Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Suet-free mincemeat

My turn to make mincemeat. Finally. I've finally got round to it. Honestly, it was getting ridiculous. Knowing that this was the only thing I realistically had to do this year, no Christmas cake, no Christmas pudding, just mincemeat. I was feeling the pressure, I mean, a few of you have done and dusted this a few weeks ago already. But I was not one to be defeated and I'm glad to say, it's done! And when I licked the spoon at the end, after filling up about 5 jars, I can say it tasted of heaven.

I don't like the idea of putting suet in my mincemeat, so mine's suet-free. None of that vegetarian suet either, urgh. So here's my real vegetarian super lush version (inspiration from this website). Make it, you won't be disappointed.

Ingredients (to make about 5 jars)

  • 250g soft brown sugar
  • 250ml cider (I used Westons Organic)
  • 1kg cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1tsp ground cinnamon
  • 900g fruit and nut - I used:
    • 400g sultanas
    • 75g blanched almonds
    • 20g sour cherries, roughly chopped
    • 140g prunes, roughly chopped
    • 200g glace cherries, roughly chopped
    • 75g cranberries
  • zest and juice of half a lemon
  • 6 tbsp brandy (I used apricot brandy)

  • Dissolve the sugar in the cider in a large pan over a medium heat.
  • Add the apples and give it a good stir.
  • Add the all the other ingredients, except for the brandy. Mix well, cover and simmer for 30min until the apples have collapsed.
  • Leave to cool down slightly, then add the brandy. Stir and bottle up!

Monday, 29 November 2010

So so nice and lovely

This is how I'd summarise my weekend. I haven't had such a nice weekend in a long time. It was all pretty damn perfect! Boyfriend and I had such a nice time together, no silly arguments, just lots of fun. Saturday morning we even woke up to a thin blanket of snow which was simply brilliant! It was cold enough for everything to stay nice and white, rather than the dreaded post-snow brown sludge - always a bonus!

Lots of nice food was enjoyed, a couple of good movies too, a trip to the cinema with a hot flask of amaretto coffee and hard toffee sweets, a farmers' market and a Christmas light switch-on, a few rows on Arc-en-Ciel were crocheted and a football match was won. All round success basically!

Got a few things done for Christmas too, but you'll just have to wait till I download those photos to hear more! Till then, keep warm my lovelies! xx

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A little something sweet

And healthy perhaps? Nothing majorly new, no great discovery, but a little something which will make your kitchen smell gorgeous. Only a little swist on a good old loved classic.

The original recipe? Attic 24's oaty biscuits. My first version? Find it here. The latest changes? Adding a mashed banana and two heaped tablespoons of cocoa powder with the dry ingredients (forget the sultanas/ chocolate chips this time).

The result? Yummy!! The banana adds a really nice texture, it really makes the cookies extra soft in the middle. Although if you have a sweet tooth, you might want to add a couple more spoons of sugar. Happy eating! :-)

Friday, 26 November 2010

Fingers crossed she'll like it

When I saw what Jennifer at the Prairie Girl did a couple of weeks ago, I knew I had to give it a go. It would make a great little Christmas present for my mum. Something different too.

A crocheted necklace. Now, please give this a try. Stop and think. It's clearly not a granny looking necklace, but something rather more sophisticated. What sold me on the idea was when I saw the photos uploaded by the original Ravelry designer. Have a look, you'll know what I mean. And it also meant having to learn a new stitch, the double treble. Easy peasy it was, but it still felt good learning something new.

It'll look great on a simple black top, with no jewellery. The necklace is there to take centre stage and it's brilliant. I'm sure it'll look great on my mum who is your typical French woman, very stylish, sophisticated, and skinny (how is it that I'm anything but!!?!).

So there, it's basically done. Apart from a rather important detail. I'm yet to find a chain. I'd like one similar-ish to the one used on the original Ravelry project, something a little vintage looking, so too shiny and new. But where can I find something like that? And then, second problem, even if I do find something appropriate, how the hell do I attach it to the necklace??? Well, I guess I'll have to figure that one out once I have the chain in my little grubby mitts. Until then, all suggestions welcome!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Festive start

You gotta start somewhere right? Well, I'm doing it slowly, one little tiny step at a time. The advent calendar is on its way, one present is done, another is nearly there. But the other night, I realised I was missing something crucial: christmassy gift tags. I made plenty a while back, but obviously not with a Christmas twist.

