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14 posts from December 2011

31 December 2011

A Very Happy New Year


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Christmas, packing for Whistler, being in Whistler, returning from Whistler and unpacking from Whistler put paid to all my good blogging intentions over the last week or so. Ho hum. I hope you all had a marvellous and stress-free holiday season.

And yes, I know I should be leaving you with an eloquent elegy to 2011 and divulging all sorts of self-improving resolutions for 2012 but I’ll be doing that tomorrow, as I have to make blinis for a party tonight.

Instead may I encourage you all to wear your red underwear for luck in the Italian tradition and eat plenty of lentils.

And if you have time watch this video.  I wish you all this and more in the New Year. Thanks for all your comments, emails, advice and encouragement over the least year. It means a lot.  Mwah!



"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or buil...d or sing or live as only you can. May your coming year be a wonderful thing in which you dream both dangerously and outrageously.
I hope you will make something that didn’t exist before you made it, that you will be loved and you will be liked and you will have people to love and to like in return. And most importantly, because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now – I hope that you will, when you need to, be wise and that you will always be kind. And I hope that somewhere in the next year you surprise yourself."

Adventures in Knitting – Big Snowy Owl


Thought you might like to see the Minx’s knitted Christmas present – that you managed to guess so cunningly -   in all its final glory.


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Snowy owl on snowy balcony in snowy Whistler


I have to say that this was a rather frustrating knit. 

Being my usual organised self, I’d left it until Christmas Eve to finish the top of the head and the face when disaster struck and I ran out of white yarn before I’d even managed to finish the ears. This despite having purchased the recommended yarn, used the recommended size needles and knitted to the recommended gauge.

So I had to rip the head back, miss out some rounds without giving him too truncated an appearance and reknit.  This time I managed to scrape through to the end, though I still didn’t have enough white yarn to add a white circle to the eyes as in the pattern.  You can imagine how thrilled I was by this at 3 am on Christmas morning.


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All, however, is well that ends well. The owl is gorgeously soft, smooshy and snuggly and big enough to make for very satisfying cuddles (here he is sitting next to a standard-sized cushion). The Minx is also very fond of ‘Owly’, which makes a change.

More details on my Ravelry page. You can find the pattern here courtesy of the Purl Bee.  I DON’T recommend using their suggested yarn though.

15 December 2011

Stir Up Sunday


A couple or three weekends back, while I was also in the throes of Thanksgiving baking, it was Stir Up Sunday and I also had to get going with my Christmas baking. 


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The name apparently comes from the collect from the Book of Common Prayer which begins ‘Stir up, we beseech you O Lord’. This was said in Anglican churches on the last Sunday before Advent and reminded cooks and bakers throughout the land that they should be making a start on their mincemeat and Christmas puddings, so that they would have time to mature before the Christmas festivities.

It’s a good job the Puritans objected to Christmas puddings and so never really brought them to America as I have to say the combination of Stir Up Sunday and Thanksgiving is enough to drive anyone to drink.

After the success of my mincemeat last year, and since the wonderful RainShadow Meats in Seattle is now rendering beef suet, I decided to make Christmas puddings for the first time as well as the mincemeat.  After reading through several recipes I decided to stick with dear old Delia and make some minor tweaks.

Her detailed recipe is here. Tweaks I made included adding substituting some glace’ cherries for half of the mixed peel and replacing the orange juice and zest with a spoonful of the Husband’s fabulous homemade Three Fruit Marmalade as suggested by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

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As is traditional we also added some foil-wrapped coins to the mixture, to be found when we cut into the puddings – and yes, I really ought to get myself a more photogenic mixing bowl.

Since this is mostly a mix of dried fruits, beef suet, breadcrumbs, spices, beer and brandy, the puddings look surprisingly pale and anaemic before being steamed.


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The Husband, being an engineer, was then commandeered into covering the puddings with a double layer of greaseproof paper, covering them with tinfoil and manufacturing string handles for them, so they could be lifted in and out of the steam bath.


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The Internet then informed me that Christmas pudding can be steamed in the slow cooker, a Christmas miracle indeed.  No more having to keep an eye on the pudding and making sure they don’t steam dry.

The larger one was steamed in the slow cooker for around 10 hours on HIGH and the smaller steamed overnight or for around 8 hours.

I don’t know what the alchemical process is that makes them come out all dark and moist and sticky at the end, but they sure looked good and smelled unbelievable.


