5 signs it’s nearly Christmas


What? You think it’s ages till Christmas? Well, the early warning signals are going here, the signs are all there:

a) Odd leaves are changing colours on the trees


Leaves are on the turn


b) Bake Off is back on the 24th. End of summer signal blinking very brightly.


Bake Off is back! I repeat, Bake Off is back.


c) They’re announcing the Strictly contestants. Which means it’s downhill to the final, by which point you’d better have your Christmas cake made!


d) I’ve seen the first mention of the Gin Advent Calendar. And it wasn’t by me.


Ginvent - my perfect Advent Calendar. Twenty four days of fabulous gin


e) Selfridges Christmas shop is open.

Santa Claus is getting ready

So, probably best get a wriggle on. Get your lists written now, last minute shopping is never the best way of doing things!


Mary Berry photo from the BBC, wiggling hips gif from Giphly.


The Friday Five – Christmas is most definitely coming


Christmas is coming, time to get planning for the food lovers in your life


I am sorry to mention this, but three months today and it will be Christmas Day! Which means it’s time to start the planning for the meals, if only because I love this part. Looking forward to new traditions and old, so maybe that I need some new inspiration. These five books are all newly published in time for Christmas this year, so may be worth looking out for.


Elizabeth David's Christmas - could become my new go-to Christmas cookbook from one of the most important food writers of the 20th century


Elizabeth David’s Christmas – obviously the writing is not new in this, but it’s the first time Elizabeth David’s thoughts on, and recipes for, Christmas entertaining have been pulled into a book. She was such an influential writer it seems unbelievable this is the case, but I will really enjoy reading this one.


Dozens of Christmas cookie classic recipes for all the family


Christmas Cookies – the secondary title tells you all you need to know: dozens of classic Yuletide treats for the whole family. As we have a tradition of new PJs and hot chocolate on Christmas Day evening, maybe some of these would be ideal accompaniments.


Maggie's Christmas - sharing the best of Maggie Beer's Australian Christmas


Maggie’s Christmas – given this has been the year of our big trip to Australia, then it seems appropriate that we might add an Australian view of Christmas to the bookshelf. I think Maggie is the Aussie equivalent of Delia, and so these could become classics, even allowing for the differences in the seasons.


The Irish Countrywomen's Association Book of Christmas - for recipes, advice, blessings and traditions for a perfect Irish Christmas


The Irish Countrywomen’s Association Book of Christmas – from Australia to Ireland for another part of my heritage. This says it covers recipes, advice, blessings and traditions for the perfect Irish Christmas. I’m all about mixing traditions and recipes, so might give some food for thought.


Oh Come All Ye Tasteful - the foodie's guide to a millionaires Christmas feast


Oh Come All Ye Tasteful – who doesn’t want a foodie’s guide to a millionaire’s Christmas feast? Maybe it’s a bit of fun just to read, or maybe you can afford to stuff your turkey with foie gras and black truffles. Personally I think Christmas is memorable when you cook with love, not just expensive ingredients, but may be worth a read.


If you need more books, then I’ve written some other Christmas Fives over the years. There was “Christmas is coming, the cook is getting…?” which has the classic that is Merry Kitschmas in it. The first of my Christmas book offs with English Mum was in 2012, and I fired the opening salvo in 2013 too. I would have thought 20 cookbooks about Christmas was enough for anyone though!


Week 6 Cookbook Challenge – the festive ones


There’s been a bit of a gap in my cookbook challenge, mainly as the cooking for the season took over. But I managed to work in a couple of Christmas specific cookbooks, and finding new recipes from them.


delia smiths christmas


First up is the most classic of my Christmas books, with Delia Smith’s Christmas. Mine’s not quite a first edition, but it is the original design from 1990. I’ve cooked Christmas cake from this before, as I think I’ve always been on the dessert course and cakes until recently. As I was cooking for six of us this year, and semi traditional with turkey and ham on the table, then needed some traditional accompaniments.


