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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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See for Yourself

A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.

Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.

man’s thoughts
woman’s thoughts
older woman’s thoughts

It’s good to come here to have space to think. To talk things over. Peaceful. Those trees are really turning now. Such beautiful colours, reds, yellows, deep orange….I wonder if…..She’s very quiet. Should I just tell her what I think?

I’m glad we were able to escape that over heated hospital room…that September breeze feels so cool on my face, and the crisp, dry leaves under my feet….I’m so confused. Talk about information overload! So much to think about. What am I going to do? We both need to make this decision. It’s not just about me anymore. I want to know what he’s thinking…

I thought with only three months to Christmas I’d better start knitting for Tom. He’ll be six now. So far away. It will be spring time there. Hard to believe when the nights are getting so short now and those leaves are falling making such a mess everywhere. I know it’s ridiculous knitting a Christmas jumper when the family celebrate Christmas on the beach, but I always made one for his dad, and while there is strength in my hands I will do the same for him, the wee love. I wonder how big he’s grown?Imagine having a grandson you’ve never seen. All these years. Not a day passes when I don’t think of him. I want to know does he ever think of me.

The doctor is offering the opportunity of a lifetime. I know it’s experimental but if it were me I would jump at the chance! I know we haven’t been together very long but I want to tell her how I feel. But I’m afraid my honesty would spoil what we’ve shared these last few months. Good times! Look at her….Such a beautiful face. And those eyes. Those beautiful eyes…Hasn’t she suffered enough?

I’m afraid. Afraid what surgery would mean. Afraid and yet astounded at the thought that life could change so dramatically . I’ve often lain in the darkness wondering just what it would be like. How will I adapt? And if the surgery is a failure, how will I get over that too? How will he cope? Is it too much too soon?I wish I could read his face

I hope Tom likes this red yarn. It was a favourite colour of his dad’s – like his favourite football team. Perhaps I should write, or phone, make the first move. But I’m afraid to fly. At my age! On my own. Afraid of the journey. Afraid of a closed door. Afraid of being rejected. By my own son! Again. But to see the look on wee Tom’s face if he opened the door and I handed him the jumper in person!

I just want her to see me

I just want to see him

I just want to see


Today’s blog posting is a short piece of fictional writing based on the theme suggested in the Daily Post Writing 101 course.

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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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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.





Like most of you, it’s been a very busy December so my apologies for blog silence while I’ve been shopping, wrapping, decorating, cooking etc etc.
But its been business as usual for the Gillybirds, laying two or three eggs daily. After slipping in the early morning darkness at the weekend and giving myself a cracking bruise on my leg I have been delaying opening the coop until there is a little daylight, usually around 8am, and they are all tucked up in bed by 4.30. Apart from the usual recipes to use up surplus eggs, I have been checking out some more traditional Festive recipes.
And what better recipe to start with than Eggnog!
Eggnog, or egg nog, is a sweetened dairy-based drink traditionally made with milk and/or cream, sugar, and whipped eggs (which gives it a frothy texture). Brandy, rum, whisky, bourbon, vodka, or a combination of liquors are often added. The finished serving is often garnished with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon or nutmeg. I can’t think of anything I’d like less 😦
Eggnog is popular in the United States and Canada, and is usually associated with winter celebrations such as Christmas. Eggnog may be added as a flavouring to food or drinks such as coffee and tea. Eggnog as a custard can also be used as an ice cream base.
Eggnog may have originated in East Anglia, England; or it may have simply developed from posset, a medieval European beverage made with hot milk. The “nog” part of its name may stem from the word noggin, a Middle English term for a small, carved wooden mug used to serve alcohol. However, the British drink was also called an Egg Flip (from the practice of “flipping” (rapidly pouring) the mixture between two pitchers to mix it).
Another story is that the term derived from egg and grog, a common Colonial term used for the drink made with rum. Eventually, that term was shortened to egg’n’grog, then eggnog.
Well, wherever it comes from, I certainly have never been offered it, and don’t intend introducing it into the Gillybirds Christmas fare.
For those of you who fancy a go there are plenty of recipes online.
Nigella’s Nog
BBC standard

For those of you up to your eyes in tinsel and turkey, here’s one I prepared earlier 🙂
6 sleeps to go!


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Trimming the Tree Two

So I’ve made a few hen themed Christmas cards based on the Gisela Graham tree decoration.
You’d think I’d nothing better to do…
The Gillybirds are managing well in the sub zeros this week so far. Baked potato and porridge for hot breakfast this morning went down a treat. I hope the insulation in their house is keeping them warm enough during these long nights.



PS I hope you are liking the festive themed blog page complete with genuine authentic virtual snow.
Enjoy the season!

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Trimming the tree


The Gillyboys were pestering me all weekend once they started opening the Advent calendar to get the Christmas Tree up and decorate the house. So I held them off until 3rd December. So now it’s all done and we look all festive. I’m sure most families are like us with special tree decorations that have special memories, who made them, or gave them. In fact my mother has a toilet roll Santa made by my brother who is almost 40 and a father himself now.
I wouldn’t be Mrs Gillybirds if i didn’t include the Gillybirds in our Festive time. I have been searching in vain for some hen themed Christmas decorations, after all, don’t we sing every year about the gift of 3 French Hens? So here are a few sweet, OTT, retro and rustic chicken baubles. I will leave you to pick your own favourite.







In the meantime I have my hands full keeping the puppy from swinging from the tree branches and crunching the fairy lights. Our lovely knitted Santa has been moved from his traditional spot by the fire as I fear he may become a victim of Lucas’s stuffed toy collection.
20 sleeps to Christmas!

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