Tag Archives: Christmas

Flowers everywhere!

It’s officially autumn, which means my brain is already thinking about Christmas! No, I’m not one of those super-humans who has all their shopping and wrapping done by Halloween – I make Christmas wreaths and sell them locally.

So the arrival of autumn is my queue to start squirrelling up pinecones, rose hips and honesty seedheads; to book stalls and markets and start ordering wire, metal frames and dried oranges and cinnamon sticks.

This year I’ve decided to run workshops so that locals can come and learn to make their own bespoke design.

My autumnal centrepiece, made at Judith Blacklock Flower School
My autumnal centrepiece, made at Judith Blacklock Flower School

And it’s got me so excited that I’ve started swotting up my skills across the floristry board. Yesterday I began a Floristry for Business course at the Judith Blacklock Flower School in Knightsbridge, and it is heaven.

A buttonhole comprising Rosa vendella, Sedum spectabile and Hedera
A buttonhole comprising Rosa vendella, Sedum spectabile and Hedera

I’m surrounded by bucket-loads of flowers every day and get to while away the hours working on my wiring and arranging skills; creating wedding corsages, buttonholes and garlands; styling an autumnal table centrepiece and designing a contemporary linear arrangement for a banqueting table. And that’s just in the first two days.

A corsage of Rosa snowflake, gypsophila and Eucalyptus
A corsage of Rosa snowflake, gypsophila and Eucalyptus

I can’t wait to see what I make next…

A linear display for a banquet - not quite finished at this point!
A linear display for a banquet – not quite finished at this point!

A festive feast – with a twist

Seasonal food is one of the most hotly anticipated aspects of Christmas, whether it’s the spicy scent of warm mulled wine, the turkey-and-trimmings meals, or the show-stopping desserts. But retailers and restaurants are getting more creative than ever with their festive concoctions – any one for mince pie ice cream?

Cafe Royal's Minceroonie
Cafe Royal’s Minceroonie

The mincearoonie
A pillow-y macaroon, all light and airy with a crisp crunch and a chewy almond-y interior, meets a mince pie filling – a spicy, raisin-packed jam centre. The brainchild of Andrew Blas, executive pastry chef at London’s Café Royal, the genius of this dessert is that the macaroon isn’t too sweet, so that you really taste the Christmas flavours. Buy them on their own, to take away, or as part of a sit-down afternoon tea while you’re out Christmas shopping. www.hotelcaferoyal.com 

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Brussels sprout juice
I tested this, so that you don’t have to – unless of course you really like Brussels sprouts. Marks and Spencer’s seasonal apple, pear and Brussel sprout juice, which promises to deliver two of your five-a-day. Even though the drink contains just eight per cent sprout, there is a definite whiff about it. I’m sure it’s a new kind of superfood and a clever way to get us to eat (or drink) our greens, but it’s certainly an acquired taste. www.marksandspencer.com

mincepieicecreamFestive ice cream
Christmas in a scoop. Sainsbury’s has created Taste the Difference farmhouse ice cream, made with free-range eggs and Devon cream, in two fruity flavours: the mince pie ice cream comes complete with mincemeat and pastry pieces, while the caramelised orange ice cream is studded with chunks of cranberry compote (£3.25 for 500ml, www.sainsburys.co.uk). Not to be outdone, Waitrose has a Christmas pudding ice cream, created by Heston Blumenthal (£4.49 for 500ml, www.waitrose.com).

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Buck’s Fizz marmalade
For retailers, Christmas means glitter, and increasingly that even includes novelty drinks containing flecks of gold. So it wasn’t surprising that before long food would follow. At least you can expect a quality product from Fortnum & Mason – so why not wow your family at the Christmas breakfast table with this Buck’s Fizz marmalade (£7.95, www.fortnumandmason.com) containing edible glitter. If Fortnum’s hadn’t already created it, someone on the Great British Bake-Off would surely try.

Want more glitter? Buy the new Fortnum and Mason Glitter Shortbread (£9.75) or M&S’s Gold G&Tea (£11.99, www.marksandspencer.com) – a pre-mixed gin cocktail infused with tea, elderflower, lemongrass, and flecks of gold.

The Christmas burger
A restaurant-take on the obligatory festive sandwich that every lunchtime outlet comes up with at advent, the Christmas dinner burger, is essentially a turkey roast and the veggie option (camembert cheese with cranberry relish) in one brioche bun. You also get a sprout instead of a gherkin, smoked bacon and a lettuce leaf, just in case it was too easy to get your mouth around before. It’s served with a side of roast goose-fat potatoes – of course it is. £13.50 from K West Hotel & Spa, available throughout December.

