Elf on the Shelf: Week 2

Well this week has been a super busy week for us! It is the last week of preschool and boy can we tell! We are all so tired, the girls have been going to be a little earlier to try and help, it is having little effect.  Hubby and I can barely speak past 8pm but of course once in bed we are wide awake.  Why is that?

We put up the tree at the weekend and went through each and every stage of decorating it. When we moved into our house a few years ago we found an abandoned Christmas Tree in the loft, so now each year we get it down and the girls have it in their playroom.  They can decorate it and ‘destroy’ it as much as they like so they don’t disturb the main tree too much.  We took then out to choose a cheap pack of decorations to put on the tree. Naturally they chose pink and sparkly!

Following that I have been making a Santa cake for my Grandma (professional photos to follow).  My Uncle and his daughter have come over from Australia for Christmas as she asked if I could make them something.  This took up all of nap time and some of the evenings so the days have been spent getting the girls out of some fresh air and finishing other little jobs: the online shop, getting some bits from HobbyCraft etc…

The tumble drier broke last week, we had a company come out the next day but they had to order in a part.  That is now finally fixed so I have a mountain of washing to do.  I kept on top of some of it but in the absence of being able to hang cloths outside t dry i was running out of space! Never again will I underestimate my love of the tumble dryer.

As busy as we have been it looks like our Elf, Sparkle Heart has been even busier rushing between here and the North Pole.  I’m sure she is glad her job only lasts for 24 days a year. See what she go up to last week here.

Day 8

She bought the girls a Bug Puzzle with a ‘fishing net’.  They loved this and played really nicely together (after some not-so-gentle persuasion from me).

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Day 9

This was a Friday, she was obviously getting tired because I walked in and found her attached to my wine.  I was not impressed! If she goes anywhere near my gin I will throw her back to the North Pole myself!

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WTF?

Day 10

She got the decorations out for the girls to do the tree.

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Day 11

She hid herself in the girls tree along with some Santa shaped chocolates that they had to try and find. (They didn’t take long to find then all, when chocolate is involved they don’t waste anytime!).

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Day 12

Sparkle Heart had a riding lesson from Barbie.

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Day 13

She took a ride on the Santa Express.

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Day 14

To ensure the girls spend their last 10 days behaving her found a very good vantage point in the light of the playroom!

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Tune in next week to see what Sparkle Heart has been up to in Week 3.

Gingerbread Biscuit Christmas Tree Decorations

As part of my Christmas baking plans I thought I would make some gingerbread tree decorations.

I love gingerbread; it is one of my favourite biscuits. The only problem with that is I find it hard to only eat one at a time. I usually discover I have eaten three in a row without realising it!

I have tried various gingerbread recipes over the years but this is by far my favourite.

Recipe

400g Plain Flour

1tsp Bicarbonate of Soda

2tsp Ground Ginger

2tsp Cinnamon

1tsp Ground Nutmeg

½tsp Allspice

180g Salted Butter (softened)

125g Light Brown Sugar

125g Treacle

1 egg

Method

  1. Put the flour, bicarbonate of soda and all spices into a bowl. I don’t sift this but you can.
  2. Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and cream together. I use a paddle attachment on the freestanding mixer. You could also use a handheld whisk.
  3. Once light and fluffy add the egg and treacle*. Scrape down the sides to ensure a through mix
  4. Add the flour mixture slowly on a slow speed (unless you fancy doing a ghost impression for the post man who invariably turns up at this point wanting a signature!). Ensure you scrape down the sides.
  5. Once a dough has been formed take it out of the mixture and wrap it in clingfilm. Place this in the fridge for 4-6 hours to fully rest. If you want to rest it for less time split the mixture into ¾ portions. Once it is hard it is ready for rolling.
  6. Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  7. Line 2 baking trays with greaseproof paper. I use baking spray to secure this to the tray but I don’t spray the top of the paper where the biscuits will be.
  8. On a floured surface roll out the dough to about 1/2cm thick.
  9. Cut into desired shapes. I used round, holly leaves and snowflakes for this bake.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes.
  11. Leave the biscuits to cool for a few minutes then place on a wire rack to cool completely.

*I have never worked out the best way to measure this out. However, what I do is place the treacle pot on my scales (digital will be easiest to do this with). I then ‘tare’ the amount so it shows as zero. I slowly spoon out the treacle bit by bit until the amount shows ‘-125g’. I don’t know if this is right but it seemed logical to me and it seems to work.

