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The 7 ages of man December 26, 2007

Filed under: Christmas,the kids — paulabrown @ 7:09 pm

So Gabe, almost 5, has hit that age where Dad is always right. Dad knows better than me how to fix things (fair enough), how to make stuff out of wood (ditto), how to cycle (he’s got a point), cook (groundless), drive (utterly without evidence) and now about all matters financial (laughable). We’re heading for the age where mum is obsolete and Dad is all and, as is often the case, it’s half a relief and half devastating.

I guess it’s just another challenge, something I was unprepared to deal with with such frequency.  When Jude lost his beloved Chitty Chitty Bang Bang miniature replica I was gutted for him and went to fetch the spare (they came in a pack of 3!) but Nige said he needed to learn ‘how to deal with disappointment’. We then had a half hour debate about this particular point; my view was that 2 and a half might be too young for such a tough lesson (one I have enormous trouble dealing with myself). Needless to say by the time we’d reached some sort of resolution he’d found the car and our healthy debate was obsolete.



Filed under: Christmas,parenting articles — paulabrown @ 7:02 pm

hope you’ve all had a good one. I was to be found nursing a cup of hot tea at 6.30am listening to the dulcit tones of remote control cars racing down the hall, accompanied by the sound of Johnny Cash crooning about ‘loading his gun’ on his “children’s” album. By 9am we had mounted a full scale hunt for the miniature replica of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang which had already been lost under a sofa.

We did manage to get to a pub for a couple of drinks and although avoiding overeating miraculously (and mostly due to the fact that I kept being distracted by the wild goats while I was shopping so didn’t have that much to overeat with!) we did fall asleep on the sofa at 9.30pm.

Anyway, good cheer to you all and apologies for lack of cards to those I actually know, I’ve given some money to Book Aid who send very useful text books and children’s books to nurses, mechanics and kids in Africa.


Christmas haiku November 11, 2007

Filed under: Christmas — paulabrown @ 8:37 pm


Christmas by Paula Brown (I wrote this when I was 10. I didn’t really like Christmas. It was for a school Christmas poem competition. I didn’t win)




Over by 26th December

Please don’t tell me it’s not a proper haiku! I know!


More Christmas recipes November 6, 2007

Filed under: Christmas,parenting articles — paulabrown @ 9:33 pm



Like the final act of a play or the crescendo of a symphony, we expect a good

chocolate sweet to leave us speechless, craving for more.”

Suzanne Ausnit, 20C American editor


NB. Remember that chocolate must be kept at a cool but not cold temperature (it can develop a white film if kept in the fridge which is too cold for its delicate oils). Always use the best quality chocolate for confectionery – never cooking chocolate (you can add a tsp of vegetable oil if it is too stiff to handle). Do remember, also, to double the recipe because you will undoubtedly much quite a bit in cooking these.


Makeability factor:


Cost: not as cheap as other presents but at least half the price of bought chocolates. Advantages are that you can buy milk/dark/white and use as you or your recipient desire and you can buy organic/fair trade as you please.


Ease: chocolates are quite a bit easier than you might imagine, are fun to do, fairly quick and don’t cause that much mess. Needs limited equipment unless you’re getting fancy then you might need a visit to the cake decorating shop on Gloucester Rd or ‘Kitchens’ on Whiteladies Rd (who sell the small silver ‘cups’).


Other: these are great for mums, dads and nans, particularly as you can put their favourite centres in, so no arguing over the strawberry cremes! Make boxes (or buy a set of coloured round boxes from… eek… IKEA) and tie with attractive ribbon etc. Definite wow factor with any homemade chocolates.


Moulded Chocolates

As an alternative to the above, mould chocolates using ‘CEP’ or metal moulds (available from Kitchens in Clifton or on loan from me). Simply melt chocolate in a bain marie and smear it round the side of each mould. Then chop up fudge, turkish delight, fondant or put in a vodka soaked fruit and seal up with more chocolate. Let cool then pop out and put in fancy boxes.


Spices and essential oils, I am reliably informed, can be put in chocolate, although care must be taken. Put 1 drop of organic geranium oil in 1 litre of dark chocolate with some chopped candied orange peel (always buy it whole and chop it yourself as it’s much better quality) and stir. Set in moulds or pour out on cold surface and chop into squares when cooler. Alternatively, try sea salt chocolate (1 tsp in 100g melted dark chocolate) or black pepper (1/2 tsp crushed black pepper) or a few drops of infused chilli oil in chocolate.


Hot Chocolate


Grate a 100g bar of dark chocolate, mix a tbsp of vanilla sugar (see flavoured sugars) or a little nutmeg, ground cinnamon etc and put in bag with nice ribbon, instructing drinker to stir 2tbsps into hot milk.




Cost: fairly cheap.


Ease: pretty easy


Other: good for after big christmas dinner



Marzipan fruits


These are so easy a child could make them, which is precisely why I have included them… children love cooking at any time of year but these might be good presents for nan and grandad from your little sprog…



  • Buy marzipan and food colouring

  • Squash into small fruity shapes

  • Paint with food colouring and clean/new artists brush (roll strawberries in sugar for seed texture)

  • Serve in petit four cases (avail in supermarkets or kitchen shops)


Alternatively you can make sugar mice out of bought white icing using a piece of string and 2 silver balls for a tail and eyes.


