Monday Meditation: Mothers and Daughters at Christmas

IMG_4331As I write, it is 2 am on Christmas Eve. I can’t sleep. It’s been a busy and quite an emotional day and I have too many thoughts going around in my head. For the first time in many years, I got to spend a few hours alone with my daughter, whom I miss more than she can understand, and later my elderly mum arrived for a few days with us. We three generations of women chatted and laughed and had our photos taken – although I doubt any of them will see the light of day since we couldn’t get it together long enough for all of us to stop laughing at the same time! The photographer – my husband – wasn’t any better, he was laughing so much at us, his hands were shaking so most of them are out of focus anyway.

But although it’s lovely to have photos to look back on, I don’t need them to remind me of today, I will always remember it. 

I will remember sitting outside in the winter sun having a cup of licorice tea as I waited for R to arrive. I’d had a busy morning making sure everything was ready for Mum, even down to sweeping the moss from the paths so she wouldn’t slip; I was over-excited about seeing my daughter, who works so hard and has such a busy time with three teenagers that I only see her three times a year, but never on her own. I took a few minutes out of my busy schedule to breathe and enjoy the warmth and brilliance of the sun in a cloudless blue sky, which had been absent for so long. It was a welcome sight and it made me smile.

I laugh as I recall how I had planned to meet her on the drive as she pulled in and give her a big hug as soon as she got out of the car, only to have her rush past me calling ‘I need a wee!’ and dash off to the bathroom. (She would not be impressed if she knew I had included that gem, but she doesn’t have time to read my blog so I’m safe). As soon as she returned, she said, ‘Shall we do that again?’ and I got my hug before she emptied the car of all the items she was returning from her brother or donating to our household in yet another clear-out of her home. She is very much the minimalist and nothing outstays its welcome.

We sat outside and she told me all about the party they’d had the previous evening, laughing at the compliments she’d received from her guests for all the food she must have spent hours cooking, which was actually delivered to her door by the very nice man from Waitrose!

After a while, I took her to look at the sheltered housing community where we are hoping to get Mum settled sometime in the next year – I need constant reassurance from my family that I am doing the right thing and she gave it the thumbs up. A man was walking his little dog, which wanted to say hello, and he told us his mum lived there and how it was a close-knit, friendly community and that his mum was really happy there. I was heartened by his comments.

We then went round the corner to Waitrose – how did we manage without them? – to choose some flowers for Mum, momentarily shocked to see that all the beautiful  Christmas bouquets from the day before had disappeared,  but we found one bunch of creamy-white roses in bud that did the job. We returned home for lunch of homemade carrot and sweet potato soup and waited for Mum to arrive.

I will never forget the look of sheer joy on my mother’s face when she greeted her grand-daughter, whom she hadn’t seen for two years. Or the long hug, and the giggling, girlish chatter of my daughter, taking me back to before she became a wife and mum, a coper in difficult circumstances, a hardworking exams officer and foster mother. Watching my mum and my daughter teasing and joking, my daughter laughing so much she had tears in her eyes, was present enough for me.

My mum is very deaf and very stubborn, she refuses to wear hearing aids and misses a lot or mishears, which can lead to some amusing conversations at times, she forgets easily and becomes confused, but today seeing her laugh so much and enjoy my daughter’s company took years off her and it was a sight to behold. I smile at the memory.

We had dinner together, a vegetarian curry cooked by my husband, took our photos and then it was goodbye to my daughter as she returned home to discover what havoc her boys had wreaked while she was away. I am sure there would have been nothing left in the fridge had there not been a Waitrose delivery that afternoon! (I’m really not getting any commission for this extended advert!)

Mum and I spent the rest of the evening watching first a Michael Ball concert – not my cup of tea, but she really likes him – and then an André Rieu concert, both at ear-bursting decibels (‘it wasn’t that loud’) before we called it a day.

And this day would have made Christmas for me, except I get to do it all over again on Wednesday with my son and his family and then my daughter’s family will be descending en masse for New Year’s weekend. A week of musical beds ensues!

I am very fortunate to have family willing to travel distances to spend special occasions with us, and that my husband is willing and able to make the long journey to pick up Mum and take her home again. I know there are many who aren’t able to be with those they care about or who are isolated for whatever reason, and I never take my family for granted.

However you spend Christmas, I wish you peace and good health. And thank you for all the support you have given me this year, I appreciate all your comments and encouragement.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year!

And now I’m off back to bed!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

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A Magical Winter Wonderland – Snow Pics

IMG_4286It’s been snowing for 4 days so far and we have now had 6″ fall in our garden. Every morning I open the curtains to another magical display of Nature’s talents and it takes my breath away. This was taken the first morning, the sky was very grey, a sign of things to come.