This makes a really dark gingerbread, which I personally prefer but I know lots of people prefer a lighter gingerbread. In this instance I would simply replace the treacle with golden syrup. The amounts required are roughly the same.

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To decorate I have used Royal Icing. You could also use Candy Melts if you preferred and they would work just as well.

Royal Icing

660g Icing Sugar, sifted

20g Pasturised Egg White Powder (or 4 egg whites)

½tsp Cream of Tartar

Method

  1. Prepare the egg white powder as per instructions. Usually this is mix with 50mls of water per 10g. But please double check.
  2. Mix in the powder until no lumps left and there is a think layer of bubbles.
  3. Put in the mixer with the cream of tartar and start whisking.
  4. If using egg white place these in the mixer and whisk until frothy with the cream of tartar.
  5. Slowly add in the sifted icing sugar a tablespoon at a time, ensuring it is well combined after each addition.
  6. Mix on a medium speed for 15-20 minutes until bright white and stiff with a smooth texture.

For these decorations I used the royal icing in stiff and flood consistency. I don’t line the shapes before flooding. I simply use a scribing tool to bring the icing slightly closer to the edge if I need in small circular movements. This also removes any air bubbles that you do not want! To combine the water I use a spray to ensure I don’t add too much at once. For the stiff consistency I was looking for a toothpaste type mixture. For the flood consistency much more water is required. This is also referred to as 20 second consistency because when all the water is mixed in if you draw a line through the mixture (and into it) with a knife or skewer this line should disappear without a trace at 20 seconds. Not before or after.

If you add too much water then the best and only way to effectively thicken the icing again is to add more of the stiff royal icing. Simply adding icing sugar will make it grainy.

Once the biscuits are iced I leave them out over night to set or for at least four hours.

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For the colours I used:

Red: Squires Kitchen in ‘Poppy’

Green: Sugarflair in ‘Holly’

I also tinted some white icing with Squires Kitchen Teddy Brown, which I then painted with edible gold lustre.

To make the lustre into a paintable liquid add some alcohol to the dust. The reason you use alcohol is alcohol evaporates really quickly so it doesn’t dissolve the icing like water would. I like to use vodka because it is flavour and colourless so it doesn’t alter anything.

I added some silver ball dragees to the snowflakes and so silver lustre dust to make them a little sparkly.

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Oh and because I totally forgot to say I made the holes for the ribbon in the snowflakes and baubles using a straw from one of the girls sippy cups when I cut out the dough! I think any large straw would work. The holes did close up a little during baking which I expected but they were still large enough for a thin ribbon to fit through.

The final product: Ta Dah! (Ok, I know I’ve already put picture above but just pretend this is a grand reveal for me… Please.)

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Our Christmas Traditions

There has been a lot of talk recently about family traditions. Initially I was a little jealous thinking we don’t really have any but then I thought about it and we do. We have loads of them and I hadn’t realised. Then the more I thought about it the more I got excited about it all.

Each year I make gingerbread biscuits and cut them into all sorts of shapes, this year I plan on making baubles for the tree.

I take the girls to see Santa. This is as traumatic as you would expect and we never have a photo at the end of it but it is tradition damn it so we are going!

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Hubby and I spend our weekend evenings drinking Winter Cocktails.

I watch as many Christmas films with the girls as I can.

We actually get crafty for a month, which normally I hate. I can usually get into it a bit more for Christmas.

This year we have started Elf on the Shelf… Stay tuned for more of that.

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We all go out and pick a Christmas tree together.

We put out food and drink for Santa and the reindeer, a mince pie, a G&T and a carrot, on Christmas Eve.

Hubby takes a bite out of the carrot so it looks like it has been eaten.

I make the girls a Christmas Eve box, which includes pyjamas, slippers, a cuddly toy (all of Disney of course) and some chocolate. They get to open it after dinner.

I sit and wrap all of the presents on Christmas Eve whilst watching Christmas films and drinking Santa’s G&T. Sorry Santa.

On Christmas morning the girls come into our bedroom so we can open their stocking gifts all together.

After opening the ‘tree presents’ we go to Hubbys parents house where we spend the rest of the day eating, drinking and unwrapping presents.

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We stay the night there, or at least the girls do, so when they are in bed the adults play board games late into the night.

Boxing day we go to the races at Kempton Park. If we can’t physically go we have the family round to our house and we ‘Host the Races’ in our living room.

