First Snowfall Chocolate Mud Cake.

Made last week, but writing it up now because all cooking has become very simple due to Jon’s dentist appointment.

The icing turned out delicious and quite cute and snow-like with the split between icing sugar and cocoa and the sparkles of plain sugar, though it was far too runny and looks more messy than anything. Need to work on my cake decorating skills!

Ingredients:

For the cake:

  • 700g flour and raising agents
  • 1 to 2 cups chopped brazils
  • 150g dark chocolate, chopped into chips
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 3tbsp plain cocoa powder
  • 5tbsp sweetened cocoa powder, milk or white
  • 1 egg
  • 1tsp each: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, coffee granules

For decorating:

  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/2 cup white chocolate powder
  • water as needed
  • whole brazils
  • white grain sugar

Utensils:

  • mixing bowl and spoon
  • small mixing bowl and whisk
  • greased, nonstick, lined cake tin

Recipe:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C.
  2. Mix the dry cake ingredients.
  3. Stir in the egg and honey.
  4. Add water until a batter forms.
  5. Pour into the tin. Bake until a skewer comes out with sticky crumbs on it: not dry, but firm.
  6. Put aside to cool.
  7. Mix the icing sugar and white chocolate powder. Add water a few drops at a time and stir into a thick paste. I’m not too impressed with the melting snowfall look, so just blend it thoroughly and set aside to cool a little.
  8. Pour the cool-ish icing over the cold cake.
  9. Stick whole brazils on it.
  10. Sprinkle with white sugar before it completely sets.

snow-cake

How To… sit back and chill.

  1. Relax. Think of something nice.
  2. No, the turkey won’t be done after 30 minutes, just leave it.
  3. Phone calls. Breathe deep.
  4. Yes, you remembered to send everyone cards. If someone didn’t get one, insist it was lost in the post.
  5. No, the turkey still isn’t done.
  6. Write a schedule.
  7. Realize there’s no way that schedule is working now that other people are involved.
  8. Try and sit down for another five minutes.
  9. Tell someone not to look for or open their present yet.
  10. Pour yourself something to drink.
  11. Go and check on the turkey. Baste, feel proud.
  12. Fiddle with the decorations before guests arrive.
  13. Make sure the puddings are chilled or frozen well and that the snacks are laid out just so.
  14. Remember your drink.
  15. Light a scented candle to get rid of the strange smell in the entry (why is it the only place that doesn’t smell quite right?).
  16. Chase the dog/cat/child away from the ornaments again.
  17. Fetch your partner a drink. Try and drink yours.
  18. Panic over the roast vegetables and turkey again.
  19. Start making the pie to calm your nerves.
  20. Sit down for a few seconds. The turkey needs more basting.
  21. Put on some jolly music.
  22. Have the second sip of your drink.
  23. Get caught dancing to the jolly music by your recently-arrived guests.
  24. Continue making pie in silent shame.
  25. Will nobody else serve?
  26. Manage to convince someone else to serve.
  27. Say grace as nobody else wants to.
  28. Vow to opt-out for the next two hours.
  29. Find it impossible to relax and keep serving people, checking on the pie and humming along to the music.
  30. Shoo the dog/cat/child away from the very, very, very hot pie.
  31. Serve pudding. Feel proud.
  32. Clean up the awful mess that seems to have spontaneously appeared between bringing out pudding two and pudding three. (Nobody else knows how it got there.)
  33. Let everyone open ONE present.
  34. Now everyone is fed and watching TV, you can relax as it sort of feels like your work is done. It’s a satisfying feeling.
  35. And the dog/cat/child is in the tree. Oh dear…

Can’t win, but it’s all in good fun!

Merry Christmas!

10 Things I Am Grateful For This Solstice.

Staying up late on the Solstice gives plenty of time for reflection. This will be the longest night of the year. When it’s over, the days begin to draw out and Spring is officially on its way. Life is reborn from here, even if we can’t see it yet. And as life is conceived again, there are many things to cast aside, but many things to give thanks for.

1: My perfect husband.

It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t start with the one thing I genuinely am amazed I have.

