Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Christmas 2011

We have spent the first half of the Christmas holidays with my side of the family. There has been much baking, eating, Articulate, laughter, jigsaw-puzzling, relaxing and running.

While relaxing has been a significant feature in our festivities, I have a husband who is always happy to go for a run, or play some early morning tennis (and get beaten by his wife), and so hopefully we have kept an equilibrium in our weight over Christmas, in spite of the constant stream of delicious food that has made its way into our bellies!

For breakfast on Christmas morning, we baked orange pull apart bread, though reduced the sugar content by not adding the icing. We prepared the dough on Christmas Eve, then left it in a cool place to rise overnight, then popped it in the oven on Christmas morning. 

Pre-baking: Thankfully I had my little brother on hand to wisely advise me that I was overfilling my bread tin at risk of the bread ballooning and overflowing, so we split it between two tins.
 Post baking :: a mountainous range of spikey bread. Yum.
After breakfast, we went to Church for the Christmas celebration, then headed home for Christmas lunch.
Before lunch, we skyped my big brother who lives in Madrid & wasn't able to come back for Christmas this year.
 There was a steady stream of hot drinks to keep our bellies warm
Our family has always waited until after lunch to open gifts. Once presents had been shared, we set about creating the set of paper creatures that John's Mum had given him.
And here's one of the completed creatures, which made its way to the top of the Christmas tree!

So, we're halfway through the Christmas break, and are now in London where we will spend time with John's family and some of our friends, and celebrate the New Year. I'm already looking forward to the baking adventures that 2012 will bring, with the new recipe books I've been given for Christmas. I have plans for baking a lot more bread from scratch, and biscuits instead of as well as cookies.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve

It's Christmas Eve!
The Christmas tree lights are twinkling away
The Chocolate yule log has been baked
My little brother is winging his way home from Sydney
My big brother has baked his mince pies in Madrid
My sister is finishing up her Christmas shopping
the dry roasted peanut snacks are out in their glass bowls
the presents are wrapped {mostly}
we've watched the first half of The Nativity
{I'd highly recommend watching this for a fresh reminder of how it all happened}
and we are remembering how love came down to earth to rescue us

Wishing you a very merry & joyful Christmas

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

making a meal of it

I have a bit of a tendency to leave things until the last minute, then try and do multiple jobs at once. I would imagine that you are either someone who can relate to this, or you are the complete opposite to me, and cannot understand why anybody would ever leave things until the last minute, because surely that is just stressful?

Well, yes, it can be a little stressful. Today I am trying to tie up lose ends before we head East for Christmas.n We're leaving this afternoon, and, as usual, there is still a lot to do.

Where am I going with this? I hear you wonder. At 12pm today, I started to feel hungry, but was in the middle of doing a 3 hour stint on my children's Learning Diaries and was not ready to stop for lunch. Fuelled by my mid morning caffeine fix (which was free!) and a desire to get all of my jobs done, I kept on going with my hungry tummy in tow. 

Once I finished my learning diaries, I whizzed round the kitchen to do a quick tidy, then headed for the lounge to do some present wrapping. It was at that point where I was reminded of the phrase one of our school Reverend's used at the start of the academic year: Hit the ground kneeling. His wise words gently encouraged us of the great importance of being still in times of busyness. To stop, if only for a moment, and be still.

I needed to stop & eat. I could quite happily bypass lunch, or just eat a bowl of granola, rather than make the effort of preparing something. But today, I needed to make a meal of it. To sit down and eat something nourishing, and make myself stop & remember why we celebrate Christmas.

And this is the point. Christmas is not meant to be about rushing around frantically, getting stressed & worn out. It is meant to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus, our Saviour. We give each other gifts as a way of showing appreciation & love, just as the wise men gave gifts to Jesus. Gift giving is meant to be a joyful thing, not something that becomes stressful & over extravagant. 

There is a Christmas song that I love, which is such a helpful reminder of how Jesus came:

you came like a Winter snow,
quiet, soft & slow.
falling from the sky in the night 
to the Earth below

Jesus, the son of God, the one who came to Earth, who healed the sick & gave great hope to the lost & hurting, was then crucified, and by His death, we can have life. Jesus came to Earth as a baby. Jesus, the King, started life in the most humble of beginnings, and He is the reason for Christmas. Whether or not you believe in Jesus, we would not have Christmas without Him.

