Monday, 29 December 2014

Operation Clawback - January

I've never really been one for resolutions. I think committing to something for the next 365 days kind of sets you up for failure. What happens if you miss a gym session, have a birthday blow out, or spend more than necessary? Usually you just stop there, the resolution is broken, there's no point to continue.

I'm going to set myself "Challenges" instead. Each month I'm going to set myself a handful of challenges with the aim of becoming healthier; physically, mentally and financially. I'll update mid month and review and set any new challenges at the end of the month.

JANUARY CHALLENGES

Physical

Take 10 minutes each day to update My Fitness Pal
Use my Fitbit to monitor my daily activity - if the weather is dry, my lunchtime priority will be a 30 minute walk
Try two different classes at the gym

Mental

Use my blog as a record of my day to day life, writing from the heart rather than for stats or opportunities
Do at least three things for charity such as donating old clothes

Financial

Plan weekly shopping lists to reduce midweek emergency food runs to Waitrose!
Try to spend less than £50 per week on fuel and incidental buys

You can see that I'm trying to stay away from the "lose a stone", "give up drinking" type challenges. Hopefully the things that I have set myself will encourage these statements to happen naturally.

To succeed in this I need motivation; perhaps a holiday or a new wardrobe of clothes?

No - There's a much bigger aim in my life that these little things should help.

I want to be a mother. To give us the best possible chance I need to be physically and mentally healthy and financially secure. Hopefully I will become pregnant naturally and will progress free of complications. But if this doesn't happen I need to know that I've done everything in my power and be in the best possible position to move forward.

What are your January challenges, what's your motivation?

Time to be in the Kitchen...Lamb Massaman Curry

Every so often I get bored of the same week night meals that see us through Winter. As great as casseroles and pies are sometimes I fancy something fresher to eat. This mild lamb curry is perfect for that evening when you need something easy, and tasty enough to waken those tastebuds. There is quite a bit of simmering time, but it's this time that gives the gorgeously thick sauce a chance to form. Start it when you get home from work, or after the school run and it will be ready in a couple of hours.

Try to make the effort to find these ingredients, I found everything that I needed in my local Tesco supermarket. The result is a fragrant curry, with no one taste being dominant.

LAMB MASSAMAN CURRY - serves 6

750g lamb (I used pre cut casserole pieces, the original recipe suggested neck fillets)
6 floury potatoes

2 red onions
2 garlic cloves
2 sticks fresh lemongrass
50g fresh ginger
3 red chillies, or 3 tsp fresh chilli paste
6 dried lime leaves
40g tamarind paste
6 cardamon pods
100ml peanut oil

2tsp ground turmeric
2tsp ground coriander
2tsp cumin seeds

200ml water
100g cashew nuts
2 chicken stock cubes
60g palm sugar (found in the Thai section at the supermarket)
400ml unsweetened coconut milk
75ml fish sauce

Fresh coriander 

Dice the lamb if needed, peel and dice the potatoes and set aside.

Dice the onion and garlic, crush the lemongrass with the back of a knife then chop finely. Peel & grate the ginger, deseed and finely chop the chillies, de-stem the lime leaves and chop finely. Chop half the nuts and crush the cardamon pods. 

Colour the lamb in a wok and set aside in a bowl.

In a large saucepan dry fry the dried spices (turmeric, ground coriander & cumin seeds) for 1 minute then add half the oil and mix together. Add the onion, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, chillies, lime leaves and tamarind paste and cook for 3 minutes.

Boil 200ml of water and dissolve the stock cubes. Add this to the saucepan, along with half the cashew nuts, palm sugar, coconut milk, the remaining peanut oil, fish sauce and the lamb.

Simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and cook again for a further 45 minutes. Finish the dish with the remaining nuts and some chopped coriander. 

Serve with boiled rice and naan breads.




Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas Countdown...

After a brief but lovely visit home to Cornwall at the weekend to swop presents and celebrate my auntie's *whispers* 60th birthday, we're back into the joy of the last full working week before Christmas.

This is quite possibly the most frustratingly slow week. Christmas is just around the corner, plans of parties and Christmas catch ups are being made and it would be so much easier to fit everything in if we just didn't have to work...sadly we do, so starts the impossible task of fitting all the little jobs in!

