Some Thoughts on Blogmas

Macaroons Blogmas 2016

Let’s preface this by saying I did not do the ‘traditional’ blogmas which is a 24 day challenge that runs from 1 – 24 Dec. I set myself a 30 day blog challenge focused on Christmas but started in November, due to me wanting to be able to provide some craft posts ahead of December.

Doing a 30 day blog challenge was FUCKING HARD. And I didn’t have any major freelance work on at any point of the 30 days. I had started with good intentions. A couple of weeks before I had hoped to start, I had a plan. I had the days mapped out and I had more post ideas than days. Great! I’d even managed to order a bunch of things for the week before so I could get started.

But I just didn’t get on with things. It’s funny how we fall into certain behaviours or traits. I have definitely learned I will always be the girl who said she wouldn’t leave her coursework or uni assignments to the last minute, and ended up doing an all-nighter the evening before deadline day. All I had managed to get done before I went live was my chutneys and I had started on my wreath. I hadn’t finished the wreath though. I had hoped to go live with blogmas on the 16th and didn’t until the 19th. Oops! From then on I worked on a day-to-day basis which is hard and incredibly stressful when it’s content that requires making a thing, sometimes in multiple ways so I could pass on the best methods. A bunch of ideas failed or weren’t up to scratch which wouldn’t have been terrible if I’d started earlier, but I hadn’t.

I could sit here and say “oh I’d definitely do it again I’d just need to be more organised” where the reality is, I know it’s incredibly unlikely for me to ever be that organised. Of course it would work if I was organised. But I’m not.

Another thing I hadn’t thought about was how working from a desk in your bedroom is NOT conducive to good mental wellbeing. I work from home, but never from my bedroom anymore because my mind needs to keep work and sleep separate or I struggle to switch off. This had the same effect. Having craft items everywhere, plus a photograph lamp in my room constantly, was really stressful. I burnt myself out and had had enough after about the first 5 posts.

In total, I did 13 posts. I guess that’s a bit shameful for a 30 day challenge, but I’m actually really proud of the content I did manage to put out. I really enjoyed putting together the posts, I just didn’t enjoy the time constraints. I had always wanted to put DIY/craft content onto my blog and this forced me to think about framing the crafts I do at home to be understandable for other people, as well as just putting in the effort to photograph, edit and write up what I do. It’s also inspired me to try to blog more regularly.

If you came and checked out any of my blogmas posts, thank you!. My stats rocketed, but what was nicest was friends telling me they were going to try things I’d posted. Also a huge shout out to the lovely Amy for commenting on nearly every one of my blogmas posts, you really gave me such a boost.

So here’s to posting more in 2017 – though perhaps not to stretching myself to blog challenges!

5 Festive DIYs To Try

As well as doing some of my own DIYs this Christmas, I’ve been avidly looking out for more fun little crafts to do over Christmas. Can you tell I’m not working right now? Let me fill my days with hat making! Shout out to all the bloggers who have been sharing great recipes and DIYs this December, but here are five of my favourites:

Oh Happy Day Christmas Hats

1. Christmas Tree Party Hats – Oh Happy Day
These are ridiculously adorable, and so simple! I am a fan of the classic cracker hat, but I really want to make these for this year because LOOK at them! I love the Oh Happy Day blog and they’ve been putting out some really great, unique Christmas craft posts this festive season so go over and check them out!

Katy Belle No Bake Gingerbread Truffles

2. No Bake Gingerbread Truffles – Katy Belle
How delicious do these sound? Gingerbread is one of my favourite things to scoff at Christmas time and these sound lush. They’d also make a nice gift/stocking filler.

The White Journal Envelope Liners

3. Envelope Liners – The White Journal
The lovely Katie at The White Journal shows you how to make this cute and simple envelope liners. I like this idea, especially if you are posting cards to friends who maybe live far away. It’s just a sweet way to dress up your snail mail.

Tara Daniella Peppermint Brownies

4. Peppermint Brownies – Tara Daniella
These cute brownies are flavoured with peppermint creams (yum) and decorated with candy canes. If you’re a fan of mint hot chocolates at this time of year, you’ll love these.

PSL Shea Butter

5. Shea Butter – It’s A Pretty Simple Life
I stumbled across this post while browsing blogmas posts and I thought it seemed like a really good idea. I haven’t seen a lot of DIY beauty gift posts this season, maybe I’ve not been looking properly, but this seemed like a relatively easy thing to make and would make a sweet gift.