IMG_4342I am fortunate, I don’t have to struggle into work on icy roads or wait around for cancelled commuter trains, I have enough food in for a nuclear winter and I have someone who can brave the cold air and slippery paths to bring in the wood for the stove. I can sit back with a cup of warm golden milk* or chocolate and just marvel at the landscape framed by my windows.

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I know many people struggle in this weather, especially when the snow melts and then freezes. My mum can’t leave the house, a fall would be disastrous given her age and distance from family, and I can’t go out the door and risk a fall given my back issues. But for now, I am enjoying the view.

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The sun is shining today, making the snow sparkle like diamonds, the moon is still up too and the snow was still pristine when I took the photos (until my husband went in search of kindling, he’s not have an easy time lighting the fire).

Here are some photos taken over the last weekend mostly from indoors I’m afraid, too treacherous to venture out. We hardly ever have snow here so to have so much for so long is quite a bonus, my apologies if you have too much of it or you’re enjoying your summer! My friend in Perth showed her almost 3 year old daughter our snow pics and she is now watching out of her window waiting for the snow to arrive for Christmas – it’s 30C!

Yesterday at dusk:

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This morning:  IMG_4332

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The bonus of a snow weekend meant we bought a (tiny but cute) tree, decorated it and put up the lights. It all feels cosy and Christmasy now. We just need a few children to build a snowman and marvel at the lights. But we have to wait a couple of weeks for that. I finished all the cards for posting and the Christmas rocks had been delivered the day before the snow came.

Christmas, we’re all ready!

*Golden milk: gently warm some nut milk, tiger nut milk or other plant milk with some fresh ginger and turmeric, stirring all the time until hot enough to drink. Strain and add a teaspoon of maple syrup if liked.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

How To Paint Christmas Card (or any) Rocks & Taking A Break

Just a quick post to let you know I’m taking a break to have some osteopathy and to rest my body before the Christmas planning starts in earnest. I’ve scheduled some posts, but forgive me if I don’t acknowledge your comments for a while.

This is what I’ve been doing recently:

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Each of these Christmas rocks will be going to friends, neighbours or family in place of a Christmas card. They are all signed on the back. You can’t really see from the photo, but they are all sparkly as I painted the backgrounds and certain details – like the snowman’s scarf and hat and the Christmas tree baubles – with glitter glue. The whole thing was then sealed to make them weatherproof – I shall put one on the doorstep of each of my neighbours when the time comes.

People ask where I get my stones from. My neighbour who has a huge garden and two allotments gives me some. Many of them are found on my walks, I acquired quite a few recently when I came a cross a private garden being landscaped and a couple of huge mounds of earth discarded by the fence. We also found a ripped bag of white cobbles at our local garden centre, they were the perfect size and they let us have them for less than half price.

A few tips for the best and long-lasting effect:

Wash and dry the stones. Some people lightly sand them with fine sand paper, but I don’t find it necessary and it’s time-consuming.

Prime the stones with a coat of acrylic paint, acrylic works best and keeps its colour, poster paints are dull and  faint.

Paint your design, enamel paints work well too, some people use nail varnish, good quality permanent markers work well for details, eg Sharpie and Posco.

Paint thin coats and let them dry well before using marker pens on top.

Use a small paintbrush to use glitter glue rather than trying to draw with the squeezy tubes as they splutter and splurt and you get too much in the wrong place.

Seal with a couple of coats of spray sealant (these are strong solvents, cover your face and spray outside or in a well-ventilated room) or use paint-on sealant like ModgePodge, I find the spray works best, the brush-on sealant can sometimes smudge your design or writing.

Children love painting rocks – my two youngest grandchildren aged 4 and almost 3 had a great time at the weekend.

Being creative and in the moment is good for you! It’s relaxing and helps you destress.

Have fun!

Here are some others I’ve done that are for gifts and hiding for the children:

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Back soon 😊

Monday Meditation: Mindfulness and Rock Painting

Copyright: Chris McGowan

It’s January: S.A.D.? Do What You Love!

I bought a new mug the other day. Well, actually, it’s a rather large cup that you need two hands to hold, one of those Friends-type ones that you can snuggle up with, full of hot chocolate*, in front of a cosy fire. It’s nothing special. It cost 99p in a local shop and is both dishwasher and microwave safe. It was what was written on the front that resonated.

I don’t usually like things with slogans, but this one says:

‘Do what you love!’

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Being January, with its cold and damp grey days, and being a little susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder, I have learned to try always to have a project on the go to absorb my attention and give my brain something else to contemplate other than when is the sun ever going to wake up and the garden turn green again?