So off I went and rescued a magazine from the recycling bin,

Found some recycled tags I'd started making some time ago,

And put the two together!! Sorry for the slightly fuzzy photo, I was catching the first light of day! And I'd just come back from spinning, so I guess I was a little unstable on my feet still. Pumping super loud music at 7am is still something I'm trying to get used to. Anyway, want to see my favourite one? It's just so cute!!!

Now the problem with having a favourite one is deciding who I'll give it to... Maybe Boyfriend, so I get to see it until Christmas day at least!!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


Life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes there are more ups than downs, and it is difficult to stand with our heads held high. Hearts can be full of sorrow and pain, but the future lies ahead, and one should not forget there are many, many more happy memories to make.

I feel that this American tradition of giving thanks, originally a harvest festival, is most appropriate right now. One gets so easily bogged down in negativity, in things not being right, things not going according to plan. So here is my list of 10 things I am most grateful for. Some are easily forgotten and that's a pity. (And yes, I know I'm one day early, Thanksgiving is tomorrow in the US, but then it was in October in Canada, so there we go)

I am grateful for:

  1. me and my loved ones being healthy
  2. having a caring mother
  3. not having major money worries
  4. having a roof over my head
  5. having someone to share my life with, for better and for worse
  6. living in a country where I can live my life as a free independent woman
  7. having access to clean drinking water and electricity
  8. wonderful friends without whom life wouldn't be the same
  9. a head full of dreams, aspirations and ambition
  10. being me, with all that that entails, the good times and the bad times, the flaws and the strengths
What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Crafty Glasgee

Hello hello!!! Well, you might be wondering where I disappeared the last few days, and guess what, I've been indulging in some serious crafty Scottish goodness. I went up to Glasgow to see one of my best friends, and as she loves all things crafty as much as me, we thought it would be a great idea to go to the Country Living Christmas Fair. So yes, not exactly a craft fair as such, but definitely a place to get inspiration, a few presents and a heart full of excitement. And an overwhelming desire to give up work and start crafting NOW!!!! But yeah, that might have to wait just a little longer!

Glasgow didn't disappoint, with its grand architecture, crisp mornings and quirky shops. We had a lovely time just walking around, taking it all in. I always feel a little funny getting my camera out in such 'un-touristy' places, but really, it's just so nice to have a reminder of good times past. And if that means getting my camera out in places where people least expect it, then so be it!

What I really enjoyed was walking through this park. Can't remember its name, but we walked through it to get to the fair. The sun was shining, squirrels were running around to their hearts' content, ducks were enjoying the little ponds, and herons were simply chilling out in the warmth.

Walking along the Kelvin river was pretty special too. You'd never have known you were two minutes walk from the bustling centre. How truly, truly relaxing.

All in all, a lovely weekend. But you'll have to wait a little longer to see what I brought back, the light is just so terribly rubbish at the moment, everything looks yellow!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Personal tradition

Surely I’m not the only one to have little traditions that keep me ticking over during the year. One of these is very, very much loved indeed. The new diary.
Now, what I love about it is the whole entire process. First there’s the buying. The last couple of years, I got mine from Paperchase. I’m quite pernickety as to what it should be like, the size of it, the type of cover, the amount of space you have to write each day. This year unfortunately I couldn’t find a design that I liked in that shop. But last weekend, John Lewis came to the rescue with a diary which I will cherish for the next twelve months.

Yep, it’s a Cath Kidston diary. I own a couple of CK things and both were presents. I love her stuff, but I find that when I go into her shops, I feel overwhelmed with flowers, dots and mostly high prices. So I’ve never bought anything CK. Until now that is. Because this is only a little CK addition to my house, nothing too in-your-face. Just a little something which will keep me company, adding colour and joy to whatever bag I’m lugging around with me.