Cinnamon Raspberry Bread ‘Wreath’ Recipe

Cinnamon Bread Wreath

Anyone who follows my instagram will know I love baking. Bread, however, is not an area I feel at all confident or comfortable in. I barely know how to knead bread. I really thought I’d cocked this recipe up and due to my lack of knowledge in the area, I have no idea if what I’m doing is right or wrong.

The end result, while not exactly quite like the picture in the book, still tasted good so I thought I’d share it anyway. I could keep practicing it until it looked ‘perfect’ before sharing it, but I’d hate to make out I’m some kind of wizard who just follows recipes and they come out perfect. They don’t.

bread wreath - expectation vs reality

There was confusion in this recipe from the off, once I’d mixed the yeast into the milk and it just went into clumps and I just decided I wasn’t going to worry about it. The wet ingredients get added into the flour to be mixed by hand, then turned out onto a work surface to be kneaded. I made my best attempt at what I thought was kneading. The dough was sticky as fuck. I feel like whenever I see bread being made on tv, nobody ends up with gloves made of sticky dough so I already thought I’ve done something wrong here.

Bread wreath making

I put the dough into a clean bowl to prove for over an hour. It had got bigger so I assumed everything was fine. THIS IS WHEN THINGS GOT MESSY. The dough needs to be rolled into a big rectangle and covered with jam and cinnamon, and then rolled up. It’s so hard rolling dough that’s covered with jam. The jam wants to go everywhere, but I got there eventually. The ends were a little uneven and floppy, but this was as good as it was going to get.

Bread wreath making
Bread wreath making

The next step is to slice this log in half, which was a challenge even with a sharp knife. Then, you are supposed plait/cross the two strands. The slices keep sticking to the surface, while the jam keeps slipping all over the shop. Eventually, some kind of plait is made which I then need to move onto a baking sheet. I feel this step in the recipe should have been first. This plait does not want to move smoothly without bits of dough slipping out because of the jam. Eventually, I get there and form a crude wreath shape. It looks…ok. It’s a bit messy and strands of dough are escaping, but it is passable as a wreath.

Bread wreath 05
Bread wreath making

It goes into the oven to prove for an hour and I’m feeling proud of my little wreath creation. Out comes a fucking bread pillow KNOT. This is not a wreath. I’ve made a swollen bread knot. I don’t have high hopes, but I bake it. I knock it on the top, it sounds hollow. Once cooled, I tested a slice. Holy shit, it’s cooked. I have not had a Bake Off disaster. My bottom is not soggy. My bread is not raw. It’s a Christmas miracle.

Cinnamon and Raspberry Whirl Wreath

Recipe from Great British Bake Off: Christmas
Makes one large wreath

Ingredients
350ml full-fat milk
60g caster sugar
10 cardamom pods, crushed
85g unsalted butter
1 x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
1 medium egg
500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon salt

for the filling
4 tablespoons raspberry jam
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon mixed with 2 teaspoons caster sugar

Method

1. Warm the milk in a pan with the sugar and cardamom. Once steaming, add the butter and let it melt, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 4-5 minutes. Pour through a sieve into a jug, cool until only just warm, then add the yeast and egg and mix well.

2. Sift the flour into a large bowl with the salt and make a well in the centre. Add the liquid and mix with your hands until it all comes together. If it is a little too dry add a splash more milk, and if it feels a little too wet you can add a little more flour, but err on the wetter side to avoid a dry dough.

* My note: The dough feels sticky but I didn’t add any more flour, I just generously dusted my work surface and assume the flour it will pick up then is enough.

3. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Return to the clean bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and leave in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size.

4. Punch down the dough with your knuckles and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it out to a rectangle about 25 x 45cm, with the long side towards you. Spread the jam evenly overly the dough and sprinkle with the cinnamon mixture, leave a 2cm border on the long side closest to you.

5. Roll the dough up as tightly as you can starting from the long side furthest from you. Slice the dough in half along it’s length to expose the layers. Starting at one end, cross the pieces over each other, keeping the exposed layers uppermost, working down the length of the dough, then transfer to a lined baking sheet and shape into a wreath by folding the four ends over each other to continue the plait.

6. Cover with a clean tea towel or lightly greased clingfilm and leave in warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

7. Place the wreath in the heated over and bake for 30-35 minutes until lightly golden, then remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool before serving.

* If your house is absolutely freezing like mine, heat your oven to it’s lowest heat. On my oven, it’s 40°C. Then, turn the oven off and put a pan or tray (I used the grill tray that comes with my oven) of boiling water in the bottom of the oven. Put your bowl of dough in the warm oven to prove.

