Christmas – the people who have made it better (soppy post)

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Initially last week I planned to write a post about how to cope with the festive season when you’re really not feeling great. It can sometimes be so hard to put a brave face on when everyone wants you to be happy and to enjoy festivities. However, this time last week I got struck down with a kidney infection. I can only describe this as one of the most painful episodes of my life. It hurt to walk, it hurt to sit down. My lower back felt like someone was digging a screwdriver in at exactly the point where my kidneys apparently sit. Anyway I am feeling a tonne better and I thought I would instead post about some of the lovely people who cheered me up.

As a side note, if you do feel rubbish this week, the best thing you can really do is to talk to someone about it. Your family and friends really do only want you to be happy all the year round and will always be there with a listening ear and a cuddle; even if they can’t provide a solution to your problems. Sometimes you don’t need to even talk, just sitting together watching a favourite film, or taking a boxing day walk will help. Comfort can be found in the smallest things even just taking yourself off for a long bath or snuggling up with a good book.

Anyway instead of a gift guide this is a nice little list of the people who cheered me up and actually made me feel all festive:

  1. The nice NHS direct lady, who kept me calm and sorted me out with an out of hours doctors appointment with no hassle.
  2. The out of hours doctor who went out of his way to make sure I was prescribed the most effective antibiotics, making life way easier than having to trail backwards and forwards.
  3. The friends who kept contacting me to make sure I was feeling better, offered to go to the shops, tagged me in funny videos on Facebook, made me up a missing out on going to see Star Wars present and understood me barely showing up to one of their birthday parties. You are all very sweet and I miss those of you I don’t see as often any more.
  4. My Mum and Dad; who cooked me my favourite tea, consoled me over the phone and generally looked after me. You are both wonderful.
  5. My brother; thank you for making me laugh a lot with your new cat and cheering me up by being so happy in your home.
  6. D’s mum for also contacting me to make sure I was feeling better and for always making me feel so welcome in their family.
  7. D; thank you for it all. Driving me around, keeping an eye on me, bringing water and making me smile even when I didn’t have the energy to really get out of bed. Also thanks for the massive card that came in a box. I don’t think I have ever received a boxed card and I’m so excited to be spending Christmas with you.

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Obviously I’m feeling much better now after rest, antibiotics and lots of water and I feel very loved.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and I hope you enjoy spending time with your loved ones.

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Maybe in a few days?

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Milk chocolate and Bailey’s truffles

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So this is a last minute recipe and its an absolute dream to produce for a crowd. I actually made these for my brother’s 30th birthday back in October but I thought, for many of us, the time we need to feed a lot of people delicious items is over the festive period. I hope you enjoy my last minute Christmas blogging and now you will have another festive recipe set aside should you need it.

These truffles are a dream as they only require 4 ingredients:

200g milk chocolate, broken into pieces

190ml double cream

10ml Baileys

Chopped hazelnuts

(This recipe can be scaled up or down as required)

In a heavy pan heat your cream and Baileys. Once it starts to simmer add the milk chocolate and allow to melt in. Once the ingredients are combined pour the mixture into a glass bowl and cover with cling film.

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Freeze this mixture for a couple of hours until it is solid. Once it has hardened use a teaspoon to make mouth sized pieces (technical term). Use the warmth of your hand to round the truffles – there is no photographic evidence of this as I was covered in chocolate!

Once you have the truffle shape roll this in the chopped nuts to decorate. These keep best if stored in the fridge. Serve with the Christmassy themed drink of your choice.

Homemade Christmas Wreath

I wish I could pretend I had a grand plan about making my own decorations this year. I am so far from organised sometimes when it comes to planning blog posts (and also how our home will look) its unreal. However, in a fit of Christmassy enthusiasm last week, D and I may possibly (definitely) have bought too many baubles for our little tree.

Anyway, credit goes out to D for suggesting that I used out smaller ones last year to “fashion some kind of wreath”. I think it looks pretty good. Very rustic and homemade, but pretty cute. As a bonus I wasn’t slaving for hours or struggling with a hot glue gun making this.

Anyway if you want to make something similar you will need:

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A plain natural rattan wreath (mine was the 30.5cm one from Hobbycraft)

Approx 25 small baubles (or other little Christmas decorations)

Craft wire

At least 60cm festive ribbon

A suction hook to attach your wreath to the door if you don’t have a knocker (see here)

 

If your baubles have any string attached, cut this off. You won’t need it and you can use the loops on your baubles to attach it to the wreath with the wire. Cut about 8cm wire and tightly twist it around one of the sticks in your wreath. Add your bauble and twist the wire to hold it in place on the wreath. Twist the wire all the way along and tuck the sharp ends into the wreath so nobody’s finger gets cut on it.

