The holidays are coming!

No, this is not a post about the Coca Cola holiday advert, but the first Christmas themed post on The Domestic Princess! I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that I ADORE Christmas. The Domestic King and Queen always used to make Christmas so magical for me, and in my adult life, I’ve continued to embrace the holiday season with as much gusto! I’m kicking off the Christmas themed posts with something super close to my heart: Christmas trees. Coming home and walking in to see a gorgeous Christmas tree adorned with twinkling lights, shimmering decorations, and the wonderful scent of pine, never fails in making me feel Christmassy. The Domestic King and Queen always had a real Christmas tree and when I had my own home, I carried on the tradition. We always used to go to our local Christmas tree farm to pick one on the Sunday before Christmas and would decorate it whilst munching on mince pies with brandy butter. The Domestic Queen was always very particular about the type of tree we chose, and unfortunately for The Domestic Prince, thanks to The Domestic Queen, I am as well. So today, I’m sharing with you my hints & tips on picking a Christmas tree.

Decide where the tree will go and what’s the maximum size tree will fit there.

Last thing you want to do have to do is try to hack the tree to make it fit, or drag it back to where you purchased it from.

Choose which type of tree is most suited to your requirements. Here’s a little summary on some of the more popular varieties that are available.

Nordmann fir – this is the best at needle retention and Britain’s most popular Christmas tree. It has a conical-shaped tree that has open branches and long, shiny dark green needles. The real clincher for most people is that it will stay fresh for a really long time, especially if you keep the water that it stands in topped up.

Fraser fir – choose this tree if you need it to fit in a small space. It’s a narrow, dense tree with short, flat dark green needles. Branches are strong and needle retention is pretty good and unlike some other trees, survives being planted in the garden after the festivities have finished.

Norway spruce – if decorating a tree is your downfall, then opt for a Norway as it’s perfect for decorating. It has short, sharp needles and is a lighter colour than the Nordmann. It does have the tendency to drop needles, so watering it regularly is an absolute must.

Noble fir – the Noble has stiff, short branches that at the bottom, snap off easily, making them ideal for making wreaths and garlands from. It also boasts, broad, thick needles with a silver underside.

Grand fir – if you want a tree that has a sublime scent, then this is the tree you should be clamouring to buy. The Grand has lustrous dark green needles that smell wonderfully citrussy. If you’ve got heavy ornaments, you might find that a Grand isn’t able to accommodate them, but the prettiness and fantastic smell will more than compensate.

Scots pine – if you have a biggish area to fill, a Scots pine would be perfect, owing to its bushy shape. However, a word of warning, hanging decorations on a Scot can be tricky as they have quite long, twisty needles. On the plus side, they have a lovely pine scent and generally good needle retention.

Lodgepole pine – the Lodgepole is probably a good all-round option, as it has a terrific pine scent and really good needle retention. It’s quite similar to the Scots pine, but has darker and straighter needles.

Blue sprucefor a beautiful coloured tree, look no further than the Blue spruce. With its blue tinged foliage, it’s a striking tree, although quite hard to find. It retains its needles quite well and has a mild pine smell.

Choosing which one to take home

  • A fresh Christmas tree should be able to last around 6 weeks inside, if cared for correctly.
  • To check if a tree is fresh, run your fingers along one of the branches and see how many needles come off in your hands. If it’s super fresh, there shouldn’t be many on your hands.
  • If a tree feels light when you pick it up, then it could be a sign that it’s dried out, therefore, not very fresh and unlikely to see Father Christmas drop those pressies off!
  • If a bent branch doesn’t bounce straight back, that’s another sign it might not be the freshest on the farm.
  • Don’t buy a tree that has been blocked in a block of wood. These trees have no way of drinking water and will dry out very quickly.
  • Once you’ve picked the perfect tree, ensure that they cut about 3 inches off the bottom befor eyou take it home.

Settling your Christmas tree in

  • Before taking it into the house, give it a good shake – if you did the branch test, there hopefully won’t be many falling out!
  • Take it through the door stump end down.
  • Plunge in water and leave outside in a cool shaded place, that’s not windy, for a couple of days.
  • Before you take it in, take off 1/2 inch off the bottom to open up the pores.
  • Place in a water holding stand.
  • Display your Christmas tree in a cool place out of a draft.
  • Water, water and water. Don’t ever let the water go below the base, as this will cause the base to seal and start to dry out.