When I started this post, I did not quite anticipate it ending up where it has. If you are still with me, thank you for reading this far! 

So, to finish, the little lunch that gave me the time to stop, refuel & remember:

And accompanying my lunch was the soothing scent of my orange & cinnamon candle. Deliciousness in a tin.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christmas Light

Today was the last day of the school term, and I have spent much of the afternoon enjoying the glow from our Christmas tree lights & flickering candle flames. Such simple pleasures.

Last Christmas {our first Christmas together as newlyweds} we bought a baby Christmas tree in a pot, still growing. That tree has been faithfully growing on our little patio all year long. We brought our tree indoors last weekend and gave it a bit of a trim. It is now a rather odd shape, but I kind of love that this tree has grown with us over the last year, and I love to think of all of the Christmases to come, imagining that this tree will keep growing with us over the years. Maybe one day it will have a real garden to live in, where it can be king of the trees. It may well not last us for as many years as I hope for, but I like to dream that maybe it will.

recently baked / chocolate chequerboard cake

Yesterday I baked up a good, solid chequerboard cake, covered in milk chocolate ganache, decorated with yet more chocolate. I think the pictures speak for themselves of all the chocolatey goodness involved.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Well, friends, it is the last week of the school term, and what a busy one it has been. We have been making calendars, reindeer food, peppermint creams, Christmas cards, birthday cards, and everything in between. We've jumped in great big puddles, been prickled by hail stones, read the Christmas story, had a Christingle service and Christmas dinner. And we've still got our Christmas party to come tomorrow, where we'll play sleeping snowmen, musical statues and all other kinds of fun games.

All of this busyness has reduced me to eating cereal for lunch, wearing a hair net as I wait for a cake to bake. Suffice to say, it has been a little quiet around here, and my camera has not seen much action. So this morning, I stopped neglecting my camera and took it with me to see the skies on the way to school.

 {Bristol :: 7.20am}
 {Portishead :: 7.40am}

I feel like I have been quite restrained in my blogging about the skies lately, so think I am justified in sharing their beautiful wintery hues of blue. I adore this colour, and would quite like the skies to stay this shade all day long. That would be lovely.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

wedding of the weekend / Andy & Anna

This weekend saw the last wedding of the year for us. And what a year of weddings it's been! (and that's not all of them). We trekked up to Liverpool before day break on Saturday morning for an evening wedding celebration with our friends, Andy & Anna. Of course, I had to take photos of the changing skies as we drove.

I loved the unconventionality (is that a real word?) of the day. The first thing we did was to join the Bride & Groom, and their family & close friends for a pre-wedding breakfast at The Tavern in Liverpool. (If ever you find yourself in Liverpool, I would highly, highly recommend The Tavern's french toast. I first tried it 2 years ago, and have hankered after some ever since.)

Next, we took a trip to The Dog's Trust with our friends who are thinking about getting a dog, and had seen one that they liked. We wanted to meet her, and all of the other dogs in need of homes, so did some quick calculations as to whether we would have enough hair & make up time if we went to see the dogs, then jumped in the car and off we went. I have to say, even though the Dog's Trust clearly take good care of the dogs, it is really sad to see so many dogs that have been abandoned or are in need of a home for some other reason.

After saying goodbye to the dogs, it was time to get reading for the 5 o'clock wedding. It was so fun to spend the whole day with friends - everything felt like a bit of an adventure.

We wrapped up warm, and didn't unwrap ourselves until we got to the Tithe Barn, where the reception was being held. The North is definitely colder than The South. We were served Chinese Food in takeaway cartons, and diligently used chopsticks to consume the food.
There was a whole sackful of prawn crackers left over, and some thoughtful people delivered the bag to John. Helpful friends ensured that John ate as many prawn crackers at once as possible.
We had great fun dancing the night away. Joel & Tim took the dancing job very seriously! It's been wonderful having so many weddings to celebrate this year, with the opportunity to see lots of our friends all at once. I'm already looking forward to next years wedding celebrations!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Peonies & a pretty pink candle are bringing a bit of light to an otherwise dreary, dreary day. It felt like it never properly got light today before the night fell, and there's something a bit sad about that. On a happier note, my class did their Nativity performance today & were fantastic. They did me proud, all thirty of them dressed as gold, shining stars. Fabulous.

