Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Slow Living 2013 - December

I'm once again joining the Slow Living Month by Month series - follow the link for more info. Please join!

[NOURISH] Well, plenty of this going on. I wondered what our first Christmas as hosts would focus on, and unsurprisingly it has focused on food, or rather on preparing and eating fabulous food with friends and family.

[PREPARE] The homemade cranberry, port and cinnamon 'sauce' (really more of a jam) was such a hit that we've now made three batches and have several jars in the cupboard. We found that it really developed flavour over the few days we were able to stand not eating it, and so we're looking forward to opening in later months.

[REDUCE] Does using up the last bits of turkey for chelsea buns count? No? How about reusing packaging from deliveries received to send gifts by post?

[GREEN] Not much change here, still using lots of homemade cleaners and toiletries.

[GROW] Much planning here, of which more anon!

[CREATE] Presents! Knitted wristwarmers, covered and decorated notebooks, earrings... Lots of craftiness!

[DISCOVER] Turning my hands to new crafts - papercrafts and jewellery-making - first for a while, actually. I have been reading up on container gardening, as well as rediscovering an old favourite, Lorna Doone, on my ever-less-cluttered bookshelves.

[ENHANCE] As is most appropriate for the time of year, this month has been full of visits to and from friends and family, gifts and cards sent and received, and much reconnecting. I'm also, rather unexpectedly, finding that something as simple as unfriending people on Facebook who aren't really my friends is leaving me more emotional energy to reach out and connect with people I really care about. I hadn't realised how much it was draining that.

Also, this month, I have finally introduced myself to a neighbour I have passed in the street almost every day for well over a year. I used to pass him in the nearby park walking his dog last year, and now it seems we've moved onto his street so I pass him daily, as his evening dogwalks overlap my walk home from work. It felt good to reach out and say hello.

[ENJOY] Every minute of the festive season! More friends coming over tonight. I have discovered two joys this month. I never before realised how much fun preparing food together can be - rather than splitting the cooking, we have been sharing it and I like it. The second is just how much I love welcoming people to our home - having a home to welcome people to, I think, is at the heart of it, and making that a place of warmth and welcome and comfort.

Friday, December 27, 2013

On the menu today: More turkey

Yesterday I turned my hand to Paul Hollywood's recipe for turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce chelsea buns. They look really colourful and were surprisingly easy to assemble - I think I didn't roll the dough thin enough, though. Next attempt will be thinner. It tastes and smells amazing! This is breakfast...

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Check out this bad boy


Our Christmas dinner turned out beautifully - beginner's luck, perhaps? I reckon that good quality ingredients and a straightforward recipe may also have been factors. The turkey was bee-otiful and my boyfriend made a cranberry sauce with port and cinnamon so tasty that he is currently making several jars of the stuff so we can have some in the cupboard. Yum!

We're very much enjoying the slower approach to Christmas - some festivities every day, balanced out with plenty of doing nothing, chilling, drinking tea and reading books and curling up on the sofa. There really is quite a lot of work involved in 'doing' Christmas and I think spacing everything out a bit more helps balance the workload.

I think the one thing we didn't do so well at this year is minimising waste. There have been several moments of 'it would be a shame to throw this away, but what can we do with it?' For example, the boozy fruit and nuts from the mulled wine. Next time we do Christmas we will hopefully be better at anticipating the byproducts of the Christmas season and using them.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas too!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Just mulling things over

Can you believe I've never made mulled wine before? Even though it's one of my favourite Christmas traditions? Well, this year we're making mulled wine. Inspired by The Twelve Drinks of Christmas, we left the wine, fruit and cinnamon stick to gently macerate overnight before making this up later today. We're getting creative with additions of fresh cranberries and chopped almonds. It already smells divine...

To accompany the mulled wine, I present... my first ever attempt at mince pies. Incredible that I've never made these - normally we have shop-bought most of December, and my cousins' grandmother makes homemade over Christmas (which taste amazing). Mine definitely need some work, but I'm pleased with how well the homemade mincemeat lasted! Might have another go later today, although stollen is also on the agenda.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas crafting (Update)

My first ever attempt at jewellery! Inspired by my friend Julia from work, who made a similar pair for secret Santa. They were really easy and not too expensive, and I think they look really nice. I'm trying to resist the temptation to keep them for myself rather than give them to their intended recipient...

