I finally got around to “Decking the Halls” over the weekend although – I’m not going to lie – I could have happily gone another couple of weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas; I love buying presents, I love wrapping presents and I’ll scream along to Mariah’s “All I Want for Christmas” when it comes on the radio just like everyone else (although, when it comes to Christmas tunes, I’m all about Mele Kalikimaka)… But the decorations? Ugh, they bust my baubles. I get excited to dig the boxes out of the garage, sure, and I love putting the tree up and seeing all the new tree decorations Sunny and I have collected over the past year from our adventures away (this year we added a Puffin and a Manatee)… but then I get annoyed that there’s suddenly more clutter to contend with and to clean (needles, grrrrr), and I’m definitely one of those people who can’t wait to sweep it all away and box it up come January. I just can’t wait to reclaim my space, y’know?
God, what a Grinch!
But, Christmas Food? Oh, that is one tradition I’m happy to clutter my kitchen with, my friend. And if there’s one thing I do like about Christmas Decorations is that they do get me in the Christmas Food Mood. It took us a good couple of hours to get the decorations up on Saturday (which was two hours too long, in my opinion) – but on Sunday, I spent at least double that time happily baking away in the kitchen and whipping up these Saffron and Cinnamon Knots. They’re kind of a mix between traditional Swedish Kanelbullar and the St Lucia Saffron Buns that are traditionally eaten on the 13th of December (this Friday!). An enriched, sweet dough in a lovely shade of gold, with a sweet cinnamon filling twisted through the middle. So delicious, so moreish and perfect for scoffing in front of the tree. 🙂
Saffron and Cinnamon Knots
For the dough:
420g strong white flour
25g dried active yeast
0.25g saffron (half a tube)
pinch of salt
50g caster sugar
75g soft butter
For the filling:
1 tbsp cinnamon
90g soft butter
50g caster sugar
1 beaten egg
25g caster sugar
1 tbsp hot water
First things first, wake up your yeast. Gently heat the milk until it’s lukewarm, then stir in the yeast until it dissolves. The milk should turn a slightly off shade of beige and you might see some bubbles form.Next stir in the threads of saffron, watching the milk change from beige to gold.
In a separate bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, and then pour in your yeast mix. Gradually sift in the flour, until you’re left with a slightly wet dough.
Lightly grease your hands, then turn the dough out onto a clean work surface. I don’t like to add flour (it can change the consistency of the dough) so it’ll be a sticky couple of minutes of kneading, but stick with it (ha ha) and soon the dough will come together. After about 10 minutes of tough kneading your should have a soft, elastic dough.
Pop the dough in a lightly greased bowl, then leave it somewhere warm for about 45 minutes. While you’re waiting, mix together the filling.
After 45 minutes, the dough should have doubled in size. Knock it back and then roll it out into a rectangle roughly 1cm thick. Spread the filling, and then fold both long sides into the middle – one on top of the other. Gently roll the dough back into a rectangle shape, and then – using a pizza cutter – slice it in half, and then into long strips.
To make the knot shape, twist each strip into a spiral, wrap it once around your fingers and then pull one end through. Place each knot onto a lined baking tray and leave to rise a little for 20 minutes. Wash each one with the beaten egg.
Crank your oven up to 250°C and bake the knots for 8 minutes. Once they’re cooked, transfer them onto a wire rack, glaze them with the sugar gaze (caster sugar and hot water) and sprinkle with flaked almonds. 🙂
Am I really going to be the person who sucks all the fun out of Cyber Monday and suggests that instead of indulging in mass consumerism we reel ourselves back in a bit? No, because that would make me a massive hypocrite seeing as I spent most of the weekend (in between painting my hallway – see Instagram) trawling ASOS and Amazon for some bargain Christmas Presents. I LOVE Christmas shopping – but only when I know that I’ve found the perfect present for every single one of my favourite people. I don’t like guessing, and you’ll never catch me wandering down the 3 for 2 gift aisle – even as a last resort. For me, that’s where I draw the line – that is mindless consumerism, in my opinion anyway. The truth is that sometimes the best things and gifts in life are free, and a thoughtful gesture is often far better than throwing cash at expensive clutter or resorting to “stuff” bought down the gift aisle under pressure.