Monday, 5 December 2011

carrot cake

For the number of times I have baked this recipe, I can't quite believe I haven't blogged about it before now.

I worked in a bakery for 5 great years, and in all that time, I never tried their carrot cake. I just didn't get the concept of putting a vegetable in a cake. (Oh how time has changed me - my wedding cake had all kinds of vegetables in it! see this post for a photo - it's the cake that's covered in roses.)

It wasn't until a friend of mine who I met at university, and who loves all orange food, baked her cake, which oozed its deliciousness all over my kitchen, and I couldn't resist trying it. That cake transformed my thinking about carrot cake. 

This little munchkin came out of my oven yesterday, along with 15 friends who all looked the same.

{I inherited this plate from my Nanny - it belonged to her Mum originally and was bought at Walthomstow Market - truly vintage}

I like to think these cakes are perfect at any time of year - in the summer they are refreshing, and in the winter the mixed spice makes your house smell 'a little bit Christmassy', as John put it yesterday.

Carrot Cake :: recipe loosely adapted from James Martin

ingredients (yields 16 cupcakes or a 9" round cake)
200g wholemeal self raising flour
175g dark brown sugar
200g grated carrot (approx. 2 carrots)
150ml sunflower oil
2 eggs
half a tsp bi-carbonate of soda
135g raisins or sultanas
zest of 1 orange & 1 lemon
1 tbsp mixed spice
juice of half an orange

1) Pre-heat oven to 190C / Gas mark 5
2) Line muffin tray with paper cases
3) Whisk together the sugar, eggs & oil for 3 - 4 minutes
4) Sieve the flour, bi-carb and mixed spice into the bowl, pouring in any bits of the wholemeal flour that don't go through the sieve - these add a lovely depth to the texture of these cakes
5) Gently mix the flour & spices in until combined
6) Add the carrot, sultanas, juice & zest, then stir until combined
7) Fill the cupcake cases until they are two thirds full
8) Bake for 20 - 25 minutes 
9) Leave to cool on a wire rack

1) Gently whip the cream until it thickens. Do not let it go beyond this stage, otherwise your icing will be clumpy instead of beautifully smooth.
2) Add the mascarpone & sieve in the icing sugar, then mix to combine until smooth. Again, becareful not to overmix, as the cream is still vulnerable at this stage!
3) Pipe onto cupcakes with your nozzle of choice
4) Eat.

If you like nuts with your carrot cake, it would definitely work to throw in a few of your favourite variety. Equally, if you don't like citrus in cakes, feel free to remove the zest & juice elements, but personally, I like these additions. It also reminds me of Maeve's love of all orange food & how well they work together: orange + carrots = a great combination.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

This weekend was the first in a long time that John and I have both been at home. I have lost count of the different trips we have taken over the last couple of months. So, we made the most of having some time to relax, by taking a trip to Chew Magna.

Our plan was simple: go for a walk & eat some delicious food in a country pub. The skies were perfect, sun rays on show for me to admire as we left the city for the countryside.

We were in the company of cows...
...and a couple of horses, who were happily grazing as we strolled through their field. Then they spotted us and couldn't resist coming to say hello.

 Oh wow, you are a bold horse, coming so close! Umm, please don't trample us! I am feeling just a tiny bit intimidated by you right now...
Meet John, the horse whisperer. I think the horses were intimidated by a meeting a human that was taller than them, and each time we tried to walk a bit further through the field, they nudged their way between us, forcing me to let go of John's hand. How rude!

 I like to think the horses were a little forlorn when we climbed over the fence to carry on our walk. I, on the other hand, was  relieved that we hadn't got tripped or trampled by them.

 We found a perfect flat topped hedge to balance the camera on for a rare photo of the two of us.
Of course, we had to pull some silly faces as the camera wanted to take ten photos at once on the timer setting.
Who knows how my hair ended up standing vertically, but I like it.

 We watched the sun go down then headed back to the village to enjoy the Christmas lights and the culinary delights of the Bear and Swan.

John had done a bit of local pub research before we left home, and came across the Bear & Swan. We were greeted by the pub dog and a crackling fire. One latte & a pint of ale later, and it was time to order food. If you ever find yourself in the area, I would highly recommend the Bear & Swan. The food was seriously delicious. I ate pork belly which melted in my mouth. Oh yum. This was most definitely a gastro pub with chefs who know how to fill your belly with great, great food. I love weekends.