birds, Christmas, Dickens, exercise, Fresh Air, neighbours, Wildlife, Winter

Six Ways To Enjoy Christmas, Despite Everything…

Floods, disasters, relationship problems…not everyone feels like celebrating this year. If you haven’t been able to face making plans but you don’t want to be lonely this Christmas, here are a few ideas.


Be Good To Yourself… get some fresh air. During the shortest, darkest days of the year, things always look better in daylight. Even if the weather’s foul, get outside the four walls of home for an hour or two. The sun’s still up there somewhere, and exposure to natural light will raise your seratonin levels to increase your feel-good factor.  If you feel the need for company, there are bound to be other people out and about, trying to work off all those mince pies. 


Make Something…if it’s only a mess!  Fat cake will be gobbled up by wild birds. Very gently warm some lard until it melts. Careful—don’t leave the pan unattended, and don’t burn yourself. Stir in some wild bird seed, crushed unsalted peanuts and maybe a little grated cheese. When it’s cooled almost to setting point, pour the mixture into ice cream containers or yoghurt pots and leave to set.   Put it out close to a window, near to a dish of water (but away from bushes or other cover, where cats might hide).


Visit a Neighbour…England’s not a big place and most people live cheek by jowl in towns, but a 2013 poll by Churchill Insurance discovered that about 70% of us don’t know our neighbours’ first names, and more than a third wouldn’t recognise them. If you don’t know the name of your neighbours, Christmas gives you the perfect excuse to find out. Playing postman is a great ice-breaker. Simply write “with best wishes” inside a non-denominational greeting card, knock on their door and say, “I would have made it more personal, but I’m afraid I didn’t know your name.” Who knows—they might have been screwing up the courage to make contact with you!


Join in…every year, our village’s silver band travels around the surrounding countryside during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, stopping every half mile or so to play a selection of carols and collecting for charity. The sound travels a long way up and down the various valleys, so even the most isolated houses can track their progress. Everyone comes out to listen, and the more adventurous follow them round as part of a spontaneous choir. Think of it as a slow-motion flash mob! Find out if there’s something similar where you live such as carols in the mall. Even if you aren’t religious, services over Christmas should give you a warm welcome. Music is very therapeutic (and there might be a mince pie or two involved, too.)

Give A Bit Back…foodbanks are grateful for donations of dry and long-life goods all year round. Christmas is no exception, but it’s a time of year when people in difficulty feel more isolated than ever. How about putting some chocolate or a fancy packet of biscuits in the collection for your local foodbank?  Eating the wrong things is never the answer to any problem, but everyone needs a bit of non-verbal comfort now and again. Offer a listening ear to a lonely person. Take a few small, non-controversial and prettily wrapped presents such as notebooks, cotton handkerchiefs, or calendars along to your local hospital, if they run a donation scheme for those who have to be in hospital over the holiday.

Whatever you do, have a a peaceful, happy Christmas.


cake, chocolate, Christina Hollis author, Christmas, mincemeat

If You Like Chocolate and Christmas, You’ll Love This…

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/71/Fruitcake.jpg
By Johnathunder, via Wikimedia Commons

This time last year, I was getting ready to make our usual rich fruit cake for Christmas when my daughter suggested we try something new. She loves chocolate courgette cake (which was a bit of a leap of faith for me at the time!), and wanted to try this odd-sounding recipe. I was apprehensive beforehand, but it really works and we all love it. 


There are a few things to note: it’s not gluten free, and you really need the dots to be white chocolate – I didn’t have any when I first tried this recipe out, and the ordinary milk-chocolate dots I used were virtually invisible in the finished cake!

CHOCOLATE MINCEMEAT CHRISTMAS CAKE

150g softened butter 
150g soft brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
185g  self-raising flour
40g cocoa powder
400g mincemeat (I used my own recipe of mixed dried fruits, plus grated apples and brandy)
80g each of sultanas and raisins
20g quartered glace cherries, washed & well dried.
50g blanched almonds, chopped
100g of white chocolate dots

METHOD: 

Pre heat oven to Gas Mark 3/Electric 160 deg. C, Fan 140 deg C.
Line a 20cm/8” tin with a couple of layers of greaseproof paper.
Place all ingredients in a large bowl and beat for 1- 2 minutes, until well mixed.
Spoon into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for between 90 minutes – 2 hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  You’ll probably need to cover the cake with tinfoil toward the end of the cooking time, to stop it browning too quickly.
Leave the cake to cool in its tin for a while before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

This cake doesn’t freeze and is unlikely to keep for as long as a traditional rich fruit cake, but this doesn’t matter as it vanishes in a very short time!