Day 11: Christmas Menu Reveal…

I have already mentioned in a couple of other blogs about how important cooking is to me, especially at Christmas. This year as well as doing three courses on Christmas eve, I’m also doing Christmas day lunch. I feel like that’s a proper rite of passage, first Christmas dinner you do solo makes you an adult. Cook those sprouts and you’ll be a man my son. 

I usually decide on menus for Christmas eve really early, sometimes as early as the beginning of November. This year was pretty late due to how busy I am. But I did decide last week and am excited to reveal what is on the menu. 

Christmas Eve

Starter: We love scallops in our house and they haven’t been on the menu for a few years. So to start this year we are having seared scallops wrapped in pancetta with a salsa verde. Yummers.

Main: To follow that we will be having duck. I don;t eat a lot of meat, but duck is a real treat and when can you have treats if it’s not at Christmas! So our main will be festive duck breast with pancetta and savoy cabbage. The recipe does call for mash, but I think I might substitute that for a Christmassy chesnut potato dauphinoi that we’ve had before and love!

Dessert: Every year on Christmas Eve, I like to try something new. So this year is the year of the souffle. So we will be finishing with a chocolate and pistachio souffle.  

Christmas Day itself will be very traditional and very much like most other Christmas dinners. I’ll do something jazzy with my sprouts and do my own bread sauce. But for pudding we need to have an alternative as both my step mum and I hate Christmas pudding, so this year we are having Saint Mary Berry’s white chocolate and ginger cheesecake

My mouth’s watering already! 

Lex xx

11

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Day 10: Show us your cookies or recipes…

So this is the first prompt that feel really American and a bit difficult to do for a Brit.. Christmas cookies aren’t really a big thing in the UK, but then as someone who really likes cooking/baking and does occasionally make cookies around the festive season, there is some wisdom I can share here. 

The cookies I baked most recently, and a recipe I will most definitely be using again, was vanilla Chai tea cookies. They were lush. I had to bake for the weekly town youth workers meeting I went to and I fancied making something a little different for them, so I went with these, knowing they might be a little controversial, but they went down really well thankfully.  I have since shared the recipe with my boss and she has baked them and is also a complete convert to drinking chai tea too. So all round a great success. 

I found the recipe on a random site simply by googling whether I could use the contents of a chai tea bag to flavour biscuits, and other than a few tweeks, it worked really well and is so simple. I’ll include the recipe below showing where I changed things:

Chai Tea Cookies

Makes about 2 dozen cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour (plus a little extra added later on as the mix is pretty wet!)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar (You can do the whole mix with regular sugar)
1 tablespoon chai tea mix, from several chai tea bags (I used about 6)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup unsalted butter

In a food processor or small chopper, pulse the flour, sugar, powdered sugar, tea mix, and salt until the tea is pulverized and distributed throughout the dry ingredients. If desired, add the cardamom and cinnamon as well, which will give a more pronounced chai spice flavor to the cookies.

Add the vanilla and butter. Pulse together just until a rough dough is formed. Scrape the dough out of the chopper and form into a log 8 to 9-inches long on a piece of wax or parchment paper. Wrap the paper around and roll the log smooth. Freeze the dough, or chill for at least 30 minutes.

To bake, preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Use a sharp knife to slice the chilled or frozen log of dough into 1/3-inch-thick pieces. Place on the baking sheet and bake until the edges are just beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.

(I cut my cookies into the shape of tea bags – see below – and then half dipped them in white chocolate, adding some simple sugar sprinkles, which just raised the sweetness of the cookies a little.) 

Give em a go, you’re welcome! 

Lex xx

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Day 9:Winter items you can’t live without…

I’m not known for being chilly. So, if I’m cold it is either genuinely freezing or I’m feeling a bit poorly, or sad. Because of this there aren’t many winter items that I would say are essential to my existence. That said there are few little things that make winter life that little bit more bearable.

Although I’m not a very cold person, I do go in for a scarf. However, being blessed with a slight dyspraxic tendency (and just being rubbish with my hands), the tying  and arrangement of scarves can be very stressful. I’ve never understood how people can just chuck a scarf on and in seconds it looks beautiful. I find myself doing feats of woollen origami and still looking awful. So my one winter essential is the simple snood. A scarf I don’t need to bother about arranging and can just whack on. I have a few that I’ve knitted myself and that makes me even happier because they are so easy to make and people are impressed when you are wearing something you’ve knitted yourself.

