High Days and Holidays

Christmas leftovers

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Here are some ideas for using leftovers in a simple, imaginative way. For more, see http://tinyurl.com/zodf8st

Christmas pudding ice cream

Mix leftover custard with equal amount of double cream and stir in crumbled leftover Christmas pudding. Put in the freezer for 2 hours, then take out and stir before putting back into the freezer overnight. Take out an hour before serving.  Tastes like rum and raisin ice cream, and great with a dash of Bailey’s over the top.

Vegetable stock

Boil turkey carcass in 2 litres of water with 2 sticks of celery, 2 peeled onions chopped in half, and 2 carrots, for about an hour. Strain into bowl and then pour into plastic containers for storage in fridge or freezing. Use for soup, stews or gravy.

Turkey and banana balls ( baby or toddler food)

Steam an unpeeled banana. Chop a few teaspoons of leftover turkey in a food processor and add the banana and a little butter. Remove the mixture and roll into little balls to make finger food for a baby or toddler.

Hot winter fruit salad

Boil satsuma or clementine slices in water, a little sugar and a bit of brandy or Cointreau if you have some to hand, along with anything to hand such as dates, grapes, and dried fruits. Serve with cream or ice cream.

Chestnut and coffee mousse

Mix together leftover chestnut puree, a small amount of instant coffee to taste, and double cream in a food processor or blender until the cream has thickened. Sweeten with vanilla sugar.

Image: http://120dollarsfoodchallenge.com/2010/12/22/leftover-lottery-reader-suggestions/


Planning for Christmas 3 – Presents, cards and wrapping

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Planning presents

For Christmas stockings, you can do a lot worse than raid the pound shop from about October onwards, allowing the same number of presents per child to avoid arguments. Babies’ stocking fillers can be bought from school fetes or jumble sales and cleaned up in the washing machine or dishwasher (I filled a first Christmas stocking for £2 once this way). In terms of main presents for children, it’s difficult to deal with the marketisation of childhood and retain your sanity in the festive season, but it might help to chant these phrases in your head like a mantra when the going gets tough.

  • Toys are not evidence of parental affection.
  • Toys are not a substitute for parental time.
  • There’s no sense in having so many toys to play with you can’t choose what to do.
  • The more toys they have, the more we have to tidy away.
  • Most children play with 20% of their toys 80% of the time.
  • It’s just too expensive and that’s that.

For adults, it’s sensible to set a ceiling of £5 or £10 so the present buying doesn’t get competitive or out of hand. It’s better to have a single, thoughtfully chosen gift that makes you smile when you think about it, than a clutch of things that have been given to you for the sake of it, and which you will forget shortly afterwards.



Make or reuse gift bags, which can be fiercely expensive if bought new. For wrapping paper, use brown paper sponged with gold, bronze and silver paint, or stamped with a gold Christmas motif of some kind. Finish off with gold ribbon. Or leave the brown paper plain and use country-style tartan ribbon instead. Iron previously used tissue paper on a very low heat with the steam turned off, and use it with simple paper or raffia ribbons. This can also be a good way of packaging gifts attractively whilst keeping down your carbon footprint and costs. Finally, make your own gift tags out of coloured card cut to look like a parcel label, tied with paper ribbon, raffia or string. Or cut out motifs from old Christmas cards and stick onto plain white card for a different effect.

Home made presents

Think about producing some of the following as presents with enhanced personal involvement.

  • Jams and jellies, including from foraged food as in previous posts.
  • Truffles and nut crunch  in cellophane bags with Christmas ribbon.
  • Shortbread biscuits
  • Miniature muffins, cookies or chocolate brownie bites. (My neighbour Cornelia brings a bag of home made toll house cookies with her every New Year’s Day when she comes to visit, and there is invariably an undignified fight over them, as they are so glorious).
  • Boiled fruit cake baked in a circle and put in a festive tin.
  • Home made gift vouchers for babysitting, dog grooming, car valeting, beauty treatments, cooking, or whatever you are good at.
  • Christmas greens such as ivies and holly, tied decoratively with raffia.
  • Create stationery kits for young children by sticking on colourful scrapbook or gift wrap paper onto the front of a basic notebook, and then adding pencils, ruler, rubbers, sharpeners and so on in matching colour, presenting in a cellophane bag with a toning ribbon.
  • Canvas shopping bags (available for a euro in most of Europe) with iron on names and pictures, for children to use to store their library books, so they don’t get lost.
  • For cards, buy packets of 50 plain cream cards and envelopes, and make your own stamped design. Write the greeting inside in fountain pen, very elegantly. It may not be cheaper than cards from the pound shop, but it will be more thoughtful.

