I Tried To Make Chocolates (and it almost worked)!

So there are two recipes today: my own home minced meatballs and some chocolate filling that I used in my disastrous first attempt at chocolate making.

Meatballs rock, bacon meatballs rock more.

Having a mincer is awesome!

Ingredients for meatballs:

  • 500g pork
  • 200g bacon
  • 100g flour
  • 2 eggs
  • BBQ mix: 1tsp worcestire sauce, 1tsp soy sauce, 1tsp smoked paprika, chopped spring onions, 2tsp garlic paste, 1tsp salt, 1tbsp pepper

Ingredients for sauce:

  • 1.5tbsp garlic
  • 1tbsp basil
  • 1tsp mustard
  • 1tsp smoked paprika
  • 400g tomato passata
  • 300g broad beans
  • 200g spinach
  • salt and pepper to taste

Utensils:

  • mincer
  • chopping board and knife
  • pan

Recipe:

  1. Put the meats through the mincer. Mix in the other meatball ingredients and rest.
  2. Roll your meatballs as you heat some butter in a pan.
  3. Pan fry the meatballs on all sides to seal them. Put aside as they seal.
  4. Add the basil, garlic, mustard and paprika to the butter and stir into a paste.
  5. Reintroduce the meatballs. Pour passata on top. Allow to simmer.
  6. When the meatballs are cooked through, add the beans and spinach, turn off the heat and cover. Leave to finish in its own heat.
  7. Serve over pasta, gnocchi or noodles.

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Filling for chocolates, or for angrily licking off the spoon when your chocolates fall apart.

A friend has taken a course in chocolate making and is great at it. I’ve been watching a bit from the sidelines and bought myself a chocolate mould the other day, to give it a go. So my first attempt at chocolates looked like this.

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The second attempt went a bit better.

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But the filling is DELICIOUS.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup rhubarb
  • 1 cup mango
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar

Utensils:

  • chopping board and knife
  • pot and wooden spoon
  • blender

Recipe:

  1. Clean, peel and chop the rhubarb and mango. Put in the pot on a low heat
  2. Once softened through, add the white sugar, keep heating and stirring, as though you were making jam.
  3. Add the icing sugar slowly and stir in. Take off the heat and leave to rest.
  4. Blend everything together. There should not be many lumps left anyway.

I put this in some white chocolates with walnut and some dark chocolates with a bit of brazil in the centre. 😀

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

 

For help starting out homemaking, check out The ESSENTIAL Beginner Homemaker’s Guide. For help budgeting all your everday and not-so-everyday essentials, from food to transport to clothes, check out On A Budget: The good homemaker’s guide to economizing.
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5 Little Acts Of Holiday Seduction.

Because why not have a bit of fun with your partner whilst you’re both home?

1: Flirty advent.

There are all sorts of fun and quirky advent ideas for people who miss the excitement of the advent calendar but who’ve had enough of strange-tasting milk chocolate of questionable origin. So why not a fun and flirty one?

Maybe they could be redeemable coupons, personal messages or little daily rewards, as naughty or nice as you need them to be, just make sure it’s all about having fun and giving. 🙂

2: Hot cocoa.

If you’re feeling cold, miserable, stressed and bored… chances are your beloved is too! Make two steaming mugs of hot cocoa, pick a film between you and snuggle up on the sofa under the blankets. Try and make some personal time for this, when the kids and pets are in bed.

3: Mistletoe.

Mistletoe, mistletoe everywhere… How about a bunch at the front door, over your partner’s seat in the kitchen and living room, in their office/study/workshop and, of course, over the bed? (Try plastic, paper or fabric mistletoe if you’re worried about allergies or small creatures -two and four legged alike- eating them!)

Then just make sure to point it out whenever you’re both underneath it. 🙂

4: Sexy Santa.

Find yourself a cute Santa apron, a Santa hat and some red slippers. Arrange some cookies/biscuits on a platter with cocoa, coffee or tea, whatever your partner prefers. Then, present them with some edible festive gifts in nothing but that.

5: Big bow.

Feel like you haven’t got enough gifts to show your beloved how important they are to you? Or that they have everything they need, so it’s hard to get something meaningful? If you want to be the icing on the pudding these holidays, then wrap yourself up in a bow on Christmas morning before handing over their presents. Whatever you wear under that is up to you.

And above all, have fun, destress and remember your partner this season.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

How To… build a tradition.