Bread sauce


My personal fave with the turkey is the bread sauce, and so it was Delia’s recipe for us, but with a bit of a tweak in that I used gluten free bread in mine. It seemed to make little difference to the sauce, and took up all the traditional flavours of the clove studded onion steeped milk, with the bayleaf and nutmeg. I made this a fortnight in advance and froze it, and then finished it on the day with double cream and more butter.


cranberry orange 1


And I guess I could have bought a jar of cranberry sauce, but instead made some cranberry and orange relish from the same book. I loved the smell from this as it was cooking, with the orange zest and juice, the cinnamon, cloves and ginger. It was less cloying and sweet than the jarred stuff and, whilst not a “proper” preserve, it seems to be keeping ok in a jar in the fridge, and works really well with cold meats of all descriptions.


christmas cookies


Switching back to sweet stuff, I made cookies from Christmas Cookies from the Whimsical Bakehouse for a get together at work. I think the spiral tricolour cookies got the most “wow” comments, and have to admit these were a lot of impact for just a bit of effort. They were pretty tasty too, otherwise would have been pointless.


pinwheel 1


I also used their gingerbread cookie recipe to make cookies for all my team, along with the royal icing recipe. They can’t be held responsible for the somewhat wobbly icing though, that’s all my own work! This recipe also apparently works well for building gingerbread houses, which I might try this year.




I appreciate the Christmas season is over, but now might be a good time to look for books like this as I imagine they might be discounted now. Christmas Cookies looks like a bargain on Amazon if you want a secondhand one as it’s only 24p from one supplier. The later edition of Delia’s Christmas book is cheaper than mine from some bookstores, not sure on the content difference but imagine bread sauce will definitely still feature!


The tinsel might not be up but John Lewis are ready


I meant to post these a few days ago, as I noticed these things in John Lewis that definitely said Christmas to me. And lo and behold, I’ve been delayed a few days and now Christmas is live on their website.


John Lewis Xmas 1 - jars of delicousness for food lovers with a sweet tooth, quite the gift

Jars of deliciousness


Salted caramel deliciousness from Artisan du Chocolat - great gift for a food lover

Boxes of gorgeousness



Christmas sweet stuff from John Lewis for gifts for food lovers


And chocolatey scrumptiousness.

The website now has all sorts of Christmas stuff now, from decorations to crackers, so if you are the early organised type then you could get on now and start selecting the good stuff. And if you’re not, there’s always the Halloween stuff to distract yourself with!


The Friday Five – opening salvo of the Christmas book off


Two months to the big day! I wasn’t feeling very Christmassy up until Wednesday when MGG and I started some festive shopping. Which means that it’s time for the annual Christmas book off. It’s getting harder to come up with something that English Mum will gasp, groan or laugh out loud at, so here’s my best attempt for 2013:


A Very Vintage Christmas - got to include a Christmas martini. Or three


Have Yourself A Very Vintage Christmas – well, vintage continues to reign big, so I think this ticks quite a lot of buttons. Now I’ve no idea what was on the menu in the 20s, but imagine it could be fun. Maybe it involves martinis, as most of the Noel Coward plays I’ve seen involve lots of drink. Covering the 20s through to the 60s and covering crafts and decorations as well as recipes, I think this is on the money for English Mum and I.


Have Yourself a Toasty Little Christmas


Have Yourself a Toasty Little Christmas – oh, now we’re into the specialised books. I mean, how many other Christmas bread recipe books are there on your shelves? But I’m sure Christmas breads are a lovely thing to be knocking up!


American Christmas - recipes and ideas to inspire holiday traditions, wherever you celebrate it


American Christmas – this looks quite sophisticated compared to some previous offerings I’ve made, but got to give the Americans credit, they’re darn good at Christmas. Maybe it’s because when you’re a “young” country you can just make everything up as you go along.



Handmade Scandinavian Christmas - everything except the snow

Handmade Scandinavian Christmas – from the look of the house to the food and drink, this is how to do that whole restrained Scandinavian look. Which is about the polar opposite of what Merry Kitschmas is all about! It’s probably how I like to think I would do Christmas but it’s just not happening yet!


