Saturday, 31 December 2011

Number 52: make a champagne tower

Pouring champagne into a tower of glasses
(dressed as a shipmate for our 'travel' themed party!)
Happy New Year everyone!
Hoping 2012 brings all the new things you could wish for in 2012.

Check back here for what Ellen did next...!

Number 51: Make a gingerbread house

Brilliant!  Things to note are:

- the satellite dish
- the terrifying snowman
- the excellent decorations on the tree
- the lack of chocolate buttons which didn't make it past rock band night

I haven't made one of these before, but I think it might need to be part of a tradition :-)

Number 50: Film 2010, the last reviews go live!

This year I have watched the Empire top 20 films from 2010.

I have never done this before and there were times when I thought it might have been a silly idea, as I became painfully aware that there were some films I just didn't want to watch. I kept putting them off and even watched the first 10 minutes of one of them (A Prophet) and took the DVD out, saying I'd finish it later. That 'later' turned out to be the last minute i.e. this morning.
Nonetheless, I am pleased I did this challenge and have already checked out the 2011 list, which incidentally is full of films which are probably more 'me'.

Whether I do it or not remains to be seen, but for now, here are the last two for this year...

Number 49: stollen AND marzipan

I got a Green and Blacks Chocolate recipe book for Christmas last year and have been meaning to make something from it all year.

The recipes look incredibly rich and they definitely need an occasion to make them worth the calories. So hopefully they will make a very Happy New Year...

I made this stollen this morning, which has the added first of making my own marzipan to roll into the middle of it. It was all a bit of a faff to be honest, with the dough having to be risen, then rolled, then the fruit spread, the dough folded over it (like puff pastry), then repeat, then roll around the marzipan, then bake.

It uses Green and Black's Java Gold chocolate, which is dark and rich with bitter orange, which is rolled into the dough layers. In the baking it melts into lumps and mixes into the dried fruit.

It will be on the table this evening for our New Year's Eve travel themed evening (for which we will have FAR too much food, so I expect a little may go a long way!

Oh, and marzipan is just ground almonds, icing sugar and egg white. Easy!

Friday, 30 December 2011

Scavenging: the December alphabet

As the last and final of the 2011 Photo Scavenger Hunt, this is a biggie and I have put in each picture in full.

I have loved doing this and would really like to thank Kathy at Postcards from the PP for running this every month. It must be almost as hard to come up with the subjects as it is to find the pictures, but it is hugely appreciated.

Here are mine - I'm off to look at everyone else's!

A-nniversary, our 5th wedding anniversary which was on 2 December. This is close up of one of our Christmas lights which we took with us on our week away.

B-ird, which I know should be under R for robin, but then the reindeer wouldn't have anywhere to go! This little chap was a regular visitor to our holiday cottage and was very happy to pose for pictures. 

C-rannog, at Llangorse Lake near Brecon in Wales. It's a reconstruction of a defensive settlement and Tim found it photogenic and was in all of my pics.

D-eaf carol singers, in the Forum in Norwich. They were tucked to one sure during a craft fair and were doing sterling work. Quite a few people were stopping too, which was lovely.

E-lves, in our Santa's workshop which we bought in Brussels for our third wedding anniversary

F-ake snow. Not sure I would have bothered, would you?

G-ales, with Tim doing his best not to fall over.
I had to hide behind a rock to hold the camera still!

H-ilton Hotel London. A tree in a wheelbarrow. Really???!

I-cing, on the festive wreath that grew and grew into a giant danish pastry.

J- uuuuust made it! OK, I know this is pushing it a bit, but I took so many pictures of swans taking off and landing at Welney that the one decent one had to find a place in here somewhere! It was a very windy day and it looked such hard work!

K-nitted santa. This was made by my grandma who we sadly lost at Christmas time. She was a great knitter and this chap takes centre stage on the tree every year.

L-langorse Lake, which is where I worked as an outdoor pursuits instructor when I was 18. We went back to see how it has changed and it really hasn't, although it felt small and like part of a different life. In the background is Pen-y-fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons which I climbed many times while I was there. The focus was affected by the wind - see G for gales!

M-olly, my lovely niece, at our festive family swim.

N-ew York (and Washington), my AMAZING present from Tim. Ten days of visiting all those places you only see in films. Thank you very much (and I'll try to think of something more exciting than an IPad stand for you next year!)

O-h yes it is! Oh no it isn't! We always go to the panto once everyone has broken up from school. The Norwich Theatre Royal has a fantastic comedy double act who always do the Widow Twanky and Buttons role, and have us in stitches. With the same jokes. Every year.

P-ig chopping board, with balanced gingerbread trees on top. I'd like a good reason, I don't have one!

Q-uality Street which is an integral part of watching the Sports Personality of the Year. The Quality Street can't be opened until then, the rules according to my brother-in-law!