This usually concludes our Christmas traditions. Hubby and I both get a little exhausted with it all and usually have the tree down by the 28th. Scrooge I know, but we don’t do anything for New Years Eve anyway now we have children (although I don’t think we ever really did). We are often asleep by midnight so our party season is over by then. Plus the sooner the tree is down the sooner the count down to my birthday can begin!

Does anyone share our traditions or have any good ones I can adopt?

bakerdays Review & Giveaway

When I was contacted by the bakerdays team to review one of their letterbox cakes how could I say no? Cake is what I do; it is what I live for (ok a bit dramatic but I think you are all getting to understand my baking obsession).

bakerdays

A little introduction directly from them:

*bakerdays is a Personalised Celebration Cake Specialist, providing quality personalised cakes for all occasions. The delicious range of recipes and sizes are available for delivery 6 days a week, and if you order before 2pm, bakerdays can deliver the very next day!

In essence they can provide a cake for 3 people up to 55 people. The smallest size (5 inch) is the one that fit through your letterbox. This is very true! It fitted through ours with no problem.   Each cake can be delivered the next day if you are in a rush (forgot until it was too late to do anything about it). All delivery details are listed on their website. The volume of choice is extensive. There are Princess cakes, Pirate cakes, Anniversary cakes and Apology cakes. There are even emoji cakes! Anyone who follows me on social media will know I am a huge fan of an emoji! (Who isn’t right?) Plus so many more! Most of them are personalisable (spell checker says that isn’t a word… I’m using it anyway), and some even allow you to upload one of your photos onto it.

Our Cake

We chose a Christmas design (I consulted Hubby but then ignored his suggestions) because I am feeling very festive and no matter how hard I try to write about other things I seem to be filling the blog with festivities! Once I had chosen the design and added our name, I checked the preview and ordered the cake. It is a very simple process.

Ours arrived at the most fortuitous moment! After a 5am wake up call (thanks Pinky!) all I wanted was cake, but since I needed match sticks to keep my eyes open the last thing I wanted to do was make any. Cue cake hitting the mat making me one super happy Mama.

Our cake is vanilla but there are also the options of chocolate, gluten, wheat and dairy free. They even do cupcakes! This might be my new favourite thing!

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It arrived in a well-sealed, sturdy cardboard box, which despite having been dropped through our letterbox onto a very hard floor doesn’t have a dent in it! Inside the box is a tin and a little cracker for Christmas. Inside the tin is our cake… TaDah!

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Isn’t it pretty?! Please pay note to their instructions…. No need me to devour the cake with great gusto, I usually inhale the stuff 😉

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Taste

Well it tasted delicious! It wasn’t too sweet which meant I probably would have eaten it all to myself but it was more than enough for the four of us.  And it didn’t last long at all!

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Find them

You can find bakerdays on Twitter and Facebook. Their website is extremely easy to use and navigate.  The hardest part is choosing which design you would like.  With so many possibilities to choose from it is very hard to decide.

Giveaway

bakerdays are giving away one letterbox cake to a lucky winner.  The cake will be provided directly from bakerdays.  You can choose your own design.  Competition is open from 7am 12/12/16 to 11.59pm 29/12/16.  The winner will be picked at random notified on 30/12/16. Click below to enter.

Winnettes bakerdays giveaway

* Disclaimer: I was provided with a cake for free in exchange for an honest review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Elf on the Shelf: Week 1

We had a little visitor arrive this December.  She turned up unexpectedly on December 1st in her little box and a book explaining everything about her.  Quickly Pinky chose her name: Sparkle Heart (obviously!).  Miss Sparkle Heart found her way to the bookshelf very quickly where she was very comfortable for her first day, with a good view of the girls and their playing.

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Day 1

The second day she arrived back in the house with some North Pole snow, Pinky had requested some the day before and Sparkle willingly obliged.  This snow was magic and it didn’t melt!  How cool is that?

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Day 2

The third day Sparkle bought a north pole breakfast with her.  Pancakes, pain au chocolat, crumpets, maple syrup and sugar! There was far too much sugar on the table for my liking but fortunately the girls were spending the day with their grandparents so I wasn’t too worried.

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Day 3

Day four and we adults found ourselves a little ‘tired’ after a childfree night.  We may or may not have found ourselves drinking cocktails in London… I refuse to confirm the rumours *cough*.  So luckily I persuaded Sprinkle Heart to put on Paw Patrol for the girls, it was too cold to go outside anyway. *cough*

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Day 4

We awoke to Sparkle Heart reading to some of the toys on Day 5.  It was very sweet and they all seemed to be enjoying ‘The Night Before Christmas’.  That girls head really freaks me out… I am forever catching sight of it in my peripheral vision and thinking someone is stood watching me… I must find a box to hide it in!