So if you’re struggling to find that perfect gift for someone, or just fancy thinking a little bit outside the box this year, then have I got the gift-guide for you. 🙂
I think the older I get the less interested I become in “stuff” – and in giving “stuff” at Christmas. These days when someone asks me what I want for my birthday or for Christmas, I’m more likely to say, “Let’s go somewhere” or “Let’s do something”. So why not book some tickets for a gig or for a show (if you’re Cardiff-based then the Millenium Centre’s got one hell of a line-up for 2020, including Six, The Lion King and Book of Mormon), or book a flight and head off on an adventure to somewhere new or somewhere special.
Memberships come in all shapes and forms and make for brilliant gifts. The best thing about them is that they usually tend to run for a whole 12 months, so if your SO, Mother-in-Law or Bestie end up enjoying it and getting the most out of it, you can make it a yearly gift! If you’ve got someone who loves getting out in the fresh air or exploring old properties and manor houses then you can’t go wrong with a National Trust Membership. My in-laws gift themselves a Cineworld Members Card every year which allows them to unlimited access to what’s on in their local cinema. You could also gift someone a Netflix or Amazon Prime Membership, or even a membership to their local Museum, Gallery or Golf Club. The possibilities are literally endless.
DIY Foodie Gifts
Here’s where I come into my own, because every year – without fail – I give every member in family a pot of my Homemade Chilli and Red Pepper Jam. I made it one year for my Mother-In-Law and she absolutely loved it, and so slowly over the years I’ve had added requests for a jar or two. I make a massive batch every Christmas now – and I love it! It’s an easy gift, and it’s personal. And of course, there are plenty of other foodie gifts, from easyChocolate Truffles and Christmas Biscuits, toBrownies and Welshcakes. You could even create your own infused Gin or Vodka.
Kick a Bad Habit
Maybe you’ve got a bad habit that’s been annoying your SO for a long time, so then why not give them the gift of the promise to kick it for good? It could be something huge like vowing to give up smoking or drinking, or something a lot smaller like promising not to dump your clothes in a pile at the end of the bed every night. Just don’t make it an empty promise, you’ve got to make good on it no matter what! 😉
Make a Donation
Some people just don’t want or need gifts – so why not put the money you’d usually spend on them to good use? Make a donation to their favourite charity in their name, or donate an advent calendar or tub of celebrations to a local food bank, or even buy a gift for someone in need. If you’re local, then I can’t not mention Hope Rescue for all the absolutely incredible work they do for stray and abandoned dogs. Every year they ask for donations of shoe boxes full of treats, toys and blankets for the dogs they look after.
Favours and IOUs
Are there a few things around the house that you’ve been putting off? Maybe there’s some DIY or decorating that needs doing? So, why not get off your bum and get them done as a gift to the person who’s been nagging you about them! Or, why not take over someone’s chores while they put their feet up?
Learn Something New
Do you have someone on your Christmas List who’d like to learn something new? Maybe they’ve always fancied trying out Pilates, or learning French, or fancy taking up a new hobby like Photography. So, why not sign them up for a class in the new year?
Make it a Weekly Thing
Sometimes, the best gift you can give someone is the gift of your time. I bet there are plenty of people on your list who’d love nothing more than to see more of you, or spend more quality time together. So, why not give it? Sign up for a class that you can both take together every week, or just make a plan to meet up once a week to go for coffee or brunch (…or gin?).
This is such a fab gift if you’re stuck, especially for Mums, Sisters, BFFs. My in-laws got me a magazine subscription to Marie Claire a few years ago and it’s still one of the best presents I’ve ever had. I love reading magazines (even though Marie Claire’s retreated to the online world now *sigh*) and having one pop through my letter box every month is such a simple pleasure and a treat! Since then I’ve signed my Mum up for a subscription to Prima and she gets the same excitement seeing it on her doormat once a month. 🙂
Personally, I love plants and flowers in all forms and I’d much rather get a bunch of hot pink roses than a shot in the dark gift every time. Plants are such easy gifts, as are seeds and grow your own kits. If you’re green fingered yourself, then why not give someone something you’ve grown yourself – or a cutting from your favourite plant?
Happy 2nd of December everyone! Have a lovely week! 🙂
One of those ‘throw it all in and let it sit’ kinda recipes – hallelujah!
