Christmas 2013 Holiday Highlights

As of today, the Christmas holidays are officially over in our house. For me and the boys, the holidays have been total bliss. All the usual busyness of daily life stopped in our house and we enjoyed two weeks of ‘down-time’ together

Like many parts of the world, we’ve been experiencing freaky weather patterns these past few weeks, including frequent spells of torrential rain and gail force winds. Our local meadows (pictured in my top banner) transformed into a big lake.

Bathampton Meadows Flooded Christmas 2013

On Christmas Eve, we awoke to find our garden completely submerged under water. The water levels were the highest that we’ve ever seen them before, reaching the top of Lil’ L’s slide. While the water did eventually drain away, as soon as we had more heavy rain, the garden flooded again.  Fortunately, our house is on higher land, so there’s no risk of it flooding.

Flooded Garden Christmas 2013

For Christmas Day, we headed over to my mum’s in Dorset. We were having such a nice time that we ended up staying five days!

Christmas 2013

We played games, watched films, and went on some lovely walks with the dogs. Father Christmas brought Lil’ L a laser gun set, and he and M had lots of fun and laughs running round the house and forest shooting each other (boys eh?)

Lil L in Verwood Forest Christmas 2013

Using the weather tracking tool on our mobiles, we were able to time our walks to avoid the worst of the rain. Most days were dark and cloudy, but Boxing Day was exceptionally bright and dry, so we headed to Bournemouth.

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_1

It was utterly glorious!

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_4

We took a long walk along the promenade, played with the dogs on the beach, had coffees on the pier, and played the tuppence slot machines in the arcade.

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_2

I find it so invigorating by the sea this time of year. It’s great for clearing the old cobwebs away!

Boxing Day on Bournemouth Beach 2013_3

Love these colourful beach huts on Bournemouth promenade!

Beach Huts at Bournemouth

Food-wise, by far the best meal of the holidays was the Christmas dinner. My mum made the nut and lentil roast on Christmas Eve so, on Christmas day, we simply needed to prepare the veggies and gravy. Lil’ L said it was the best Christmas dinner he’s ever had! He even tried the Brussel sprouts and, though not keen on them on their own, he loved them mashed in ‘Bubble and Squeak’ (which we served on Boxing Day with the Chestnut and Mushroom Jalousie).

And thank you SO much for all your lovely comments about the Cranberry Glazed Red Lentil and Cashew Nut Loaf recipe. I was over the moon to hear how much you liked it!

I admit I’ve eaten far too much these past couple of weeks but I’m not worried about it. This week I’ll get back into my usual eating and exercising habits and, by the end of the month, I’m sure I’ll back back to my usual weight.  For me, this month is all about quick prep, low cost, tasty, healthy meals. I’ve got some really easy recipes to share with you, plus some awesome giveaways.

Time for me to officially bid farewell to 2013 and embrace the New Year.

Here’s wishing you all a very happy 2014 xx

Winter Solstice 2013 at Glastonbury

This year, the Winter Solstice happened to fall on a Saturday, so we took the opportunity to head to one of our favourite landmarks – Glastonbury Tor – to watch the sun set. It was a close call as the sun was already on its way down as we drove into the town.

With no time to spare, we headed straight up to the Tor…

Walking up to Glastonbury Tor

And we made it just in the nick of time!

Glastonbury Tor 400

For days, we’d been experiencing torrential rains and gail force winds here in the South West, and it had rained for most of Saturday too. However, just as the sun was setting on the Winter Solstice, the rain stopped, the clouds disappeared and we experienced the most beautiful sun set. It truly was a magical moment

Winter Solstice at Glastonbury 2013 1

As soon as the sun was down, the clouds came over and the heavy rain returned!!

We carefully made our way down from the Tor, trying not to get blown over in the gail force winds! Back in the town, we stopped for a warming drink and a quick browse in the The Speaking Tree before it closed. All three of us came away with a beautiful book…. mind you, it’s very hard to come away empty handed from that shop!  As we made our way back to the car, we stopped to admire all the amazing window displays.

