Friday, 23 December 2011

For those unhappy at Christmas...

The Christmas season is such a joyful time - families gathering together sharing food, memories and good cheer...

...or is it?

For many it is a time of tension, hurt and pain – those expectations, hopes and dreams lying in tatters.  There are families with members who don’t really get along during the rest of the year who come together determined that it will be different but, fuelled by too much alcohol and food things go totally pear shaped as the cabin fever hits.

The streets are full of people hurrying about their tasks; shopping for presents, the special Christmas outfit, festival food and drink.  This is the image the advertisers want to promote - buy this, buy that and all your dreams will be realised with everyone happy and smiley.

...but there are those who struggle to  drag themselves out of bed,  those who wonder where their next meal will come from, those whose families are far away, whose friends have all left for the holidays. Most cultures and religions have festivals and rituals in the middle of winter for a reason – to bring light and hope to the darkest and bleakest time of the year. For those unable to participate it can be hard to see that as we have just passed the Winter solstice on 21st December, the days will begin to lengthen, as the darkness gradually retreats.

For many, this is a time of despair, loneliness and sadness.  It is important to recognise the danger signs of dark winter days, cold nights, and dashed expectations. There is less opportunity to get out and about into the fresh air, to meet with friends who may be busy with their own families, to take part in the usual activities that keep us healthy and focussed and in touch with people to help and support us.

If you know someone who is suffering, alone or vulnerable, keep an eye on them.  Call them up, invite them over and remember to listen to the thoughts behind the words – I’m fine.

Remind them that you care for them, they are not alone and there is hope.

Here are some resources both for you when you want to help or for you needing it.  Lots of help and advice for coping at this time of year.  Blogs from people who have been there  Someone to talk to when you are feeling low

NHS Direct 08454647 This is a 24 hour helpline

Monday, 19 December 2011

Happy Christmas!!

It’s Christmas week and I am so looking forward to a lovely sociable time and a good break.  I finally finished my stained glass windows and installed them on Friday morning before my last client sessions.  It is such fun to finally see them in place.  When working with stained glass panels you only know what they will look like when they are up and the light can shine through.  It feels like such an unveiling and then I have to keep looking at them at different times of the day because the light changes depending on the time and weather.

Blue window

Pink window

This was my first peek at the windows all finished

Here they are installed.  What you can’t see are all the black fingermarks everywhere from the lead blacking stuff!

Then it was time to do a major mucking out of the house ready for the Open House we hold every year.  We serve mulled wine and mince pies and the alternative of spicey apple juice and satsuma cake / fairy cakes / bread and cheese.

Mince pies :)

I brought a satsuma cake into the Enquiry Unit last week and everyone loved it so much and demanded the recipe en masse, as did those who attended the Open House ... so here you are!  It is one of my favourite cakes for this time of year when satsumas are so plentiful.  My friend Carey wrote it out for me and maintains that it so healthy you can eat it for breakfast without feeling guilty!

Satsuma Cake
For the cake:
5-6 satsumas  (weight about 375gm)
250g ground almonds
225g caster sugar
6 eggs
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

For the topping:
Crème fraiche with lemon or orange zest stirred in
1.     Place satsumas in a saucepan of water with lid on.  Boil then turn heat down to gently simmer for 1.5 - 2 hours until soft and pulpy. Check every so often and top up water as necessary so they don’t boil dry. Don’t heat them or boil them too rapidly or they will burst.  
2.     Drain the water off and leave them to cool.  You can leave them overnight if you haven’t got time to make the cake immediately.
3.     Either mash with a potato masher or blitz them in a food processor - skin, pith and all - until pureed. (There will be some bits of skin left but I find these just add to the flavour.)
4.     Beat the eggs then add them and the other ingredients. Blitz or stir until smooth.
5.     Cook in pre-heated oven at 190oC for about an hour, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean. For a fan oven use temp of 175oC
6.     Leave to cool on a rack.
7.     Apply topping.
It tastes even better the next day! You need to store it in the fridge but it is nicer at room temperature or just cut off a piece and zap in the microwave for 30 seconds.  I made this for my friend Melody’s birthday and decorated it with bright pink crème fraiche and holographic edible glitter.

My other achievement this week is that I have finally mastered making WI standard fairy cakes.  After much internet research I found that the trick is in the mixing in of the eggs after creaming the butter and sugar together.  Although it is so much easier and cheaper, I really hate using margarine in baking as it is so processed and never tastes as lovely as buttery ones.  It has taken me so long to achieve this miracle that i am going to share it with you!

Fairy cakes:
4 oz butter
4oz caster sugar
4 oz self raising flour
2 large eggs
A little milk and a few drops of vanilla

Make sure all the ingredients are at room temperature. 
Heat the oven to 180oC (175oC for fan ovens)
Prepare your cake tins – either lay out the little paper cases on a tray or wipe some butter paper around your fairy cake tins.
Beat the butter and sugar together with a wooden spoon until creamy and soft.
Beat the eggs just until, no more.
Now for the tricky part.  Add the egg to the sugar/butter mix a teaspoon full at a time and beat it in alternating with the flour.  It is crucial not to add the egg too fast or the mix will curdle. That’s the bit that is missing from so many recipes! You should end up with a lovely creamy mixture if you are patient and mix the egg in small enough quantities.  Add a few drops of vanilla and a dash of milk and put a spoonful into the centre of each fairy cake paper or holder.  Don’t bother smoothing it out – it will do that itself in the oven.
Bake in the centre of the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.  Place on an airing tray (or just a spare oven slide) and cover with a tea towel to cool.

When the cakes have cooled – go mad and creative with your icing, decorations and glitter!

