I wish it could be Christmas everyday

Christmas Day has always been one of my favourite days of year. I have spent most of my Christmases in the UK with my family, following much the same traditions as the year before. Wake up early, open stockings (at 37 l still get ridiculously excited about this), go for a swim in the sea (yes, the actual sea), warm up with a nip of brandy and a hot bath, change into Christmas outfits, eat dinner, open presents, play games and them one by one fall asleep in front in the television. Even with divorces, remarriages, partners, friends and the odd additional pet, most years remain comfortingly the same. Apart from the last four.

2010 – Myself and The Husband, then boyfriend, had been through a horrific breakup a couple of months earlier. He had moved to China. I was still very much an emotional mess. This Christmas l just remember being a black hole of tears with sad songs on repeat and, really, not much else.

2011 – Myself and The Husband, then boyfriend, had just got back together. However, my mum had been unexpectedly diagnosed with lung cancer a week before, and was due to have a lung removed two weeks after Christmas Day. It was a quiet and sombre day despite our best efforts. No-one swam. No-one really ate dinner. The atmosphere was pretty bleak.

2012 – Having just moved to Bangkok, myself and The Husband, then fiancee, decided that we would take the holiday we had talked of for years. We went to Japan. It was amazing, and we spent Christmas in Tokyo, one of my all time favourite cities. We woke up in a tiny hotel room, opened the few presents we had managed to squeeze into our backpacks, went for Christmas Dinner in a British Pub, took a walk in the park and watched ‘Cross of Iron’ (not my choice) on the laptop until we could Skype the family. We ate take-out sushi from the 7-Eleven for dinner with a can of Asahi from a vending machine. Probably the strangest non-Christmas/Christmas either of us have ever had.

2013 – I was almost 4 months pregnant, so myself and The Husband decided to stay put in Thailand. We had my brother and another good friend from China come and stay. We tried to create as traditional a Christmas as possible. We all had stockings to open in the morning, took a Christmas swim in our swimming pool (a tad warmer that the sea), drank Bucks fizz, then headed for a buffet lunch at one of the posh hotels in the city. Bloated (l blamed my bulge on the growing baby, not the mountains of Christmas pudding), we played games into the evening, when we all passed out on the sofa watching a film. It was perfect.

Fast forward to 2014. We are taking The Boy back to the UK for two weeks, to experience the Christmas I had when growing up. We have, however, already introduced him to the joys of decorating a tree, thinking he would love the twinkling lights and sparkly baubles. In truth, he prefers the plug socket underneath.

This decoration was promptly thrown up on.

This decoration was promptly thrown up on.

Not happy about the antlers. Or the selfie.

Not happy about the antlers. Or the selfie.

This is taking up valuable crawling space.

This is taking up valuable crawling space.

What do you expect me to do with this?

What do you expect me to do with this?

Okay, l got this.

Okay, l got this.

Rocking around the tree. Dad style.

Rocking around the tree. Dad style.

After the baby had gone to bed.

After the baby had gone to bed.

Advent Calendars tomorrow, yippee! Happy Advent one and all.

 

My Hero

In the first 20 days of December l will be running a total of 100 kilometres in honour of my hero: my Granny.

She would have turned 100 on the 20th December, but sadly passed away in May. She never met her three great grandsons (including The Boy) who were born in March and May respectively. She did, however, live to see me married and settled and of that l am so grateful.

At her funeral, I did my best to put into words why she was my hero, but emotion and jet lag made me stumble, my words unclear. So now, in a blog she will never read, I hope to do her justice.

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 Granny had several sayings, most of which have stuck with me throughout my childhood and into adult life. She was fond of saying, “Life has its ups and downs, but without the downs, you will never appreciate the ups”. She went through more than most in her life, but was unfailingly positive in every circumstance, looking at every day as a thing to enjoy and appreciate. She gave me advice on many things: not to marry until l was in my thirties, to use moisturiser twice every day, to push every door until one opened, to follow my dreams. I have followed most of this advice and am happily married, have good skin, and have had a fulfilling life full of adventure.

As a child she taught me to sew, to embroider, to cross stitch, to make clothes (she trained as a tailor), to go to fabric shops and know which ones to choose. She had drawers full of scraps of fabric, wool, lace, threads and sewing implements which used to drive my Grandad crazy. I was allowed to delve into these at any time, explore the colours and textures, and encouraged to just create something. Likewise, my Granny was rarely without some sort of needlework until arthritis took its toll on her hands. I now have a study that is also packed with various materials, am rarely without some creative project on the go, and have a career teaching Art. I can only hope that my students are as inspired by me as l was by my hero.