I’m grateful to have met such an intelligent, handsome, loyal, dedicated, witty, random, like-minded man. I am a thousand times more grateful he was single, interested in me and happy to wait through all my anxiety and doubt.

2: The roof over my head, the food in my stomach and the fire beyond the hearth.

I am grateful to be alive, safe and sheltered from the elements. I am grateful to be able to eat every day if I want to, to the point of obesity if I ever wanted to. I am grateful to have a home of my own and not share it with anyone I don’t choose to welcome inside. I am grateful that in this chilling cold our house is warm and safe.

3: My art and my writing.

I am grateful that I can paint and write, that I can do it to relax, that I can put my mind to paper with ease and that I can make a small portion of my income on highly creative work.

4: What health and youth I have.

I am grateful that despite my ups and downs, my physical health is incredibly robust. I am grateful to have never broken a bone. I am grateful to have blood tests coming back as perfect. I am grateful to be in the middle of perfect childbearing age and soon to try for my first.

5: My grandmother in law and her help.

I am grateful that my grandmother in law is with us and is so kind, generous and caring. I am grateful that she shares her tips and hints about cooking and gardening with me. I am grateful she is there to help with the dog or just to talk should I need it.

6: Our friends and their support.

I am grateful to have friends as weird and wonderful as Jon and I. I am grateful for the fun things we arrange together, the places we go and the things we do and make. I am grateful to have a few close people in my life, rather than a thousand distant ones.

7: My business, my clients and my students.

I am grateful that I can make money from home. I am grateful that despite my location I am bringing in a comfortable income whilst tending our house, as well as a tidy passive income. I am grateful that the vast majority of my clients and students are polite, well-informed and work with me, rather than having me work for them only.

8: The spaciousness of the British countryside.

However many people I am grateful for, I am also grateful to live so far from most of them. I am grateful for fresh air and long country walks and dead quiet nights. I am grateful for our cheap cottage and its big garden and my potato harvest and the possibility of breeding turkeys.

9: Our pets and their company.

I am grateful to never be home alone. I am grateful to have a quickly growing puppy to motivate me to exercise, to cuddle when I feel down and to make me laugh when I’m struggling to focus on work. I am grateful to have an insane cat that clears the area of rats (and voles, whoops) and purrs like an idling engine whenever he sits next to me.

10: The modern world… and opt-outs.

I am grateful to live in a day and age when any item or service I need is a click or a call away, when I can make friends thousands of miles from me, when I can relax and read anything I want whenever I want. I am grateful for this blog, for my followers, for the blogs I read. I am grateful for social media and free tv streams and music downloads. But I am also grateful to be able to turn it all off once in a while and sit by the window watching the snow fall…

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

We Are All Blessed.

Nobody’s life is easy. Some are easier or harder than most, but to every person, our lives are going to present us with challenges and dilemmas that are serious business to us.

And sometimes, when we see everyone else gloating about their happy lives, their happy families, their great incomes and great jobs and great friends and great hobbies… we can start to wonder why everyone else seems to have it so much easier.

But this time of year isn’t the time to be jealous, because however much or little you have, relatively speaking, you are deeply and truly blessed.

You are blessed for having had any family or any friends by your side. However alone you may be now, that acute pain is there because you were, and most likely still are, loved.

You are blessed for having an internet connection with which to read this, a way to reach out to others and simply talk.

You are blessed to be alive and breathing, to have enough food, freedom, shelter and healthcare to keep you going until now, and hopefully longer.

Those are things I know for certain you are blessed with.

Furthermore you are supremely blessed for every single thing you have above that. Every penny, cent, yen or centimo to your name. Every person by your side right now. Every gift you receive, every bite of food. For being able to hear carols and see the lights strung up about town. For having children or pets to shower with love. For all the faith and love and happiness you can hold in your heart. Not because others don’t have these things, but because you do. If everyone on the planet lived a perfect life, you would be no less blessed to be their equal.

However much or however little you have today, you are blessed to have it. Not blessed in guilt of what others don’t have or in envy of what others do, but purely and simply blessed.

