Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Monthly things - January

I know.  I didn't do a post for December.  I know.  Believe me, December wasn't interesting.  It was full of the usual Christmas parties, shopping for presents, trying to see as many people as possible before the 25th, etc.  There was also a massive amount of wedding planning - hair trials, cake tasting, wedding cake making, looking at bridesmaid dresses, and a whole lot of stressing over invitations due to the person who'd said they'd do them not actually doing them, which left us having to make rapid alternative arrangements.
 
So, yeah, December was busy and stressful and not really post-worthy.  On to January!
 
You know that lull you get in January when Christmas and New Year are over, no-one has any money, it's cold and there isn't really anything to look forward to?  Well, I don't have that problem.  The reason for this is Fake Christmas.  A few years ago, some of us realised that as we all spend Christmas with our families, we don't get to see each other at Christmas time.  We decided to have a second Christmas with each other.  We essentially have another Christmas day, lots of food, presents, decorations, crackers and everything you'd associate with the 25th of December.  As we're always too busy to fit it in in December, we have Fake Christmas in January, so when New Year is over and everyone else is mourning the loss of the holidays, we all still have a day of fun to look forward to.  I highly recommend it - no depressing January, plus an amazing day with close friends!  This year for Fake Christmas, my fiancĂ© and I made and decorated a Christmas cake.  We were pretty pleased with it:


We cut out a quarter of the cake, then iced the main part before putting the quarter on top and icing that.  The icicles were done by piping a line of icing along the edges of the roof, then piping another loose line underneath and, using a soft brush, gently pulling the icing down to form icicles.  The blue windows were icing, with yellow food colouring painted behind them to look like some lights were on in the house.  The logs were marzipan, everything else was icing and completely edible.  It tasted great. We had a slight accident where we used homemade blackberry brandy instead of normal brandy because we got the bottles confused but we think it helped the flavour (it's a fruit cake, blackberries are fruit, it all worked out in the end).

I also made some mincemeat cupcakes for the occasion:

 
My mum always makes a lot of mincemeat for Christmas, so I'm constantly looking for new ways to use it and this is now a definite favourite.  They're so good, I'll be making them again.
 
In January, I was also inspired to enter the Whittard's Blogger Carnival, and I posted my smoothie recipe.  Much to my surprise, I actually won.  I now have 18 boxes of tea winging their way to me and I'm looking forward to trying them.  I'm not looking forward to finding somewhere to put them though......
 
That's it for January.  See you again soon.
 

Friday, 17 January 2014

Green Detox Smoothie

Just over a year ago, I got a blender because I'd decided to make smoothies as a good way of getting some more fruit and veg into my normal diet.  Since then, I've been making smoothies at least 3 times a week.  I tried a few recipes I found on Pinterest, some of which were great, some not so good. Mainly though, I experimented myself with different combinations to come up with smoothies I liked and could make again easily.
 
To start with, it was a bit hit and miss.  I kept getting good flavours, but the texture was completely wrong.  Some smoothies had to be eaten with a spoon!  Eventually, I managed to get the combinations to work and I've had a lot of great smoothies.  I haven't posted any of them yet, but seeing the Whittard Blogger Carnival has encouraged me to start sharing my recipes.  The one below is one of my favourites.  It combines a lot of good ingredients - green tea for anti-oxidants, lime juice which is great for digestion, and avocado which is great for your skin.
 

Ingredients

Large handful of green, seedless grapes
1 tbsp. of honey
Juice and flesh of a quarter of a lime
Half a glass of cold green tea
Half a ripe avocado


All you have to do is put all of the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth, then enjoy. 
 
The ingredients in the smoothie make it a great one for detoxing, so perfect if your New Year's resolution is to get healthier, or if you just want to shift a few pounds after over-eating at Christmas.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Christmas cocktail recipe - Christmas Cheer

I volunteered to create a seasonal cocktail for the Christmas issue of Feted Magazine.  You can see  the article about how I created it in issue 3 of the magazine but I'm putting the recipe here as well for anyone just looking to make a festive cocktail:
 




Ingredients:

1oz Cointreau
0.5oz Brandy
1.5oz Cranberry juice
Champagne
Edible gold glitter
1tsp Cinnamon sugar syrup
 
 
To make the cinnamon syrup, put 250ml of water, 250g of sugar and 1 heaped teaspoon of ground cinnamon in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10 mins.  Pour into a container and leave to cool in the fridge.  This will make roughly half a standard sized jar of syrup, so enough for plenty of cocktails.
 