What I love most about the whole process though is filling it in. Filling it in with birthday dates and possible holidays. Birthdays is an important one and the main reason why I get it done so early on. I have a few important ones in January and I have been known to forget them when not keeping up to date with my diary. Rather embarrassing. And really, it just makes me feel good about the new year to come, full of promises, hope, surprises, the unknown and hopefully, fingers crossed, lots of happiness.

So, let’s enjoy the end of 2010 in style, but don’t forget to be ready for 2011! ;-)

Ps: I can understand how this might put people off but I guess it’s related to my pathological need to have things or-ga-ni-sed. Something else to cross off the list ;-)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Sweat and tears - and jeans

There are few places around where I live where one can enjoy a good old shopping session at the weekend. I very much dislike going back into London on Saturday and Sundays because being on that dreaded train makes me feel like I’m going back to work. Not the best way to relax.

Then there’s Milton Keynes. Now, for any of you who live in the part of the country, you’ll know that one only goes to MK when one needs to pay a visit to the famous out of town blue and yellow box (Ikea for those of you not paying attention this morning!). Both London and MK get so so busy, it’s rather unpleasant.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve also grown to dislike spending any significant amount of time in shops. This is especially true at this time of year when it’s freezing cold outside and heaters are pumped up to the max inside. Not good for my contact lenses, and not good for my sweat glands either (sorry about the gross details today!). I also get very irritated by slow people, those who change direction without any notice (I’m all for slow and fast lane pavements and using your arms as indicators) and crowds in general really.

So where did we end up going when Boyfriend decided it was time to update his jean collection? Cambridge of course. Lovely lovely Cambridge, with its simple park and ride system. We got there at the crack of dawn (for a weekend), when the shops opened, and it was so nice. Nice and qui-et. We were done and dusted by midday, when most people were stumbling out onto the streets and making it all rather unpleasant.

I always enjoy walking around this little market, so bright and beautiful, happy and colourful. A bag of massive chestnuts came home with us, together with four pairs of jeans (told you it was a massive shopping sess).

And that blue sky and that clear bright light… so much nicer than the grey old rubbish we’ve got today!!!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

That time of year again

I need a hair cut. Last time I got my hair cut was in August. Only because I was going to a christening and I thought I should look half decent. (Looking back at the photos I look more like a chubby splodge, but never mind). Now, I died my hair a while back and it could really benefit from a cut. The bottom is a funny colour, not funny as in bright pink, but just lighter than the rest near the top, and it looks odd. Not everyone notices, but I do, so it bothers me. Only it doesn’t bother me to the point where I actually, physically, drag myself to a salon.

Let’s get this out of the way. I positively hate having my hair cut. Everything about it makes me cringe and feel uncomfortable. From the moment you arrive and someone helps you put that funny black gown on. Awkward. From the moment the person washing your hair asks you when was the last time you washed it. Eurgh, does it look that bad?! From the moment you put your head down and remember that it is officially the worse position ever. Is the water warm/ cold enough? Forget that, how about having my head in a really painful position which even the most nimble fingers and pleasant head massage will not let me forget??!!! Then you sit down and go through what it is that you want. I don’t know what I want, isn’t it obvious? Would I really have the most boring hair cut in history if I knew what I wanted? Every time I hope someone will look at my face, and suggest something that would suit me and my hair type. Why do you even bother asking me whether I want my hair straightened, have you not seen how thin it is, how little hair I actually have??

But I’m jumping ahead of myself here. Back to the hair cut. This used to be dreadful in the pre-contact lenses days. Glasses on to have a look in the mirror, glasses off for the cut. Being left in a world of complete fuzz, not knowing where to focus (my eyesight is very very bad). And when I was a kid, apparently I used to have this tendency to very slightly dip my head to one side, which would cause my mum endless aggro, having to send me back to the hairdressers a couple of times to straighten me out. But now I’m all grown up and you’ll be pleased to hear I’ve learned how to keep my head straight. And contact lenses have been a life saver in more ways than one (swimming pool anyone?!). Anyway, so here we go, it won’t be a surprise to anyone (well it might, but you don’t have to say) I’m not exactly a fashionable person as such, I don’t really care about fashion and I like to wear what I like, clothes that I feel comfortable in etc etc. Which means that I stand out like a sore thumb in a salon. All those overly made up women and men, with the most intricate of hair cuts, more make up than I wear over the course of a whole year, funny clothes. Oh goodness how I feel out of place.

