On the menu: Christmas week

Friday

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Friday was, of course, Christmas Day, this year we were at home, so I got to cook, yay! For the heavy duty meat eaters, i.e. not me, I made Nigella’s Slow Cooked Black Treacle Ham, a much smaller hunk of meat than her recipe called for though, so the ham cooked according to the packet instructions instead but I kept to the principle of the recipe by adding the glaze in the last half hour. The result was very popular with the meat eaters (I for the record had veggie sausages, yes I know, I had planned to make a really luxurious veggie pie, prepared the day before and kept in the fridge until ready to bake but I ran out of time to make it on Christmas Eve, probably wouldn’t have had room in the fridge anyway and as it turns out definitely did not have room in the oven – I had as a plan B planned to have some cumin roasted butternut squash, as I had some in the fridge for the pie that didn’t happen but I didn’t even have room to cook that, so I had to rustle for something in the freezer).

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Also on the list of things cooked from scratch, were Jamie Oliver’s roast potatoes, which I always do if I’m making roast potatoes, although this year he changed the recipe up a little by lightly squashing the potatoes halfway through cooking time, so to increase that crispy area. I wasn’t convinced as I did this, I didn’t think it made my roast potatoes look that roast potatoey, more like very crispy, lumpy mash potato with some of them but oh, I should have more faith, they were delicious.

Also made from scratch (and you can see it in the photo, which was missing from last week’s blog post), was Nigella’s Sweet and Sour Slaw, which unfortunately, after a night sitting in the fridge, did not improve on its slightly bland flavour.

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Christmas dessert was this dark monstrosity aka Nigella’s (I really couldn’t cook Christmas without her) cider and 5-spice bundt cake, this was delicious, dense and dark and so aromatic!

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Christmas lunch is all well and good but my favourite Christmas meal is always tea (and yes I know I went for the veggie option at lunch, yet am eating parma ham for tea, the Italians and the world’s bacon farmers are pretty much the only things keeping me from being a proper vegetarian). It is a tradition with me, good TV (it is a bit sad that these days good TV means Netflix or iPlayer on your iPad, even on Christmas Day), beer, a nice bread roll, cold meats, pickles, cheese and salad. I made the bread rolls this year and they were a bit of a disaster, I used James Morton’s Soft or Crusty Rolls recipe, I’ve made the crusty version before and they were delicious but I kept my eye off the ball with the soft version and overcooked them, so not exactly soft and a bit of an alarming colour, they’re a bit dense too. And as for the pickles, well normally I just buy them from the supermarket but I had to try some of the pickle recipes from Simply Nigella this year. I made quick pickled carrots and quick pickled beetroot with Nigella seeds, the beetroot was nice but oh my goodness, the carrots were gorgeous and there I was looking at the carrots a bit dubiously! The carrots have a really nice, slightly Asian flavour, I can imagine that they will be gorgeous in a sandwich. As the photo above shows, I do not have patience with my chopping skills!

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The healthy eating begins (sort of)

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Tuesday

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Possibly the most unappetising food photo I’ve posted on this blog in some time.

 

I am very excited by The Happy Pear book by David and Stephen Flynn, it’s of yummy looking, healthy, vegetarian recipes, so umm, the first one I tried was not that successful. It’s ‘fruit salad with sweet tahini sauce’ except the tahini sauce turns, visually at least, a beautiful looking fruit salad (because it’s not hard for a fruit salad to look beautiful) into something that looks like it’s been recently regurgitated. But it’s not about what it look’s like, unfortunately it doesn’t taste that great either. I think the problem is that a good fruit salad on its own is fantastic, there’s not that much that you can add to it, so adding something to it can sometimes detract quite badly and also, I think I’ll keep my tahini purely for my hummus in the future, tahini on fruit is a bit of an acquired taste.

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Taking Stock: December

Playing along with Meet Me At Mike’s Taking Stock

Making : As with I can imagine most crafters, most my making this month was taken up with Christmas stuff, so when Christmas was over I was all like, what do I make now!?! Even though I’ve got countless WIPs, but I settled on my neglected for a few months now, Mario WIP, my progress doesn’t look like much since my last progress picture for Mario but trust me, that cliff took ages.

