Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Bring in the New Year

New Year's eve is a time of anticipation and preparation. It is also a time of endings and a time to clear away the trash of the old year.

This is one of those magical times which is a crack between the worlds, a time full of potential. When one year ends and another begins, we often make New Year Resolutions, promises which we hope will give us a new start. We have a whole clean slate of newness, and we want to make that newness count for something.

There are many traditions to do with the ending of the old year and the beginning of the new.
You could make a Calennig Apple either for yourself or to give to friends. This is a Welsh tradition. Take a large apple, pierce it with cloves and give it three twig legs to stand on - toothpicks work well for this. Then take a sprig of evergreen and poke this in the top of the apple. Stand the apple on your windowsill, to see in the New Year and bring you and all the household good luck.

First Footing is a well known tradition. We were told that it had to be a dark haired man who was the first person invited into the home in the new year (handy that my dad had dark hair). The first footer brought with him blessings for the house, a stick, a piece of coal and a candle, these represented the blessings of warmth and light, and as they were brought in with the New Year, they ensured that the house would not be without these essentials in the coming year. During the 1930's depression when work and money was hard to come by, my dad told me he and his father made a few shillings early one New Year 'first footing' around some of the posh houses in Barton-upon-Humber.

Our family embellished on this tradition and created a tray of blessings. During the evening we would put on a tray all the blessings we wished to be ours in the New Year, so in addition to the coal, stick and candle, there would be bread and salt - for food and savour - a purse containing some money (for wealth), fruit cake and a bottle of whiskey - for riches and all good things.
Since I have had my own home, and we are a Witchy family, we have added magical items to the tray as well. Sometimes it is simply a personal magical tool, sometimes it is a spell to be brought in with the new year, if we need something in particular.
A sprig of evergreen could be used to symbolise renewal and energy (especially welcome as we get older and the joints don't work quite as fluidly as they used to - maybe I should add a bottle of oil or some axle grease), there could be a coloured candle or gem stones to represent certain energies or magical tides we wish to emphasise - a citrine for joy and good health, a moonstone to increase psychic powers.
As this is the feast of Hestia the goddess of the home, bring in some ivy leaves on the tray to bring the Goddess and her protection into your home.

The method for first footing of any kind is simple: make sure the person who will be the 'first footer' is outside before midnight, and welcome them into the house after midnight. Of course make sure they are equipped with what ever you have decided you want to bring in for the New Year, whether it is the traditional coal, wood and candle, or a more elaborate offering tray.

However you celebrate your New Year, I hope it is filled with happiness, magic and all the good things you wish yourself.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Boozy Bread and Butter Pudding

I decided to make a Boozy Bread and Butter Pudding because it was Graham's birthday yesterday and this is his favourite pudding. Now this recipe is really going to make some people throw their hands up in horror, not because of the boozy bit, but because the quantities are not going to be exact.

This is based on both my mum's recipe for bread and butter pudding and her method, so it is not like the conventional recipes you will find all over the place. It is basically a store cupboard pudding using up left overs, so you use what you have got.

First thing - choose your bowl.
In our house that means - the biggest pyrex dish I can lay my hands on (which also happens to be one my mum gave me when Graham and I were first setting up home together).
Mum would then brush the inside of the dish with melted butter or marge (or cooking spread type thingy as we have to call it these days), but I don't think this is necessary.

Next choose your bread:
Again you can use any bread you have in the house, and if it is dry and stale so much the better, don't be using your good fresh bread for this one. I have made this pudding with white bread, wholemeal even sliced up brioche and they are all good and delicious. My favourite is hot cross buns as they are a bit spicy which adds to the flavour, but today I have got some cheap teacakes, which work equally as well. I have sliced the teacakes into three, rather than halves, because they are quite thick, but this is up to you. For this sized dish four teacakes was just right, but you can just butter another slice of bread if you run out before the job is done.
Now whatever bread you have chosen, butter it (or marge it, or use the non-dairy butter substitute of your choice) on both sides. When I was doing this for mum she insisted that every surface of the bread was buttered, and that included the edges, but again I don't think this is necessary - or perhaps shows that I am more slap-dash than mum was.

Line your chosen bowl with the buttered bread - keep about a third of the bread back as you will also need a bread lid for this pudding. So this bread and butter pudding is not going to look like the pictures you see in cookery books.

Next choose some dried fruit:
This can be currants, sultanas, mixed fruit, whatever you have handy or needs using up, or you particularly like. We happened to have an open packet of sultanas in the cupboard, so I am using them. You can just sprinkle some in, as much or as little as you like or have left in the packet. As a variation today I have soaked the sultanas in some rum. Just put them in a bowl or jug and pour over as much or as little of whatever booze you like or have handy, to just about cover the fruit. Leave these to soak for at least an hour.
When they have soaked up as much of the booze as they can, sprinkle them into your bread lined dish and sprinkle over some sugar. I also sprinkled some ground cinnamon as I like this pudding to taste spicy. Don't use too much sugar, you can always add sugar to taste when you dish this out, so don't stress about the quantity, I probably used around a couple of tablespoons - remember the fruit will be sweet already, and some bread is already sweetened too.
Then cover over the fruit with some more bread and butter.

