Saturday 20 November 2010

Top Tips For Christmas – part 1

On hearing that I’d got my Christmas gifts and stuff all organised, my friend Judith said “What are your top tips? Please tell me…”

Now this is a bit like asking the country yokel for directions to Barton-In-The Beans** and being told “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you” because my best tip is Start Planning Earlier [not the middle of November]

Bob said she should read the blog – so I thought I ought therefore to post some Christmas tips…


A few years back, I was asked [twice] to give a talk on making Christmas easier, so here are my notes from those talks…

Making Christmas as easy as 1-2-3

I identified 3 common problems – children under your feet, the sudden need for extra food, and gifts for unexpected guests.


1- Children Under Your Feet

WET WEATHER – give them a pack of plain postcards, and get them to prepare Thank You cards in advance! [I believe kids should do their own thank you cards as soon as they can hold a crayon or Pritt stick – even if Mum has to write some of the words, they can do the decorating!]



Use Pritt stick, glitter, crayons, magazine pictures, old cards etc. Assemble all this stuff in a shoebox or biscuit tin now and it will be all ready for them to get going.

FINE WEATHER– send them outside to blow bubbles [this is a good one if you want to get them out of the kitchen – find another adult to supervise if possible]

Make huge bubble wands from wire ‘drycleaners’ coat hangers [bend them into stars and circles and heart shapes] and give them a bucket of inexpensive bubble solution…


1-2-3 Recipe for bubble solution – 1 bucket of water, 2 cups of cheap washing up liquid, 3 teaspoons cooking oil. Mix well

[the oil makes the bubbles more ‘durable’]

2- Extra [frugal] Food for Unexpected Guests

You need this tool – a firm round pastry cutter size 2”/5cm


IMPORTANT NOTE this is not a ‘crinkle cut’ one – and it is a good quality heavy duty one – do not economise with a flimsy, flexible tin one from the Poundshop!

Now go to the supermarket and buy these [and hide them in the back of the freezer]

· basic ‘flat’ pizzas – the really boring ones that are just cheese’n’tomato – rectangles are good, but circles are fine too


· cheap, plain dessert – e.g. choc fudge cake, around £1


ALSO put a cheap tin of mandarin segments in the cupboard

When the guests arrive, begin by ‘whacking the oven on high’ as Jamie would say, and dig out cake and pizza.

Using your cutter, cut out lots of rounds from your pizza, and bake – garnish if you can with bits of red/green peppers, basil leaves, a spoonful of pesto, or a sprinkle of grated cheese.


Voilá, neat little canapes.

Meanwhile, dig out a tin of mandarins, some cocoa powder, and an orange.

fudge cake Defrost fudge cake slightly, cut out rounds.Put on plate, drizzle with cocoa powder through a sieve/tea strainer. Prepare some orange zest – with zester or sharp knife – arrange on top, and arrange a few mandarin segments at the side. A mint leaf or two is a good garnish.

Arranged on a plate, that is a classy looking ‘instant’ dessert.

ANOTHER IDEA – if you have a pack of ‘cake bars’ [like Mr Kiplings] you can cut them into halves [or even thirds] and put them into petit four cases. That way, six cakes serve twelve or more. I did this once with some Sainsbury’s ‘Basics’ slices, and one guest said “These M&S petit four cakes are so dainty, aren’t they?”

 slicespetit four case

There you are – food which looks good enough to serve guests, but has cost very little – and not depleted your stocks of food for the ‘planned menu’

[you don’t want to serve the gateau you had in the freezer for Boxing Day – you are bound to forget to replace it, then there will be problems on Dec 26th!]

NO CUTTER ? – cut food into squares instead.

NO MANDARINS ? – use grapes, or fresh clementine segments

clementines If you have a meal sorted out already, and want to offer choice of desserts, but the sweet trolley looks a bit sparse, put out some clementines [everybody buys bags of them at Christmas]

BUT arrange them elegantly on a glass cake plate [from a charity shop?] and tuck in a few green leaves from the garden for artistic effect.