In the past it’s been family history research: when I finished my own, I helped someone else. I try to catch up on letter-writing too. Real letters with real ink written on real paper! I love to use a fountain pen, and this year I have my precious old one sent to me by my primary school teacher, Evelyn (you can read about it here).

21f65416-e275-4687-a6cc-13eef10a45aaI’m currently on my second week of a juice plan, so that has occupied me somewhat – and made me get some much-needed early nights! – but I needed something creative too.

Every year, when we take down the Christmas cards, I put them away for recycling and reusing in November for next Christmas. But I always think I should do it now because November is always such a busy month with all the other preparations and my back really suffers so that I’m always in pain at Christmas.

img_2968This time, when I saw the mug, it was like a message from the universe! So, here I am, doing what I love, making Christmas cards in January! Oh, and drinking my favourite liquorice and cinnamon tea.

This is also the time of year when the professional cyclists dust off their lycra, don their new team strips and bring us some much needed sun from Downunder!

The Tour Down Under began this week in Adelaide, just what I needed: sun, culture and men in lycra – and leading the family Velogames league after Stage 1 and 2 (I don’t even cycle, they take it very seriously) <wicked laugh!>

So I may be a little preoccupied for a while … with the cards I mean 😉

Time for my next juice, cheers!

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What do *you* love to do during these winter months?

*Recipe for Spicy Raw Hot Chocolate with Hemp Milk (or nut milk).

Copyright: Chris McGowan

So How Was It For You?

img_2845As I write, it’s lunchtime on New Year’s Eve. Our last visitors left on Thursday afternoon and it has taken until now for me to process it all enough to put a happy but very hectic week in some coherently written form! The cards are down and I’ve spent some time mindfully cutting out images for next year’s tags and cards, while this post crept up and created itself.

I love having my family here. I don’t see them nearly as much as I would like due to distance, work, school etc., but it is hard work coping with non-stop musical beds, clean bathrooms and differing dietary requirements for a week! When Mum’s here (this time for 5 days), we have constantly to shout and repeat ourselves, add in the stress of watching her shuffle and wobble and making sure the little ones’ toys are not going to trip her up, and you can see how exhausting it can be.

img_2778I think we had 3 full-on Christmas meals plus all the breakfasts,
lunches, dinners and snacks in-between! It was like running a B&B! Here is my youngest grand-daughter trying to pluck up the courage to pull her cracker.

 Mum finally got to meet her latest great-grandson, already 21 months old, when my son and his family paid a flying visit on Christmas Eve and we just about managed the photos before he and his sister giggled and wriggled their way to the car for their journey home.

They left us an amazing amount of (raw) chocolate and a wonderful vegan, gluten-free Christmas pudding, both of which my son had made from scratch. The trickiest part was leaving the steaming to my husband to do on Christmas Day: first of all he asked if he had to remove the foil, then the greaseproof paper! Our son had told him to sit the bowl on an upturned plate to steam it but somehow this had translated to turning the bowl upside down and even to emptying the contents from the bowl altogether! Eventually, we got there and it turned into the best Christmas pudding we have ever had. (Recipe on The Raw Chocolate Company website). It fed 9 of us, at least. Some had smaller or larger portions, some had more than one. I think my husband had the last piece 4 days later.

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The funniest part of Christmas Day was Mum trying to work out why I had given her a pair of Yves St Laurent boxer shorts! Poor Mum. For many years, since the kids were teenagers and would regularly request CDs for Christmas, we have taken to disguising a CD by putting it in a recycled box. Initially it was a Calvin Klein boxer shorts box, lately it’s been YSL. Mum could not fathom the joke. She kept asking why we’d bought her men’s underwear, and in Small! There was a see-through panel on one side of the box where she could see little presents wrapped in Christmas paper as well as the CD, but it all went completely over her head and fell very very flat.

(I once watched my eldest grandson trying to be diplomatically gracious about a box of dried ‘apricots’ I had given him which in fact contained a Harry Potter CD!)

My brother, sister-in-law and nephew joined us on Christmas img_6495
Day and we had a lovely chatty, amusing visit together
. In the afternoon, we all sat and watched The Great Escape and I felt sure Dad was right there with us as we recited all the lines and anticipated our favourite scenes. It was all the more poignant because my brother and sister-in-law will soon be emigrating to the US to be with their children and grandchildren, and I felt like I had to soak up every second of our time together. I know my brother, who suggested watching The Great Escape, was also keen to create memories to take away with him.

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We received some lovely gifts, I won’t mention them all, but these are some that were handmade and/or given to us by our grandchildren.

