How’s your January going? We’re just hoovering up the last of the Christmas goodies, but we’re also eating much more healthily (lots of healthy food inspo to come) and I’m back running again, so I feel I can forgive the odd Cadbury’s Hero (or three!). I mentioned in my plans for 2018 post that I’m really going to start concentrating on my health and wellbeing this year: looking after my body and my mind, and a big part of this for me is cutting down on my drinking, staying within the recommended guidelines and getting lots of alcohol free days. We’ve spend an enjoyable few days researching some healthier substitutes our usual drinks, and while lots are just hideously sweet and horrid, there are a few really good non-alcoholic alternatives:
So that’s it, Alcohol Awareness week is over, and I promised to tell you about how I got on with my challenge to stick to the recommended weekly guidelines: that’s 14 units a week, spread across the week, evenly over three or more days with a couple of alcohol free days. I continued to keep a track of my units with the help of the Drinkaware app, and alongside it, kept a diary of what I had to drink and the circumstances in which I was drinking. Here are a few things I learned:
Let’s be honest, one of the best bits of being on holiday is getting to try ALL the local cocktails, am I right? When the lovely bunch at Travel Republic asked me to contribute to their cocktail-themed travel guide – packed with information about destinations and their signature cocktails – I was happy to oblige and I knew exactly which city (and cocktail) to champion. Mr E and I absolutely love Paris, and to us, the French 75 (or soixante quinze) is synonymous with our favourite destination: chic, stylish, and just a little bit outré. It’s Paris to a T. Here’s how we make our perfect French 75 cocktail at home.
Where’s your head at? I feel like mine’s usually like the scene in the Wizard of Oz (it’s a twister!’) where Dorothy bangs her head and then everything starts lifting off the ground and whooshing past the window. If, like me, you feel your thoughts and tasks and mental to do lists all start to become too much, I’d like to recommend a little ritual. Something that I find comforting and grounding, especially when I’m really busy. I’ve started to replace my morning cuppa with a coconut chai tea. I take my time, stirring the ingredients together and really trying to clear my head, then take it back to bed and sip it slowly.
I’m just not really a breakfast person. I’ve tried hard to change this, but the most I generally eat before about 11am are copious cups of tea and maybe a biscuit or a banana. So when Breville came along with their Blend Active Diary Challenge, bandying about phrases like ‘a smoothie a day’, and phrases like ‘lesser used vegetables’ and ‘superfoods’, I was a bit worried I wouldn’t enjoy my challenge week. Still, I’m always up for a bit of experimentation, and let’s face it, an entire healthy meal in a glass sounds like a lazy person’s dream come true. Here’s how I got on:
At this time of year, there’s an awful lot of hot chocolate being consumed here at Number One. Of course everybody knows that the best hot chocolate comes with a big dollop of whipped cream and loads of marshmallows. Not as many people know that the absolute best hot chocolate comes with a big dollop of frozen whipped cream and loads of marshmallows. ‘Wait, can you freeze cream?’ I hear you shout. Oh yes. Whipped double cream freezes really well, and if you freeze it in handy dollops, it’s ready to be added to the perfect hot chocolate at any time, as well as topping hot mince pies, desserts… loads of things. Here’s how to do it.
So we’ve dressed up as witches cats (was that just me?), trick or treated, eaten all the leftover sweets and now it’s full speed ahead to Christmas. But wait, there are all those cute little pumpkins and squashes we bought to decorate our home (and, if you’re me, adorn your Instagram feed)! And it’s such a shame as most of them will get thrown away. Before they go in the bin, though, consider the beautiful, autumnal thing that is pumpkin butter. Even better, consider using it to make the very delicious, frothy and warming pumpkin spice skinny latte with new Arla BOB milk.
I adore my Dad. I love it when he emails me ALL IN CAPITALS and rings me and updates me on what he’s been up to, which seems to be mostly falling over, or sleeping:
‘I’ve just had a nap’
‘Dad, it’s 9am’
‘I know, but I got up at 5 and I get tired’
And I love his outlook on life:
‘I’ve been saving £200 a month. And then I said to myself ‘Alan, you’re 80 years old, what on earth can you possibly be saving for?’
