas made me cranky, this year I invested in a ready-made calendar. The girls are loving this Playmobil Santa’s Letter Depot set. We’re still waiting on the big-ticket items: the tree, reindeer and sleigh.

Playmobil Advent Calendar

3. Setting out the Christmas books.

Stack of Christmas books

Every year on December 1st we get and decorate our tree and put out the Christmas books. I try to add a couple to the pile each year. These are scenes from some of our favourites. I love coming back to these same books every year and re-reading them in the evenings with the kids.Christmas Book collage

4. Gingerbread House

We don’t do this every year as it is time-consuming. This year, in the interests of staying calm and festive, I bought a kit for this Christmas shack. And I’m loving it – for every reason. Especially as we have an Australian Bush Christmas kind of  theme in mind for the table this year.

Christmas gingerbread shack

5. Christmas pyjamas

Each Christmas Eve the girls get a special pair of matching Christmas pyjamas. They are not always overtly Christmassy (although this year’s with the cute red and white stripey bow have a hint) but just something to build the excitement. As if it needs building on Christmas Eve. We are usually at fever pitch by about Dec 21st.

Christmas pyjamas Sophia package

And I just had to show you this. This is the letter written by Sophia to Father Christmas last year. It’s all very expected until the P.S.  Last year a girl in Sophia’s class began bullying her and we spent much of last year trying to help her deal with that. Anyway, her request made me laugh and seems, in this mamma’s biased mind in any case, perfectly appropriate!

Letter to Father Christmas

Not exactly in keeping with the Christmas spirit, but it did make me laugh. When you’re 7, getting someone banished to FC’s naughty list is the equivalent of bringing in the regiments.

Even better though, she’s asked the big guy to make sure he doesn’t forget the ones who were her stalwart supporters. Now that’s the Christmas spirit.

Meet Jingle: our elf on the shelf

Elf on the Shelf collage

Jingle arrives in December (sometimes not quite on the 1st because he occasionally gets lost flying in) and watches the kids behaviour through December. He flies home to the North Pole every night to report to Father Christmas and back to us each dawn. So, yes, he is essentially a whistle-blowing behavioural motivation coach.

He likes to change positions every morning. Sometimes it can be tricky to find him. Turns out he’s partial to using the kids underpants as a flying fox. Should I be worried?

He’s a cheeky elf, our Jingle, and he would be even cheekier if the voice of reason (i.e.handsome husband) didn’t step in from time to time and point out the children may be traumatised rather than delighted if Jingle tapes himself to the the wall with gaffer tape hostage-style.

A quick search on “naughty elf on the shelf” on Pinterest is an edifying activity. I think he’ll only get naughtier as the girls get older.

Elf on the shelf snow flour angel

Whaddya think: cute Christmas tradition or creepy peeping tom tale-teller?

Mini Christmas Puddings: the cheats’ version

Choc royal puddings 2

These little babies are quick, kitsch and festive – a magical trifecta in my books.

You just use Chocolate Royal biscuits  – at least that’s what they’re called here in Australia. I feel sure everyone must have something similar, and if you don’t, perhaps contact your local political members to address that abuse of your basic human rights.

They are biscuit discs topped with jam then marshmallow and dipped in chocolate.

Choc Royal pudding close up

They remind me so strongly of my paternal Grandmother, Isabella, who ALWAYS had a plastic Tupperware container of Chocolate Royals in her neat-as-a-pin kitchen cupboard. They were such a treat and after we had chosen one she would carefully replace the lid, slowly squeezing the air out fastidiously, and tuck them away again. A soothing ritual, of which she had many.

Choc Roayl puddings

She would love these I think. Just drizzle some white chocolate over the top, pop on a Jaffa and some chopped up green jubes for leaves and Bob, as they say, will be your uncle.

The girls loved helping me with these (as you can well imagine) and it’s something kids can do almost entirely on their own  – perhaps just with help to melt the white choc if yours, as mine, are still just a mite short to reach the microwave.

And I have to tell ya, they’ve been the first thing to go at every function they’ve made an appearance at – both for kids and adults! And I may or may not have eaten 50 bajillion of them myself. Nostalgia is a powerful force.

