It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.

Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas, filled with love, joy and mincepies.

And presents, we can’t forget the presents. Which is what I wanted to share with you today – I made each of my family a little something to go in their stockings this year, which I didn’t want to put on the blog until after they’d seen them, as you never know what little elf might share the secret before the big day.

For my sister, who loves African prints, I made this tote bag. The two clashing prints were from a shop on Petticoat Lane – I forget the name, but there are lots to choose from! Although I needed less than a metre to make the bag, the fabric only comes in 6yd lengths, but don’t worry I have big plans for a full skirt from the bird fabric, which makes up the lining, and a fitted shift dress from the fan fabric. Gift for my sister, gift for me! The wooden button was from my stash, but I think it goes quite nicely.

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The pattern is from the Cath Kidston “Sew” book – which I picked up for a few quid in the charity shop near me – all templates still included! I’d previously made up this tote for my mum, so I knew I could pull it together quickly (due to reasons, mainly a job change in the last couple of weeks, I’d been quite busy and so my decision to make presents was very last minute!). The reason I like this pattern so much (apart from how easy it is to put together) is the inclusion of both a front and inside pocket, so you’ll never lose your lipgloss or keys at the bottom of your bag again!

Also from the same book, I made my dad a little drawstring washbag, using a lovely pinstripe fabric from my stash. The pattern calls for shower curtain fabric on the inside, but the only shower curtain fabric I could find cost about £16 per metre, and I would have had to wait for it to be delivered. So instead I just went to Argos and spent £2.50 on a basic shower curtain, which works perfectly once cut up, and nobody is any the wiser! I have a lot of this left over now, so I guess there are a lot more gifted washbags on the horizon.

I stupidly forgot to take a photo of the finished product, but it looks much the same as the one in the book (although I omitted the side piping because of time, and not having anything suitable to hand!). Again, this was an easy make, but I actually found the instructions in the book a bit lacking. It was ok for me, having some experience in sewing, but they felt a bit bare in places and left me scratching my head in confusion. Although perhaps I’d just had a little bit too much Christmas cheer*.

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And finally, I knitted my mum some fingerless gloves. I hadn’t planned on knitting my mum some fingerless gloves. I had planned on making her the glasses case from the same Cath Kidston book. In fact, I pretty much did make her the glasses case, but so badly I decided it wasn’t worthy of my mum. The problem wasn’t the pattern or the instructions (although again, they were strangely bare, for such a hand-holdy friendly style book), it was more with me rushing to try and get it done before Christmas came.

So to solve the issue with rushing to get a present done before Christmas, I decided to rush and start to knit a present just a few days before Christmas day. Oh, and my parents arrived on the 23rd, so it’s not like I could sit around in the evenings and knit… 1419839240703

But, I managed it! Luckily the pattern was for quite a chunky yarn. I don’t know what it is, because it all came in a kit free on the front of a magazine – I AM SO GENEROUS I KNOW, but time was of the essence – but it was for 5mm needles (I used 6mm to get the right gauge).

I also made my boyfriend some pocket squares for his suit jackets. Not much to say about these as they only needed some hemming. But don’t they look cute?

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Did you make any presents this year? Did you plan ahead, or were you making them right up to midnight on Christmas Eve?

 Today’s quote is from Mother Teresa.

*Booze. Always booze.

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Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind.‏

What are your last minute Christmas baking plans? One thing that’s always easy to throw together, and is always much appreciated, is homemade mince pies. What’s your favourite recipe? Do you make your own mincemeat?

I have to admit here that I hate mince pies – I am not a fan of dried fruit in any shape or form. Not even when it’s wrapped in this delicious pastry. So I never make the mincemeat, just buy it in jars. Just like Jesus would have wanted.

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This year I followed Paul Hollywood’s pastry recipe, but given that it’s 2 days before Christmas, if you want to use Jus-Rol, I won’t judge. He also does something fancy-schmancy with the mincemeat, but I ignored this as I didn’t plan ahead (anyone out there surprised?) and didn’t have any of the ingredients.

Ingredients

2 jars mincemeat (about 500-600g total

375g plain flour

260g unsalted butter, cold (The recipe says softened, but I was always told cold butter for pastry, so I went off-piste. Stick with Paul if you don’t trust me.)  (I wouldn’t trust me either)

125g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

1 large egg, plus 1 beaten egg for glazing (I had leftover egg whites from the pannettone recipe below, and just used this and my judgement for how much to add. Worked pretty well, although I had to add a bit of flour at the rolling stage as it was a little bit too wet to roll out well)

  1. Place the flour and butter in a bowl and rub together until it’s like crumbs.
  2. Mix in the sugar and the egg.
  3. Tip out onto a lightly floured surface and fold until the pastry comes together, be careful not to over mix.
  4. Wrap the pastry in cling film and chill for 10 mins
  5. Heat oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7.
  6. Roll out the pastry to 3mm thick.
  7. Using a 10cm round cutter cut out 16 bases and place them into greased/non-stick muffin trays.
  8. Put 11⁄2 tbsp mincemeat mixture into each. (I LITERALLY JUST REALISED I READ THIS AS TEASPOONS. I HAVE UNDERFILLED MY MINCEPIES. CHRISTMAS IS RUINED*)
  9. Brush the edge of each pie with a little beaten egg.
  10. Re-roll out the pastry to cut 7cm lids and press them on top to seal.
  11. Glaze with the rest of the egg, sprinkle with caster sugar, then make a small cut in the tops. (I NEVER DID A CUT IN THE TOPS THIS IS WHY IT WAS BUBBLING OUT THE SIDES OHMYGOD I MIGHT AS WELL HAVE SHOT RUDOLPH**)
  12. Bake mince pies for 15-20 mins until golden brown.
  13. Leave to cool before releasing them from the muffin trays and dusting with icing sugar.