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The Husband then re-wrapped them so they could be steamed again at Christmas and now they sit ‘maturing’ in my cool closet, and delighting my heart every time I walk in there and glance at them.

I shall report back.

Here’s this year’s batch of mincemeat.  I’ve already used a jar to make mince pies and can report that it is very delicious indeed.

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11 December 2011

Picture the Holidays–The View from Here


Our next prompt was to remind us to take a few moments to enjoy the view.

This is  the view I have from my desk in a corner of my bedroom as I work.  The chair is my knitting chair. We had some lovely sunny days in Seattle last week so I decided to render this in black and white to emphasise the beautiful wintry light.


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This is the view you get from that chair.


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10 December 2011

Can You Guess What It Is Yet?


Wow! You guys are good.  Too good in fact.  I was hoping to keep the tease going a little bit longer at least.  However, my undying admiration goes to Stephanie and Rebecca who both guessed that it was the Purl Bee big snowy owl.  Oh and please don’t tell the Minx.




I just hope I can do this one justice.  It looks like one of those projects where it’s all about getting the face right.  I’ll carry on pasting up progress reports.



In other competition news, I realise that I forgot to draw the ‘Edible Seattle’ prize. The winner is Dana. Congratulations! I’ll be emailing you shortly so we can get your ‘Edible Seattle’ subscription to you.

Oh and look for another giveaway on Monday.

09 December 2011

Christmas Cupcake Decorating at Trophy Cupcake


Last week I went along to a cupcake decorating class at our local cupcake emporium Trophy Cupcakes and got some fabulous idea and tips for Christmas cupcake decorations.


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Owner Jennifer Shea herself was on hand to demonstrate the techniques and also talk about her experiences and astonishing success with Trophy, together with Nicole, her head cupcake decorator, who is responsible for planning all the new designs.


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The great thing about this class was that cupcakes, piping bags filled with coloured buttercreams, sprinkles, decorations and all the right tools were all lined up and ready to go – in my kitchen even finding the icing bags and correct tips and nozzles is a challenge.

First up Jennifer and Nicole demonstrated how to make sparkly bauble cupcakes. These were super easy, but still very effective.  You just scoop a blob of coloured buttercream onto the cupcake and then dip and press the cupcake in a bowl of sparkling sanding sugar, moulding the buttercream into a dome as you go.  Then decorate as you want with white buttercream and a writing tip. Finally pipe a small swirl of yellow at the top (which you can’t see on this cake) to represent the hanger.  I do love the effect of these and I can see me using this technique a lot in future.


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For the snowman, we started with a large round #809 tip and made a triple swirl of white buttercream. Then edge the bottom of the snowman in coarse sanding sugar.  Add a scarf using green buttercream and flat tip #44 (getting this to follow the line of his ‘neck’ is fiendishly difficult) and then pipe on black buttons, eyes and mouth. Use red buttercream and tip #8 and swirl to make a hat and finally use tip #4 and some orange buttercream to pipe a carrot nose.  You will note that this cake required five different bags of buttercream and five different icing nozzles, so is not likely to be made in my kitchen any time soon, much as the Minx adored him.


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The wreath decoration though is much more accessible. Spread a little white vanilla buttercream on the cake.  Make leaves round the edges with a #366 leaf tip.  Sprinkle with sanding sugar and little red non-pareils for holly berries and then pipe a red bow with a #4 tip.

Finally we made poinsettia cupcakes.  These are surprisingly do-able if you can get the hang of the #366 leaf tip (the same as for the wreaths)

Here is Nicole demonstrating the in and out technique you need.


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Once you’ve got that down, all you need to add are some extra green leave and a sprinkling of yellow non-pareils (sorry, I didn’t manage to get a good close up of the poinsettia).

After the demonstrations we all go to decorate our own cakes.  Definitely not as easy as Jennifer and Nicole made it appear, but do-able I would think with a bit of practice.


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Here are the ones I made, first attempts at all four. The snowman has clearly been at the mulled wine, but my wreath had definite possibilities.


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Trophy will be doing more cupcake decorating classes in future and I highly recommend them if you live in Seattle. It was lots of fun playing with all the icing bags and sprinkles and I picked up some good tips and ideas.


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I also snapped a pic of some simpler Christmassy cupcakes they had in their shop which I might even attempt over the next few weeks.

08 December 2011

Picturing the Holidays – You Hold the Key


For this prompt I had to photograph something that helps me to slow down, take a deep breath and enjoy the moment.

