Here are some of Ethel’s easy, quick and healthy Halloween nibble ideas:
Well this year I’ve had so many queries on how to run a Secret Santa so that it really is secret – even from the person who sets it up – that I thought I’d explain the way we do it here in the Father Christmas Training School.
First count how many people are taking part. You need one envelope for each, one sticky label for each and one slip of paper for each.
Write their name on one slip and on one label and fold each so that you can’t see the name, and paperclip the pair together. Mark the envelopes 1, 2 , 3 and so on up to the number of people.
Put the paper clipped pairs in a bag and draw one clip out at random.
Without unfolding, mark both slip and label with the number 1 on the outside and put it in front of you as though it was in the one o’clock position on a clock face.
Now pluck out a second clip, mark the slip and label with a 2 and place them both in the next position, and so on round until the last pair completes the circle.
When you have arranged all the pairs around the circle, take envelope number 1 and put into it the slip from 3 o’clock and seal it up.
Take envelope number 2 and put in one slip from 4 o’clock and seal it.
Carry on round like this, always taking the slip which is 2 ahead of the number on your envelope. (So if there were 12 people, envelope number 11 would get slip 1 and envelope 12 gets slip 2)
When all the envelopes are sealed, ask a friend to come in and put the labels on the front of the appropriate envelopes so as to cover the number, putting label 1 onto envelope 1, 2 onto envelope 2 and so on.
Now you can hand out the sealed envelopes knowing that no-one will end up with their own name and no-one, not even you, will know which name each has.
Make sure everyone knows the rules, eg:
Decide who will be Santa, and that’s it !
Well, I’ve had a few days off from writing this as everything has been very busy. It was Tingle’s one hundred and twentieth birthday at the weekend so we had a party for him and what with making a cake large enough for all those candles and ensuring that none of them blew themselves up with the fireworks, there wasn’t much time left. Then the smoke set off Rhodri’s asthma, and while I was attending to him, Tingle managed to set fire to his best suit and singe his beard. Meanwhile Grumbo was busy concocting some sort of party trick that involved a full bottle of my olive oil that he helped himself to from the kitchen. Inevitably, of course, it ended up all over the floor and he slipped in it and broke his other leg (-he broke the right one a few years ago when he fell off his sleigh).
Really, they are all so accident prone and unreliable that it’s high time we girls took a hand with the business. Grumbo will be out of action for at least six weeks, and Tingle is in such a bad mood because he thinks his singed beard spoils his looks, that I can’t see how the run up to the 24th is to be managed without us. As Grumbo can’t take Rudolph out at present, I have taken advantage by offering to look after him myself, and Nick has hardly been in a position to refuse. – Not that Rudolph actually needs anyone to look after him, for a more self sufficient reindeer I have never come across, but I told Nick that he did, and he was so busy worrying about the workload that he just accepted it.
It is quite easy to persuade Rudolph to do things providing you allow him to believe that the original idea was his own. I told him that the Mother Christmases were very fed up with being indoors and after a while I drew him into suggesting that he and the other reindeer could take them out for a run. After I’ve got the MCs buttering them up for a bit and they’ve got used to the idea of girls on the sleigh, I’ll introduce him to the idea of MCs taking over some of the runs. He loves the idea of being in charge, so if he is responsible for ‘training’ the MCs, showing them their routes and organising some of the other reindeer he’ll jump at it. There should be no need for the FCs to know anything about it until we are ready.
Well, that’s the plan so far. Now I have to go and do some invisible mending on Tingle’s suit and cover the main burn marks with extra fur.
The Chimney Climbing class was going quite well until Ethel got stuck. She put it down to fluid retention, but I suspect it had more to do with testing the early mince pies. We decided an exercise bicycle and a corset would meet the case, and we’ve taken her off the kitchen job. It was difficult to find her a suitable new role, and it is a pity as she does make very good pastry, but she was very good about it and is now zipping about organising the large parcel packing department which keeps her well out of temptation. It has the added advantage that the warehouse is very big and she needs to walk up and down it quite a lot and I have seen to it that the spare fork lift truck is out of action - I put rather a lot of the Christmas pudding that fell on the floor last week into the exhaust pipe, and that seemed to do the trick, especially when I added a bag of currants to the fuel tank to make sure. The rest of the class are coming along splendidly, especially Florence – Father Edmund says she shows quite unusual aptitude, but he is worried about the possibiity of the soot ruining her hearing aid.