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And talking of things that took ages, that hair (which I was working on at the beginning of the month when I should have been working on Christmas stuff), that took ages too (and I’m nowhere near finished).

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Cooking : this month has of course been about Christmas cooking, check out my post tomorrow about what I cooked for the big day.
Drinking : way more alcohol than normal (big cheesy grin).
Reading: my reading mojo vanished on me this month, it felt for a long time that I was actually not going to finish any books this month but in the end I’ve completed three books (okay, one of them was a comic series). I just couldn’t settle into anything but as I’ve reached the end of the month I’ve found myself on a non-fiction kick (which might be want I need, as fiction isn’t doing that much for me at the moment, maybe I need a fiction break). Everest 1953 was pretty good and I’m now reading Them by Jon Ronson, which so far is really good, I’ve never read any of his stuff before and I can definitely see me reading more.
Wanting: a Nespresso machine, probably not going to happen though.
Looking: at the new V&A Europe 1600-1815 gallery and some photography exhibits, which were pretty good.
Playing: Scroodles, I am addicted.


Deciding: not much this month, for once.
Wishing: all my current medical care was one place, trust me, the quality of care in the NHS varies.
Enjoying: my current audiobook (the aforementioned Them)
Waiting: for appointments.
Liking: Pret a Manger porridge, oh my goodness, it’s like someone at Pret has reached into my brain and made porridge exactly how I like it.
Wondering: how often I can get away with eating more Pret porridge.
Loving: my new toastie maker (which I got for Christmas), it has removable plates (!!!!!), so no more cleaning toastie maker nightmares!
Pondering: increasing my exercise routine.
Considering: going on a reduced sugar diet in the New Year (well, from January 4th, my birthday is on the 3rd and I’m not planning on eating reduced sugar then!). I’ve been using myfitnesspal app consistently for a few months now and my diet is surprisingly low fat most of the time (there’s a few blips, if, say, I eat macaroni cheese but as my diet is low fat most of the time, that’s okay) but my diet is definitely not low sugar. Now I do not believe in cutting out sugar completely, so my plan come 4th January will be to cut out commercially made sugary stuff, so I can still make cake and eat it. I figure there’s no way I can make sugary stuff as frequently as I currently consume commercially made stuff, so there will be a reduction there and even if I do end up baking more, that’s actually a good thing as baking and cooking are relaxing, plus when you’re making it yourself, you know exactly what is in it, so no other nasties and often you’ve got good stuff too, like fruit, seeds and wholegrains. Also I’ve been wanting to have a go at making sweets and cordials, now if I want sweets and cordials, well, I’ll have to make them.
Buying: new Converses with Christmas money, hopefully they’ll arrive soon.
Watching: I’ve watched some good stuff this month; Luther, Hinterland and the first series of The Bridge stand out.
Hoping: for some answers (preferably nice ones).
Marvelling: at how well organised some institutions can be.
Cringing: at things some people say.
Needing: more caffeine.
Questioning: my actions.
Smelling: Method cleaning products, I love them.
Wearing: jeans and jumpers, not that I’ve really needed the jumpers part, it’s been scarily mild.
Following: my last three follows on Twitter were; @brave_the_woods (Brad Woodard’s design studio), @MsEmilyApple (another artist I love) and @ZombiesRunGame (as I’m investigating apps to help me get back into running).
Noticing: the early signs of spring, which is wrong.
Knowing: we’ve definitely screwed our climate up.
Thinking: that my love of sugary things is definitely more of a habit than a love.
Admiring: Nigella Lawson, for totally ruling Christmas cooking.
Sorting: trying to mother-in-law proof the flat for when/if she comes help with the kids.
Getting: bored easily.
Bookmarking: my last three likes (I hate that, it’s favourites) on Twitter were;

This is shocking, well not really, it’s more sad and not that surprising. Ironically I’ve also lived in Kings Lynn and Kingston and Kings Lynn are quite different places.

