Saturday, 31 December 2011

That awkward bit between Christmas and New Year and End of year meme

So the difficult bit between Christmas and New Year is now over. It feels like it's been more difficult than usual as I was so tired after all of the celebrations. Mr W was back at work and because we had so many leftovers I didn't even get to do any of the cooking that I would usually do on the holidays. I've done a fair amount of reading although nothing terribly brilliant and some swimming and tried not to feel too bored! Which is silly because as soon as I'm back at work I'll be wanting to be on holiday again. Mr W and I are going to the seaside tomorrow for the night so I'm looking forward to that excursion.

Anyway, I'd like to wish all of you a very happy New Year, and here's an end of year meme for you.

1. What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?
Got married. Swam 10k. Ran 10k. Had mumps. Had a wisdom tooth extracted. Bought a house. Cycled 4.5 miles to work and back. Made a three tier wedding cake.

2. Did you keep your new years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I can't remember what I resolved last year. This year is certainly to do better with fruit and vegetables, and try to balance out my life better.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

4. Did anyone close to you die?

5. What countries did you visit?
Austria and Germany.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
Better health and a bit more zen.

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
2nd August - wedding!

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Swimming 10k and raising more money for Mind.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Failing to complete the OU course that I started owing to house move stress.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I started the year with swine flu, spent some of June off work with stress, had several irritable bowel episodes, had mumps in September, a wisdom tooth out in November and a nasty virus in December.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
A house!

12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Keri-Anne Payne winning the openwater swimming world championships and being the first British person to qualify for the Olympics.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

14. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage and wedding.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
My wedding.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?
Howard Goodall's arrangement of Love divine, all loves excelling. Beautiful, until I heard it on the radio in June, I hadn't heard it since we sung it at school. Played it on repeat a lot!

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
about the same

b) thinner or fatter?
Much fatter. Some of it muscle mass I hope!

c) richer or poorer?
Poorer, thanks to house purchase.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Being sociable.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

20. How did you spend Christmas?
With my husband, and then with our respective families.

21. Did you fall in love in 2011?
Carried on being in love.

22. How many one-night stands?
Absolutely none.

23. What was your favourite TV program?
Don't tell the bride.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

25. What was the best book you read?
It hasn't been a vintage year for reading one way and another - I've still read a fair amount but not as copiously as in previous years and I'm struggling to think of anything that has really stuck if I'm honest.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Trans Siberian Orchestra.

27. What did you want and get?
A husband.

28. What did you want and not get?
Some jewellery for Christmas (sore point, husband bought me some lego instead...)

29. What was your favourite film of this year?
Haven't seen many - the most recent one I enjoyed was Arthur Christmas.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I was 27 and we were in Cornwall, and I went swimming in the sea! I also slept a lot.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
My husband is supposed to do my ironing but has just been too busy.

33. What kept you sane?
Remembering to breathe. Swimming. And later in the year running. And trying to do some mindfulness.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Libraries, and potential closure.

35. Whom did you miss?
As ever, I missed the wonderful Emily, especially at my wedding. I missed my husband's stepfather, again also at our wedding.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
The lovely Fiona who also did the 10k swim with me and is now my online swimming buddy; also my new bloggy friend Yvann.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011:
Not quite sure what I learned really; I suppose a reminder again about making sure I take space when I need too.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
"I'm getting married in the morning"...technically, that only sums up August 1st, but it was the feeling behind most of the early part of the year.

39. So in as few words as possible, how would you sum up your year?
Mrs W!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Post Christmas catch-up

It's been a busy few days here, and I never got around to wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas. I hope that you all had a lovely time. The bank holidays are now over (well, for a few days), and Mr W is back to work (albeit working from the dining room, although the 10 second commute seemed quite long this morning when we woke up with just a few minutes to spare). I have had a long morning in bed reading and catching up with blogs before a lunchtime swim - I feel in need of a bit of a boot camp after the excesses of the last few days. Here's what I've been up to...

On the first day of Christmas
Mr W and I woke up surprisingly early - must have been the excitement about opening stockings and presents. I fitted in a Christmas Day 5 mile run before brunch and heading over to visit Mr W's family in Wokingham. To Mr W's delight we arrived in time for the Christmas pudding. The Christmas cake I made was very much appreciated by everyone and we took a large chunk home with us for a Christmas night supper.