Traditions are an important part of culture, from our nation’s customs to our family’s quirks. But just because something isn’t a family tradition this festive season doesn’t mean it can’t be. There are many reasons to build a healthy tradition among your loved ones:

  1. It promotes bonding.
  2. It increases productivity.
  3. It replaces our rapidly dwindling external cultures.
  4. It takes some focus off consumerism.
  5. It refocuses us on past customs and religious observations.
  6. It gives us a sense of identity.
  7. It gives us a sense of shared identity.
  8. It promotes thankfulness.

There are definitely more, but don’t those alone highlight why we should be cultivating traditions? So if you want to build a tradition, here are some helpful tips.

1: Decide who to share it with.

You can’t just point out a few people and force a new custom on them. Choose people you will spend a lot of the holiday season, every holiday season with. These are probably the people who matter most, so whether it’s just two or three of you or whether your whole volunteering group is involved, make them a priority.

2: Choose something valuable.

If you want to do something every year, don’t go for something that is unproductive or an absolute waste. Try and find something positive. Look out for:

  • Making things.
  • Sharing experiences.
  • Working together.
  • Creating and imagining things.
  • Good feelings.
  • Faith and oneness.

These are good, strong elements of a valuable tradition.

3: Don’t force it.

You can’t just announce you will be doing something every year. Just try and make it happen and adapt the tradition to suit the people, not the other way around.

4: Encourage positively.

Reward participation and help, make the process as much fun as the result and don’t stress or put on the pressure.

5: Do the legwork.

If you’re the one who wants to “make this a thing”, then expect to do almost all the work yourself. Maybe in future years everyone will be looking forward to it and will help out some more, but for now it’s you.

6: Watch it develop.

Once the wheels are turning, your loved ones should be expressing some more interest in the new tradition and suggesting ways of changing, improving or building it. Just watch the bud burst into bloom.

What traditions are there in your family? However big or small, silly or solemn, I’d love to hear them. 🙂

Here’s to a good and wholesome celebration.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

12 Days Of Happy Holidays.

It’s 14 days from the Solstice and 17 days from Christmas. Soon kids will be on Holiday and a week or so after adults will be taking seasonal leave as well.

So before the actual countdown begins, here are some ideas for the 12 days of Happy Holidays.

1: First day of the countdown!

Make an advent calendar with your family and friends. Make one for your pet too. And if loved ones are too far away, make yourself a great one to boast about online! :p

2: Last minute presents.

Forgot to get anyone gifts? Packing stockings? Better go out and do some shopping sooner rather than later.

3: Cards for everyone.

Whether they’re traditional cards, ecards or handmade cards, try and get a festive message ready for everyone you love.

4: Seasonal music.

You’re absolutely justified in putting seasonal music on by now! Make a full playlist of your favourite warming, spiritual, Wintery or Christmassy songs and play it until you’re sick of it.

5: Light a fire.

There’s something lovely about a warm fire when it’s cold outside. Or a flaming BBQ when it’s hot outside, for those in the Southern hemisphere! Light a fire, a bbq, a candle, anything. Put a decorative fake fire on if you can’t light one.

6: Decorating time!

Any decorations you haven’t got out yet, get them. Any you haven’t put up, hang them. Any you want, make or buy them. An afternoon crafting and decorating the rooms artfully or as a family can be a peaceful experience.

7: Paper baskets and treats.

An alternative to a stocking for neighbours and dinner party guests. Pick some great seasonal colours and weave paper baskets to fill with candies, trinkets, messages and confetti. Top with a grab big curly ribbon bow.

8: Meal planning.

You almost certainly have a good idea what you’re making, but sit down and work out the prep and cooking times for everything and check the ingredients’ lists.

9: Stock up.

Anything you haven’t already got, go out and get it. Don’t plan anything else today. Take it easy. Enjoy the shopping. Separate yourself from the anxious crowds.

10: Baking day.

Rather than bake and cook on the same day, take a whole day to bake biscuits, pies, tarts, cakes and anything else you fancy. Remember to store everything well so it won’t go stale!

11: Be grateful.

As you welcome friends and family into your home, as someone fusses over their food, as a kid breaks an heirloom, as the roast catches fire… be grateful you can have this time. If you’re on your own, have a good meal and call friends and family. Remind yourself that you are loved and needed, whoever you are.

12: Festivities!

Enjoy yourself. Cleanup starts tomorrow. Eat, drink, be merry. Pray. Play games. Get drunk. Sing carols. Eat too much. Dance. Read. Do whatever makes you happiest.

What are your plans for the twelve days leading up to your holiday, then?

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

I’m going to be happy this month.

A lot of the things I write are critical, negative or generally pessimistic. I like to think that the majority of what I write is useful, but that doesn’t change the fact that a month never goes by without something with a negative tone popping up on the blog.