This looks good, I’m a sucker for organise your life stationary.

Coveting: that Kickstarter thing above and a Nespresso machine.
Disliking: when people say they’re going to do something, then don’t.
Opening: Christmas presents.
Giggling: at nothing in particular.
Feeling: stressed.
Snacking: Christmas chocolate.
Helping: myself to Christmas chocolate.
Hearing: Christmas music.

What I stitched for Christmas (a What Delilah Did marathon)

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I had lot more planned to stitch for Christmas but it didn’t happen, just too busy (or in one case, it went wrong). A couple of the pieces (two presents for the kids), will hopefully get completed and given at another time, though. Anyway, as it turns out, all the stitchy stuff I actually completed for Christmas was by What Delilah Did. I made the little stitched mitten above as an ornament for my sister (stuffed with a few art things as a present). The pattern is from Stitch the Halls (which is a lovely book).

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And then I made the trio of Cindermice patterns, with kits from Cloud Craft. I absolutely loved making these. The patterns come with video tutorials, so Sophie from What Delilah Did really walks you through making these. I hadn’t really made anything of this scale and complexity before and although my cindermice do not look as neat as Sophie’s, I am really pleased with the results. There is something so pleasurable with creating something small but detailed, that will sit in the palm of your hand.

I definitely learnt some new techniques / improved on old bad habits with this one and I’ve discovered two new favourite tools, the haemostat, which is actually a surgical tool but is fantastic for getting into small, fiddly spaces or tugging needles out of them and applique pins, I can’t believe I’ve been struggling along with normal size pins for so long (plus they’re cute!).

I really love the details on these and I hope they’ll be on the Christmas tree for many years to come (and I hope What Delilah Did does something similar next year!).

On the menu: macaroni cheese with a hashtag, a Chelsea Bun Christmas Tree and preparing for Christmas

Sunday

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I love macaroni cheese, so much so that a cookbook solely devoted to the subject is a very good idea, the book in mention is Anna Mae’s Mac N Cheese, she has a ‘legendary London street food truck’ apparently. Anyway, the recipes in the book look droolsome, so I’ve decided to work my way through them, work my way through them slowly, otherwise I’d have a coronary. The first recipe in the book is the one that apparently started everything off, the original Anna Mae Mac N Cheese, called #Cheesuslovesyou, yep. Anyway, it has a heck of a lot of cheese in, four different types, it’s meant to be cheddar, Monterey Jack, parmesan and mozzarella but I couldn’t find any Monterey Jack and a quick google in the supermarket suggested gouda would be a good substitute, so gouda it was.

Normally when I make macaroni cheese, it’s one or two cheeses max and a lot lot less of the stuff but Boy Lacer has been refusing to eat my macaroni cheese, which is a bit infuriating as he’ll eat it at school, in fact he eats quite a lot of things that he refuses to eat at home, at school. I think this has a lot to do with because he know’s he hasn’t got any other choice at school and also because the school’s chef is very, very good (Italian heritage, so he should know how to make good pasta!) and they have a ‘maitre d” (one of the school’s secretaries), who watches over the kids at lunch and has a very firm but fair grandmotherly attitude, I, on the other hand, am a bit of a walk over. Anyway, I’m always quizzing Boy Lacer about why the school’s x, y, z in better than my x, y, z and he said the school’s macaroni cheese was cheesier and more crispy on top. So, Anna Mae’s recipe definitely had the cheese and also, interestingly, instead of baking it in the oven, like I normally do, it was finished off under the grill, which definitely gives more crispy bits.

The result was a nice, but slightly anxious making experience, that’s the problem when you’re the cook, if you know exactly how much of something ‘bad’ has gone into something and then you eat it afterwards. I have been fairly good at eating healthily recently (well, a bit good). I personally couldn’t see that much difference, pleasure wise, between one of my reduced cheese macaronis and this recipe but Mr. Lacer and Girl Lacer really loved it and Boy Lacer ate half of it, which is half more home cooked macaroni cheese than he’d normally eat. His verdict was actually that it was a bit too cheesy and that the school used ‘different cheese’. I would love to have a chat with that chef.

