Friday, 31 December 2010

Why Mums Don't Need To Go To Iceland

Just a short post about some easy to do party nibbles that I've tried recently which seemed to go down well. I've noticed that there's a great trade in so called Party Food at the supermarkets these days. You can  buy a ton of "party food" at Iceland for a couple of quid, but I dread to think a) what's in it, and b) what it tastes like, so whether you're a Mum or not, save yourself the effort of trailing round the aisles and try this simple recipe that you can knock up in the time it would have taken you to drive to Iceland and back, (for overseas readers that's the supermarket not the country) plus you'll  use up what you've probably already got, and have something that tastes great and contains no rubbish.

Using greek filo pastry means you don't have to go to the effort of making your own pastry, which is beyond the call of duty at this time of year. I recommend keeping a packet of filo in the fridge over Christmas as it can be pressed into mini muffin tins and filled with all sorts of things should the need arise. It's not that I think it's particularly delicious, in fact it's quite bland, but filled with Christmas type luxury goods it works really well.  You also have the advantage of being able to lever yet more food out of the fridge and into people's stomachs, thus using up some of the Christmas leftovers such as smoked salmon, stilton, and cream, before they spoil and are wasted, which is of course, a criminal offence.
The bases
You'll need a packet of filo pastry, and a tin to make the little tarts in - I used a mini muffin tin which has makes two dozen at a time.
Melt a large knob of butter and use it to brush on yourtins and your  filo pastry sheets before you cut it up roughly with a pair of scissors into small squares suitable for your tins, .Scrunch about three layers of buttered filo into each tin, you can be as rough as you like with the finish - it adds to the appearance it bits are left sticking up.
The fillings
I used three fillings because that was what I had in the fridge. You may well think of others.
1.Several ounces of chopped smoked salmon,  (use inexpensive trimmings if you're buying it)
2. Chopped walnuts with crumbled stilton cheese
3. Onion marmalade, with a slice of goats cheese or brie on top


Lightly beat together two medium eggs with a good half pint or so of double cream. Season with salt and pepper, except for the smoked salmon ones, which will be salty enough. It's difficult to give exact quantities as it rather depends on how much filling you put in each tartlet. But I would try to fill the cases and use the cream to fill in the spaces and you won't go far wrong. Bake in a hot oven till golden brown and slightly puffed.  You can serve them straight away, or more usefully cool them and store in the fridge for later.


Go upstairs and do your hair, put on the frock, and the shoes. Teeter into the kitchen and reheat your homemade canapes on an oven tray for a few minutes when you're ready to serve.




Happy New Year!

Friday, 24 December 2010

When Icicles Hang By The Wall

 

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
When nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot,

When all aloud the wind doth blow
And coughing drowns the parson's saw
And birds sit brooding in the snow
And Marian's nose looks red and raw,
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
When nightly sings the staring owl, Tu-whit;
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
William Shakespeare
From Love's Labours Lost, Act V. Sc. II

This was a poem we had to learn by heart in our English lessons at school, and at the time it seemed  very boring to us, and indeed, recited as it was at our leaden pace, it certainly lacked the tour de force of a great Shakespearean performance.  Gielgud it wasn't. But it does come into my head every winter at some juncture, especially when I see things like this on the roof of the house


so I'm glad now that we did have to learn it. Even though we spent more time making silly schoolgirl jokes about "greasy Joan" than was strictly required.

Even in the depths of winter the wisteria manages to give us seasonal delights.In fact these two foot long icicles are something of a ghost of the summer flowers when you think about it.  I did endanger life and limb to get these shots though - if there had been a sudden thaw I could have been impaled!
 
Anyway, the Met Office advises us now that no more snow is expected in the Wilts/Glos area before Christmas, - we have got quite enough to be going on with thanks very much, so I'm spending some time making mince pies, wrapping presents, and generally catching up on all the stuff I should have done last week before what will henceforth be known as The  Log Basket Incident. And on that subject, many thanks to all those lovely people who left kind comments about our little incendiary moment, which really cheered me no end when things were looking a bit bleak last week. Our Lady Decorator, Sharon, and her other half is doing a sterling job, and assures me we will all be ship shape again before Christmas day.
 
Merry Christmas to one and all!
from Kathy and all at Carters Barn

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Change of Address

I've changed my address. I no longer live at Carters Barn in the lovely Wiltshire countryside. I now reside at twenty seven Catastrophe Mansions, Disaster Avenue, Slough of Despond, Hades.