Hometown Christmas - how the Waltons would have done Christmas in my imagination


Hometown Christmas – apparently this contains festive recipes and merrymaking tips, and who doesn’t need that? In my mind this is the recipe book that the Waltons used for their Christmas. I mean, Ike would have had Fancy-Pants Eggs and I’m sure there must have been an Aunt Pearl, along with her breakfast scones.


So whatever your Christmas has in store, be it old family traditions or looking for some new ones, then it’s never too early to start planning!


Pizza Express does gifting. And pretty well.


Let’s face it, before they started discounting, Pizza Express were up there on the High Street. There was a certain smugness, you were one up on those eating at the downscale Pizza Hut, that was all thick crust stuffed with 76 types of cheese.

Then the recession leveled the playing field, Pizza Express was in everyone’s reach, and Pizza Hut went upscale. Loss of brand equity? Possibly (I’d be weeping if I was their marketing manager) but I still think they rock it on the taste and style fronts. If I was in a bind, needed lunch and had no local recommendations, then I’d still be happy to pop into one for a quick pizza and coffee.



So when they asked me if I’d like to try a couple of their Christmas gifts, I said yes, intrigued a bit as to which way they’d played this. And I have to say they’ve certainly gone for the style bit, and they are a little different. The olive oil set is good looking, the olive oil is EVO from Spain, so at least useful. How often I’d use the drizzler I don’t know, but I can imagine I might. Which is more than you can say for some things you get in food gift sets. This was £18, but is currently £11.99 at Sainsbury’s.



I was also sent the Amaretti jar, which is attractive enough, quite solid, and has four soft amaretti biscuits inside. This just about hits Secret Santa territory at the moment (at least for our office) as currently reduced from £8 to £5.33, so only blowing the object by 33 pence. Personally, I’d have thought you could have got a few more amaretti biscuits in, and they can’t be that expensive.

I would think these were good gift choices for someone you didn’t know particularly well, as not much to offend here, and I am sure many would like them a lot. There’s also an amaretti mug, which is now just over £3, and a trio of dressings at £11.99, so pretty good value. They are exclusive to Debenhams and Sainsbury’s, if that’s not an oxymoron being exclusive in two places. Worth a look out for as a good standby gift perhaps.


The Friday Five – The Christmas Book Off is On


I can’t remember how I got to know English Mum. Ours has always been a virtual friendship, in spite of a few attempts at proper meetings. But we do have a love in common, and that is kitschness, preferably at Christmas. It all started with a book called Merry Kitschmas, which I spotted in a post that Becky had written. A copy finally arrived in my home last year, and ever since I’ve been on the look out for other Christmas books that are, well, shall we say not exactly Delia?

English Mum thought she’d raised the stakes with a Paula Deen one, but that’s a bit too “normal” for me, so here are five to give a slightly different take on Christmas, as it surely is time to start thinking about it!


Peterson's Holiday Helper - cocktail pick me ups for every kind of Christmas


Peterson’s Holiday Helper: Festive Pick-me-Ups, Calm-me-Downs and Handy Hints to Keep You in Good Spirits – I had to go all the way to Hong Kong to spot the one that set us on the route to the book off. This has great cocktail recipes for things like a Double Stick Scotch Coffee, to help you out with the present wrapping, a Dickensian Smoking Bishop or the wonderfully named Whatever Gets You Through the Woods. I’ll have a pint please!


Santa's North Pole Cookbook - classic Christmas recieps from St Nick himself. Perfect festive cookbook.


Santa’s North Pole Cookbook: Classic Christmas Recipes from Saint Nicholas Himself – who’s going to argue with the big man? If St Nick says these are the recipes, then these are the things I should add in to Christmas traditions! Santa has pulled together recipes from all around the world, presumably just in one night. I’d buy this just for the laugh really!


Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book - in case they're still a thing


Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book – part voyeuristic delight, part party givers guide to food and drink to serve alongside your most hideous Christmas sweater ever. At least if you drop something on the sweater it either won’t show, or you won’t care!


The Dead Celebrity Cookbook presents Christmas in Tinseltown


The Dead Celebrity Cookbook Presents Christmas in Tinseltown: Celebrity Recipes and Memories from Six Feet Under the Mistletoe – I think I win just for tracking this one down, and for the title alone! For a film buff, for a stocking filler, for a slightly bemused pause on Christmas morning perhaps!



