Not long now until the big day and my guests in this party are Donata Zawakzka who is a talented artist and illustrator, and who is responsible for the artwork in my latest book Tales from the Irish Garden… My other guest is poet and author Robbie Cheadle, who also creates art in the form of fondant figures that illustrate the children’s books she writes with her son Michael. Robbie will be sharing her most favourite Christmas gift ever.
Sally’s Christmas Past
My memory of Christmas past is of my father and the 12.45 rule that was strictly adhered to throughout my childhood and teenage years.
My father cooked the Christmas lunch for as long as I could remember which would be from about age four or five. We lived on Hoad’s Hill which was on the main road into the village of Wickham from Portsmouth and Fareham. My mother had been brought up in the village from the age of seven. Her father had been killed in the last week of the First World War when she was just 18 months old and my grandmother had worked as a seamstress and eked out the small war pension that she was awarded. Eventually she returned to Hampshire where her mother’s family farmed and to be close to her father and sisters in Gosport.
My grandmother married the master butcher Norman Welch whose shop was at the top of the square when my mother was about seven years old and eventually he had built the house on Hoad’s Hill. Each day he would telephone from the shop and ask what the boy should bring up for lunch. The boy on his bike would duly arrive with the joint of the day. With wonderful farms in the area for other fresh produce and a large orchard at the rear of the house, food was plentiful and varied. Norman was quite a bit older but adored my grandmother who was quite the lady and apparently there was much tension around the Sunday dinner table when he would soak his poor shop weary feet in a mustard bath…..
My parents married in 1940 but my father was at sea for almost all of the next six years only returning from the Far East in 1946. Norman or ‘Pop’ as we knew him deeded the house to my mother and went to live in a small cottage closer to Fareham. Sinclair was our family home where my two elder sisters and myself grew up, joined by my brother when I was four years old. Wickham Village was a wonderful community where we knew most of the families amongst the villagers and the local farmers. At the end of the square is a tea house that is still in business today and has been renamed in honour of Lily Langtry. In our day however it was run by my mother’s best friend Margaret with the help of her elderly mother and aunt.
Wonderful cakes and other delights were always paraded before us in the back kitchen where we as almost family would gather and on Christmas morning it was a tradition for all of us to go down to Aunty Margaret’s for presents, and for my parents to enjoy a bit of the stronger stuff. We always came away with a large tin of Quality Street and our gifts, and after the short car ride home we would tuck into the turkey and trimmings… Legend has it that after one or two Christmas dinners that were on the dry and rather crispy side, my father decided to take over the preparation and cooking as my mother was adamant that our traditional social gathering in the square should continue. He would drop off my mother, two sisters and myself and baby brother, and then return home to finish the preparation and cooking. While the turkey rested and the potatoes roasted he would drop down and pick us up with the absolute rule that the dinner had to be on the table at 12.45 precisely.
As time went on, and whenever he was not at sea, my father would cook the weekend lunches and the 12.45 rule was adhered to. There were awful ructions if we were not prompt and I can tell you that as we became of drinking age, there were some sprint records broken from the local pub in the High Street, Old Portsmouth where we had moved to in 1958.
When he finally retired from the Navy, he took over all the cooking and right up to the day he died at age 80, lunch was always on the table on the dot of 12.45. He became a wonderful cook and in his 70s discovered the wonders of a Wok and would make the most sensational Chinese meals. He was however, first and foremost a ‘pudding’ man and his steamed treacle suet puddings were legendary – I am sure that a couple of inches I have never been able to shift of my hips are down to his steamed puddings both savoury and sweet…..particularly at Christmas.
Time for some music and another timeless classic.. Little Drummer Boy, this time from the Pipes and Drummer of the Irish Defence Forces… Óglaigh na hÉireann / Irish Defence Forces
Now time to meet Donata Zawadzka who I wanted to thank in this series of posts for her wonderful illustrations that she created for my book Tales from the Irish Garden. Not only did she work very closely to the visions that I had in my mind for the characters, but she included me at every step of the process and undercharged in my opinion for the amount of work involved. If you are looking to illustrate a children’s book or need a book cover, Donata also works in colour. You can find out more about her work in an interview last year
Here are two of the illustrations from Tales from the Irish Garden that demonstrate how talented Donata is.