A(nother) pair of yummy mummy wristwarmers in alpaca. So soft, and so fun to knit up, which is just as well because my sister has asked for a pair for her birthday. These will be a belated Christmas gift for a friend who likes doing outdoorsy things which require fingers, so I think these will come in handy.

More crafting to follow later! I've got plans for this afternoon...

[UPDATE] I hope my cousinlets have not discovered this blog, because I now reveal to you their Christmas presents...

I apologise for the lighting, it's a bit yellow here in the evenings. The local craftshop - a proper Aladdin's cave of crafting tools - had these blank notebooks with plain covers. I thought it might be a nice idea to cover and decorate them. I'm not entirely sure how solidly the glue will hold the buttons on, so I might add another layer before I wrap them.

Several new(ish) skills here, though - decoupage and watercolour painting are not crafts I've really turned my hand to before, but they work really well... I'm quite pleased with how these have turned out.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A slower, simpler Christmas

We are getting stuck into preparations for our first Christmas at our home. This will be a break from all previous years for a number of reasons. It’s the first time we have hosted a Christmas in our own home; it’s certainly my first Christmas in Belgium; and also my first Christmas without either my family or my boyfriends’.

It is therefore a chance to explore what ‘our’ Christmas looks like. My family is very big on tradition and reluctant to change anything about the family Christmas. To an extreme degree. To give you an idea, one year we suggested playing a board game on Christmas day, after dinner. My younger cousins were horrified at the suggestion: ‘We don’t play board games on Christmas day, we play them on Boxing day!’

This year gives us a chance to bring together our favourite traditions from different cultures and give some new ones a try as well. There will be turkey and cranberry sauce and mince pies and port and mulled wine. And pan dulce, candied fruits, turron, stollen, fernet, mate and dulce de leche.

Rather than one Christmas Day, we're going for something closer to the traditional twelve days of Christmas - we're doing a private Christmas dinner on the 24, one with friends on 25 and more friends over on 26. Then family over 27-29, and a day to breathe before more friends over for New Years. Rather than putting the whole focus on one day or one meal, I'm really looking forward to slowing down and savouring this time, and having some Christmas joy every day.

 The biggest change, though, will be the presents. Normally, the family Christmas tree is swamped by presents and you can’t stand next to it because the presents spread out across the floor so far. I’ve also observed a form of gift inflation, where each year there seem to be more. This kind of large-scale gift-giving is very alien to my boyfriend, who grew up with more moderate presents, and feels increasingly empty to me.

I get the impression from some of my family that they feel they need to spend money on a gift. I really don't want things - I've had a tough enough time with the little decluttering I've done in the last months without adding more stuff into the mix. I've asked several family members not to spend much, to just get consumables like bubble bath or a bottle of wine, or even better, to come visit or otherwise plan something together. Somehow I feel that many of them are sceptical about the idea of not giving me things, and ask for more substantial suggestions.

It’s taken me a long time but I have finally thought of something I want. A colander. That’s going to be my suggestion next time someone asks.

This year, my boyfriend and I have set a limit on the value of Christmas gifts, and even though the base of the tree seems rather sparse, I’m much happier with it than I would be with a sea of wrapping paper.

Friday, December 6, 2013

TV vs wood-burning stove

I’m struggling to come up with creative ideas here. I’ve been finding recently that I just don’t want to watch anything. In fact, in general we rarely watch tv, we tend to watch films or old tv series that we particularly enjoy. We’ve run out of many of these and find ourselves idly flicking through channels. There’s nothing on, so we turn the tv off – but don’t really have a replacement activity.