Domestic Princess tips:

  1. Water the tree every day – a fresh Christmas tree can drink up to a gallon of water a day.
  2. Turn the Christmas tree lights off at night.
  3. Don’t place the Christmas tree in sand or soil, as this will block the pores in the tree’s bark preventing it from drinking up the water.
  4. If the only place the tree can go is next to a radiator, either turn the radiator off for the holidays, or if that’s not an option, place a vessel of water on top to help keep the air moist.
  5. If you don’t own a specialised Christmas tree holder, I’d highly recommend buying one, which can save hours trying to balance it in a bucket with stones and pebbles!
  6. Consider buying a container grown tree, which has been grown in the container you purchase it in. Whilst a more expensive option, they can last for a good few years, thus proving to be a saving in the longer-term.
  7. If real trees aren’t your thing, there are some amazing artificial ones available these days – we have a gorgeous one from John Lewis that we use whilst in India.

Is Christmas your favourite time of the year? Do you have a favourite type of Christmas tree, or are you an advocate of the artificial ones?

With much love
The Domestic Princess
xoxo

Baking hints & tips: 20 tips to help you achieve perfect cakes every time!

I didn’t intend for this week to turn into an hints and tips one, but with today’s post, it looks like it has!  I said in a previous post, that there’s always “World Day this”, “National Day that”, and this week is no exception.  This week in the UK is National Baking Week.  Since the launch of the Great British Bake Off television series three years ago, the UK has gone baking mad, and I firmly put myself in that category!  During the last few years, I’ve picked up some great hints and tips on the baking front – some I’ve learnt through my vast array of cook books and some through my own trial and error.  The advent of the National Baking Week galvanised me into collating all the hints and tips I’ve collected over the years.  And today, I’m sharing some of them with you (I have way too many to put them all into one post!).  Oh, and as usual, they’re not in any particular order.

  1. Always read through the whole recipe before starting!  (Just recently I didn’t do this, and missed a vital step).
  2. Pre-heat the oven.
  3. To fully understand your oven, invest in an oven thermometer.
  4. If using a fan-assisted oven and an oven temperature has only been given for a standard oven, reduce the temperature by 20C.
  5. Weigh all the ingredients out prior to starting – doing this reduces the chances of you leaving an ingredient out.  Also, be sure that you accurately weigh your ingredients.  A few extra grams here and there, WILL make a difference to the result.
  6. Check that all your ingredients are in date.  An out of date baking powder, could be the cause of a sunken cake.
  7. All ingredients should be at room temperature, unless stipulated otherwise in the recipe.
  8. Unless the recipe calls for a different type of sugar, always use caster (super fine) sugar.  Caster sugar has finer granules than regular table sugar, and therefore dissolves easier, producing a lighter bake.  If you don’t have any caster sugar in your cupboards and are still yearning to bake, whizz some table sugar in your food processor (if you have one).  If not, just plough on!
  9. If a recipe calls for self-raising flour, but you only have plain (all-purpose), add 1tsp of baking powder for every 110g of plain flour.
  10. If using treacle, golden syrup, maple syrup or honey in a recipe, oil the spoon first – this will help these viscous ingredients slip right off!
  11. Always line a loose-bottomed tin, otherwise your oven will be wearing most of the mixture!
  12. If making cookies or biscuits, make sure you chill the dough for 30 minutes prior to rolling, cutting and baking.  If you miss this vital step out, you’ll run the risk of your cookies and biscuits spreading and being all flat and squishy.
  13. Minimise the number of times you open and close the oven door during the baking stage.  Too much opening and closing will result in a sunken cake.
  14. For an even bake, turn the cake/biscuits/cookies, around half-way through the baking process.
  15. If a cake is cooking too quickly, cover with a sheet of foil for the remainder of the baking time and turn the oven temperature down slightly.
  16. Check to see how the cake is doing about 10 minutes before the end of the baking time.
  17. Always let your baking completely cool down, especially if you are icing it / them.
  18. When cooling cakes, pop a slice of bread on top to absorb the moisture.  Your cakes will remain most and the slices of bread will be rock hard.
  19. When making buttercream, if you don’t want to look like a ghost, make it in your food processor.  If you don’t own a food processor, use a very deep bowl and add the icing (powdered) sugar a small amount at a time until it’s all incorporated.
  20. If piping icing on top of your cake, make sure the icing is very soft.  Don’t fill the piping bag up too full, go slowly and ice vertically onto the cake.

So, there you have it!  Twenty tips to help you produce perfect baked goods every time.  I’ll be posting again with some more hints soon.  If you have any tips that you’ve picked-up over the years, please share them in the comment box below.
With much love

The Domestic Princess

xoxo

P.S. Apologies for posting today, instead of yesterday, but I’ve been laid up with an hideous migraine.

