Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you – I hope that 2016 brings many good things to your life.  May you shake the cobwebs of 2015 from your feet and stride forward with confidence into the untrodden pastures of promise that wait to be discovered in the coming months.  May you not burden yourself on this first new day with resolutions that are likely doomed to failure, but may you succeed with any fully intentioned pledges you make.

Yep, that is my diary

To be honest with you, I’m a little ambivalent about the whole New Year thing.  On the one hand, I love the ‘clean sheet-ness’ of it, and the potential that this could be the year that…I don’t know…I become a superhero or something.

Superhero hair
Actual hair, not a wig.

On the other hand, it can be slightly disheartening to realise that yet another year has now gone by and…  Well, certainly not a superhero yet (although I did get superhero hair this year).

On the third hand (if you’re counting the hands and you don’t have a friend assisting you at this point, you’re an alien.  Or possibly half of a bee).  Aaanyway, there is quite a lot of pressure surrounding New Year and I don’t find it pleasant.

New Year’s Resolutions are one such pressure area.  I’m sure for some people it’s a great way to kick start change in lifestyle or habit, but it really doesn’t work for me.  In a similar way that Valentine’s doesn’t really work for me.  I just don’t like being told that on this particular day I must express a certain feeling or do a certain thing, in the publicly perceived acceptable manner.  You might call it contrary, I call it individual.

Plus, of course, there’s the fact that in my sphere somewhere around 99.5% of New Year’s Resolutions are broken before February ends.  With such low odds, people are almost waiting for you to slip up; stating a resolution is tantamount to saying, “This is what I plan to fail at first in this lovely new year.”

So I actively avoid making resolutions.  Any decisions I make to change lifestyle or habits are merely ‘plans’.

Champagne Cocktail and Candles

I also find there’s quite an expectation that you do something for NYE.  I dislike being asked in the lead up what my plans will be as there’s a sense that one is somehow letting the team down when there are no envy inducing plans involving yachts and/or casinos.  Or at the very least a party down the local pub.

Over the years Barn, Petit Man and I have individually and collectively experienced a great number of ‘fun things to do on NYE’ (restaurants, nightclubs, house parties, Edinburgh, and all that jazz) but either never did, or have ceased to, find them all that much fun.

So this year Petit Man and Mme. E came round and we brought in the new year at home, with champagne cocktails, candles and board games.  I can’t think of anything else I’d rather have done.

to stand and stare

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

William Henry Davies (Leisure)

This is one of my primary plans for this coming year – to take more time away from shoulds and oughts and people who sap me, and devote more to wants and wishes and people who value me.

How about you?  What did you do this NYE?  Do you make resolutions?  Is 2016 going to be fabulous for your heart and soul?

I hope so.

x

 

 

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 😉

Continue reading

Deck the cake

Holly wreath cakeA simple but effective marzipan holly wreath on top of a royal iced, brandy soaked, fruit cake.

I don’t normally bother baking a fruit cake for us as Barn and Petit Man always say they don’t like it.  This year I was asked to make one for a friend of Mum’s so I made this for her and also a mini version for me, as a pre-Christmas treat .  It was delicious.

Sadly, I didn’t get to taste enough of its deliciousness…turns out Barn and Petit Man do like fruit cake after all…when I bake it 🙂

x

Petit Man Pizza

I actually had it in mind to make this for Petit Man’s birthday last year, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it and didn’t think I would have enough time.  As it happens, I’m glad I waited to get another year’s experience before trying it as I feel I wouldn’t have done nearly as good a job back then.  In the event, doing this cake for Petit Man was easy and fun.  I feel the effectiveness of the end result is positively out of proportion to the effort involved.
Pizza cake 4

Pizza cake 3

The cake was a single layer firm carrot cake, frosted with fresh orange Italian meringue buttercream, covered with fondant and decorated with hand made toppings.

Pizza cake 2I used thinly rolled fondant for the tomato sauce, and cut circular gummy sweets into strips for the green peppers.

To make the olives I cut slices from some of those soft, short and stubby, liquorice sticks you get in bags in the supermarket (do you know the ones I mean?!), then used a metal skewer to poke the ‘pitting’ holes in them.

Trying to get the colours and ‘fall’ of the pepperoni right took a bit of experimenting but I’m pleased with the end result, made using a mix of modelling chocolate and fondant.

For the mushrooms, I used scissors to cut shapes from white marshmallows, then painted them with edible food colouring.  (Fear not, the pink marshmallows did not go to waste; they were used as a my-mouth-filler.  Excellent for purpose, albeit temporarily.)

Finally, I used yellow Belgian chocolate curls for the grated cheese.

I loved how this turned out, but more importantly, so did Petit Man.

x

Beef Wellington – simply the best pie ever?

I’m going to interrupt this parade of cakes to show you the glorious Beef Wellington made by Petit Man for our Christmas dinner in 2013.

Beef Wellington 2013His first time making this and and would you just look at what he produced – is that not a thing of beauty?

Beef Wellington Cut 2013Unfortunately due to my poor photography skills, and the fact the mushroomy goodness has covered part of the beef in this picture, you can’t see the perfect pink that it actually was.

Served with roasted vegetables, some creamy mash and a to-die-for gravy that involved a lot of red wine, beef stock and reduction, this was one of the best Christmas dinners ever.

Of course, the fact that I didn’t have to cook it just made every mouthful all the more heavenly. 😉

x

Up on the roof

In December of 2013 Petit Man announced his assumption that I would be making him a birthday cake.  “After all,” he said, “if all these other people are having lovely cakes made by you, I don’t think I should have to have a supermarket one.  You’ve spoiled me now…I know what a good cake tastes like!”

Fair point I s’pose.

Petit Man Birthday 2013Time was limited so I came up with this relatively simple to create roof cake, made using layers of vanilla Madeira cake, filled and frosted with coffee buttercream.

petit Petit Man 2013This was my first try at modelling a figure from fondant and the first test run for the face mould I’d purchased.  As he was the first actual human I created, it seems fitting that the first sugar human I created was a petit Petit Man.

As you can see, the construction method for the chimney wasn’t thought through very well, resulting in this squashed on affair…looks like it’s going to end up in their bathroom any second now!

Regardless of its many faults and flaws, Petit Man was very happy with the cake, which in this instance was all that really mattered..

x