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Also made on Sunday was a smaller version of Paul Hollywood’s Chelsea Bun Christmas Tree (the recipe was in this year’s Great British Bake Off Christmas special). I did make the full amount but I’ve frozen half, unbaked, as there’s no way we could eat that many Chelsea Buns in one go. I’m not sure I could have fitted the full size thing in my oven anyway.

The dough is an enriched dough and was a pleasure to make. I normally make my own mincemeat (Nigella’s cranberry mincemeat is king) but I haven’t got round to it yet, so I used a jar of Marks and Spencer standard mincemeat (I’m not being that posh, I just forgot to get some on the supermarket). I wasn’t that impressed with the mincemeat actually, I don’t think I’ve bought mincemeat before (I am a very late convert to mincemeat, I used to not be able to stand it, I still won’t eat mince pies unless they’re Nigella cranberry ones), so I don’t know what jarred mincemeat is normally like but I don’t think this one has much flavour and it was a bit watery when cooked with. Luckily the recipe did say to pimp it up with some apple, pear, orange zest and cinnamon (it says pistachios too, but I don’t like them). So, with the resulting buns, you can taste the additions far, far more than the actual mincemeat. As for the dough, yum, lovely, so soft!

I haven’t decorated my tree as much as the recipe suggests, my cooking mojo was evaporating by the time I got to that bit and as always, I do think icing tends to be just extra, unnecessary calories. But everyone was impressed with it as is.

Wednesday

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I’ve blogged about Nigella’s Cranberry Mincemeat before but I thought I’d mention them again (in part because I was moaning in my Sunday entry that I hadn’t made any Nigella cranberry mincemeat yet) and also because this year, instead of making small mince pies, I used her mince pie recipe (both from her Christmas book) and made some bigger mince pies instead.  The amount of pastry does not make many big mince pies (although that could well be due to me not rolling out my pastry thin enough) but as the only person in the house who likes mince pies, just six is more than enough. And anyway, I like my pastry thick and chunky looking, if I wanted a neat mince pie I’d buy a box from the supermarket (and I wouldn’t because I think those look unappetising).

Thursday

Not pictured but I made Nigella’s Sweet and Sour Slaw from her latest book (you can also find the recipe here) for Christmas lunch tomorrow. I of course had to try some, it was okay, a little bland to be honest but my taste buds may be dulled by all this Christmas food. It is however considerably healthier than slaw I made the other day, so it could still end up making it’s way into my reportoire.

 

 

Kew Garden’s Christmas Illuminations 2015

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We went to see the Christmas Illuminations at Kew last night, we’d last went a few years ago and back then it was pretty good but it’s a much bigger scale now and it was really good. My favourite bit the singing bushes at the start of the trail.

Singing bushes at Kew Gardens Illuminations 2015 from J Lacer on Vimeo.

I also really liked the fire pit thing.

Fire pit at Kew Gardens Illuminations 2015 from J Lacer on Vimeo.

There were some good food opportunities there too but it was very expensive, so I hope a lot of that markup goes straight to the good work Kew does. I only had £6 on me, so it was a toss up between mulled wine (£4.50) and a biscuit (£1.50) or a really nice looking toasted cheese sandwich made out of thick proper chunks of brown bread and oozing with cheese (£5!) and as much as I could have done with eating something proper, I will admit that mulled wine is the only thing I’m really liking about Christmas at the moment, so I went for that and their biscuits are nice, gingerbread but with an almost hint of liquorice (which I may be imagining, because I’m obsessed with liquorice at the moment). The carnivores in the party ate some equally expensive hot dogs.

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But back to the lights, the orchestrated fountain / light show at the end was pretty impressive.

Fountain and light display at Kew Gardens Illuminations 2015 from J Lacer on Vimeo.