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Day 5

The sixth day Sparkle bought with her some figurines to paint.  A little cat and a dog.  Pinky chose the cat so Perky had the dog (this is not a problem she prefers dogs anyway).  Apart from me having a bad day this brightened it up a little.  Well that is until the fights over who the paint pots were closest to! Honestly, some days I wonder why I bother!  It may also be best to skirt over the fact that Perky tried to eat the paint. Twice!

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Day 6 

Day 7 and Sparkle seems to be having a Celebrations HotTub.  This was actually very well timed.  The girls are both a little poorly and we are all very tired so I set up a little resting area in the lounge and put on Christmas films.  We ate the chocolates and popcorn and completely chilled out! It was the perfect Hump Day.

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Day 7

Tune in next week for the next instalment!

My Plans for 2017

I won’t lie I am looking forward to saying farewell to 2016. It has been a year of ups and downs for us in our household. Well the last 6 months have been anyway. It has often felt like one step forward and four steps back. Anything not 100% in our control has caused quite a few bumps in our road. In the general scheme of things we will, and mostly have bounced back. We all still have our health, which is also the most important thing (I am touching the thickest piece of wood now to make sure that lasts into 2017).

So, to concentrate on making 2017 a positive year I am planning on keeping things simple. I am finally coming to terms with not working (I will write about this properly soon), the house is starting to look how I want and the girls are getting older and more independent by the day.

I refuse to make new years resolutions because I feel that simply sets you up to fail. Instead I have a few things I would like to do more and a few things I would like to conquer for my own satisfaction.

  • I would like to go on more family walks at the weekends

We may have to drive to get to the good walking spots but it would be nice to get out into nature a little more often and with Hubby, not just me and the girls.

  • I would like to spend more time reading to the girls.

I simply don’t do this enough, they both love it so I want to make more time to do it with them.

  • I would like to concentrate on settling Pinky into school.

I know she isn’t keen on the idea of going, but I also know she will be fine. I just want to be able to concentrate on her needs outside of the school hours for the first few weeks.

  • I would like to go on a sugar flower course.

There are a lot of baking courses I want to do but this is top of my list.

  • I would like to eat in 2 of our ‘bucket list’ restaurants.

Hubby and I have many restaurants on our Bucket List so we may have to sit down and choose our next stop.

  • I would like to watch at least one film a month.

I used to watch films all the time. Now life and children seem to get in the way. I think 1 a month isn’t too unreasonable and is achievable.

  • I would like to dance with the girls more.

We all love to dance, although Pinky is the only one of us who can actually do it!

  • I would like to go to the zoo.

We planned on going earlier this year but we never made it. We kept pushing it back and now it is December and we simply aren’t going to get to go. So next year it is a must!

I think this will do for now. I want to keep things simple and I feel like I have. I have a habit of over complicating things and I don’t want to this time. We like to be busy and I think 2017 is going to be our busiest year yet, but that doesn’t mean we have to over complicate things unnecessarily.

Here’s to a happy 2017. Do any of you have anything big or simple on your list for next year?

5 Stages of Decorating the Christmas Tree

Each year we get a real tree for Christmas. I love it, the smell, the ‘full’ look and the fact that I don’t have to spend 30-40 minutes separating the fake branches. It does mean we wait a little later into December to get it so that the tree hasn’t lost all of its needles by Christmas day. When it comes to decorating it we usually wait for the girls to go to bed and then it is left up to me. Any by ‘left up to me’ I mean hubby helps unravel the lights and then stays out of may way because I can get a little crazy. I go full on ‘Monica Gellar’ with the decorating, everything has to be perfect. If money were no object I would hire a professional to come in and decorate it for me, but since I don’t live in Mayfair I shall crack on and do the thing myself! This year, however, much to my dismay Pinky is going to have to be included in the decorating process, she is so excited I don’t have the heart to exclude her, and besides, what harm could it do? Well only time will really tell but I’m hoping because I am expecting it I will be mentally prepared to deal with the inevitable emotional trauma my OCD is about to endure! In an attempt to ‘cope’ I have broken down the whole day into sections so I can take each one at a time.

