Sunday, 29 September 2013

Christmas Craftalong #1 ~ Maple Pecan Granola

Granola is always on the menu for me at Christmas. It's one of those sneaky ought-to-be-healthy-but-really-isn't type of foods that I just love to indulge in. Although it can be eaten as is, just poured in a bowl and covered with creamy milk, I usually like to sprinkle mine over fruit and yoghurt. Or over ice-cream. Or poached pears and cream. Or baked banana. Or . . . well . . . you get the idea.

The recipe is super simple, and you will probably have a lot of the ingredients to hand. This will make approx. 600g, or just over a litre.

2 cups rolled oats
1 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup flaked almonds
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C / Gas 4

Mix together the oats, coconut, almonds, pecans and cinnamon in a large bowl. Whisk together the oil and syrup in a separate bowl until combined then pour over the dry mixture and stir well until thoroughly combined. Lightly grease a large sheet pan (12" x 14" ish) and pour the mixture in, spreading evenly. Bake for approx. 25 - 30 mins, stirring every five minutes or so, until it's a nice even golden brown. Stir the cranberries through for the last five minutes of cooking.

Remove the granola from the oven and leave to cool in the pan. Don't try to stir until it's completely cold, that way you should get a lovely clumpy texture. Store in an airtight container.

If you're not keen on Maple Syrup (or live in the UK where it's mad expensive) then honey makes a delicious alternative. You can also swap in any dried fruit you like. Try chopped dried apricots in place of cranberries, they go perfectly with honey and almonds.

Now to turn this from an indulgent treat into a luxurious gift all you need to do is tart up a large jar. You can buy a Kilner or Mason jar if you like, but I used a pretty jar I had around the house. You can decorate it however you like. I cut a circle of festive poinsettia fabric and tied it with a gold cord (this is easier if you secure the fabric with an elastic band first) but a rustic piece of burlap tied with a thick red or gold ribbon makes a lovely contrast. If you don't have any fabric, try some Christmas wrapping paper.

For the label I found a lovely vintage holly frame from a fabulous site called The Graphics Fairy which shares vintage images for crafters to use. A nice fancy font (or write it yourself if your handwriting is better than mine!) and a pretty hole punch and my label was done.

All food gifts are better made as near to Christmas as possible, but this should keep for about a month in an airtight container. If it lasts that long!

Monday, 23 September 2013

The "C" Word

I really hate shops stocking up on Christmas goods before the summer holidays are even over (I saw cards in the shops as early as 12th August this year!) but when you're planning a homemade Christmas you need to get started early or your December is going to be a panicky nightmare.

So far I have managed to finish a present . . .

Start on some festive new shop stock . . .

and try out a new recipe for a Christmas Craftalong ~ a delicious gift you can make yourself to dazzle and delight your friends!

The Christmas Craftalong is a series of tutorials I started last year, some nice and easy suggestions for gifts you can make yourself to add your own handmade touch to Christmas. Unfortunately, due to family bereavement, I was unable to complete the Craftalong last year, but this year I am hoping to post a new craft for you to try every fortnight. There will be a variety of different crafts so don't worry if you are needle-phobic! Just watch this space, as the first tutorial should be along before the week is out!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Arty Chalk and Cheese

This weekend was another culture-fest for this Cheery Chicken ~ a delightful day trip to London. We toured Buckingham Palace, saw two art exhibitions, and even stumbled across sixty of the world's rarest cars as they roared and purred away from the Concours of Elegance at St James's Palace. Vrooom!
But as usual with art exhibitions, it was the artists I didn't expect to see that made the lasting impressions. We had tickets to see the Vermeer exhibition at the National Gallery but as we walked into Trafalgar Square we saw banners outside Canada House advertising Inuit Ullumi ~ an exhibition of contemporary Inuit art. It was free (hoorah!) so we popped in, and I'm very glad we did. There were only a handful of paintings, drawings and sculptures, but there was some amazing work there. Tim Pitsiulak's Ancient Aqviqs and Whale Hunt, and Itee Pootoogook's Cape Dorset at Night were among my favourites.
Ancient Aqviqs - Tim Pitsiulak
Whale Hunt - Tim Pitsiulak
Cape Dorset at night - Itee PootooGook

The works were a pleasantly modern take on folk art, in particular Pitseolak Qimirpik's sculpture Young Man Playing MP3, which could be mistaken for an ancient carving were it not for the MP3 player and smouldering cigarette propped between the smiling figure's fingers (Just Say No, kids!)

Young Man Playing MP3 - Pitseolak Qimirpik

After the refreshing Inuit surprise, we headed on to the National Gallery to see the Vermeer exhibition ~ talk about Chalk and Cheese! Although there were only four of Vermeer's paintings (no Girl with a Pearl Earring, sad face) there were heaps of other Dutch artists, and a collection of 17th century instruments ~ guitars, virginals and lutes. We even got to hear them played, as musicians from the Academy of Ancient Music gave regular performances of 17th century music.

My favourite painting of the exhibition was this one: 

The Concert - Hendrik ter Brugghen
Although the Vermeers were exquisite, it was the composition of ter Brugghen's The Concert that captured my attention. Such an intimate family gathering, cosily lit by a single candle, you can just picture this little family passing the winter evenings in song together.
The exhibition also included a fascinating display of photomicrographs (extreme close-ups to you and I) showing some of the materials and techniques Vermeer used to create his masterpieces, and how time has changed them.
Unfortunately this exhibition is finished now, but you can read about it on the National Gallery website. 

Inuit Ullumi, however, is on until 30th September. It's small but sweet, and I highly recommend you pop in if you're in the neighbourhood.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Fruits of my Labour

I've always been a bit contrary. Not on purpose! I just never seem to fit into the world's way of doing things. So I guess it is perfectly natural for me to 'hibernate' during the summer months, and spring into action in the autumn. Part of this is the massive change in routine that having the kids out of school causes, part of it is the heat ~ who wants to be rushing around when it's sweltery hot?! And I guess part of the kick start is the thought that there are only 111 days until Christmas!

So now the kids are back at school (well, mine doesn't start back until tomorrow) and the weather is on the turn (well, it will be by the weekend) I feel spurred on to create. I have managed to finish my first Christmas gift (I know it sounds early, but you can't leave homemade gifts until the last minute. Unless it's cookies) and now I've launched a new range in my Etsy shop . . .

Fruity Baby Hats!


I may need to make a Satsuma for myself! What flavours would you like to see?

There are more fruity hats on the way, but for now you can buy these (and other awesome things!) in my Etsy shop