With only a couple of weeks until the little person currently hiccupping away inside me makes an appearance I am definitely going into nesting mode. Or maybe preparation mode would be more accurate. It’s a funny stage of pregnancy. You know that within a very short space of time your life is going to change beyond recognition, but at the moment everything is still exactly the same, give or take a few stone here or there and a clinical dependency on Gaviscon.
I am developing a mania for getting ‘things’ sorted. ‘Things’ can be anything from niggly little household jobs I know we won’t have time for post-baby, to batch cooking for the freezer, to finalising my preparations for Christmas. Some of this drive to prepare is clearly hormonal, some comes from doing this second time around and knowing that those crazy hazy early days are as demanding as they are miraculous, and wanting to do as much as possible to make sure everything that could make our lives easier is already in place. And then Christmas is the elephant in the room. If everything goes to plan, our baby will be born on December 15th. Clearly ten days post c-section with a newborn to care for I am not going to be able to do Christmas quite as intensively as the previous couple of years, but equally I still want Anna to have a special time, and I love Christmas myself, so there are lots of traditions I would be sad to miss out on.
One of these is making biscuit decorations for the Christmas tree. Anna and I have baked and decorated Vanilla and Clementine Biscuits from a recipe I found in Sainsbury’s magazine for the last three years, and when we were talking about her favourite Christmas things, this was one of the first she mentioned. The recipe makes an enormous batch, so we usually eat the ones which don’t quite turn out right, and save the best ones for the tree. Of course, by Twelfth Night they’re no longer edible, but I think they definitely give our tree a Scandi-chic, hand-made kind of vibe, which I love. And we have huge fun making them for at least ten minutes, before Anna starts to get bored, I start to get obsessive compulsive about the placement of the silver balls for decoration, and then I realise that Anna, I, and every utensil and surface in the entire kitchen is covered with a sticky film which is strangely resistant to all cleaning agents. Looking forward to that.
Anna is then going with her dad to collect the Christmas tree, and we will decorate it on Sunday. It feels slightly wrong doing it in November, but it IS Advent Sunday. I keep repeating that to myself. Another Christmas tradition is getting Anna’s Christmassy books out, and I gave in on that one this morning, so expecting that I’ll be reading Lucy and Tom’s Christmas, Topsy and Tim Meet Father Christmas, Jolly Postman’s Christmas and The Donkey’s First Christmas on loop from now on. I don’t mind, though. The Lucy and Tom book is mine from when I was little, and reading it still gives me a nostalgic glow.
So, what are your family Advent traditions, and/or essential tips for preparing for a new baby?
Iced Vanilla and Clementine Biscuit Decorations
350g plain flour
250g cold unsalted butter
125g icing sugar
Pinch sea salt
Zest of 2 clementines
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons whole milk
1 large egg yolk
1 packet instant royal icing sugar
Edible silver balls
1. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Grate the fridge cold butter into the flour, and rub in using your fingertips until the mixture is the consistency of breadcrumbs.
2) Sift in the icing sugar, and add the clementine zest. Add the egg yolk, milk and vanilla and bring together into a dough.
3) Divide the dough into two rounds, wrap in cling film, and place in freezer to chill for half an hour.
4) Pre-heat the oven to Gas 4/160. Remove the dough from the freezer, and roll out to thickness of a £1 coin. Use shaped pastry cutters (we like stars, bells, Christmas trees and angels) to stamp out your shapes. Use a skewer to make a hole in the top for threading ribbon through. TIP – make this bigger than you imagine you will need as it shrinks a lot during baking.
5) Bake for 15-20 mins, until light golden. Leave on baking trays for 2 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
6) When completely cool, make up the royal icing according to pack instructions, and decorate the biscuits using either a piping bag or a teaspoon, depending on whether you want them completely covered with icing, or just decorated. Add silver balls to wet icing. When set, thread string/ribbon through the ones for the tree. I like very thin red satin ribbon, but you can use pretty much anything you like. Scoff the rest!