Everything about the place makes me feel rubbish. I feel uncomfortable, both physically (from the hair wash) and mentally. The light makes me look a really odd colour and doesn’t add to me feeling cute or remotely attractive. My facial features do no bear well from having thin wet hair plastered to the sides. Gross. And the typical chit-chat makes me die a little inside. I was once asked what I was planning for the weekend. I said I was going to a book festival in Oxford. She was off with some girlfriends to Ibiza. End of conversation.

So do you feel my pain? I need to go back but still haven’t found a salon where I feel comfortable enough to be me. Oh goodness, what I wouldn’t give to be a bloke sometimes. A number 2 would do me just fine.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Short interruption

Interruption to the crafting schedule dear readers. My to-do-list is about the length of my arm, my ironing pile is the size of a mountain and evening light is basically non-existent.

I'm thinking of old crafting projects that need to be started and finished, possibly Christmas presents to make, exciting advent calendars to put together, and sadly rooms that need to be cleaned top to bottom, a tent that needs to be dried out somehow, and floors to be hoovered and mopped.

Good times.

Can I please please get 30 hour days for the next week or so? I'd be eternally grateful.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Changing colours

No, this isn't going to be another post about autumn colours. I'd love to, but unfortunately, these are mostly gone with all the rain and wind we've had in the past few days. No no no, I'm talking about my current blanket in progress.

Like I said yesterday, I had plenty of time to work on it at the weekend and I totally indulged. Sat by the window, looking at all my colours, enjoying seeing it grow. There is something so satisfying to see something you're making with your own hands grow. Using a simple material, I can make this!! I made this!!! Honestly, even if no one else cares, I'm immensely proud of this. I'm so proud to be able to make things like this. No I won't be getting any official recognition for it, no A grade, no money in my bank account. But the pride? The happiness I get from this? Priceless.

I even made a little yarn identification 'booklet'. To see that I was using all colours in the same amounts.

This is so so exciting, I couldn't help but showcase it around the living room, there against a purple fleece blanket, here against Go Caerphilly.

My chest is filling up with pride just as I'm typing this. And yes, there's also a massive grin on my face. Not because I'm being terribly cheesy, but because this is what I do, this is what makes me happy. And if anyone says I'm not cool or not acting my age, well I tell you this: I couldn't care less. This is me and I love it.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Weekend shenanigans

Last weekend was a little odd. Lovely sunshine, plenty plenty of fantastic light pouring into the flat. Lots and lots of time to enjoy crafty activities, in between bouts of tidying up. Oh yes, it's been such a mess recently, and the boiler conking up hasn't helped either (no hot water = no washing up!).

There were good times and bad times. Not so good times wondering whether it would be just me at the end of the day but discussions were had, and we've moved on. Good times of walking in the countryside, realising that we're too late for the sweet chestnuts we'd spotted a few weeks back, and having a nice relaxing time watching old movies back to back. Ah life, keeps you on your toes doesn't it?!

These flowers were bought last week from the supermarket while doing our weekly shopping. We'd just come back from Norfolk and thought we could do with a little colour in the flat. I must say, I have no idea what they are, but they are definitely up there in my favourite flower category. What really gets me going is the colour, totally absolutely amazingly stunning, don't you think? And the way they're so perfectly formed, small but so elaborate. Just too cute for words.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Spaguetti Squash

I mentioned last Friday that we'd brought back lots of goodies from our short break on the North Norfolk coast. One of those was a spaghetti squash. I was quite intrigued by this average looking squash, seeing what I'd heard about its insides. Because it was indeed a revelation. I can see how it may not be to everybody's taste, but if you do find one to buy, jump on the opportunity and have it like we did, with roasted chicken breasts.

