Surviving Christmas Dinner

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For many of us the thought of getting Christmas lunch to the table is a daunting one. The seemingly endless hours of preparation, the impending doom that is the threat of under cooked turkey, potatoes better suited to being fired out of a cannon than served on a dinner plate, and not forgetting the obligatory bitter, soggy sprouts.  It’s enough to make even the most au fait home cooks quake in our boots.

Rewind to Christmas 2003. I was a newlywed, 21-year-old girl who’d suddenly found herself  single-handedly cooking Christmas lunch for the in-laws at my parents house, who, incidentally weren’t there, as they were spending the holidays in New York with my sister who lived in Cape Cod at the time. I remember feeling pretty out of my depth about the whole thing, wanting to impress and, more importantly, not wanting to land my m-i-l in a&e with food poisoning on Christmas Day.  Thankfully, I’d had a practice run with my Dad who showed me what to do and when, writing down the methods and timings as we went. Thank goodness for Dad’s eh? Thirteen years later and I’ve built on my Dad’s way of doing things, adapting recipes to suit our tastes and learning a few new tricks here and there.

In this post I’m going to talk you through how I do Christmas Dinner. Firstly I want to make something quite clear…It is totally acceptable to take shortcuts.  It has taken me 13 years of marriage and a whole lot of soul-searching to actually get to the point where I am comfortable in saying that it is perfectly ok to use frozen parsnips and stock from a cube! It’s Christmas Day for goodness sake. You should be spending it with your loved ones, not chained to the kitchen. This is quite comprehensive, but don’t be put off, just pick and chose the bits that work for you.  Another tip is to invest in plenty of disposable foil trays.  It makes clear up so much easier!

Lets begin:

The Pescatarian: My Christmas dinner actually starts a couple of weeks prior to the big day where I set aside some time to bake. My husband is a pescatarian so I try to make him a decent alternative to the traditional turkey or goose.  Last year he loved my Vegetarian Christmas Dinner Pie so much he has requested it again. After baking I simply freeze them and take one out on Christmas Eve to defrost before putting it back in the oven for twenty minutes to reheat.  Perfect. That’s the veggie sorted.

Turkey Butter: I also often make Herby Butter to slather under the skin of the turkey before roasting to add flavour and help to keep the meat moist.  This too can be frozen and taken out a day or so before you want to adorn the bird with it. Finally, if you should wish to make your own stuffing (bearing in mind loads of supermarkets are now stocking their own wide variety of flavours) I can recommend Delia’s Pork & Chestnut Stuffing recipe, which can also be made in advance and frozen.

Stock: Now, I realise I’ve already said it’s fine to use pre-made stock, and it absolutely is, but should you be inclined to make your own here’s how I do it, and the benefit of doing it this way is that you can do it way in advance. Throughout the year I save up any chicken bones and freeze them in a ziplock bag.  Every time I cook a chicken I strip it and add the bones to the bag.  Once the bag is full I roast them in a hot oven for 30 mins, then throw them in the slow cooker with a couple of carrots, celery and leak, cover with boiling water and leave them to cook for about 48 hours, topping up the water when necessary. After a couple of days drain to remove the bones and vegetables and you’ll be left with the most amazing stock.  Leave to cool and then freeze in a ziplock bag.

Pigs in blankets: Again you can make these ahead, put them in foil trays, freeze and cook on the day. An even easier option of course would be to buy pre-prepared ones and freeze.

Seriously, if you have a freezer, use it to your advantage. You’ll thank it on Christmas Eve when you’re taking all the stuff out of it and have halved your prep time.

Right, lets move forward to Christmas Eve:

Firstly, if you haven’t already take all the goodies you’ve already prepped out of the freezer to defrost. Now allow yourself and hour and a half or so to get all the following done (allow longer for cooking the ham).

Ham: If you’re planning on serving ham with your Christmas Lunch I’d get it on in the morning. I swear by Nigella’s Ham in Cola recipe.  It really is delicious and like all of her recipes, pretty straightforward. You can either serve it cold or heat it up right before serving.

