15 Dec 2014

Sneaking up on Christmas

Here's one for a tiny reindeer. 

Let's see now, what have I been up to? Well, I confess there's been very little gardening and even less blogging. I did take photos for the end of month records but then went away for a couple of weekends to visit family so lost the opportunity to post. Until now.  No, despite the glaring omission of a festive tree in my life (so far), I've been sidling in a most casual way towards Christmas. As I embrace a simple-ish life for most of the year, I don't see why Christmas should be different. This is partly for financial reasons but also I'm just fed up with excess consumerism and I refuse to lay my soul bare to seasonal stresses. It used to be different when I was younger (didn't everything?); there was less emphasis on presents, parties and dressing up for the big day and more focus on family, community and creativity - decorations went up at the beginning of December with the excitement and jollifications building up on Christmas Eve, not Hallowe'en.

Just yesterday, I put aside all pressing tasks and hopped off to a morning of outdoor festive willow weaving down in Covent Garden's Green Gym. (More about that later.) I had a lovely time, met some super people, made a door wreath out of natural materials and then wandered down to Covent Garden shops to buy some sketchpads (love Muji). All I could see as I gazed down Long Acre towards Leicester Square tube was a sea of slowly moving people, ebbing in and out of the shops. The streets were heaving with people moving about in a very lacklustre fashion to get their gift buying done. A fair few looked desperate, more looked bored or resigned (husbands, sons) and me?, well I took a deep breath, stayed calm and moved quickly towards the tube station after having made my purchases.

Compare that to last weekend when I drove to Oxfordshire to join family for a day of foraging and wreath making (this time with a foam core). We all went for a long muddy walk to gather supplies from the hedgerows, listening to the local steam train puffing along the line a few hundred yards away while Red kite birds of prey flew overhead; twenty five years ago, they were an endangered species and now it's estimated there are over a thousand pairs in the Chilterns area. It's quite the thrilling sight.

Rosy cheeked from our brisk walk, we headed home past another of the steam trains setting off (this time being pulled backwards by a diesel locomotive), to a bowl of home-made soup and an afternoon of pushing stems, berries and faux robins into foam. I was the last to finish by a great many minutes which has left me wondering over the past week whether I'm perhaps embracing life in the slow lane a little too enthusiastically.

Still, that mindset has stood me in good stead for a bit of bread making. I love it on two counts - one, the rhythm of stretching out the dough is very relaxing, especially with Radio 4 on in the background; two, it tastes so much nicer than anything bought in the supermarket and you can choose the flour/s you want to eat. A wholemeal spelt/wheat/rye combo is my current favourite, although this one is white flour, maize meal, honey, hazelnuts and cranberries. My nod to a festive loaf.

Mince pies have also made an appearance. I made my mincemeat in late October when plums were still plentiful and used a River Cottage recipe for Plum and Russet Apple mincemeat. Of course, there's no actual meat in it - no, not even any suet so perfect for vegetarians. It's all cooked dried and fresh fruit with walnuts and a good slosh of sloe gin/vodka. So good, I could eat it from the jar. I took a jar for my niece on the previous weekend when I went to babysit and ended up staying for the weekend to make felt animals for the Christmas tree. (And Barbie outfits.) It wasn't all foxes but these are the first we made - aren't they cute? Love that my niece's 8 year old made one in ten minutes flat. Good girl. Chip off the old creative block.

Cake, coffee and creativity; just about sums up my weekend perfectly.

Last Thursday I had a surprise package.  I was grumbling slightly as I had to collect it from the sorting office on a busy day and had no idea what it was.  I soon had a smile on my face when I opened it as Green Books had sent me a copy of One Magic Square for review.  I'm hoping to get more children involved with the gardening next year and I think this book may have more than a few ideas to help with that as that's what they'll have to garden with - one magic raised bed each.

So, that's me for now. The next few posts will be book reviews and a bit of wreath making how-to, so let's have a quick look at the garden in December. We've had only one real ground frost, not even severe enough to see off my nasturtiums. So while there's only a few bits of veg in the garden (broccoli, spring onions, a bit of lettuce,  herbs), there's also a few splashes of colour and even, unbelievably, a few last raspberries in the first week of December from the Polka bushes. Amazing. And the rhubarb can't decide whether it's coming or going.