Planning for Christmas 2 – Decorations

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It’s pretty straightforward to decorate your house so it looks welcoming and festive without going mad in the artificial environment of the Christmas displays in department stores. Try these suggestions for cheap and cheerful displays.

  • Popcorn chains – Follow an air-popped popcorn recipe  and thread pieces onto a long red thread. These can be draped over Christmas trees or hung in windows.
  • Gingerbread ornaments – Make up a batch of gingerbread dough and cut out using Christmas cutters, making a hole at the top before baking ready for a ribbon to be threaded through later on. You can also ice them with coloured writing icing once they are cooled.
  • Paper chains – Cut strips of coloured paper so they are about 15-20cm long. Make a loop of the first one, and glue closed with Pritt stick. Thread a second strip through this, and close the loop with Pritt stick once again. Carry on until the chain is long enough to hang across a room. Several of them can be used for a more elaborate effect. Children often enjoy helping to make these.
  • Cinammon sticks – Tie bundles of cinnamon sticks together with ribbon and use to adorn Christmas trees, by securing with craft wire.
  • Snow – Using the cheapest cotton wool you can lay your hands on, stretch in the window to create the effect of snow. This also works for cobwebs around Halloween time.
  • Snowflakes – This is another good project for children. Cut white or silver paper into squares about 15cmx15cm, and then fold into quarters. Cut an arc around the edge so you get a circle, and then snip out little pieces around the edge and on the folds so that when you open it out you get a snowflake pattern. These look good on the Christmas tree.
  • Wreaths – Make a loop of chicken wire, and then tie evergreens  and clusters of berries from the garden onto it, until the wire is obscured. You can also use florist’s wire or a hot glue gun to secure things like apples, nuts, oven dried slices of orange, and cinnamon sticks. Spray with hairspray to preserve the wreath (which will need keeping away from fire afterwards). Then add a wide tartan ribbon at the top to make a hanging loop.

Planning for Christmas 1 – Christmas Dinner

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It’s quite possible to spend so much on Christmas that you are still paying for it at Easter or even by the summer. This seems a bit pointless, as it’s quite possible to rein things in so that the meaning of Christmas is there without the financial hangover afterwards. Ideally you should have been putting away 1/12 of your spare income each month with the festive season in mind. We’ll start with planning for a good but economical Christmas dinner.

Turkey – Fresh is nice, and makes it easier to avoid food poisoning as it doesn’t need defrosting, but if funds are tight, choose a frozen bird but plan ahead carefully and allow it to defrost properly (See the British Turkey website at http://www.britishturkey.co.uk/cooking/cooking-calculators.html for a clever online tool to help you calculate the time required, but you should be allowing as long as 120-144 hours to defrost a 12 pound turkey in the fridge, for example, or 36-48 hours in a cool room or garage, and 24 hours at room temperature. If you are really struggling financially, turkey joints provide a tasty alternative, as do large chickens. If you are having a cheaper turkey, add flavour by putting an onion into the cavity, as well as strips of bacon over the breast, before covering with a double layer of foil and cooking.

Vegetables – Again, if you can’t afford fresh, or haven’t got a lot of time to prepare on the day, then go for frozen, as they have all of the vitamins and fibre and the family will hardly notice.

Stuffing – Try putting the following into a blender to make your own stuffing: a few pieces of stale bread, a handful of sage leaves out of the garden, a sliced onion, some salt and pepper, an egg, a little milk if it seems quite dry. Blend on high for a minute until it is all mixed up, and then take out and place in a loaf tin, use to stuff your bird, or roll into little balls and bake on a baking sheet covered with parchment.

Sausage and bacon rolls – The frozen ones are fairly indistinguishable from fresh once cooked, and can be bought from mid-Autumn onwards when there is a special offer.

Christmas pudding – The cheaper ones are surprisingly good, and I have it on good authority that some restaurants have been known to buy these from leading supermarkets and serve them as their own. Serve with cream for minimum effort, or Sweet white sauce (see recipe elsewhere on blog) or custard.

Cranberry sauce – Again, the cheaper brands are often perfectly acceptable. A dollop of red wine or port and a bit of orange zest will bring them to life.

