Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Homemade Christmas ...

Today we've been chilling, just kicking back and letting the world go by. It's lovely on a cold, frosty morning to stay in bed with nothing to worry about other than getting up in time to put the bins out. Bliss.

When we did eventually drag our weary bodies downstairs we took the Wonder Dog for a trot around Gunnersbury Park, one of our local parks. With the clear blue sky it was stunning. I love the distant skyline across this huge field. London seems like it's very far away, whereas in truth it's all around the park, which is an island of brilliant green in the middle of the great, grey city.

Emi and I were both surprised to bump into the headmaster of his Junior school out for a morning jog. Amazingly, given how many scarves and hats we were wearing, he recognised us, and shouted Hello!. It was weird seeing him out of context, and not wearing his usual smart suit. Emi was strangely thrilled. It sort of made his morning. Very weird.

We came home and  I started to put together some hampers of homemade goodies to give to friends for Christmas, whilst Emi settled down to a box-set of Asterix cartoons.

I started out with some white boxes that I'd bought in Ikea (Knarra boxes, if anyone wants to buy them). I've been looking for hamper boxes that were the right size to hold all the bits and pieces I've been making, and these ones seemed to fit the bill better than anything else I could find.

I padded the bottom with some bubble-wrap, and then covered it up with a few sheets of Christmassy red tissue paper.

I've also bought some festive tins for my Christmas cakes. The one in this hamper matches the recipient's kitchen china. Inside is one of my Boozy Be-jewelled Christmas Cakes.

Beside it, nestling on the tissue paper is a bumper bag of my Epsom Salt Bath Bombs, carefully labelled with my Handmade Labels.

Emi broke off from his cartoons to take a look at my labels. He'd not been around when I made any of my earlier batches of labels, and was very taken with my label-making machines.  And now, an hour or two later, I think I can safely say that he's got some of the best labelled Lego boxes in town.

We added some homemade Clementine and Cardamon Marmalade, a pot of Christmas Chutney and some  homemade Christmas Mincemeat

Then I had a sniff of the potpourri I'd made during the summer, and declared it ready to use. I decanted some into a plastic cake bag with a doily at the bottom to pretty it up a bit. Doesn't it look good?

And what's more my kitchen smells wonderful too: all summer roses and aromatic herbs. If you'd like to make some next year you can find my posts on how I made mine here:  Part 1 and Part 2. I'm really pleased with how the dark roses have held their colours. Lighter roses would have discoloured into unattractive browns and yellows, but these wonderful dark burgundy beauties have held their colour and still look rich and attractive. I also like the balance between whole heads, petals, geraniums, bay leaves and dried rosemary, which gives it a pleasing texture. 

Hopefully the friend for whom this little hamper of homemade delights is bound will like it. I just need to wrap it up in some cellophane wrap to keep it pristine for the journey from my house to hers.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

As shared on Creative Mondays

The very best birthday/ Christmas brownies ...

Another day, another birthday. December is just about the craziest month in my calendar. This month Mr B and I celebrate our wedding anniversary, Emi and Mr B have their birthdays and then there's Christmas. I seem to lurch from one event to the next, never properly prepared for any of them.

And today is Mr B's birthday. He's going to celebrate tonight with one of his favourite roast dinners followed by birthday brownies and ice cream. It may not sound desperately sophisticated, but I can think of few things that beat the unctuous pleasure of gooey chocolate brownies with the cold deliciousness of rich vanilla ice-cream.  Ideally I'd serve the brownies still warm from the oven and oozing dark chocolate, but we'll see how my timing goes as I've got a mountain of other things to get crammed in today.

As I've mentioned before these brownies are the perfect birthday party alternative to a birthday cake. All you need is a big pile of them neatly jacketed in cupcake papers and you're ready to go. I always get in a muddle trying to cut up one of those classical, circular cakes so that each of twenty hungry nine year-olds can have a roughly equal slice. It's so much easier to just produce a large pile of pick-one-up-and-go brownies.

Today I'm making a small batch as there will only be the four of us at tonight's celebrations - and the Wonder Dog is not allowed chocolate. This recipe will produce 16 brownies. I use a wibbly wobbly silicon baking tin that measures 20 cm x 23 cm and comes with marked lines for cutting equally sized brownies. I've got a couple of these, which I use to bake cakes as well. They were the first silicon baking trays that I bought. At first I was very nervous about using them, but now I think they're brilliant. The cakes never stick and they're really easy to get out when you're done.

