How to plan an Advent Calendar – #WhimsicalWednesday

I know, I know, it seems a little very early to be posting anything Christmas related, but trust me, you need the time from right now to properly plan, design, shop for, organise, wrap and deliver your home made advent calendars by November 30. 🙂

Of course I was also inspired by this; it popped up on my Facebook today (August 24th):

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When I first started this blog, I wrote a post describing my personal infatuation with Christmas, which also included my attachment to these calendars, so for anyone who’s interested in that, I will link back to it here: ’tis the (al)most wonderful time of the year…

The modern Advent Calendar is a simple little thing with 24 doors filled with wee helpings of chocolate to count down the days to Christmas. If you’ve been anywhere near a shop at Christmas time, you’ve probably seen one of these (and they come in countless themes):

The concept in a home made calendar is exactly the same; you get a special 24 day calendar to countdown from December 1st to December 24th, except this calendar is custom made specifically for the recipient, with foods, drinks, and other gifts, they will genuinely enjoy. (You know, because you know them so well. haha)

Lets get down to the basics, you will need:

  • 1 roll of wrapping paper per calendar you want to make
  • 1 thick marker OR numbered stickers from 1 – 24
  • scissors
  • tape
  • 24 individual presents
  • a plan to present them*

*more on this at the end.

Step 1)

Ask yourself the following questions: Who is it for? What do they enjoy? Do I want to create a theme? Do I want each gift to be different?

Themes can include but are not limited to: Lego Sets, Beauty Products, Candles, Sample After Shaves, Sample Perfumes, Chocolates, sweets, recipes, arts & crafts supplies, nail art supplies, Beer, Whiskey, Wine … so many more!

Step 2)

Set a budget. A single calendar can cost as little as £10, but can also go as high as you want it to.. Personally I aim for approximately £30 per person, that allows me a nice variety. (I also make this a part of my overall Christmas budget.)

Step 3)

Plan the gifts; once you know what you want to get them, plan what order you want to gift them in and then make your shopping list.

Sample Calendar – “Pamper Yourself”

1 Hot Chocolate Sachet, Marshmallows  & Perfume Sample
2 Cappuccino Sachet, Chocolate & Tea Candle
3 Herbal Tea, Candy Cane & Hand Lotion
4 Latte Sachet, Chocolate & Mini Bath Bomb
5 White Hot Chocolate Sachet, Marshmallows & Face Mask
6 Mini Bottle of Wine, Loofah & Mini Bubble Bath
7 Hot Chocolate Sachet, Candy Cane & Tea Candle
8 Cappuccino Sachet, small chocolate bar, & Hand Lotion
9 Herbal Tea, Fudge & Perfume Sample
10 Latte Sachet, Chocolate & Hair Mask
11 White Hot Chocolate, Marshmallows & Mini Bath Bomb
12 Mini Bottle of Wine, Bathroom Slippers & Sugar Scrub
13 Hot Chocolate Sachet, Toffee & Hand Sanitizer
14 Cappuccino Sachet, chocolate & tea candle
15 Herbal Tea, mini jam & crackers, & Face Mask
16 Latte Sachet, small chocolate bar, & nail file
17 White Hot Chocolate Sachet, Candy Cane & nail polish
18 Mini Bottle of Wine, Paraffin Wax Hand moisturiser set
19 Hot Chocolate Sachet, Marshmallows & Perfume Sample
20 Cappuccino Sachet, Chocolate & Hand Lotion
21 Herbal Tea, Toffee & mini bath bomb
22 Latte Sachet, mini chocolate bar & Face Mask
23 White Hot Chocolate Sachet, Candy Cane & Tea Candle
24 Mini White Wine, Pedicure Set

Step 4)

Wrap them up, number them and present them in what ever way you want! You can hang them from a pretty wreath with string (if they’re light enough), make the recipient dig through a stocking filled with gifts every day to find the right number or even present them under a mini Christmas tree! It’s your design, so anything (appropriate) goes. 🙂

Most importantly: have fun with it!!

In my nuclear family, the whole family gets an Advent Calendar, meaning, yes, our canine family members too! (Alternating dog biscuits and the occasional pigs ear. 🙂 )

Have a great time making your own advent calendars, and please do share any inspiration in the comments below. xx

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Easter in Switzerland – travel review

Derek and I are very blessed to have friends all around the world, who generously invite us into their homes when we travel. This Easter we found ourselves invited to the beautiful country of Switzerland, where we stayed with some wonderful friends.

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For the purpose of this blog I will refer to them as the “Schnubsi Family” since that’s how the mom of the house refers to themselves in her own blog. There are Schnubsi, Schnubsi Mama and Schnubsi Papa and you can find her fantastic blog about home sewn clothes, accessories, arts and crafts right here: Schnubi’s Fadenkiste

Forgive me if this blog ends up being a bit long, but we got up to a lot!