R-eindeer at Bicester Village. Sort of gift wrapped.

S-anta, made of balloons in Leadenhall market. Love his curly beard!

T-iffany's in London. There were no decorations at all in the shop, just these sparkly window displays. If you are that posh, you don't have to work too hard at Christmas, obviously...

U-niforms, on the Household Cavalry as they rode through Hyde Park. So many people stopped to watch, it makes you proud.

V-ery grumpy! Cats don't like hats :-)

W-interton beach in Norfolk on Boxing Day, with a seal in the sea if you look hard enough. It was a lovely blustery walk but we don't see any of the seal pups which were supposed to be there, just wary adults...

X-box games night with too much rock band 

Y-ears gone by. This is a picture of Tim's great aunt Mary, which is one of 100s I have scanned in as part of a big family archive project. I made this into a card for her this year which I hope she enjoyed.

Z- zzzzzzz.... Surprised this chap is still standing - he counted all of his sheep over the road.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Number 48: swanning about at Welney

I saw this one on Autumnwatch a while ago and thought it would be a shame to miss it (having made such a muck up of the starlings murmurating this year).

Every year, thousands of swans come to the UK for the warm winters (!) and lots go to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Welney, which is right in the heart of the fens, north of Ely. The Trust preserves habitat which in turn attracts the birds, and it has put up a number of hides to attract people to come and have a look.

They also do a swan feed three times a day which brings the birds right up to the hide. They are always mentioned in the press at this time of year and despite being only an hour away I haven't ever been for a look. Starlings avoided me just 10 minutes from home but swans wouldn't be so difficult, surely...

No, it turns out. Looks how many other people joined in!

Swans are popular!

They started to fly in from all over the reserve just as dusk was falling with some of the cleverer ones sneaking round to the wheelbarrow of food around the back.

The ducks came too and were a bit bolder than the swans in waiting for the food to be delivered. They are all facing right because it was a howling gale and they were trying not to be blown down the mere.

The nice food lady did her best to get the seed into the water but as you can see, most of it was being blown horizontally down the waterline

They waited a few minutes after she had gone and then it became a scrum!

And for good measure there was a fantastic sunset.
The only disappointment was learning that there aren't any crocodiles in the Fens and there wasn't a flamingo to look out for. Ah well.

Fresh from the Oven: Festive Wreath

For me, the smell of Christmas is less about the pine trees and crisp wrapping paper and more about the smells of hot mince pies and baking bread.

Hence the latest challenge from Fresh from the Oven fitted perfectly with a couple of days of baking madness which I had in the week before Christmas. In amongst a batch of french bread, scones, gingerbread and mince pies, the latest challenge of a Festive Wreath blended right in.

It was also a great excuse to have the heating on all day (for the yeast, not for me of course) rather than doing my usual piling on of layers as I refuse to give in to the central heating timer!

So, I got the dough all organised and through the first rise with no problems, and rolled it out ready for the buttery, fruity filling. I think this is where I made my first amateur mistake:

It was quite a firm dough and it was unwilling to be pulled into a rectangular shape, so I settled for an oval and just got on with spreading the filling all over it.

I then rolled it up and cut down the middle (hoping this was the right thing to do). You can just see on the photo below that because the dough was oval, this left the middle much fuller than the ends, which were a bit weedy in comparison.

Nonetheless, I twisted the two halves together and made it into a ring and did my best to overlap the ends and stick them together, in the hope of evening the shape out a bit. I was so busy I even forgot to take a picture of it.

I then put it aside for the second rise, and made my second mistake. I should have put something in the middle for it to rise around, like a tin can or something. By the end of the second rise there was barely a hole in the middle at all and by the end of the baking it had turned into...

... a giant danish pastry / croissant mix up!

The proof of this one was in the eating though. It was delicious so HUGE thanks to Michelle at Utterly Scrummy Food For Families for the recipe and brilliant instructions. Tim has already ordered another one for breakfast on News Year's morning and I have a feeling it will feature again after that.

Can Christmas really be over already??

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Film 2010: two new reviews: Bad Lieutenant and How to Train Your Dragon

Two new reviews under the Film 2010 tab above.

Having rested on my laurels earlier in the year I now have 3 days left to watch 2 more films. Neither of which I would be watching if it weren't for this list (hence they have been left til last).

Wish me luck!

Number 47: heritage rescue

This is one of those awkward ones that I can't claim as a success as anything other than part of a team, but it is still a biggie for me.

For a couple of years now I have worked as a admin volunteer with a local charity, which works to secure a heritage asset for the future. I can't say much more without giving huge amounts away and I don't want to steal the thunder of a press release which will be coming out in January, but one of my jobs has been fundraising.