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And it will come as no surprise to any of you that I chose knitting as my thing.  I love the satisfaction of seeing the puzzle of stitches work itself out on my needles, of watching yarn forwards and knit togethers line up where they’re supposed to as a pattern slowly emerges before my eyes.


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And then when the puzzle is figured out, it becomes a meditation. Each stitch pattern ebbs and flows in its own rhythms and my mind ebbs and flows with it.  And if you take things one little stitch at a time; if you rip back, correct your mistakes and press on; if you’re patient and persevering and just keep going, however daunting a project might seem; one day you will be able to look back on your work and see that you have created something beautiful.

Things I Am Loving – Wooden Christmas Trees


We’ll be putting up our Christmas decorations this weekend and I would love to be able to justify buying this utterly fabulous ‘Superstar’ Christmas tree by Modernica, available in either a full-sized floor-standing version or for the table top.

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In the absence of a significant lottery win between now and Christmas I’m going to have to content myself with my much-loved and much cheaper Muji mantelpiece version. For some reason these never seem to be available on the US Muji site, though they do have them online in the UK.

The one on the left is the version we have, I’ll snap a picture of it in situ when we get it out this weekend. The one on the right is the current version, which is maybe a nicer shape, but has far less charming decorations. 


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05 December 2011

Picture the Holidays – All You Need is Love


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I think this one’s pretty much self-explanatory.  Not exactly creative, but I couldn’t pass this one up.

04 December 2011

Picture the Holidays – Reframing the Season


Our next prompt was to ‘Reframe the Season’. 


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The hint talked about using a literal frame and focusing about what we put it in, but I couldn’t think of what to do with it.

Then I glanced out of my window and saw the December garden in all its mellow wistfulness.  It seems to me that this season is one that we very much experience through the window frame, rather than being out and in the thick of it.

02 December 2011

Picture the Holidays – Holding on to Gratitude


This December I’ve decided to try my hand at putting together a ‘Picture the Holidays’ photo prompt book put together by Tracey Clark of Shutter Sisters via Paper Coterie.

Every day I am emailed a photo prompt to inspire me to take a photo, which I then upload into a photobook on the Paper Coterie site, which I can then have printed if I wish. I know I’m crap at following through on these sorts of projects, but a month of photos seems just about manageable.


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Yesterday’s prompt was entitled ‘Holding On To Gratitude’, encouraging us to think about what we’re grateful for. Funnily enough the night before I had gone to sleep thinking particularly grateful thoughts as I’d been reading a thread on Ravelry where people had been asking for good wishes and prayers because they were going through some particularly horrible things in their lives. I know I am insanely lucky in so many ways.

Unfortunately, the things I am most truly grateful for – my health; my bright, beautiful, healthy daughter; my lovely husband and his lovely job; my wonderful friends; even my fabulous blog friends, were either too abstract, or too absent at school or work to be photographed yesterday. 

Instead I hit up on something rather random. When you’re doing the Dukan diet you do become incredibly grateful for that morning cup of joe, which is permitted – oh joy! – if made with non-fat milk.  This photo for me sums up the warmth and comfort of home; reminds me how lucky I am to be able to afford a fancy coffee machine to make fancy coffee in a fancy mug; makes me think of my husband, and of Seattle, where I’m so lucky to be able to live. And in a literal interpretation of ‘hold on’ I like that this pictures is full of handles.  Oh well, it made sense to me.

What would you photograph given that prompt?

In a spectacular photography fail yesterday, I took my camera out last night to see the Christmas Ships without its SD card. So you’ll just have to image the fabulous pictures I would have taken of my daughter’s shining face as she gazed at the lit-up boats, next to blazing bonfires, against the sparkling backdrop of downtown and the Space Needle.  They might have been a little more appropriate for the above challenge too. Grrrrrr.

Oh and Dine & Dish is doing this too, go to her blog for a different perspective on things.

Advent Calendars


It’s the first of December so we’re allowed to start talking Christmas (or ‘the holidays’ if you prefer).


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The Minx’s advent tree, which is yearly supplied with small treats by one of the Minx’s godmothers, will go up tonight and I thought it might be fun to round up some other advent type things I’ve come across in the last few days.

One of the Minx’s other godmothers (yep, we did a good job picking those) has sent her a link to this gorgeous-looking online advent calendar by Jacquie Lawson featuring Christmassy London scenes. I don’t seem to be able to share the demo, but do click on it, it’s really charming.  I don’t care about the Minx, I’m excited enough to start open the first link when she comes home from school tonight.