First of all, we had to get from Belfast to Switzerland, which we did with the help of the Air Coach bus which very comfortably took us to Dublin and then AirLingus, with whom we always enjoy flying. (I will add a review for this particular set of flights later.)

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But suffice it to say, there was wine and comfort and friendly staff, so we got to Zurich well relaxed and looking forward to adventure.

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In Zurich we were greeted by none other than Schnubsi Mama, who generously came (and had to wait through our plane delay) to collect us. We went to their very beautiful home, about 40 minutes from Zurich, where I joyously discovered that Schnubsi Papa and my hubby Derek were able to muddle through just fine language wise, with just enough functioning English and German on either side of the conversations, that there was nothing a little sign language and beer couldn’t fix. 😉

Now, Schnubsi herself is a delightful blonde little firecracker, with more energy than any of us four adults possibly knew what to do with, and she made the entire trip even more fun and adventurous. Imagine, discovering a country for the first time, but with the added magic of a child’s fascination with everything, from the fairytale castles to the worms in the ground. It was so exciting!

So. what we saw:

On Saturday (and every subsequent day of the long weekend) we awoke to a beautifully set breakfast table, boasting goodies such as warm bread rolls, various toppings, boiled eggs and coffee straight from a high tech looking fountain of coffee glory.

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We then got all strapped in and went to visit the flower island of Mainau, which those of you with a better geographical sense than me will know, is actually located at the Bodensee in southern Germany.

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It’s a magical little, privately owned island, bustling with flowers, unique garden ornaments, princess towers and even a castle. They have some impressive restaurants there, as well as a breathtaking butterfly sanctuary where the butterflies live right along with fishes and turtles! It was a sweltering haven of colour! You can find my TripAdvisor review for the island here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g3206516-d8088474-r274171281-Gartenanlage_Insel_Mainau-Mainau_Baden_Wurttemberg.html 

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While we were busy taking pictures of all the different captivating flowers, which were gorgeous even in the relentless downpour of rain, it was a delight to watch little Schnubsi as she got the most fun out of finding rainworms, chasing ducks and jumping into puddles. It was so simple and yet so incredibly magical to watch.

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We also got to experience a bank holiday shopping trip very close to the German boarder; people from Switzerland and Austria were all crammed into what should have been a gigantic grocery store, trying to get the best pre-easter bargains before the stores all shut for Sunday and Monday. The way people were stocking up you’d have thought the shops were closing for a week! While I was fighting off a claustrophobic panic attack I was amused to see our hosts taking all of this in easy stride, chatting, giggling and laughing through the cacophony of voices and cash registers beeping, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. I found that very (and oddly) comforting.

Sunday started with an Easter surprise for us, as we found that Switzerland greeted the Easter Bunny with a light dusting of snow. It was beautiful to wake up to.

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Geared up for the day, with our fluffy companions in our backpacks we were ready to head out for an Easter Sunday of adventure, but not before thoroughly searching the back garden!

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Of course the Easter Bunny hadn’t fought his way through snow for nothing and had left some treats for little Schnubsi, all around the yard. A very international bunny he must be, since he even brought treats that I was sure were only available in Ireland. They came a very far way indeed. 😉

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We explored the magnificent Rhinefalls that day; a spectacularly rough waterfall that interrupts the river and has a minuscule island right in the middle of the falls.

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IMG_1700The view was breathtaking and you can find my TripAdvisor review of the site as a whole here: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g188070-d1208681-r263913905-Rheinfall-Neuhausen.html 

Other than that, why not let the pictures do the talking:

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I must admit, I had a bit of a panic attack at the restaurant above the falls when faced with the menu and the bankrupting prices thereon. Clearly we had not done our research properly and it turns out that the price of a regular, middle class, lunch time meal in Switzerland is approximately the same (per person) as what we would pay for an opulent night out for two in Northern Ireland. Ouch.

IMG_1768Now, our hosts were very gracious about this and had offered to pay, but I was just so in shock that we settled for coffee, cake and some friendly chat before heading back to their home to eat. (And even then, the bill for 5 lives of cake, 1 chocolate milk, a coke and 3 coffees came to a startling CHF 64.00… which translates to about £44.50 or $84.64 CAD [US $68]… just for a bit of perspective!)

The dinner ended up being a succulent BBQ of various sausages prepared on the home’s own professional yet viking look grill, and a serving of delicious salad.

Now, what you need to know is that, Schnubsi seems to be very well aware of the fact that her father is a chef, so she always wants to be his sous chef. She held the plate containing the uncooked sausages with pride, before she got so excited that the precariously slippy things fell right onto the ground and getting covered with dirt and grass clippings. “It’s a way of seasoning” Schnubsi Papa said in jest as he continued to happily flip the sausages that did make it onto the grill, while unabashedly enjoying his beer; which he was so generous to share with us by the way.