Christmas pie
Recreating a sweet-meets-savoury festive pie – the original mincemeat pie concept that dates back to the 13th century – Brompton Food Market’s Spiced Mutton and London Porter pie contains rare-breed mutton, spices from Spice Mountain at Borough Market and ‘Brew by Numbers’ Porter – brewed in London with Columbus and Bramling hops. It’s as intriguing as it is intoxicating, and a hearty alternative to turkey. www.bromptonfoodmarket.com

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Mince pie praline chocolates
They may look like mince pies, but these beauties are instead filled with praline chocolate – a great idea for guests who don’t like the traditional pasty treat. £6 for 6, www.johnlewis.com

Christmas Dog

The Christmas Dog
As a general rules, dogs are not just for Christmas – unless we’re talking hot-dogs, in which case it’s a brilliant idea. At Shake Shack, try the Shack Dog ‘n’ Blanket – a Sillfield Farm Cumberland sausage wrapped in bacon and topped with pumpkin maple mustard (£6, www.shakeshack.com).

American diner Dirty Bones also has a signature Christmas Dog, featuring a turkey & stuffing sausage, which is cooked in red wine gravy and comes served with cranberry puree in place of ketchup (£23 as part of the Christmas menu, www.dirty-bones.com)

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Cookie and Caramel wreath
Half Florentine (which is already a sticky, caramelised festive nutty treat), half milk chocolate wreath, this pretty, sweet treat is also decorated with cocoa and shortbread biscuits and make a delicious stocking filler. £7 for 100g, www.HotelChocolat.com

Mulled wine cheesecake
Who doesn’t love mulled wine? It really is Christmas in a glass. Well now you can have Christmas on a plate, with Asda’s Chosen by You Mulled Wine Cheesecake, which is spiced with cinnamon, candied orange and Christmas spices. £7, www.asda.com

croquembouche

Croquembouche kit
If you want to blow everyone else out of the water as the Christmas host-with-the-most this year, then hotfoot it to Tesco to pick up this Finest Croquembouche patisserie kit. Yes, some DIY is required to create the 60-strong towering cone of profiteroles, that you then drizzle with chocolate sauce and edible sparkling stars. It’ll definitely be a foodie instagram-moment, when you carry this to the table – just don’t drop it. £15, www.tesco.com (in store from 18 December)

Christmas afternoon tea
The festive Champagne afternoon tea at TwoRuba has all the usual suspects, plus mince pies, Bucks Fizz truffles, Christmas cake and stolen – if that doesn’t get you into the festive spirit, what will? £19 per person, www.tworuba.com

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A Pine time
The tree is one of the key scents of Christmas – but are you brave enough to drink it? The Mistletoe and Pine cocktail at the Paramount Bar (£12, www.paramount.uk.net) contains pine-infused Bombay Sapphire gin, shaken with a splash of Pimento dram, freshly squeezed lemon juice, cinnamon sugar and an egg white.

Or head to Marks and Spencer where they are selling Adnams Southwold Spruce IPA, a fragrant blend of hops and Norway Spruce (£24 for a case of 12, www.marksandspencer.com).

ALISON TYLER

This article appeared in Metro on 23 December. See the print version HERE.

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Handmade wreaths

 

 

 

It’s no secret that I’d love to be a gardener, a florist, or better yet, a flower farmer, but it’s easier said than done in when you live in south east London.

 

 

 

 

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But this year I have finally started making my annual Christmas wreaths as a commercial venture, after five years of making them for friends and family.

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They are all unique and use local and traditional festive foliage, from ivy and holly to bay and eucalyptus, with pine cones, cinnamon, oranges, thistles and berries, designed to suit an array of different door styles.

 

 

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I can also make bespoke designs to suits your style and door – call or email me for more info! And I can deliver to The local Blackheath, Hither Green, Greenwich, Lewisham areas.

 

 

 

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5 fab christmas decorating ideas

Get creative and make your own decorations for a hand-crafted and home-spun Christmas

1. Cookie cutter lights

If you can't make your own, you can buy these lovely lights from Cox and Cox
If you can’t make your own, you can buy these lovely lights from Cox and Cox

Pick up some cookie cutter shapes – stars, snowflakes, christmas trees, bells, reindeer, or even hearts and circles – Sainsbury’s and M&S sell copper versions like the ones pictured. Then, drill a hole into each one, push the light of your fairy lights through the hole and secure them in place with some clear glue. It’s that easy!

But if you’d rather buy some, those clever folks at Cox & Cox have created their own.

