Oh Christmas, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

It’s the 1st of December, which means only one thing – we can start opening our advent calendars!  Hooray, hooray, hooray!

I’ve been very excited about advent this year. Like, really, really excited…the fit to burst kind.  You see, earlier in the year I decided to save up and surprise Big Sis with the Selfridges beauty Advent calendar.

Big Sis's Calendar

To say I was thrilled that I managed to get one, despite them being limited availability and selling faster than the proverbial hot cakes, would be something of an understatement.

That has been exciting enough in itself, but then I’ve also put together personalised calendars for…

DIY Advent No. 1: Baby socks filled with gifts pegged on a string washing line - pre-printed numbers cut from an 'in the January sales' bargain price calendar and glued to ordinary laundry pegs
DIY Advent No. 1: Socks on a Line – Pre-printed numbers cut from an ‘in the January sales’ bargain price calendar and glued to ordinary laundry pegs. Baby socks were filled with gifts then pegged onto the string washing line.

…Mum…

DIY Advent No. 2: More 'bought in the January sales' bargains - this time little self assembly gift boxes which have been filled with little gifts and hung from a white tree branch. This is an artificial one with a stand which I already had, but you could spray paint an actual branch and wedge it in a pot.
DIY Advent No. 2: More ‘bought in the January sales’ bargains – this time little self assembly gift boxes which have been filled with small gifts and hung from a white tree branch. This is an artificial one branch with a stand which I already had, but you could spray paint an actual branch and wedge it in a pot.

…Barn…

This is Petit Man's childhood Advent calendar, now hanging on the fireplace of his first own home :-) Some left over pieces of green satin and cream damask pattern fabric were sewn into little pouches and numbers written on the fronts using a gold pen. They were then filled with gifts and tied onto a gold cord using contrasting ribbons.
DIY Advent No. 3: This is Petit Man’s childhood Advent calendar, now hanging on the fireplace of his first own home 🙂
Some left over pieces of green satin and cream damask pattern fabric were sewn into little pouches and numbers written on the fronts using a gold pen. They were then filled with gifts and tied onto a gold cord using contrasting ribbons.

…and a joint one for Petit Man and Mme. E (he’s green, she’s cream, and they both get something on the 24th).

So you see, since January I’ve been building not only calendars, but also a huge level of gleeful anticipation about handing them over 🙂

Gorgeous advent calendar containing handmade scented wax melts - from Busy Bee Candles
Gorgeous advent calendar containing handmade scented wax melts – from Busy Bee Candles

Then, when I went yesterday to deliver the goodies to Mum and Big Sis, they surprised me with an advent calendar of my own.  This tipped me over the edge of reasonable adult behaviour, such that I could barely sleep last night through sheer excited anticipation.

Owl burner

My calendar has a little scented wax melt for each day, and came with this pretty ceramic owl burner.  Today’s scent is called ‘Crazy’, which to me smells of pine and pepper – which is surprisingly nice.  A certain someone commented on the appropriateness of it for me.  I think that sort of remark’s just not necessary.

Mum, Big Sis and Barn loved their first gifts and sent pictures, which made my day extra fun too.  Petit Man will doubtless call me tomorrow morning about today’s gift, because he’s hopelessly disorganised like that 😉

1970s advent calendar

As Big Sis and I observed, advent calendars have come a long way since the days when we took turns to open little paper doors to find, if you were lucky, a picture of the Star of Bethlehem (if you were unlucky it was a drawing of a tree bauble).

Come to think of it, I think I’d actually still rather like one of those.  And now I wouldn’t resent it being Big Sis and Bro’s turn to open a door.  Probably.

Oh, and by the way, in case you hadn’t guessed it yet, I REALLY LOVE CHRISTMAS!!!  May the joys of the festive season be upon you too because more Christmas themed post are inevitably going to follow.  Only 24 sleeps to go… 😉

x

8 – 12 Course Menu, with paired drinks

I have been a bad blogger.  There have been reasons for this, but I won’t bore you with them.  Instead I shall offer a gourmet feast for your delectation.

Birthday Dinner TableHowever, before I do that I’d like to quickly address a couple of things:

Firstly, number of courses…it helps to know how many you’re creating so you can brag say, “I cooked an X course meal for eight people”.  I promise, I can count up to twenty and beyond, without even using my fingers and toes, but on this I’m a little confused.

When making the count apparently certain parts of a meal don’t qualify as a course.  If you discriminate against certain foodstuffs in this fashion, and don’t include palate cleansers or coffee, then this would be an eight course meal.  I have questions about the validity of this counting method.

Then there’s the order of courses… Soup before salad? Cheese before dessert? Where do palate cleansers fit in? Surely there must be some kind of standard?  But no, apparently not.  I’m telling you, a quick look around the internet and you’ll see what I mean…anything beyond three courses the whole thing’s up for debate.  Right or wrong, this is how we opted to do things (‘we’ being me, of course!).

Centre pieceThis meal was a really fun thing to do for Big Sis’s birthday.  I had an awesome time, from planning to consumption. Hopefully everyone involved enjoyed themselves just as much!

Recipes will follow, as will the update on the now completed Cupboard Challenge, but for now, let me run you through the menu…

Amuse bouche - dried plums soaked in Armagnac, stuffed with duck breast pâté and topped with crisp pancetta.