In my late teens l went through a stage of rebellion. I shaved my head, refused to talk to my parents, went out until all hours, got a tattoo and piercings and whilst l thought l was being utterly unique, l now realise l was a  typical teenager. My parents tore their hair out. My Granny just made me cups of tea and listened to my woes, gently offering me an alternative point of view, but always accepting who l was. She was like this with everyone. We often joked that all of her friends were slightly mad, but the fact is that Granny could see past oddities in behaviour to the person underneath, and was capable of loving everyone for who they were.

Her terrible cooking, her love of shopping, her amazing driving skills, her outstanding musical ability, her strong will, her perseverance, her love of life, her smile: there are so many things that made my Granny the person she was.As it approaches what would have been her centenary, l feel sad that my son will never know the voice of, or feel the warmth of his great Granny’s love, but l do sincerely hope that one day he has his own hero. Someone who will make him want to be a better person, to look at every day as an adventure, and to always be true to himself.

Swedish Cinnamon Rolls

It was one of those moments that my Mum now dreads. The ones where I make seemingly random decisions that often end in near disaster*. Four years ago, heartbroken, ridiculously stressed and slightly delirious with exhaustion,  I booked a flight. To Stockholm. In December. On Friday. It was Wednesday. It started with a snow storm in the UK. My flight was delayed. I arrived after midnight, stepped out of the bus and almost drowned in snow (no exaggeration). Sweden has an abundance of snow. In fact, I spent the whole time marvelling at this white, twinkly wonderland that people were living in. Well, most of my time. The rest was spent wearing every item of clothing I had brought and fending off frostbite. Note to self: thin leather jackets and Converse are not appropriate winter wear north of the UK.

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Snow, snow, and more snow.

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Appropriate winter wear.

Luckily, there were also plenty of cafes to warm my frozen fingers in, which is where I developed an everlasting love for cinnamon buns. Sticky, sweet, warming and spicy, and perfect with a glass of gluwein. This is the food that mends sad hearts.

*This trip ended with a cancelled flight, no flights out for the foreseeable future, many hours in queues, and the possibility of Christmas spent alone in a hostel in Stockholm. My Mum came to the rescue again and I made it home for the holidays.

Cinnamon Buns

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Soft, sweet and spicy. Note the glass of milk instead of gluhwein (it’s not December yet!).

Ingredients

For the dough:
225ml milk
75g butter
300g plain flour
125g wholewheat flour
70g brown sugar
1tsp cardamom
½ tsp salt
10g dried yeast
1 egg, beaten

For the filling:
75g butter
50g brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt

To finish:
1 egg, beaten
brown sugar

Mix together flour, brown sugar, salt, cardamom, and yeast in a large bowl.IMG_5787
Make a well in the centre and mix in beaten egg, and milk that has been scalded with butter and then cooled. Mix it to a dough, cover with clingfilm and leave it in a warm place for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, beat together butter, cinnamon, brown sugar and salt.IMG_5789
When dough has risen, roll out to the size of a laptop and spread filling over it. Roll up and cut into 7 slices, one smaller than the rest. Arrange in a greased baking tin.

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Cover, and put in a warm place for 30 minutes. When doubled in size brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 200 Celcius for 20-25 minutes.

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Leave to cool and then tear apart and eat. IMG_5808

Delicious, even if your heart is not broken. IMG_5814

Santa Baby

You are young (say, under 30), your friends have started reproducing, and it is Christmas. Your mantlepiece starts filling with cards adorned with various offspring dressed as Santa Claus, a Christmas Pudding, a Wise Man, or just in a festive jumper smiling broadly for the camera. “Oh no,” you think scornfully, “poor children, surely that will scar them for life”. Then you become a parent. One day, with nothing better to do, you find yourself putting your child in an empty cardboard box for fun. They like it. A lightbulb pings in your head. Christmas is coming…..

Here are the outtakes:

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Passionfruit & Lime Drizzle Cake

A month ago some friends of ours gave birth to twin boys. Whilst initially we (I) furnished the babies with some very cute outfits, myself and The Husband have been pondering what to give them as a new mother and father. After a long ranging discussion which included both home-made sock monkeys (my suggestion) and electric guitar thingamebobs (definitely not my suggestion), we decided that when The Boy was born all we wanted was a little more time. Time to shower, time to talk, time to nap, time to watch television, time to just BE. So, we gave them time. In the shape of a lasagne and a sponge flavoured with passionfruit and lime. The cake was so yummy l made another one, which we have devoured. Incongruously, with Japanese craft beer.

Passionfruit & Lime Drizzle Cake

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Cake ingredients

85g unsalted butter

245g soft brown sugar

grated zest of 2 limes

pulp of 2 passionfruit

165ml milk

235g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

3 egg whites

Syrup ingredients

Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes

50g soft brown sugar

Glaze ingredients

Freshly squeezed juice of 2 limes

250g icing sugar

Method

1) Beat butter, sugar and lime zest together until well incorporated.IMG_5633

2) Mix milk and passionfruit pulp and add to the butter mixture, a little at a time.