Christmas Countdown

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Deadline Adult 1 Adult 2
Wrap presents for children’s teachers and take to school Last day of term
Organise family visits. 15/11
Book hair and beauty appointments 15/11
Inform relatives of presents children would like, and ask parents of other children the same 15/11
Order Christmas tree (by 1st December for 10% discount) from company such as http://www.thechristmastreefarm.co.uk for delivery on 22nd or 23rd December. 30/11
Buy Christmas cards 1/12
Buy Christmas stamps from Post Office 1/12
Buy gift wrap and ribbons, brown parcel paper, sellotape 1/12
Create address labels for Christmas cards 1/12
Invite people for New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. 1/12
Make sure dates for children’s Christmas events are in the diary (usually last week of term) 1/12
Organise leave or early departure from work to attend children’s carol concerts and/or Christingle services. 1/12
Plan for bad weather with extra de-icer sprays and screen wash. 1/12
Clear out kitchen cupboards to make space for Christmas supplies. 4/12
Secure online grocery delivery slot for 23rd December and/or 31st December. NB:  This must usually be done first thing on 4th December and 10th December, the day the slots are released three weeks ahead. 4/12
Help children write their Christmas cards. 7/12
Plan menus and order groceries for later delivery 7/12
Order turkey from the butchers for collection on Christmas Eve. 13/12
Post UK Christmas cards by 17th December (see Post Office schedules for overseas and second class posting deadlines) 17/12
Present shopping (see spreadsheet) 17/12
Present wrapping 17/12
Write Christmas cards 17/12
Bring down decorations from loft. 23/12
Check groceries delivered don’t have short use by dates. 23/12
Decorate Christmas tree. 23/12
Collect turkey from butcher 24/12

Season’s Greetings to Austerity Housekeeping subscribers!

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We love Austerity on this blog. We defy the credit crunch, we live well, we enjoy life. Here’s to a 2017 full of wonderful family meals, happy homes, cosy evenings and creative housekeeping projects.

The Staycation

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We know it’s a trend when every women’s magazine has an article on it. The current fashion in taking holidays is therefore the ‘staycation’. I am not entirely sure what this means, and whether there’s even a consensus, but reading between the lines, it seems as though it can be one of two things. Firstly, it can mean staying in the UK rather than travelling overseas, in order to avoid unnecessary expense or travel hassle, or similar. It is not always an economical option, despite what you might expect, as often it can be just as expensive for a family to stay in an undistinguished B and B in a remote part of Dorset as travelling to somewhere more exotic, particularly if you are clued up enough to swap homes with someone overseas.  The other meaning of the word is to stay at home and go on little trips, seeing and doing a lot of things that you might not have time to engage in normally. That is the approach this post is going to take. (After reading it, you might also want to look in the Polls category to vote on what your holiday plans might be this year. Look in the column on the right of the screen to find it).

Designing a successful staycation based at home probably takes as much work as planning and booking a foreign holiday, if not more. The key is to think constantly about what you can do that is actually different, in order to make it feel like a holiday, and offer some relaxation. Consider some of the following.

  • Actually swap bedrooms. The children can move around into each others’ rooms, or even share rooms a la sleepover for a change, with sleeping bags if necessary . If you are lucky enough to have extra space, parents can even sleep in their own guest room, which might even have been prepared specially for the occasion hotel-style. This might involve a bit of decorating or tidying up, fresh flowers, supplies of glossy magazines and upmarket beauty products in sample sized bottles, and a drinks/snacks tray. Failing the presence of a guest room, try upgrading your normal bedroom in the same way.
  • Change meal times and typical patterns, and consider having a late brunch every day, afternoon cream teas, and so on.
  • Fill the freezer with ice lollies, preferably home made.
  • Try themed meal nights chosen by family vote – Mexican, BBQ, Italian, etc. Or you could rent DVDs from your local library and have film nights with microwave popcorn, hot dogs, and that ideally rare but necessary treat, an occasional can of Coke.
  • Make maximum use of your nearest leisure centre or gym/hotel with swimming pool and day guest facilities. They often go very quiet in August and it might be possible to buy a three day or weekly pass relatively cheaply and go there on a daily basis.
  • Try a family treasure hunt with a pretty decent prize of some kind. Put clues all around the house and garden so that the children will have to make a bit of effort working out the answers.
  • Take the children on mystery tours of the local area, imagining what you might show a visitor from overseas if they materialised on your doorstep. Children are capable of great feats of sightseeing endurance if they get a couple of quid to spend in the gift shop at the end and a scone in the cafe, and even though there can be moaning at the time, it’s amazing how much they take in. However they are cunning and won’t let you know this until years later.
  • Consider travelling around all the relatives you like best on a kind of Grand Tour, to catch up and reinforce family ties. It doesn’t have to be Christmas to organise a get together.
  • Invite other people (or their children) to stay at yours, if you like being a host.

Image: Graham Maddrell / FreeDigitalPhotos.ne