Cranberry or Peppermint Cremes


Using the recipe below, try variations (eg adding 70g of dried, sweetened cranberries to the mixture).


Fondants and Fudge:


Pastry and Biscuits


These can be arranged to make a great present, though of course they need to be made/kept fresh.




Sugared Nuts (note these recipes contain nuts!)


2 x tbs of sugar with 2 x tbs of boiling water, dissolve, stir cup of nuts through and put on tray in oven 170C for about 10 mins, stiring often. These can be packed into a pretty jar.


Hot ‘n’ Spicy Nuts (a la Jamie Oliver)


More for eating at christmas than giving as a present as they are best eaten fresh

½ tbsp olive oil

255g/9oz shelled and peeled almonds

1-3 small dried red chillies

2 generous pinches of sea salt


Add olive oil and almonds to hot frying pan. Fry/toast almonds until golden brown, shaking the pan regularly to colour them evenly and accentuate their nutty flavour. Crumble the chilli to taste and add the sea salt. Toss over and serve hot on a large late.


A little word about Christmas October 30, 2007

Filed under: Christmas,parenting articles — paulabrown @ 9:57 pm


OK so I know it’s the kind of thing your granny would say but really, it’s true that there’s nothing like a homemade Christmas present. The other factor is that, having worked in retail for a few years now, you might be interested to know that the cost of making something is usually less than a quarter of its retail price – this accounts for necessary costs to retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers and also for packaging, advertising and the like.

So here is my what-to-make-for-Christmas PART 1

Christmassy Foods for eating or for presents!

A good cook is half a physician“ Nicholas Culpeper

Cranberry Curd

Like lemon curd, only more seasonal, more magenta and more moreish! This recipe (thanks to Nigella) makes quite a lot. Make it a few days before Christmas as it is best eaten quite fresh (though this shouldn’t be a problem!). You can’t get organic cranberries easily but I have read that they aren’t grown that intensively.

Cranberry curd isn’t all that cheap (£1.50 for a smallish jar) but it’s so gorgeous, unusual and bright that that shouldn’t stop you making it as part of your portfolio of bargain, handmade presents.

500g cranberries

500g caster sugar

200ml water

6 large eggs

100g unsalted butter

5 x 250ml jars or equivalent – makes 1¾ litres

Place cranberries and water in a saucepan, cover them and cook on a low heat until tender and popped. Pass the cranberries through a food mill (or push through a sieve) and put fruit puree back into a saucepan. Add the butter and sugar, melting them gently. Beat the eggs in a bowl and sieve them into the saucepan. Stir the curd constantly over a medium heat until it has thickened. This requires patience as you don’t want to speed things up and curdle the mixture, but that’s not particularly challenging. When it has thickened, is should coat the back of a spoon. Let cool a little before pouring in to the jars. Keep in the fridge.

Cranberry and Port Sauce

You will be left with crushed cranberries, which would be a crime to throw away. I put the same quantity of sugar with the cranberries (or to taste) and a slug of port and heat til bubbling on a medium heat for about 10 mins until the sugar has melted and the mixture is jam-like. Serve with turkey, brussel sprouts, carrots etc – you know the one! Also goes well with meat and nut roasts throughout the year (cranberries aren’t just for Christmas…).


Find a good mincemeat recipe, maybe Delia’s, put a nice label on it, possibly with a bit of information about it’s history and a few recipe ideas (a few spoonfuls are great run through a basic fudge recipe or a basic ice cream recipe). Added to a basic sponge recipe it can make a last minute christmas cake substitute or a spoonful stirred into a basic biscuit recipe works festive wonders.

Incidentally, if circumstances force you to buy mincemeat when you would otherwise make it, ‘doctor’ it by adding a few chopped nuts, a squeeze of orange juice, a slurp of brandy, some chopped apple or orange zest.

Pecans in Maple Syrup or Walnuts in Honey

Both these work well, though the latter is decidedly more local and cheaper! Basically half – 2/3 fill a jar with the nuts and pour on the liquid. This doesn’t need to be in a large jar as it will be eaten fairly sparingly (eg with ice cream, spooned over an otherwise dull sponge cake or shortbread biscuits).

Other ideas include homemade pesto (always gratefully eaten), homemade jams with fruit you need to use up etc.

Marinated Olives

Buy good quality olives in oil and add garlic cloves, a slice of lemon and some herbs and spices a week before giving the present.


Cost: obvious cost of vodka makes this fairly expensive but you can give smaller quantities.

Ease: pretty easy, all told. No special equipment and good for using spices you might have in the house or fruit which is being sold cheap

Basic vodka syrup

35cl vodka

8oz caster sugar

10fl oz/275ml water

bring water to boil over a low heat then add sugar, stiring until dissolved (approx 30 secs). Return to the boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5 mins. When cool add the vodka.

