Interior Design for Christmas

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This week’s guest blog is from Nanci Gillett of Burhnham Interiors

There are so many Christmas decorations in the shops already that I thought it was wise to let you know the latest trends for Christmas 2013 before Rudolph comes tapping on your rooftop.  This year looks like we will be more adventuresome with colour.  Not only will we be ready for happy hues to convey our growing optimism, but we will also be thinking about adding hints of luxe.  There will be not only classic colours, but also an energetic range of brights and more metallic options

Traditional Christmas

The first trend is the comfortable and classic …Traditional Christmas.

 Traditional Christmas Decorations

This style is suitable for anyone with a traditional or a modern home because you can make it sleek and elegant with glass decorations.

Look for traditional green, red and white decorations.  Save money using foliage from your garden, apples from your tree or berries from your bush – just remember that natural fruit and foliage won’t last as long as artificial products BUT they do give off a wonderful scent.

Include candles and stockings, but please remember to be fire conscious and always use an appropriate candle holder.  Twinkling lights are a must in all our Christmas decorating.  In the evening there is nothing like sitting around the tree with it’s lights on and a fire roaring.

White Christmas

The second trend is one that was also strong for last year …White Christmas.

White Christmas Decorations

If you don’t like the traditional Christmas, but still want the glamour and sparkle then you could opt for a White Christmas.

Of course you’ll focus on white decorations, but only using white will make your design bland and boring.  For interest and appeal, use silver and lots of texture.  Think about using glass and things of different heights.  Of course anything that sparkles is always a must!

Tropical Christmas

The third trend is new and exciting full of colour and pattern…Tropical Christmas.

Tropical Christmas

For those of you who want something different to remind you of your travels then choose an African or Tropical Christmas theme.  There are many African and Malaysian products on the shelves at the moment that are fun, vibrant and exciting.

Go mad with colour or be bold with pattern.  The emphasis is for a homemade style to create a welcoming and invigorating home – clash it and mix it all up – you can’t go wrong with this trend as long as you stay with products and decorations from the same continent.

 

I always like to add every year to my Christmas decorations.  Buying a few new and fresh tree or home decorations always makes getting the house ready for Christmas a special experience.  Enjoy!

Christmas Cake Recipe – Part 1

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This week’s guest blog is part 1 of a recipe for a Christmas Cake from Pixie Hall Cakes
– part 2, how to decorate it, next month!…

Psst! There are only a few more weeks until Christmas.

I’m sorry to be the bearer of this news but as we all know, Christmas is sneaking up on us! Actually, I don’t think it’s sneaking so much as sprinting, full force, into view. Shops have had advent calendars, tins of chocolates and beribboned treats on the shelves for a couple of months and I’m afraid there is no avoiding it. The man in red will soon be delivering presents and scoffing mince pies.

With that in mind, I’m here to offer a helping hand. Stir Up Sunday falls on the 24th November. It’s on this day that we traditionally get in the kitchen, fire up the oven and make our Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat. Well, apparently some people do. I don’t think I know many of them.

It’s so easy to pop to the supermarket and pick up a good Christmas cake, a small pudding (because inevitably only 3 people in your party of 12 even like it, but they insist on having it) and a 12 pack of mince pies. I will not judge you if that is the route you are going to take. I will, however, tell you that making a Christmas cake isn’t that hard. It’s actually kind of fun. It’s a great thing to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon with the kids. The house smells amazing as the cake cooks thanks to the fruit, booze and spices and, you’ll feel really proud of yourself when you’ve finished.

Christmas cakes are pretty adaptable. You can use any mix of dried fruit that you like. Traditionally currants, raisins and sultanas are mixed but you can add cranberries, apricots, sour cherries or anything else that you like the sound of.  Here, I’ve used pre-mixed dried fruit and added cranberries and morello glace cherries to the mix. Dark spiced rum is my spirit of choice in all my Christmas baking. I like the deep flavour it has without being too harsh and the spices work fantastically with the festive flavours. As with the fruit, you can use any spirit you like. Whisky works well, brandy is traditional and, if you don’t want to use alcohol, fresh orange juice or tea impart lovely flavour to the cake.

In short; have fun with this cake and tailor it to suit your favourite flavours. As long as the weight of fruit is equal to that in the recipe, you can change the ratios to suit and mix it up however you like.

So, here’s my take on the classic Christmas cake. This one makes an 20cm/8” round or a 18cm/7” square cake.

Ingredients:

800g dried mixed fruit

100g dried cranberries

75g glace cherries

5 tbsp spiced rum

225g softened butter

225g light brown sugar

4 eggs

225g plain flour

½ tsp mixed spice

¼ tsp grated nutmeg

pinch of salt

Zest of 1 clementine and 1 lemon

1 tbsp black treacle

50g slivered almonds, roughly chopped

Method

The day before you bake the cake you need to plump up the fruit in the rum. Weigh all the fruit into a large bowl and pour over the rum. Stir the mixture to make sure the fruit is coated, cover with cling film and set aside.

Fruit for Christmas Cake

Preheat the oven to 140C, line your tin with baking paper on the bottom and around the sides.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and pale. Add the eggs to the mixture one at a time and whisk thoroughly between each one.

Creamed Butter and Sugar

Creamed Butter and Sugar Picture 5

Sift the flour, spices and salt into the bowl and gently fold in.

Picture 6 Sifting FlourFolding In

Add the soaked fruit, zest of the lemon and clementine, treacle and almonds and gently stir through until combined.