Now for the 'custard':
Again get ready to panic, I am not going to give you exact quantities as it depends on the size of your bowl, but I have made this with fewer and more eggs and the pudding has gone down great guns either way.
This morning I used five whole eggs, around a tablespoon of sugar and topped my jug up to around the two pint mark - which is just under a litre - with skimmed milk. Whisk this all together to dissolve the sugar and make sure the egg and milk are well combined - i don't have a whisk so I use a fork to do this. Again you can use whatever milk you have to hand, I have made it with full fat, cows milk, goats milk and soya milk too.
I reckon 2-3 eggs to a pint of milk is about the right proportion. Oh and add some nutmeg to this - it has to have nutmeg!
Carefully and gently pour the liquid over the pudding - it will take more liquid than you expect - then leave it for 30 mins to an hour to soak. Sprinkle the top with more nutmeg.
If when you go back to look at it the top looks dry, use another egg and some more milk - or just some more milk.

Yep, it is panic stations again, cos this is not an exact science.
The conventional way to cook this pudding is in the oven in a bain marie. That just means you stand it in another dish which has some water in it. This stops the pudding drying out and keeps it lovely and soft in the middle. It could take anything from 3/4 of an hour to 1 1/2 hours.
However I am going to give the cooks among you a heart attack. I cook this pudding in the microwave, it turns out just as good and takes a fraction of the time.
The only thing you have to watch out for is to mind it doesn't overflow.
Also, DO NOT cook this pudding until it is solid in the middle. Keep an eye on it - open it carefully with a spoon, and if there is just a little moisture in the middle take it out of the cooker/microwave and leave it.
The custard will carry on cooking from its own heat and when it is cool enough to eat without burning your mouth, it will be just right.

You can serve this pudding hot or cold. Some people like to serve it with cream or custard, I like it cool and on its own. Yummy !

A Satisfied Customer .

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Last Minute Spell Kit Making

Well the days seem to be rushing towards christmas now.

     Perhaps it seems even worse as being a Mail Order company we are aware of how few posting days there are left when we can be sure our customers are going to get their goodies in time before the holidays.

     We have been working all day today (and probably will be tomorrow too) making sure any orders we have received up to today are picked and wrapped ready for posting on Monday.
     This included today a special one off Spell Kit, with unique spell instructions which had to be devised, items collected, a special talisman designed and hand pyrographed. Then, oh joy, remember I told you that my new pc is refusing to speak to the copier/printer (Technology- don't you love it) ?
So we sent off for a new printer cable, which will (we hope) solve the problem. That was around a fortnight ago, and despite Mike (who ordered it off the internet for us) getting an email saying it had been despatched the day after he ordered it, it still hasn't arrived.
        So in addition to creating the spell kit, making the talisman (and a magical oil) to go in it, I have then had to write out the spell instructions by hand - and my hand writing is terrible at the best of times.

     Well, there is only a week or so left to go before Last Posting Date, and that is when we shall knock off for our mid-winter break. This is the only time we take off during the year, so we shall have a lovely holiday until the 5th of January.

     (Although I must admit I have got myself a list of things which I could do during the holidays.)

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Technology - Don't you love it? !

I am a non-technical person living in an increasingly technical world.

Youngsters seem to instinctively understand tablets and WII's and mobile phones, and the speed of their thumbs while doing text messaging is amazing.
I have none of the above devices. I did have a pay-as-you-go mobile phone for about a year, but in that time the service provider turned it off twice because I was not using it enough. The third time I found it didn't work when I went to use it was the last time I ever touched it.

So last weekend I became the proud possessor of a bright and shiny new (second-hand) work pc.

I had to get one as my current machine has got into a disconcerting habit of freezing every few minutes, and one day, when I really could do without it, I know it will just freeze and not un-freeze. My previous pc blew up losing several years worth of stored files and I didn't want to go through that again.

My darling son came with said pc (and small grandchild) and while I entertained grandchild with wooden blocks, TV and cake, my son set to the task of transferring all my files to the new pc and setting everything up for me. He managed that in under an hour, which impressed me.

However then came the 'but' moment.

This time last year we got a shiny, brand new printer/photocopier which is attached to my work pc so that I can print out all the flyers, fact sheets, instruction leaflets, Newsletters, books, letters to customers etc., etc., etc.... And when my son connected it to the new pc, they did the technological equivalent of having a hissy fit and refused to talk to one another.

No problem, we thought, I'll just ring our photocopier maintenance people and as they installed the photocopier on my previous pc, no doubt they will be able to do the same again on my new pc.

'Yes, no problem, madame,' said the young man at the photocopier place, 'Although you do realise this will attract a call out fee of £75 (plus VAT) for the first half hour, plus our hourly rate if it takes longer than this?'

I was somewhat taken aback by that gem of news and said I would have to think about it.

So I am currently thinking about how to get information from my pc to the photocopier which doesn't involve strangling a photocopier maintenance person.

I'll let you know what happens next.