Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The ultimate book for Christmas - Christmas Recipes & Crafts from Parragon

I am not a natural crafter but there is something about the Christmas season which sends me a bit silly in the aisles of my local crafting superstore, and makes me yearn to be able to create festive fripperies whilst simultaneously baking perfect mince pies.
While the rest of the year sees me spooning ready-made cranberry sauce out of the jar onto my chicken and into my venison stew, the advent of Advent seems to make it imperative that everything is homemade. Or at least looks like it is. Ironically since I spend much of the run up to Christmas helping to organise church events or attending them I actually have less time that usual for this kind of activity.

Anyway, I have found the perfect book for people like me who love to fill their home with Christmas magic and the smell of good food.

Christmas Recipes and Crafts book

Christmas Recipes & Crafts from the Love Food arm of publishers Parragon covers everything from pre-Christmas planning tips and ideas for home-made gifts to recipes for parties and what to do with the leftovers. All beautifully styled, photographed and presented in a hardback book which appeals to my shabby-chic and vintage-tat-loving heart.

homemade food gifts

The book is split into easy to reference chapters including Christmas Morning, Yuletide Baking, Christmas Crafts and Divine Desserts. There are even templates for you to copy!

I love the Advent calendar made with 6 pairs of baby socks- wouldn't it be a lovely momento if you could use a few of your own baby's socks in the calendar which would then come out year after year until their feet are bigger than yours.

If you like to make your own Christmas wreath but are fed up with being prickled by holly there are instructions on how to make a lovely simple fabric wreath which is very on trend!

homemade Christmas Wreath

The recipe for rich orange crepe for Christmas morning looks divine but realistically I am lucky to grab a bowl of cornflakes in between present-opening and church. There's a lovely recipe for cranberry sauce  which you can make ahead of time and store in the 'fridge.

 I also like the sound of  the gluten-free apple and cinnamon bran muffins but to be fair I become slightly cinnamon obsessed at this time of year. I have cinnamon scented candles and even a room spray to choke delight my guests with.

The recipe book obviously includes a "Get in the Spirit" drinks section with a superb recipe for eggnog and an intriguing mulled ale recipe alongside the more usual mulled wine.

There's some suggestions for traditional items with a modern twist too - how about blinis with prawns....and wasabi cream?

The book is available now from various outlets including The Works and Amazon where there is  even a Kindle edition. The price on the book jacket is £15.99 but you can find it a lot cheaper if you follow those links!

Head to Parragon's Love Food website for more great foodie books and some great recipes and free downloadable resources like cupcake flags and party invitations.

home made cranberry sauce

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of Christmas Recipes and Crafts for the purposes of this review. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Christmas shopping done the cheap and simple way with my gift guide featuring The Works

I am stepping up a gear this week with my Christmas shopping. I know some of you will be smug in the knowledge that all your gifts are bought and wrapped while others will throw up their hands in horror at even thinking about it until December 24th.

But with seven children and family living abroad I have to be fairly early off the blocks to spread the cost and get things posted.

Normally I love Christmas shopping. I drag along a friend or two and normally force them to eat a festive lunch, or at least a mince pie or a calorie loaded seasonal flavoured coffee. I've had three of those coffees so far so that's my calorie and carb allowance for 2015 and most of 2016 used up already.

Somehow though I'm not feeling it this year. It all feels like a bit too much effort trailing round the shops buying one thing here, another thing there. I've decided this year is all about efficiency saving me time, money and energy.

I was delighted to discover The Works new "Santa's Gift Shop" where I found lot of interesting gifts to buy for a huge age range.  I thought The Works was mainly books and was only an actual bricks and mortar shop but it turns out they are online too.

gift ideas from The Works

 Not only do they stock a wide range of crafts, toys, home and leisure gifts and stationary, they also have a load of Christmas essentials like gift wrap, cards, crackers and even hampers! Oh, they do books too!

Some of my top picks for Christmas 2015 which are all available at The Works- Game of Thrones  or Big Bang Theory versions of the classic game Monopoly, hoverboards (yes really!), Minions domino run and the Salter nutri-pro super charged blender. (some items are online exclusives)

The Scrooge in me particularly liked the 2 for £10 deals and I found some really unusual gifts for my children. You see that's the thing about having lots of children - you find you buy the same thing year after year or you run out of things to buy.

The Works 2 for £10

For example when my eldest boys were tiny I could just buy bits of that famous wooden train set. Well after a few years of us and relatives doing that we had enough to build our own London to Manchester line so that was the end of that as a gift idea.

So what sort of things can you get in the deal?

I found a "mad scientist" science activity set which will apparently help my child create a "mad blood spitting heart" as just one of the activities.  Those of you with tween boys will know how cool they will think that is.

Science is very popular in our house so I also got an optical illusion set which promises "hours of unbelievable optical illusion fun." It looks like the sort of thing even my older teens might enjoy using.

optical illusion kit

For some fun over Christmas I chose an origami animal making kit - I thought it would make a change for us all to work together making these after lunch rather than just slumping in front of the TV.