I think I’m going to remember 2019 as the year that I officially fell in love with vegetarian cooking. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I’m still most definitely a meat eater (you’d have a tough time getting me to ditch hot dogs and bacon baps, and you’ll never EVER convince me that Jackfruit is a solid alternative to pulled pork – nope!), but this year I kind of moved away from throwing meat into my weekly meals just for the sake of it. Last year, there were a lot of go-to recipes on my weekly meal plan that I just automatically cooked with meat – just because that was what I’d always done. Curries, Stir Fries, Casseroles, Burrito Bowls – meals I was eating at least once or twice a week – all came with diced chicken as a standard; previously it just wouldn’t have felt like a whole meal if I’d decided to skip the meat. But honestly? There have been meal times over the past year where I’ve chewed on the realisation that – actually – the meat didn’t bring anything special or add anything to the dish. It was just… there. Gradually, I found myself becoming more and more interested in the fresh greens and vegetables I’d thrown into the dish instead, and the textures and flavours that they brought to the game.
These days I’m shopping down the meat aisle less, cooking it only when it’s going to be the main ingredient and star of the show, and reworking all those old recipes that I would have just mindlessly chucked meat into, into new and improved, ultimate veggie versions! Like this Ultimate Veggie Chilli – or Chilli No Carne! You know me, I love Mexican Food – and chilli is just one of those things I tend to cook every couple of weeks. It’s an easy, throw everything into one pot and stir kind of dish, perfect for meal prep, and – if you make enough of it – it’ll keep you fed throughout the week (or month, if you freeze it). Plus, the longer you let it sit, the tastier it becomes! This ultimate edition is packed with cauliflower, adzuki beans, mushrooms, red peppers and tomatoes – and comes packed with plenty of flavour thanks to a few unusual ingredients – including a shot of whiskey… 😉
Ultimate Veggie Chilli
Plenty for two, Perfect for four
1 tbsp vegetable oil
125g cherry tomatoes
400ml can of tinned tomatoes
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 large carrot, diced
150g chestnut mushrooms
1 can of adzuki beans
2 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp chipotle chilli paste
3 tbsp barbecue sauce
100ml fresh, black coffee
1 tbsp ancho chilli flakes
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp onion granules
25ml shot of bourbon whiskey
pinch of salt and pepper to season
chopped coriander or scallions to serve
This recipe would work brilliantly in a slow cooker – if so, just throw in all the ingredients, turn the slow cooker on and walk away (lucky you) – but a great big pot on the hob will work just as well. To start things off, get your pot nice and hot, and then add the oil, chipotle chilli paste and garlic paste. Throw in the diced onion and sweat it off.
Next, add the cherry tomatoes, carrot, red pepper, cauliflower, mushrooms and beans. Pour in the chopped tomatoes and stir to combine.
Time to add some flavour. Add the cumin, onion granules, paprika and ancho chilli flakes, then stir.
The next couple of ingredients are a little bit controversial, but are going to bring a whole lot of depth and flavour. Pour in the fresh coffee, barbecue sauce and whiskey.
Stir to combine, then turn down the heat, throw on a lid and leave to simmer for about an hour (make sure you check on it and keep it moving, or it’ll stick to the bottom and burn!).
Once cooked, season with salt and pepper, and serve with fresh coriander and/or some sliced scallions.Eat it with rice, hot sauce, avocado, sour cream, on toast or with some cheesy nachos – the choice is yours!
I’ve always wanted to think of myself as a “Warrior Woman”, but the truth is that any evidence in support of that is massively stacked to the contrary; most days I’m just a walking train-wreck in yoga pants and a messy bun. For example, the hot water tank and boiler in my house had an argument yesterday afternoon – which meant no central heating (and a small waterfall in the airing cupboard later that evening…). It’s almost December; it’s freezing. But instead of choosing to tackle that problem head on like an adult, I just rolled my eyes like a teenager, filled up my hot water bottle and sat at my desk buried under three layers of blankets and dressing gowns as I tried to find the perfect GIF on Twitter to sum up the situation (…Ryan Reynolds rolling his eyes if you’re wondering). The fact of the matter is that I’m a 34 year old woman who has absolutely no idea how to operate her own central heating. Warrior Woman, I am not. So, you can imagine how unsure I was about heading off to an event specifically for so-called Warrior Women.
Warrior Women Events have been up and running in Cardiff for a couple of years now, popping up in coffee shops and popular hang outs across the city centre with evenings of networking and talks by businesswomen and entrepreneurs at the top of their game. Strictly women only, each event aims to inspire and to celebrate the successes and journeys of the women who attend. And as is the case with most women’s networking events in Cardiff, Warrior Women Events are resoundingly popular; tickets tend to sell out within hours of being released. But, when I get an invite to pop along to the November Event – the theme of which is “Women at the Top” – I’m in all honesty, a little unsure. I imagine a room packed-full of seriously intimidating women, all successful, all smart, all confident and absolutely bossing it (and quite possibly all kitted out in suits with shoulder pads like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl). Would I comfortably fit into that room? Little old me? Would I come away feeling inspired, or…. deflated?
