Friday, 30 December 2011

WHAT IS BOXING DAY?


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Boxing day occurs on 26th December, the day after Christmas day.  It is a religious holiday as it falls on St Stephens Day, and has been recognised as a bank or public holiday in the UK since 1871.  It is celebrated in most commonwealth countries including UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Boxing day has been celebrated since the middle ages. There are several explanations why Boxing day is so called which centre around the giving of money and gifts to the needy.


The name may originate from the custom of putting out boxes collecting money for the poor, which were placed in churches on Christmas day and opened the following day. This was linked to the Feast of St Stephen. 

There is a tradition of giving servants a 'Christmas box' (present) and a day off directly following Christmas day from their master.  Samuel Pepys mentions this custom in his diary entry of 19 December 1663, where servants are handed a Christmas box and given  the day off to visit family. This tradition of reward for good service continues today with many tradesmen receiving Christmas boxes of money and presents for their service throughout the year.


Today Boxing Day is also a time for eccentric activities such as swimming the English Channel, fun runs and charity events.  It is even the date for some traditional fox hunts. However, it appears to be most defined by the retail industry with the Boxing Day Sales, which offer big discounts on purchases.  Often shopping centres are crowded and packed as people strive to find a bargain making Boxing Day retailers biggest day of the year for revenue.

What is Christmas?
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What is mistletoe?

When is pancake day?
Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

What is Myrhh? 
Santa

Friday, 23 December 2011

WHY DO WE KISS UNDER THE MISTLETOE?




Kissing under the mistletoe is a Christmas tradition.  It is common to hang a ball of mistletoe from the ceiling and exchange kisses under it. After each kiss, a berry should be removed until all the berries (and kisses) are gone. But where did this tradition originate?

There are several cultural influences for this tradition, and most centre on the fertility symbolism of the plant. This association with fertility is down to the way mistletoe reproduces and its ability to remain evergreen on leafless, dormant hosts. There is a consistent theme that kissing under the mistletoe assured couples of health, fertility and good fortune, as well as future betrothal.


The Druids considered mistletoe a scared plant, having powers to cure illness and ensure fertility. It was considered to have aphrodisiac qualities. They would often collect mistletoe in special ceremonies and use the plant to make medicines to counter sterility and combat poisons.


The Celtic translation for mistletoe is 'All-heal' as Celts believed that the plant had properties that could heal the sick, bring good luck and bring fertility.


In northern France the plant was referred to as Herbe de la croix, as it is believed that Christs cross was made from mistletoe wood. Legend says that in reaction to mistletoe's role in his death the plant was cursed, and destined to grow only as a parasite dependant on other trees.  

In ancient Scandinavia it was believed that mistletoe was a peaceful plant.  The myth of Baldur probably lead to the tradition of kissing under the plant. 

Baldurs mother was the Norse goddess of love and marriage Friga, and when he was born she made every pant, animal and inanimate object promise not to hurt him.

However, she overlooked mistletoe and Loki, mischievous god of the Norse, took advantage of this oversight and fashioned a dart from the plant.   He deceptively passed this dart to Baldurs brother Hodor as he taught him to fire darts, and Baldhur was struck directly through the heart. 

It was said that Frigas tears of mourning were so severe that the winter was formed and the mistletoe produced milky white berries from her tears.  Eventually, other Norse gods took pity on Friga and restored Baldurs life.  Overjoyed, Friga pronounced that mistletoe should be used to bring love into the world, not joy.  Two people passing under the mistletoe celebrated Baldhurs resurrection by kissing under it.

Anglo Saxons associated mistletoe with the goddess of love and fertility Freya. If a man found a girl accidentally stood under a sprig of mistletoe he would kiss her. A berry was plucked after the kiss and when all the berries were gone there was no more kissing.

In eighteenth century England a young lady standing under the mistletoe could not refused to be kissed.  It was believed that the kiss was a start of a deep romance or lasting friendship.  However, if the girl remained unkissed she would not marry that year.

It is clear that today's tradition is influenced by all of these past rituals. So go on, grab some mistletoe and go find that kiss!
How to make Christmas cake
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How to keep your Christmas tree
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Santa
Spiced brussels sprouts
What is a tree?

What is Boxing day?
What is Christmas?
What is mistletoe?

Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?
What is frankincense?
What is Myrhh?



Monday, 19 December 2011

GARDEN SHEDS


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Sheds are used for many purposes.  They can store garden tools and mowers, garden furniture and any useful items; or provide a space for potting plants or a quiet retreat.  However, if they are often poorly designed and positioned they can become an eyesore within the garden.

Sheds can vary greatly in construction and size from small, open sided structures to large sheds with large doors and windows, lighting and electrical points. Homes with small gardens may benefit from very small sheds such as a corner shed, vertical sheds and tool shed. Larger sheds can provide space for storage, hobbies or even outbuildings and offices.