My name is Donata Ewa Zawadzka. I’m Polish born artist living in Gravesend, Kent. After completing a Diploma in Interior Design in Poland I moved into United Kingdom and here I obtained a Diploma in Illustrating Children’s Books in London Art College in 2010. Since then I finished 2 ebook for children in collaboration with British and American writers. I took part in 2 exhibitions in Dartford and London. I’m continuing to work as freelance artist available for commission.
Connect to Donata Zawadzka
View her website : http://dezawadzka.wix.com/donatasgallery
Buy her work on Redbubble: http://www.redbubble.com/people/donattien/works/7004053-the-birch-maiden?c=32080-ink-illustrations
Like Dona on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/donataewa.zawadzka?fref=ts
Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DonataEZawadzka
In Dona’s interview last year she mentioned that although she loved living in England, she missed the wonderful forests of the Tatra Mountains that were her home… they are certainly majestic. I hope she will enjoy this short video.
Thanks to all things festive Why Christmas here is something about Christmas crackers.
They were first made in about 1845-1850 by a London sweet maker called Tom Smith. He had seen the French ‘bon bon’ sweets (almonds wrapped in pretty paper). He came back to London and tried selling sweets like that in England and also included a small motto or riddle in with the sweet. But they didn’t sell very well.
Legend says that, one night, while he was sitting in front of his log fire, he became very interested by the sparks and cracks coming from the fire. Suddenly, he thought what a fun idea it would be, if his sweets and toys could be opened with a crack when their fancy wrappers were pulled in half.
Crackers were originally called ‘cosaques’ and were thought to be named after the ‘Cossack’ soldiers who had a reputation for riding on their horses and firing guns into the air!
When Tom died, his expanding cracker business was taken over by his three sons, Tom, Walter and Henry. Walter introduced the hats into crackers and he also traveled around the world looking for new ideas for gifts to put in the crackers.
Traditionally apart from a plastic toy… there is a paper hat and a silly joke… something along the lines of the following courtesy of Funny Jokes
What did Father Christmas do when he went speed dating?
He pulled a cracker!
What do you get if Santa comes down your chimney when the fire is ablaze?
Why does rain drop, but snow fall?
(Nobody can answer this conundrum)
What do you get if you team Santa with a detective?
What do you get when you cross a vampire and a snowman?
What is the difference between the Christmas alphabet and the ordinary alphabet?
The Christmas alphabet has No L (Noel).
Day 8 (1st January) is a celebration of Mary the Mother of Jesus and obviously Mary was extremely important within the whole story of the Nativity from the Virgin conception through Jesus’s lifetime. Mary has been revered in her own right especially with women in a number of religions including Eastern Orthadox and as Maryam in the Muslim faith.
The Eighth Day of Christmas and we appear to have moved away from the bird theme and to be honest since we had reached the largest bird known to us the next step would have been ostrich and it would have ruined the song. We move onto the eight maids a milking.
One of the more intricate recipes that has run parallel to the song itself was the roasting of a swan but inside that de-boned swan would be a goose, a colly bird, a French Hen a turtle dove and then a partridge.. It took many hours to prepare but was considered a dish fit to put before a king…Thankfully even our present day royalty seem to content to have the humble turkey for their dinner which is just as well since that is the subject of the food today.
Time to meet my next guest who is not likely to be a stranger to you. Children’s author, YA author and Poet Robbie Cheadle who has become a powerhouse in our blogging community with her support for all of us with guest spots and her book reviews. You can sample some of her amazing fondant work (often appears in the books that she writes with her son Michael) on her Blog.
You will also be able to enjoy the families vacations across their stunning home of South Africa and their frequent trips abroad. To find out more about her books you can also visit her Website
Robbie shares her most favourite Christmas Gift.
When I was a small girl of five years old, my mother didn’t work. As a result money was tight but my parents always managed to give my sister and me a special gift for Christmas. I was an avid doll lover and I remember receiving a First Love doll that year. She was beautiful and I could feed her water with a bottle. The water would come out into the small nappies that came with the doll. My mother hand sewed and knitted that doll a large wardrobe of clothes from scraps of material and bits of leftover wool.
Aaahh… well here is one of the adverts for First Love Dolls and I hope it brings back happy memories for Robbie….