[Reading - Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple - my Persephone secret santa gift - which starts on Christmas day]

On the second day of Christmas
I was back in the kitchen, ahead of a visit from Mr W's immediate family (yes 11 people) plus my immediate family (2 people) (which with Mr W and I makes 15 people - i.e. a rather large amount of cooking). I fitted in another run of about 5 miles, ruining my ankles in the process which means no more running for a few days :( Mr W recieved a flight simulator for Christmas from his mother and spent most of the afternoon playing that, whilst I was reading. We then ate far too much Christmas cake and felt quite sick.

[Reading - Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford - a present from my mother in law (at my request); Cherry Ames - Senior Nurse - another in the wonderful Cherry Ames series that I came across last year - I bought several of these in a job lot on ebay which I have been saving for reading over the festive period].

On the third day of Christmas
The swimming pool was open again so I went and did 200 lengths (5 km) and chatted with another early morning regular (even though we were there about 11am) who had also overindulged. I then spent a bit more time cooking before everyone arrived. I wish I had taken pictures of the food as it seemed to be a big hit, despite the fact that we didn't have quite enough cutlery... There was mountains of washing up, and I was quite glad that the 4 year old has an early bedtime as it meant that we had the house to ourselves again by the early evening.

[Reading Forgive and forget by Patricia Scanlan - slightly mindless chick lit]

Thursday, 22 December 2011

From little to large

From my mini Christmas cakes to the big one... Mr W's mother has asked me to take a Christmas cake on Christmas day and this is what I have produced. The cake is an 8" fruit cake which has been maturing nicely (I hope!) for a couple of months, and inspired by this wonderful cake made by the Caked Crusader (one of my favourite baking blogs). It's quite minimalist and you sadly can't see the beautiful holly ribbon that goes round the egde but I'm hoping that the cute little reindeers on the top will appeal to the nieces.

I hope to be back again to wish you a happy Christmas and share some more festive bakes before the big day (still waiting to be baked..) but I hope you're all feeling organised and excited. (I am sort of but will be relieved when I have done the big Sainsburys shop - 15 people coming on the 27th - tomorrow)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Library loot

A trip to the local branch library on my way back from work tonight and I was really impressed with the "loot" that I found....not least the print on demand Stella Gibbons, White sand and grey sand, that leapt out at me from the shelves. I had mentioned on this blog only a few weeks ago how much I would like to read some more Gibbons books, and I am very impressed that the library has bought a POD book.

The Nora Roberts book, Savour the moment, is actually the third in a trilogy but it seems to be nice, light, wedding themed reading about a cake maker/decorator - sounded right up my street!

India Knight's The thrift book, is obviously the credit crunch answer to her previous book which was all about shopping. I try to be thrifty but I'll be interested to see if she has any tips I can take on board in the New Year. I felt suitably chastened after watching a programme about having an economical Christmas the other night and am quite determined to waste no food at all over Christmas and from the New Year (we are generally very good, it is just that sometimes jars are forgotten in the fridge and go mouldy).

Today's special is a "little black dress" book which seems to be a bit like a modern day Mills and Boon. Chick lit at the very light end of the specturm. However, after wrestling with the housework I might not be up to anything else. I read loads of these last winter so it was nice to spot one I hadn't had out before.

Rabbit stew and a memory or two is a memoir of a gypsy woman's life on the road. Its publisher, Abacus, has published many interesting memoirs recently, so I picked this up immediately.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Mini Christmas cakes

This is what I've made for my (and Ken's) immediate colleagues this year - mini Christmas cakes. I am so pleased with how they turned out.

I made up a batch of wedding cake mixture (for the middle sized tier) - yes, this involved getting the mixing bucket out - and then used mini 4" pork pie tins (such an essential part of every vegetarian's kitchen) to bake the cakes. I used 4" cutters to cut out rounds of marzipan and icing which I stuck on top using apricot glaze (I decided not to level the cakes as didn't want to make them teeny tiny). I did a variety of decorations with what was on hand - the solitary reindeer was made from a tiny bit of leftover marzipan and was the dummy run for what I hope to do with my Christmas cake... The snowflakes look pretty but were so hard to cut out! The holly leaves were made with leftovers from the green fairy wedding cake I made...

Friday, 16 December 2011

Persephone Secret Santa participants

Here is the full list of Persephone secret santa participants - do visit their blogs to see what was exchanged this year!

We had a couple of non-blogging participants - here is a message from one of them!

Chris doesn't have a blog but has still participated over the last couple of swaps - here's a message from her to her Secret Santa!