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Schnubsi Mama was then called to the window as we wanted to ask her to please rinse the sausages… this entire scene then repeated itself another two times!!! By the end of it, everyone was in stitches and Derek and I had taken to calling for Schnubsi Mama kind of like this:

MAAAAAMAAAAAAAAA!!!! hahahaha (needless to say she stopped believing that Schnubsi was dropping the sausages and accused that we were just doing it for attention! LOL)

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It was a very classy easter dinner, we even had Christmas napkins to go with it! 😉

Monday came around and  Schnubsi Papa had to return to work that day, but Schnubsi and her Mama were waiting for us in Kitchen for a lovely sit down breakfast. We had a very relaxed morning around the house and when Schnubsi Papa got home to spend the afternoon with Schnubsi, Mama took us for a local adventure with a drive up a mountain; then we hiked for a while… did I mention that Switzerland has loads of mountains? And that they’re very steep? Well; it fell like it took us a literal age to get to the top of the mountain (my lungs hurt just thinking about it) but it was most certainly worth it. Check out the view!

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IMG_1829And if that wasn’t amazing (and exhausting) enough, we then took up the challenge of climbing the “Wiler Turm”. It’s a 38 m tall observation tower, that stands 747 m above sea level. It has 189 steps to get to the top and thee steps are very unique because they are all full horizontal beams that are laid in a way to make a spiral 2 way staircase… one way up and one way down. It was terrifying (you could feel it moving in the wind), exhilarating (especially the view) and made completely of wood!

Let the pictures tell the tale:

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That evening, we then got dressed up in our best and went out to a lovely local restaurant.  Our hosts had invited us out to dinner and it was for a local specialty – Horse!

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IMG_1851Now, I went for the veal myself, as did Schnubsi Mama, but Schnubsi Papa and Derek each had the horse (and yes I tried a bite of Derek’s). Now, horse meet tasted very similar to game meats that I have tried, was very succulent and very rich. I actually really enjoyed the flavour but there was a part of me that just couldn’t get over that it was horse… so I happily (and yet oddly) stuck to my veal. Isn’t it odd that we carry just strong sentiments with us?

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The next day, we had a lie in worthy of a holiday. Schnubsi Mama and Papa were both at work and Schnubsi went to her day-home. Derek and I slept in rather late (10 am I think) before having a quick breakfast and then heading out to explore the neighbourhood on our own.

Our hosts graciously let us use their bicycles and so we head out, down through the town and along a lovely path along the river.

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Then we eventually returned back into town, where we stopped at a café for some coffee and cake and to do a spot of shopping. That consisted of stocking up on chocolate. hahaha

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Back at the house, Schnubsi Papa came home at around 2 pm, little Schnubsi was ready to go play outside, so we went to the local park and had a blast! We took our stuffy pup Al with us, and Schnubsi loved playing with him!

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Even Derek had to take a turn on the slide and Schnubsi Papa was expected to catch him!

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We had a lovely home cooked dinner that evening and had to say goodbye to Schnubsi Papa, who would leave for work before we got up on our last day.

The next morning we were up, packed and ready to go, but I knew that I had woken up sick as soon as I opened my eyes. It was probably the rainy day at the flower island that did me in, but boy was I in bad shape. (Full blown cold symptoms.) Luckily the Schnubsi family had just been sick the week before, so they couldn’t catch anything from me.

After dropping little Schnubsi off at her day-home, Schnubsi Mama drove to the train station with us and took the train most of the way back to Zürich with us, since she works in that area. We said a bitter sweet farewell on the train and then Derek and I headed in Zürich for our last day.

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Now, this part of the trip was sadly quite disappointing since the city was very bland in comparison to other European cities we’ve seen and yet it happily lives up to the fact of being the most expensive city in the world. CHF 6 (£4.17, €5.81, CAD $7.94) for a cup of mint tea!!! Needless to say, we avoided eating while we were there… there were several other things I would like to say about the experience in the city, but I would rather end this blog on a high note, so I will leave that disappointment for another time… instead, here are some pictures of the lovely things we saw. (And Derek explored a lot!)

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The Trainstaion in Zürich has a full underground shopping centre and I was adamant to find myself a Pandora Charm to take home as a souvenir from my holiday (it’s a tradition that I have that instead of buying silly statuettes and postcards that would gather dust on a shelf, I now get myself a Pandora charm when I go on holiday)… after quite a bit of searching and shopping around, we found the (only) shop and to my surprise my Derek treated me to the cutest charm of a traditional Bernese Mountain Rescue Dog, with the Swiss Flag on its Whiskey Flask.

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From Zürich,we took a train back to the airport early, because I was too unwell to continue sightseeing… Derek was my hero that day. He watchfully sat by my side as I slept, on and off, on an airport bench for almost 3 hours, and even went to get me water and a snack in between. I couldn’t have ever asked for a better husband, friend and travel partner. I love him so so much.