It all started with this. On a bit of foil, pricked all over with a knife.

After an hour in the oven, 180degrees (fan), it looked like this. Not much different really, but wait till you see inside...

Now scoop out those seeds and save for later - please don't throw them away!

And now scrape out the amazingly stringy (in a good way!) flesh... and yes, do call over your significant other to come and have a look, because it is simply amazing!!!

Add a bit of salt, pepper and a knob of butter...

And finally, dish up with roasted chicken breast (I should add, the chicken was roasted with herbes de provence and paprika; an onion and 4 garlic cloves were also added to the dish; the squash was mixed with the juices from the chicken and the garlic at the end to give it some extra oompff).

Totally lush, honestly. Both Boyfriend and I were pleasantly surprised. This was much more tasty than the pumpkin was had last week, which was slightly too watery for us. Anyway, it's not finished!! Remember those seeds? Well, here they are washed, with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and paprika.

They were then roasted in the oven for 30min at 160degrees fan. Totally gorgeous. I may or may not eat the whole lot in one go when I get home tonight. Honestly, I'll need something to cheer me up after having got soaked on my way into work this morning.

And as a side note, my dear train company, it is NOT acceptable for trains to be delayed just because it's raining. Surely it's something we should be used to, living in England and all. Just saying.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Looking up

Like many of you, I have been enjoying the lovely colours autumn has thrown upon us recently. I've loved seeing all your photos, and I thought it was about time I pulled my finger out and remembered to take the camera out with me. So here is my contribution of lovely autumnal trees to blogland. These colours fill me with joy, especially when they are seen against the bluest of skies. Pure magic.

I would like to credit all this beauty to the North Norfolk coast and a couple of leafy squares in London.

If only I could always walk with my eyes up in the sky, rather than rushing around. Ha, to take just a few seconds... :-)

Friday, 5 November 2010

Holiday memories

Well ok, admitedly, it wasn't exactly a holiday, more like a couple of days away. But you know what, it was a great breath of fresh air and felt like a good break. Something to look back, to laugh about, to dream about.

What I love the most about holidays is bringing stuff home which will make the experience last that little bit longer. For example, whenever we go to France, we always bring back lovely soap and tinned veg and fish. I know it sounds crazy, but the soap is a daily reminder of good times past, and the tinned veg/ fish is not only gorgeous, but it keeps well so we can enjoy it six months later and still recall what an amazing time we had in the sun in the not so distant past.

From Norfolk, we brought back quite a few goodies. Some have already been thoroughly enjoyed, such as smoked cod and smoked salmon fillets from the smokehouse in Cley, and flour from the mill in Leatheringset. That bread is super lushious and I had to stop myself from eating the whole loaf in one sitting, I kid you not. Anyway, we also brought back some lovely squashes. Last night we enjoyed pumpkin in a curry with chick peas and it was out of this world. It makes me sad to think of all those poor pumpkins who got carved the hell out of them, and then promptly thrown in the bin as soon as Halloween was over.

We also got a spaguetti squash and some cute litte squashes too. I'm not sure what they're called, but they will be delicious roasted in the oven with some mince and mushrooms. Yum!! The spaguetti squash we're going to have tonight with roasted chicken breasts. I've never had it before, so I'll report back to let you know how it was!

The veg shop selling all those lovely autumn delicacies was also giving away free bay leaves. How cool is that? I'm embarrassed to say I've only ever seen bay leaves dry in a little box from the supermarket, so having fresh ones that I can dry in the kitchen and enjoy whenever I please seems like a luxury.

These little shiny beauties were bought for the pricely sum of 20pence from one of the houses near the campsite. These will be enjoyed roasted in the oven in the not so distant future...

Finally, during our walks through the countryside, we walked past some carrot fields. Now, neither of us had ever seen carrot fields before and it seemed like an amazing amount was wasted on the ground, left for little furry creatures to munch on.

I did manage to find a few which were still perfect, but this fella took them off me. Literally, called us over from the next field  and gave me a look which said "If you don't feed me those five carrots you've got there, I'm going to eat your Boyfriend's elbow". No joke.