Put a small pinch of edible glitter into a martini glass.  Put a few ice cubes into a cocktail shaker, add the cinnamon syrup Cointreau, Brandy and Cranberry juice.  Shake well, then strain into the martini glass and top with champagne.
 
 

 

 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Monthly things - November


Autumn has definitely settled in here in London.  Even in a central London park, the light and colours of the leaves look beautiful at this time of year.  I often try to go for a walk in my lunch break in one of the parks near to work.  These photos were taken in Green Park, which was gorgeously empty, even at 3 in the afternoon.  There was only a distant rumble from the traffic, and I had a lovely autumn walk in the sunshine.



November was mainly a month of making things.  In October, I got involved with two different projects that required me to make something by the 15th of November. 

First was the Pintester Movement, which you can read about in an earlier post I made here.  I really enjoyed participating in this and making my little felt Christmas tree, which is now hanging on an actual Christmas tree somewhere in the US.

 
I probably enjoyed participating in the second project more, but only because it involved alcohol.  I volunteered to create a Christmas themed cocktail for the Christmas issue of online publication Feted Magazine.  The issue isn't due out till December the 15th, so I'm not going to spoil it by posting about my cocktail here.  Suffice it to say that I spent a fair few evenings making sure I got the recipe absolutely right ;-)
 
We finally harvested our pumpkins, which means we now have our garden back as it's no longer taken over by pumpkin leaves.  We got one small, one medium, and one enormous.  We gave the medium one to a friend who had us over for Thanksgiving at the end of November.  We're working our way through the small one (below), which is lovely and sweet, but I've no idea what we're going to do with the enormous one, unless we eat nothing but pumpkin for the next month.

 
Savoury pumpkin recipe suggestions will be greatly appreciated!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Pintester Movement - Handmade Christmas ornaments

I've been following The Pintester for a while, mainly because her misadventures make for hilarious reading.  She regularly holds Pintester Movements, where her blog followers all choose something to make from Pinterest by a certain date and blog about their efforts.  I've missed the previous ones as I couldn't make the deadlines for various reasons, but recently the Pintester announced a Christmas themed one that I just had to join in. 
 
We were instructed to make ornaments for a Christmas tree.  Specifically, the Christmas tree belonging to Jodee.  I'd already pinned a few hand made ornament ideas on my Christmas Pinterest board, so I had a look through them and rejected them all.  They were invariably glass, and seeing as I had to post the finished product to the US, I didn't want to risk it getting broken in transit.  I began looking through some of the other options on Pinterest and settled on making something felt.  Partly because it can't get broken, and partly because I already make things from felt, so I had most of the equipment.  I decided to make these Christmas tree ornaments from Kirsti Koo's blog. 

 
 
The first instruction for making the trees is 'cut triangles with pinking shears'.  I don't have pinking shears and I'm rubbish at cutting any kind of shape freehand, so instead, I did this first:
 
 
 
Fold a piece of paper in half, draw a line from a point on the centre to a point on the bottom edge using a ruler (or in my case, a DVD box because I couldn't find a ruler), cut along the line, unfold it and hey presto! you have a triangle template:
 
 
I used this to cut out two triangles of green felt.
 
The second instruction is to cut 'rectangles from brown felt for the base of the tree'.  I didn't have any brown felt so I decided to use red felt and cut a shape that might look like it was a plant pot.  Now I had all my tree parts and I just needed to assemble them.
 
 
 
I sewed the buttons on with no problems.  When I started sewing the tree pieces together though, I hit a small snag, probably because I was also watching TV and looking at things on the internet, so I wasn't completely paying attention.  I'd got two thirds of the way round before I realised I'd forgotten to sew in the ribbon and pot.  Attempt number two went better and I even remembered to add the stuffing.  I didn't have any polyester fibre, but I did have cotton wool balls, which I pulled apart and stuffed in between the tree pieces.  I think the result was pretty good:
 
 
The finished item is (hopefully) now winging its way to Jodee for her first Christmas tree.   Merry Christmas Jodee!
 



Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Monthly things - October

On the 1st of October, I woke up in San Francsico to news of a US government shutdown.  This turned out to be a bit of a problem.  We were due to go on a trip to Muir Woods that day to see giant redwoods, followed by a tour of some wineries in Napa and Sonoma.  Muir Woods was now closed, as it's government run.  The tour operator decided on a different route, and took us to Mill Valley instead, a lovely little town with the slowest coffee shop ever and some giant redwoods just outside.  These were nowhere near as old as the Muir Woods ones but still pretty giant.