Spending so much time travelling between school sites and whaffing on when I’m there, I get really dry lips so another winter essential is a stick of Burt’s Bess lip balm.

Sadly my third winter essential, that I hope will only be essential for a few weeks, is a hat. Now I generally wear quite a lot of hats anyway, I have a head/face that suits a hat (Thankfully!) But this year it is essential because sadly yesterday I had an hair emergency and am now reduced to hiding my shame under a beanie. I have cut my own hair for seven years and I’ve never had an accident before, but yesterday I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t realise there wasn’t a guard/end on my clippers. So while the back of my hair is normally number six, there is now a rather large chunk at the back that is a zero.

 It looks awful and I feel awful. I never quite appreciated how much of my personality and confidence is wrapped up in what my hair looks like. *Sigh* Let’s hope for fast, Christmas growth.

Lex xx

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Day 8: What’s on your wish list this year…?

I like where my birthday is, because it makes writing a Christmas list really easy.  I do one list In October and anything that doesn’t get covered on my birthday becomes my Christmas list. 

I was told by someone (naming no names, big brother) that my birthday list was lame. But I can’t help it, I don’t really want big significant things, just little bits that I fancy. 

So this year, my wish list includes: 

  • Any of the Pop Vinyl Inside Out figures (to complete my collection)
  • Any Pop Vinyl Harry Potter characters
  • Greys Anatomy, season 11
  • Pitch Perfect 2
  • Still Alice
  • Inside Out
  • Ellie Goulding’s new album
  • Sue Perkin’s autobiography
  • A holder for my keys
  • Some new slippers

Easy to please, excited by relatively simple pleasures! 

Lex xx

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Day 7: Handmade Christmas…

There are many things I wish I was. I wish I was more sporty, I wish I was taller, I wish I was cleverer. But top of the pile of things ‘I wish I…’ is crafty. I wish I was better at arts and crafts. I have beautiful ideas in my mind, but a mixture of dyspraxia, lack of time and patience means my efforts often fall far too short of what I envisioned them to be. Alas. 

That doesn’t mean I don;t have a bash though, I do make things for people and love receiving handcrafted gifts from wonderfully crafty pals. 

One gift that I loved receiving for  it’s wonderful simplicity (and cleverness) and have since given as a gift myself, is the dry gingerbread jar. All the dry ingredients needed to make gingerbread put in a jar actually look quite pretty on their own. Add a nice label, some ribbon and a gingerbread man cutter and you are well away. Presenting gifts that look far more professional than your crafting abilities generally allow! 

There are a few other areas where I can do crafty gifts and that’s cooking and knitting. I say I can do knitting, I can do knitted gifts if the things I’m knitting are square. I did make some really nice snoods for my sister-in-law and step-mum one year and have knitted some bobble hats for Noah, which he isn’t yet old enough to spurn as being “uncool” and “a bit crap”… both things they sadly are. 

Where my knitting fails me though, my skills in the kitchen make up for it. For the last few years I have created some hampers, a mix of homemade and shop-bought  goodies, that seem to have gone down well. Each year the key component of these hampers has been some homemade Christmas chutney. Nothing makes me feel more Christmassy than stirring a huge pot of chutney, nursing pretty severe sugar burns, happy days!

So, whether it is giving or recieving a homemade Christmas gift, I am all for them… Just know that if my gift to you looks a bit pants, I really have tried my best, that’s just as good as it gets, sadly. 

Lex xx

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Day 6: When do you open your presents…

Given today’s prompt, my Blogmas entry for today could be incredibly short. The answer being, all at once.

But then that wouldn’t strictly be true because I don’t literally open every single gift at once and it would also make for very boring reading! So Let me elaborate on my “all at once”.

Growing up we would do stockings as soon as we woke up, in our jammies, before breakfast. Our stockings were smaller gifts, in our house Father Christmas didn’t do the big presents. And I liked that, even back in the magical days of believing in Santa, mum and dad still got most of the credit, the way it should be. When we opened our big presents and everything else really depended on where we were spending the rest if the day and if my dad was playing at church. If he was and we were going to someone’s house for the rest of the day, we would then open everything else after breakfast and before church, so that we didn’t have to cart lots of unopened gifts over to other people’s houses.