Still, I’m definitely curious and I’ve heard there’s going to be cake and prosecco, so I head to Tramshed Tech on a very drizzly Thursday evening to see what all the fuss is about. After briefly stumbling into a Cuban Brothers Concert in THE Tramshed down the street, I make it… and instantly breathe a sigh of relief. (If you’re a freelancer or a creative and you’ve never been to Tramshed Tech then you need to check it out; it’s a gorgeously modern co-working space on the edge of the city centre – beautifully kitted out as a social working environment with benches, booths and comfortable seating, as well as a shared kitchen. Not too shabby a spot to pitch up with your laptop and run an empire from!) Well, it’s certainly a room – although much, much cosier than I imagined – and yep, it’s full of women… but definitely not the intimidating crowd I pictured in my head (and not a shoulder pad in sight!). There are young women and there are older women. 9-5 mums on a night off, as well as single mums and working mums. There are women who are starting over, and some who are still studying. There are women who are building their business and hoping to take it to the next level, and there are women who are thinking of starting a business or have got a bit of a side hustle going on and wonder whether it could become something more. And, then there are the women who’ve popped in just because they fancied meeting some new faces, and wanted to have a drink and chinwag. They’re women who are all on very different journeys, and – more importantly – at different stages of that journey. All smiling, all chatting away.
…And there’s cake! 🙂
“It’s only when you start using your voice that you realise what you have to say is important.”
– Sophie Howe
I grab a welcome drink, find a seat to ditch my bag and coat, and then get stuck in (to eating the beautiful cakes and bakes from The Tidy Kitchen Company, mostly). The thing about blogging is that I can go a whole day – a whole week sometimes – without actually using my voice. You know, my actual voice; not just the jumbled thoughts that make it into this space. So it’s really nice to use it when I bump into a few familiar faces, including Kacie (The Rare Welsh Bit). We take a seat and catch up on all things blogging and life in general – and have a chat about what we’ve got in the pipeline heading up to Christmas. Kacie tells me all about the big speech she’s got to give early next year about Welsh Tourism and how she’s preparing and planning for it (best of luck, Kacie!), and I tell her all about the speech that I gave a couple of months ago – which I was completely dreading, but somehow managed to pull out of the bag. It’s a weird moment as I remember that I actually did do that; I did get up in a room full of people and talk about creating The Cardiff Cwtch. As I said, sometimes I completely forget that I have a voice.
“You’ve got to back yourself.”
– Louise Harris
Before the first speaker takes to the mic, there’s just enough time to check out some of the local brands that have pitched up for the night. They’ve all been created by some amazing local women, and among them, there’s Claire of Claire Hill Designs and her beautiful range of jewellery (I instantly fall in love with her gorgeous stackable necklaces), and Abigail with her stunning range of handmade lingerie, and then there’s Meg (AKA Megan Fflur) who’s a local social media rock star. As well as running her own fashion and style-based Instagram account, she created local lifestyle brand Pethau just this year selling clothing, homeware and gifts, and has already pulled in over ten thousand followers. I’m totally inspired, not only by the women behind the brands that are there on the night, but by all the other women attending who’ve been brave enough to back themselves – be their own biggest cheerleader – and bring their ideas to life.
“When one door closes, another one opens – but you’ve GOT to be in the room.”
– Sophie Howe
Someone beats their glass of prosecco with a spoon and suddenly it’s time for the main event: the guest speakers, followed by a Q&A. First up is Louise Harris who’s the co-founder of the beautiful building we’re all sitting in, as well as the director of The Big Learning Company. She takes the mic and tells us all about her incredible career, from teaching Drama in Stanwell School in Penarth, to creating a company that supports schools and teachers in bringing technology into the classroom – and making the most of it. I can totally relate; I used to work in a Secondary School when I lived in London and saw first hand how important technology is becoming in getting kids to engage with a subject – whether that’s Maths (gross), English or even Drama. The whole room’s riveted as Louise tells us all about some of her career highs, including a story about how a mysterious email invite led to a one on one surprise meeting and 15 minute pitch with Theresa May!
“Behind every great women, there’s a team of even greater women.”