Today, he rang to complain about the raspberry thieves. It seems the birds are eating all his raspberries. He’s hung CDs above them, to frighten them off (I should imagine Elaine Paige’s Christmas album would be enough to deter most of them), added netting and fake birds of prey, but still they come. Now, thwarted by all the aerial fortifications, they’ve taken to just tootling up the path and eating the low ones.
Anyway, he’s got far too many raspberries, and even though he doesn’t want to share them with the birds (‘I don’t grow raspberries to feed the local bloody bird population’), he’s quite happy to share them with us, so Sam I and I popped round to help him pick some.
His garden is absolutely beautiful, and while we were having a chat and playing with Alfie (well, Sam was having a chat and playing with Alfie and I was actually doing all the work picking raspberries), I started thinking about raspberry cocktails. With mint, and maybe other summery, garden-based things like roses. It just so happens that we got sent some elderflower and rose cordial recently so I decided to experiment.
To make it extra special, I froze some rose petals and raspberries in ice cubes to decorate.
Summer rose and raspberry cocktails:
5 or 6 raspberries per person
2 or 3 fresh mint leaves per glass
1 measure gin
A dash of elderflower and rose cordial (just elderflower is fine if you can’t find it – mine is by Belvoir)
Sparkling water or soda
So just muddle the raspberries and mint leaves in the glass, then add the gin, elderflower and rose cordial, and then top up with sparkling water.
Delicious! It’s his birthday next week so the boys and I are going to take him for a pub lunch. More shenanigans will ensue, no doubt. Cheers Dad 🙂
If you’re a ‘last minute Larry’ like me, there are still plenty of wonderful things to buy, and often, if you hang around for a bit before ordering, you’ll find there are quite a few deals to be had. First things first, though, you need a mince pie and a glass of fizz….
There are now just nine weeks until Christmas (sorry). I wouldn’t normally be bandying the C word about so early, but in this instance, it’s necessary – if you want to make sloe gin, you need to do it now. Sloes (sometimes called Blackthorn berries) are perfect right now, although there’s a school of thought that says they’re better after the first frost and I couldn’t honestly tell you if there’s been a frost yet. I’d say not as it’s been a really mild start to October. No matter, pick them and shove them in the freezer overnight. It does the same thing.
It’s been an absolute bumper cherry harvest this year. We’ve scoffed cherries all summer and they’re still in our local farm shop even now, as fat and juicy and gorgeous as ever. As they’re coming to an end now, look out for bargains and ‘two punnets for the price of one’ deals, as cherries freeze really well. If you’ve got a glut right now, may I suggest the cherry mojito? They’re pretty scrumptious!
IT’S NEARLY HERE! If you’re hosting Christmas lunch/dinner this year, here is everything you need to do, including lots of tips to make it stress free and ensure you spend your precious time with your family and friends, and not too much chained to the oven! Remember, don’t panic, and just think of it as a roast dinner on a slightly larger scale.
Before you start, grab a cuppa and have a read through:
A friend of mine’s got a bit of a thing for premium drinkies and, knowing I feel the same, sent me a bottle of this lovely stuff: Snow Leopard vodka. This uber cool super-premium vodka was created by Stephen Sparrow, a passionate conservationist and ex-drinks industry expert, who heard about the plight of the Snow Leopards during a trip to the Himalayas. There are just 5000 of these beautiful big cats left in the wild and Stephen created the Snow Leopard Trust UK with a goal to raise a million dollars a year to save them.
We have very weird wine habits in this house. When Mr English is home we really splash out and try a few nice wines, but when I’m at home on my own when he’s working, I tend to have a glass of a supermarket red on the go and I don’t think there’s any shame in that. I often read my friend Helen’s blog: Knackered Mother’s Wine Club for inspiration as she’ll regularly recommend a good bottle or two.
Our day in Barcelona still rates as one of my very favourite travel experiences. We’ve earmarked it for a return journey very soon, but until then, every time there’s a sunny day, my mind races back to the gorgeous restaurant at the very top of the Arenas shopping centre (the old bullring) where we sat and had enormous buckets of gin and tonic with scoops of sharp lemon sorbet.