Here's my recipe in case you'd like to have a go at them yourself:


190 g/ 6.5 oz butter
190 g/ 6.5 oz dark cooking chocolate
3 large eggs
1 teaspoonful of vanilla essence
250 g / 9 oz caster sugar
115 g / 4 oz plain flour
100g/ 3.5 oz bake-stable chocolate chips


1. Preheat the oven to 180º C/ 360º F.

2.Melt the chocolate and butter together. I do this with two saucepans, one slightly bigger than the other. Put some water in the larger saucepan and bring to the boil. When it starts to steam put the butter and chocolate in the smaller saucepan and place it in the larger one so that they melt from the heat of the steam. This way you get enough heat to do the job, but not enough to burn the chocolate.You should melt them to get a uniform velvety mixture.

2. Beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla essence.

3. Allow the chocolate/ butter mixture to cool a little for a few minutes and then add to the eggs/ sugar and vanilla mixture. If you add them too hot you risk a scrambled egg effect, which is not good. Fold in the flour and beat until the mixture has a uniform consistency. Add the chocolate chips and stir through.

4. Place the mixture in a greased baking tray that measures approximately 20 cm x 23 cm (8" x 9") and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until it firms up on top and dries out to a slightly speckled appearance.

5. Cut into squares and enjoy with a nice cup of coffee or some ice cream if you want to be really indulgent.

Store in an air-tight tin, although in our house they don't get to rest for very long in storage.

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Osterley Park's Christmas Bling ...

This morning dawned cold and frosty with clear skies and December sunshine: a perfect winter's day.

Emi and I headed out to Osterley Park to make the most of the good weather. I'd heard that they'd got all their Christmas decorations up and were opening the doors to let us in for a look at their Christmas bling.

I've written about Osterley before (The Jersey paintings return to Osterley Park and Bluebells in Osterley Park). It's a wonderful National Trust property just down the road from where we live, and is one of our favourite haunts for walking the Wonder Dog. When we want some fresh air and can't think where to go this is usually where we end up.

We had to leave the Wonder Dog behind as we were going inside, so we were able to stop and watch the ducks for a while. The Wonder Dog does not approve of ducks, and we normally have to walk quickly on by so as not to upset them with his barking.

It's hard to believe that this place is in Greater London. You can just about make out the aeroplane on its descent to nearby Heathrow.

As you walk around the estate you sometimes hear the roar of distant traffic, but otherwise it's incredibly peaceful. It's a great spot to come and enjoy Mother Nature's seasonal best. For those of us who live in the city it's easy to miss the passing seasons, but a quick trip out here soon puts us in touch with the natural world.

I like to sit on these chairs, with the sun on my face listening to the birds.

I love the majestic sweep of the branches of this Cedar of Lebanon that trail down to the water's edge. This old chap's got to be my ultimate Christmas tree.

Another old friend of mine lives on the opposite side of the house. He's an oriental plane tree who's been there since about 1755.

 They think that he originally came from Iran or Turkey. Isn't he amazing? His branches grow in strange ways, almost like the arms of a monkey who leans on his knuckles as he walks along.

Can you see little Emi standing amidst the branches to give some sense of perspective? If this old tree could talk, his tales would be well worth listening to.

The rest of the gardens were looking neat, but at this time of the year they owe their splendour to the beautiful rise and sweep of the trees.

Here and there we found the odd little reindeer, flexing his muscles and gearing up for the Big Night.

The gardeners had given each one a name. The chap above was called Blixen. Emi had a great time running from one to the next discovering their names and shouting them out into the cold air for everyone else's benefit.

Finally we remembered what we'd come for and headed inside.

In the long gallery, one of the surviving Tudor parts of the house, we found the most magnificent tree. Doesn't it look grand?

Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen, came to visit Osterley on at least two occasions. I like to imagine her striding energetically up and down in here on rainy days with her courtiers fluttering after her like great black crows in a newly ploughed field.

It's a cracking room with exquisite paintings and objets d'art dotted around.