Our eldest grandson and his girlfriend made us cinnamon biscuits, No.2 grandson gave me a vanilla candle in a blue glass jar which had held lavender, combining two of my favourite smells, and No.3 grandson gave me the pièce de résistance this year: a cross-stitch cushion which had taken him almost the entire year to complete! He is 11 years old. I almost wept when he gave it me, he was so proud of his efforts.

img_6480This gift from my husband (‘Colouring the Tour de France’) was inevitable really, it was more a question of how many I would receive, but they seem to have shared intel this year and it was just the one! Excuse the carpet bags under my eyes, I had injured my back the day before and didn’t have any sleep – plus I was far too excited!

My husband – a chocolate fiend – did very well: our daughter-in-law gave him chocolate whilst our grand-daughter made him chocolate and nut biscuits; No. 2 grandson got completely mixed up when he mistook a box of Thorntons Selection Chocolates for the traditional selection box he had actually intended to buy for Grandad, so he spent a fortune on luxury chocolates, poor lad. But Grandad did share them out.

img_6516The highlight for my husband, though, was that he had company for a frosty morning bike ride! He hadn’t been out for a week as my mum was with us and he couldn’t leave us for such a long period, but once she had returned home 3 teenagers, their parents and Labrador were game for a ride and more than made up for it! There’s a fantastic cycle track nearby that follows the old railway line, going through woods and villages, with beautiful views, streams and wildlife, including otters and foxes. It’s great for families, walkers and cyclists alike.

In between cycling and eating, the teenagers had schoolwork to do, but we managed to fit in some hilarious charades and a film or 3: No. 3 grandson wanted me to watch Captain America: Civil War which he’d brought with him, so I duly obliged, and in return, they watched The Glenn Miller Story with me and were highly amused when I reached for the tissues at the end! In their eyes, it wasn’t a sad ending because he sent her an arrangement of her favourite song for Christmas! The fact that he had died completely passed them by. Boys. No. 2 had learned Pennsylvania 6500 on the violin and No. 3 is keen on becoming a drummer so he enjoyed the extended drum solos. Earlier, they had also tried to school us in Mario Cart on the Wii but spent more time laughing than teaching!

We had a wonderful time and I hope you all had a good break doing things together or alone that soothed or enriched your soul and recharged your batteries. I know I am extremely lucky to have such a big family with whom to enjoy such occasions.

The one thing that overshadowed it all was the sad news about George Michael and Carrie Fisher, both icons for our family. We are huge Star Wars fans and all the younger members went to see the new film in the days before Christmas. Her loss was and is a big shock. George Michael and Wham! were to my young daughter what Paul McCartney was to me when I was growing up. She and her friend knew all the words and all the routines and would keep us amused performing them whilst pretending to have a recording studio where their idols would come to record their latest song. In later years, we admired his professionalism, his superb voice, his candid interviews and his generosity. I had recently watched and admired over again his performance at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert, which for me was the standout performance that day.

I would like to thank you for your friendship throughout 2016 and wish you all a Happy New Year: let us hope for a peaceful one, where we come together with compassion, love and understanding. 

I leave you with my tribute to George Michael. Cheers!

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Copyright: Chris McGowan

I Love Christmas – But It Always Makes Me Cry!

NB I wrote this in Dec. 2016, but it all still applies, except that now my brother and sister-in-law have also joined the list of absentees as they emigrated to the US earlier this year. We will Facetime when my mum is here.

Do you cry at Christmas?

I do.

Every single year.

When the presents are opened, the wrapping sorted out into reuseable, recyclable and bin, the children are playing or listening to new music, Mum and hb are sipping a sherry and there’s that hiatus before Christmas lunch, I silently gather up what I can carry to take to my room and quietly weep.

I have done this for as long as I can remember.

I think some of it is the build-up, the anticipation and then the anti-climax. You spend weeks if not months preparing for this. All the card-making, writing and addressing; the present lists, research, purchasing and wrapping; the endless changing of arrangements for visits and meal plans. The food shopping lists. The dread of a family meltdown or health emergency. The nerves while they open their gifts and you find out if it was right or wrong. All while fighting off viscious viruses – and this year fielding any number of phonecalls from my elderly mum asking if she’s coming on Christmas Eve (she’s not, she’s coming on the 22nd, it’s written on her calendar in her kitchen, but she phones every day to ask and is still telling people it’s Christmas Eve).  And then, in a flash it’s all done.