My package arrived yesterday: perfect timing! I haven't included any pictures, unfortunately, since Egyptian customs officials don't have very much Christmas spirit: they unwrapped both of my gifts! I was still able to appreciate the wrapping paper, though, since they included it in the box when they resealed it. :o)

One of the reasons that I was so excited to participate in this exchange (aside from the fact that I adore Persephone Books, of course!) is because I live in Egypt, which often means that it's difficult to find interesting and excellent books (As I'm sure you can imagine, this gets old after a year and a half.). So I was delighted to discover that my secret santa, Amy of, sent me not one but two books (Kitchen Essays, which is a Persephone, and Main Street, which isn't)! I'm planning to spend Christmas on the beach, and I'm very excited about my new reading material and about having the time to enjoy it (I'm especially excited about Kitchen Essays: I'm moving into a place with a gorgeous kitchen in a month and a half and this is just the inspiration I need!). Thank you, thank you, thank you to my secret santa, and thank you to you and Claire for organizing this! :o)

Merry Christmas!

Persephone secret santa

About ten days ago, my Persephone secret santa arrived. I was so spoilt!

So many parcels!


Along with a copy of Greenbanks which I absolutely can't wait to reread over Christmas, I had a little bookish bag, some wonderful chocolates, some lotion and a black pashmina.

The biggest of thanks to my secret santa, Emily from Seriously Reading, a blog that I hadn't discovered before.

30 of us took part in this year's Persephone Secret Santa, thanks to all of you who joined Claire and I in the fun and festivities. Hopefully we can produce a roundup of everyone's posts in due course :)

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Dan Lepard's carrot cake

One of the baking books from my haul earlier in the Autumn was Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet. I'm familiar with his recipes from the Guardian newspaper's weekend magazine which always seem slightly innovative without being ridiculously complicated. I was particularly interested to see this book partly as I wanted to see more of his recipes but also as I understood from what I'd heard about it that there were a number of gluten free alternatives which is obviously particularly interesting to me. What I liked most about the book in the end, even more than the recipes which are pretty darn tempting, was its instructional nature. Lepard uses a bit amount of science to explain how to do things (e.g. when making cream cheese icing, you shouldn't add all of the cream cheese at once; the first half added to the butter and sugar will emulsify the mixture, but then the second half will be held in suspension creating a much lighter icing). I've actually made a number of things from the book now, although not got round to blogging about them - the banana chocolate cookies were wonderful, as were the ginger and spelt cookies. But this weekend, feeling uninspired to bake, I asked Mr W what sort of cake he'd like next. He said carrot cake. I was a bit surprised and not quite convinced, but when I opened up Short and sweet to peruse for other options, the first cake recipe I saw was a carrot cake, so I decided to make it. It came out beautifully light with some pecans to add a bit of texture to the sponge. And the cream cheese icing was just delicious!

[too bad that Mr W ate it all before I got a picture....]

PS: Should be clear that Short and Sweet isn't just cakes and biscuits, but also bread, various sorts of sweets, pastry, pies etc!

Friday, 9 December 2011

In which I share some recommendations of Christmas listening

I've been having LOTS of chats with various people on twitter over the last week or so about Good Christmas Music. I've been fortunate enough to get some new Christmas music on my ipod in the last couple of weeks and wanted to share what. I'd love to hear what other people are listening to this Christmas.

First up are the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Mr W and I came across them last Christmas when we saw this amazing Christmas lights video on YouTube [do click through and watch it - it's amazing!!] . We promptly bought the album it was on called Lost Christmas Eve, but owing to the snow, we didn't get it until nearly February so it's only now that we've got it out. Great if you want some prog rock with lots and lots of Christmassy bits. Good one for doing the pre-Christmas house-work I'd say.

After doing your pre-Christmas house-work, you're bound to be sitting down for drinks. In which case, I'd recommend the new John Rutter "Colours of Christmas". John Rutter is one of my favourite modern choral arrangers and here he takes lots of popular pieces and gives them lovely arrangements. Singalongable to but also great for background music.

One of my favourite bands is St Etienne, and last year they released a limited edition CD called A glimpse of stocking. I didn't get my hands on one, but the good news it is available on i-tunes. This is trendy (well as far as I manage to be trendy) listening to on the bus/train type music, mostly their own songs but one or two covers.