Roast Potatoes: Everyone loves a good roast spud, but who wants to be peeling a bag of maris pipers on Christmas morning?  Definitely not me. I prep mine on Christmas Eve following my Ultimate Roast Potato recipe. Instead of cooking them all the way through though, I put them in a hot oven for 40 minutes to get them going then remove, allow to cool and put in the fridge to finish off for another 45/50 minutes on Christmas Day.

Cauliflower Cheese: While the potatoes are getting their sizzle on in the oven make a start on the cauli.  I’ll be using my Whole Baked Cauliflower Cheese recipe, but should you wish to segment the cauli to make serving it up easier than just reduce the steaming time to about 5 minutes.

Carrots and Broccoli: I just tend to wash and prep these and put them in the steamer ready to go the following day.

Braised red cabbage: Again this is something a lot of supermarkets are now selling pre-prepared, but should you wish to make your own, I love this BBC recipe and you can easily reheat it the following day.

Sprouts: After washing and removing and tough outer leaves, I slice them in half, throw them in a roasting tray with a good glug of oil, some diced pancetta (or bacon) and a couple of cloves of garlic, season with salt and pepper and pop them in the fridge for the following day.

The Turkey: The main event! The star of the show! The one thing you really want to get right. If you’ve bought frozen make sure you allow plenty of time for it to defrost in the fridge.  Remove the giblets and save for the gravy. Gently slide your hand in between the meat and the skin.  It should come away fairly easily and you’ll be able to smear the herby butter in between the flesh and the skin, and on top of the skin on the legs.  Stuff the neck cavity with the pork and chestnut stuffing, but I tend to leave the cavity empty. Crisscross smoked streaky bacon on top. Cover with foil and put back in the fridge.

Christmas Morning:

Whack the oven up to full blast and pour yourself a bucks fizz, glass of prosecco or something stronger if you’re hardcore.

Turkey: Take it out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it to bring it back up to room temperature. Pop it in the oven then immediately turn the oven down to about 180oC. Baste it every 45 minutes or so with all those lovely juices. This year I’ll be getting an 8 or 9kg bird as we’re feeding a crowd, and it will probably take between 4 and a half and 5 hours to cook. I’ll probably put it in the oven at 8am, and expect it to be ready between 12.30pm and 1pm.  About half an hour before the allotted time remove the tin foil to allow the bacon to crisp up a bit. Once the juices run clear from the thickest part of the thigh it’s done. Remove from the oven, cover in with two layers of tin foil and place two clean tea towels on top.  It will happily rest here for an hour until everything else is cooked and you’re ready to serve and by that time the meat will be lovely.

Gravy: Once you’ve got the bird in the oven take your giblets, and a diced onion and saute in a pan with some oil. Add in the stock, some sage and a bay leaf, and simmer continuously for a couple of hours adding more stock or water as needed.  Add in the juices from the turkey once it has cooked, and thicken with cornflour. Taste and season accordingly.  Pass through a sieve to remove all the bits et voila, beautiful gravy.

Everything Else: When the turkey is cooked and is resting, it’s time to get on with everything else.

  • Put the part cooked potatoes on the top shelf and the parsnips just below.  I will be cheating on the parsnips and relying on good old Aunt Bessie because her parsnips are arguably the best I’ve tasted!
  • While they’re cooking slice the ham, put in a dish with a tablespoon of water and cover with foil.
  • After 20 mins toss the parsnips and potatoes and put them back in along with the cauliflower cheese, brussels sprouts, pigs in blankets and veggie pie if you’re doing it.
  • Cook for another 20 mins before adding the sliced ham and red cabbage to the bottom of the oven to warm up.
  • Add boiling water to the bottom of the steamer and steam the veggies for 8 minutes. Pour the water away but leave the lid on to prevent over cooking.  There’s nothing more disgusting than soggy broccoli.
  • Stick the plates in the microwave to warm along with the bread sauce (again I will be cheating on this year and buying it pre-made)
  • Put the turkey on a platter and surround it with the pigs in blankets and roasties.
  • Put the veg in serving dishes.
  • Get a helper to move it all out onto the table.
  • Top up your wine glass and…….

ENJOY!