Although this looks best if its not exactly even (it adds to the homemade charm) try to make sure the baubles are relatively evently spaced and the colours aren’t grouped together too much; unless that’s what you like best, but you may need more decorations to achieve this effect.

Once the wreath is nicely covered in baubles tie your ribbon to it around some of the sticks in a bow.

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The good thing about this is that although it looks pretty natural it can be used year after year.

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I hope you’re all starting to feel nice and festive. Have a good day.

The Co-operative Christmas Event

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So last Friday (27th November) I was late for a blog event like I have never been late before. Driving from Leeds to Manchester was a nightmare, with whole stretches of the M62 gridlocked. I spent most of my journey bashing my head against my steering wheel cursing myself for not taking an afternoon off to drive over. But you know, I actually had a pretty great evening. The Co-op PR team, SEO and other head office staff adapted the even really well (apparently the traffic affected a lot of attendees) so that everything as timed for later in the evening.

I was greeted in the Foyer of the Head Office (which FYI looks like a giant beehive), by friendly Co-op employees bearing Prosecco, which was delicious. Sadly I was drving so I had a thimble full of the (award winning) stuff. I was delighted to find a bottle of it in my goody bag.

Anyway, I was absolutely starving when I arrived so I set about stuffing myself with pate and then my first Christmas dinner of the season. I could happily have eaten more of the turkey in particular. I adored the stuffing. I also really liked the salmon (which for a seasoned salmon hater says a lot, possibly I am growing as a person?)

 

Anyway, this was followed by some pretty nice festive party food. (I wish I had a second stomach sometimes). Anyway there was dim sum, sausages with popping crackling – apparently somebody’s Grandmother had a recipe for this and it was developed for this Christmas and some sausage roll swirl type things. I think sadly the food had been cooked much earlier in the evening but I think it tasted decent considering and it certainly looked pretty.

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What I thought was to finish was dessert (and dessert wine) and a panel with more seasoned bloggers answering questions based on their experience. I actually find the panel really interesting and informative, as was talking to other bloggers. I think its always worthwhile discussing experiences within the blogging community, there’s always something you haven’t considered and I always find you meet such lovely and interesting characters. It also made me feel better knowing that within this network of interesting and articulate people (mostly writing parenting bloggers) that people do get tired and sometimes a hiatus is needed so you feel refreshed and ready to write new content.

If you are a regular reader you know I have a sweet tooth and it was certainly true last Friday. What I really liked most though was the dessert wine. It wasn’t as cloying or syrupy as I expect dessert wine to be. It was light and citrussy and I would imagine it would work wonderfully with mince pies or Christmas pudding.

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To finish there was wonderful cheeseboards and some demonstrations. I entirely regret not being able to eat very much cheese at all, but in my defence I was full for most of the following day.

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Sadly all good things must come to an end and I was soon back home with D and we opened the loveliest goody bag. We have way less to stock up for at Christmas now. Thank you!

I would like to give a massive thank you once again for the generosity of everyone at the Co-operative. Most especially I think I will be stocking up on Christmas wine with you! It really was a shame I couldn’t try much at all. In addition I would like to say thank you to my fellow bloggers.Its been a while since I attended anything on my own and you all made me feel so welcome, gave me tips and made me appreciate the community spirit there is online.

Christmas pudding cupcakes

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As a pretty novice cake decorator I find that I can relate to people who shy away from complicated recipes. However, I feel like I am gaining confidence with everything I decorate and how effective it is building up simple shapes to create a picture (although I do marvel at people’s piped creations and beautiful sugar craft).

Anyway, these Christmas puddings turned out beautifully considering how simple they were to decorate. The key seems to be patience in letting cakes cool and layers set before diving in with the next step.

These are brilliant if you want to feel festive but don’t like Christmas pudding, or you want a massive chocolate hit. Obviously they’re pretty far in the treat category, but its Christmas and they look so cute!

To make 12 Christmas Pudding Cupcakes you will need:

For the cakes

3 large eggs

170g caster sugar

170g butter

155g self raising flour

15g cocoa powder

To decorate

Chocolate spread

A small ball of green fondant icing

150g white chocolate

Red chocolate beads or red piping icing for the holly berries

Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a muffin tray with 12 cake cases. Using an electric whisk beat your eggs and sugar until they leave a trail of mixture over the surface. Sift in your flour and cocoa powder and fold in.Melt your butter and fold in, until your mix is smooth. Separate the mix into into the 12 cake cases (try to do this pretty evenly) and bake for around 12 minutes, until the cakes have firmed up. Set aside your cake to cool.