Finally for some real chill out music, I've downloaded Medieval Baebes, Misteltoe and Wine, medieval choral music. Love their arrangement of Gaudete.

PS: Favourites from previous years? Tori Amos, Midwinter Carols, (a recommendation from Paperback Reader Claire), any arrangement of Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Brittain (always sends shivers down my spine), and usually some brass band music is good too.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

In which I start some Christmas reading

The advent tea-party is over, I am enjoying having the Christmas tree lit up in the corner of our sitting room every night, I have a huge selection of Christmas music on my ipod (new for this year are the Medieval Baebes - much recommended for something gentle) - Christmas is well and truly on its way. Christmas reading is always good and besides old favourites there are some new books for this year. I'm hoping that my mother in law may give me the new edition of Nancy Mitford's Christmas pudding, but I have succombed and started reading Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm.

I was intending to save it to read a little bit closer to the 25th, but my copy arrived on Monday, and then I saw Hayley's review later that night, and then being halfway through an autobiography I thought that short stories would be great to have on the go at the same time. You see - like Hayley I was never terribly convinced by Cold Comfort Farm but I loved Westwood and Starlight, both of which have been reprinted by Vintage this year. So, the fact that I've liked all of the other Gibbons books that I've read along with the Christmassy theme has enticed me to pick it up.

I'm still not a short stories fan but I quite enjoyed these. Not so much the Cold Comfort Christmas, but I did like The little christmas tree which was the sort of heartwarming short story that one especially enjoys at Christmas. Sisters was also a good tale.

I think there are still some Stella Gibbons books which aren't back in print; I hope the success of these stories, and the other Vintage reprints plus Virago's reprint of Nightingale Wood and will see them back in print. Edit - I see that they are available in print on demand from Vintage - see here. No pretty covers but worth it if the writing is good :)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

In which Mr W and I enjoy the same book (More than you can say)

Mr W is away working in the Netherlands this week; over the preceding weekend I read More than you can say by Paul Torday and it occurred to me that Mr W would also enjoy it so I dispatched him with it on Monday morning (4am start...) and by Monday evening (lots of delays on the plane) he reported that he'd finished it and enjoyed it a lot. It's been soooooo long since I actually wrote about a book on this blog that I thought I should make an exception for this as I think it's the first fiction book that he's read all year.

You might be familiar with Paul Torday for his book Salmon Fishing in the Yemen which I think was a Richard and Judy choice a couple of years ago; I think I read that at the time but it certainly didn't stay with me in the way that this book did. The plot could be considered ridiculous but somehow it becomes more plausible as the story continues:

It tells the story of Richard, an ex soldier who has left hte army after fighting in Afghanistan. He's struggled to settle down into normal life, tried to run a restaurant, tried to resume his relationship and failed. Although we know this at the start it is only as the book develops that we find out the details and this story. He turns to gambling and this is pretty much where the book opens. Gambling one night in London he takes a bet to be in Oxford by 1pm the following day, travelling only on foot. As an ex-soldier, a 52 mile route march isn't too daunting so he takes it up, unsure if his shoes will make it. But on the way he is kidnapped. It's difficult to say too much more without giving the plot away but it is a story of many twists and turns that I really couldn't put down.

A reviewer on Amazon says "if you want gripping storylines then buy his books" so I am actually tempted to seek out more of his books at the library. This one was not by any means great literature but it was hugely enjoyable and an absolute page-turner and I've not seen it mentioned on any of the blogs that I follow.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Advent tea party

Having had a dress rehearsal yesterday for today's Advent tea (I'll spare embarassment here but check out Yvann's post...) (great fun, much tea consumed and lovely to spend a couple of hours with Ms Reading with Tea), we are all set for the real thing today! Here is the table laid out above...and here is what I've made:

Chocolate and raisin snowman cake (first outing of the sauverin tin I've had for three years now!)

Christmas pudding cupcakes as made earlier this year here.
Gingerbread house biscuits (we live at number 65)
Cranberry and orange mini buns (gluten free)
A nativity in gingerbread
Traditional shortbread biscuits

The mulled wine is we just need the rest of the guests to arrive. PS: Those of you waiting to see Mr W's gingerbread house will have to wait for tomorrow's post!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Happy wedding day to Jo and Wayne

Do you remember the cake that I posted about, but without the top of it? Here is the finished cake! I was asked to do a cake with a mad hatter and a green fairy on it. The cake is vegan AND gluten free. Happy Wedding Day to Jo and Wayne.