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.

20141221_191328

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.

20141221_191322

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.

20141221_222037

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…

20141223_130950

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… June

My wifi at home is still down, and it is killing me. I didn’t realise quite how much I relied on it, until I got a message from my phone provider saying I had already used all my data, 3 weeks before the end of the contract month. Ouch.

So, as I wait in vain for an engineer to come around and huff and sigh a bit before taking another week to actually fix things, I bring you this month’s winners via the medium of 4G. Please address all complaints about spelling errors and broken links to Sky Broadband.

1. This guy, who had a night to himself in Las Vegas airport, a phone camera, and an unnatural knowledge of Celine Dion lyrics.

2. Bill Murray

Always, and forever, but this month it’s for his crashing of these engagement photos.

 

Image taken from Buzzfeed.

Image taken from Buzzfeed.

 

No one will ever believe you.

3. Mindy Kaling

Because she’s back on our (UK) screens in The Mindy Project, and because I read her book Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me?

And because I read the following passage about marriage and drunkenly, wibblingly (I may have just made up this word), sent it to my friends and boyfriend like it was the Dalai Lama Guide to Marriage and full of all the truths.

In real life, shouldn’t a wedding be an awesome party you throw with your great pal, in the presence of a bunch of your other friends? A great day, for sure, but not the beginning and certainly not the end of your friendship with a person you can’t wait to talk about gardening with for the next forty years.

4. Weirdly, a sanitary towel company – Always.

Am ever so proud to run like a girl.

5. Dolly Parton.

For Glastonbury, and because I was reminded of this quote, which made me laugh anew.

People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there.

Villain of the Month? Biter extraordinaire, Luis Suarez. Sort it out mate. I too have buck teeth but manage not to go around tearing chunks out of people as their shoulders pass by the vicinity of my mouth. You’re giving us a bad name.

Five people that win… May

1. This cat.

2. Conchita.

3. (The poems and stories of) Maya Angelou.

Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.

I feel a bit weird putting Maya Angelou in this list, as she sadly passed away on the 28th, at the age of 86. However, she was such a wonderful person, and so inspiring, that I felt I had to acknowledge her passing here. Below is a clip of her reciting the wonderful poem And Still I Rise. I also love the poem Phenomenal Woman. Oh and who can fail to be moved by On the Pulse of the Morning, written for andrecited at the inauguration of President Clinton. I”m planning on filling my suitcase with many works of hers when I go on holiday next week.

Rest in Peace, phenomenal woman.

4. The people of Nottingham.

I defy you to watch this without getting a little weepy.

5. Solange / Jay-Z.

Well I think one wins, and the other qualifies for Villain of the Month. However, it’s hard to say which is which, and I guess we’ll probably never know. Certainly the celebrity story of the month (sorry Kimye – although you fought hard, and gave a good battle with your hot pastor.)

Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.

Whilst at a recent “awayday” (*shudder*) at work, we had a session on mindfulness, and how to take this concept and apply it to our everyday lives. Mindfulness is having a “bit of a moment”, with everyone from Google to Arianna Huffington to the World Bank getting on board. Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says that mindfulness means knowing directly what is going on inside and outside ourselves, moment by moment. There’s lots of interesting stuff about it around – including on the NHS pages, and I think it’s well worth a look if you feel like the stresses of life are getting you down and you need a way to calm some of the noise.

Now, I’m normally a bit of a cynic about these things – especially when it seems to be a “movement”, and has been co-opted by big finance companies with a need to show their caring, fluffy side – Google’s mindfulness guru is known as Jolly Good Fellow, fyi, but a few things said at the session really struck a chord  – and I started to think about how I could and incorporate some of this into my everyday life.

DSCN1905

Like totally zen man.

I also recently came across an article in the New York Times on “mindless accumulation”, which is something I think we all need to be more aware of – I don’t think  there’s nothing wrong with having things and liking things (I do love things. I really do.) – but when it crosses over into getting more more more, just for the sake of it, I think we have to question our motives – and our sanity. The article refers specifically to earning wages, and reports an interesting study where subjects were made to listen to white noise in order to receive chocolates as a reward. Despite saying at the beginning of the study how much chocolate they would be able to consume, they carried on listening to the white noise well beyond this point – for the sake of getting more chocolate than they could eat (they couldn’t take any extra away with them).

The impulse seemed less pronounced, even mixed, with the low earners. They earned less chocolate than they predicted they could eat. But the high earners and the low earners listened to about the same amount of obnoxious noise in the five-minute period, which Dr. Hsee said strongly suggested that both groups were driven by the same thing: not by how much they need, but by how much work they could withstand.

How applicable is this to the real world, where people earn money, not chocolate, and can’t predict how long life will last, or whether they will need resources to prepare for a calamity? Hard to say, but the study does show that even when people know clear boundaries — that they absolutely can’t take the candy with them when they go — they still earn more than they can possibly use.

So with all that in mind, I thought I would come up with a few things I could take on board which might make everything a little more peaceful and calm in my life.

1. Turn off my screen at night

This is gonna be hard, man. I am an unconscious (subconscious?) phone checker. I look at it constantly. I take it to bed with me and it’s the last thing I look at before I go to sleep (poor boyfriend) and the first thing I look at when I wake up – unless the cat has climbed on to my chest in the middle of the night and is doing her weird creepy stare-y thing. I don’t even know why I do it half the time, it’s almost a kind of compulsion. So no more looking at my phone while in bed. I’m going to start leaving it charging downstairs and everything. Well, at some point I will do this. Baby steps.