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Our plane was delayed due to an air traffic control strikes in France, but we eventually got onto our plane and said farewell to Switzerland at sunset!

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Back in Dublin, my parents had generously agreed to come pick us up so that we wouldn’t have to take the bus which I really really appreciated.

All in all, we had an amazing trip. Switzerland was beautiful. Our friends were so generous, welcoming and kind, and we were spoiled the entire time we were there.

What an amazing trip it was! If you ever consider going Switzerland, just bear in mind to save ALOT and budget carefully. 😉

Thanks so much for reading… I know this was epically long! Take care! (And don’t forget to check out Schnubsi’s Fadenkiste… even though it’s in German, use google to translate it!!) lol xoxox

Moving time!!

Merry Christmas everyone!!

I hope all you amazing readers out there got to spend quality time with your loved ones and that Santa spoiled you rotten… He sure spoiled me!! 😉

I feel so loved by my family this year, next to video games, apple accessories and awesome travel books I am super stoked to get cooking out of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”… The one they made that movie about, yeah, that one!) hahaha

See, I even got new Cinderella PJ’s!!

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I digress, the point of this quick update post though was actually for something completely different!! Do you remember that fabulous little apartment I wrote about? Well, Derek and I have finally moved in!!

We have tons of boxes to unpack, a bed and bookshelf to still get here and build and indescribable amount of organizing and paperwork to do (who knew that you needed a TV license here? Huh… ) but with the help of our amazing family we’re doing incredibly well!!

My Mom and brother even surprised us by sneakily hanging up these lovely banners for us, when they brought a bunch of boxes for us earlier!

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Now, we’ve had our first home cooked meal here and some bubbly to celebrate and we’re off to (the currently provided) bed. I’ve been told by a dear friend in Germany, that the first dream you dream in a new home will always come true. So let’s hope it’s a good one!! 😉

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Sweet dreams everyone, thanks for reading! Take care. Xoxox

3 Christmas songs, that I wish you would listen to!

So, we’ve already had two of these, and Santa takes flight in only two days time, which means that it’s time to break out the tunes! Here are three of my favourite recommendations this season, and I hope you’ll love them too.

1) Pentatonix – That’s Christmas to Me

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I discovered this original song on their official YouTube Channel, and discovered afterwards that it is also the song that inspired the title of their Christmas Album. It feels like Christmas rolled into a song; like the carols of days gone by but with a modern twist, while it paints the most beautiful Christmas picture imaginable. (Also, their Album is totally worth the investment.)

You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFjdfjrtf1Q

2) Heather Traska – Santa Baby/Diamond’s are a girls best friend

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Heather is a magnificent YouTube personality, with a breathtaking talent for music and a flare for costumes & style. She is famous for her “One Woman Disney Medleys”, and this classy version of a Christmas classic is fun and sultry.

You can find this delightful video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jLbAiqDsLJI 

3) Bing Crosby & David Bowie – The Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth

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My Dad just introduced me to this beautiful video today and there is just something timeless about both of these amazing super stars singing together so gracefully. It truly is a classic for all times.

Enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiXjbI3kRus

I hope you all enjoy these recommendations and wish you a most enjoyable and peaceful Christmas.

Thanks for reading. Take care. xoxox

4 Festive Recipes

It’s only 3 days until Santa takes flight, and of course we need to make sure that they house smells delicious and inviting for when he gets here! So I have searched the inter-webs for some of the most appealing recipes and voilà (!) I found some.

With no further ado I wish to share them here, and then I’m going to get into the kitchen to give them a try. Enjoy!

1) Mince Pies

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This is a classic, and I found a very special version of this Christmas staple, Mince Pies with Orange and Cinnamon Pastry, on All Recipes. You can either follow the link to the original, or see follow the description below:

Ingredients
Serves: 18 

  • 225g plain flour
  • 4 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 150g butter, softened
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 4 tablespoons ice water
  • 200g mincemeat
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • icing sugar for dusting

Method
Prep:25min  ›  Cook:15min  ›  Ready in:40min 

  1. Preheat oven to 200 C / Gas mark 6.
  2. Sift together the flour, 4 tablespoons icing sugar and cinnamon. Use a pastry cutter or two forks to mix in the butter until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the orange zest. Sprinkle with ice water, and gather dough into a ball. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to .5cm thick. Cut out approximately 18 (7cm) diameter circles, and 18 (5cm) circles, rerolling dough as needed.
  3. Line muffin tin or patty tin using the larger pastry circles. Fill each pastry shell with about 1 tablespoon of mincemeat. Top with smaller pastry circles, pinching pastry together to seal the edges. Brush the top of each pie with egg.
  4. Bake pies in preheated oven until tops are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool slightly on wire racks. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.

2) Shortbread

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This is one of my husbands favourites and he will be very unhappy if Christmas passes without them. I found a very easy and yummy looking recipe as provided by the BBC.