2. Make a twig decoration tree

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Head to the park, or your garden, and forage some long branches with lots of twiggy stems.

If you want them to look extra festive you can spray paint them in white, gold or silver paint, or dip them in clear glue and sprinkle them with glitter.

Then insert them into a bucket that you’ve already filled with sand or soil so that they will stand upright.

Next, hang some festive decorations – you can even make your own, paper chains, paper doily snow flakes, and hanging christmas biscuits, or dried orange slices, all look really effective.

TIP – turn this into a stylish advent calendar by tying on old smarties boxes that you can put treats in (or even new smarties boxes with said sweets inside), wrap up in plain paper and add numbers to each one. It’s looks really effective and is completely personal and unique.

3. Create your own snow globe

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Start with an empty jar with a lid. My daughter used a Bon Mamon jam jar to make hers, but you could get really stylish with a Ball Mason or Kilner jar.

Decide what you want to put into your jar – it might be something your kids make from Fimo modelling clay, or you could choose a christmas ornament or make a scene, like a church or tree. Whatever you choose it needs to fit inside the jar itself, and also be no larger than the lid.

Glue your finished scene securely to the lid of the jar.

If you want to make a traditional globe which you shake and let the snow slowly fall down, you’ll need to ensure whatever goes in the jar is waterproof. Fill the jar with water and a handful of fake snow (buy it here), then fix your lid securely onto the jar. Easy.

Use small jars and tie string around them to hang them as decorations, like home-made version of the ones pictured.

Can’t face making it but love the look? Buy these from Rockett St George.

4. Make a bauble place name

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1. Choose some pretty baubles and attach a round paper clip to the top of each one.

2. Then write your place name on a piece of card and slide the card into the paper clip so that is is held in place by it.

3. In order to make your baubles stand up, either attach a bit of blue tac to the bottom, or for added cuteness, sit them in egg cups.

4. For a twist on the idea, follow steps 1 and 2, then thread some ribbon through the bauble hook and tie them around napkins to kill two birds with one stone.

5. A wreath chandelier centrepiece

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For a new spin on a Christmas wreath, attach ribbon to hand it from the ceiling over a table and create a stunning centre-piece. you can even hang baubles from it for really impressive look, and add candles to the top to add atmosphere.

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Don’t want to make your own? This hanging Narnia centrepiece from Sarah Raven, is just gorgeous.

 

Go now: Sebastian Cox

For one weekend only (this weekend, 6-7 Dec!), designer Sebastian Cox, who works with British coppiced hazel to create unique furniture and home accessories for the likes of Heals, will be opening a shop, close to his workshop in Deptford, south-east London.

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He’ll be at Gallop on Deptford High Street with Nottingham-based textile designer Tori Murphy, and both will be showcasing their British wares as well as a collection of Christmas gifts and decorations.

If you’re heading to Cockpit Arts Open Studios this weekend it’s worth a detour to seek them out – and you can stop for pizza and a pint at the Big Red Pizza Bus (an indoor/outdoor pizza place built around an old Routemaster bus) on Deptford Church Street.

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Open 11am-6pm Saturday and Sunday, with an open evening from 6pm-9pm on Saturday with mulled wine and cobnuts.

www.sebastiancox.co.uk

 

Brompton x Thornback and Peel

Love cycling? Love craft? Then you’re going to love this cute Christmassy collacboration between Brit bike brand Brompton (you know, the folding, skinny orange bikes you see all over London) and pretty, quintessentially English eccentric  printmakers Thornback and Peel.

Head to Brompton Junction on Long Arce in Covent Garden this Sunday and you can print your own jolly Brompton-tastic festive cards. Tickets cost a tenner, but that includes the cards (in red or black) that you’ll screen print, and bubbly and mince pies, too.

What a fab idea. Folding is optional.

www.thornbackandpeel.co.uk

New Year’s where?…

Party your way in to 2015 at one of these pads, that range from palatial to pretty and grand to groovy…

 

The Cob, nr Bude, Devon

Family-friendly needn’t mean design deadzone, as this barn conversion by award-winning architects Feilden Fowles proves. The light-filled, vast open-plan space is perfect for entertaining as the kitchen diner and living space are comfortably entwined. And when you crash you can expect king size beds and REN toiletries for added luxury. Kids will love the bunk beds, the trampoline and the chickens to chase outside. For Christmas and New Year the house will be festively decorated and a welcome pack of essentials is provided, with everything you’ll need for a New Year’s Day fry-up.