Phew!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it! Of course the other option is doing what by BFF does every year and ordering it all in ready prepared on foil trays….now there’s a thought!

 

Growing the Gift

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Hattie May Wiatt

Have any of you heard of Hattie May Wiatt and the story of the 57 cents? Hattie was a young girl who lived in Philadelphia in the 1880’s. She attended a baptist church not far from her home, but the Sunday school room was so full of children she was afraid to go in for fear of being trampled. Often tickets were issued before the services to avoid overcrowding, imagine that! On voicing her concerns to her Pastor, Russel Conwell, she was told that one day, when they had enough money, a new, larger church and Sunday school room would be built. Sadly, in 1886 Hattie May died. After her death, Hattie’s mother gave Pastor Conwell a little purse with 57 cents in it, explaining that Hattie had been saving to help the church build a larger premises. Pastor Conwell was moved. He changed the 57 cents into 57 pennies and sold them to his congregation.  Church members made donations, and cheques came in from far and wide. The 57 cents turned into $250.  The Wiatt’s Mite Society was formed and was dedicated to making Hattie’s original 57 cents grow further.  The amount of money raised was a sizable investment towards the building of a new Sunday school and church building, and eventually a university and hospital too.  It’s amazing what can come of 57 cents and faith! Today Grace Baptist Church is still going strong and you can check out their website here.

Why am I telling you this? This weekend, out of the blue, a friend of mine gave a gift to our church to put towards hosting a team of people from Pulse Ministries, who we’re partnering up with to run a holiday bible club for local kids in August.  This gesture blessed us immensely.  The family doesn’t attend our church and their children aren’t at the age where they will be old enough to attend the club in the summer, yet they chose to bless us with a gift. It humbled us.  It encouraged us. However, most importantly of all it revealed their compassionate hearts and kingdom building mindset. They’ve realised the potential this bible club could have in our community. 70 children, many unchurched, being taught the gospel, for 5 hours a day, for 5 consecutive days…that is bound to be a game changer. This isn’t just about a week. Foundations will be laid for lives being built and lived out on solid biblical truths, seeds will be planted which will sprout and grow into blossoming relationships with Jesus Christ. This is kingdom building folks, and that is powerful stuff.

22317_imPOSSIBLESo, we’re asking you to invest: Not in Ste or me, not in Full Life Church or Pulse Ministries, but in growing God’s kingdom here on earth, in the wider church. We’ve changed our friend’s gift into £1 coins and we want to sell them, just like Pastor Conwell did with Hattie May’s 57 cents, at a profit. We’re in the process of setting up a Just Giving Page where you can donate an amount of your choice in exchange for one of the original £1 coins (If you’re not local, message me your address via our Facebook page if you’d like me to post you your £1 coin!). Alternatively you can do a bank transfer into the church account.
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Interestingly, the Bible is full of stories about investing and multiplying, the parable of the talents being the one that springs to mind in this instance. The Message version of it is below for you to read, but for now I’ll say thanks, in faith, for buying a £1 and investing in the bigger picture!

The Story About Investment – Matthew 25: 14-30

14-18 “It’s also like a man going off on an extended trip. He called his servants together and delegated responsibilities. To one he gave five thousand dollars, to another two thousand, to a third one thousand, depending on their abilities. Then he left. Right off, the first servant went to work and doubled his master’s investment. The second did the same. But the man with the single thousand dug a hole and carefully buried his master’s money.

19-21 “After a long absence, the master of those three servants came back and settled up with them. The one given five thousand dollars showed him how he had doubled his investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

22-23 “The servant with the two thousand showed how he also had doubled his master’s investment. His master commended him: ‘Good work! You did your job well. From now on be my partner.’

24-25 “The servant given one thousand said, ‘Master, I know you have high standards and hate careless ways, that you demand the best and make no allowances for error. I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent.’

26-27 “The master was furious. ‘That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least? The least you could have done would have been to invest the sum with the bankers, where at least I would have gotten a little interest.

28-30 “‘Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’

 

 

Spaghetti Soup

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Firstly, apologies it has been so long since I last posted. Life has been hectic! But, today after a great walk with the family, in the freezing British February sunshine, I was feeling refreshed and inspired, and in need of something simple, warm and hearty for supper.