Christmases past

First living wreath

Every year I do it. Get over-excited. Plan too much. End up feeling a bit less jolly and a bit more postal.

Edge of fabric cracker

Not doing it this year.

Gingerbread house - front view

I do have a few things planned – I mean a girl can’t just go cold Christmas turkey now can she?

Christmas drinks invitations and Christmasy polar bear

But mainly I’m just trying to be present. In each moment. And yes, I know how trite that sounds but I am still committed to doing it because I think it is worthwhile.

Cream velvet bow on golden Christmas tree decoration

And my window of opportunity to have little girls looking at the Elf on the Shelf in wonder is swiftly closing.

Christmas Tea light, vintage bauble and shelf elf

In fact, the older one already maintains that she’s sure the elf comes from Ebay and not the North Pole.

Close-up of jingle bells on Olive's stocking

You have to believe to receive, I say. And that puts paid to her scepticism. Out loud, at least.


In the meantime I’ve been looking back through some of my posts from past Christmases. I’m re-posting some of my favourite projects and hope they might give you some festive inspiration…or just provide a bit of xmas eye-candy at the very least.

Christmas Card - bunting

Click on the “Christmas ” in the righthand sidebar to see all these and many more Christmas posts. There aren’t really tutorials for most of these but if you want any details , drop me an email (on the contacts page above) and I’ll be very happy to oblige you with  a quick set of instructions.

Christmas candy cane lollipps

I love the wintery-ness of a Northern hemisphere Christmas. Which is completely at odds with the searing heat of antipodean celebrations.

Tolkien's Father Christmas Letters - Polar Bear's Accident

Don’t get me wrong, I relish everything about an Australian Christmas but I simply cannot help but emblazon things with snowflakes. Feels so wrong and yet I can’t stop.  Christmas crack.

Jube wreath close up with description

This cosy Christmas in July was a natural progression for one so taken with the thought of roaring fires and snow-trimmed windows.

Christmas table by candlelight

There’s a white Christmas in our near future. I feel it in me waters.

Starlight mint bauble with description

What about you, my darlings. Grand Christmas project plans? I love to live vicariously so let me know in the comments if you feel inclined. Oh go on, do.

Starlight mint LED lights

Painted wooden serving boards: a tutorial

small aqua ended cheese board gold knife on angle

Last Christmas my brother gave me Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook: ” Jamie’s 15 minute meals”.  It both inspired and perplexed me.

Blue cheese platter close up

I was  inspired by the painted serving boards in the book but perplexed by the notion that anyone could complete some of the recipes in there in 15 minutes.

Edge of red edge cheese platter

Achievability of the food within aforementioned time limit aside, I’m here to tell you these painted wooden boards (if not Jamie’s recipes) whip up in under 15 minutes. Well, the first coat, anyway. Okay, so maybe don’t start these at a quarter to I’ve-got-to-be-somewhere.  Twenty to should be plenty though!

Pile of 3 wooden cheese boards

Once again, I’ve employed my very favourite masking tape and paper punch stencil method…

Wooden cheese platter board painters tape stencil

with much success.

Painted wooden cheese board blue dots

I hesitated to call this a tutorial as (with so many of my thangs) it really is criminally simple but I’m going to go ahead and do that anyway because I’m badass like that.

Small aqua edged cheese platter gold knife below

What you need:

  • Wooden serving board, cheese board, platter. Whatever takes your fancy. Do ensure it is not treated ie, safe to serve food on.
  • Food safe paint.
  • Painter’s tape or good quality masking tape

I got my food safe paint from ecolour paints.  I highly recommend them. They were lovely to deal with on the phone and very helpful despite the fact I was only ordering sample-sized quantities of paint. You  only need a small amount for this project and 0.5 litre typically costs AUS$13. Pretty decent I think.

Eco colour paint pots

I’m sorry I can’t give you international suppliers but I’m sure a google search in your area would lead you to what you want.

Blue cheese platter with walnuts, olives, quince paste, brieThe other thing I truly LOVE about this company is they can mix up any colour at all. You just choose the paint swatch you want and let them know the brand and name of the colour.

Aqua stripe cheese platter

What to do:

1. Paint your wood.

You can use steel wool to rough it up for a distressed look once it’s dry. Or use painter’s masking tape to create stripes and perfect straight lines. And use your paper punch to make templates. Endless possibilities.

