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Keeping Christmas Traditions

Red cabbage on our table is one of the changes that have occurred in my house at Christmas since we married 24 years ago.
Every family has its own traditions for this special time of year. Family traditions are all part of the build up to Christmas Day. Christmas traditions are important. Children need to feel they belong and shared memories help reinforce that and helps them to develop their own sense of identity says psychologist Dr Amanda Gummer, an expert in play and parenting and Director of The Good Toy Guide. She acknowledges however that when two people come together to form their own family, they both bring with them their own traditions that might not be compatible with each other.
Mr Gs family had stockings for gifts, we always had pillow cases! We always got a shiny red apple and a mandarin orange as well as other treats in our pillow cases.
Some trees have white lights, others prefer coloured.
We had a Gene Autry Christmas LP that was always playing as we decorated the tree. A few years ago my brother found it on the Internet and I still play it, though I do prefer Michael Bublė!
Our family put up their tree really early in December, Mr Gs waited to the very last minute! We now love to put the tree up early, but once Boxing Day is over I can’t wait to take it all down again.
Though I do prefer a real tree, they have got so expensive that we invested in a really good fake tree, and I burn lots of tree scented candles and rejoice that come July I won’t still be vacuuming pine needles from the carpets.
Some homes must be seen from space they have so many outdoor lights and decorations. This year we have no outdoor lights, must to Mr Gs disappointment, and as a compromise to our boys delight I have put the coloured lights on the tree, with my one remaining working set of white LEDs.
On the Festive table we always had a jar of pickled onions and a jar of those yellow-green mixed pickles. And my dad’s awesome brandy butter.
On Mr Gs family table they had bread sauce, red cabbage, sprouts with bacon and hazel nuts, brandy cream.
Over the years we have combined all that we loved from our two families at Christmas, and added some traditions of our own that we hope our boys will take with them when they have homes of their own.
My mother faithfully stocks to recipes she has used for many years for the Christmas pudding, the brandy butter, the Christmas cake, the stuffing for the turkey. Yes, always has to be Turkey.
I roasted a goose one year and was very disappointed with the results. It was very expensive, and gave very little meat in return. I do find Turkey meat boring and tasteless. But am overruled every year when I suggest any alternatives!
The one thing I do adore is Turkey broth made with the bones.
Although Mr G and I are celebrating our 24th Christmas our own family traditions are still evolving. And as the Gillyboys get older, change is in the air as we no longer have that frenzy of excitement and anticipation of a visit from the red suited gentleman.
A chilled glass of prosecco goes nicely with the Queen’s Speech and some canapés before serving the main course I’ve found, now that we are not inserting batteries into noisy toys and hiding the contents of selection boxes lest some child spoils their appetite.
It’s all very civilised.
A few years ago I made Nigella Lawson’s chocolate Christmas cake. It had prunes in it. It was vile.
This is now the third year I have used Paul Hollywood’s White Christmas cake recipe. Mr G is very partial to Christmas cake and we may well cut into it in the next few days. He hates marzipan. I love it. I compromise with a very thin layer under the delicious pure white icing. However much he insists though I will not leave out the cherries in the cake batter. No way. I am the only one in our house who eats cherries, but part of my Christmas tradition is eating the cherries all the others leave on the side of their plates! Yum.
Christmas cards are becoming much less of a thing. Just as well as I have lost my Christmas card address book faithfully kept up to date since about 2002. Never Mind. There is alway the Internet for keeping in touch quickly and less expensively than posting a card. But I do miss cards for adding further festive decor to our home.
This year though I’m thinking- it’s less about giving presents, more about being present.
Less about wrapping the gifts, more wrapping those we love in a hug.
Less about shopping for food, more about donating food to those whose cupboards are bare.
Less about seeing the Christmas lights, more about being the Light.
In these dark times, when daily there is news of terrible evil across the globe, let’s choose to be present, to show love, to reach out, to be the Light.

I’ve just realised you can spot me in this photo of our hall decorations!

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Seeing Red. Or is it Purple? Or Blue?

Tonight my seasonal preparations continue and a large pot of red cabbage is braising in the oven. It’s a Delia Smith recipe I’ve used for years, freezes well, we will probably still be serving it with baked salmon in Spring time!
The strange thing about so called “red” cabbage is that my hands and chopping board are now stained dark purple, and the food processor in the sink is sitting in deep blue coloured water.
What is going on?
Red cabbage is one of many fruits and vegetables that contain a class of reddish purple pigments called anthocyanins, which is responsible for its colour. Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid pigment that are responsible for the red, purple and blue colours in most plants, leaves, flowers and fruits. These pigments have a tendency to change colour when mixed with alkaline or acidic ingredients.
In fact, Red cabbage contains at least thirty-six of the over 300 different anthocyanins that exist. These pigment molecules are stored in the cells of the red cabbage leaf. When exposed to heat during cooking, the cells containing anthocyanins burst open and cause the water-soluble colour pigments to bleed into the surrounding liquid. This is why there is immediate colour change in the cabbage and the cooking water, or washing up water.
The colour change can be avoided by adding vinegar which is acidic. I have used wine vinegar in my recipe.
Who knew so much chemistry was involved!
I wish I could send you some of the aroma of spices, vinegar, sugar, Apple and cabbage that are floating round my kitchen just now.