We all have our own versions of chicken noodle soup, and this is mine. Warming and satisfying, my four year old always comes back for seconds and it’s a great way of cramming in extra veg.

Because we eat so little meat, I tend to buy packs of organic chicken legs, cook them in the slow cooker on high for about 3/4 hours and the meat just falls off the bone. I don’t add anything to the raw meat initially. Literally throw the legs in the slow cooker, put the lid on and turn it on. The meat will produce it’s own liquid. Once cooked, I take the legs out, remove the skin and shred the meat, putting it in a container in the fridge to use throughout the week in salads, summer rolls or sandwiches. I put the bones back in the slow cooker, top up with boiling water and cook overnight to make a delicious stock.

For this soup, sauté a finely chopped leek, carrot and stick of celery, with 4 minced cloves of garlic until soft. Stir in half a teaspoon of turmeric, a pinch of saffron and a good grind of black pepper. Now add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Of course, if you don’t have homemade stock use shop bought, or boiling water and a stock cube will be fine too. I also stirred in a teaspoon of vegetable buillion for extra flavour. While the soup is coming to a boil, snap 150g spaghetti into one inch pieces, then add to the pan. Boil until the spaghetti is tender, then throw in a large handful of chopped baby spinach, and the shredded chicken. Check the seasoning, adjust as needed and serve. Simple, but oh so delicious.

Baked Chocolate Orange Cheesecake

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A very happy belated New Year to you all! If you’ve re-boarded the proverbial healthy eating/weight loss train after the festive indulgences, you might want to chug on past this post. Biscuits, cheese, chocolate, butter… Deliciously naughty! I hasten to add that the only reason this is adorning my table is that we have family visiting from New Zealand this weekend. I wanted a show stopper and a friend had given me a spare chocolate orange (who has spare chocolate oranges?!). I had a look at a few recipes, but couldn’t find one specific one I liked, so I’ve pinched bits from various sources and come up with this.

Preheat the oven to 150oC and put a baking tin with some water in it at the bottom. The steam will help prevent the cheesecake from cracking.

Firstly melt 100g good quality orange flavoured dark chocolate in a bain marie. Once melted set aside to cool a little.

For the base, whiz up 300g chocolate digestives with approximately 50g melted butter (more if it doesn’t clump together enough) and the zest of half an orange (you’ll need the other half for decoration later). Press into a springform tin as so:

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Now, beat 600g full fat cream cheese together until smooth. Add in 150g light brown sugar, four eggs, the zest of two oranges, the juice of one orange, 2tsp orange extract and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Once combined fold in the melted chocolate gently and pour in top of the base.

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Bake on the middle shelf for about 40 minutes until it’s slightly risen around the edges and has a slight wobble in the middle. Open the oven door, leaving the cheesecake there to cool slowly. Once cool remove from the tin.

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Mix two tablespoons of sieved icing sugar and 1 tsp orange extract into 150ml soured cream. Spread on top.

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Gently melt three segment of a Terry’s Chocolate Orange and drizzle on top.

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Use a skewer to marble it by gently dragging it through the chocolate.

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Decorate with the remaining chocolate orange segments and the zest. Chill for at least 5 hours, preferably overnight. Enjoy!

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Chia & Weetabix salmon fingers

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Yes, I hold my hands up. I am one of those mothers. One of those irritating, slightly OCD mothers who makes her own fish fingers. With chia seeds no less.

Right, now that I’ve lost half my audience I’ll show you how. It really isn’t as time consuming as you might think.

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Firstly grab two or three wheat breakfast cereal buscuits, we use Aldi’s cheapo ones and really can’t tell any difference to the leading brand. Put in a large bowl with three tablespoons chia seeds, pepper, any fresh herbs you want and some garlic salt. Scrunch the biscuits up until they resemble breadcrumbs. Of course you could just use breadcrumbs if you prefer, but I like the fact I don’t have to get the food processor out with the wheat biscuits.

Now, skin your salmon if it’s not already skinned, using a very sharp knife. If your family is anything like mine, you’ll need to save the skin to bake with the fish fingers to make crispy skin.