One of the many, many things that I love about this place is the staff who volunteer to help. They're all so enthusiastic about the place. This morning many of them had dressed in stunning period costumes. And without exception they were happy to chat about the place and answer Emi's questions.

Emi had a game of Devil Among the Tailors with a lovely young man who was bewigged (18th century style) and volunteering as a guide. The object of the game is to send the spinning top whizzing around the table to knock over as many skittles as possible. Each skittle has a number value and you have to take your aim with a view to hitting as many of the high-value skittles as possible. It's a game of skill and strategy that was once popular in London's many public houses.

Devil Among the Tailors is a name that was given to the game of table skittles after a group of tailors kicked up a rumpus outside a London theatre where they were staging a play called The Tailors: a Tragedy for Warm Weather. The play satirised the London tailors, and they took umbrage at the way in which they were being portrayed. They showed up en masse on 15th August, 1805 and started to riot. The special constables of the day were helpless against the numbers of angry tailors brandishing scissors and whatever else they had to hand. The Life Guards were called in and they did the job of dispersing the rioters so effectively that they were compared to a ball ploughing through the skittles.  And ever after the game of table skittles was known to Londoners as Devil Among the Tailors. 

Having made some Dried Orange Slice and Cinnamon Stick Christmas tree decorations I was interested to see how they had used dried fruit to make decorations too. In the Long Gallery they'd brought in lots of standard bay trees, which looked amazing with slices of dried apple and orange and whole dried clementines and limes: so many ideas for next year ... .

In the hallway they had a wishing tree, where Emi recorded his Christmas wish on a special label. Here he is with another of the lovely volunteer guides, writing it out carefully in his very best handwriting. 

And then he tied it to the tree along with all the other children's Christmas wishes. It reminded me a little of Buddhist Temples I've visited in the Far East where people write out prayers and tie them to trees in the Temple gardens. Our guide told us that this was once an authentic English tradition. I've never heard of it before, but as I think it's rather charming, it's one I'd be happy to adopt. 

This wonderful table centrepiece caught my eye. Back in the day the pineapple on top was probably worth more than they paid the cook in a year. 

Or how about this dumb waiter, groaning under the weight of its seasonal delights?

And every mantlepiece seemed to sport its own festive garlands and decorations.

Down in the kitchens they were making griddle cakes and we had a go at stirring the Christmas pudding. The cosy warmth from the old range cooker and the smell of Christmas spices were magical. 

We came away with grand plans for further embellishments to our own modest decorations at home. Emi has spent a good part of the afternoon working on his paper chains. If you're in the London area and you need something to reboot your Christmas mojo you might like to consider a trip out to Osterley Park. You can find their website here: Osterley Park.

All the best for now,

Bonny x
As shared on image-in-ing

Friday, 12 December 2014

Birthday Boy ...

Yesterday was my little boy's birthday. He's just turned nine. Nine! His last year in single digits. Where has the time gone to? It seems as though it were only yesterday when he arrived in this world, and at the same time it seems like a lifetime ago since I became a mum.

Yesterday nine years' ago, on the morning of his birth, the good folk of Ealing were woken from their sleep by a huge explosion at the Buncefield oil storage depot down the road in Hemel Hempstead. They say that the explosion was heard clearly by people in Belgium and France. It made a phenomenal noise. I remember it very clearly: I was in the maternity ward in Ealing hospital, feeling the onset of my labour pains. I was with a group of other expectant mums and we were all curious to know what had happened, but none of us had too much emotional energy to spare on fretting about who might have been affected, or what might have happened. Sirens wailed, and a nice nurse told us there had been an explosion. I remember lying there thinking that my baby and I should at least be safe in the hospital. Even in the darkest days of the Troubles in Northern Ireland the people with bombs hadn't blown up the hospitals.

Then twelve hours' later my little bundle of joy arrived, and I knew immediately that my world had just become a better place. I have never done drugs, but I don't think any chemical stimulant could ever compete with the high, that feeling of complete and utter elation that followed the birth of my first and only child. All the pain of the delivery ward was forgotten in an instant, and the only thing that I could think about was this precious new life that I held in my arms. 

Yesterday was also Emi's last day of school. They ended at midday with a final assembly at which everyone sang Christmas carols and cheered like crazy kids about the House Cup (an unprecedented three-way draw).