But the other (major) part is that I miss my family. All of them. The ones that are having that year in their own home (though we always see them at some point during Christmas week), but also and especially the ones that are no longer here.

img_4188I miss my dad. I miss his jokes. I miss the grand gestures: he made it a tradition that he and Mum trim the living room every year on Christmas Eve when we were in bed so it would be a surprise for us on Christmas morning; the 4′ Christmas cracker it took 4 of them to pull when our children were young; the Scalextric set my 5 year old son had been longing for but we couldn’t afford, and he labelled it ‘from Father Christmas’ so as not to upstage us. The huge turkey leg that was his reward for supper on Christmas Eve night when he cooked the turkey.

I miss playing the traditional games. He was a great board game enthusiast and was very adept at getting everyone to gang up on each other while he silently acquired everything in sight or gobbled up all your counters. Yes, it usually ended up with various siblings falling out, and yes we have often played over the years, but it seems to have fizzled out. The teenagers prefer games on their phones or X-boxes. I miss watching James Stewart, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye with him, but I do now have my own copy of Bing Crosby’s Christmas cd which I play on Christmas morning while waiting for our visitors (my husband rolls his eyes, he hates it!).

(You can read more about my dad in these posts: You Were So Much More Than Your Job: A Tribute to My Dad For Father’s DayMy Dad Walked Straight and Tall Like A Soldier and Hand in Hand: A Poem for Father’s Day).

I also miss my grandparents. My Nannie and Grandad.

 

 

 Grandad always had a big smile on his face. Nannie baked like there was no tomorrow. They always came for a quick visit on Christmas morning, to all their children’s families, and we loved going to theirs for Boxing Day tea. There was always such a feast. It covered every surface, including the sideboard in the living  room where centre stage sat an elaborately decorated Christmas cake covered in white royal icing, shiny silver balls, various figures, marshmallows, it was what we all homed in on when we arrived! There would be a decorated, marzipan-covered  battenburg cake for my dad, who didn’t like fruit cake (I carried on these cake traditions in years to come), delicately coloured sugared almonds and sugar mice, candied orange and lemon slices and of course the obligatory chocolate treats on the tree.

I wish I had a photo of this display. I can’t even remember what we had to eat for main course, other than we always had brown bread which I loved and Mum hated! We had sliced white at home and I loved this exotic alternative – I think it was Hovis! I think we probably had cold meat and tomatoes, pickles etc. but it was all just a preamble we had to get through to reach the real prize! There was almost certainly some jelly and cream because Nannie used to bring out her Father Christmas jug, which I now own thanks to my older cousin passing it on when she moved house a couple of years ago. He looks a bit battered around the edges now, like the rest of us, but it’s amazing he’s still with us at all!

 

 

The incredible thing is – and none of us children were aware of this – Nannie had Type 1 diabetes and couldn’t eat any of it. She used to have a tray with a plate holding a slice of boiled ham, a tomato, a slice of brown bread and butter and an orange. This she ate slowly and quietly while we stuffed ourselves until we couldn’t move. Grandad was solicitous of her and all of us at all times. When we had finished eating he would introduce some kind of verbal parlour game we children could manage, always smiling, always chatting. We never felt we were a nuisance. I loved going there.

Christmas also reminds me of their daughter, my cousin’s mum, Auntie Mannie. img_6462Now, her house *was* Christmas to me! As soon as you stepped into her small hallway you were greeted with festivity. There were trimmings up everywhere you could see. And she certainly took after her mum in the cooking department, with bells on! There was so much food, you could have fed a small nation and still come back for seconds. Her pièce de résistance was her sherry trifle! There was always so much fun and laughter in her house. There were 4 of us children, 1 girl – the eldest, me – and 3 boys, and 4 of my cousins, 1 girl, the eldest, and 3 boys. I idolised my opposite number, she is 9 years older than me and always seemed so sophisticated and grown up. In her teens, she had dyed her hair a different colour every time we saw her! She and my dad got on really well, he took the mickey out of her all the time, reminding her when she was getting uppity that once upon a time he used to change her nappies!

I learned to peel Brussels sprouts in her kitchen. She was a terrific hostess and I don’t know how she coped with us all or with the constant heckling and teasing from my dad, but she always gave as good as she got. She was the eldest in his family and had long ago learned to keep him in check.

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L to R Back Row: Grandad, Nannie, Gt Auntie Dorrie, Gt Uncle Arthur, Gt Uncle Billy, Gt Auntie Annie (from Rhode Island), Auntie Mannie, Uncle Henry (German), Cousin. Middle: Gt Auntie Polly, Gt Grandad Gt Grandma. Front: Cousins.