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An Evening with Paul Hollywood

Last night my dear friend CC and I spent two hours with Paul Hollywood – you know-the one with the piercing blue eyes and silver grey beard from Great British Bake Off that isn’t Mary Berry.
It was £32 per ticket. If Mr H had got his way with us we would have spent a shed load more on his recipe book, aprons, tea towels, calendars, t shirts, fridge magnets…
Fortunately I only had my bus money home, and CC kindly bought and shared a minute bottle of white wine which we had to drink in the foyer before the show even started.
Others were not so restrained. At the interval and the end of the show there was a bit of a scrum and a scramble round the merchandise table.
It was a cooking show. However to take home the recipes you had to buy the programme. Oh wait. We spent all CCs cash on a thimble full of wine. So no recipes then. Oops.
Sure we could always buy his new book. Did he mention he had a new book out? Yes. About every sixty seconds.

On the way to the theatre CC casually mentioned that Paul brings people up from the audience to assist him with the baking. Well, dear reader, my blood ran cold. On a previous night out with CC I ended up on stage as a magician’s assistant for the fabulous David Meade. (There are photos to prove it.) So the thought of donning a PH apron and massaging his dough made me feel quite faint. We were sitting in the balcony so I thought we were probably a safe enough distance not to be chosen.
With a nod to Christmas PH demonstrated four recipes. Chocolate roulade, baked brie, mince pies and Stilton, walnut and pear bread.
They looked easy to prepare, and smelt delicious even from where we were sitting. I’m not giving you the recipes. You’ll have to buy the book.
The audience, mostly ladies, were salivating. We were encourage to tweet and instagram (ask your grandchildren) live directly to PH himself on stage. He read out the ones he was able to. It was a family show after all.
At one point Paul accidentally dusted his immaculate black shirt with flour. “Get your shirt off” come a shout from somewhere behind us. I rolled my eyes. This was a baking show, not the Chippendales. But PH gives as good as it gets when it comes to banter from the adoring ladies in the audience. He strode about the stage wagging his rolling pin and those blue eyes looking menacing. The heat wasn’t just from the ovens.
Audience members also had an opportunity to ask baking related questions directly. The giggling ladies brought on stage managed their tasks well. And got to keep their PH aprons as a reward. The winner of the bread dough shaping competition even got a signed copy of…well, you guessed it, his latest book.
Paul spent most of the night telling us anecdotes about his side kick, the fabulous Mary Berry- or Maz Bez- as he calls her. And he encouraged more entries from our fair land for the next series of Great British Bake Off. Provided we didn’t throw our baking in the bin, referring to our local bake off contestant Ian who “lost the bap” as we say in these parts, and chucked his melted Baked Alaska into the trash.
When the bread was baked, Paul cut it into chunks and threw it into the crowd. There was an undignified scramble for a taste in the front five rows.
Us ladies sitting upstairs even got to sample the baked brie. This for me was the highlight of the evening. Made by PH himself. Even eating it with our bare hands off a paper plate it was delicious. Brie cheese, with Parma ham and cranberry sauce wrapped in pastry and baked for 20 minutes. Yum. It would have gone very well with the toothful of crisp white wine we had imbibed in the foyer before the show.
It was all great fun. Not perhaps the amazing baking demonstration I had been anticipating, but an interesting study of how Mrs Joe Public behaves when face to face with a TV baker oozing with charm just like his baked brie.
CC and I are booked for an evening with Michael McIntyre in Nov 2015. I wonder if he will have a book out too?

Mr Paul Hollywood. To misquote Meghan Trainor for me “it’s all about the bake”.

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Hurricane Gonzalo brings an End to Autumn Glory

It has been a most glorious autumn. Dry, bright, sunny, warm, long golden days. The trees have really been showing off.

We’ve had beautiful walks kicking through piles of pretty leaves

And making long shadows in the early mornings. Long legs, small dog!

All my spring bulbs are planted and our new garden has had a few extra weeks to get established before winter sets in for real.
Harvest was celebrated. This year I followed a rainbow theme on the Communion Table running the spectrum of red to purple in fruit, vegetables and flowers. It was only during the worship service I realised I had forgotten to cut open the water melon for the reddest of reds! Oops.


All the golden glorious-ness however came to a very abrupt halt with the stormy arrival of the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo which created such havoc in Bermuda. The heavy rain and wind cleared our avenue of trees of their leaves in a couple of hours.
Now the clocks have turned back. British Summer Time is over.
The hens rise after 7am in the murky dawn and tootle off to bed around 5.30pm.
Days are getting shorter. It’s less than 9 weeks to Christmas!