Pour the vodka syrup into a bottle and place flavourings in there and leave for 2 weeks minimum (can be left for quite some time so good one to do for next year, esp using cheap cranberries in Jan for next Christmas).

Flavours include:

  • Spices; 8 cloves, stick of cinnamon, vanilla pod/bean, fresh chilli (would make a strange but interesting set with the chilli chocolate) or organic lemon/orange peel

  • Fruit; heat berries (blueberries, cranberries, blackcurrants etc) on low heat for a few minutes until soft and juices flowing – add to the mixture; kumquats etc

  • Chocolate; melt a 100g bar of chocolate bain-marie style (see chocolates) then, off the heat when cool but not set, pour 1 quantity of vodka syrup into the mixture and stir. When cold, pour into a bottle and keep at room temperature. Although highly un’organic’, this can be done with your recipient’s favourite chocolate bar, eg mint Aero, (almost all of which melt) as well. Technically you can do it with jelly beans etc although I have always got a gloopy mess when I tried it.

  • Any fruits soaked in vodka can be made into chocolates. Strain the vodka and label as fruit liqueur (which effectively it now is) and either use fruits in chocolate moulds as below or melt chocolate and pour half on greaseproof paper, cool, smear fruit over the top and pout another layer of chocolate over the top. When cooler, cut and serve with coffee! These go well as a gift set – eg cranberry chocolates and cranberry vodka. Lovely!


Mulled Wine Sachets


Dried peel of 1 orange

1 tsp of cloves

2 inch piece of cinnamon stick

piece of dried ginger or ground ginger (1 tsps)

Variations include the additions of 1tsp coriander seeds, 1tsp dried rosehips, 4 cardamon pods, ½ tsp cumin, few grates of nutmeg, ½ tsp allspice, 1 star anise, 1 Earl Grey tea bag, dark rum, – experiment!

Tie in a double layer of muslin and tie with string. Write a label instructing the recipient to put in a saucepan with one bottle of medium to full-bodied red wine (eg cabernet sauvignon) with 3 tbsp of sugar (dark muscavado is the best) or honey, dash of brandy, a sliced orange and sliced lemon and 1 pint of water, simmer for 20 mins and serve. You can also put the spices in a small jar which looks nicer.

Flavoured sugars

Put caster sugar into an attractive jar. Push a vanilla pod into the sugar and leave for a week. This sugar is great for making homemade custard but works well in coffee or sprinkled over stewed fruit. Make a set of 3 sugars with different flavours and give as a present.

Other flavourings include:

Flowers – collect approx 6 fresh, homegrown (ie unsprayed) lavender flowers in the summer (per small jar) – this sugar is great for cakemaking and has a subtle, floral taste. Rose petals (esp red) also make a fantastic sugar and look beautiful

Spices – cardomon, cloves, cinnamon etc

  • Fruit – try unsprayed/unwaxed orange and other citrus peels

Almond and rosewater dates

These make a good alternative to the standard dried fruit and nut tray, available in supermarkets. Also, they are freakily high in nutritional value (providing large quantities of magnesium, phosphorous and calcium) and help to calm the nervous system, help with PMT, those who work late at night and acts as a general tonic. Pretty thoughtful present? I think so.

1lb naturally dried dates (no added sugar)

1lb almonds

enough rosewater (available from indian stores) to cover the dates – this can be made by making an infusion of rose petals in the appropriate season

Leave dates to soak in the rosewater overnight. Cut the dates open and replace the stone with an almond. Package and give as a present or simply eat!

Salt and peppercorns

  • Put salt and herb mixes in a good quality salt grinder (eg ‘provencal herbs’; lavender florets, shredded bay leaves, dried sage etc). Lots of varieties possible (eg herbs for fish, herbs and spices for curries)

  • Try sugar and small pieces of chocolate to use with sweet foods

  • Buy red, white and black peppercorns and package in a jar or in a peppergrinder for variation.

Spice kits

Hand blend spices for an indian or thai recipe and put in plastic bag with instructions and small bag of lentils or similar.

Soup mix

Layer various coloured pulses as part of hamper – useful as soup mix.


Wok oil’

Put a clove of garlic, 3 birdseye chillies, a star anise, a stick of cinnamon, few mustard, cumin and coriander seeds in a small glass bottle of sunflower oil (adding a little sesame oil if you have any) and leave for a a few weeks or heat gently to cheat!. Put a ribbon and label on bottle and give, possibly with a good stir fry recipe. Good cheap but attractive present.

Salad dressing oil

Do as above but with a few basic spices and a large sprig of a fresh herb (these should be organic if poss or washed and thoroughly dried). Leave for a few weeks and then strain, replace with the same herb (so it will look fresh).

Infused vinegars

Add herbs as with the oil alone or in combination with fruit (eg raspberries which have been crushed slightly). Leave to steep then strain and replace with fresh herb. Slightly stew cranberries and do the same, finally replacing with cranberries threaded on a scewer for an attractive present. In summer, make rose petal vinegar by steeping unsprayed rose petals in white wine or cider vinegar (don’t use malt vinegar which is for chips only!)