After 20 minutes of tree hugging (yes, I hugged one), we set off for some wine drinking.


3 wineries, 1 afternoon.  Honestly, we didn't get even vaguely drunk.  We obviously weren't trying hard enough. 

With one day left in San Francisco, we tried to see some things we haven't seen yet.  All the while keeping our fingers crossed that the US government shutdown would stop asap as we were due to take a two day road trip through Yosemite and Death Valley.  We spent our last day in San Francisco seeing the amazing murals in the Mission District, eating Mexican food, and doing some last minute sight seeing.  The next day we reluctantly left our awesomely quirky hotel, which I'd completely recommend to anyone visiting San Francisco, and headed off in the vague direction of Yosemite.

Unfortunately, the government shutdown hadn't lifted, so we decided instead to go through Stanislaus National Forest, which is just above Yosemite and isn't government controlled.  It was a very scenic ride up to 9,000 feet above sea level.  Definite worth seeing.

 
On the other side of the forest, we stayed in a tiny place called Lone Pine, where I had the worst meal of the trip.  Yellow gravy?  I mean, really?  Bleurgh. 
 
Lone Pine turned out to be quite a destination for film fans, as scores of films have been shot here, including Gunga Din, Gladiator and Django Unchained.  They even have their own film museum.  It's not hard to see why it's a popular destination.  Sandwiched between the mountains of Yosemite and the barren desert of Death Valley it's right on the doorstep of some spectacular scenery. 
 
The second day of our road trip, and the government shutdown was still in place.  We decided to ignore it and go through Death Valley anyway.  Essentially what it meant was that we could go through without paying the toll (!) but there were no open toilets or garages on the way.  We'd filled up on petrol in Lone Pine though, so we decided we could hold out till we reached the other side. 



Death Valley was amazingly beautiful.  We all really want to go back and stay there for a few days.  The mountains were striped with the minerals running through, the landscape changed from barren, to shrub, to trees and back rapidly, there were constantly things to look at.  We got to 200 feet below sea level at the lowest point but there was no water in sight.  A few hours later and we were back in Las Vegas, where we spent one last day relaxing before the flight home.
 
Getting home was a massive let down.  The weather was cold and rainy and I was massively jet-lagged for over a week.  I really need to spend more time on holiday ;-)  Halloween was on its way, and although it's not very big in this country, I absolutely love it, and spent some time baking pumpkin treats from here and here, with some additional pecans in the cupcakes for added texture.  The results were pretty good:

 
I continued my cooking experiments by making some green tomato chutney with the leftover unripe tomatoes in my garden.  I couldn't find any recipes I liked so I came up with my own, which you can read about here
 
Unfortunately, I have no great Halloween stories, as my friend inconsiderately has his birthday that day, so we did a birthday meal instead of a Halloween party.  That's pretty much it for October, see you next month. 
 
 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Green Tomato Chutney

I grew tomato plants last summer and had a lot of unripe tomatoes left over, mainly because I'd planted the seeds a bit late.  I failed to do anything with the tomatoes in time and had to throw them away.  This summer, I learned from my mistakes and planted seeds earlier so we had lots of lovely tomatoes throughout the summer.  By the time October came though, I still had green ones that had no chance of ripening, so I decided to make some chutney. 

I added in some partially ripe tomatoes to increase the quantity and roughly chopped them.

 
Then I added them to a pan with sultanas, apple and onion:


I then added vinegar, garlic, ginger, salt and sugar and turned on the heat.  Once the mixture was boiling, I turned it down to a simmer and kept it like this for about an hour and forty five minutes until it looked like this:


The timing depends on how high you have your heat, but slow cooking is better.  Keep checking and stirring it, and do this frequently when it's getting close to the consistency you want.
 
The mixture made about one and a half jars of chutney.  I waited for it to cool down before having some with some cheese and oatcakes.

 
My other half came home and just used a spoon!


Recipe

500g tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 small green apples, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
1 cup of sultanas
1 cup of granulated sugar
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 teaspoon of freshly grated ginger root
half a teaspoon of coarse salt
three quarters of a cup of vinegar (I used malt, but apple cider or white wine vinegar would work)

Put all the ingredients into a pan and bring to the boil.  Once the mixture is boiling, turn it down to a slow simmer and cook for one and a half hours, or until the desired consistency, stirring occasionally.