Luckily we've both got next Monday off, but as we are at a boozy lunch on Sunday, that's bound to turn into a boozy evening. I'm not convinced that Monday will be the most productive of days off. Therefore I have come up with the To-Do-List to end all to do lists, my aim is to tick one or two tasks off each day between now and the 23rd December - leaving the house, and us, ready and relaxed for Christmas Eve.

Feel free to use my list as a memo for yourselves!!

Carrie's Christmas Job List:
  • Wrap presents and sort into home, Sister-In-Law's & Brother's piles for opening locations!
  • Write, post & hand deliver Christmas cards (18th Dec for 2nd class, 20th Dec for 1st class)
  • Clean & decorate conservatory (decorations, not paint - I'm not that bad!!)
  • Clear two spare bedrooms and make them ready for guests over Christmas
  • General food shop
  • Special food shop - chestnuts, shell on nuts, spirits for cocktails, posh cheese, posh chocolates
  • Pick up Christmas duck & ham from butchers
  • Slow cook ham
  • Bake sausage rolls, mini meat pies, Christmas tarts
  • Bake & decorate Yule log
  • Take all spare boxes & packaging to the recycling centre to free up bins over Christmas
  • House winter clean - kitchen, bathroom, hall, bedrooms
It's a lot to try to get done in only a day or two, but I think it's achievable if I just do one thing at a time.

What Christmas jobs do you always leave to last?

Linking up with 
#TinselTuesday, hosted by Farmers Wife & Mummy

Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas Craft - Santa's Grotto

As a child I loved making shoebox theatres and scenes. I loved Arts & Crafts at school, and was happiest cutting up endless bits of paper - especially if they were special wavy bladed scissors!!

As time has passed I stopped drawing and creating, preferring instead to create things that I could also eat! But when I was asked to take part in Mobile Mini Christmas Bloggers challenge, my craft antennae was raised!

First to Pinterest where I quickly spent a few extra long lunch hours *ahem* looking for grotto ideas - this is what I came up with

Follow Carrie's board Grotto Ideas on Pinterest.

Lots of snow, wood and a warm, cosy cabin for Santa to sit in. Knowing that a Storage container would naturally be dark meant that I would need to think about lighting. I instantly know that I would choose blue lighting, to mimic that Wintery evening light.

Using a plan with the dimensions of a typical storage container, the next stage was to show the man points of my Grotto theme. After a quick trip to Hobbycraft to stock up on supplies this was what I came up with.


 


But it didn't really show the ideas I had - I wanted to try to bring them more to life. Luckily, I work in a building that has boxes - lots of them! Finding the prefect sized box meant I could set to work, building my own miniature Santa's Grotto.

First, the walls, roof and floor were covered in felt.

Then I made the cabin out of cardboard and used foraged twigs to build up the side wall to mimic a log cabin. My cosy fireplace scene was stuck to the back of the cabin and the roof was covered with white felt.


Next I built on the woodland, outdoors theme by building my banks on "snow" using filling and making "trees" from real conifer trees.

Finally I added little touches, such as seating for Santa and any little visitors, a big Christmas tree and presents leading the way to his cabin.

 
 


And as my final surprise and flourish - the lighting...

Using scissors I punched 50 holes into the lid of my grotto box and then a LED light into each one. (This method is not recommended - I cut my finger straight away!!) This gave exactly the effect that I wanted. 


My grotto is complete! If I had more time, I would live to have made little signs and lanterns to light the footpath to the cabin. I would also make the cabin completely out of wood - unfortunately time and family commitments meant I couldn't quite do everything I wanted, but we'll be keeping our Christmas box scene all over the holiday season.

This would be a really good Christmas holiday project for a family to do  - any sized box can be used, a shoebox is always a good starting project.

I'm entering my Grotto into Mobile Mini's Christmas competition, along with other Interior Design, Craft and Lifestyle bloggers - wish me luck!


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Christmas Biscotti





Back in November I spent a beautifully sunny day visiting the poppies at the Tower of London. I was actually up in the Big Smoke to visit Maria Mayerhofer who runs her own baking school Bake With Maria in Hampstead. She was holding a little Christmas party along with Victoria Eggs, a homeware designer.

As soon as I walked into the room I was hit with the scent of mulled wine, cooking away on the hob and the sight of so many little Christmas delicacies like these -



It wasn't all kicking back and relaxing though. Maria soon had four of us at the benches making traditional biscotti. Whenever I've made biscotti in the past they always came out small and dense. Maria showed me that the dough needs to be looser and sticky, this will spread better on the tray to give the traditional wide looking biscuits. I'll be honest, it was only the thought of Sion waiting patiently at home, that stopped me eating all my little biscuits on the train home!