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Slice the salmon into fingers a couple of centimetres wide. Lightly whisk a couple of eggs, dip the fingers in the egg, then into the crumbs.

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Put them on a lined baking tray, with the skin, which is delicious when lightly sprinkled with salt.

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Bake at 190oC for 10-12 minutes. Serve with tartare sauce. We enjoyed ours with roasted flower sprouts, broccoli and sweet potato, and peas sautéed with leeks. Delicious and healthy midweek meal.

Cinnamon and Nutmeg shortcrust pastry mince tarts

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We all love a mince pie at Christmas, but what I don’t understand is why people would buy generic shop varieties when they are so simple to make. Homemade pastry has a reputation for being tricky, but really it’s not rocket science. I like to spike mine with cinnamon and freshly ground nutmeg to  bolster the festive flavours.

You’ll need:
200g plain flour
2 tablespoons icing sugar
100g cubed cold butter (I used salted)
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 a grated nutmeg
Two or three tablespoons of iced water.

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Pulse all the dry ingredients together in a food processor until breadcrumbs are formed. Now while the processor is running dribble in a tablespoon of iced water at a time until the dough clumps together. This will only require 2-3 tablespoons of water (a tablespoon is 15ml).

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Tip it out into a piece of clingfilm, and quickly bring it together to form a disc without over working it or handling it too much.

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Refrigerate the disc of dough for at least half an hour.

After it has chilled roll it out to the thickness of a pound coin, cut out discs and line a muffin tin with them. Refrigerate again whilst you cut out some shapes to top your tarts.

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Fill your cases with a teaspoon of mincemeat. I used some which was homemade by a friend, but you could use shop bought too.

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Brush with an egg wash and bake at 160oC for about 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden. Pop them out of the tin and leave on a wire rack to cool.

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See, that was easy wasn’t it?! Enjoy!

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Vegetarian Christmas Dinner Pie

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Being a pescatarian, hubby doesn’t partake in the traditional turkey/goose dinner on Christmas day, so I like to make something festive and delicious for him to enjoy instead.

This cranberry, chestnut and mushroom pie is just the ticket. Very savoury with the distinct taste of porchini mushrooms, spiked with delicious tangy  and sweet cranberry sauce encased in delicious shortcrust pastry, it’s sure to tempt even the most carnivorous family members.

Firstly make a batch of shortcrust pastry (or shop bought is fine if you prefer). In a food processor pulse together 450g plain flour, 200g cold cubed butter, a couple of pinches of salt, and a tsp freshly ground nutmeg. Once the butter and flour are combined add in approximately 6 tablespoons of very cold water, or just enough so the pastry clumps together. Put a piece of clingfilm on the work surface, tip the dough out onto it and quickly mould together into a disc shape. Wrap in the clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour (I actually left mine over night).

For the cranberry sauce wash a 300g punnet of fresh cranberries and put in a pan with 100ml apple juice and 100g light brown sugar. Bring to the boil and simmer, with the lid off, until it thickens, (around 10 minutes). Taste, add more sugar if needed and set aside to cool.

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Put a small handful of dried porchini mushrooms in a mug and fill the mug with boiling water. While the mushrooms are rehydrating sauté a finely sliced leek and 2 cloves of crushed garlic in a pan with butter and rapeseed/olive oil. Once softened add in two sliced portobello mushrooms and a couple of handfuls of sliced chestnut mushrooms and cook down. Remove the porchini from the mug, making sure you reserve the water as this will be the stock for the sauce. Roughly chop the porchini before adding into the pan with the leeks and mushrooms.

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Add in a third of a cup of plain flour and stir continuously making sure the mushrooms and leeks are well covered. Season with salt and pepper, a bay leaf and some fresh thyme. Add in the porchini water stiring continuously until you have a nice thick sauce. You’ll need to add in some extra water as you go. Turn the heat down and leave to simmer gently. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

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Now roll out the pastry to about the thickness of a pound coin and line individual pie cases leaving extra for the lids. Cover the lined pie crusts and lids in cling again and put back in the fridge.