I also miss Gt Grandma, Gt Auntie Dorrie and Gt Uncle Arthur. Always the trio, always together. My great-grandma and her daughter, Dorrie, were like little birds. They were small-framed, but strong, and long out-lived their husbands. Grandma lived to 102 and Auntie Dorrie to 81. Sadly, both succumbed to the after-effects of a fall (as did my grandad at 96). I loved their house. They used to run a post office and haberdashery until they retired and they all moved to a bungalow. There were lace antimacassars on the furniture, a piano, cups and saucers, more laughter. Dad used to tease them rotten, but they laughed so much Grandma’s eyes would water and she dabbed them with a lacy handkerchief. I have her old ladderback rocking chair. It’s too small for current generations to use, but I used to nurse my son on it as the rocking was often the only thing that got him to sleep. Auntie Dorrie used to cycle around until her death aged 81, doing errands and collecting the pensions of the ‘old folks’ in her neighbourhood, who were generally younger than she! At some point over the Christmas period we would visit them as well.

img_6209And my brother, Dave.

In fact, I think that was when I started weeping at Christmas, the first one without him. He died aged 22 and I was 23.

I think of him, Dad and all my older relatives every Christmas morning and silently drink a toast to them when we have lunch. We are not a demonstrative family and everyone would feel awkward and embarrassed if I did this out loud. My children didn’t even know my brother. I find this extremely sad.

A family Christmas can be very hard for those who have lost someone close, especially if recent. The first is always the worst. I always spare a thought for them too. And for those without family or who are estranged.

We have only had one Christmas Day entirely on our own as a couple and it was the saddest day. I watched all my neighbours welcoming children, grandchildren or parents, or being picked up to go to someone’s house for lunch, and felt so very lonely, and I wasn’t even completely on my own. But I felt for everyone who has to witness such Christmas family get-togethers every year while having no-one to share it with. I vowed I would never do that again.

Of course, my husband loved it! He got to watch whatever he wanted on tv, and have beans on toast for lunch – we were saving the grand affair for when our children came next day, so he was having a welcome day having nothing to do with the kitchen!

This year, what started out as potentially a quiet Christmas with my mum will have turned into a week-long session of musical beds! Having discovered she was to be at ours for a few days, first my son’s family have decided to come and see her on Christmas Eve (this is good because Mum hasn’t met her latest great-grandson yet and he’s 21 months old!), then our eldest grand-daughter surprised us as she too wants to come, this is good too as she lives so far away and is in such high demand that we rarely have time together. Next up, my brother, sister-in-law and nephew would like to come for an audience on Christmas Day! Honestly, it’s like playing host to The Queen!

My husband will be taking Mum home on Boxing Day, which just about gives the house chance to recover and the houseworking elves time to clean bathrooms, put away toys, change bedding and restock the cupboards before a hoard of ravenous teenagers and a frisky labrador descend the following day!

I’m exhausted just writing about it! But I am looking forward to seeing them all. I’m happiest when they’re all here and I can sit and just watch them all, listen in and muse on the passage of time and how proud I am.

I hope you all have the opportunity to spend this festival season in whatever way makes you content. I hope you don’t mind my trip down memory lane, I always think about them during this preparation period and I wanted to include them however I could. Giving them a place in my blog is my tribute to their continuing presence and importance in my life.

I raise my glass to them and to you.

Thank you for reading!

Merry Christmas! 🎄

PS Here’s a video of my favourite Christmas Song by the lovely Dora Bryan – I and 2 of my friends performed it at the parish Christmas concert in our village hall! (Thank goodness there were no camera-phones in those days!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Cal’s Sweet ‘n’ Sour Red Cabbage

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This was my grandson, Cal’s, contribution to our family achristmas meal last year and is a great way to spruce up this traditional winter vegetable. It takes up to 2 hours to cook on the hob at a gentle simmer and is even better the next day when all the flavours have blended together. (See below for YouTube video of Sia’s Elastic Heart feat. Shia Laboeuf & Maddie Ziegler to watch while it’s cooking!)

It makes a welcome change from the annual jar of pickled red cabbage in the middle of the table at this time! In our house its only purpose seems to be to stain the tablecloth and then sit half-full at the back of the fridge for several months until I decide I can legitimately throw it out without anyone complaining!

Red Cabbage is packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals – including B6, Folate, Vitamin A, C, and K, Calcium, Iron and Magnesium. It also contains the antioxidants Lycopene and Anthocyanin’s (they give red vegetables and fruits their colour), which help protect against cancer and are heart healthy.

In other words, Red Cabbage is Good For You!

Word of warning: it stains!