After a birthday lunch we went for a walk in Walpole Park, our local park here in Ealing. It was freezing, and I do mean proper Siberian wind-chilled freezing. A weak sun hung at an awkward angle in the sky blinding everyone who walked into it.

It was bleak. There weren't many people there who didn't need to be there. Lots of folk cut through the park to get from one part of Ealing to another. It's a bit of a thoroughfare. I often walk through it with the Wonder Dog when I'm picking Emi up from school.  A bit of green space is always a welcome change from the bustling streets.

We saw this lady (photo below) struggling home with her dog, her bike and her newly-purchased Christmas tree. I hope she had a lovely time decorating it at home in the warm embrace of a blazing fire.

In the evening Emi had an invitation to another party, and today he's been invited out to lunch by his Tiá Jenny. Jenny is one of my dearest and closest friends, who's an honorary auntie. She's taking him into town for a proper grown-up lunch, and then they're going to see the Christmas lights. He's loving the importance of having a lunch-date!

All the best for a lovely weekend,

Bonny x
As shared on Friday Finds

Monday, 8 December 2014

A Christmas tree Christmas tree ball ... and not writing Christmas cards ...

Phew it's been a busy weekend. We had twenty little chums over to celebrate Emi's 9th birthday with a Scalextric Grand Prix party. It was brilliant! If you're in the London area and looking for a boy's birthday party idea this one's a winner.

We went to PitStop Promotions in the Northwood Hills, where the lovely Sam, hosted a joint party for Emi and his best friend, B. He did a great job of keeping everyone busy all the time, which was easier said than done given that only eight out of the twenty boys could race at any given time. A dozen pairs of idle nine year-old hands could do disastrous things to his very expensive racing kit unless they were kept out of mischief. Happily Sam rose to the challenge and the chaps who weren't racing were usefully employed as track marshals. And, boy, did they like their grown-up titles. Track marshal sounded almost as good as racing driver. If a car came off its designated track they had the all-important task of picking it up and putting it back on again so that it could continue in the race. Spread out around the (very long) track the marshals were each responsible for keeping the cars going over a metre or two of the race. And by the second race every last one of them was an expert in marshalling.

If you're interested in using Sam and his company, you can find their website here: Pitstop Promotions.

I'm still struggling with my Christmas cards. I seem to be very behind. Other years I've managed to do some photo cards to send to close friends and family, but this year I've totally missed the boat on getting my own cards printed.

Today I raced up to Bicester to buy presents for some fashion conscious friends. Bicester rocks, but it gets so busy at this time of year. I arrived at half past nine, and, whilst I didn't have the place to myself, there weren't that many people around until about half past eleven. Then it really filled up. I decided to go home when I was asked to wait outside one shop because there were too many people inside. It didn't seem to be crazy busy to me, and I had a strong suspicion that the doorman was just being a bit of a jobsworth, but, as I refuse to queue, I gave up and called it a day. To be honest a couple of hours looking at clothes shops is pretty close to my upper tolerance limit anyway. I don't understand those people who go to the shops for a day/ afternoon out. Unless I want to buy something I'd really rather not be there at all, and when it gets busy with everyone pushing along with their elbows out: I'm so outta there!

As it happens I got a lovely present for each of the people that I set out to buy something for, so my outing was a great success. Maxi the Wonder Dog waited patiently for me in the car, because the kill joys who run the place have an anti-dog policy. I did think of telling a little white lie (OK, a great big whopper of a black lie) about him being my assistance dog, but, as he usually travels through crowded areas in my tote bag to avoid being trampled I thought we may not look totally convincing in our assisting/ being assisted roles. 

Yes, I can assist by barking at cats, or barking at people wearing hats <really doesn't like hats> or ... well, just barking...
And in between baking birthday party brownies (much more practical than cake), not writing Christmas cards and doing some Christmas shopping I have managed to knock out another Christmas tree ball. 

Ta-dah! My Christmas tree Christmas tree ball:

If you fancy making it here's the chart for how it knits up:

The method is the same as for my Union Jack Christmas tree ball, so check out the link if you need any more instructions. 

Anyway, happy knitting, and all the best for now,

Bonny x
As shared on Creative Mondays