Also tonight, we’re off to see the Christmas Ships as they set off on their nightly December odyssey round Seattle’s waterways. Rain has always conspired to stop us seeing them before, but it looks like it will be OK tonight.  Hopefully pictures tomorrow.

The Daily Suze found two beautiful, more grown-up, advent calendars.




This from the White Company (how I miss that shop).  I love this idea of having a tasteful tree decoration for every day and transferring them one by one from the calendar to the tree. Maybe when we get back to having tasteful trees again we’ll do this.

This calendar is also minimalist and lovely, and even I wouldn’t have trouble making it.  It could be made to fit into any décor too, if you changed the colour of the boxes.  I still don’t quite see the Minx appreciating it yet though.




If you want an advent calendar for yourself go along to Paper Coterie where they are doing a project called ‘Picture the Holidays’. Every day you will be emailed a prompt to take a photograph and at the end you will get the chance to put all your gorgeous images together into a photo book.  Facebook friends who have done one Paper Coteries’s Prompt Me projects before have said that it’s very fun, so I’ve decided to sign up.  Let’s see how it goes.  I’ll put more details up in dedicated posts as the month progresses.

Finally, if you’re into shopping rather than photography, Abigail*Ryan, purveyors of beautiful homewares, are doing a 12 Days of Christmas Sale. Search for the snowflakes on one of their gorgeous handprinted teatowels or cushions and get it on sale for one day only. And if anyone wants to buy me one of their teatowel gift boxes, please feel free.

01 December 2011

Can You Tell What It Is Yet?


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After last year’s tiny little needles and tiny little stitches for Carmen Banana, I am treating myself to chunky size 15 needles and chunky weight yarn to make the Minx’s knitted Christmas present.

I’ll post regular updates before the big day and the first person to guess what it is wins my undying admiration.

Adventures in Baking – Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie


Apparently it takes a village to make a pumpkin pie.  Not a literal village you understand - who’s got one of those nowadays? – but an online village. 


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Having never made a pumpkin pie before; indeed having spent the vast majority of my life thinking that putting pumpkin in a PIE, instead of say, soup or ravioli, was a vaguely barbaric act;  I put out pleas on here, on Facebook and on Twitter for pie-making advice.



This was not entirely helpful.  As I mentioned, I mostly wanted to make a pumpkin pie because the Minx and I had managed to grow two little pumpkins in our vegetable garden this summer.  However, convinced by the many, many comments I received, I did buy an emergency can of pumpkin just in case.

Which was fortunate, as when we halved, deseeded and roasted the homegrown pumpkins, we found them to be extremely anaemic and tasteless. One up for the online village.



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I received a lot of recipe suggestions but one that struck home was to use the one from the Macrina bakery cookbook. This sounded good because a) I actually have the book b) the recipes I’ve cooked from it before have been excellent and c) it included maple syrup in the pumpkin custard and a topping of pecans and maple syrup.  Since I don’t actually much like pumpkin pie, these sounded like good additions to me.  Here’s a link to a pdf of the recipe.



The Macrina recipe uses canned pumpkin and roasted fresh butternut squash (which we always have in the freezer to make risotto) which are both comparatively smooth.  Nevertheless a few minutes attacking them with the immersion blender made them even smoother and creamier. Definitely a good thing to do whatever type of pumpkin or squash you’re using.


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Another person to send me her recipe was Seattle pie queen Kate McDermott.  Her recipe is for a more traditional pumpkin pie, though it had one intriguing ingredient – lite coconut milk instead of cream or condensed milk.  I used it instead of the buttermilk in the Macrina recipe and Kate is right, the texture and flavour are exceptional,   I did of course also use Kate’s superlative pie crust recipe.


This top tip was invented by me! And I think it’s a good one.  Stem ginger, or preserved ginger in syrup, is a very traditional British preserve, which I managed to get on Amazon. The ginger pieces are preserved in a tangy ginger syrup and instead of freshly, grated ginger I added a little ginger syrup to the pumpkin custard and the maple pecan topping.  I’ve since seen that in the US you can also buy a delicious-looking ginger syrup here (with great packaging) which might also work.

This pie turned out incredibly well, and was wolfed down by pumpkin pie traditionalists AND pumpkin pie disparagers alike.  Thanks to everyone in my lovely online community who contributed the tips that made it possible.

I see that November has been and gone, and I’ve got nowhere close to posting every day. Oh well.  Might try for December, though posting over Christmas could be a little light (and possibly drunken)..