While they’re chilling roughly chop 350g cooked chestnuts and add to the pie filling. Turn the heat off and leave to cool to room temp.

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Once the filling is cool, take the pie cases out of the fridge. Spoon a dessert spoon of the cranberry sauce in the bottom of each pie case.

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Then top with the chestnut and mushroom filling.

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Brush the edges of the pies with egg wash before making a hole in the lid, and placing it on top. Add a little extra cranberry sauce under the hole of the lid if you like. Crimp the edges with a fork and egg wash the top before adding any festive pastry embellishments. I simply cut out Christmas trees and stuck them on.

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Bake in a 190oC oven for 25-30 minutes until golden. I’m going to freeze these for Christmas and will just defrost in the fridge on Christmas Eve, before heating up for twenty minutes on Christmas Day.

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Sparkler Safety… Stick it in a carrot.

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Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

It’s the 5th November and here in the UK that means bonfire night! I love it! Crisp autumnal skies lit up by umbrellas of crackling, sparkly colours, crunchy leaves underfoot, bonfire toffee, hot chocolate around roaring fires, bobble hats and of course sparklers.

Unfortunately each year the romance of it all is shattered by reports of burns and horrific accidents, sparklers being one of the most common culprits. It doesn’t help that they look relatively innocent, but those pretty sparks cause the metal stem to heat up and hot metal burns.

However, exercising a little common sense means they can still be enjoyed, and enjoyed safely. My top tip is….

Stick it in a carrot!
I kid you not. A carrot does not conduct heat and is a heck of a lot easier for little hands to hold than the thin metal stem. It also keeps the sparkler further away from the body that is holding it.

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As well as the carrot, taking simple, common sense precautions can be the difference between enjoying the festivities and spending the night in A&E. Have a water or sand bucket handy to stick used sparklers in. Always always ALWAYS supervise children. Always wear gloves and stay a sensible distance away from anyone else.

Enjoy the celebrations safely!

Naff off Nits! Natural head lice repellent

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Here in the UK the kids have just started back at school, and no doubt it won’t be long before word of “an outbreak” is given. Head lice, or nits, have always grossed me out and I’m scratching my head just thinking about them. As the old adage says, “prevention is better than cure” and with that in mind I’ve concocted a balm which can be dabbed behind little ears which should repel those itchy little critters. The rationale behind this is that the lice hate the smells of certain essential oils.

I made a huge batch, but to make your own manageable amount I suggest using the following:

1 tablespoon unrefined coconut oil
1 tablespoon shea butter
1/2 tablespoon beeswax
Tea tree, lavender, camphor and eucalyptus essential oils to your liking.

Put the wax and oil ‘s in a ban marie and heat gently. Remember, I did a huge batch, you’ll only have a tiny amount so it won’t take long!

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While the mixture is melting prepare your container/s. I chose lip balm tubes which are pretty hard to fill, so to make life easier, I covered a shallow baking tray with foil, made little slits with a knife and pushed a tube into each slit to stop them toppling over.

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Once the oils have melted they’ll be a rich amber colour.

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Now add your essential oils a drop at a time until you’re happy with the fragrance. I added more tea tree and lavender than the others, but it’s personal choice really.

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Once you’re happy with the aroma, fill the tubes or pots… I ended up using a piping bag to do this but it was messy (and rather hot)! Think I need to rethink my method!

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Let them set, then put the lids on and label.

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Dab behind your child’s ears each day to help keep the lice away.

If you liked this post, check out my Frankincense and Cinnamon Winter Balm post for another homemade, natural idea.

Save Syria’s Children

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It could have been my child. It could have been your child. This can’t go on. Be the change. There’s lots that you can do from the comfort of your own home. Please don’t turn a blind eye. Do Something to help. Whatever you decide, don’t chose apathy.

Check out this video some of my fellow bloggers have put together using pics of our own children to highlight this simple point; it could have been me, it could have been my child. It could have been you, it could have been your child.

#SaveSyriasChildren

TEXT 70008 and the word SYRIA to donate £5 via Save the Children. For the terms and conditions click here.

Web donations can be made via the
Save the Children website here.