Reindeer management is an issue as most of the Mother Christmases have only ever dealt with very young deer or the ones who are sick, and I have noticed that some of the adult reindeer do have an attitude problem. They are used to working just with their own FC and I can see that they won’t take readily to change. We have discussed possible solutions to this, the obvious one being increasing the Brussels sprouts allowance, but that does have some unfortunate consequences, especially with the more mature reindeer. Anyway, the upshot was that I should work on Rudolph to try and win him over as he is the one they tend to follow most these days. If we can pull him round, the rest should follow.
The main remaining difficulty is what we do about the FCs themselves?
I have taken advice from Alice in New Zealand, and I and six of the Mother Christmases are starting Chimney Climbing classes with Father Edmund today. He has proved surprisingly supportive and doesn’t seem to mind the overtime. I did wonder if it might not be best to restrict them to non-chimney deliveries, but Alice said it would only lead to a two tier system with the girls at the bottom, and I can see what she means, so we are going all out and covering the lot. Packing and letter writing shouldn’t be too difficult as most of them are quite good already and Miss MacGrammar is a staunch ally who is quite prepared to deal with any brushing-up needed. As for all the rest of the curriculum, we had a committee meeting last night and pruned it down to the ongoing essentials which we should be able to get through before the deadline of 24th December. Provided we cover enough for them to be operational, we will be able to launch our master plan, but more of that at a later date!
Grumbo and Tingle have become quite obsessed by the radio controlled planes they have been testing. The result is that every time you walk along a corridor, something swoops on you or over you. It is very inconvenient, especially when you are carrying a large soup tureen, but at least it is taking their minds off anything we may decide to do, and Nick is too involved with his latest computer game to notice, so I suppose I should be grateful.
I read the other day that apparently in 18th and 19th century China, it wasn’t uncommon for women to have two husbands. Well, I can quite understand the economics that drove them it, but to my mind it sounds like an awful lot of trouble – rather like deciding to rescue two puppies from the dogs’ home when you only wanted one really. I find a single husband quite enough to manage, and that’s after many years of training. Of course, today they have husbands to practise on – taking them on approval as it were before the divorce, but while I think practice is quite a good thing generally, in the matter of husbands it only seems to lead to them not taking sufficient care in choosing, or maybe neither of them try so hard because they know it’s only for a few years. It doesn’t seem to do the apprentice husbands much good either. I think it’s having different trainers that makes them so confused.
Nick has been backing off from allowing the Mother Christmases to do deliveries in the face of opposition from Grumbo and Tingle. He says there isn’t enough time to train them before December 24th. I can see we will have to take unilateral action – it’s the only way.
Well, the Christmas puddings are looking very nice, so here’s the recipe:
Flour -Self Raising 60 gm
Breadcrumbs fresh, brown or white 75 gm
Suet or Butter 85 gm
Pecans (well crushed) 30gm
Apricots (chopped soft, dried) 100 gm
glace cherries 60gm
Sugar - dark soft brown 85gm
Eggs - medium 2
Mixed spice 1 small tsp
Nutmeg - freshly grated for preference 1/4 tsp
Cinnamon 1 small tsp
Marmalade 1 good tsp
Juice of half a lemon & zest
Half a small grated carrot
Grated small eating apple, unpeeled
Stout or orange juice 45 ml / 3 tbs
Brandy or rum 30 ml / 2 tbs
Makes 1 medium pudding or 2 small puddings
Grease the pudding basin(s) and fit a small circle of baking paper or greaseproof paper in the base so as just to cover the bottom of the basin. (This will help when you come to turn out the pudding.) Place the glace cherries round side down into the bottom of each basin on top of the paper so that these will appear on the top of the cooked pudding when served.
In a large mixing bowl, stir the suet into the flour or cream it with the sugar if using butter. Add the dried fruit and the rest of the dry ingredients and stir well as it is easier to mix thoroughly when the mixture is dry. Then add the eggs and the rest of the ingredients and mix well. – This is the point where the family can stir in their wishes for Father Christmas!