Now however, we just do everything before breakfast and then rattle of church, obviously seeing various other family members at other points over the festive period and saving gifts to and from them until we see them.

That said though, when I talked about Christmas traditions, it is interesting to see, as new people have come into my family, the different ways they do presents and how we’ve tried to incorporate that too.

My step-mum’s family open one present at a time starting with the youngest going up to the oldest, it spreads things out and means people see what other’s are getting. My sister-in-law’s family put everything in one pile, someone opens a gift and then they have to go and choose one for somebody else and then the process carries on, again it means that everyone is watching each other and it spreads things out. However, as we found out last year, if there is a 1 year old in the house who the majority of gifts are for, that method can go a little wrong… “Oh, it’s for Noah again!”

I love the fact that when and how we open our gifts is something that is so unique to each family and seems to be such an obvious thing to each family… “Of course we open our gifts like this. Why would you possibly do it any other way?!” This tradition is one of those things that I’m looking forward to instilling in my own family one day… if I’m honest it will probably involve a treasure hunt.

Lex xx

Day No. 6

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Day 5: Favourite Christmas Food…

Even though we are but a mere 5 days into Blogmas I feel like I’ve talked a lot about food already, so a day devoted entirely to my favourite Christmas food feels exciting!

As I’ve already said, when I talked about Christmas traditions, cooking and eating together is a big part of how my family celebrate the festive season. To be honest, it’s how we celebrate a lot of seasons, we’re big eaters and  lot of us could probably qualify as feeders. It’s not out fault, it’s a genetic thing. My Nana loved to feed people, it was how she showed them she loved them, how she cared, how she looked after us. When we went for dinner at my Nana’s there was generally enough puddings for one each and at least one spare, so when it came to Christmas it kind of went into overdrive!

Obviously, there are going to be lots of festive delights then, that for  my family and I really make the Christmas season. But there is one product that I feel could make or break Christmas, meaning if they weren’t there we probably couldn’t celebrate quite in the same way. Cheesy footballs.

Now the majority of Bradley/Lingards feel pretty passionately about cheese in general. Especially the wonderful variety of Christmassy cheeses and I look back fondly on cheeses I’ve known and loved. A beautiful flaming hot cheese, for example, called Satan’s Twinkle. But if I start talking about cheese in general, we’ll be here all day. So let me share with you some reasons why I believe Cheesy Footballs are the best Christmas food…

  • They are only available at Christmas, meaning they feel very special
  • They are INCREDIBLY moreish
  • They are ball shaped and all food in a ball shape is better…. Meatballs… Malteasers… Melon balls…
  • They are wonderfully cheesy
  • They are the perfect accompaniment to a festive buffet supper
  • They can be quite porous and can be used, in an emergency, to soak up left over dip on a supper plate
  • There are multiple ways to eat them… how many can you find this Christmas?

I feel that with my sevenfold  reasoning of festive food, you will agree with me that I have chosen the best Christmas food and all go out today to stock up on Cheesy-ness. Rest assured I’ve made myself very hungry!

Lex xx

P.S. Best tip, get extra tins and hide them. Bring them out in April when you can’t buy Cheesy Footballs anymore and make everyone’s year! You’re welcome…

WAY

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Day 4: Favourite Christmas Music…

So to continue with the things that will help us soak up the festive atmos, let’s talk about Christmas music.

As I spoke about the true meaning and heart of the Christmas message on day 2 and how busy I will be with various services and carol concerts over the next couple of weeks, it’s safe to say that I will sing many a carol. And again, far from wearing thin, I could not be happier. I am a fan of some of the older, more traditional, choral and stunningly spiritual pieces of music that are in and around church at any time of the year, but I think they really come into their own at Christmas time. The words of those centuries old carols beautifully illustrate the mystery of the nativity. And there is something very haunting singing words that people have sung at this time of year for decades, often by the soft glow of candlelight.

That’s not to say that I’m not a fan of the modern Christmas tunage. I am, very much so. I am one of those rare few people that love the fact that there are the same 20 or so songs being piped into every single shop from mid November. Seriously, what’s wrong with that? My Spotify Christmas playlist has been blasting out for almost as long, happy days!