Amuse bouche – dried plums soaked in Armagnac, stuffed with duck breast pâté and topped with crisp pancetta.
Drink pairing: Prosecco

Now, those eight courses I mentioned – that includes the amuse-bouche…but are you supposed to include them?

Hand made wild mushroom ravioli with white truffle butter sauce

Hand made wild mushroom ravioli with white truffle butter sauce
Drink pairing: Prosecco

Roasted tomato bisque garnished with crumbled feta

Roasted tomato bisque garnished with crumbled feta
Drink pairing: Wheat beer

Twisted Waldorf Salad - savoury profiterole filled with celery mousseline, topped with diced apple and toasted walnuts, served with a maple syrup and mustard dressing

Twisted Waldorf Salad – savoury profiterole filled with celery mousseline, topped with diced apple and toasted walnuts, served with a maple syrup and mustard dressing
Drink pairing: Dry cider

Lemon sorbet (Not home made.  Don't judge.  Time constraints guys, time constraints!)

Lemon sorbet.  Not home made. Please don’t judge me…time constraints guys, time constraints!

Seriously now, why do palate cleansers not qualify as a course?  In a meal of this type they’re about the same size as other things that pass muster.  Seems a little wrong to me.  It’s like saying, “You’re just here to clean my mouth out…you can’t be a course, you’re not substantial enough.  You’re not even really food.”

Poor bullied sorbet 😉

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Birthday Banquet: 8 Courses and Counting

It’s Big Sis’s birthday in May and I’m delighted to once again be in charge of planning a celebration for her.

Last year I created my very first ever dessert table for her, which was great fun to do and went down a storm with the family.  This year, determined to do something completely different, I’ve committed myself to creating and cooking an 8 course meal, with paired drinks.  When I told Chef J what I was planning, he started laughing and asked if I was drunk when I’d decided to do this.  The answer to this is no.  But I might have got myself into one of those slightly showy-off moods that certain company can trigger 😉

It’ll be fine.  It’s not like I’ll be doing it completely single handed – Petit Man and Medieval will be assisting with cooking, and Baby Bro, who knows about such things, will be putting together the drinks list for us.  I’m telling you, it’s gonna be totally do-able.  No, better than that – it’s going to be carried off with style, flair and aplomb.  And the kitchen will not devolve into a scene of devastation.  I’m far more excited than I am nervous.

In planning the menu I have, however, been careful to not go too overboard in the Estimation of Personal Ability department; dishes have been chosen and planned so that they can, on the whole, be prepared in advance and will  only need to be ‘finished off’ (assembled/heated/final stage cooked) on the day.

The menu is not completely fixed, and accompaniments, garnishes, finishing touches etc. are still being contemplated.  However, as things stands, this is what is being planned:

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A family that likes to brunch

Continuing the treats for Big Sis’s birthday weekend, on the Sunday we went out to one of our favourite local eateries for brunch.  Can’t fault the place –  fabulous food, excellent service, great ambiance, and all within ambling distance of home.

After much dithering I ordered the corned beef hash…with a bacon sandwich on the side. Freshly squeezed orange juice and copious cups of tea completed the delicious meal.

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Salt beef with grated potatoes and parsley, served with an egg on top, crispy bacon on the side and a puddle of yummy but not identified sauce.20140504_114750Slabs of bacon, crispy round the edges, liberally sauced with good ol’ HP and presented between thick slices of soft, freshly baked bread.  Now THAT is what you call a bacon butty!

20140504_114530Heaven help me, how did I become part of an Instagram family?!

Medieval despairs as we all delay eating by whipping out our cameras.  A full English awaits his ministrations.

x

“A kids’ party raised to adult level”

During some extended internet pootling I’d been utterly enchanted and more than a little inspired by the many examples of gorgeously styled dessert tables; so, when it came to Big Sis’s 2014 birthday, I pounced on the opportunity to try my hand at one.
IMG_6050Roses, ribbons, hydrangea and pearls adorned the welcome sign on the door.IMG_6028

Desserts Menu (made by me):
Centrepiece birdcage birthday cake
White chocolate & pistachio cheesecake served in dark chocolate cups
Fresh raspberry mousse served in dark chocolate shot ‘glasses’
Raspberry lemonade cupcakes – mini & regular
Chai cupcakes – mini & regular
Strawberry Belgian chocolate rose shaped lollipops

Also on the table (not made by me):
Pink Champagne truffles
Bon-bons (cherry; chocolate; apple)
Assorted flavours pink & green jelly beans

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Fumbling with Fondant

For my Big Sis’s 2013 birthday, I felt brave enough to have another go at using fondant to cover and decorate a cake, this time with a knitting theme.  For my second effort I used a firm carrot cake filled and frosted with fresh orange flavoured buttercream.

Joy's knitting cakeI’d learned a lot from the last time (but had no idea how little I knew still) and the process was a lot less stressful.  I still hadn’t got the hang of levelling a cake though…

Jumper…nor had I got the hang of evening up the sides and avoiding ‘elephant skin’ and cracking with my fondant (come to think of it, I’m still working on that!)

The knitted items and wool were made with marzipan, each strand painstakingly rolled by hand, and the stitching was marked on with a cocktail stick.

Wool balls and scarfThe unravelling balls that form the writing were made using strawberry laces.

By the time I’d finished this cake I was starting to get drawn into the ever expanding, and endlessly creative, world of playing with sugar.

x