  1. What a lovely post Caro, and you have articulated exactly what I feel about Christmas. My middle boy was a bit sad last night after a whole day of overwhelming festive activity, it really is overdone everywhere. We've been on country walks the last two Saturdays and it's given me great pleasure to be far away from shops and shiny things. I'm glad you were able to escape quickly after your purchases. Are you a sketcher? I'm intrigued by the sketch pads. Maybe they're for garden designing. I like the sound of the magic square book, my three each have a little metre square raised bed, so I shall look out for it. I love your photos, how amazing to see a raspberry, and the leaves still look really vigorous too. Well done on the foxes, they're excellent. I'm really hoping to get round to making one or two things with the boys after they finish school at the end of the week. We shall see... I hope you enjoy the rest of the week. Calm and slow is indeed the way to go. I'm off to look for that mincemeat recipe now. CJ xx

  2. Lovely post Caro - and although you are taking the slow route to Christmas I can tell that you are enjoying your little preparations. Like me keeping the season simple and stress-free is what it is all about - I am so laid back this year I may possibly fall over, go to sleep, and miss it all together.

  3. Your gentle run up to Christmas sounds perfect, just as I like it. Living in the countryside I suppose we aren't confronted with so much commercialism, life as a whole is much slower and the run to Christmas can be as gentle as we like it to be. I like the sound of your bread, very yummy!

  4. Not much gardening here either. Like you I hate the Christmas hype which seems to start earlier and earlier nowadays If possible I would hibernate until it was over.

  5. Wow you have been very busy Caro! Amazing how the spirit of Christmas evolve as we get older, and as times change too. Have a wonderful festive season ahead and I can just imagine the delightful goodies you'll serve on the Christmas table :)

  6. A most enjoyable post, and lovely photos. You may not have been gardening, or blogging much, but it's clear that you've been busy one way and another, and enjoying yourself.
    Lucky you to still have nasturtiums and raspberries, mine have long gone as the allotments have had several hard frosts in recent weeks. Flighty xx

  7. It's interesting to read your comment about the Red Kites. We have been travelling up and down the M40 since it first opened, and I remember the days when we were thrilled to see just one kite, usually near High Wycombe. Now they are as common as Rooks! They have spread out too and we even get them here in Fleet (NE Hants) now. My Rhubarb is like yours - doesn't know whether to die down or sprout up.

  8. Woah December raspberries! Whatever next? You seem to be winding down good and slowly. I will slam on the breaks on Christmas Eve. I plan baking and bulb planting (very late - on both counts, I know). The Green Gym sounds interesting and those felt animals are lovely. Well done to you and your niece's 8 year old! Happy Christmas.

  9. Oh small is beautiful Caro and I'm sure that any calling reindeer would relish that perfectly formed carrot. I like your approach to Christmas and think that the life in the slow lane approach has much to commend it. We are getting into bread making here and I'm pleased to say that we have probably not bought any bread for the last three months or so. That spelt/wheat/rye combo sounds decidedly delicious. Look forward to reading your wreath making post.

  10. How nice to see what you've been up to. I'm with you on the non-consumerist Christmas! Look forward to hearing about the wreath making.

  11. You've been busy! I can't bear the overtly consumer element of Christmas either but I love the whole build up. The tree goes up early, lots of natural decorations and trying to source gifts people actually want rather than so much of the awful stuff on sale. I've yet to make the mince pies - a job for this weekend I think. We used to live near the Chilterns and I have very happy memories of some lovely walks in that area. We used to get red kites over the house. I remember hanging out the washing one day with one circling over head. It felt like it was eyeing me up as prey or perhaps it fancied my underwear. ;) Love those felt foxes. xx

  12. It sounds like you are having a lovely mellow run up to Christmas, willow weaving, how interesting!
    I shall have to brave the crowds and shops soon, I dread it so leave it all until the last minute.
    Your bread looks delicious, I swear I can smell it from here!
    How good to get to see the red kites, they are amazing aren't they?xxx

  13. I totally agree with you when it comes to Christmas and like you I seek out places far removed from the high street shops! Hope you had have a wonderful Christmas with your son back from Uni too! Sarah x

  14. That tiny carrot is adorable !! My daughter loves tiny things, so now of course I do :) I hope you had a lovely Christmas !
    Alex | My Froley


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