Painted wooden platter in progress masking tape

I am making some of these for Christmas gifts this year. I think a board along with a beautiful cheese knife or even a round of cheese and some quince paste makes a beautiful Christmas present.

Red edged cheese platter closer

I collected my boards from various spots including IKEA and the local supermarket. The olives, however, are our backyard 2013 crop. Salty little bastards but I love ’em. Quince paste is mine too. Satisfying to have two homemade comestibles on the one platter.

Homemade olives

And don’t feel limited to cheese. I had a party last night and served a pile of homemade brownies on some of these boards. If you can put it on a platter, you can put it on one of these.

Red-edged painted wooden cheese board

Acqua stripe cheese board close up

PS: I’ve updated the look of my blog. I struggled to let go of my twirling chick on horseback but I’m much happier with the cleaner feel of this new design. Also, for a long time I’ve wanted a theme that  showcases my photographs better. They’re now bigger (in the horizontal view) and, I hope, better for that fact. Whaddya think?

Christmas 2012 wrap up.

Close up wreath on blue door

So what happens when you have your floors re-done in mid December, throw a drinks party on the 23rd and host a full Christmas lunch at home on the 25th is that plans for everything else –  other than preparation for those things and making sure there are presents under the tree for the kids – goes completely awry.

The edible Christmas thing started well. Ended with a whimper. I didn’t do half the projects I had planned. So they’re consigned to next year.

The advent calendar thing started well. It ended with not so much a whimper as the collective, daily groan of two little girls who, after about the 11th of December did not get another advent package.  I often feel the phrase “first world problems” can be used too dismissively, but in this case, I felt it did neatly sum up what the kids were experiencing. That’s right, it’s not shoddy follow-through on my part, it’s excessive first world expectations that are to blame.

My story.

Sticking to it.

Just for the sake of completeness, and Gaga knows I loves me my completeness, here is a little round-up of some other Christmas bits and bobs that went on this year.

In the edible Christmas stakes,  I did also make a beautiful, starlight mint wreath.

Starlight wreath mint - bright white

It took a long time to unwrap each mint. And even longer to hot glue each one to the wreath form. But by golly it is pretty.

Starlight mint wreath close up = bright white

Heavy, too. And now also melting  a bit as it is hung over our stove top.

Starlight mint wreath - melting

It is not my original idea, but something I saw on Pinterest. It’s on my Pinterest Christmas board if you’d like to check out the original.

I also put out these cute starlight mint LED candles that I found on Ebay.

Starlight mint LED lights

The native floral wreaths were one of my favourite things this year. I had to replace the flowers every 4 or 5 days or so but that gave great scope for new blooms, new colours and a bit of  creativity.

This one is about number 5 I think.

Native wreath on blue door

Oh yeah, and we had our front door painted. And the whole front of our house – just the door blue though. As you do. In December. When things are really calm and not busy at all.

Christmas wreath on blue door close up

I’m kind of loving the colour. Only kind of. Not sure how long it will last. I’m heading into a fuchsia and forest green stage I think. You can imagine how enamoured with the idea of a fuchsia front door my handsome husband is. He’s a good man. A patient man.

This year a wee elf arrived on 1st December and stayed with us, keeping a close (if somewhat cheeky and sidelong) watch on the girls.

Elf on Shelf with bauble

As the book that arrives with him explains, the Elf on the Shelf keeps watch during the day and flies home each night to the North Pole to report to Father Christmas on the levels of naughty and/or nice he’s observed during the day.

Sadly, I think  Sophia is already reaching the sceptical stage and she took some convincing (well, just general threats that you have to believe to receive actually) that the elf had indeed arrived from aforementioned pole and that I had not just “bought him on ebay”. Where does she get this stuff? I only buy stuff on ebay like once a day. Sheesh.

Anyway, the elf moves to a different observational spot each day. I had grand plans for our elf to get up to some very funny tricks indeed (some potentially involving inappropriate behaviour with Barbies and a bottle of Tequila that would be photographed for posterity but obviously cleaned up by the morning for general viewing) but again, we were so busy and exhausted that we were lucky to remember to move the elf at all, let alone have the kids discover him in a bubble bath made of marshmallows.