My children enjoy making things to wear so I'm not sure who would most like the friendship bracelet kit. My youngest daughter might work with her older sister to make some more complicated designs - it will make a change from those flipping little elastic band bracelets!

friendship bracelet kit

My youngest loves dinosaurs so I know he's going to love the Dino Park Jurassic Exploration block building set I picked for him. I also picked up an "Amazing Volcano" earth science kit as the children had so much fun making erupting volcanos for a recent school project I thought they might like to have another go at home.

There are loads more gift ideas from The Works. Pop into one of their shops or check out the range online. Many of the toy, activity and craft sets have a suggested age suitability guide printed on them - very handy if you are an aunt, friend or grandparent who is not sure what children of such-and-such an age like.

The Works even offers a free click and collect service - apparently you can browse online then get your selection sent to one of 300 stores nationwide. You can also collect reward points!

Cue a big sigh of relief for me as I can shop in my PJ's from my bed and only have to nip into town to pick my pressies up. Of course I could get them delivered to my home but then I'd miss out on my flavoured Christmas latte!

Disclaimer: I was gifted a selection of kits for the purposes of this review. Views and opinions remain honest and my own.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

What's so great about winter? Only the food, clothes, fires, entertainment....

My son just asked me to "open an orange" for him. By which he means use my nail to start peeling a juicy clementine for him. He can peel them - he just can't start them.

I recently decided to keep a bowl of fruit in the living room as well as the kitchen. I've found the children are far more likely to ask for fruit when they can see it in the living room and I think it looks nice - especially clementines which always seem like a festive fruit to me.

I say clementines - they could be satsumas. Or tangerines. I'm not entirely sure of the difference. I love their bright shiny colours but hate the smell on my hands. I had to laugh at myself though as I caught myself washing the smell of orange off my hands using chocolate orange scented hand wash.

Clementines or satsumas?

The whole citrus thing got me to thinking about the season - buying the cheap and cheerful fruit in net bags is just one of the bonuses of winter, along with the appearance of sprouts in the supermarket.

Yes - I hold my hands up - I love sprouts. And not tarted up with ginger, chestnuts, balsamic vinegar or bacon either. Just sprouts,  steamed balls of green and stinky loveliness.

While we are talking about winter food I have to say "hurrah" for the excuse to eat stodgy starchy carb-heavy meals. Roast dinners especially make a cold evening cosy I think. Homemade leek and potato soup with fresh homemade foccacia, proper puds like crumble and treacle tart. Yum!

Add to my list pretty much all of the products which appear in the aisles from August ready for Christmas like mince pies in all their forms, panettone and chocolate log. You can keep stollen though- not a fan.

Panettone from I like Italy

It's not just food either. I don't mind swapping summer fruit-based alcohol for the winter version and I adore the smell of mulled wine (although I prefer the non alcoholic type). Then there's that creamy coffee liqueur which I like neat or as my Mum serves it as a large splash in coffee.

Obviously you can't indulge in this type of food without either lots of exercise to counterbalance the calories, or layers of fat-hiding winter clothes. I'll give you one guess which option I go for....

Snuggly fur-lined boots, warm jumpers, awesome hats and the best thing of all - winter pyjamas. No danger of exposing stretch marks, bingo wings or belly flab. You can even undo your jeans after a big foodie blow out and cover it all up with layers of clothes as you let your food baby sag out.

Although I love sitting out in the summer and watching the sun set I also love closing the curtains in winter (at 4.30pm!) and lighting the fire. We have a supply of fleecy throws behind our sofas and on really cold days they come out for family film nights. Even the cats light to snuggle up with us!

cat in a blanket

TV tends to be better in the winter too. My teens love the programme set in the jungle and although I can take it or leave it, it's nice to sit with them chatting about what's happening on the screen.

When I was young (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) it was big news when the three channels announced their Christmas films. My grandparents always bought the TV Times and even had a leatherette cover to keep it in. Grandad used to love marking up what they might watch - I'm not sure how much say Granny had in the schedule

Of course nowadays all sorts of entertainment is available on a multitude of devices 24 hours a day but it's still fun to plan what we might watch together over the Christmas period.

Not that we get much time - with 7 children you can imagine the running around I do - ballet, tap, musical theatre, choir, church, school- lots of rehearsals to remember and events to attend. But it's all worth it when you see your children perform, even if they are third mouse from the left, it's still a proud moment.

I'm particularly excited this year as once again I'm heading to Germany soon to see my best friend, my German "sister" Claudia. This visit will involve Christmas markets and almost certainly industrial quantities of cake and cackling. Hopefully a few flakes of snow too (although forecast looking more like rain at the moment.)

madmumof7 & Claudia

Regular readers will be either disappointed or relieved to hear a naked spa visit is unlikely to be on the cards since my youngest daughter and my mum are travelling with me this time.

So what else is great about winter? Well it seems Christmas usually brings out the best in people. We could do with a bit of goodwill towards men (and women) right now so pull on your woolly sweater, load up your supermarket trolley with winter food and drink and make the most of the season.