Ingredients

  • 200g/7oz unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small cubes

  • 100g/3½oz sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • 300g/10½oz plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3.
  2. Mix together the butter and sugar, either by hand or using an electric hand whisk, until pale and smooth. Add the vanilla extract, then gently mix in the flour until completely incorporated (try not to work the flour too much or the biscuits will not be so crumbly). Using your hands, squeeze the mixture together into a ball of dough.
  3. Gently roll the dough out to about 5mm/¼in thick (dust the work surface with a little flour if the dough sticks). Cut into shapes using a biscuit cutter. Transfer the biscuits to a baking tray lined with baking parchment (or a non-stick baking tray) and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes to rest (chilling makes them hold their shape better when baking).
  4. Before cooking, sprinkle each biscuit with a pinch of granulated sugar. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, or until pale golden-brown.
  5. Remove from the oven and transfer the biscuits to a wire rack to cool.

3) Baked Cinnamon Apples 

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Now, I can’t bake for my hubby and not my Daddy, and his favourite at Christmas are these succulent spicy yet sweet cinnamon apples. I found a brilliant recipe on Simply Recipes. Let’s see what he thinks. 😉

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 large good baking apples, such as Rome Beauty, Golden Delicious, or Jonagold
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • 1/4 cup currants or chopped raisins
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup boiling water

Method

cut out apple core scoop out apple core

1 Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C). Rinse and dry the apples. Using a sharp paring knife or an apple corer, cut out the cores, leaving the bottom 1/2 inch of the apples intact. If using a paring knife, first cut out the stem area and then use a small metal spoon to scoop out the seeds. Cut the holes so that they are an inch or so wide.

apple with hollowed out hole apples stuffed and ready for baking

2 Place the brown sugar, cinnamon, currants or chopped raisins, and chopped pecans (if using) in a small bowl and stir to combine. Put the apples in a baking dish and stuff each apple with the sugar stuffing mixture. Place a dot of butter (a quarter of the tablespoon called for in the ingredient list) on top of the sugar.

3 Pour the boiling water into the bottom of the baking dish. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 30 to 45 minutes, until the apples are cooked through and tender, but not overcooked and mushy. When done, remove the apples from the oven and baste them with the juices from the pan.

Terrific with a side of vanilla ice cream.

4) Guinness Chocolate Mouse

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Since we are living in Ireland at the moment, I also wanted to find something uniquely regional, and the Guinness Storehouse shares some of its own recipes on their website, and I am just itching to try this one!

 Ingredients (Serves 6)

  • 10 egg yolks
  • 10 egg whites, whisked
  • 350g dark chocolate
  • 1/4lb butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100ml GUINNESS® draught

Method

Melt dark chocolate and butter in a bain-marie, add in the GUINNESS® draught. Beat egg yolks and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the melted chocolate mixture in with egg yolks
and slowly folding in the whisked egg whites until everything is smooth. Transfer mousse
to serving glasses and chill.

Serve with fresh raspberries or other seasonal berries.

*yum* *yum* *yum* *yum* *yum*

Are you going to try any of these? If you do, I would love to see some of your pictures and creations! Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy Baking!!!

Thanks for reading. Take care. xoxox

(All images: Google)

5 Tips to get yourself psyched for Christmas!

Santa takes flight in 4 days time and even though some of us are already rocking around the Christmas Tree, there are some of us who still haven’t quite gotten into the Christmas Bug. Wanting to spread some Christmas Cheer, here is my list of things to do to get yourself psyched for Christmas.

1) Get glammed up! Whether you like cheesy festive earrings, hair pins, necklaces or rings, or you’re more the shiny ties and cuff-links type: get glammed up! It’s human nature, we can’t help but feel excited if our reflection tells us that we look ready for a party!

rudolph   merry christmas   Pudding

2) Do something nice for others. It is the season of giving after all. Whether you bake some cookies, mince pies or scones for your work colleagues, take some of the pressure of your parents by offering to arrange the stocking stuffers this year or maybe even by just taking some time for that friend or family member you haven’t seen in a while, by going to a movie, or out to coffee. Spending some time, effort and maybe money on other people is actually very rewarding. (ASAP Science proved that → http://goo.gl/vDi2Ar )

3) Blast your Christmas Music. Crank it up. Turn on the tunes and sing along to your hearts content. Sometimes you really just need to litereally rock around the Christmas Tree and jingle those bells, like an excited child, to bring back that magic.

Seriously… just do it.

4) Try something new. You could dig out an old family tradition that you have never tried to master before, such as a recipe, like Grandma’s Mince Pies, or Aunt Bessie’s Turkey Stuffing, or an experience such as attending a Christmas mass (even if, just like me, you’re not religious, this might give you some insight into what your ancestors or relations get/got out of it). But of course you could also try something completely new. Change your hair (cut or colour), get that new piercing or that Tattoo you’ve always been dreaming of … or maybe, sign up for that class you’ve always wanted to take (Dance, Photography, Cooking, Robotics..?) as an early gift to yourself, and then you can get all psyched up for it over the festive season.