Next year there will be cheeky and hilarious elven carryings-on. If you google Elf on the Shelf ideas you get everything from elves taking aforementioned marshmallow bubble baths to elves photocopying their bums. So many hilarious and vaguely inappropriate things to look forward to manipulating our elf into doing.

On our bookcase, I strung up some beautiful vintage baubles.

Christmas Tea light, vintage bauble and shelf elf

I also completely stripped the tree around the 18th December as the edible decorations  had been slowly but surely depleted. I went for traditional read and white bows instead. Although I did leave the starlight mint baubles on as they didn’t get eaten quite as regularly.

As is tradition here, Christmas Eve saw the girls excitedly jump into their new nighties and have a few photos in front of the tree before reading a chapter or two of Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters.

Girls in pjs Christmas Eve

My handsome husband and I then spent 4 hours wrapping presents.

I am hopeless at wrapping presents. Hopeless. Although, this year I did find a sweet way to wrap the one gift of cashola that we gave our darling God-daughter who is saving for a trip to Italy.

Cracker wrapping

Handmade Christmas crackers. That was another thing I was going to do. I made them a year back or so for Christmas in July but again, just ran out of time this year. Next year.

Edge of fabric cracker

We just managed to squeeze in sibling gifts as well. Sophia made Olive some beautiful Christmas decorations, and a Christmas puzzle while Olive decorated a little wooden box – inside and out, mind- with Sharpies and glitter for her big sister to keep treasures in. The sweetness breaks my heart.

Christmas Day was spectacular. The weather was the best we have had for as long as I can remember. A perfect, sunny day, gentle  breeze, around 25 degrees (celsius) I suppose.

We set up a huge square table in our courtyard and had lots of fun with my husband’s side of the family plus some Swedish friends who we celebrate with every year as well.

I did the usual suspects: a 6kg turkey and a 3 kg ham. I glazed the ham with a plum and mustard glaze this year after studding it with cloves. Served it with whole honeyed plums. It was delish. But it was the turkey that made me really excited.

I got a beautiful new oven just before Christmas (what? find a plumber and an electrician 2 days before Christmas to install it? You better bloody believe I did – although I must confess there were tears involved) and so I was determined to cook a moist turkey. I eschewed brining – although I’m keen to try that another time – and instead used an ice pack to cool down just the turkey’s breast for about 30 minutes before cooking. That meant the breast and legs were ready at the same time.

Now look, I know I’m prone to hyperbole, but I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that was THE moistest turkey breast I’ve ever eaten. And I’ve seen a few breasts. Many of them on turkeys.

So my beasts were good, but the dish that received a spontaneous round of applause was the SPECTACULAR prawn and salmon cake that our Swedes brought.

Swedish prawn cake

My goodness, you have not lived until you’ve tasted this. Words aren’t adequate to describe the deliciousness but it is a traditional smorgasbord dish consisting of layers of fresh white bread, sour cream, egg, mayonnaise, smoked salmon, fresh, sweet prawns, caviar, dill and lemon.

So it’s been a lovely Christmas but I SWEAR next year I will have all presents bought and wrapped by mid December. I will not do major things to the house in December, I will not try to entertain 2 nights before Christmas and host Christmas Day  and I will sit down with a festive drink (martinis are festive, yes?) on Christmas Eve and watch Miracle on 34th Street. By the power of all that is festive, next year,  I WILL DO THIS!

Yeah, right.

I hope you all, my beautiful, beloved  readers, had a wonderful festive period and are just about to embark on a cracking new year. I wanted to take this opportunity to say another HUGE  thank you to everyone who has followed me along again this year and for all your lovely, supportive comments. I loves ya. Deeply.

Our Christmas drinks party: beer, tacos and a hot Melbourne night.

Nothing says Christmas like beer and tacos.

El cielo

(Photo from El Cielo)

I wanted to throw a small soiree before Christmas to celebrate with family.

El Cielo, an authentic Mexican bakery opened up near us recently. They make fresh tortillas to order.

Ever since they opened, I’ve been dreaming about a warm evening, good buddies, tacos and Mexican beer with a slice of lime in the neck of the bottle.