Self Care at Christmas Time

December Self Care

December can be exhausting for lots of people, for many reasons. Whether it’s social plans, the busy season at work or the final push to the end of the year, the pressure of gift buying or budgeting, all of the above and more, December can be chaotic and amidst all this chaos it becomes easy to forget to be kind to ourselves.

Here are my four tips as gentle reminders to look out for yourself this festive season:

Say no
There’s a certain sense of needing to say yes to everything at this time of year. Work parties, different groups of friends wanting to do ‘Christmas’ drinks. Maybe you say ok to more things, because it’s Christmas. As nice as it is to feel you’re doing seeing people at this time of year, often it can be draining, especially with everything else going on.

If you’re exhausted, unwell or you just need some time to yourself, say no. Cancel plans if you need to. Don’t feel obliged to do things because of the time of year. People will understand, and if they don’t, are they really the kind of people you want to be out exhausting yourself with anyway?

Eat conveniently
I think there can be this guilt around buying ready meals, as if the pinnacle of being an adult is being able to cook dinner for yourself every night. If you’re too tired to cook (or food shop) for even the most basic of meals, eat conveniently rather than not at all, whether that’s picking a microwave or freezer meal up on the way home or picking up some fast food. Nourish yourself.

Buy conveniently
Perhaps this seems a bit rich coming from someone who has done a number of homemade festive foods and crafts, but I’d just like to let you know I’m not working much at the moment, so it’s not taking chunks out of my evenings and weekends. It’s ok to buy conveniently. Don’t be swayed by the food writers and chefs of the world who COOK FOR A LIVING telling you to make everything from scratch. Don’t stretch yourself thin finding extra hours in your day to do things in. There’s no guilt or shame in buying things ready made or pre-prepped.

Mute the dieters and the food police
Food shaming is rife at this time of year, and only amps up after Christmas Day. Personally, I don’t need to see the “omg I’ve eaten so much I’m sooooo fat” or the “diet starts tomorrow” crowd anywhere on my social feeds. Nor the “how to enjoy Christmas without the guilt” types. What fucking guilt? Fuck the fuck off!

If you can’t or don’t want to delete these people from your social media, please mute them for now. You don’t need to earn the enjoyment of your food. Drinking alcohol or eating pudding doesn’t make you bad. You have not been naughty. You do not need to absolve yourself of guilt.

Soft and Moreish Salted Caramels Recipe

Salted Caramels

I am undeniably a caramel fiend, but these are delicious. They’re soft, so no chewing until your jaw aches here (which is probably dangerous as they’re very moreish) and they have a hint of saltiness that pairs so well with caramel. They’d make a great stocking filler, you can buy cellophane sweet bags cheaply on ebay so you could individually wrap the caramels and pop them in a bag or box and give them away.

Unlike caramel sauce which you can do by eye, you need a thermometer for this recipe as the sugar needs to get to the right temperature for the caramels to set properly. I used to be avoid making caramel, finding it way too easy to cock it up, but I’ve learnt it’s about being gentle, patient and mostly letting the sugar do it’s thing. A good thing for me to learn, the impatient heavy-handed klutz that I am!

Salted Caramel

Stir the sugar very gently with a silicon spatula in the early stages, I’d describe it as more of a very light dragging motion to ensure any bits of sugar are properly absorbed into the syrup and then put the spatula down and don’t pick it up again until you stir the cream in. Once it’s near temperature, swirl the pan to distribute heat. Don’t stir! If I feel tempted to stir, I use my digital thermometer (so it’s just a thin metal probe).

Salted Caramels

Ingredients
200g caster sugar
160g golden syrup
180ml heavy cream
½ tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
¾ level tsp of flaked sea salt + ¼ for sprinkling on top
60g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature

Method

1. Line a 23cm (9 inch) loaf pan with greaseproof paper coming up on 2 sides and lightly oil the other sides of the tin.

2. Put the sugar and golden syrup into a medium (4L) heavy duty pan. If you have a clip on sugar thermometer, attach that to the pan now. Put on the hob ready, but don’t heat up yet.

3. In a small saucepan, heat the cream with the vanilla, the ¾ tsp of sea salt and half (30g) of the butter until the mixture begins to boil. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

4. Put the sugar pan on medium heat and cook, stirring gently, to make sure the sugar melts smoothly. Once the mixture is melted together and the sugar is evenly moistened, don’t stir any more. Swirl the pan gently if necessary to distribute any heat pockets.