Careful positioning of the shed can help to prevent it becoming an unwanted focal point within the garden.  Screening with shrubs will help to soften the shed, so consider growing climbers or shrubs on the shed. 

Alternatively plant beds in the garden directly in the eye line between house and shed to screen the view.  Trees can help to soften buildings such as sheds, or you may wish to position them behind other structures such as walls or garages.

It is best to position the shed with the apex roof sideways to soften its shape.  Painting the shed a dark colour will actually help to disguise the shed; believe it or not black works very well as it is not a dominant colour in the garden.

If you do not have space to tuck the shed into a handy corner of the garden, consider making the shed a focal point and choose a fancy design. Inexpensive sheds are available in kit form and are usually constructed from wood, metal and plastic. You will need to construct a strong base on which to sit the shed.



Metal sheds are constructed from metal sheathing attached to a metal frame, usually aluminium, galvanised steel or corrugated iron. They have the advantage of being fire resistant, so may be more suitable for storing BBQ gases or combustible materials. However, they may be more prone to rust, can be easily dented and their lightweight designs makes them more susceptible to being damaged by strong winds. 
Plastic sheds are constructed from moulded plastics such as PVC and polyethylene. They are stronger, lighter and less likely to be damaged or dented than other types of shed. They also require little maintenance and are less expensive than metal sheds. However, the can look intrusive within the garden compared to sheds made from natural materials.

Wooden sheds have the advantage of blending well into the garden environment. However, wooden sheds require regular maintenance such as application of wood preservative to prevent splitting, rot and warping. Coloured wood stains can add another dimension to the shed and make it a focal point. the advantage of wooden sheds is that they can be easily adapted; windows can be cut in, shelves added and additions easily added.

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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

SANTA

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Santa Claus is a figure in Western culture who brings gifts to children during the night of Christmas Eve.  Also known as Father Christmas, Kris Kringle and Saint Nicholas, the modern day Santa became popular in the 19 century. 

Santa is depicted as a white bearded, jolly fat man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs and black boots.  He lives at the north pole and delivers gifts to all the children of the world during Christmas Eve,   He has help from the elves in his workshop, who make toys all year round, and delivers the presents on a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer.

He keeps a list of children which notes if they have been well behaved. Traditionally children will receive either candy or toys if they are good, or coal if they have been naughty.  On Christmas Eve children will often put out stockings by the chimney to receive gifts, and perhaps a carrot for Rudolf and a sherry for Santa.

The origins of Santa Claus can be traced back in history. Father Christmas originates from the pagan Winter solstice, where Old Man Winter would travel from home to home to be offered hospitality ion return for blessing them with a mild winter.  Kris Kringle is German in origin, and means Christ Child. He was a young boy who bought presents to children in German countries.  St Nicholas was born in 3rd century AD and devoted his life to Christian deeds.  He rid himself of all material possessions and helped the poor and suffering, earning him the reputation of a saint. 

Today, the story of Santa Claus is told to children all over the world and is a magical part of the festive period.

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Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?

What is Myrhh?



Saturday, 10 December 2011

HOW TO ROAST TURKEY




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We seem to cook turkey only at Christmas, when so it can be a daunting prospect. However, by following these steps I aim to help you achieve the perfect roast turkey. 

Ingredients
Turkey, fresh or frozen
Stuffing mixture
6 oz butter
8 oz bacon rashers
Salt and pepper to season

Method
You will need to calculate the cooking time of the turkey. This will be a guideline only, as ovens and birds will vary. For example a 14 lb (6.5 kg) turkey will take 40 minutes at gas mark 7/220C, then 3.5 hours at gas mark 3/170C and 40 minutes at gas 6.

Oven Ready Size   Starting Temperature    Roasting Temperature    Browning Temperature
                                  425F/ 220C/ Gas 7       325F/ 160C/ Gas 3         200C/ Gas 6

8 - 11lb/3.5-5 kg        30 mins                          2.5 - 3 hours                     about 40 mins
12 - 14lb/ 5.4 kg        40 mins                          3 - 3.5 hours                     about 40 mins
15 - 20lb/ 5.7-9kg      40 mins                          3.5 - 4.5 hours                  about 40 mins  




Keep the turkey refrigerated until approximately 4 hours prior to cooking, so that it can be cooked at room temperature.

Prior to cooking your turkey you will need to remove the giblets.  They should be bagged and located within the body cavity. 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 7/220C.

Select your stuffing for the turkey.  Place one third between the flesh and the skin in the neck end, and two thirds in the body cavity.

Cover the turkey in 6 oz/ 175 g softened butter.  Lay the bacon over the turkey breast, ensuring you overlap rashers.  Season with salt and pepper.  
If you have purchased a frozen turkey allow plenty of time for the bird to defrost. Leave to stand at room temperture for 24-30 hours or until fully defrosted, and then place in the fridge.
Place two sheets of tin foil across your roasting tin at right angles to each other.  Place the turkey on its back in the middle of the foil and seal, allowing enough room for air to circulate.

