*Post in collaboration with Pines and Needles

On the 1st day of Advent my true love sent to me… in a rather confusing mix of Christmas carols, I am delighted that December is here. Our first Cornish country Christmas in on the way – something I have been dreaming about for a long time.

Those that follow me on Instagram, specifically IG stories will have seen that I have been trying to get super organised this year – for a couple of reasons. (1) less stress so I can enjoy having a house full for 10 straight days once our guests arrive, and (2), spreading the cost over several pay checks!

Last year we decided to get our tree at the beginning of December so we could enjoy it for as long as possible. You can read my tips for looking after your real tree and reasons a real tree is actually a sustainable option, on that post if you like.

So here’s a question for you. What do Meghan Markle and I have in common (aside from roughly our age)? Yes, you guessed it – we have the same excellent taste in Christmas trees. We were super pleased with the tree that we got last year, so we were very happy to work again with Pines and Needles this year.

After years of dragging home a tree from a corner shop, or latterly the Pines and Needles stand at a pub in Highgate, we felt rather spoilt having the tree delivered last year. A friend asked us whether we minded not being able to choose it, and, horses for courses, felt what we lacked in choice we made up ten fold by not having to drag it home. Of course, now we have a car, things are simpler, but it is still a treat to not have to go out. Also, I am doing what I can to reduce choice – so working with what was delivered was somehow quite nice.

Pip of course thought it wonderful that a tree appeared inside overnight. We kept it in the garage on the day of delivery where it was nice and cold, then after the kids were in bed opened it up, gave it a good shake and then popped it in the stand with a good drink of water overnight. By the morning, the branches had unfurled and the room smelt amazing. Pip actually gave the tree a hug she was so delighted, and declared the tree to be called ‘shine’.

In preparation for the tree’s arrival, on Stir Up Sunday, along with cake and pudding, we also dehydrated a bag of oranges that we cut into slices, so we could then string these onto butchers twine and use as decorations. Really easy to do, and I think makes a lovely effect:

  • Put oven onto about 80C.
  • Slice oranges to about 5mm
  • Lay directly on oven rack (place a tray on next rack down to catch any)
  • Pop into oven and leave for a good few hours
  • Turn occasionally
  • Don’t forget about them, as they do go burnt eventually!

Somehow the mix of decorations we have has evolved into a mix of vintage, a series of Scandi Tomte/Nisse that I have brought back from visiting Nordic friends, and quite natural looking gold/burnished metal baubles, with a few more sentimental ones in there too. I have started a collection for each of the children, they get a new one each year of their choice, so when they leave home, they will have 18 (or maybe 30) each as a start for their own trees.

Pip and I decorated the tree the next evening – listening to Christmas music and only marginally falling out over the placement of a robin. The fairy that she made at nursery went on the top – we saved some of her homemade decorations for a smaller tree for the landing that I am going to let her decorate and I saved my most precious glass vintage baubles for our counter top vintage tree I inherited from my grandparents – which I put up just for the actual Christmas period on the dresser. Buster was very interested in the main tree the next day when he woke up to find it decorated, and spent ages lifting off the smaller birds from the bottom, declaring “bird”, very pleased with his efforts…

If we don’t forget to water every day, it should last up to Christmas! My next job is to re-arrange some of the decorations where Pip enthusiastically hung them within her reach, and to figure out a solution to make the base look a little less bare.

What’s everyone else doing this year? Tree? No tree? Inverted one? Minimilist scandi on the wall affair? Do tell!

Thanks to Pines and Needles for sending us a 6ft Nordmann Fir.

1 November. In Cornwall, tradition says that not only it that this is the first day of winter, but some say it is the start of the new Celtic year. Marking half way between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice, today felt lighter and brighter than any in the past few weeks. The harvest has ended. Winter is coming.

Since moving here in bright stark August, which truth be told is my least favourite month of the year, we’ve been adjusting, settling into our new routine. Whilst August made the most sense to move as Pip was between school years, it always felt like we’d arrived just as something was finishing, not starting. Cornwall is so very seasonal, so it is no surprise to me that I have been drawn to and inspired by the changing light and rhythms outside our very door. We don’t have a religion, but I am called by parts of the pagan calendar, which seems to make so much more sense to me.

Autumn has often seen some of my darkest days and my lowest points and this year has been no exception. But what has surprised me is the effect of the days. Yesterday, 31 October, halloween, sanhaim, allentide, call it what you will, felt like a door was closing. I found myself sitting on the cliff near my office sobbing uncontrollably. In amongst the swirling voices inside my head a whisper came: one step at a time. Keep moving. So I did… marching along the cliff path, drawing in deep breaths of clear clean salty cold air, and lifting my heart to the sun.