Mixing in Fruit

Spoon the mixture into the tin and spread flat with the back of a spoon or spatula.

Christmas Cake Mixture Picture 13

Now, to protect the cake during the long, slow cooking process, you need to tie brown paper around the tin. Just use some string and tie a double layer securely around the outside of your tin. Place a piece of baking parchment with a hole cut in the middle over the top of the cake and place in the oven.

Christmas Cake Ready for Oven

Cook for around 3-4 hours depending on your oven. Start with 3 hours and then check the cake. Leave it longer as necessary. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. The cake should spring back when lightly pressed in the centre.  Cooking time will vary depending on the kind of tin you use and your own oven so just keep an eye on it.

Christmas Cake

Leave your cake to cool in the tin for around 30 minutes, transfer it to a wire rack to finish cooling.

It’s done! All you have to do now is wrap it securely in baking paper and foil, pop it into an airtight tin and open it up a few times between now and Christmas to feed it with more lovely rum. Using a skewer, poke holes all over your cake and carefully spoon over a tablespoon or so of booze and allow it to soak in. You can do this as often as you like (or remember!) but do wrap the cake up tightly in between.

Next month, I’ll show you some different techniques to decorate your cake so it looks perfect for your Christmas spread.

Linds Hall runs Pixie Hall Cakes in Fakenham and can be found selling her delicious baking at Fakenham Farmers’ Market on the 4th Saturday of each month.

Photographs by Keith Osborn Photography

Looking after Leather Upholstery – Part 1

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This week’s guest blog is from Glyn Charnock, Owner of Chameleon Cleaning.  Glyn is also a Director of the National Carpet Cleaners Association.

Leather is a fantastic natural product. It has been made for thousands of years, and is incredibly versatile. Most of us associate leather with clothing, footwear, bags and upholstery, and all leathers are pretty much the same, right?

WRONG!

Yes, they all start from an animal hide, but there are lots of types of leather, made using different tanning processes and finishes, each designed to suit the purpose it will be used for.

Despite the common belief that leather is “maintenance free”, each type of leather needs to be cleaned and cared for in some way to keep its appearance and make it last. Properly cared for, most types of leather will last for decades.

There are so many types of leather out there that I am just going to look at the leathers most commonly used for upholstery, give some ideas about what type of leather might suit your home and how to care for them. This month I will cover the “natural” leathers – the better quality, more expensive leathers, which are also the most difficult to care for. Next month I will cover the finished leathers which are much more user friendly.

What is Leather Furniture?

To be sold as Real Leather upholstery, and carry the Real Leather symbol,  all the contact areas (the parts you touch under normal use) of the furniture must be covered in top grain leather (the outside layer of the hide), with a finish of not more than 0.15mm thickness.

The parts you don’t normally touch like the back and sides, can be covered with split leather (the next layer in from top grain), vinyl, bonded leather, e-leather or anything else that has been made to look like real leather.

Aniline Leather

This is the most natural type of leather, and one of the most expensive.

Made from the best quality animal hides, it shows any natural flaws in the surface like scratches, insect bites and stretch marks. A well trained leather expert may well be able to tell what part of the world the animal came from, what sex it was and even what part of the animal each piece of leather is from, just by looking at it.

Dyed to give it colour, there is no finish applied to the surface of the leather, so it feels soft and luxurious. Warm in the winter, cool in summer, it is a beautiful product.

However, there is a down side.

It is very absorbent, stains and scratches easily, fades in sunlight and is difficult to clean.

If not treated with a suitable protection product It can absorb oils from your body and darken in the areas you touch most, like the ends of the arms and where you rest your head on the back. If you have pets, it will absorb oil from their fur where they sit. Water based stains like drink spills or ring marks from cups are very difficult to remove.

The pictures below are an aniline footstool which was faded and heavily stained. To restore it to an acceptable standard I had to make the colour brighter and richer to hide the stains, but even this didn’t hide all the damage and it wasn’t possible to match it to the original colour due to the nature of the process.

Repairing damage to aniline leathers like cuts and scratches will never be invisible and is often difficult. Fading can be improved by re-dyeing the leather but this may result in a colour change from original, and is a professional only process.

Aniline Leather Footstool

Aniline Leather Footstool before treatement

Aniline Leather Footstool

Aniline Leather Footstool after treatment

Aniline leather should have a leather protector applied from new to help keep it clean and less susceptible to damage. Regular professional cleaning and protector re-application is recommended.

Semi-Aniline Leather

This looks and feels like aniline leather but has a very thin coat of clear finish applied to the surface to help protect the leather. More user friendly than true anilines, but protecting from new and regular cleaning and protecting is advisable although it will be easier to maintain than a true aniline.

Oily / Waxy Pull Up Leather

These leathers are similar to anilines but have oils or waxes impregnated in to the leather to protect it. When stretched they lighten, but return to their original colour when the tension is released.

They appear to scratch very easily, but gentle rubbing of the area with fingertips will make the “scratches” disappear by moving the oil or wax around inside the leather, unless the scratch has damaged the surface of the leather. Pets should be kept away from this type of leather.

Oily / Waxy pull ups resist water based stains well but can still darken from body oils just like anilines, so protection from new and regular cleaning and protecting is recommended.

Conclusion

Natural leathers like those described above are a beautiful product which will give years of use and enjoyment when placed in the right home and looked after in the correct manner.

Please feel free to contact me if you would like advice on what type of leather suits you best, or for care and maintenance advice. www.chameleoncleaning.co.uk

Next month we will be looking at the more easily cared for leather types.