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

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.

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Stirring the plum pudding: a Christmas tradition

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My mum makes the Christmas cakes and the Christmas puddings every year. On the afternoon of the day she devotes to this mammoth baking drive, I take the girls to my parent’s house and we all help to add the final handfuls of fruit mince and have a stir. It’s a tradition we started when Sophia was a baby. I cherish the ritual.

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Not least because mum does all the hard work and I just get to stir and eat the delicious results for the first three months of the new year.

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The pudding is a very, very old recipe, the origins of which are lost in the culinary mists of generations past but which is really the most delicious on earth.

The Christmas cake, though, is made to a recipe from one of Betty’s cookbooks. It’s a Margaret Fulton compendium, a name which my Australian readers will know well. Margaret, now in her 90s, is one of our culinary treasures.

I love the spatters and stains; faded testaments to decades of use.

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But my favourite is the annotations left by both Betty and my mum.

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Little hints and tips, instructions to counteract the vagaries of the different ovens the cakes have been cooked in over the years, and even notes recording for whom the cakes were baked.

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It’s a tangible, edible link down through the generations of our family.

I made a gentle suggestion about next year but mum’s far from ready to hand the making over to me. She says it would make her feel like she’s just shy of dropping off the perch. And we can’t have that.

It’s just as well really. I would totally burn the bottom.

A homemade Christmas garland and some other decorations

I had grand plans to decorate our tree entirely with handmade decorations this year but I just ran out of time. In fact, this hasn’t  been a huge year for  handmade decorations, but we have managed a few.

We made this salt-dough star garland which I am loving so much I think it might hang around for a lot longer than just this festive season.

We simply made some salt dough, cut the star shapes and baked it until hard.

While Sophia painted the stars

Olive earnestly painted her own masterpiece and parts of herself. See our tree in the background. It’s a real 7 foot pine and it smells divine.

The final touch was to give the tails some sparkle with this gorgeous icy blue glitter.

Now I look at it, this would make an equally good 4th of July garland which, since I’m an American citizen I tend to mark, if not actually celebrate. It’s got that good old red, white and blue feel about it.

My mum made this beautiful Christmas cake for us.

She found the Father Christmas decoration at a local store. I just love the jaunty way she’s positioned his feet. But my favourite bit by far is the icing ribbon beneath him with its little silver cachous.

My mum makes at least one cake like this every year. When I was little I remember carefully lifting up the thick, red satin ribbon she had tied around the base of the cake and picking off some of the royal icing to get to the layer of almond paste below. I have always been mad for marzipan and knowing there was a rich vein of it just beneath that pristine white surface proved too tempting. I don’t recall what she did when she removed the ribbon to cut up the cake to have with afternoon tea, traditionally on boxing day, but I’m pretty sure it might have involved some “thinking time” alone in my room.

Here are a few other scenes of Christmas cheer around the twirling betty house this year.

The pinecones and mushroom are beautiful and very delicate polish glass ornaments that I couldn’t resist buying this year. Although there have been quite a few jokes about polished turds, (as opposed to Polish turds, I suppose) floating around in the vicinity of these beautiful pinecones. Yes, they’re pinecones. Not Christmas poos. Because it wouldn’t matter how shiny they were, there is not much that’s festive about Number Twos.

I hope to be back with one more quick post tonight to give you a little peek into our Christmas Eve.