5. Cook until the syrup reaches 155°C.

6. Turn off the heat and stir in the warm cream mixture, until smooth. Be careful as it can bubble up quite a lot.

7. Turn the heat back on and cook the mixture to 127°C.

8. Remove the pan from the heat, remove the thermometer, and stir in the cubes of butter, until it’s melted and the mixture smooth.

9. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and wait 20 minutes, then sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon of the sea salt over the top. Put the tin on a cooling rack and let cool completely. Once cool, lift out the parchment paper with the caramel. If you’re having trouble getting it out, heat the tip over a flame or in hot water, then run around the edge betweens your caramel and the tin. Slice into squares with a sharp knife. If your knives aren’t sharp and you want neat squares, heat your knife up when slicing the caramel.

You can wrap individually in waxed/parchment paper or cellophane, or layer them on top of pieces of parchment paper in a box. They are likely to stick to each other if they touch. These caramels will keep in an airtight container for up to a month.

Macaroons Blogmas Salted Caramels

Beautiful Bariloche and The Argentinian Lake District

Bariloche Lakes

After a lovely few days in Puerto Varas, we got on a bus and made our way to our first stop in Argentina: Bariloche. Bariloche is part of the Argentinian Lake District but is also the top of Patagonia, the region comprising of the Southern section of the Andes mountains, all the way down to the Southernmost tip of land before Antartica.

The bus journey was a face-to-the-window one for me. It went through a National Park, right next to a volcano that last erupted in 2011! I don’t think I can ever tire of seeing mountains or volcanoes. Maybe they wear off if you live next to one, but I just think the things nature built will never be boring.

Bariloche Lakes Bariloche Lakes

After figuring out the bus system, our first stop was to get a view of the place. We made our way to Cerro Campanario, a low peak that offers pretty much panoramic views of some of the lakes and mountains in the region. It was beautiful. Obviously not a patch on our lovely Lake District, but very stunning.

Bariloche Lake District

We went up on a slightly overcast and hazy day which is a shame as we probably missed out on how vibrantly blue it could be and how far in the distance you might be able to see, but that’s just nitpicking. Look at those views!

Kayaking!

Kayaking in Bariloche

Now I can’t remember if this was the same day or a different one, but we went kayaking which was amazing! It was also completely and utterly arm shattering. Neither Jonny nor I have kayaked before so we were put in a tandem kayak with each other. It was a small group and there were plenty of teachers/guides so I felt safe, considering I can’t actually swim and was just praying we didn’t capsize.

Clear water in Bariloche

It was a gorgeous way to spend an afternoon. The sun was shining, the water was so clear and our only destination was a little stone beach so we could have a tea break and croissants. We also got our first sampler of the famous Argentinian mate, a tea like drink made from the leaves of a plant called yerba mate. Pretty much everyone drinks it and has been raised on it but us gringos come along and pull faces at it. I pulled a face. It’s very bitter and also quite smoky. Not a fan!

bariloche-lake Bariloche Kayaking trees

We headed back in our kayaks, getting into the rhythm of things and all of the instructors kept asking us if we really hadn’t kayaked before. We hadn’t. I’m just very good at shouting “1, 2, 1, 2!” and being bossy and competitive, ha. The guide who was kayaking with us on the way back asked us if we had done any water sports at all.

“I can’t even swim,” I said.
He laughed.
“She can’t swim!” Jonny said.
He laughed.
“I’m not joking, if I fall out of this kayak I will probably drown!”
He laughed again. I don’t think he thought I was being serious…probably for the best, ha!

Bariloche Kayaking

Kayaking on the way back was hard, we were going into the wind and Jonny was having to do a lot of steering at the back, which meant I was having to paddle alone which was so knackering and it became a mental battle of ‘KEEP GOING’ by the end. But it was so much fun. After being taken back to our hotel and showering, we headed out for our first taste of Argentinian steak.

Steak

It felt so well deserved after pushing ourselves, but by the end of the meal, agonising pain had crept into my forearms! I was trying to rest them on the table but no position was comfortable. Nothing some Bolivian ibuprofen couldn’t sort out once we were back in our B&B though!

On our last day Jonny wasn’t feeling great, so I went and had a walk around the town. Bariloche’s town centre is a little touristy for my liking. For some reason, the St Bernard breed of dog (Beethoven!) is popular here to the point where you can have your photo taken with one in the town square. So there are these poor dogs having to sit around in one place all day for expensive tourist photos. Bariloche is also big on chocolate, with what felt like a dozen chocolate shops on one strip all selling chocolate.

What was cute were these trees that someone had put crocheted around. Totally random, but a lovely bit of art.

Crochet trees
Crochet trees

Our last day we got up bright and early to head to the airport and our next destination!