The nicest time of the year, for me, is when you arrive at Christmas.  All the thought and preparation is done.  There's glitter everywhere, things shimmer and shine, everything and everyone has been thoroughly hoovered and we can huddle warm inside.  The house has food stuffed into every spare space you can find and always, always too much chocolate.  Just in case there's a shortage.  You never know.  I don't just get ready for Christmas, I plan for a 2 month siege, ignoring the fact that the shops will only be closed for 2 days at most and if we don't have it, we probably don't need it.  Every year I promise myself I will be sensible next year and every year I forget.  I blame it on my Scottish childhood when we were regularly snowed in and needed to stock pile mince and tatties.  Hoots.  So here we are in the Country Cottage, ready for a visit from the fat man.  Santa (I'm told) likes a large Port to keep him warm on his sleigh and Himself is very considerate about checking the Port is good and hasn't gone off since it was opened the day before.  The reindeer get one carrot between them and this singular carrot doesn't need to be checked at all apparently.   (Note - the Port has been checked so conscientiously there's only the Very Best Drop left in the bottom of the glass.)

There's a candle wrapped around with some free foliage we found in a forest.

And we look all festive and welcoming.

The table is filled with all good things (which means naughty, bad things) made in advance and frozen throughout the autumn.  So we have mince pies (a la Bertinet) macarons, raspberry and white chocolate cakes, rum and cardamom truffles, fennel  seed and chilli snaps (from Ruby Tandoh's book "Crumb"), sea salt water biscuits, ham, cottage pie, veggie pie (with puy lentils it's lovely and even the meat eaters like it), ciabatta with truffled parsnip (yes, really) and some melon slices sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint because it makes it look more Christmassy.

Because one of our guests was a veggie with a nut allergy we had some special festive meringues piped with red and green colours since nearly everything else sweet was nut based.

And of course there were little gifts on the tree for the guests.  Buy a pot of plain Play Doh, roll it out flat between two sheets of baking paper and use a biscuit cutter to cut out appropriate shapes.  I did snowflakes for boys and hearts for small girls.  Use something pokey to make a hole in the top to take ribbon or twine and write or stamp the names of the recipients.  Leave them to dry for about 48-72 hours somewhere warm.  Apply children's name tags to little gifts.

Apply adult name tags to mini bottles of Blackberry Liqueur.  (If you ever get round to making this gorgeous liqueur you'll only gave away mini bottles too.)

We generally fill the house with people on Boxing Day.  It's a great chance for all the cousins and relatives to gather and I consider myself off duty once the Boxing Day Buffet lunch is launched. Santa brought me some lovely books this year so 2015 will be filled with new recipes!