Stage 1: Pick the Tree

  • Remember we don’t live in a mansion and put back the 9ft tree.
  • Accept that 6ft will probably still need trimming down, perhaps 5ft would be better?
  • Get the 6ft tree anyway which causes Hubby to become disgruntled; he knows he will be trimming it down.
  • Pay the staff and try and avoid the girls seeing all the sparkly decorations on sale, we have enough already!
  • Try and get the tree in the car, one day we will remember to put the seats down in advance.

Stage 2: Putting the Tree Up

  • Find the stand.
  • Hope that all the feet and bolts are intact from last year (there is always one missing!)
  • Start to unwrap the tree.
  • STOP!!! The tree is easier to put up if it is still wrapped.
  • Get hubby to hold the tree up so I can judge if it is straight or not.
  • Start tightening up the bolts.
  • Remember checking if it was straight was irrelevant because now the bolts have moved the whole damn thing anyway!
  • Readjust gently so it is actually straight.
  • Allow the blood flow to return to your arms and hands for a moment.

Stage 3: The Lights

  • Get the lights out of their box.
  • Allow Hubby to exclaim loudly that we both ensured last year they were ‘put away in a nice tidy manner so how on earth are they in such a f****ng tangled mess now?’
  • Assure him there is no such thing as a Christmas Light Imp that lives in the loft whos sole purpose is tangling the lights to upset p@*s him off.
  • Plug the lights in *fingers crossed.
  • Bugger! How do they not work!
  • Off to local supermarket for cheapest set we can find (this might be why they don’t work after a year).
  • Rush home to take lights out of the box. How do they pack them in so nicely? Take note of packing knowing full well I will never be able to recreate it… But I will try!
  • Plug in lights.
  • YES! They work, thank f@*k goodness for that.
  • Start putting lights onto the tree. Bottom to top/top to bottom, which is best?
  • Spend the next half an hour trying to make the lights look evenly spread and not all clumped at the bottom. Why are there so many there?

Stage 4: The Decorations

  • Get the biggest box of decorations known to man down from the loft (what in the name of Christmas is in here anyway?)
  • Forget it is nowhere near as heavy as it looks and nearly launch it through the roof as I pick it up.
  • Look inside and mourn the day I had to throw out my expensive glass ornaments once the children came along.
  • Quickly get over myself when I remember how much it annoys Hubby that I put a Tinkerbell fairy on top of the tree and chuckle cackle loudly.
  • Try and gently persuade a three year old that you can’t put all of the baubles on one
  • Nor can you put all of the gold ones together.
  • Or all of the red ones together.
  • No, Santa cannot sit on the reindeer decoration.
  • No, Mummy isn’t cross.
  • Yes, Mummy does like wine.
  • Fine! Put Tinkerbell on the tree!
  • Oh look at how late it is…. Time for bed!
  • Strip the tree of all decorations.
  • Pour second, ok, third glass of wine.
  • Start again.

Stage 5: The Finished Product

  • Look at how pretty it is.
  • Reward myself with a large Gin.

Thank you Hubby for staying out of the way, I think it saves our marriage every year 😉

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A Letter to my Eldest

Dear Pinky,

How do I put you into words? You are such a complex little thing, so sensitive, so kind, so moody! You can flick from mood to mood without warning. You keep me on my toes daily. You challenge me the most, perhaps because you are the first to do everything as the eldest. I know I get cross and I am very sorry, you know exactly how to get me to react and I do it every time.

I am really going to miss you when you go to school. I know you don’t want to go but you will love it, you will make lots of friends, I have no doubt. You love to learn and I hope you never loose that, I will certainly do my best to keep your curiosity alive.

This past month you have started to come out of your shell a little more, it is lovely to watch. You are starting to voice your opinions to others outside of the family, which is a huge progression for you.

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You still love to dance, I can’t think of a day where you haven’t danced at least once since you were about 4 months old and could first coordinate a wiggle to music. You are a real life princess, you only wear dresses and everything has to be pink and sparkly if it can be.

You are the most loving big sister to Perky. I know she drives you crazy and I know she does it on purpose but she loves you too. Watching the cuddles and kisses you give each other is heart melting. I hope you realise when she is uncertain about a situation she turns to you for help and reassurance not me, or Daddy. She idolises you and you have taught her everything you know. This I can say with absolute certainty because she is a mini version of you.

I hope you know how special you are to us, but no, you can’t have your own way all of the time. You are really good company, we have some of the best conversations.

I love the bones off you, always have and always will!

Mummy X

P.S I wish you would let me take your picture more often 😉

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