There's a rule of life that says If Something Can Go Wrong, It Will.  So if a fire is going to break out, it will do so a week before Christmas when your rellies are about to arrive, and your decorations are just going up.

I also find that one never looks one's best when a burly fireman is bursting through the front door, hose in hand. I love a man in uniform as I think I've said before, and yet when you should be wearing your best Nigella style black satin dressing gown, floating back elegantly from the kitchen, wodge of chocolate cake in hand, you find yourself in fact wearing your slightly shrunk in the wash cotton nightie, a pair of wellies, and a dog walking coat that's let's face it has seen better days. No make up and a hair style reminiscent of Bill Clinton's worst excesses, where the hair appears to be growing at an angle perpendicular to the head. I'd jumped out of bed and grabbed the first thing to hand before dialling 999. And thank goodness for the Swindon Fire Brigade, and the Cricklade Retained Fire Service. Lovely men, fantastic service. Could not have asked for more. Thanks guys.

I can see the funny side of this now, but only because no one was hurt, thank goodness, when an ember set fire to a log basket in the early hours, and I know that the damage can all be put right. The man from NFU was quick and helpful, and we just have to find a carpet fitter, a decorator, and a builder who can restore us to some normality this side of Christmas. "Stuff" is all replaceable. The only thing I was really upset about was a little thing that's not reallly replaceable

My children made a set of partridges/doves/calling birds(not quite sure which)  many years ago from card and tinsel, following instructions from  Blue Peter, and I have brought them out every Christmas since. So I was particularly sad to see that they had gone in the fire, all but this little charred remain. But I will continue to treasure this single  little partridge/dove/calling bird with it's singed tail as a reminder of good fortune, and wait until my grandchildren are old enough to make me another set. Things could have been a lot, lot worse. So maybe it's not quite Catastrophe Mansions, maybe it's more like twenty seven Lucky Lane, Therebut-Forfortune, Wiltshire.

Black satin on the Christmas list maybe?

PS Please check your smoke alarm batteries, they could save your life.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Kathy's Homemade Christmas



If you're a fan of homemade stuff in general Kirsty's TV series on how to make things yourself will come as no surprise to you, and pretty, homespun and folksy as it may be, lots of us have been doing things like this for years. But it is good to see these easy tideas brought to a wider audience. At least now you don't have to apologize for it, and since it's now vaguely fashionable to have home made stuff around the place, you can even give it to people as presents, and they might even be pleased to get your home produced jar or preserves, or hand knitted scarf, or whatever. The older ones among us may remember the wonderful  Joyce Grenfell's monologue "Useful and Acceptable Gifts" where a lady from the WI lectures on the acceptability of some truly terrible home made items. Crinoline ladies astride the spare loo roll, spring to mind. It was very funny,but it's probably a sign of the times nowadays when people are so time poor, and many of us just collapse on the sofa in front of the tv in the evenings when in times past we might have amused ourselves with a bit of knitting, sewing or craftwork.

All of which brings me to the point - salt dough. Many people think of this as cheap play dough for children but there's no need to relegate this cheap and cheerful stuff to the children's playgroup, although children will love doing it with you. Salt dough is quick and easy and can be made into durable and attractive decorations for Christmas.  Now I really do sound like Joyce Grenfell.

Just mix one cup of salt to each two cups of plain flour, and add about one cup of water to make a dough. Don't use expensive sea salt here, you want the cheapest bag on the supermarket shelf for this. Knead it to a smooth dough and roll out and cut using appropriately Christmassy cutters, remembering to make a small hanging hole at the top.

Bake the decorations in a very cool oven for several hours until dry and hard. The bottom oven of the Aga is ideal or around 200 degrees F.When completely dry allow to cool and paint and decorate as you wish. You can use any kind of paint you like, I happened to find an old tin of red gloss paint at the back of the garage which worked well, but it's a good idea to cover the finished item with a waterproof varnish of some kind, so that your ornaments will keep from year to year.

And remember you can always embarrass your children in years to come by lovingly bringiing out the creations they made when they were three.


Decorate your  items in seasonal colours, glitter, and tie with raffia or ribbons. A bit of gold or bronze paint rubbed on gives a suitably distressed effect if that's what you like. Or you can go for the neat and tidy like the one at the top of the page.




I've made a job lot this year, as we have the village hall to decorate, and can't afford to spend much money on it. So it's home made, homespun, and, to my eyes at least, even prettier.

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