– Sophie Howe
Next up is Sophie Howe, who’s had an absolutely fascinating career in local politics which all began with a stint working for local MP (at the time) Julie Morgan. Fresh out of University, she fought a tough election campaign whilst pregnant to become Wales’ youngest ever Councillor at 21, became the first Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner for Wales – fighting hard to tackle violence against women – and is now the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales. Oh, and she’s a Mum of five. Wow. Her journey is one of guts and determination, and there’s an audible gulp in the room when she tells us how her achievements as Councillor were downplayed in a newspaper article where the writer instead chose to focus on her appearance and describe her as “a little bit foxy”. There’s laughter too when she tells us a story about having to change her daughter’s nappy in the middle of a Radio interview. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all in awe; when she tells us that while she looks like she has everything together, she reminds us that it’s only because of the amazing team of women she’s got working hard behind the scenes.
And that’s the main takeaway from my first Warrior Women Event, I think. Women don’t become Warrior Women on their own – the truth is that they need an army of other women behind them cheering them on. Whether that’s pouring them a massive glass of gin when they need it most, backing them when they forget to back themselves and supporting their ideas and helping them bring them to life. And after three hours at Tramshed Tech listening to some incredible stories about the highs and lows of other women’s journeys, I come away feeling energized and inspired about my own again – having had the boost from my local girl gang that I really needed. And, if you’re in need of a bit of that in your life – or just fancy adding some new faces to your ranks of supportive female friends, then make sure you bag a ticket to the next Warrior Women Event – they sell out quick!
Keep up to date with all the latest from Warrior Women Events here. Their next event is on the 12th of December, with the theme “Eat, Drink and Be Merry”, with talks by some inspirational local ladies involved in the food industry.Buy your ticketshere. 🙂
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I somehow ended up marrying a man who hates soup. I know! I mean, I love soup in all forms and all its glory. From chicken noodle to ramen to country vegetable, you’ll be hard pressed to find a week this time of year where I don’t whip up a bowl and slurp away to my heart’s content. I love it because it’s warming, I love it because it’s easy (…and – I’m just throwing it out there – it kind of helps that it usually comes with a hulking chunk of crusty bread). But according to Sunny, it’s not food, it’s (get this…)SUSTENANCE. Apparently it’s boring. It’s bland. It’s… bleughhh (whatever that means). You get the point.
So I kind of made it my mission this Autumn to find a soup that he will eat, so that I can eat more of the stuff (win-win, right?). And I think I’ve found it! We’re both big fans of Mexican Food, it’s our weekly jam; Burrito Bowls, Quesadillas, Chilli con no Carne (Quorn Mince, yo; it’s brilliant) are foods we can definitely agree on. He loves the beans and the smoky chipotle heat, I love the tomato and pepper based sauces and – let’s be honest – all the cheese. So I thought, why not throw all that (minus the cheese) into soup form? And that’s exactly what I did. Roasted tomatoes and peppers, chipotle chilli paste and coconut milk make up the stew, while the added onions, borlotti beans and butter beans bring in a little texture. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s absolutely delicious (and vegan friendly) – and best of all? The hubs totally agrees. Boo-ya. 😉
Creamy Mexican Red Pepper and Bean Stew
So good you’ll want seconds…
1 red romano pepper, chopped
250g mixed baby tomatoes, sliced
1 white onion, diced
1 can of butter beans
1 can of borlotti beans
good glug of olive oil
2 tbsp chipotle chilli paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chilli flakes
1tsp barbecue sauce(oh yes…)
1 can of coconut milk
salt and pepper to taste
sour cream to serve
fresh coriander to garnish
Set your oven to 180C. Throw the chopped red pepper and sliced tomatoes into an oven proof dish with 1 tbsp of the chipotle chilli paste, season with black pepper and then roast for 30 minutes.
Pop a deep cooking pot on the hob on a medium heat with some oil. Fry up the garlic paste and 1 tbsp of the chipotle chilli paste with the diced onion – until translucent.
Pour in the roasted pepper and tomatoes, then add the paprika, coriander and barbecue sauce. Stir until well-combined. Pour in the butter and borlotti beans, and then the coconut milk and water. Stir well to combine.
Crank up the heat and allow the stew to boil. Pop on a lid, turn the head down and allow the stew to simmer for about 20 minutes – stirring occasionally.
Season, then serve with fresh sour cream and chopped, fresh coriander. Yum!
You can watch a video of me making this soup over on IGTV. Have a lovely week everyone – keep warm! 🙂