And I hope you’re continually and consistently blessed with more.

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

WWW. How hard are mince pies?

Not very, unless you overbake them. :p

But, in all seriousness, this English classic is very easy to make at home and absolutely delicious.

My own recipe is a secret, which is secret, will be kept secret and not be secretly or discreetly disclosed.

Best Simple Mince Pie Recipe 0

However the general outline of how I make mince pies is free for anyone to experiment with.

You will need:

  • 500g raisins or sultanas
  • 500g mixed dried fruit (preferably including candied peel)
  • 500ml applesauce
  • cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to taste
  • 500g flour
  • 1 egg
  • 300g butter
  • water
  • 1 beaten egg
  • sugar for dusting
  • rolling pin
  • greased/nonstick tart/muffin tray
  • mixing bowls

Recipe:

  1. Mix the dried fruit, applesauce and spices together. Add around 50-200g of sugar if you think the mix isn’t sweet enough.
  2. Rest the mix as long as possible. Overnight or 12h is fine, but 48h allows for some real richness.
  3. Best Simple Mince Pie Recipe 1
  4. Make a thick, stretchy pastry mix with the flour, egg, butter and a little water. Chill for 30-60min before use.
  5. Best Simple Mince Pie Recipe 2
  6. Preheat the oven to 160C or 180C fan.
  7. Roll out the pastry at least 1/8 of an inch for small (tart tray) pies and 1/4 of an inch for deep fill (muffin tray) pies. I made the mistake of using 1/8 inch pastry for both and the deep fill ones were not as excellent.
  8. Cut circles for the base. Push them into the grooves in the tray.
  9. Fill your pies, leaving a bit of a rim of pastry visible.
  10. Brush the rim with beaten egg before adding circles of pastry for the top.
  11. Brush the whole pie with egg and sprinkle granulated sugar on top.
  12. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the tops are golden and crumble juuust a little bit when pressed.
  13. Remove from trays and fully chill.
  14. Serve with wine or custard.

Best Simple Mince Pie Recipe 3

Best Simple Mince Pie Recipe 4

And feel free to mix and match the recipe! My own mix has another two to three ingredients and a specific spice balance. Jon normally despises mince pies, yet these ones received a 6/8 (an honourable 7 as he doesn’t like most mince pies). And friends and family seem happy enough with them too. Find your own perfect balance to enjoy!

TTFN and Happy Hunting!

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!

What feels best is not most virtuous.

However positive I am being, I felt this was a subject that needed to be broached.

At times like these, between the fragile state of the Middle East and Europe, the holiday season and family time approaching rapidly and waves of left wing activists trying to convince us that their next “victim” is worthy of our press attention, the mind is drawn to morality, happiness, human wellbeing and what it all means to us anyway.

And for some reason the attention seems to currently be on those things that make you feel best.

Give money to the homeless man with the dog because they might not get food this Winter.

Let the refugees in because our government caused this mess.

Invite round those relatives you hate because you’re still family and this is family time.

Do whatever makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Even if the homeless man uses all the extra money for alcohol and leaves his dog ownerless.

Even if some terrorists are hiding in the refugee crowds.

Even if those relatives start an argument that further divides the family.

Because that good feeling is what matters…

Except it isn’t. The nicest, least judgemental, least cynical action isn’t always the most virtuous. Sometimes being virtuous doesn’t feel nice.

Sometimes it means directing authorities to the man and his dog so they at least have shelter, even if they are unhappy or separated.

Sometimes it means protecting yourself and your country rather than giving the refugees a chance at your quality of life.

Sometimes it means avoiding family conflict, even if you are ill thought of for a month or if you lose someone forever.

Sometimes, the most virtuous, healthiest action hurts, makes you feel guilty, makes you sad or blows back at you. And that’s OK. Virtue won’t necessarily make you, or anyone else, happy. It just sets the world to rights.

So do right by yourself, your family and your friends. If you wish to do right by others, make them healthy, not happy. And don’t worry if the right decision doesn’t feel good. That’s not what it’s supposed to do.

TTFN and Happy Hunting.