You can read the reviews for Robbie and Michael Cheadle’s books as well as Robbie’s stand alone novel and poetry collection: https://www.amazon.com/Robbie-Cheadle/e/B01N9J62GQ
Blog: https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/ –
One of the recent reviews for While the Bombs Fell
While WWII raged in England and the men left home and battled enemy forces, the bombs fell and the women and children left behind took care of the business of living. We rarely get the inside story of what it was like for the mothers and daughters; grandmothers and aunts and sisters, who had to find a way to get enough food on the table to survive, to stay warm during those cold winters with no fuel for the furnace or fireplace, to walk to the privy in cow dung and ice. Robbie Cheadle writes the story from her mom’s perspective, Elsie, when she was a child and lived through WWII. The stories remind us how spoiled we are now with our lives, and how comparatively weak. Those in the English countryside during the war needed to be hearty and strong to survive. Yet, they also found ways to have fun and to stay strong within their circle of family and friends. A loving tribute to what it was like for those left behind, “while the bombs fell.”
Time for another dish from Carol Taylor’s Vegetarian Christmas Menu and it is an alternative to the turkey and all the other birds mentioned above…..
Image The brown paper bag.
Nut Roast with salsa
• 40 g unsalted butter , plus extra for greasing
• 100 g quinoa
• 150 g onion squash or cooking pumpkin
• 1 onion
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 2 sticks of celery
• olive oil
• 200 g tinned or vac-packed chestnuts
• 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
• ½ tsp cayenne pepper
• 1 pinch of sweet smoked paprika
• 1 tsp dried oregano
• 2 large field mushrooms
• 1 lemon
• 60 g fresh breadcrumbs
• 80 g dried cranberries
• 100 g dried apricots
• 100 g mixed nuts , such as walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts and brazil nuts
• 4 large free-range eggs
• 40 g mature Cheddar cheese
• 2 fresh red chillies
• 1 stick of cinnamon
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 1 small onion
• ½ bunch of fresh thyme , (15g)
• 2 x 400 g tins of quality plum tomatoes or the equivalent in fresh tomatoes.
• 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 1 litre loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.
- Cook the quinola according to the instructions on the packet and set to one side.
- Halve the squash, scoop out the seeds, then chop the flesh into rough 1cm chunks (you don’t need to peel the skin) unless you are using cooking pumpkin. Peel and roughly chop the onion. Peel and finely slice the garlic, then trim and roughly chop the celery.
- Drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil into a large pan over a medium heat, add the chopped vegetables and crumble in the chestnuts. Add the picked rosemary leaves, discard the stalks.
- Add the cayenne, paprika and oregano and season with salt and pepper stir well and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 15 mins or until slightly softened add the chopped mushrooms to the pan for the last 5 mins of cooking.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and grate in half of the lemon zest.
- Put mixture into a bowl and stir in the cooled quinola, breadcrumbs, dried fruit and nuts if you prefer your nuts les chunky then chop into smaller pieces.
- Crack the eggs into the mixture and stir well to combine then put the mixture into the prepared loaf tin. Put into the pre-heated oven and cook for 45-50 minutes until cooked through and set.
- When there is about 30 minutes to go make the salsa… Over a low –medium heat put a pan with a glug of olive oil and add the pricked chillies and the cinnamon. Add the finely sliced garlic and the onions cut into 8 wedges. Pick some of the time leaves reserving a few sprigs for garnish. Add the tomatoes plus 2 cups of water stir well breaking up the tomatoes.
- Season and stir in the balsamic vinegar then bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for around 20 minutes or until the mixture is thickened and reduced.
- Once the tomato mix is ready remove 1 chilli, carefully halve and deseed and roughly chop and return to the mix. If required loosen the salsa with a little water remove the whole chilli and cinnamon stick and put to one side.
- Remove the nut roast from the oven and carefully remove from the tin. Put the nut roast into the tin containing the salsa and grate the cheese over the top. Put the cinnamon stick and reserved chilli back into the mix and put the reserved thyme sprigs over the top.
- Return to the oven for 10-15m minutes or until bubbling and golden.
Another popular carol but this time everyone can join in as it is a flash mob of O Come All You Faithful…The Five Strings
Thank you for dropping in today and please leave your special Christmas memories in the comments.. Merry Christmas. Sally