But there is one particular song that I would like to share with you today. It came to my attention last year, with a lot of friend sharing it on Facebook, and I’ve been using it for some of the services we’ve had because the words are just fantastic and this particular cover is beautiful. The particular song that is making Christmas for me this year is Pentatonix’s cover of ‘Mary did you know’. There’s not much I want to say about it really, other than it’s simply wonderful.  I’d just encourage you to have a read of the lyrics and a listen of the link below…

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

Mary did you know

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great, I Am.

“This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”– There’s the mystery and wonder of the incarnation right there for you, incredible.

Lex xxBlogmas (1)

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Day 3: Favourite Christmas Movies…

If I love Christmas, which I have already stated in the first couple of days of Blogmas that I very much do, and I love films, which people who have even a mild acquaintance with will know that I do, Christmas movies are obviously going to be a subject which I feel very passionately about and get a touch excited over.

Now, of course there are the classics. Home Alone (obviously) and it’s sequel (I’d say one of the rarities in the film world where the sequel is better than the first… controversial), never the 3rd though, they went too far. Miracle on 34th Street (New one), because it is simply beautiful and I looked a bit like Mara Wilson when I was little, so happy childhood memories there. Elf, for obvious reasons. Muppet Christmas Carol, for equally obvious reasons. All films, which have a huge place in my heart and have to be watched at some point over the festive period.

But I am also a great believer in festive films that aren’t strictly “Christmas films”, that are bigger than the Christmas film genre if you will, but qualify for the fact that they have a scene of Christmas in them… or it’s particularly snowy. For example, all Harry Potter films can be classed as Christmas films and should be watched during the season of Advent. The same can be said for Bridget Jones and Love Actually. The railway children is another perfect example. All of these films can  (and very much will) be watched at other points during the year, but a festive viewing adds something extra special to them.

For me though, the Christmas film that comes above them all in my heart, and probably for reasons far above the film itself, is Jack Frost (the 1998 version). This was the first Christmas film that I owned personally, and is also one my mum and I enjoyed together, so it obviously stand out above others. But it really does have everything that one could possibly wish for in a Christmas film. Music, death, love, a cute kid, magic, snow, hockey, Canadians and a dog. Perfect!!

If you haven’t seen Jack Frost before, I can’t recommend it enough. Give it  a watch.

Lex xx

Blogmas Day No. 3

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Day 2: What Christmas means to me…

As much as in the introduction to yesterday’s blog I talked about how I loved the historical, traditional and sacred aspects of Christmas, I then ignored all of those in my favourite traditions from yesterday. But there was method in my madness, as there so often isn’t… I knew today was about the meaning of Christmas, which was the perfect place to write about the true heart of Christmas.

To me Christmas means the beginning of the story, my story of faith. Chrstmeas means God incarnate. Christmas means God leaving his heavenly throne and coming to live with his creation, to make a way for our relationship once and for all. Christmas means God knows what it is to be vulnerable, to be cold, to be hungry, to be in pain, to be poor, to be scared, to be human. Christmas means God with us.

Now that’s your reason to ding dong merrily on high and falalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala.

From this morning, and over the next two and a bit weeks, there are around 20 services that I will be leading, speaking at, saying intercessions for or helping to run, and you may think that that incredible truth will wear somewhat thin after “doing” it 20 times. But it couldn’t be further from the truth. Each time I attend a new service, organise another reflection, look at some more liturgy, write another talk I am struck by the enormity and beauty of what Christmas means. Every time.

Wit this in mind, I’d like to share some new thoughts which I will share with some of the younger children at their carol service in a couple of weeks.  At Christmas there are crackers, and generally you have to spend a lot of money for them to be any good. Crackers can be a bit of a let down, they sometimes don’t even bang and if you’re like me you find those flimsy little paper crowns rather lame and offensive. But I never realised that even a rubbishy cheap cracker is an important message for us of what Christmas truly means.

In a cracker there is a joke, Jesus came to bring us joy. We don’t need to mourn any longer, God is with us. Through Jesus we can approach God joyfully assured of our relationship with him.

In a cracker there is a toy, Jesus was the ultimate gift to us. The immortal words of John 3:16 tells us that God loved us so much he gave to us his son. The gift of his presence with us, the gift of his love, the gift of everlasting life with him.

In a cracker there is a crown, Jesus came to be the king. From a humble and very unkinglike birth, Jesus came to reign as the King of kings. Above all earthly powers, Jesus came to be  the servant king.

That’s what Christmas means to me.

Lex xx

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