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3) Combine flour, baking powder, and salt and add to the wet mixture a third at a time.

4) Beat egg whites until you have stiff peaks, then gently fold into the cake mixture.

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5) Put in a cake tin and bake for 30 mins at 170 Celcius.

6) Put all syrup ingredients in a small saucepan with 100ml of water and boil until reduced by half

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7) When the cake is cooked, cover with the syrup and leave to cool.

8) Mix lime juice and icing sugar to make the glaze. Drizzle over the cooled cake.

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Passionfruit: my new addiction.

A Rare Day

The maid and the nanny both called in sick this morning. A sentence I never thought I would write, let alone say out loud. It did, however, mean that I got to spend a rare day with The Boy.

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An afternoon stroll.

Rare, not because I never have time with him – quite the opposite, I spend the whole time at work desperate to get home to play, and we are together for the majority of every weekend. No, today was rare because it was a weekday, we were on our own at home, and there were chores to be done.

I work as a full-time teacher at an international school, where the maternity leave is a mere six weeks long and a part-time job is not an option. Financially I must work, for my sanity I must work, but I still long to be able to spend at least half my week being a stay at home mum. My mother did forewarn me that parenthood would be a balancing act and that guilt would become the norm, and it continues to be a tough adjustment to make. Even when I am lucky enough to be in a position where my son is cared for by an amazing nanny, and that I rarely have to iron a shirt or empty a bin.

On an average day I spend from 5am (ish….) to 7am getting The Boy, The Husband, The Cats and myself ready for the day. This involves making bottles with one hand and putting mascara on with the other whilst blowing raspberries and eating a bagel. The nanny arrives, we go to work. Approximately eight hours later I attempt to rush home through treacle-like Bangkok traffic to spend the last two or so hours playing with The Boy before bedtime.

So today was a taste of the lifestyle that I long for. My Boy and I played lots of games; we took a walk to the supermarket (albeit on a pot-holed pavement alongside a smoggy three-lane highway. Thanks, Bangkok); we had breakfast and lunch together; we watched Charlie and Lola; I watched him try to crawl and land on his nose; I kissed him and made it better; I put him down and woke him from naps; in short, I had a perfectly normal day of parenthood. Oh, and I did the chores – three loads of laundry, the ironing, the mopping of floors and the changing of sheets. The mundanity of it was marvellous.

Perhaps the idea I have of being able to enjoy work and still feel like I am investing enough time into my child is both fantastical and impossible, but I hope that one day I will be in a position to at least try. However hard it is to give up coming home to a sparkling kitchen floor and underwear that is ironed and colour-coded.

Autumn Apple & Maple Cake

Autumn is one of my favourite times of year. Crisp air, russet leaves, log fires and darkening evenings; the smoky smell of Bonfire Night when you are wrapped up tightly against the biting wind. Here in Bangkok, despite every clothes shop being full of scarves, gloves, winter coats, and some rather fetching earmuffs with nary a vest top in sight, it remains hot and steamy.  Its inhabitants dress for an imagined winter, huddling in their houses with the air con on full. So l am cooking for an imaginary Autumn, inspired by all the blogs out there that are full to the brim of pumpkins, apples, and chestnuts. Recently The Boy has been tucking merrily into imported apples, often blended with roasted squash and this week there were a couple left over. So, inspired by a recipe by Amber Rose in Love, Bake, Nourish, l made this unusual but nonetheless delicious Apple & Maple Cake. I ate this wearing a summer dress, but in my head l was kicking winter boots through piles of leaves.

Autumn Apple & Maple Cake

Cake Ingredients:

250g apples (two medium apples)

2 eggs, seperated

125ml olive oil

225g plain flour, sifted

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g maple syrup

pinch of salt

Topping Ingredients:

200g cream cheese

100g maple syrup

1 lemon

1 lime

Method:

1.) Wash and peel apples (I left the peel on for texture)

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2.) Grate apple and squeeze all the moisture out through a sieve.Apple Cake-2

3.) Beat egg yolks and oil together until creamy. Add the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, maple syrup and grated apple. Mix thoroughly.Apple Cake-3

4.) In a very clean bowl, beat egg whites and salt until you have stiff peaks.Apple Cake-4

5.) Gently fold the egg whites into the cake mixture, then pour into a cake tin and bake for 30 – 40 minutes at 180 degrees Celcius.Apple Cake-5

6.) Beat together the cream cheese and maple syrup, adding the zest of the lemon and a squeeze of juice.

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7.) Smooth on top of the cooled cake and decorate with some lime zest.Apple Cake-7

“In Heaven, it is always Autumn.”
John Donne