All measurements and timings are approximate

Ingredients

1 Tbsp Coconut Oil

1/4 to 1/2 Red Cabbage, depending on size, washed and chopped small or shredded

1 Cooking Apple or Tart Dessert Apple, chopped

1 Small Onion, diced

1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar or Red Wine Vinegar

1 Dssp Raw Coconut Palm Sugar*

Handful Raisins

1 Tsp Organic Fruit Spread (no refined sugar or nasties!)

1/4 Tsp Cinnamon

Some Grated Whole Nutmeg, sparingly as it’s quite strong

Optional: Chopped Walnuts

Method

Melt the coconut oil and when hot, add onions and allow to sweat, gently, stirring occasionally

After a couple of minutes, add red cabbage and sweat for a few minutes, stirring occasionally

Add apple, vinegar, raisins, sugar, fruit spread and spices

Cover and cook on very low heat for up to 2 hours or until it is the desired texture and consistency

Stir occasionally

Adjust seasoning

Add chopped walnuts, if using, when nearly done and a few more to garnish

I like a bit of a bite to the cabbage, but others like it well cooked.

It goes well with nut roast, vegan sausages and so on. Here I have placed it centre-stage, surrounded by home-sprouted mung beans. (Apologies for the picture, this was one of my early posts when I was unused to taking food shots and there’s absolutely no natural light at this time of year). 

*http://www.therawchocolatecompany.com

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Christmas Catch-up

I realised today that I’ve been putting quite a few photos on Instagram and Facebook that you haven’t been privy to unless you specifically check out the feed on my home page. So I thought I’d do a slide show to let you see what’s been going on here in the days leading up to Christmas visits.

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Lots of juicing and smoothie making of course, making Christmas tags from last year’s cards, our first full frost a couple of weeks ago which explains the standing jeans – my husband decided that as it was a sunny morning he would hang out his work jeans to ‘dry’! He told them to wipe their feet before they came in!

Christmas doesn’t really begin for me until I’ve watched at least one of the following: It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street – I saw both of them last week!

Have any of you had romanesco? It’s like a green cauliflower. When we cut it in half it struck me that it looked just like a Christmas tree! I posted a photo of it to my family with the caption ‘trees up!’

The bracelets are from a Bolivian charity  beyondBeanie which helps artisan predominantly single mums sell their creations and the proceeds go to help street children and orphans. Each category of their wares goes to fund a different scheme. These bracelets provide toothbrushes and toothpaste for the children as part of a dental health programme. Young people love them. They are well made and waterproof so you don’t have to keep taking them off when you shower or wash up. They make shawls, mittens and beanies too.

Currently, they have a 25% discount offer on their website.

As you can see, my Raw Chocolate Company cupboard has been restocked! We are about to have ravenous teenagers descend on us and the first thing they do is check out the kitchen before retreating to their room. We don’t see them again until they surface for more food!

I was a little worried we wouldn’t have any foliage to speak of this year as our neighbour got a little over-enthusiastic pruning our shared holly tree a while back,  which is usually covered in berries. What you can see in the slideshow is the sum total of what was available, about 4 or 5 twigs. It’s augmented with laurel, buddleia and hydrangea seedheads, ivy, rosemary, mahonia and lleylandii.

The bird in the tree is a robin that was trilling its heart out this afternoon in the sunshine. It was beautiful. There’s a pair of them that are so sociable. I love watching them.

That’s it – oh, and my gorgeous little grandchildren gave me an early Christmas gift: I have my first full-on cold for 3 years!  I fought it stoically for 2 weeks, but my exhausted body ran up the white flag this week! I apologise for all the forests of tissues I’m currently using up.

Stay healthy!

Copyright: Chris McGowan

GoGo Berry Fudge: So Decadent, It Should Be Illegal!

imagePlease Note: Since I wrote this recipe, The Raw Chocolate Company have stopped selling Goldenberries, if you can’t get them elsewhere or want a less tart fruit in the fudge, try apple juice-infused dried cranberries or dried apricots. Also, the sweet apricot kernel butter can be replaced with almond nut butter.

Grab a bag of Raw Chocolate Company Golden Berries* – or 2, you may find you want to snack a little as you work – and find some Belinda Carlisle and The GoGos (http://youtu.be/KjNZcGP-jAkto give your vocal chords a workout while you try out this simple recipe.

It is so decadent it should be illegal but it has protein, antioxidants, essential fatty acids and minerals. It’s so moreish I was advised by one family member not to leave it out!

This fudge makes a lovely gift if placed in an airtight tin – I used a tartan shortbread tin: line the base, cut 2 paper doillies in half and stick the straight edge of each half inside the top edges of the sides so they fold over the fudge. Keep the fudge chilled before placing in the tin at the last minute and seal around the edges before gift-wrapping.

This recipe also uses Sweet Apricot Kernel Butter – see earlier recipe Gettin’ Jiggy in the Kitchen – you could use any nut butter, but this will slightly alter the flavour.