So my first two posts of the month were constructive and all the following posts, until December 31st, are going to be constructive, positive and happy.

Because this isn’t the time of year to be stressed, angry, sad or pessimistic.

Hope everyone has a beautiful December!

TTFN and Happy Hunting.

10 Things In Defence Of Adult Colouring Books.

Adult colouring books are a surprisingly divisive topic. On the one hand their lovers declare they’re just a bit of harmless fun. On the other their opponents believe they’re a marker of how infantile their users and our society have become.

Generally I find myself siding with the less emotional argument. Which in this case is that they are an infantile pursuit. However, this time the less emotional argument still has an emotional foundation. What emotional foundation? That we should necessarily eschew things that are infantile in favour of more mature pursuits, and that we should have a lesser opinion of people whose pursuits are not highly intellectual or explicitly adult.

And I don’t think that’s right. Because there are many reasons to engage in infantile habits and hobbies, some of them far more valid than attempting to maintain an appearance of maturity. So here are ten reasons why adult colouring books are beneficial, from least to most significant.

1: Fun.

Everyone likes to have fun in some way. The only people who avoid having fun to appear mature are those who never progressed beyond the teenage mentality that maturity is boring. Humans like to have fun. The sensation of “fun” is your body telling you that you are either learning a life skill (risky fun) or safe and secure (quiet fun). If it feels good, chances are it’s because on some level you need it. Not all good feels will be contextually appropriate, but not all of them are sinful or harmful either.

So before I address the other positive aspects of adult colouring books, I’d like to raise the first, most central point: there are many hobbies as pointless, unproductive, unintellectual and infantile as this. In fact, there are many that are moreso. If you see it as appropriate to attack colouring books, then you should probably also set your sights on video games, TV, chance-based board games, trash fiction, most films, shopping, casual blogging, social media, listening to music, etc.

2: Inexpensive.

Plus, something adult colouring has on most of those hobbies, is that it’s actually pretty cheap. The books are sometimes costly, but you can always buy printable versions or photocopy a book or find one on the cheap. And compared to a night out, a new DVD, a game, a restaurant meal or a cinema ticket, even the priciest colouring books are actually pretty cheap.

3: Motor function improvement.

In the modern world we often find ourselves engaging in repetitive motions at work. Typing, clicking, sorting, carrying, pressing buttons, steering. Most jobs are UNIT jobs, that basically means you are one tiny gear and your job is to turn clockwise until you sign off. This can actually affect your muscle memory, cause cramping of hand and arm muscles and mess with your coordination out of work, like the stereotypical powerlifter who doesn’t know his own strength. Like most fine-tuned activities, colouring improves your hand-eye coordination, your eye focus, your hand steadiness and your hand’s range of motion. You may not be an expert artist, but after a while you start using a variety of motions and techniques to get these tiny, precise patches coloured.

4: Attention span improvement.

With the nature of most modern work and entertainment, most people’s attention spans are awful. We’re used to immediate gratification, swapping from tab to tab, pausing our films and TV shows, checking social media every two minutes… Having something you can sit down to and immerse yourself in does wonders for patience, attention, comfort and general serenity.

5: Normalizes relaxation.

Between the flood of women entering the workforce, the decline in small business and the desperate need to compete in the market, political forces, companies and activists alike go on about the sanctity of work. From one extreme, where Marxists believe all your labour should be yours, to the other where Nationalists believe all your labour should serve your people; from feminists claiming that women need to work as many hours as men in the same roles, to anti-feminists claiming that women’s work is generally less useful than men’s, monetized work seems to be the only value anyone has any more.

Which means the pressure to work hard and never relax is immense. Taken to the extreme, we get the stereotypical Japanese businessman. It isn’t actually good. But most of our entertainment options are presented as social, energetic options by force. Go to a party, go hiking, do some networking, go dancing… Having a widely approved and supported hobby that is actually calm and quiet could do society wonders.

6: Brain-stimulating.

Believe it or not, your brain is very much active when you do things like colouring. By focusing on shapes, patterns and repetition we engage the part of our brains that deals with number and space problems. By indulging in bright colours we engage the part of our brains that gains pleasure from pretty things. By developing our motor skills we engage the part of the brain involved in proprioception and detailed work. By working through different colours and balancing them we engage the part of the brain that naturally leans toward creativity. Unlike zoning out to a screen or knee-jerk-arguing on facebook, colouring is actually very good for your mental functions as a whole.

7: Family oriented.