2. Five minutes a day of quiet brain time

Again, I think this is going to be a hard one. I’m not talking full on meditation here. Just five minutes where I’m not looking at my phone, talking on my phone, looking at a computer, reading a book, reading a paper, listening to music, watching TV, making endless to-do lists in my head, berating myself for all that I haven’t yet done… You get the picture. Just five minutes of quietening my brain, thinking about breathing, and just being. That’s all.

gosling

I would probably meditate more if I could somehow incorporate staring at a picture of Ryan Gosling. (Image taken from IMDB)

3. Do something creative every day

Now I don’t mean creating a masterwork or knitting a sweater in an evening, I just mean making the effort to do something other than work/slobbing out in front of the TV/passively enjoying something. So my choir is included in this, as is writing a blog post – and of course, baking, knitting and sewing are all included.

4. Eat at the table

I haven’t broached this one with my boyfriend yet, so we’ll see how this one turns out. At the moment our dining table is covered in sewing paraphernalia and Stuff (I like stuff, did I mention that), so our dinners are inevitably spent balancing plates on our laps in front of Game of Thrones. But just once a week I am pledging to eat my dinner at the table like a proper grown up. This is inevitably going to be easier during the summer months as we’ve already had as many BBQs as we can cram in, eating outside at the garden table. But we’ll see!

5. Buying once stuff I love

I read a great tip once – only buy it if it makes you do a dance in the dressing room. And that about sums it up. Buy it if I love it, not because it’s on sale or because I think I should get it, or just well it’s ok and it will probably go well with that skirt maybe if I put a belt on. Just be more mindful.

What do you think – could any of these help make a difference? Or do you do any of these already? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Today’s quote is from Mother Theresa.

Five people that win… February

1. Eleonore Pourriat

You may not agree with everything in this video, but it’s certainly an interesting way to look at sexism in society.

2. Davina McCall

She’s superhuman. In fact, if it turned out this lady was actually WonderWoman, I would not bat an eyelid. I am so in awe of this woman.

3. Channel 4

4. Samuel L. Jackson

5. The guys in FuerzaBruta

IMG_20140228_213443

I went to this show at the weekend. I have no idea what was going on, but man it was spectacular. And I was pulled out of the crowd to dance on stage before they smashed a cardboard box full of glitter over my head. Pretty standard stuff for this show.

Five people that win… January

1 & 2. Tina and Amy.

3. Drunk Sherlock.

4. Luisa Omeilan

wwbd

We went to Luisa’s show “What Would Beyonce Do?!” earlier this month at the Soho Theatre – I didn’t write about it at the time, because we went on her last day (although I believe she’s doing a special one-off Valentine’s show). WWBD?! is a hilarious – and sometimes moving – look at her life, and a particularly hard break-up, as soundtracked by Queen Bey. With some excellent booty-shaking thrown in for good measure. Athough you may no longer be able to see this one, keep an eye out for her future shows as she’s definitely worth checking out!

5. Maeby.

Last, but not least, we welcomed a new member of the family last week. Here’s Maeby  (named after the girl in Arrested Development)

photo (1)

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.

Well, happy new year guys. Just a few days late, but who’s counting… To be honest, since we got back from Hong Kong a week ago, I have been in total denial about the fact that the year has started and real life is inevitably back on the agenda. But denial only gets you so far in life, and at some point you have to accept that someone is paying you to get up in the morning and sit at your desk – and work isn’t just something you do to pass the time.

But to ease the transition from lady of leisure to worker bee, I’ve decided to sign up to the 100 happy days project. To take part in this challenge, all you have to do is take a photo of something that makes you happy, and submit it to the project via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter (or by email, if you don’t want to make your photos public), accompanied with the hashtag #100happydays

I thought this would be a great way to get me back into the swing of things, as well as cheering myself with thoughts of happy things to keep me going during these dark and dreary January nights! You can follow my posts on Instagram – I’m kirbythekirbs – and join in yourself by registering on the 100 happy days project website.

I hope that other things in the next 100 days make me as happy as this rainbow bright broom made me.

I hope that other things in the next 100 days make me as happy as this rainbow bright broom made me.

 

Today’s quote is from Oprah Winfrey. Good for you!

Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile

Don’t you just love Autumn? The kind of Autumn with crisp blue skies, crunchy leaves and conkers. The kind of Autumn where it’s acceptable to have soup for every meal, where you walk through the park arm-in-arm with your friends and lovers, wrapped in scarves. The kind of Autumn that is actually called Fall and only exists in Central Park in films.

We’ve been waiting a while for Autumn to start, here in London, as the sun made a belated appearance. But now the clocks have turned back, and I barely see daylight, it’s hard to deny that the season has begun. But that’s fine by me, as it is the perfect time of year to break out the hearty carb-loaded meals, and rummage through my cupboards in search of the chestnuts I knew I had bought one time, and then forgotten about on Christmas Day. And Time Out magazine luckily gave me the perfect recipe, combining the two ingredients.

20131031_165254

Can’t work out if this is a blurry photo, or just the steam rising off the pan…

It’s a really easy recipe, and perfect for a cosy evening in.

Ingredients:

300g basmati and wild rice

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 small butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and chopped into largeish chunks

4 garlic cloves, crushed

200g pre-cooked chestnuts, halved

250g spinach

25g unsalted butter

100g cream cheese

1. Cook the rice until tender, drain fully, and set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the butternut squash and fry until tender (about 5/6 mins)

3. Add the garlic and chestnuts and cook for a minute.

4. Add the spinach, cook for another 5 mins.

5. Add the butter and rice to the pan, stir well and leave to cook for about 10 mins. Don’t stir (this way you get a nice crust at the bottom of the pan)

6. Finally, break up the mixture with a fork, stir through the cream cheese, season, and serve in front of a roaring fire (or the tv…)

Today’s quote is from William Cullen Bryant