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I recently got the top of my ear pierced, something I’ve been wanting to get done for ages! 🙂

5) It’s a classic: Make yourself a hot drink, get a Christmas book or movie and curl up on the couch (maybe even with a loved one at our side?) and just let that magic wash over you. My personal recommendations for movies are:

Miracle on 34th Street

A Christmas Carol (specifically the one with Sir Patrick Stewart)

The Muppets Christmas Carol (for those who want to watch it with little ones)

The Polar Express

Rise of the Guardians

I am now on a 9 day “stay-cation” meaning I’ve got the whole week off work, but I am not going anywhere since I intend to spend it at home with my fam-jam. 😉 Several Christmassy things on my list: play boardgames with my brothers and Cousins, ask my Dad, Mum and Aunty about Christmases when they were growing up and to do some serious baking. *yum yum yum*

Merry Christmas!!

Thanks for reading this everyone. Take Care! xoxoxo

Christmas Around The World

I have been very lucky and privileged in my life to meet people from very many different parts of the world, and this Christmas many of them have come together to share their own cultural Christmases with me, which I would like to share with you here.

Naturally, I will also include some of my own cultural and familial traditions, but with no further ado, and for your enjoyment: Christmas Around The World (in alphabetical order.)

Australia: Merry Christmas

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By: Tom

“Aussie Xmas. My family always woke up early Christmas day, champagne breakfast, chocolate and nuts and cherries out for continuous grazing through the day. Presents in the morning once everyone was up (which sometimes took a while due to brother never usually getting up before midday for ANYTHING, Christmas not excluded. My sister was always the most excited, and made sure he got up early) Lunch was a spread of roasts and cold meats, with prawns always as starter before the main bulk came out. After lunch was always siesta time, usually when we got more acquainted with our gifts, and watched any movies that were in the present pile. Dinner was generally leftovers from lunch, self serve whenever you were hungry, because everyone always overate at lunch. I can only speak for my family, but Christmas eve was special cos everyone came home then, and Christmas morning was the exciting fun part. Boxing day was often spent visiting extended family.
[The] Beach is definitely a theme of Christmas. I remember growing up and most years, Beach toys were in the gift pile. And we often went camping to the beach between Xmas and NY.
And omg, I’ll send you some links of the kind of Christmas music we have… It’s ridiculous

Haha it’s a bit different, I can imagine. Xmas is always so hot. Minimal clothing, air con on freezing, and maybe lunch outside in the shade Strangely, with the steady americanisation of Australian culture, Christmas is still associated with snow and winter. Decorations are often snow sprinkled (fake of course haha).”

Canada: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Joyeux Noël

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By: myself

I spent many years living in Canada myself, so all of my teenage Christmases were spent here. It was always a picture book “White Christmas” and my magically there were always the most impressive hoof and sleigh marks on our back deck.

My Mum used to set the tree up on the 12th of December, in the Irish tradition, but eventually my Dad had this great idea to host a Christmas party with a German “Feuerzangenbowle” at the centre of it. So, as is customary in the cultural mixing pot that is Canada, we created our own traditions.

At the end of November, or the beginning of December (usually coinciding with the first advent) we would get the house decked up in all its festive glory, with a glistening tree and fragrant candles, and invited all of our nearest and dearest. It was always “pot-luck” style, meaning every guest brought some food for the table and dinner would be an adventure. However, the staples were always my Mum’s Irish Stew and Irish Coffee’s, my Dad’s German potato salad and Uncle Spencer’s Shrimp Tray and Spinach dip. You always knew that those would be there.

Then, we would gather in the living room as my dad brewed the “Feuerzangenbowle” and we would pass around a Santa Hat. The person with the hat would sing a song, or share a story or poem, usually Christmas themed. It became a staple of Christmas and the singular way of welcoming the Christmas Season for us and many of our nearest and dearest.

Our actual Christmases were an Irish/German combo, so more on that in those sections.

And now, a Canadian tale by my friend Rachelle:

“This was a tradition that my parents passed down to us. Every year when the tree went up and the Christmas angel went on top of the tree we were told that she was a messenger from Santa. Every night she would fly up to the north pole and tell Santa if we’ve been good or not. So you can imagine that the month of December we were as good as gold. I carried this on with my kids and [my daughter] does the same with [my grandson]. [She] told me a few days ago that she would look forward to the tree going up just to have the angel visiting our home.”

France: Joyeux Noël

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By: David

“Christmas in France would not be Christmas without la Bûche de Noël ! http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%BBche_de_No%C3%ABl

The most popular Christmas song is called “Petit Papa Noël”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rR5NyGhKQkc

I was also told, that in France, midnight mass is still very prevalent and important, even if not from a religious standpoint but as a cultural component of Christmas Eve.