Warm your jar of chocolate spread for about 20 minutes in the microwave to loosen it then spread a thin, even layer over the cupcakes. Leave this for a few minutes to firm.

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Melt your white chocolate and use a teaspoon to dollop (technical term) over each cake. While the chocolate is setting slightly, shape your fondant icing into holly leaves (mine were the least pointy holly leaves in the history of foliage). Once the chocolate is less runny arrange the leaves and chocolate beads (if using) into a festive holly arrangement. If using red icing wait until the chocolate has set, then dot the red in a festive manner.

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I made mine for the cake sale I mentioned in my previous post and I got a little surge of excitement every time I saw anybody buying one of these cakes!

When you store these I would recommend putting some greaseproof paper between cake layers to prevent anything smudging. (Obviously wait until everything has firmed up before doing this part).

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White chocolate truffles

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While I am very much in the “Calm down it’s November” camp when it comes to Christmas excitement, it is good to get some things organised in advance. One of those things is Christmas food (obviously I think this is important as I write a lot of food related posts). Anyway, these white chocolate truffles are stupidly easy to make and are lovely to pass around during any sort of Christmassy event. (Plus if you really want to add to festive cheer you can call them snowball truffles or something!)

Anyway, to make white chocolate truffles you will need:

For the truffles

300g white chocolate

100ml double cream

To decorate

Approx 200g white chocolate (you may need more)

 

Heat the double cream in a heavy pan to a gentle simmer. Break up the chocolate and melt into the cream. Take the truffle mix off the heat, place in a glass bowl, cover and place in the freezer for a couple of hours to harden.

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Using a teaspoon to gouge out the chocolate mix, shape the truffles into balls with your hands. The heat from your hands should melt the truffles into shape.

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Melt (ideally you will have time to temper it, for a lovely shine) the white chocolate and dip the truffles in the chocolate to decorate. Leave to cool and store in a cool airtight container.

Serve with a nice cup of tea, or a festive glass of mulled wine.

Very quick mince pies – perfect for Christmas Eve

I am a terrible girlfriend. Unbelievably so. When I first moved in with D a few weeks ago I made a grand promise of doing him a homemade Christmas cake as he is extremely partial to one. November rolled on and I kept being sidetracked. By mid December I had purchased (an admittedly rather nice) one from Lidl during a rather impractical Christmas shop. The truth is the spiced fruity baking traditionally associated with the festive period isn’t something I particularly enjoy. However, I do love the smell of it and I was happily sniffing the air. Plus they were pretty popular with D, I made them on a Friday evening and by the next afternoon 4 were gone. I also made a batch for my family (the mincemeat is enough for 2 batches made with 1 pack of pastry) and they were pretty fond of them too.

To make these you will need

1 pack pastry (makes 18 – 24 depending on your pastry cutter)

200g icing sugar

Cake cases

For the quick mincemeat (this makes 2 batches so you can keep some back in the fridge)

250g mixed fruit (including mixed peel)

4 tbsp dark or spiced rum

50g pecan nuts or walnuts (chopped finely)

50g butter

100g Demerara sugar

a pinch ground cinnamon

a pinch ground allspice

the zest of 1 orange

a peeled and grated Granny Smith Apple

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put your dry mincemeat ingredients in a bowl. Heat the rum in a small pan until it simmers. Remove from the heat then add the butter and use the residual heat to melt. Return to the heat again briefly so that it simmers again. Pour over your dry ingredients and mix well.

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I bought ready rolled out dough (I was feeling lazy) but if not roll out your dough and cut out circles using a large pastry cutter. If you have dough left over smush it back together and roll out again to make more circles.

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Place the circles in a lined cupcake tins (I didn’t line mine at first then had to rescue them) and prick with a fork in the middle so it doesn’t puff up as much.

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Fill each circle with a teaspoon of mincemeat. Then bake in the oven for approx 20 minutes (until the pastry is golden brown).

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While the pies are cooling combine the icing sugar with water (add a tiny bit at a time) and ice your mince pies.

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Serve these bad boys with a cup of tea, coffee or a glass of mulled wine. Stored in an airtight container and they will keep a good number of days.

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Merry Christmas to all of my lovely readers. I hope you have a wonderful festive period and get everything you wish for xxx

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