So you probably think I am fairly food obsessed!! Well this time of year food and ritual is so important and symbolic of family, relationships and culture. I love watching my children creating their own rituals, incorporating those from their childhood with new ones they develop with their partners.

We have been enjoying the online Advent calendar my Oz big sister Jackey sent me.  Jacquie Lawson does the most amazing London one and each day I click on a new number to open a wonderful little scene accompanied by different Christmas music.  I was quite amused that it was sent to me from 12,000 miles away but it originated in Jacquie’s studio in Lurgashall about 2 miles away from my daughter Kate’s house! If you want some wonderful Christmas cheer, download it!

The calendar is all snowy with all our familiar London sights.  First thing in the morning I have to rush in, stick on my headset and click on the snow globe icon to see today’s scene.  You can’t cheat and look at the next day as the whole thing is connected to the computer clock.

The Enquiry Unit is looking very Christmassy with far too much food and treats to keep us going answering all those last pre-Christmas enquiries.

EU Christmas tree
Sam's Christmas tree

I am working the last Friday before the university is shut down until the New Year and luckily I have the next few days off as I really need to get out and do my Christmas shopping! I also need to have a few days off to keep me away from all the food here in the office! I hope the weather does something more interesting than the dreary drizzling happening just now.  At least last year we had the drama of snow.  The temperature in Melbourne is expected to be 30oC on Christmas Day so I would like it to be lovely and snowy here – but only after my daughter gets to us from West Sussex.

Santa must get very hot by the time he has finished in Oz!  It must be quite a relief to get back to the Northern hemisphere!

Surfing Santas 

So all that there is left to do is to wish you a Very Happy Christmas and see you in the New Year when I will continue to regale you with my epistolary** account of my student life at Greenwich.

**this is my new favourite word as explained to me by Cherie – my fellow blogger.  I had to keep writing this blog until I could figure out how to get it in!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

My Diamond Blog!

People can have diamond anniversaries for 60 years of marriage so I’ve decided that as this is my 60th blog to make it a diamond one!

Yesterday was our second last week in college and the last day of hand-ins before Christmas.  I had a particularly busy week writing two case studies; one for presentation in my Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Option and one for my Integrative Option.  I have also had to obtain reports from both placements and submit them by the 4pm deadline.  Now I can relax and get ready for Christmas.  I still have to send off cards and start shopping. I have put myself under slightly more pressure by deciding that I must complete my stained glass windows and install them ready for Christmas Day.  It has taken me three months to come up with my design and I have been doing samples of fusing glass with fern leaves between.  They have come out so well that I am able to use them in my design.  Last Friday, after a particularly challenging session at my placement, I needed to give my brain a rest from anything to do with counselling.  I got out my window design and started cutting glass pieces. I only meant to do an hour or so but before I knew it midnight had come and gone!  I probably should have put it aside on the weekend to focus on this week’s readings but I had been having so much fun that I carried on until I had finished all the glass cutting by Saturday afternoon.  It is a good thing that I have to wait to go to my class on Thursday to get lead or I would have kept going doing all the leading up!

14th December

My diamond blog has become a two parter.  I have been so busy working on my stained glass that everything else has taken a back seat but I am nearly finished and am looking forward to installing it this weekend.

This pic shows all the glass cut and I have started ‘leading up’  we use a special lead knife with a flat end which is used to hammer in the horse shoe nails to hold it all in place ready for soldering.  The red thing is called a fid and is really handy for opening up the lead channels, and pushing the glass into place.

The leading up is completed all the joints are then soldered on both sides. It is always a bit hairy turning the panel over to solder the second side.  I have visions of all the glass falling out and having to start all over again

I love making a mess and this is one of my favourite stages>  The  soldering is done and black cement pushed into all the gaps between the glass and lead to stabilise and weather proof the panel.  Whiting is then sprinkled all over to set the cement.  It feels really soft and silky to smooth in.

I am now waiting for it to dry ready for the final stage of blacking the lead and polishing the glass. I should be able to install it by the end of the week so my next blog will be pics of the unveiling.  I wonder if the queen would agree to do it for me?

My Kate came up on Sunday to have a mummy -daughter session of Christmas baking.  When she was younger it was impossible to keep her in the house.  She spent every spare moment out with horses; mucking out, cleaning their tack, grooming and riding.  I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with the agro, so cooking lessons pretty much went out the window until just a couple of years ago when she started getting bored with takeaways and realised how expensive ready meals are.

She phoned me two days before with her wish list.  It included crackle cakes, gingerbread, shortbread and, to my horror, fairy cakes and chocolate truffles. 

I have never made perfect fairy cakes, always heavily disguising my rather solid offerings with ‘extreme’ icing, attempting to dazzle people with lairy colours so they ignore the dodgy cake beneath! This session was no exception.  Although not meeting the exacting standards of the WI, once covered in girly pink icing and holographic edible glitter our fairy cakes looked very pretty and Kate was delighted.

Our gingerbread people came out very squidgy because the kitchen got too hot but the chocolate crackle cakes were perfect and sparkled with bronze glitter!  I was very nervous attempting truffles for the first time but thanks to Jamie Oliver’s online recipe they came out perfectly. We had a lovely girly time together while him –at- home escaped to his manly, glitter- free office and submerged himself in techy stuff.  We were ably assisted by Kate’s Murphy who arrived in his country style Sherlock Holmes tweed jacket, and kept the floor sparkling clean by licking up any of our dropped crumbs.  Murphy has acquired quite a reputation for his ability to sniff out food and devour it in record time.  Memorable occasions included Christmas two years ago when he scoffed the remains of our three bird roast and a camping trip where he stole a one pound block of cheese and  all our ham sandwiches while we were pitching the tent. We managed to keep everything safe this time and rewarded him with his second favourite meal – sardine porridge.  His no 1 favourite is dried pigs ears – yum!