Despite my several failures, these have turned out pretty damn fine. We of course had to try one to make sure (I just nibbled at the pastry like the precious fussy eater I am). I’d never added sugar to pastry before, and I think it makes quite a difference. It’s a lovely texture and tastes really decadent. Just like Christmas should be.

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The other thing on my Christmas bake list this year was a pannettone. I have previously made the traditional Christmas Cake (Delia all the way), but as the only fans of it are my mum and dad (the only part of it I like is the decorating, and subsequent eating of the icing), a lot seems to end up going to waste. There’s probably even some left from last year we could dig out from a Tupperware from some dark corner at the back of a kitchen cupboard.

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I’d been scared off by a few people who claimed it took days to make pannettone, but I whipped this one up on a Sunday afternoon without too much grief. It’s probably not traditional, but meh. Looks good. I’ll have to come back to you on the taste as it’s not Christmas yet, people! Patience!

I’d bought a special Pannettone tin from Lakeland because I am a middleclass snob like that, but actually all you need for this one is a normal deep cake tin and some baking paper. The recipe is from Dan Lepard in the Guardian (whose chocolate fudge sauce recipe I also used for presents this year – shush, don’t tell!). Of course, I made the chocolate chip version.

For the cake:

200ml warm water

25g cornflour

25g caster sugar

6 medium egg yolks

7g sachet fast-action yeast

3 tsp each vanilla and orange extract

3 tsp glycerine (optional, but it makes the crumb extra-soft)

50g white chocolate

50g unsalted butter

400g 00 flour

1 tsp salt

150g chocolate chips (or good glacé fruit or raisins you dried fruit-eating monsters)

For the sugar crust

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tbsp egg white

1 tbsp ground almonds

25g chopped hazelnuts

1 tsp cornflour

12-15 whole unskinned almonds

  1. Whisk the warm water with the cornflour and caster sugar, then beat in the egg yolks and yeast.
  2. Stir in the vanilla and orange extracts, and glycerine (if using).
  3. In a bowl over hot water (or, let’s face it, a microwave) melt the white chocolate and butter, then whisk this into the mix.
  4. Add the flour and salt, then mix to a soft dough using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Set aside for five minutes.
  5. Put the kettle on for a cuppa.
  6. Stir in the chocolate chips (or glacé fruit or raisins if you’re a monster) so they are evenly distributed through the mix, then leave for an hour to rise.
  7. Put your feet up and drink that cuppa.
  8. Line the base and sides of a deep, round 20cm cake tin (or pannettone tin if you went wild in Lakeland) with an oversized piece of nonstick paper that extends out at the top by 5cm or so (this is to allow the loaf to rise during cooking).
  9. Transfer the dough to the tin. Cover and leave to rise for two to three hours, or until more than doubled in height.
  10. This is the perfect amount of time to watch It’s A Wonderful Life.
  11. Dry your tears and remember no man is a failure who has friends. Cry again.
  12. Blow your nose and heat the oven to 180C (160C fan-assisted)/350F/gas mark 4 and make sure you can fit the high cake tin in your oven!
  13. Mix together the ingredients for the sugar crust (apart from the almonds) and dab this all over the top of the panettone. Dot with the almonds and cut a cross in the middle with a sharp knife.
  14. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the panettone is a dark, golden brown on top.

Despite my panics about it not rising, I actually quite enjoyed the process of making this – and am pretty impressed with how it looks. I of course have no idea how it will taste, but fingers crossed! If it turns out well, I think I might have a new tradition. And I’m already eyeing up this recipe for pannettone bread and butter pudding for my leftovers…

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Merry Christmas!

Today’s quote is from Mary Ellen Chase

*Luckily I was over generous with my teaspoon measurement, so I think it’s worked out all right in the end. Phew.

** Christmas is a stressful time for all. I apologise for the dramatics. I think I need a lie down.

Five people that win… November

Happy December 1st everyone! And talking of December 1st – remember that “sew-your-own” advent calendar I lusted over at The Makery in Bath? Well my lovely other half only went and got me one! What a lovely chap! Isn’t it lovely?

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Can’t wait to see what delights that are awaiting me inside. (Spoiler: it’s chocolate coins).

Anyway, December has arrived at last, and so it’s time to look back at the winners for the month of November.

1. Amy Poehler.

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For writing the utterly delightful, charming, and witty “Yes Please”, which I raced through in about two days when it arrived in the mail.

2. Philae.

And the Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (catchy name). Okay, so it might not have gone quite to plan, but it was a pretty intense ride nonetheless. Scientists, eh. Pretty clever chaps.

3. Paul Mason.

For this:

4. Christmas adverts.

First of all, it was John Lewis and those penguins, and I thought my heart couldn’t break any further. (Full disclosure – I was always highly disposed to love this advert. If I could smuggle any animal home from the zoo in my backpack, it would be a penguin. Who am I kidding, it would be ALL the penguins.)

And then, hello Sainsbury’s – you kept this one up your sleeve you little tear-jerkers, you.

Anyone else want to step up to the plate and make me cry snotty tears all over my chocolate coins?

5. Mickey Rourke.

An actual winner, following his return to the boxing ring. Good on you, Mickey!

WAIT. HOLD UP. When I was checking the links for this post, I came across the news that actually, his opponent was a homeless guy who was paid to take a dive.

So, no winner’s title for you Mr Rourke. Shame on you.

And the Villain of the Month? No, you don’t win that either Mr Rourke. This one goes to Paul Spector in The Fall. Oh god, he is the best looking absolutely most scary psychopath on TV. Gives me the creeps.

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And then I see this picture and I think, Well maybe he’s not so bad.