Glastonbury Shops

Glastonbury Shops - December

Glastonbury Shops - December 5

Glastonbury Shops - December 2

Glastonbury Shops - December 3

Glastonbury Shops - December 4

I loved that little hedgehog!

Well, it’s Christmas Eve now and I still have a few more things to finish off, including Christmas cards and decorating the Christmas Cake, but I’m nearly there!  M and Lil’ L have the next two weeks off, and I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with them. This will be my last blog post for a while, as I’m going to ‘unplug’ for the holidays to give the family my full attention 😉

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
I look forward to catching up with you in 2014 xx

 

How to Take the Stress Out of Christmas Dinner

There are many constants that come with the Christmas season, most of which include the positive, holiday spirit-inducing traditions that we enjoy with our loved ones every year. But this season can also leave us feeling a little overwhelmed. In this post, Jemima gave us some great tips on how we can avoid stress in the lead up to Christmas.

In my experience, one of the biggest stresses this time of year is cooking the family’s Christmas dinner… especially if you’re in charge of making the entire meal!

Christmas dinner table

But fret not, because there are steps you can take ahead of time to make sure your dinner is a success and reduce any possible stress that comes with it. As outlined by the Stress Management Society, there are plenty of ways to create a relaxing environment in the home, especially during the holidays. Some of the more dinner-related suggestions are to make sure you plan ahead, and to create a calming atmosphere with laid-back music and relaxing aromas. This month, I’ve been listening to lots of London Grammar and James Blake, and making great use of my aromatherapy oil burners and scented candles. All of which have helped to keep me relaxed whilst I’ve been beavering away in the kitchen.

And when it comes to making a stress-free Christmas dinner, I personally suggest ditching the ‘typical’ Christmas dinner main course of oven-roasted turkey for something a little different. As I wrote recently, my mum introduced me to nut roasts when I was 12 years old—and I’ve enjoyed them as the centrepiece to my Christmas dinner ever since. My latest take on the recipe is to make it with a base of red lentils and cashews, which is then topped with a festive cranberry glaze.

Red Lentil and Cashew Nut Loaf with Cranberry Glaze

But the best thing about this dish, apart from the taste, is that you can make it up to three days ahead of time. You could even do it earlier than that and freeze it if you wanted, because it’ll keep for weeks that way. Preparing it in advance will also free up space in your oven because let’s face it, we’ve all struggled with trying to fit all the Christmas dinner components in there at once. But don’t let that lead you to believe that you need a bigger oven or that you need to spend more time swapping food in and out. As My Smart Buy points out, you can simply grab a new oven rack (or two) and you’ll be able to expedite your meal-preparation process.

With that in mind, all you’ll need to do on Christmas Day is get started on those veggies. You are obviously free to use whichever ones you like to accompany the nut roast, but my favourites are roasted potatoes, maple-glazed parsnips and carrots, and Brussels sprouts. This year, I might also try cooking some vegan Yorkshire puddings (from Viva!’s Mini Guide to a Veggie Christmas) and some herbed chestnut stuffing balls, so an additional oven rack will definitely come in useful!

In previous years, I’ve made the nut roast 1-2 days in advance, then on Christmas Day, I start preparing the veggies about 1.5 hours before I’m planning to serve the dinner.  Here’s how I usually prepare the roasted veggies…

While the veggies are roasting, I prepare the Brussel sprouts and gravy. I usually just boil the sprouts in a little salted water. Last year, I made the gravy from scratch but, this year, I’m going to use the Colman’s Instant Gravy Paste with Roasted Onion as it’s less hassle and has a great flavour!

When the roasted veggies are almost ready, I slice the nut roast and either heat it up in the microwave (covered with a plate to prevent it drying out), or pop it in the oven for a few minutes.

And that’s dinner sorted!

Now I just need to get on with the Christmas card writing, present wrapping, Christmas cake decorating and cracker making. With the assistance of one of Santa’s little helpers, I’m sure all tasks will be finished in good time and in good spirits 😉

What veggies are you planning to serve on Christmas Day? If you’ve got any lovely recipes, please do link up below xx

Disclaimer: This is a guest post that I wrote in collaboration with author, Dora Stevens.