Advent Calendar

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I made an advent calendar! To be honest, this was one of those projects that sounded great initially in my head but I had to force my way through it a bit when I started it (and to get myself to complete it) but now it’s done, I quite like it! Okay, some of the embroidery is extremely dodgy, which is what happens when you’re stitching in bad light / on tiny hoops where you’ve not allowed yourself enough fabric / on trains / trying to do fill stitch using black floss over black ink on Sulky Solvy and you can’t always tell if you’ve completely covered the area you want to cover.

Some of my more better examples of embroidery

I created the project by making a page in Word with the numbers 1. to 24. (obviously) at the sort of font size I wanted (I think it was 72). I made all the numbers bold and then I made each number a different font. I printed this up on Sulky Solvy and then cut each number out and placed it onto the fabric I was using for the bags. If I were to do this again and I was again going to use black embroidery floss, I would perhaps print the numbers out in a different colour, to make the fill stitching easier to see as I progressed. As for the fill stitching itself, to stop myself getting too bored, I changed my fill stitches around a bit (it also helped in that some fonts, for example, would be not as easy to satin stitch but much easier to stitch in a different fill stitch). I used satin stitch, back stitch fill stitch and chain stitch. Using french knots would have been nice too but oh I did not have the patience for that!

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Some of the bags at the bottom of the calendar look empty because they are; I’ve filled most of the bags with either mini Mars brand chocolates or mini bags of Haribo starmix but I’ve run out (which *ahem* has nothing to do with me eating them). It’s probably a good thing though that some of the bags are currently empty as I’m a bit worried the whole thing is going to fall down as it is, so all the bags full up would only make it heavier. I will be going to the shops and getting some lollipops or something similar or maybe getting a few small toys from the pocket money toy section or some small pieces stationary. With the advent calendar, as with Christmas presents in general for the kids, I try and get like for like for both of them (although that’s getting increasingly hard, as Girl Lacer gets into teenagery girl stuff and well, Boy Lacer is a 10 year old boy) but if I were to do this for just a girl or two girls, I think some nice lip salve and stuff like that would be good too.

A hat for Boy Lacer

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My Christmas spirit is currently in negative numbers, but I need to get on with my Christmas making. A few years ago I came to a crafty truce with myself that I don’t have to make loads of crafts for Christmas but this year with all the medical leave I’ve had, I am extremely and utterly broke (I have a zero hours contract job, which does have some paid sick leave but I used that up a long time ago, so I’ve been on SSP) and I haven’t been able to start Christmas present shopping yet (except for some weird reason I’ve done my aunts and uncles, who are normally way low down on my list of priorities but a combination of being in the right place at the right time for a train mad uncle in a TFL gift shop and in a craft shop that was selling some lovely, indie made candles in tea cups which suited the rest of the aunts and uncles and at the time having some cash in my bank account, they’re all sorted). So I do need to make some stuff this year.

First up in a hat for Boy Lacer using a pattern from this month’s Mollie Makes (issue 60). The pattern is really easy and even more importantly really quick, I’m not the fastest knitter, but I think this took me probably about 3 hours, maybe even less. It also uses only half a ball of wool, although I substituted the pattern’s recommended wool with Rowan’s Big Wool, which is only 80 metres compared to the recommended wool’s 112 metres, so I don’t think I have quite enough left to make another hat (unless, maybe, I change the colour of the bobble).

I wish there were more people on my Christmas present list that needed a woolly hat, as I could happily make a lot more of these but as it is, although I have another five presents to make, everything is all planned and as much as I love this hat pattern, I like the stuff I’ve planned more, if you know what I mean. I may make myself one of these hats though, when I have the time and more wool funds, as it is very warm and comfy. I quite fancy one in mustard yellow.

I’m modelling the hat by the way as I could hardly give it to Boy Lacer now, it would sort of ruin the point but also because both me and Boy Lacer have large heads and so I know that if the hat fits me it will also fit him and it does fit really comfortably, I did adapt the pattern slightly though by adding an additional two stitches when casting on but I probably didn’t need to do that.