The 12 Creative Days of Christmas
Take a look at our creative, fun, mindful and nature-based ideas and recipes to champion your health and happiness this Christmas.
As Christmas draws closer and we approach the end of another year, it’s a good opportunity to take a step away from work, take a little time to reflect on the year, and devote some thoughts to championing our own health and wellbeing. Christmas is a brilliant time to be part of the movement towards a more sustainable future, where we can consider how we take care of ourselves and others. From the things we do, to the food we eat, the places we shop and the gifts that we give, we can all make a difference this Christmas and champion sustainability through the festive season. The Vet Sustain ’12 creative days of Christmas’ has been put together by the Vet Sustain community, showcasing some of the ways we champion our own health and happiness at Christmas time, alongside some great sustainable food, craft and gift ideas for the festive season.
A Partridge in a Peartree
Hannah James, Head of Environment, Social and Governance at VetPartners Ltd and a member of our Vet Sustain Equine Sustainability Subgroup has shared her Bramble Whiskey recipe with us this Christmas. Hannah says:
‘I’ve currently got my very first batch of elderberry whiskey on the go, inspired by a colleague’s amazing sloe whiskey that she gifted me last year. So much nicer than sloe gin in my opinion, though I daresay some would disagree! There are so many elderberry trees round where I live and I got sick of just making syrup and cordial. Sloe or bramble whiskey is festive and delicious – even better than sloe gin in my opinion – and a great use for any blackberries lurking in your freezer, or the underrated elderberry’
Makes about 900ml of Bramble Whiskey. Prep time: 10 minutes; Infusion time: 90 days
- 200g blackberries
- 100g elderberries (optional)
- 200g sloes
- 70cl whiskey
- 200g sugar
- Pick over the fruit and discard any that are damaged, discard any stalks. Rinse and pat dry.
- Add the fruit to a wide-mouthed 1.5. litre air tight jar, along with the whiskey and sugar
- Shake daily until the sugar has dissolved (takes about a week)
- Store in a dark cupboard for at least 3 months (6 is better!)
- Sieve using a muslin cloth into a clean dry bottle.
Two Turtle Doves
Judy Scrine, Equine Vet and Chair of the Vet Sustain Equine Sustainability Subgroup has shared her brilliant idea of taking part in a festive run. Judy is a dedicated runner, having chalked up 82 marathons including running seven marathons on seven continents in just seven days!
‘I always love a Christmas run with a photo of a road name appropriate for the festive season such as ‘Holly Close’, or perhaps spelling the word "Christmas" with street names I've run along. Or using Strava to run a Christmas tree or other Christmas shape on the map!’
We love this idea Judy, especially given all the fantastic health benefits that running can bring!
Three French Hens
Why not give soap making a go this Christmas, using melt-and-pour soap base, soap flakes, or small pieces of left over soap bars. You can personalise the bars using different essential oils as well as making them look great with added dried flowers, fruit, herbs or seeds. Adding a tablespoon of aloe vera, shea butter, coconut oil or beeswax provides moisturisation as well. These bars are easy to make and are a great personal gift for friends and family.
- 450g melt and pour soap base (glycerine, shea butter and olive oil are good choices)
- Soap moulds or a cake tin lined with baking paper
- ½ teaspoon of essential oil of your choice
- Seeds, herbs, dried flowers, dried fruits etc
- Cut your soap base into 1.5cm cubes and place in a large oven-safe glass bowl.
- Microwave for 30 seconds, and at 15 second intervals until melted (be careful as it can burn)
- Split equally into three bowls and add the essential oil of your choice (use a different oil in each bowl)
- Add any extra additions e.g. poppy seeds, salt, coffee for exfoliation; dried lavender, mint, rosemary, thyme for visual effects
- Pour into the mould and use a knife or spatula to get rid of any small bubbles on top before the soap starts to set
- Decorate the tops of the soap if desired (you could add a spring of thyme, rosemary, lavender; or a coffee bean, depending on your chosen scent)
- Allow to cool and set
- Store in an airtight container with a layer of baking paper to separate each piece
Four Calling Birds
Sean Wensley is one of our Directors at Vet Sustain and a small animal vet at the PDSA. Sean is one of the UKs leading advocates for companion animal welfare and in his spare time loves to get out into nature for a wild walk and some bird watching.
‘why not visit a winter wildfowl spectacle this Christmas such as WWT Caerlaverock dawn flight or wild barnacle geese; WWT Martin Mere floodlit swans; RSPB Snettisham pink-footed geese sunrise walk; all of which are magnificent for health and happiness and might be a brilliant gift idea for fellow bird and nature fanatics!’