You know me, I pop up all over the interwebs, and at the moment you can find me chatting about Stir Up Sunday on the Yeo Valley website. Funnily enough, my recipe is the same as theirs in that you’ll need to start a little prep the day before, as the fruit benefits from an overnight soak, but if you don’t have time (or you’ve only just read this bit and were all ready to go), don’t worry – just give it as long as you have. Now, if you need information, hints, tips, ingredient notes and a step by step guide to making Christmas pudding, please just click here.
This is my updated recipe for 2013. This year, I’m going back more to how Christmas Pudding used to be, with loads of figs, currants and sultanas, and moving away from the more modern apricot and cherry additions.
I was chatting to our lovely friend (and wine expert) Tom Forrest from Vinopolis on Twitter about what booze to use, and he had some really lovely suggestions. I’m a huge fan of Pedro Ximenez and Tom recommends a Pedro from the English Whisky Company (£18) or an Aussie Brown Brothers Muscat Liqueur (about £12). You can also be more traditional and just use brandy, obviously.
Figgy Christmas Pudding
250g dried figs, finely chopped
50g prunes, finely chopped
100ml black tea
1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
100ml Pedro Ximenez or other booze
3 eggs, beaten
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp black treacle
1 Bramley apple, grated
100g self raising flour (or rice flour for gluten free)
100g fresh white breadcrumbs (or again, ground almonds if you need to keep the recipe gluten free)
150g veggie suet
150g dark muscovado sugar
25g almonds, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
So on to the recipe then:
1. Weigh out the dried fruit, then have a good pick through and get rid of any stems, they’re yucky if you crunch on them. I let them fall through my fingers into the bowl a handful at a time. With the larger dried fruit, make sure they’re stoneless and snip them into small pieces.
2. Finely grate the lemon zest, then juice it as well. Add the zest and juice to the fruit then brew up the tea (one tea bag is fine for that amount of water) and pour it over the fruit, along with the rum. Add in the cinnamon stick and stir it all up. Cover with a plate and leave the whole shooting match to steep (make sure it’s not a metal bowl) overnight, stirring occasionally if you remember.
3. The next day, weigh out all the dry ingredients and combine them in a huge bowl. Don’t forget the spices! The muscovado sugar can be a bit lumpy so you might need to sift it to break up any lumps.
4. Take the steeped fruit and remove the cinnamon stick pieces. Add the eggs (give them a quick mix with a fork first), honey, treacle and grated apple (leave the peel on).
5. Stir well, then you can add all that into the dry ingredients. Give it a really good stir (get everyone to take a turn to stir and make a wish).
6. Now butter a big basin (3 pint/1.7 litre) or two smaller ones and bung in your mixture, pressing it down well and filling as near to the top as you can.
7. Cut out a circle of greaseproof paper, bigger than the top of the basin/s, then add a layer of foil. Tie the two layers tightly just under the basin rim with string, leaving lots of excess to make a handle. Now there is some weird way to loop the excess string underneath the basin to make a handle, but I’ve never managed it as I didn’t pay attention at Brownies. If you want to be extra sure no liquid gets in, add another layer of foil and tie again. Or you can use a basin with a lid, or tie it in a muslin, or use one of those special circular moulds.
And that’s it, you’ve made a Christmas pudding! Pause here a minute to give yourself a quick round of applause.
To steam it, you can use a steamer if you’re posh, but I haven’t got one so I just use a huge saucepan and balance the basin inside it on a circular metal pastry cutter so it isn’t sitting on the bottom of the pan. This will also stop it burning if you inadvertently let it boil dry. Add boiling water about halfway up the basin and put the lid on the saucepan. Steam for 5 hours, making sure you go back every so often to top up the boiling water.
I rewrap it with fresh greaseproof paper and foil, but you don’t have to. Keep it somewhere cool until Christmas day when it’ll need to steam for about another 2.5 to 3 hours (don’t worry if it gets a bit longer, it won’t ruin it). Or you could *gasp* just microwave it on Christmas day. Much easier, but not really traditional!
On Christmas day, just warm some booze gently, then at the last minute, pour it over the pud and set it alight. A splash of rum or a bit more of that Pedro and a tablespoon of icing sugar in some whipped cream (Yeo Valley Organic of course) would make a welcome addition.
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