Emeril's Creole Christmas - the sunniest Christmas cookbook


Emeril’s Creole Christmas – this has to be the opposite of the average British Christmas! Perhaps it’s time to bring some Creole sunshine to sit alongside the turkey. Alternatively, this turkey would be happy to go sit in the Creole sunshine this Christmas!

So go on, shake up Christmas! And if anyone sees English Mum, tell her I said game on!


What does a Cath Kidston Christmas look like this year?


I think people think that I am a Cath Kidston type of person, whereas it’s all a bit too twee for me. I live the country life, I don’t need to produce a pastiche of rural living. But that said I have often bought gifts for others, as lots of friends love it, so I think that’s why I’m on their mailing list.

And the Christmas catalogue has some things that I think would be tempted to find homes for. Possibly even my own! These are what I’m loving:


Stanley Salt & Pepper Set from Cath Kidston


Ok, I don’t have ground black pepper around the house, but if I was going to have a traditional style salt and pepper set, then I’d choose Stanley. Just too cute for words.


What every kitchen needs: a radio tea cosy


There are a couple of things I like whilst being in the kitchen: Radio 4 and a cup of tea. I think therefore that this is the perfect tea cosy for me to have around.


Vintage Rose Cake Tins


You can never have too many tins for cakes and things, and I like these vintage rose ones, which I’d give as a gift. For myself, I’d be quite partial to the Christmas ones.


The most kitsch champagne flutes I've seen


I’m quite partial to a bit of kitsch (you have only to observe my hankering after the Merry Kitschmas book, which is now mine). So these champagne glasses are probably right up my street! I like to think I have a lifestyle modelled on The White Company, but I have to be honest, kitsch deer are going to do it every time for me!


Merry Christmas Deer tea towel



Christmas needs a Chirstmas tea towel, and so I would probably continue the kitsch deer theme. If you wanted something a little less kitsch, then there are some with a deer print that’s slightly more subtle!

Because we all need a Christmas apron

As good things come in threes, and everybody should have a Christmas apron, so bring on the deer once last time!

Definitely worth a look this year, and even finding some space for in your own home.


Christmas at Not On the High Street – first look, but not last!


I love Not On the High Street, they make regular appearances on here, and on my bank statement! So, great to see their Christmas selection appearing now, and my first look is based on things for your Christmas, for lovely table settings and kitchens, parties and festive eating and drinking.


Glasses for Mulled Wine - great gift for a food lover who likes their mulled wine


One thing to look forward to with the onset of winter is the return of opportunities to drink mulled wine. Which I’ve always struggled to find appropriate things to serve it in, always ending up with a mish mash of mugs.  These glasses would avoid burnt fingers, and poor styling.


Personalised cake toppers - great gift for a food lover who likes the personal touch


In spite of how much baking I do the rest of the year, I rarely get round to doing a Christmas cake. I’m thinking if I had a spangly cake topper like this I could just get away with plain white icing and this on top. Perfect!


vintage looking Cristmas set for someone's first Christmas - perfect gift for a food lover


For those with new family members getting ready for their first Christmas dinner, then I love this vintage looking set. Plenty of space for turkey and roasties, particularly in liquidised version.


Festive place cards - perfect gift for a food lover with a big table to work out


If you have massive numbers of people to accommodate on Christmas Day, and need a seating plan, then you might need place cards too. I love these Santa ones, which apparently come with four different sayings, though it doesn’t say what they are.


Christmas napkins - perfect gift for a food lover who likes a lovely looking table


Every table needs good napkins, and I rather like these Christmas Pud ones. Though only if I was guaranteed non-messy guests!


Happy Christmas mugs - perfect gift for a food lover who's ready for a festive cuppa


There has to be good strong tea on Christmas morning to kick start proceedings, and everyone needs a Christmas mug. Especially when it’s your very own Christmas mug.

I love Christmas, the sparkle, the traditions, the family time, panto…the whole shooting match, not to mention thinking about it, planning it, and then making it come true. So, worth getting organised now!