3- Gifts for Unexpected Guests.

Suddenly you remember that you are visiting someone and feel you ought to take a ‘hostess’ gift. Or your guests turn up and there is one extra person, and you feel that it would be very obvious if everyone else has a gift and they are omitted [and you should have remembered they said they might have Cousin Pat with them]

Help! what’s available?

Well, there is that jar of Aunt Jessie’s “Country Relish” which has been festering in the cupboard since Xmas 2007. Look, if you haven’t eaten it by now, it is wrong to offload it onto someone else. Throw it out this minute! Rumour has it that there is a jar of home-made chutney which has been re-wrapped and re-gifted repeatedly, among a group people in the Home Counties, since 2003! And nobody dares even open it, let alone eat it!

The weapons in your armoury here are a packet of tissue paper and a pack of ‘turkey roasting bags’


Look out for these going cheaply in Lidl/ Aldi/ Wilkinsons etc.

Send someone to the nearest store/garage for a tin of biscuits, bottle of wine, bunch of flowers, or box of chocs. BUT do NOT present your gift in a Sainsbury’s or Oddbins carrier!

Wrapping round stuff in paper is difficult. But if you take your chosen item from the list above, swathe it in tissue, and then pop it in a turkey bag, then cinch the top [with string, elastic band whatever] it will instantly begin to look ‘professionally wrapped’ Tie a bit of parcel ribbon or strip of fabric over the elastic band, and if you have something to ‘embellish’ the gift even better [eg tree decoration, coloured bauble, jingle bell, pine cone, sprig of holly…]

cello gift

The tissue &  turkey bags make a really satisfying cellophane ‘crinkly’ noise. More upmarket than a plastic bag – and not as cheap looking as Poundshop wrapping paper.[Remember to remove price tags] Tie with whatever is to hand – ribbon, string, tinsel.


Of course, you may have a tin of biscuits or box of chocs squirreled away in the cupboard, so providing you have the tissue and turkey bag, you always prepared. This is such an easy method of wrapping that you can even put the stuff in the car and stop off at the garage/corner shop en route to your friends to buy something, and parcel it up in the car!

Useful Frugal Thoughts

If you do not have any unexpected guests over Christmas, the family can always eat up the pizza and fudge cake and tins of biscuits in January. Don’t begin the New Year by wasting food.

If the thought of throwing away the odd shaped bits of pizza/cake [leftover when you have cut out your circles] bothers you, try this;

Chop the pizza bits into chunks about an inch long. Scatter in a small Pyrex dish, pour over half a pint of milk, into which you have beaten one egg. Bake 25 mins in a moderate oven. This makes a sort of deconstructed quiche – ideal for a light supper with a green salad.

Chop up the leftover fudge cake into small chunks and pile into sundae dishes with some cherry jam and natural yogurt [or cream] for a deconstructed Black Forest Gateau Dessert.

So, Judith and co., hope these ideas have been useful. Will perhaps post more later!

One - keep the children happy

Two - produce extra food

Three - find gifts for unexpected needs

Christmas can be as easy as 1-2-3!

**B-in-the-B is due west of here, a small hamlet north of Market Bosworth. It has no pub or shops – just a Baptist Chapel, a post box and a few houses.


  1. They are such great ideas; excellent thankyou!!
    Jilly {hugs&blessings}

  2. What sensible ideas Ang.
    I always keep a several boxes of soup in the freezer for emergency guests...though have to admit that we are sometimes the emergency!

  3. What a super, super post, I love these ideas. Would you do a guest post on Frugalicious with the food tips?

  4. Happy to share these ideas on rugalicious!
    Glad they are useful x

  5. You. Need. To. Write. A. Book.

  6. Thanks Mags - but I suspect that Jane & Joe Public wouldn't be interested, and my friends would all be too frugal to purchase it!!


Always glad to hear from you - thanks for stopping by!
I am blocking anonymous comments now, due to excessive spam!