Chestnuts and paper chains

Dear Claire

 

I’m roasting chestnuts as I write – no better tradition at this time of year, when December is almost  upon us, the lights are twinkling in the windows and the snow is flurrying. I do miss the chestnut sellers on English street corners and their little blackened paper bags of steaming hot chestnuts. But since I can’t hop across the Atlantic anytime soon, this is my simple go-to recipe at home:

Preheat oven to 200C/400F

Carefully cut an x on the flat side of each nut, using a sharp paring knife

Lay the chestnuts, x-side up, in a single layer on a baking sheet

Roast for about 30 minutes

Cool, peel and enjoy

While I’m reminiscing, I’ve also been browsing through a book called Simply Tradition. It’s written by a friend of mine, Kierste Wade, whose children play violin with J. She writes a wonderful, inspirational blog, too, called Simply Kierste. In both places she has a lovely holiday idea for families – a Christmas Kindness Countdown Chain. I remember making paper chains with my grandmother when I was a child, and Kierste’s idea is all about turning this into a family advent tradition where you write down ideas for helping others on the strips of paper, and then add a strip to the chain each day as you put your ideas into action.

christmas-kindness-chain-3_edited-1-740x1117.jpg

Simple and meaningful. Just what the season should be all about.

Chestnuts are ready! I hope you can enjoy some too this holiday season.

Much love,
Sam

A postcard from Liguria

Dear Sam,

 

I enjoyed reading about the difference the Free Rice game has made to so many children and it was nice to start September with some good news!

Boat trips, food and sunshine…

For us, since W left school, the autumn has become a time to take a break and, you’re quite right that by the time you read this, we’ll be on our way home from Italy.  We’re visiting Liguria, in the north west, for the first time. I’m looking forward to exploring and our plans include a boat trip to Portofino, walks around the Cinque Terre and perhaps a visit to Boccadasse where some of my favourite Inspector Montalbano series has been filmed.

Cinque Terre

Of course, I’m also looking forward to some good food.  I gather Liguria is known for its olive oil, focaccia bread and seafood and that snacks called stuzzichini are popular, so those will all be on our menu!

Stuzzichini
Stuzzichini – snacks – perfect with a glass of wine.

When we get home, it will actually be time for me to go back to school myself as I’ve signed up for some classes, including Italian. I’ll have to try to get in some practice while we’re in Italia!

Much love,

Claire

A success story

Dear Claire,

 

Happy September! I hope you’ve had a nice break over the summer. We’ve been very busy so it’s almost a relief that it’s back-to-school time….

I saw a back-to-school post on Facebook today from Free Rice. Funnily enough it’s just about a year since we wrote our own post about about Free Rice, who host an online quiz and donate 10 grains of rice to the UN World Food Programme for every correct answer. Part of their mission is to enable education for children who would otherwise go hungry, and their news today is that over the past year the game scores have provided 275,000 children in South Sudan with free daily school meals. So I do hope everyone will keep playing and spread the word, and perhaps encourage their children to play too, if they want to get online once their homework is done!

This is another nice article to share with children about how the WFP’s Home Grown School Meals initiative links schools with local smallholder farmers. I know many of us might have been inclined to take our own school meals for granted, or joke about them being an endurance test (my school’s semolina-and-jam was my personal dread), so it’s a good reminder of how lucky we actually were.

If you recall, the UN World Food Programme is headquartered in Italy, and I know you are off to Italy again soon. Have a wonderful trip – I shall expect a postcard!

Love,
Sam

The season of giving

Dear Claire,

Happy Advent! I can hardly believe we are into December. Thanks so much for all those gift ideas. What wonderful ways to do some good – and extremely handy for me, as I haven’t even begun my Christmas shopping yet!

One thing I did buy, though, was a children’s Advent calendar. It’s from a grocery store here called Trader Joe’s, and I love the concept – each door suggests doing a simple good deed, and rewards you with a piece of chocolate.

Trader Joes Advent Calendar

Action for Happiness has a similar Kindness Calendar, which is printable or shareable over social media. This one could be for anyone, adults or children, and goes all the way through December. I particularly like the 26th – switching off digital devices and really listening to others. To me it’s a reminder to be present, when it’s otherwise so easy to get caught up in all the busy-ness of the season and let what’s most important pass you by.

I liked this article on the BBC website, too, about a Reverse Advent Calendar, where you create 24 numbered compartments in a cardboard box, or perhaps re-use old wine bottle carriers, and each day add an item that you can donate to a food bank or other good cause.

These are all such nice ways for parents and children and indeed, anyone, to remember others and spread a little extra happiness in this holiday season. I would love this to become a family tradition. And I wonder if the idea could be adopted too for other traditions at this time of year, such as the eight days of Hanukkah or seven days of Kwanzaa.

I’m sure we’ll be in touch again before Christmas. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy all your upcoming festivities!

Love,
Sam