Germany: Frohe Weihnachten

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By: myself

Christmas is a very popular and culturally important event in Germany and celebrations span over the four weeks before Christmas Eve. The 4 sundays before Christmas are called “Advent” and are counted 1 through 4, with a special candle being lit each Sunday, until finally on the last Sunday before Christmas Eve all 4 Candles are lit. They are usually presented on an ornate tray or wreath of evergreens.

Germany is also the birthplace of the ever popular Advent Calendar that many people in the world enjoy these days, except that it originated with each of the 24 doors revealing a special symbol of Christmas, to raise ones spirits. This eventually morphed into the symbols being moulded out of fine chocolate as a daily treat and of course we now have all kinds of calendars. I make one for both of my brothers and my sister in law every year. This year I even made one each for my Mum, Dad and husband. They’re a lot of work, especially if you want to wrap unique hand selected presents, but it get’s me in the spirit early and I get to watch everyone enjoy a gift every day.

The figure of Santa Claus, is known in Germany as St. Nikolaus, who brings gifts of sweets, fruits and nuts to good little girls and boys from the night of the 5th into the 6th of December, which is St. Nikolaus Day.

In Germany, the main festivities are held on Christmas Eve, with the family sitting for a special Christmas Meal in the early evening before going to mass, and once they get back from mass there would be “Bescherung” which is the exchange of gifts that had been brought by the “Christkind“, which is the angel of Christmas.

Ireland: Happy Christmas & Nollaig Shona


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By: Sinead (my Mum)

“Stockings were the biggest things that we loved to get, it was full of chocolates like Bounties, and Mars and Snickers. We would come down in the mornings in our jammies to see if Santa had been there; was the milk gone? Were the cookies gone? And then we all got to find our pile of gifts that Santa had brought. Now that I think about it, I remember that donkeys years ago, our gifts weren’t even wrapped. I remember walking in and seeing my twin dolls staring at me, and I knew they were mine. That just came back to me; when we were small things weren’t wrapped all the time. And the tree was always real; stuck in a bucket with sand that was wrapped in tinfoil and the tree was covered in angel hair. If you got too close it stuck to you. Once we had received our presents we would get dressed in our sunday best; the whitest socks and my Daddy would have polished our shoes the night before and set them by the fire. Then we would go to mass. You would tell all your friends what you got for Christmas and show off your new clothes. After that we went home and when the Christmas Dinner was fully cooked and ready we had our Christmas Dinner around 4 o’clock and watch The Wizard of Oz in front of an open roaring fire. But Mummy and Daddy would wake up every morning to 5 bars of their favourite chocolate on their bedside lockers, because we would each take their favourites out of our stockings (so say if Mummy liked Bounty and Daddy likes Mars Bars) and we would all put ours on their bedside lockers. They would end up coming downstairs and bartering with us, so that they could get a mixture. hahaha.”

Italy: Buon Natale

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By: Silvia

“From now on when I say ‘we’ I’m referring to my family and I, because there are different traditions if you’re from north, central or south Italy. Everything starts on Dec 8th for us. From this day on we build our Xmas tree and a presepe. Do you know what a presepe is? It’s basically a representation of the Holy Family during the night of the birth of Christ. There’s a wee house, a wee statue for Mary, Joseph and Jesus, then there’s also the ox, the donkey and the big star. I’m not a fan of the tree because my mum used to put too many decorations on it. Way too many decorations. The kitsch-est thing ever. I loved building a huge presepe: I used a specialty type of paper to make mountains, fake snow, and moss for the grass. Aluminium foil for the rivers and lakes, tiny houses for the sheperds, sheep, cows, golden fabric for the stars. I also used spare Xmas lights for trees to light up all the wee houses. My dad built some kind of wooden platform for me with tiny holes forthe lights, it protected them from the moist released by the moss (taken fresh from the woods!). It was a realy big thing for me and I also joined a competition for the best presepe among the other Sunday school kids. I don’t remember if I won (nor my parents do) but I don’t thinks so. It’s a shame I don’t have a scanner, I would have sent you a picture of that presepe! But the big fun starts on Xmas Eve, Dec 24th. That’s when we start eating. We only stop on Dec 26th, we have a total of 5 big meals with our relatives, moving from one house to another…. It’s like a marathon. Typicaly menu: 5 different type of starters, 2 pasta dishes (one is usually tortellini soup), 2 meat dishes, 3-5 type of cakes, sweet pies, candies. All washed down with water and wine. After all the food, we also have spirits like grappa (schnaps), limoncello, homemade vinsanto (a very sweet wine from Tuscany, amber coloured), rossantico (another sweet wine with a strong orange flavour, red coloured). Then coffee. Imagine having all of this for 5 TIMES. Hardcore eaters. Ah we don’t have meat on the 24th, because Catholic religion doesn’t want you to eat meat on the evening of big feasts. For example we also don’t have meat the day before Easter. Bullshit. On Xmas day we open all the presents, as usual. After the 26th we don’t celebrate anymore untill Jan 6th. That’s the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Wise Man visit baby Jesus. Something I used to do with my presepe was this: I put the three men very far from the crib and after the 24th I moved them a wee bit every day, untill they were next to the crib on the 6th. What happens on that day is this: the day before we hang a red wool stocking next to the fireplace (ore the heaters if you don’t have one….), becase the Befana will bring you candies if you have been a good kid, or (sweet) coal if you have been a bad one. Who’s the Befana? It’s Santa’s wife! XD She’s a very ugly lady that rides a flying broom, some kind of witch with a good heart. My stocking was always filled with chocolate coins, toffee and milk candies. This feast ends all Xmas celebrations all over Italy and this is pretty much everyting I can think of right now. If I remember anything else I will write again!”