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti (Vegan / Dairy-Free / Egg-Free)

It took me a while to pluck up the courage to trying baking biscotti. I always thought it would be a challenge to achieve the perfect, crunchy texture. However, as soon as I spotted the biscotti recipes in Isa and Terry’s Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, I knew it would all work out fine. This amazing little recipe book has never let me down yet.

Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

Baking biscotti is way easier than I ever imagined… even with the double bake aspect to it.  I love experimenting with different flavour and ingredient combinations for the biscotti.  The chocolate and almond version has especially been a hit with everyone that’s tried it 🙂

Almonds and Choc Chips

The recipe is based on Isa and Terry’s ‘Kitchen Sink Chocolate Biscotti’ recipe. The ingredient quantities are only given in cups, so I weighed them today for anyone that doesn’t use measuring cups (and that includes most of my friends and family!) Cups are readily available in the UK now so, if you do fancy trying more US/Canadian/Australian recipes, I highly recommend buying a set. You’ll find them in the larger supermarkets (like Asda-Wal-Mart and Tesco), kitchen shops, as well as Amazon.

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti (Vegan / Dairy-Free / Egg-Free) | Bit of the Good Stuff

Products used in this recipe
Aasani almonds, found on the world food aisle in Tesco
Tesco Chapatti Flour, found on the world food aisle
Tesco Organic Rapeseed Oil
Morrisons Dark Choc Chips

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti (Vegan / Dairy-free / Egg-free) | Bit of the Good Stuff

I’ve made lots of batches of biscotti this month. I don’t know why, but I always think of December as ‘biscotti month’!  I’ve really enjoyed sharing them with friends, family, my study group… and a homeless guy in Bath. His dog loved it too! (Don’t worry, it wasn’t the chocolate version 😉 )

I also made a batch today to give to Lil’ L’s teacher as a ‘thank you’ gift.

Chocolate and Almond Biscotti Holiday Gift | Bit of the Good Stuff

Do you like biscotti? If so, what’s your favourite flavour?

Have you ever tried making it at home? If you’ve got any great recipes, please do link up below x

 

Christmas has arrived in Bath!

First, we had the Bath Christmas Lights switched on by Mary Berry.

Bath Christmas Lights Switch On

Then there was the Bath Lantern Parade, filled with a huge array of paper lanterns which danced its way down Pulteney Street to the beat of Samba Sulis.

Bath Lantern Parade 2013 1

Watching Bath Lantern Parade 2013

The Bath Christmas Market has been in full flow for the past couple of weeks. It’s been bigger and better than ever this year!

Bath Christmas Market 2013 2

The Lantern Parade and official opening of the Christmas Market were even more special for me, as my mum and her best friend came to visit for the night

Bath Christmas Market 2013 1

My favourite time to walk round the Christmas Market has been during the evenings, when the crowds have started to subside. It looks so pretty lit up, with beautiful Bath Abbey as its backdrop.

Bath Christmas Market 2013 3

And last weekend, Christmas came to our house too!  M and Lil’ L headed to Colerne to buy a tree. When they returned home, they decorated the tree and the living room as a surprise for me!

Christmas Tree 2013

After all this activity, the boys definitely deserved a cup of hot chocolate, which I made with the Elements for Life Spiced Raw Hot Chocolate, and topped with some vegetarian marshmallows from The Vegan Kind‘s latest subscription box.

Vegan Hot Chocolate with Marshmallows

And now it’s time for me to treat three of my lovely readers with an early Christmas pressie   The Raw Chocolate Making Kit giveaway ended at midnight last night and the three winners, chosen at random by Rafflecopter, are…

93 Tamzin

339 Poppy

522 Jane

Congratulations to you all!  I’ll be in touch to arrange delivery x

And I must say a big ‘thank you’ to Elements for Life for enabling me to host such a fabulous giveaway!