Racing home last night after work, I made it in time to carve the pumpkins and for Pip to go out trick or treating in the village with her Dad. Buster in bed, I had half an hour to myself. I lit candles and stood in the darkness, taking stock and thinking. The house, warmed only by our fire, and lit only by candles, felt still, cool and peaceful. Clear. Inspiring.

This morning, even Buster slept in past 5.30am, as if even he had slept better. As I drove to work over the moor, the light was incredible. I have no idea whether 1 November really is a new year but I like the idea that it is, or could be. In my heart, anyway.

I know this post is a little late for half term, but we loved this fun activity last week whilst we had visiting kids, so I thought I’d share – particularly because whilst we used halloween cutters, this is an activity we do year round using different themed cutters and icing and can therefore be inspiration for a little activity at lots of different times, not just halloween.

Note: I made up the biscuit dough one evening and popped it in the fridge, so it was ready to roll out and use the next morning. I kind of wish I’d had the foresight to bake up one batch the night before too, so the gap between the biscuits going into the oven and the kids having something to decorate had been shorter, but it worked out ok. This kept a 5 year old and a 2 year old occupied for a couple of hours – Pip needed minimal input but the 2 year old needed a little bit more help. She did make the most amazing “Batson Pollack” mind you!

You will need a few things which I’d love to say I have in my store cupboard but I did need to remember to order some of the things specially, particularly the eyes and the black icing. I use an adapted Nigella’s Christmas recipe for the dough because it tastes great – not always a given with kids recipes – and rolls out nicely, is very forgiving and cooks and cools quickly.

This would also make a really fun party activity – we have done cupcake decorating which works nicely too – making up icing into tiny individual pots, which is both enthralling to little people, and also stops the inability to share from getting out of hand!

Things to buy in advance

This does need a little a forethought – I ordered from Waitrose with our food shop, but some bits I had to get from Amazon, so have included the (some are affiliate) links here for ease:

 

Make the biscuit dough

Makes about 40, depending on size (half the recipe if you only have one child decorating, I like to make more dough rather than less as it is inexpensive and some invariably gets lost, made into balls, or otherwise ends up not being used.

Ingredients
180g soft butter
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs
s teaspoons vanilla extract
200g plain flour, plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine salt

Method:
Preheat the oven to 180oC/gas mark 4 and line a baking sheet or two with baking parchment.

Cream the butter and sugar together until whipped soft and pale, then beat in the egg, followed by the vanilla.

Mix in flour, baking powder and salt and continue mixing until it all comes together to make a soft dough.

Form into 2 discs, wrap each one in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.

Sprinkle a suitable surface with flour, place a disc of dough on it and sprinkle a little more flour on top. Then roll out to a thickness of about 5mm.

Cut out shapes using cutters, or freeform shapes using a knife.

Bake biscuits n the oven for around 15 minutes: this depends on their shape, how many sheets are in the oven at the same time, and whether on the upper or lower shelf, though you can swap them around after 5 minutes. When they’re ready, expect them to be tinged a pronounced pale gold around the edges; they’ll be softish still in the middle, but will harden on cooling.

Take the sheets out of the oven, remove the cookies, with a flat, preferably flexible, spatula to a wire rack and leave to cool.

Prepare the icing

I made up one small bowl of white icing and another which I coloured orange. Do this by sieving icing sugar into a small bowl and adding a few drops of boiling water. Don’t skip the sieving otherwise you will have lumps which don’t disappear – the extra time taken is worth it on this occasion… You are looking for a smooth glossy paste – you will probably need to add more icing sugar. It will turn from slightly translucent to white when it has enough icing sugar in. Repeat in another bowl, or split into two bowls, and add drops of food colouring/icing dye until you have a shade you are happy with. My orange looked a little peach but the kids were very happy.

We all had a go at the decorating – it was very satisfying. We used palette knives to smooth on the icing, adding the eyes, and then let set before adding other colours using the icing pens, others we outlined in colours and filled in. Basically anything goes! At Christmas we use edible glitter, other times we use sprinkles, or sweets to make more elaborate patterns. I also like to experiment making patterns using a cocktail stick to make a marbled effect.

We then ate some, of course, before putting them into glass jars. I find this helpful for a number of reasons – air tight but you can also see them so are reminded to eat them up rather than lying in a tin forgotten (I can’t be the only one who has opened a tin to find old sad biscuits left from last time) and make lovely presents.

Recipe adapted from Nigella’s Christmas Gold Dust Cookies