It was these biscotti that I decided to bake once my cold had subsided enough this week. The basic "Cantuccini" recipe was kindly given to us by Maria although I used roughly chopped orange flavoured chocolate  brazil nuts for that festive flavour, you can add whatever fruit, nuts & chocolate you like. Note - I'm not sure of the difference between cantuccini & biscotti, I just know them as biscotti!

Ingredients

300g Plain Flour
1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
Pinch of salt
200g golden sugar
1 tsp orange zest (I used one large orange)
50g roughly chopped nuts
50g chopped chocolate
2 large eggs, beaten

Preheat your oven to 190C

Sift the flour, bicarb & salt into a large bowl. Carefully mix in the sugar, zest, nuts & chocolate.
Make a small well and add the two eggs. Using a fork gather the dry ingredients into the egg to make a soft dough that you can just handle. If it is too wet add a little more flour, if too dry add a little milk.

Shape into 3 long sausage shapes about 4cm wide and 1 cm thick and place onto a lined baking sheet with space around them to rise and spread. Brush with an egg wash and bake for 15 minutes until golden brown.

Take out of the oven and carefully transfer each log to a chopping board. Using a serrated knife cut each log diagonally into 1-2cm slices. Spread the biscuits out onto the baking tray and put back into the oven to "dry" for a further 10 minutes.


I decided to serve my biscotti alongside a grown ups ice-cream sundae, using my new ice cream sundae dishes from BuyCatering.com.


What made it grown up?

Limited Edition Haagen-Daz vanilla & Florentine ice cream, crumbled almond thin biscuits, chopped 70% dark chocolate & segments of satsumas...layer upon layer. All that was missing was a little shot of Cointreau to really set it off. Not to worry - I also brought a tub of Bailey's ice cream...and I know we've got a bottle of that. I'm pretty sure if alcohol is used in cooking it doesn't count against the "no mid week drinking" rule?!


A full timetable of Bake With Maria classes can be found on her website

I was kindly sent a complimentary set of sundae dishes, currently retailing on BUYCATERING.com for £19.95 + VAT


Linking up with 

#TinselTuesday, hosted by Farmers Wife & Mummy

and

#CookBlogShare

and
  
Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

Monday, 8 December 2014

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...






Despite being visited by the dreaded Christmas Cold Fairy we ploughed ahead with our weekend plans of bringing Christmas into our home.

Saturday was spent in London having a lovely (but very busy) day at Winter Wonderland, followed by a slap up dinner and Champagne ride on the London Eye. I think it was a bit too much for me though and I spent most of the train ride home asleep, waking only to blow my nose or cough pitifully! An early night sorted me out though and we were up bright and early to go on our Christmas tree hunt.

Last year we had an artificial one that sat on our coffee table, this year we decided to go all out and buy a real one. This one came cut, with a large log to act as it's base. The seller assured us that we won't need to water it, but I'm not so sure.

I decorated it with an "anything goes" theme, beading, glass ornaments, wooden ornaments and felt ornaments. The general colour theme was white and red, although I purposely chose decorations I liked rather than ones that matched ones we already had. Topped with our special Cornish Fairy the lights were switched on to oohs and aahs!

 
 
While I took control of the inside of the house, Sion was in charge of lighting the outside. We were sent these 3m cluster lights from the LED Hut. As they are safe to use indoors and outdoors, we choose to put them outside. They came with a super long 5m cable which easily reached back through the window and down to the plug socket on an adjoining wall. With 280 lights gently twinkling, the effect was beautiful. 


We finished off by decorating the window with some re-usable stickers and some snow stencils, I don't think there's any doubt now that we are a Christmas loving household!



All that's left to do now is to decorate our conservatory ready for Christmas day and to decide on our Christmas table decorations. Christmas tablecloths are so expensive though so I'm thinking of maybe using a white sheet instead and decorating with star confetti & glitter...you've got to have glitter at Christmas!!
 
We were kindly sent a complimentary set of 3m LED cluster lights from The LED Hut. A full range of Christmas lights are still available to purchase. Currently you can get your purchases VAT free by using the code VATFREE at checkout.
 
All thoughts and opinions remain my own.