Laundry 101: My top 20 hints & tips

There was a reason I called this blog The Domestic Princess….one was my love for all princess type things, and the other was my love of all most things domestic.  I really enjoy being a housewife – seeing the house tidy and in tip top shape gives me no end of pleasure (I’m sad, I know!).  So, when I say I am slightly obsessed about our laundry, I’m not exaggerating.  I think The Domestic Prince would go as far as to say that I am militant about it.  I’m not sure where this obsession came from, but I’m thinking it’s not such a bad thing to be obsessed about.  Who doesn’t want to have their clothes looking pristine?!

So, without trying to tell “Grandma how to suck eggs”, here’s my laundry 101.

  1. Always read the garment’s sewn-in care label prior to washing.
  2. Always examine for stains before popping the clothes into the machine.  If any stains are found, treat in the appropriate way. (Look out for a future blog post on stain removal).
  3. Sort clothes into similar colours.  So anal am I about our laundry that I tend to do all the colours separately.  NEVER EVER wash anything apart from whites in the white wash.  Greyish whites is my number one bug bear when it comes to laundry.
  4. Prepare laundry for washing:
    • Check all the pockets for tissues, clips, money etc etc.  Confession time: I have been known to forget to do this…but I definitely learnt from my mistakes!
    • Remove any forgotten collar stays or cuff links.
    • Undo all buttons on shirts, this helps prevent tearing of the button holes.
    • Turn t-shirts, jumpers and delicate items inside out, as this will help prevent piling.
  5. Use the appropriate detergent for the different types of washes.  For example, use a biological* one for whites and a dark/coloured one for your black and coloured washes.  Your whites will be whiter and your colours will retain their brightness.
  6. Don’t put fabric conditioner in when washing towels, as it creates a film and stops them being absorbent.
  7. If you don’t want to exfoliate when drying off after a bath or shower, then soft and fluffy towels are what you’re after!  To get them soft and fluffy, just dry them in the tumbler dryer with some dryer balls.
  8. If you don’t own a tumble dryer, or are loathed to use it unless it’s raining, use only the tiniest amount of fabric conditioner when washing your towels.  Alternatively, you could make your own fabric softener by adding around 60ml (1/4 a cup) of white vinegar to the rinse cycle.
  9. Wash towels separately from everything else, as otherwise you run the risk of your clothes being covered in lint.
  10. Bed linen and towels should be washed once a week and always on a full cycle, on a hot wash (60c and above), which will ensure all the germs are killed.
  11. As well as being a natural softener, white vinegar also has brightening properties.  If you don’t use a manufactured whitener like this, or this, and want your whites to always be dazzling white, then add 120ml (1/2 a cup) of white vinegar to the wash cycle.  For smaller items, boil 3.5l of water with 120ml of lemon juice.  Take off the heat and add the items you’re looking to brighten to the vessel, and leave for at least an hour.  After soaking, wash as usual.  N.B. do not soak silk in vinegar or lemon juice.
  12. To help keep our whites, white, I always wash them on a 40C wash with the addition of a whitener.
  13. Wash dark denim inside out and on a cold wash.  Lightly stretch them vertically before air drying out of direct sunlight.  This will help prevent fading and abrasion and lengthen the life of your denim.
  14. Ideally, underwear should be laundered by hand, but if you live in the real world, then go ahead and pop it in the machine (I do), however, put it in mesh bags.  This will help protect your bras and also the machine, should an underwire work its way loose (this has happened to us before I discovered the mesh bags!).
  15. Do not tumble dry bras.
  16. Wash delicates (wool, silk etc) with a mild detergent.  I love this one.
  17. Pre-treat the collars, cuffs and arm pits on work shirts, even if you can’t see any stains.  This will help prevent any stains occurring.
  18. To be as energy efficient as possible, always load the machine up to its capacity.  However, do not overload it, as otherwise your clothes won’t get cleaned nor rinsed properly.
  19. Talking of rinsing, another tip I’ve picked-up over the years, is to add baking soda to the rinse cycle.  By doing this, it helps
    • clothes to rinse more thoroughly
    • resist stain build-up on clothes
    • the laundry detergent work better
    • act as a deodoriser
  20. Clean your washing machine and tumble dryer regularly (I do mine every month).  I use a specific washing machine cleaner and run an empty load on a 95C wash.  However, 120ml (1/2 a cup) of vinegar in place of the washing machine cleaner will do the trick just as well.  You will just need to do another hot wash after it.  Don’t forget to clean the detergent drawer as well.  A clean washing machine, free from detergent build-up, lime scale and rust, can decrease your energy bills by up to 25%.  I think that’s incentive enough to get cleaning!

*Use a non-bio detergent for babies’ laundry.

Hope you find this helpful.  Please post in the comments section below any specific laundry questions.

With much love
The Domestic Princess
xoxo

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