Fill a large pan, (big enough to contain the basin and still allow the pan lid to fit on well) with enough water to come about half way up when the basin is inside, and set it to boil in readiness.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared pudding basin, taking care not to disturb the cherries, so that it comes up to 2 cm below the top. Fold a pleat across the centre of a large oval of greased greaseproof paper big enough to fit generously over the top of your basin with plenty to spare. Place the pleated paper centrally on top and start folding over the edge, twisting it inwards and up under the lip of the basin as you work your way around, ending with a final twist to secure it. ( If preferred, you can secure it with string instead, but this is often more difficult depending on the contours of your basin) Repeat the pleating and covering with a piece of kitchen foil – this prevents too much water from condensing steam getting inside the basin when it is cooking. It is important not to allow the foil in direct contact with the pudding mixture as the acid in the fruit will react with it. The pleating allows the pudding room to expand.
Making sure the water is boiling, place the covered basin in the water and keep the heat high until it returns to the boil. (If you use plastic/nylon basins you need to put a metal jam jar top or saucer underneath the basin in the pan to avoid the risk of it melting while the heat is on high.) Once it has returned to the boil, you can turn the heat down to a simmer. Steam in this way for 6 hours, topping up with boiling water if necessary. (You can also transfer to preheated crockpot of simmering water for the last 5 hours to avoid steaming up the kitchen or wasting energy, if you have one large enough.)
After cooking when cool, replace the top with dry greaseproof paper and foil and store in a cool place until Christmas. Reheat by steaming for 2 to 3 hours, turn out onto a plate, remove the paper circle and then decorate with a sprig of holly immediately before serving.
I’m feeling rather under fire in this matter of the Mother Christmases doing deliveries. Nick was quite enthusiastic about it when he got back from the Southern Hemisphere Training School and saw what they had been doing there, but there has been such a lot of opposition from the FCs. They really do feel that it is necessary to have a beard in order to deliver Christmas presents – have you ever heard anything so illogical and silly! Nick won’t push it because he always tries to keep the peace. He says it will happen in the end and a few more years won’t make any difference. But of course, what he doesn’t or won’t see is that it does make a difference to the MCs themselves. They feel that over the years they have been treated as second class citizens, relegated to housework and cleaning and suchlike. From their perspective the FCs are having all the fun driving about in the sky, while they are just dogsbodies. Well, I can see it, though of course the reality is that the MCs jobs are just as important and demanding as those of the FCs, but that isn’t the point. There isn’t any reason why the MCs shouldn’t do deliveries or, for that matter, why FCs shouldn’t cook and clean. All roles should be open to all of them – it’s common sense, but Tingle and Grumbo are very old school when it comes to their roles. Grumbo won’t even use the new chimney liners and he makes a terrible mess with all that soot everywhere, though now so many houses no longer have chimneys it isn’t so much of a problem as it was.
I am determined to find a way of changing their minds. I’ve enlisted Miss MacGrammar to help and I’ve sent a note to Alice at the SHTS to see if she has any ideas. – I expect they had the same problem there, so perhaps she’ll be able to tell me how they managed.
Hello! This is my first blog, so in case you don't know me, I'm Nanny Christmas.
I live in the Father Christmas Training School and my job is to look after Nick, who is the Chief Father Christmas, and keep an eye on all the other Father Christmases, and that's quite a task, I can tell you!
Of course, there are some Mother Christmases too, but not very many at the moment - I could do with more help. The trouble is that most of the FCs (we call them that for short), really don't have a lot of common sense. You see Nick will select them for their ability to relate to children, which is all well and good, but it does mean that they tend to ignore some things. Take Tingle, for example: I caught him putting a box of fireworks in a six year old's stocking the other day! All he could say was that he thought the little girl would think they were pretty. He has a terrible effect on our insurance premiums.
Nick isn't much better, despite my years of training him. He will put too many sweets in, and then, if I make him take them out, he eats them himself, and you can imagine what that does.
Talking of Nick, I'm pleased to say he's much better now. I put him on a course of Dr Repairall's Nourishing Tonic and it did wonders for him. Of course, he asserts that his recovery was down to the adventure he had with Grumbo and Tingle when they went off down the fire escape with the boys - I find it better to let him keep his illusions. - They're mostly harmless.
Grumbo has been quite quiet for a while since then. I'd like to think he's settling down, but I doubt it. I suspect he was just a little bit shocked by the incident with the volcano. Tingle, of course, is as ebullient as ever - I am expecting further complaints from Mr Catsbottom this Christmas or my name isn't May! He's been harbouring resentment against that poor man all year, ever since Miss MacGrammar made him write out the apology letter without spelling mistakes and in his best handwriting last New Year.
Well, time to go and make the Christmas puddings. I'm trying a new recipe this year with apricots and pecan nuts in it. I'll post a copy of the recipe if they turn out nicely