I was lucky enough to coordinate a couple of successful proposals last year, one of which  hope will more or less cover the cost of a very significant renovation programme. Lots of people made huge contributions and getting to the end of the application and approval process has been painful to say the least, but I was really delighted to play a part in pulling it all together and would love to think I have had a hand in securing the future for the region's heritage.

I will say more when it is all public, but I have just heard that the paperwork is all signed and sealed, so it has squeaked in for a 52 this year.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Number 46: Boris biking

While we were up in London last weekend, we had a morning of free time before we needed to catch a train home.

Tim has been dying to get his hands on one of Boris' bikes for ages, as he sees them often on his regular commutes to London. And as we were passing Hyde Park it seemed like a good time to have a go, despite my reservations (I hate cycling and even more so on roads).

There is a bike collection point on the way in to Hyde Park and we set off with lots of protestations from me about how I would probably only get up to the lake and might need to walk a lot... I managed to heave myself up the (slight) hill to the middle of the park and the bikes turned out to be surprisingly light.

I managed to cycle all the way to Buckingham Palace which was even better because it was Sunday and all the roads were closed, plus we saw the Household Cavalry riding up through the park. The Albert Memorial was looking as amazing as ever and there were hardly any people around so I didn't need to worry about my dodgy steering too much.

You can pick the bikes up really easily with just a swipe of your card (no need for the faff of opening an account or anything like that). And we saw far more than if we had just ambled about.

Loved it!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Monday, 19 December 2011

Number 45: International Horse Show, Olympia

Since the days of Next Milton winning pretty much everything his turned his hooves to, I have watched the Christmas horse shows on TV. I love them: the Shetland Pony Derby, the dog agility, the big parade and the huge show jumping courses...

This year, as a thank you for the wedding cake that I made way back in May, I got a ticket to go to the live show at Olympia, to see them all for actual proper real.

I should say that I am not in any way a rider. I had riding lessons for a few years but after loving the first few years up at a small stables just outside Sheffield, I moved to Kent and just never found a stables I felt comfortable at. I cancelled all further lessons after falling for the third time from a horse that I had requested never to ride again after it had bucked me off. There wasn't a shred of confidence left and I couldn't really see it being rebuilt. But horses on the TV never lost their appeal, particularly ones with tinsel on :-)

Tim got everything arranged, with first class train travel and a lovely hotel so all I had to do was turn up and enjoy. We were both a bit worried about travelling to London on the last weekend before Christmas, but it turned out to be strangely quiet on both the train and the underground. Hope it wasn't bad news for the shops.

We had a wander around the exhibition area which was full of the horseyest horsey things you could ever need before getting settled for the evening show.

There really isn't any other word for it but FUN. It has enough competition to get you to the edge of your seat, enough skill to put your chin properly on your chest, lots of humour with the Shetlands and the agility dogs, plus comedy commentary and if you are lucky you'll be live on TV in the Eurosport coverage. Fun? I think so.

The only thing it was terrible for was photography. Too dark to get a decent picture of fast moving things. So apologies to whichever horse this is!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Number 44: don't ask the kids (AKA trampolining in December)

Sitting down, inelegantly standing up plus a bit of hand!

My sister and I both live in Norwich and because my time is now much more flexible, we have got into a bit of a routine where I collect her children from school once a week. It gives her some time if she needs it, I get to see them all and I get a free meal. A winner all round.

Yesterday I asked them if they would like to choose a 'first' for me that we could all do together. I think next time I might offer some guidance on what kind of things I might like. Here's the list...

Suggestion 1: play Modern Warfare, which I have already done so we couldn't do that

Suggestion 2: beat my nephew at Modern Warfare, which apparently no-one has ever done, but my XBox skills barely stretch to turning the controller on, so that was never going to happen

Suggestion 3: be the first person to pick up my niece's hamster, whose name is Mr Nibbles.

Suggestion 4: be the first person to pick up the rapidly renamed Mr Cutie Pie ("He only made me bleed once...")

Suggestion 5: do a sit down/stand up jump on the trampoline. 

So at 4pm yesterday I was getting soaking wet socks and jeans jumping up and down on the trampoline at dusk, trying to avoid the rivers of water running out of the bolster around the edge. Before hypothermia set in we decided I had made a decent enough job of it and ran inside for a hot Ribena.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Film 2010: Valhalla Rising

Well, that's 90 minutes I'll never get back.
Take it off your christmas lists.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Number 43: be part of art

OK, this may not be quite how I wanted to achieve this, and if I get chance in the
next 10 days I'll find a better way of ticking it off the list, but on a golf course in December this is as good as it gets!

Can you spot which one is me?

I had an audience of two bemused Welsh lady golfers and a husband photographer.  Art is in the eye of the beholder after all :-)

Film review: The secret in their eyes

Another film review to be found under the film 2010 tab above...
Nearly there!