Well what a lot to talk about! I suppose the best place to start would be Christmas. I’ll talk about Christine’s visit in a follow-up post.
I finished work in early December. This meant lots of time for wrapping presents – not that I had a lot left – just Christine and Andre because the rest I’d posted to Australia at the beginning of the month. Speaking of which, they wouldn’t let me post a few tiny bottles of port, even though it wasn’t on the banned list! They had spirits and alcohols over 70% banned, neither of which category my port fell into, but they wouldn’t let it through! For some reason even though it wasn’t on the banned list I asked them about it. Future reference – just don’t mention it!
I also spent a lot of time doing Christmas baking – gingerbread men, apricot balls, rum balls (turned out rather dry because I used the wrong ratio of sweet biscuits to condensed milk, thanks to having to use different biscuits to what I’m used to), shortbread (the first time I’ve ever forgotten an ingredient while baking – vanilla – still tasted ok) and a gingerbread house! It was my first gingerbread house ever and I think it turned out pretty well 🙂
These are just two photos I took on my phone. Andre took a few on our proper camera, including some with the little ‘fire’ inside the house going, which you can see through the windows! (Battery operated tea light candles). The stones in the house are chocolate-covered honeycomb; the logs are mint chocolate sticks; the roofing tiles are wafers (went stale so we pulled them off when eating the roof); fondant on an ice-cream cone for the tree; candy canes for the corner columns; hard-boiled lollies for the windows; red vines for the roofing edges, and m&ms for the walls. The pattern was one I drew myself.
I encountered two main problems when making the house. Well, three really. The first was when assembling the house. The gingerbread slabs were a little soft (the way I like it), but this meant I wasn’t sure the roof would hold up just glued along the walls. My solution – skewers laid underneath as supporting beams, then the gingerbread slabs laid on top! It worked perfectly. The second problem was how to do the hard-boiled lolly windows. Everything online just says to crush the lollies, put them in the window cavity, then whack it in the oven for the lollies to melt.
Have you ever tried crushing a hard-boiled lolly?? I whacked it with my rolling pin and was worried I was going to chip the counter before the lolly gave out! Googling it, I found others had the same problem. Google also provided the solution: put the lollies on a baking-paper lined baking tray and melt them in the oven first (about 180 deg C for ten minutes). Pull them out of the oven, let the puddles cool, then smash the much thinner and more brittle puddles. Worked a charm! Note for anyone else doing this project: it took about twelve minutes at 180 deg C to melt the crushed lollies into the window cavities.
The last real problem I had was that I wanted to put candy canes on the corner columns and for some reason I’d only bought two candy canes. I don’t even know why. I could go out and buy another two, but I would have to go into the city to a sweet shop for that, because the supermarkets only sold boxes of the little coloured candy canes for some reason?! And that would take time I didn’t really want to waste. Plus the weather wasn’t great and I was happy staying home! So I wondered if I could soften the hooks of the canes in the oven to straighten them out into two more columns.
And I could.
After I had cut off the lengths required for the first two columns, I put the two hooks on a baking-paper lined tray again and into the oven they went. Again, I had it set to 180 degrees, and I sat and watched them soften in the oven until I thought they looked soft enough to bend but before they lost their shape. This took about 5 minutes I think, and when I pulled them out they were perfect. The first one straightened pretty easily (using tongs!) but the second had begun to cool by the time I got to it, so it went back in the oven for a few minutes. The outside coating of candy with the stripes on it wrinkled a bit as I straightened the hooks, but I used them for the back corners and they looked fine.
Actually, this brings me to a fourth problem I encountered. My candy cane columns were a bit too long to fit in under the eaves. I couldn’t cut a little of the ends off because while the knife gripped ok when cutting half way along the candy cane, it kept slipping over the end when I wanted to cut just a little bit off. So I turned again to my gingerbread-house-making friend – HEAT. This time the oven wouldn’t be useful, so I stuck a fry pan on the stove and hoped I wasn’t about to ruin my fry pan (at least it was cheap). Once the stove was up to heat, it was just a matter of putting the candy cane stick, end-down, on the fry pan surface for it to melt. I moved it around a bit to encourage it to melt faster, and it worked perfectly. Once I’d melted off enough I had a smooth end to the stick too, and used a ball of paper towel to wipe the melted candy cane off the fry pan.
So that was my first gingerbread house!
We also went carolling at a local train station with a group from our church two Fridays before Christmas. After carolling everyone went back to the carol organisers’ house for mulled wine and fruit mince pies! A few evenings before Christmas we went shopping at the Borough Market. It was a bit rainy and windy but as most of it is fairly well protected from the elements this wasn’t a problem. We bought fresh berries, warm spiced apple juice, home-made jams, cheese, and some chutney, jams and fudge for some friends Guy & Helen who have been especially good to us since we arrived at GCB. On Christmas Eve our friends Daniel and Ellen invited us around for dinner which was wonderful. Christmas morning we went to church at Grace Church Dulwich, GCB’s parent church, as GCB has a combined Christmas service with GCD. We got a lift with our minister and his family as there is no public transport on Christmas. And for Christmas lunch we went to the home of our fellowship group leaders, Simon and Lou, and we basically ended up spending the whole day there. We also video chatted with Andre’s family on Christmas Eve and my family Christmas night. And a big thanks to everyone from home who has sent us Christmas and birthday cards – Mum & Dad, Grandma & Grandad, Heidi & Phil, Mel & Dean, Katie, Steve & Jenny, Marnie & James, Aunty Hazel & Uncle Stuart, Gum & Beebs, and Uncle Philip & Deb. Sorry if I have missed anyone, but I have the shelves full of cards in front of me and I think that’s all the cards I can see 🙂