The cosy log burner makes the living room a great place to watch the wildlife in the surrounding countryside and there are countless walks on your doorstep – including a New Year’s Day wander along the beach at Bude perhaps? Or to the Old Smithy pub in Welcombe

Sleeps nine, £1750 for four nights from 29 December, www.venn-farm.co.ukthe-cob-holsworthy-devon-conde-nast-traveller-2sept14-nicholas-yarsley_960x1440

 

The Tower, Selkirk, Scotland

Have the run of your own 16th-century castle surrounded by rolling hills on the Scottish Borders. This ancient tower has been brought right up to date with sumptuous modern interiors and king-size handmade Duxiana beds and ensuite bedrooms.

The great hall has a huge stone fireplace with an openfire, while there’s a further sitting room, bar and games room (complete with piano, table tennis and board games). IN the kitchen and dining room, you can grapple with the AGA, or pre-book to have a chef come and cook for you.

A stone’s throw from Bowhill House and Country Estate, there are outdoor pursuits – think horse-riding, clay pigeon shooting, trout fishing – a woodland adventure playground and walks with a tea room (or bar) at the end of them.

This being a tower, you can expect lots of spiral staircases over four floors – perhaps not one for the very young, old, or inebriated!

Sleeps 11, £5,810 for seven nights from 29 December, www.thebigdomain.com

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The Medieval Barn, Brecon Beacons

Just outside Hay on Wye, this gorgeous oak-beamed barn conversion blends old and new to stunning effect. The huge dining table, hewn from a single tree trunk, is an impressive place to party, while the handmade kitchen is a chef’s dream. The five, cool-country bedrooms have views that stretch across the Black Mountains and Wye Valley.

If you’re in need of a New Year’s hangover cure, head to the River Café just down the road for a lazy brunch, or even brave the Brecon Beacons National Park on foot, bicycle or horse back.

Sleeps 10, £3800 for seven days from 29 December, www.sugarandloaf.com

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Restormel Cottage, Cornwall

Sitting within the heart of the Duchy of Cornwall’s historic estate at the head of the Fowey valley, just one mile from the pretty town of Lostwithiel, this picture-perfect 400-year-old cottage surrounded by woodland walks is impeccably furnished with slate floors, period furniture, welsh woollen blankets and logs from the estate for the open fire. Board games and DVDs are supplied for rainy days, and you get access to the indoor swimming pool and other leisure facilities at Restormel Manor. There’s even complimentary fishing on the river Fowey. But then, we’d expect nothing less than the best from HRH Prince Charles.

Sleeps five, £1,300 for seven nights from 29 December, www.duchyofcornwallholidaycottages.co.uk

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Montpellier Town House, Cheltenham

This regal, four-storey Regency house in the centre of Cheltenham sets a grand, over-the-top Victoriana atmosphere for a decadent New Year do. It’s quirky and eclectic inside, with glam antique and period furniture – a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth oversees the proceedings in the dining room, chesterfields abound in the drawing room, while the kitchen is state of the art and the bedrooms are nothing short of opulent.

A welcome hamper and Molton Brown toiletries come as standard and you can request a chef, a beauty therapist or have meals dropped off to make your New Year even more sublime.

An apartment around the corner is also available if you want to house another five guests.

Sleeps nine, £8940 for seven nights from 29 December, www.stayinmontpellier.co.uk

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The Cabin at Bliss Blakeney, Norfolk

Set in two acres of unspoilt north Norfolk coastline, you can stare out to sea from this cool and quirky hideaway.

There are four bedroom suites, each with a shower room and the master bedroom has a freestanding bath, and a big living, dining, kitchen space with an open fire and sliding doors that open out onto a private garden. For the festive season it will be decked out with a tree and decorations, too.

New guests are greeted by a “brown bag” full of local artisan food to get the holiday started. Holkham Hall and estate, and its famous gastropub the Victoria Inn, are a short drive away, as are the pretty market towns of Burnham Market and Holt, which has a fishmonger and butcher – just in case you need to stock up for your NYE feast.

Sleeps eight, £3,475 for seven nights from 26 December, www.blissblakeney.co.uk

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The White Cabin, Winchelsea, East Sussex

This shabby-chic beach house has a laid-back Scandi feel with white-washed interiors, vintage furniture and a retro decor, especially at Christmas time when the wood-burning fire and rustic styling lends itself to mulled wine and mince pies.

The kitchen has a reclaimed wooded table that will easily seat ten and a smart Smeg oven. But you can also order meals to be dropped off (all you need to do it is heat them up), or hire a chef to cook for you.