Cook for 40 minutes at gas mark 7/220C and then 3.5 hours at gas mark 3 / 170C. Take the turkey out of the oven and bast with the juices.  Remove the foil.  Increase the oven temperature to gas mark 6 / 200C and cook for another 40 minutes. Part way through remove the bacon to allow the breast to brown.

Remove the turkey from the oven. To test if the bird is cooked, pierce the fattest part of the leg with a skewer to see if the juices run clear (without any trace of pink). Cover with foil and allow to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to carving.

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Thursday, 8 December 2011

HOW TO GROW MISTLETOE FROM SEED


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I love Christmas, and mistletoe provides an opportunity to have a snog (as if I need an excuse!).  Mistletoe can be quite hard to find, and often all that is available is some yellowing bunch of leaves with no berries or a ugly plastic version.  But don’t despair, you can ensure you always have am ample supple of mistletoe every year if you grow your own mistletoe.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that requires a host plant on which to feed.  These are most associated with apple trees, and you can often see bunches of mistletoe growing on this host plant. Mistletoe requires both male and female plants to produce berries.

Mistletoe can be grown easily from seed. You will need to select a host plant onto which to grow the mistletoe.  Mistletoe grows well on trees in excess of fifteen years old on varieties such as apple, poplars, lime, false acacia and hawthorn.

Propagate mistletoe from existing plants in March/April, when the seed is ripe.  Only select intact berries Alternatively, you can purchase dried seed which you will need to soak in water for a few hours.  The seed is encased in sticky flesh known as viscin, so squeeze the seed out of the berry. 

You will need to plant up approximately twenty seeds to grow a selection of male and female plants. Select a branch on the host tree which exceeds 10cm girth. Either plant the seeds direct into a crook on the branch or cut shallow flap and insert the seeds under the bark and secure with hessian and string. 

Keep watered and protect from birds by hanging old CDS.  The seeds will germinate quickly to produce a shoot which will make contact with host plant. When this shoot has made contact with the hosts vascular system a new plant will appear in early spring. 

Plants can take up to five years to produce berries if male and female plants are present.  You can attach more seeds to the mistletoe plant if required.



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Why do we kiss under the mistletoe?
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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

WHAT IS CHRISTMAS?


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Christmas is the most important date in the Christian calendar as its celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, son of God, which was the start of the religion Christianity.  It is celebrated annually on 25 December.

The precise date of Jesus' birth is unknown. Records show that Christmas has been celebrated as early as the 4th century AD.  The date of the 25th December could be as a result of merging roman pagan winter rituals with Christianity when key events were merged, or perhaps because it is exactly nine months after the conception of Christ in the Christian calender.

Now days Christmas is not just a religious festival but also a cultural holiday celebrated by religious and non religious people alike. The Christmas period is observed by many and is marked in the Christian calendar with Christmas Day and Boxing day recognised as Bank Holidays in many countries.

Many of the customs associated with Christmas have pre-Christian or secular origins. These include the giving of presents, exchanging Christmas cards, Christmas trees, decorations, mistletoe and nativity scenes.  In 1647-1660 the celebration of Christmas in England was banned in order to rid the holiday of excess and corruption of the roman catholic church and pagan trappings.

The bringing of gifts to children by Santa Claus is a strong theme of Christmas but was recently added in the early 19th century. Our modern view of Christmas reflect Victorian family values, and is perhaps typified in Charles Dickens 1843 novel, 'A Christmas Carol'. It has become more focused on the family coming together during this time.

Often it is noted that Christmas has become increasingly commercial, with shops and retailers reporting their highest sales around this period.  However, the essence of Christmas still remains and many families consider this time to be a special time for families and a period of reflection.

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Monday, 5 December 2011

GROWING CHRISTMAS TREES


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Christmas is over, and the decorations are coming off the tree.   You look at your Christmas tree that has delivered you through the festive period and think; can I replant this tree and use it next year?

Yes you can, but only if the roots are still intact and the tree has been kept cool and watered.  If not, then the tree will effectively be dead and it is not worth pursuing planting.

Trees cut off at ground level to fit stands are known as cut Christmas trees.  These do have no root system and so are not suitable for planting.  However, if you have purchased a pot grown, potted or bare root tree then you can replant.

Pot grown Christmas trees have been grown within the pot, having an intact root system. They can be planted directly into the garden or remain in a pot.  Because the root system is intact this type of tree will be the most successful to replant.

Potted Christmas trees have been grown in the ground and then lifted to place into a pot, meaning that some of the root system is still intact.  However, success depends on how much of the root ball remains.  Place you tree outside for several months to allow it to root into its pot.  You can then either plant directly into the ground ready to dig up again next Christmas or keep it in a pot.