Mrs Gillybirds Celebrates



I have never liked having a birthday at Christmas. It is a busy, busy time of the year and though my parents were very good at arranging parties with friends when I was a child, as an adult I have always felt life is too full of Christmas to get a chance to properly celebrate me. Oh dear, I do sound like quite a madam!
Last year I had the bright and inspired idea to have a proper birthday party, the reason being my birthday fell on 20.12.2012 ( although for our USA readers, this would have been 12.20.2012) my theme was pink and black, and we went to town decorating the house and preparing food. I even bought a lovely pick dres, wore my amazing sparkly silver shoes, and a pink cowboy hat! The Gillyboys and Mr Gillybird entered into the spirit and went girly pink for the night. (No photos permitted) Guests arrived at 20.12 on the dot and the festivities began. It was a great night (despite people thinking I was turning 50, which I am still a little way off)
So how was I going to celebrate this year – a whisker closer to fifty…
Anyway, this year Mr G got special brownie points by whisking me away first class on the train to Dublin for the night! I have never had first class anywhere and it was amazing. The whole experience was absolutely wonderful and I have returned home with batteries recharged and ready for Everything That Christmas Can Throw At Me. That’s a feeling that can only come from having a Christmas Tree in your hotel room (wow) and enjoying some “me time” with the one I love.



Just a little sparkly birthday selfie 🙂

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A Mary Berry Christmas


So inspired by Mary Berry (perfect Christmas name) and Paul Holywood’s Christmas bake Off special that we jumped up from the settee, threw on our aprons and got to work designing, baking and decorating our very own gingerbread hen house.
Now, our creation won’t be winning any prizes, either for beauty, finesse, or architectural design but we had a lot of fun.


And a wee sneaky nibble confirms that it tastes good too.


Festive Treats

Way back at the beginning of November our Christmas cake was made and carefully wrapped and hidden away. This week it reappeared and I had some fun decorating it with the traditional family pets -two dogs and three hens, doesn’t everyone? All my mummy skills of playing with playdoh over the years have paid off don’t you think?
Even Gillyboy number four who is very partial to a bit of fondant icing can’t bring himself to eat them.–Bake-Christmas-cake.html
The cake, our second year using Paul Hollywood’s recipe, is fabulous! As well as unusual dried fruits such as pineapple and prunes, I add crystallised ginger and dried mango. Most recipes recommend that you feed the cake with brandy over the weeks between baking and eating, but I find this is so moist it doesn’t require any further assistance in its fruity deliciousness.
I know fruit cake isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but here at Gillybirds Manor we love it!
It has been lovely to cut and share with family members after various carol services.
And today I get the fun of decorating my very own birthday cake for tomorrow.

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Merry Christmas



Merry Christmas from all the furred and feathered friends of Mrs Gillybirds!

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Little Green Balls of Death



Every Christmas the Gillyboys take sadistic pleasure in watching me eat my annual Brussel Sprout. I hate, loathe and detest them. Yet year after year they appear all green and vile on my plate. Hurrah that hens consider sprouts as a treat! I suspect the Gillybirds will be feasting on plenty of the wee green beasties.
Here’s a few tips for those of you who enjoy the sprout:
Contrary to popular opinion, Brussels sprouts do not benefit from having a cross cut into the bottom of them. Instead of helping them to cook evenly, the cross can make the sprouts waterlogged. Instead, cut sprouts in half, or just pop them into the pan as they are.
Try Brussels sprouts shredded, either eaten raw in a salad or stir fried with bacon and plenty of butter or a few spoonfuls of crème fraîche. Throw in some chestnuts for a particularly seasonal treat.
Or blanch whole sprouts briefly in boiling water, douse in cream and bake in the oven for a luxurious gratin.
Leftovers make delicious bubble and squeak. Mix the Brussels sprouts with mashed potato, shape into little patties and fry until golden-brown.
Top with a poached egg for a simple brunch. Yes, another way of using up eggs!


Some better ways to use up Brussel Sprouts.

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A Live Nativity



A couple of months ago I was a very proud momma as the Gillybirds were invited to star in our church “live Nativity” which took place last Thursday. The thought of my feathered ladies worshipping in the stable with a real donkey, sheep, dwarf goats and a cow was initially very exciting but then common sense took over. Since arriving here in a cardboard box back in May, the Gillybirds have lived a quiet pastoral outdoor existence. I have learnt that hens are easily stressed by rain, heat, cold, a change of diet etc etc. Apart from me, they have had very little contact with people. Sensibly I decided that they would be best declining the invitation and tucked them up in bed before heading out to join the torch lit procession, followed by a barbecue (hope the attending animals weren’t too offended) with live music from some of the Gillyboys and their mates, and a fabulous community carol service. We even had a real life Mary and baby Jesus! Have no fear dear reader, the Christmas story was not acted out with a live birth, the baby is actually several months old and sucked contentedly at his bottle throughout.
The animals were a huge hit and I knew I made the right choice to leave the hens at home with all the petting and pawing of livestock going on. Our Christmas gathering even made it onto the local news, a pleasant change after all the negative press our little city has been getting in recent weeks.
And I have put a donkey on my Christmas list.






The Reason for the Season.