(The Raw Chocolate Company products are specified because it was originally developed for their blog, you can of course use other brands, these are the ones we use as they are organic, fairtrade and excellent quality).

WARNING: I strongly advise you do this alone in the privacy of your own kitchen with no family members around or there could be an unseemly scrimmage to scrape out blender, bowl and utensils before you’ve even finished – and that should be your privilege!

Ingredients

1 Cup melted Raw Chocolate Company Cacao ButterTip: place the tub in a bowl of hot water while you get everything else together 
1 Cup Maple Syrup
1/2 Tsp Vanilla Extract
pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt
2 Tsp Raw Chocolate Company Lucuma Fruit Powder
1 Cup Raw Chocolate Company Cacao Powder
1 Cup Raw Sweet Apricot Kernel Butter (see above, or substitute with almond butter
1/2 Cup Raw Chocolate Company Golden Berries
1/2 Cup Raw Chocolate Company Goji Berries
Few Squares Raw Chocolate Company Pitch Dark Raw Chocolate

Method

(N.B. You need to work quickly before it starts setting).

Blend all ingredients except the Berries and Pitch Dark. I tried this in a small flask blender, but it didn’t work and I ended up transferring to a food processor, but a high speed blender is probably best.

Transfer to a bowl and stir in the Berries and some grated Pitch Dark.

Spread in a lined 8×8 tin

Grate some more Pitch Dark on top and refrigerate for half an hour – if you can wait that long!

Break into bite-size chunks – it is quite rich so a little goes a long way.

Tip: clean up as you go along, the cacao butter and fudge batter set quickly so wipe up any drips straightaway and put blender, bowl and utensils to soak as soon as you’re done with them, saves elbow grease later and gives you more time to indulge before you have to let in the hungry hordes.

*http://www.therawchocolatecompany.com

This recipe first appeared on The Raw Chocolate Company Blog in an edited form.

Copyright: Chris McGowan

Spiced Fruity Raw Vegan Gluten-Free Christmas Pudding & Christmas Truffles

imageThis raw vegan Christmas pudding was inspired by a recipe on The Raw Chocolate Company blog, but it doesn’t seem to be there anymore so I can’t credit the original (though there is a more luxurious – cooked – recipe).

We made the raw one the previous Christmas, which turned out a little bit tart as we’d used golden berries and orange juice (they also made it orange!), so this time I have swapped them for raisins, apple-infused cranberries and fresh apple juice.

So long as you keep to the overrall amounts, you can use whatever dried fruit you like, depending how sweet or citrusy you prefer it.

This pudding is rich and contains no refined sugar.

Amounts are approximate and you can play around with the different spices, dried fruit and nuts.

It will keep in the fridge for a few days, but we made ours in advance and put it in the freezer. It turned out really well.

This time, we made two small ones with this mixture, a large one is too much if there’s only two of you. You only need a small slice.

You can eat it as it is or with some whipped coconut cream (add whatever ‘flavouring’ you like ;-)), cashew nut cream or coconut yogurt.

You might also like my recipe for Christmas Truffles which are great as a gift or if you want to img_2880freeze small treats rather than make a whole pudding.

For the mould, you can use a pudding bowl, a cereal bowl or in our case, a Tupperware bowl! I’m not fond of plastic, but sometimes there is no other option and as we wanted to freeze the pud, that’s what we used, 2 small plastic bowls with lids. You could line the bowl(s) with parchment to make them easier to remove, although we found they it came out of the plastic bowl quite easily.

*

Ingredients

1 Cup chopped Medjool Dates, pitted & chopped

1/2 Cup Goji Berries

1/2 Cup Dried Mulberries

1/2 Cup Apple juice-infused Cranberries

1/2 Cup Raisins

1 Cup Sweet Apricot Kernels /Almonds, or a mixture of them and Walnuts, all lightly chopped (we forgot to chop ours this time!)

1 Cup Raw Shelled Hemp Seeds

 2/3 Cup fresh Apple Juice

Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, Lemon and Orange Zest to taste

Method

 Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and pour over the apple juice.

Stir well, cover and leave to soak. Give it a stir occasionally. We left ours an hour, if you want the nuts softer, leave it a bit longer.

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Turn the mix out into the food processor, add the spices and zest.

Pulse and stir until you get the consistency you want, depending on whether you want a smooth or coarse texture.

Taste-test to see if the balance of spices/zest is right.

When you’re satisfied, spoon the mix into the bowl(s), pressing down with the back of the spoon.

Place in the fridge to set.

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And Bob’s your uncle!

(I can’t show you a slice with all the trimmings as this was going straight back in the freezer).

Enjoy the video!

Copyright: Chris McGowan