It’s just a short stroll from the beach, down a quiet lane so you won’t have to worry about your dodgy karaoke, and the pub is a mere five minutes stagger away!

Sleeps 10, £1875 for seven days from 28 December, www.kateandtoms.com

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Natural Retreats, Yorkshire

These sleek, contemporary wooden-and-glass eco-lodges tucked away in the Yorkshire Dales are just five minutes from the market town of Richmond and offer the ultimate bolthole for walkers and active families, with a concierge (ideal for booking one of the many amazing gastro pubs in the area and advising on walks), private chefs, babysitters and beauty therapists on hand to meet your every need.

Sleeps six. £1307 for three nights from 29 December, www.naturalretreats.com

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Cotswold View Manor, Broadway, Cotswolds

Tucked away on the 400-acre Farnconbe Estate in the Vale of Evesham, this manor house comes with the facilities and service of the fabulous Dormy House Hotel, which also sits on the estate.

So you’ll get swanky rooms and service, a house manager to sort out any activities, food or cocktail requirements, full use of the award-winning Green House spa, gym and pool at Dormy House – the perfect place for a New Year’s Day detox – and a personal chef. Yes, really. Live the life of a lottery winner for one night, at least.

Sleeps 16, £10,000 for two nights (incudes chef, house manager and use of spa), www.thewowhousecompany.com

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Highbury Hill, London

Fancy living it up in an Islington townhouse? This artfully restored five-bedroom home is offered as a stylish holiday rental, with an iPhone loaded with local tips and maps and a personal welcome.
There’s a fab local deli, Da Mario, around the corner to stock up on party food, as well as the Euphorium bakery and Ottolenghi nearby. Or you might want to head out for cocktails at 69 Colebrooke Row or to a gig at Union Chapel – it’s all in walking distance. Be warned – the Emirates Stadium is also in spitting distance, which will either be a draw, or something you might want to ignore.

Sleeps 7-8, £3,090 for five nights from 29 December, www.onefinestay.com

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Cornucopia, Petworth, West Sussex

Once your guests have picked their jaws up from the floor – this place is gobsmackingly extravagant and beautiful – you can play lord and lady of the manor at this magnificent country house estate, which comes with its own swimming pool and hot tub, gym, bowling alley, games room, cinema – with its own “chill-out kitchen for ice-cream and popcorn, tennis court and not forgetting the picturesque lake, complete with rowing boats.

There are seven super-king double bedrooms, all en-suite of course, a very grand sitting room and another, les grand one, plus a fabulous kitchen and dining room.

Naturally, among such splendid surroundings, it would be depressing have to lower yourself to cooking, so book the in-house chef to do it for you, or to pack a picnic for a country walk in the South Downs. It’s a stay you’ll never forget, although you may need to take out a small mortgage to afford it!

Sleeps 14, £40,000 for seven nights from 29 December, www.uniquehomestays.com

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Merry Craftmas

 

Lush Design Studios at Cockpit Arts in Deptford
Lush Design Studios at Cockpit Arts in Deptford

Leave Black Friday weekend for the masses and make your way way to one of the vibrant and creative craft and artists independent fairs this advent – it’s a much more imaginative and enjoyable way to shop.
And you get something unique and handmade.
And… You’ll feel better for helping a local artist instead if a tax-dodging international corporate entity too!

Made in Clerkenwell
Made in Clerkenwell

Try these:

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Crafty Fox, this weekend in Dalston; next weekend in Brixton; Peckham the weekend after.

 

Tea for One table from Made in Clerkenwell at Craft Central
Tea for One table from Made in Clerkenwell at Craft Central

Made in Clerkenwell at Craft Central –  today and tomorrow (to 30 Nov). At John’s Square.

 

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Thornback and Peel at Cockpit Arts in Deptford

Cockpit Arts open studios in Holborn this weekend and Deptford next weekend.

 

Go now: Wealden Times Midwinter Fair

This weekend sees the start of Christmas shopping in earnest, and I’ve got my sights on a trip into the countryside to the Wealden Times Midwinter Fair.

Not only is it held in the Walled Garden at Bedgebury Pinetum – should smell Christmassy at least! – but there’s also a huge line-up of fantastic local producers, crafters, boutiques and farmers from across Kent and Sussex.

Whether it’s a bottle of English wine, Kentish honey, handmade children’s toys, jewellery or ceramics – or even just a chance to taste some delicious food and enjoy the festive atmosphere, it should make a jolly day out.

20-22 November, 9.30am-4.30pm, The Walled Garden, Bedgebury Pinetum. Tickets £8.50.

http://wealdentimes.co.uk/events/midwinter/2014/