Only I don’t drink beer so after I dreamed a little bit of beer (because I do love the idea if not the reality) , I started dreaming of fresh peach margaritas instead – the reality of which I adore just as much as the idea.

Wish I had photos of the evening  but I was too busy loving  it.

I do, however, have photos of the invitations.

Christmas drink invitations

I ordered tonnes of fresh tortillas and made huge platters of  slow-cooked pulled pork (carnitas) and a spicy shredded chicken. Then  I just made additions galore:  queso blanco (a fresh, ricotta-like cheese), radish wafers, pickled carrot, fresh and pickled jalapeno chillies, pico de gallo which is a fresh salsa of tomatoes, onion, jalapenos and coriander, sour cream, finely shredded cabbage and fresh coriander. I also bought 4  colourful bottles of delicious sauce from a wonderful international food and wine shop I’m lucky enough to have in my local strip. Hot, smoky, sweet and hot. And also hot. Did I mention hot?

Taco sauces

We had Mexican beer, awesome mariachi music and a cracking good time on a hot, Melbourne night.

A very hot Melbourne night. The mercury hit 39 degrees Celsius.  That’s almost hotter than a habanero my friends.

Text in Christmas drink invitations

These are the other invitations I made but that didn’t make the cut. They were perty , just not quite right for what I had in my mind’s eye. But you never know until you make them.

This one was too fiesta:

Christmas drinks invitation

This one was not quite, um, something enough:

Christmas drinks invitation 2

This one was cute but too candy cane-ish:

Christmas card with candy cane and washi tape

These ones were  juuuuust right.

Christmas drinks invitations and Christmasy polar bear

Oh, sorry, I meant to say, nothing says Christmas like beer and tacos and a polar bear wrapped in flashing lights.

Advent Calendar 2012

Advent pictures

Advent calendars. What’s not to love?

This year, I bought Draw Pilgrim’s printable advent calendar* – gorgeous graphics you  print out and glue to match boxes.

Day 2 advent calendar

Because I always get way too excited and plan way too much in December (whaddya mean having your floorboards re-polished one week before Christmas isn’t a great idea?) it should come as no surprise to me that instead of the 24 little matchboxes all piled up on the mantelpiece, what we actually have is a situation where I climb out of bed bleary-eyed each morning and am greeted by two little girls who want nothing more than that day’s matchbox. Yep, it’s all about the little gifts.

Day 6 advent calendar 2

So I quickly cut and paste and stuff a trinket or sweet in and hand it over. There is, at least, no less magic in it for them.

Day 3 advent calendar

And when I wanted to give something a bit less diminutive, I used the boxes to store little treasure hunt notes.

Day 5 advent calendar

I wish someone would make me an advent calendar like this. They’re the perfect size for 24 days of, say, diamond jewellery. No pressure, Andrew. You’ve got the next 12 months to prepare.

*Pilgrim only puts her advent calendar printable in in the lead up to each year’s Christmas. Shoot her an email and she’ll let you know when it’s available again. Also, if you don’t want to buy match boxes, her printable includes little box making templates and instructions.

Creamy toffee star: the arboreal crowning glory in our edible Christmas

Toffee star

Of COURSE the star had to be edible. That’s mark II.

I inflicted minor injuries on myself bending an unwilling and recalcitrant bit of wire into a lovely star shaped tree-topper.

Then I burned myself glueing creamy toffees onto it.

Creamy toffee close up

Then  my handsome husband came home and told me it looked like a satanic symbol.

Caramel star

So I cursed him – because of course I can’t look up at the tip of our tree each day and be reminded that the devil is in the detail – and made another.

Toffee star on tree

I think the second looks less like a star and more like some kind of hallucinogenic starfish. No time for Mark III though, so pushing on.

I just adore the colours and slightly old-fashioned feel of the toffees. And that each other one says “creamy”. Mmmmm, creamy.

Centre of toffee wreath

At least we got to eat the old star. Only the most stubborn toffees, the ones on which the hot glue melted through the wrapping and actually soldered the toffee itself to the wire escaped the slow but steady and inevitable consumption.

toffee close up

Some less enamoured with this time of year might see that as a metaphor for modern Christmas and all its trappings.

I just see delicious, creamy toffees. Mmmm, they’re really creamy.