Again, a lot of modern hobbies fall short here. We live in a culture that worships the individual so much that few hobbies engage more than one or two people at a time. Reading, blogging and cooking are preferably solitary activities. Clubbing, social networking or watching TV are engaged in by everyone, but rarely together any more. Sports, shopping or games can be social but are usually only appreciated by one or two members of the family.

However colouring is actually pretty good for everyone. Those with artistic talent can draw. Those without can colour. Children get their colouring books. Adults get theirs. Sharing time and space like that, helping each other out and taking it easy could be just what your family needs on, for example, a Friday night.

8: Productivity.

I could easily list a large number of highly productive hobbies. But the most common relaxation habits among modern humans are not productive. Watching TV, social networking, playing simple games, reading trash and shopping are not productive, especially not in the way most people use them. However colouring, as we have seen, has many benefits. It is productive in that it’s actually good for you. And it’s productive in that at the end you have a completed object to show for it, which in and of itself is also rewarding.

9: Stress relief.

We’re all stressed. We work fast-paced, low-reward, high-contact, high-pressure jobs. Even if one trait is absent in your job, the other three are probably there. When we don’t work such jobs we feel stressed because we’re not doing enough. Stress relief is vital for humans to function. We’re not designed to be continually pumping adrenaline and epinephrine into our systems. We need to get some dopamine, serotonin and GABA in there as well. Otherwise you end up… well, like me. Except most people don’t need to be stuck in that sort of a loop.

By relieving stress with a simple, mentally stimulating, quiet, low-pressure activity you can make yourself better able to function at work, in your social circles and in life in general.

10: Natural creativity.

The big one. Humans are naturally creative. We want to create, to produce, to make marks and sounds and shapes. It’s what got us so far to begin with, combined with our deep curiosity.

But unless they are exceptionally talented or have the time to develop a skill, most people will never create wonderful art. There just isn’t the time, the financial incentive or the resources to make everyone a great artist. If we want to unleash our natural creativity we can write poems, compose story plots, doodle… and now we also have the option to do a colouring book page.

I personally have never had to use a colouring book. Not since I was very little, anyway. But I’m not some sort of a snob who thinks that just because someone can’t draw as well as me, they should miss out on the colouring. Colouring is fun. It’s relaxing. It’s productive and healthy and engaging. And if that’s how you want to let out some creativity, then by all means go ahead.

TTFN and Happy Hunting.

What do you think about adult colouring books? What do you do in your spare time? Do you think there is ever anything “too infantile” for an adult’s hobby, if the rest of their life is in order?

How To… spend more time together.

It’s a common complaint and one I’m understanding more the more effort I put into paid work, garden maintenance, self improvement and puppy training.

As you add things into your life, you find that time with your loved ones gets pinched a bit and some people are even accidentally cut out entirely for weeks at a time. Which is no good. Whether you want the calm and quiet of just sitting with your partner or whether you need to be thrown into a party to feel at home, we all want to be a little bit social.

So here’s how to make time for those you love.

1: Do things together.

Well, that sounds obvious, doesn’t it? The problem is in how we apply this. We think to ourselves “well, I have ballroom dancing and the kids have playgroup, so how can we fit in a shared activity?”

In reality, the solution is a bit simpler: we try and fit into each other’s activities, or find new activities we can share. Rather than add more and more and more to our days, it may be wiser to cut some things out and start over, working on our hobbies and tasks together.

2: Discuss schedules.

It’s important to talk our schedules through as we plan our weeks. Both for working out shared activities and so that our flexible plans don’t clash. If you need to go shopping, for example, it’s better to do it when your partner and children are also busy.

By building a set schedule and discussing the whole family’s schedules you can find time to spend with each other.

3: Together but alone.

Just because you don’t share your hobbies or one of you have work doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t spend time together.

Jon and I frequently spend time together in the same room, him doing his thing and me doing mine. Just because I suck at gaming or I have writing to do doesn’t mean I can sit next to him as he plays a new game.

4: Date night, family night, play night.

Try and make time at least once a week to spend together. Even if you’re too busy and your schedules and activities rarely match up, having a night a week when you can

-catch up on the week’s events

-plan the next week

-have some fun together

will make a big difference to your life.

5: Have a break.

If you literally can’t find an hour a week to spend with your friends and family, then maybe you’re working too hard.

Think of when you can plan in a proper break to have fun with your loved ones, revise your workload and schedule and get into a healthier, happier life.

And that’s how we can try and spend more time with our loved ones, even when we’re insanely busy. Like with a lot of these How Tos, it isn’t a hard concept. The key is just in making the effort to follow the steps through.

How do you make time for your loved ones? What do you like doing on family days?

TTFN and Happy Hunting!