- WWT Caerlaverock dawn flight of wild barnacle geese. Experience the spectacular sight of wild barnacle geese flighting into the reserve at dawn: https://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/caerlaverock/whats-on/dawn-flight-42
- WWT Martin Mere floodlit swans. Have an unforgettable experience and see one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles of us to 2,000 whooper swans on our mere: https://www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/martin-mere/whats-on/floodlit-swans
- RSPB Snettisham pink-footed geese sunrise walk. A spellbinding opportunity to witness the sights and sounds of mighty flocks of pink-footed geese flying overhead at first light of day. https://events.rspb.org.uk/events/53253
Five Gold Rings
Why not have a go at making your own ‘gold rings’ this Christmas using dried orange slices to create wreaths, garlands or Christmas decorations. Slice your oranges into ¼ inch thick slices and bake in the oven at 170oC for 4 hours (turning regularly). Once cooled, use string to tie these little golden rings onto a wreath, garland or to hang on the Christmas tree. They are so easy to make, smell great and can be combined with sprigs of rosemary, cinnamon sticks or star anise to create a pretty and colourful decorations for your home this Christmas.
Six Geese a Laying
Christmas is a great time to get family and friends together for a ‘games night’, a sure way to bring out our competitive side! We have selected three of our favourite games to get you started.
- Christmas ‘heads up’ – each person writes the name of Christmas character on a post-it note and sticks it to the forehead of another person in the room (without showing that person). Once everyone has a post-it on their head you must each take it in turns to ask ‘yes or no’ questions to work out who you are!
- Christmas Carol Pictionary - Write down this list of Christmas carols on separate flash cards. Divide players into teams. One person draws from the pile of cards and has one minute to illustrate the Christmas carol. If their team guesses correctly, they get one point. Make sure to alternate the team artist. Teams take turns until one reaches twenty points.
- Stocking guessing game – gather up your odd socks, fill each sock with a different random item (you could use anything!), tie a knot in the top of the sock so the item can’t fall out and no one can cheat. Sit in a circle and pass the socks around one by one and each player must try and work out what the item is!
Seven Swans a Swimming
Hannah Davies, Vet Sustains Technical Content Lead and Lecturer in Veterinary Clinical Practice at the University of Surrey has recently taken up sea swimming.
‘its been slow progress as I have abit of a fear of deep water, but I have really appreciated the mental health benefits of getting in the sea on a regular basis! Why not give it a go and brave the cold water this Christmas with a Christmas Day Dip in the sea! It takes abit of psyching yourself up; but once you are in its so invigorating! Have a flask of hot chocolate (with rum of course!) and a mince pie ready and waiting to warm your cockles afterwards!! I promise you won’t regret it!
Eight Maids a Milking
Ellie Duffy, Vet Sustain Operations Manager and small animal vet is going to be getting creative making Chocolate truffles for her friends and family this Christmas. Ellie, who is a massive chocolate fan, loves upcycling and decorating small boxes to create boxes of truffles and has shared her favourite dairy and dairy-free chocolate truffle recipes with us.
‘I really like giving thoughtful gifts that have been made with love and care! These truffles are easy to make and always put a smile on friends and family faces! Being able to decorate and upcycle little boxes and containers that I have kept throughout the year is also an added bonus!’
- 300g good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids
- 300ml double cream
- 50g unsalted butter
- Chop the chocolate and tip into a large bowl.
- Gently melt the cream and butter in a saucepan until the cream is simmering
- Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate and stir together until smooth
- Add any flavourings to the truffle mix e.g. rum, orange zest/juice
- Chill in the fridge for 4 hours
- Roll teaspoon of the mixture into balls using your hands, chill in the fridge
- Tip toppings (e.g. pistachio nuts, desiccated coconut, cocoa powder) into bowls and gentle roll the truffles until evenly coated
- To give as presents, place 6 truffles in individual foil or paper cases inside decorated upcycled egg boxes
- Will keep in the fridge for 4 days
Dairy-Free Truffle Recipe:
Makes 20 truffles
- 200g dairy-free dark chocolate, finely chopped
- 100ml oatmilk
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tbsp coca powder
- Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl.
- Tip the milk, sugar and vanilla into a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Pour the hot milk mixture over the chocolate, leave for 1 minute, then stir until the chocolate has melted and the mix is smooth.
- Cover and chill for 4 hours in the fridge until set
- Roll teaspoon of the mixture into balls using your hands, chill in the fridge
- Put the cocoa powder on a shallow plate and roll the chilled truffles in it until well coated.
- Will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Nine ladies Dancing
Christmas chutney is an absolute must this Christmas and can be a great gift to give to friends and family. We love this spicy vegan chutney recipe which is a perfect match for cheese, nut roast, turkey and leftover Christmas dinner sandwiches.
- 900g tomato
- 3 red peppers, 1 large aubergine and 1 green pepper (total weight of about 900g/2lb)
- 700g onion, peeled and fairly finely chopped, by hand or in a food processor
- 4 fat cloves garlic, crushed
- 350g granulated sugar
- 300ml/½pint white wine vinegar or distilled malt vinegar
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds, crushed
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 2 tsp cayenne pepper
- Peel the tomatoes - prick them with a sharp knife, place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave for a few seconds then drain and cover with cold water. The skins will now come away easily.