Sometimes we play board games but that does involve a fair degree of energy and mental acuity, which neither of us has after a long day at work. We can read books, but that’s something we do separately rather than together, and our evenings are most valuable as a moment to connect, snuggled up together under a blanket and sharing thoughts, support and body warmth. (The lack of heating is beginning to make itself felt)

I’ve searched online for ideas of things to do to replace tv but haven’t found anything appropriate. It needs to be an activity that we can share, that doesn’t involve going outside (at least at this time of year) and helps us wind down from a busy stressful day ready for sleeping – and preferably with no investment needed. Most suggestions online involve big projects around the house, outdoor activities, or individual activities for one person alone.

What I’d really like is to replace the tv focal point with something like a closed stove, so we can do what we do when we visit my father, sit around the fire and talk, idly picking up a magazine or book or listening to music in between random and meandering conversation. Unfortunately it’s not really a possibility in an inner-city flat on our current budget – maybe something to look into for future years.

Somehow, without the background crackling and flickering, it’s hard to replicate that atmosphere of relaxation and openness. I don’t know why but just sitting on the sofa feels like not doing something, rather than intentionally doing nothing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas gifts by post? Alpaca box

I know, that's an a-llama-ing pun, but I couln't resist!

Because I can't possibly one crafting project on the go at a time, I am knitting up a pair of handwarmers for a friend for Christmas. I'm using the same pattern I used for my pair, which can be found here on Ravelry. I recommend it, it's easy to get your head around and the second time around, it is knitting up very quickly. (I cast on on Friday).

The yarn is baby alpaca from my stash, so this means not only having fun knitting and giving a lovely, soft pair of handwarmers for my lovely friend, it also means I am decluttering. Unadulterated happiness!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Whoop whoop!

Another pair of curtains!! I'm starting December off with a whirlwind of creative energy, in the hopes of completing all the curtains before Christmas. I also want to have enough time before the Longest Night for my carrot - my reward for completing the curtains - planting my first crops! I am still planning to plant garlic and some winter bulbs, if I can find varieties that can be planted this late.

These only took a Sunday afternoon, in the end. All that procrastinating, for a few short hours of sewing. And now every time I draw the curtains in the bedroom, I feel just a bit smug.

I'm already working on the fourth and LAST pair. Did you hear that? LAST.

And I have absolutely, definitely not been the slightest bit motivated by my friend Katie's claim that she could finish her curtains in her new house (not yet moved in) before I finish mine. Not in the slightest.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Slow Living 2013 - November

Once again I'm joining the Slow Living Month by Month series - please find more details here over at Slow Living Essentials.

This month has been a tale of two halves - the first half I was able to really get into the slowing down, try my hand at new things and do some serious crafting. Then the last ten days or so of the month got busy. One of my colleagues has left on maternity leave so the workload has dramatically increased and leaving at half past seven feels early. I'm trying to find more of a balance now, working at improving time management and efficiency. My goal for the coming months is to manage this workload and be able to leave at a more sensible time.

[NOURISH] I have made a marvellous discovery. Fruit salad. It takes so little time to prepare, but a bowlful of fruit salad - on its own or with yoghurt or cereal - really makes a difference to my concentration levels in the mornings. So energised! My fruit salad is a celebration of seasonal fruit - apples, pears, grapes and pomegranate seeds.

I've also had a go at drinks for the first time - lemon barley water. Easy and yummy, and one to be repeated.

[PREPARE] Not much happening on this front...

[REDUCE] Saved something from the bin and gained free seeds in the process! I dried and shelled the pumpkin seeds from our epic pumpkin eating in the last month, and used them in some homemade bread.

[GREEN] More green cleaning. I've been working on decluttering and building my routines.

[CREATE] Crochet! My friends and their little boy were delighted with their gift.

[DISCOVER] Decluttering my books has given me renewed energy to read some of the tomes cluttering my shelves. My biggest discoveries this month have been: how hard decluttering is, and how light it makes me feel; and how much difference a real lunch break makes.

[ENHANCE] Lots and lots of social times, with friends and family.

[ENJOY] This month I treated myself to a copy of The Simple Things magazine. (I actually ordered it in October but it took a month to get here.) Lots of cups of tea and relaxation.


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