Bare root trees will have some roots intact, but this will differ from tree to tree.  They are therefore less successful than pot grown or potted trees. Plant up in a pot filled with soil and place outside, watering regularly.

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Thursday, 1 December 2011

HOW TO ROAST PORK



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Of course, no pork dinner is complete without crispy crackling and this recipe explains how to achieve that. Perfect with roast potatoes, seasonal vegetables and apple sauce.
Serves 6.

Ingredients
2 kg Pork leg
1 onion
2 tablespoons Sea salt
1 tablespoon flour
1 pack Sage & onion stuffing mix
350 ml chicken stock
200 ml water

Method
Preheat oven to 200C/ gas 7.

Place the pork onto a wire rack over a roasting tin.  Lightly score the pork skin with a knife and rub with sea salt.  Allow to rest for 20 minutes, then remove the salt and any excess moisture (this makes the crackling super crunchy).

To calculate cooking time cook for 25 minutes per 450g, plus an additional 25 minutes. Place in oven for 20 minutes, then place the water into the roasting tin.  Lower the temperature to 180C/gas 5 for the remainder of the cooking time.

Remove the pork from the oven, cover in tin foil and allow to rest on a plate for 20 minutes.
Make the stuffing following pack instructions and shape into balls. 

Use the fat in the roasting tin to make the gravy by mixing the flour, stock with the fat from the tin.


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Sunday, 27 November 2011

WHAT IS MISTLETOE?



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Viscum album, the European mistletoe, is native to the UK.  It is a parasitic plant that requires a host plant on which to feed, attaching itself to the branches of a tree or shrub. 

Mistletoe can be identified by its oval shaped, smooth edged evergreen leaves growing in pairs along a woody stem. Clusters of waxy white berries are evident during the winter, making this plant integral to Christmas. 

Mistletoe grows well on trees in excess of fifteen years old on varieties such as apple, poplars, lime, false acacia and hawthorn.  In the UK mistletoe is most associated growing on apple trees, and you can often see bunches of mistletoe growing on this host plant.

The plant is a hemi-parasite (partial parasite) and will reduce the growth of its host plant, whilst large infestations can kill them.  Growing in nooks and crannies on branches, the plant sends out roots that probe inside the host plant in order to get water and nutrients.  Mistletoe is an unusual parasitic plant because it can produce energy through photosynthesis and survive without a host plant. 

Mistletoe requires both male and female plants to produce berries, so male and female plants are often found together on the same host plant. The seeds are often spread by birds depositing them in their droppings.

Be cautious when handling the plants as the berries are poisonous and can cause gastrointestinal symptoms if ingested.

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HOW TO KEEP YOUR CUT CHRISTMAS TREE


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So, you have opted to buy a real Christmas tree this year.  Great, but now you are worrying how it is going to last until the week before Christmas, let alone until Christmas day itself.  Cut Christmas trees have limited lifespan but there are some simple measures you can take to help prolong the life of your tree, and hence your enjoyment of Christmas.

Cut live trees do not have a root system to support them, and therefore cut trees cannot replace water lost through evaporation and transpiration.  To compensate for this irreplaceable water loss, the tree will start to shed leaves (needles) in an attempt to save itself because no one has told the tree itself that its roots have been removed and its life is now very limited.

By compensating for this water loss you can slow down the loss of needles on your Christmas tree.  However you need to be quick as water loss starts the moment trees are cut down in the field.  If you buy a tree that has been cut several weeks earlier and has been hanging around until you purchase it then you will have only limited success.

Some species of tree are better at holding their needles than others so consider if you want a traditional Christmas tree, Norway spruce Picea abies, or to select a more robust tree such as Nordman fir Abies nordmanniana, Douglas fir Pseudotsuga menziesii, Fraser fir Abies fraseri, Scots pine Pinus sylvestris or blue spruce Picea pungens.
 
Once you have purchase your tree and got it home then the following tips will help to prolong the life of your tree:
  • Ensure you make a fresh cut 3-5cm from the base.  Ensure the cut is clean - if you damage the cambium bark around the trunk you will inhibit the uptake of water.
  • Place the tree in a container of water to allow some water to be taken up by the tree. Keep the tree outside in cooler temperature until you are ready to bring it into the house to decorate.
  • Christmas tree stands with a reservoir of water help to keep the tree hydrated and are effective, but remember to top up regularly.
  • Position the tree in a cool area and not next to a radiator or in direct sunlight!  The cooler the tree, the less water will be lost through transpiration and evaporation.
  • Low voltage or LED produce little heat so help reduce water loss through the needles.
  • Spray the underside of your tree with needle fast spray to block the stomata (the pores through which water escapes), therefore reducing water loss.

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