Elements for Life has a fantastic range of chocolate-making goodies and super foods available from their online store. They’ve kindly given me a discount code which entitles my readers to 10% off any products on their website. Just enter BOTGS10 at the checkout. This code has no expiry date!

Are you feeling ‘Christmassy’ yet? Now we have a tree, I’m definitely starting to feel more festive 😉

Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? I only started mine yesterday!!!

Three ways to stay stress-free this Christmas

Today, I am delighted to share with you a guest post from a special friend of mine, Jemima. She’s a yoga teacher and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner, who specialises in stress reduction. Like me, Jemima is also passionate about nutrition and meditation, recognising the positive effects they undoubtedly have on our physical and mental well-being.

In this post, Jemima is going to share some tips on how we can maintain a sense of calm in the busy weeks leading up to Christmas. You’ll also get to meet Jemima as she’s kindly made a short video tutorial for us on how to do a simple breathing meditation. It may be simple, but it’s extremely effective. If you haven’t tried meditating before, I hope you’re encouraged to give it a try!

With no further ado, let me pass you over to Jemima…

Boxing Day Shoppers

 

So, here we are…Christmas lights have been officially switched on in town, adverts are bombarding us at every opportunity and the great race to consume as much as possible before the 25th December has begun.  Many people would rather not be drawn into these manic and soul-less preparations but how do we resist?  How do we avoid the prickling panic sensation of not having bought enough for our families?  How do we banish the temptation to over-eat, over-drink and over-spend when that is the norm at this time of year for so many?

 

Whenever I face a tough question or emotion, I have found it useful to ask – what do you want instead?

 

What do you want instead?

It’s really easy to list all the things that we DON’T want and to become caught in a negative cycle of constantly trying to push things out of our way, creating more problems for ourselves as our brains don’t have the capacity to process a negative.  (Try this – don’t think of a red box, you can’t help it can you?)  So instead of thinking – “I don’t want to overspend this Christmas” or “I don’t want to put on weight this Christmas” – try stating what you DO want.

 

As if by magic your brain will then look for all the ways you can make those things possible, because the brain wants to find evidence to support what it believes to be true… So you could have “I’d like to give heartfelt gifts this year and stay within my planned budget” or “I’d like to eat food that nourishes and energizes me”.  You’ll be amazed at how many solutions seem to appear out of thin air.

 

Stay in the moment

There is a saying that goes “Anxiety is born of living in the future and depression is born of living in the past”.  While I think this is oversimplifying to some extent, I do believe very much in the benefits of tuning into the present moment.  An easy way to do this is to focus on the breath.  Take a quick look at the video below and I’ll show you exactly how to start right now…

 

 

Gratitude

This is one of my favourite ways to feel good when I am in need of a boost.  Take a pen and pad and find a comfy spot.  Make a list of everything in your life that you are grateful for.  No thing is to big or too small, get it all down.  From your house, food in the fridge to the smile your daughter gave you this morning, from indoor plumbing to the love you share with a special person.  Run with it, keep writing even if you get stuck.  This exercise can be very profound and may cause leakage from the eyeballs which is absolutely 100% OK.  After 5 minutes stop and read your list back to yourself.  Relish the feelings that come up, all the sensations, let the gratitude fill you up until it starts to overflow.  Tomorrow, make another list.

 

These 3 specific tips have helped me stay grounded and calm and you may find that they help you to tune into your true nature again and fill up on all the good stuff whenever you want (– not only at Christmas!) the stuff that we can never over-consume and that is truly nourishing, namely love, gratitude and peacefulness.

 

Wishing you all an amazing Christmas and with special thanks to Sharon for asking me to guest blog here.

Love

Jemima x

Jemima jpg

And thank you Jemima!

If you’d like to connect with Jemima, you’ll find her here: Sunshine Yoga Blog, Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube.

 

Do you find that your stress levels rise over the festive period? I know it’s the most testing time of the year for me. There always seems so much to do and the days fly past quicker than ever!

Do you have your own methods for avoiding stress at Christmas time? If so, please do share below.

Also, I’d love to hear whether you’ve tried meditation.