- Chop the tomatoes, aubergine and peppers. Put in a large heavy-based pan with the onions and garlic and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid, lower the heat and gently simmer for about one hour, stirring occasionally, until tender.
- Tip the sugar, vinegar, salt, coriander, paprika and cayenne into the pan and bring to the boil over a medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Continue to boil for 30 minutes or so, until the mixture achieves a chunky chutney consistency and the surplus watery liquid has evaporated. Take care towards the end of the cooking time to continue stirring so that the chutney doesn't catch on the bottom of the pan.
- Ladle the chutney into sterilised or dishwasher-clean jars and top with paper jam covers. Seal the jars while still hot. Leave to mature for at least a month in a cool dark place.
Ten Lords a leaping
Laura Higham, one of Vet Sustains Directors and Veterinary Consultant in Sustainable Agriculture at FAI is going to be raiding the recycling in the run up to Christmas to make egg-box 3D Christmas cards with her children.
'we are going to make reindeers with red noses; hopefully it will keep the children busy and be a fun creative way to re-use old egg-boxes rather than throwing them away. Fun fact – did you know that all of Father Christmas’s reindeers are female? They have antlers at Christmas time, and only female reindeers keep their headgear over winter so they can protect their calves come the spring time!’.
Thanks Laura, what a lovely creative idea for families and friends this Christmas.
Eleven Pipers Piping
One for the kids… have a go at making melted snowman ginger biscuits with your kids this Christmas holiday. They are super fun to make especially as a good rainy day activity this Christmas.
For the ginger biscuits:
- 110g margarine
- 110g caster sugar
- 100g golden syrup
- 225g self raising flour
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- Preheat the oven to 190C/170C Fan/Gas 5 and grease a baking tray.
- Melt the margarine, caster sugar and golden syrup gently in a pan over a medium heat. Once melted, remove from the heat and cool slightly. Add all of the dry ingredients to the pan to make a dough.
- Once cool enough to handle, with floured hands, roll the dough into 50p-size balls. Place these individual balls onto the greased baking tray with enough room between each biscuit to allow them to spread during cooking. Mark the top of each ball with a fork. The dough should make about 30 biscuits.
- Put the baking tray into the oven for about 10 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden-brown.
- Remove from the oven, leave to cool slightly and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
To decorate: Marshmallows, chocolate chips, writing icing pens
Twelves Drummers Drumming
To avoid any of your delicious Christmas leftovers going to waste and to give them a new lease of life, why not try the ‘boxing day pie’ this Christmas. It is a thing of beauty, easy to make and tastes delicious! We have pulled out our favourite recipe for you to try:
- 2 rashers of higher-welfare smoked streaky bacon
- 500 g leftover cooked turkey plus the stuffing
- 200 g leftover Brussels sprouts
- 2 tablespoons cranberry sauce
- 1 large free-range egg
- 25 g unsalted butter
- olive oil
- 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 2 leeks
- 2 field mushrooms
- 2 teaspoons wholegrain mustard
- 50 g plain flour
- 1 litre chicken/turkey stock or leftover gravy
- 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
- PASTRY: 500 g plain flour , plus extra for dusting, 250 g cold unsalted butter, 1 large free-range egg
For the pastry, put the flour and 1 teaspoon of sea salt into a bowl, cube and add the butter, rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in 1 beaten egg with 3 to 4 tablespoons of ice-cold water. Use your hands to gently bring it together into a ball, but don’t overwork it. Divide into two pieces and flatten each into a circle (for the top and bottom of your pie), then wrap in greaseproof paper and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Finely chop the bacon, fry with the butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Roughly chop and add the rosemary, then cook for 3 minutes, or until golden.
Wash and roughly chop the leeks, thickly slice the mushrooms, then add to the pan. Season with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, cook for 10 minutes, until soft and caramelised, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the mustard, the flour, and the stock/gravy. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 to 20 minutes on a medium-low heat, then turn off the heat and add the crème fraîche. Either leave it chunky or use a stick blender to whiz it to your preferred consistency.
Set aside half of the sauce to serve, then tear up the turkey meat and stir it into the pan, adding some stuffing, if you’ve got it. Finely slice and stir in the Brussels sprouts.
Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas 3 and grease the bottom of a round 30cm pie dish. Roll out half the pastry on a clean flour-dusted surface to ½cm thick and use it to line the pie dish, then tip in your turkey pie filling. Dollop the cranberry sauce on top.
Roll out the remaining pastry to ½cm thick and a little bigger than the pie dish. Carefully place the pastry on top of the pie dish, press a fork around the edges to seal and brush with the beaten egg
Bake at the bottom of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and the filling is piping hot.
When you’re nearly ready to serve, reheat the remaining sauce until piping hot, then take it to the table alongside the pie. Delicious with steamed greens and peas.