Netherlands: Vrolijk Kerstfeest

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By: Ghyslaine and Anneke 

LINK This sums up what we do with our presents in December.”

“Our family tradition is to put baby Jesus in the little stall on the 25th.. it was always done by my grandmother after we went to night mass on x-mas eve and now my father does it.”
The Netherlands also have the tradition of Sinterklaas, who is a version of St. Nikolaus who comes to the Netherlands on December 5th. This is one of the most interesting traditions, since in the Netherlands they have their big day of gifts and food on that day. Sinterklaas would leave the presents in the children’s boots, just like St. Nikolaus does, but then he would also leave a sack full of bigger gifts.
“Yep that’s how it went when we were kids.. later on, the ‘surprises’ (Secret Santa + poem + crafty joke) came and now we have this sort of dice game where we ‘steal’ each other’s presents… which is a lot of fun! / Oh and this is one of my favourite Sinterklaas songs: LINK “

Japan: メリークリスマス (Merīkurisumasu)

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By: Ula (a wonderful lady, originally from Poland, who now lives in Japan)

“I insist on going to the midnight mass on 24 th and I usually work unles it is a weekend – but on 25 I never accept any evening classes or even emergency translations no matter what – we usually dress pretty and go to some stylish restaurant with some friends – have a meal together -take a photo and exchange some gifts. Sometimes my friends send me opłatek from Poland so we break it and that day . For New Years which is so close to get her we go for hatsumode ( first visit to the temple) listen to jyoyu no Kane beating out 103 minuses of human nature at midnight. Come home and fall a sleep – next morning rush out to get nengajyo’s and have a fancy meal. I always buy ice wine and we have sip of this!!! My super favorite ! And me and Masato play together some tune as a duet . In the afternoon we go the shrine drink some new year sake there and go home .we usually visit his parents and forbid time together before going home.”

In Japan, Christmas is not a major cultural event, so it is not given off as a holiday. This means, that those who do wish to celebrate it, need to request it off separately and that most celebrations are cultural rather than religious in nature, with Japanese youth exchanging gifts and setting up a little tree on weekends near Christmas Day.

Poland: Wesołych Świąt

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By: Ula

“Well here it goes Wesolych świat ! Szczęśliwego nowego roku! (Vesolyh schviont) ( schchenshlivego novego rokoo) We celebrate on Xmas eve. The meal varies throughout Poland . I come from the south so we eat barszcz ( beetroot soup) we serve it with kind of gyoza but the filling is mushrooms and veggies. The main is fish potatoes red salad cabbage, the dessert is compote of dry fruits. Then after we eat, children can open gifts that the aniołek has left.

Aniołek =angel. Has dropped off . He/ she drops them off before the meal. Usually an adult will somehow distract the kids to leave the room and while they are out there will be Xmas gifts under the tree. There should 12 dishes to remember the 12 apostles. Each side dish counts as a dish – definitely no meat but herrings in cream sauce are a must! Pickled! A beautiful tradition, I am very fond of is the breaking of the opłatek. It is a flat biscuit paper thin made with flour and water and pressed like waffles. But it is paper thin – kind of resembles communion bread. There is one for every one at the table. It is tasteless so we offer honey to represent that there is always going to be sweet to go with the tears or hardship that may be ahead. We go to each person and break a little from theirs and they do the same from ours – wishing each other all the best . Then a head of the family or a special guest says a prayer. And we eat . One needs to try at least a mouthful of each dish to avoid bad luck. After the meal we sing a carol or two and kids can open the gifts. Someone acts as the passer of gifts and we edit as each opens and says thank you . We always have a spare plate for that lonely guest should they wander into your home – no one should be alone or sad and any arguing should be put off . At midnight we all go to church for pasterka – midnight mass. Then afterwards everyone wishes each other all the best . That’s about it . There are some superstitions too. As the year draws to the end cleaning – anything that doesn’t get done by New Year’s Eve – stays undone for the year .”

 

This has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for reading. Take care.

Merry Christmas! xoxox