Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A snuffly goodbye to '08

Well, it's the last day of the year and I'm ending it on a high - from all the tablets I'm dosed up on that is! Yes, the killer Christmas flu has struck me down so I'm in the jim jams for the evening. As we're in London, we had thought about going to see the fireworks but it's freezing outside and I don't think my body would survive it. So, I'm all tucked up with hot drinks, the details of which I thought I would bore you with. As you read this you are possibly nursing a hangover with a resolve to never drink again anyhow, so perhaps this is appropriate after all!

My non-alcoholic festive drinking includes:

I've been sniffling into lots of drinks like warmed ginger beer and ginger & lemongrass cordial made up with boiling water. Both have been really hot and spicy on my throat which hopefully means some bugs have been killed!

Also yummy as a booze free alternative is this spiced berry cordial which, when made up with boiling water comes close to mulled wine without the hangover.

After that, there's some homemade hot chocolate with marshmallows I need to consider while reminising about all the good things that have happened this year and looking over my list of things to do in 2009....

I can only wish for a really successful year in '09. Finishing our house renovations would be a dream come true; it would be great for marty and I to finally settle down and to have lots of friends and family round to snuggle in with us. A diary filled with lots of work is always welcome; it's exciting to start a year not really knowing what will come my way and then to look back on it and appreciate all the amazing opportunities I've had. I have lots of other things on the list of dreams I would love to achieve so no doubt I'll let you know as and when they happen...and of course I'm soon to become an aunt for the first time...

Anyhow, wishing you a fantastic, fun and food filled 2009 with lots of love, luck and laughter x

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Pretty in Pink Pressies

Santa has been, yay! This year I got lots of lovely pink and girlie gifts. Besides this lovely roberts radio, I also got some pink polka dot pyjamas, paper lanterns, pink passport cover and a pink voucher for a nail bar. Plus lots of other goodies I am off to play with now too...

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

happy birthweek to me

How excited am I? I got a lovely old ladies bike (fitted with a basket and bell) from Marty for my birthday today. This photo makes me laugh because I'm sure I could pull out similar piccies from past Christmas's where I'm in jim jams and looking over excited surrounded by gifts. That was when I was 10 years of age or under though so I really should grow up, particularly as I am now totally over the hill! I'm not growing up just yet though as I'm loving my STREAMERS too much!! wahoo! p.s. check the tiara!

Saturday, 20 December 2008

All Wrapped Up

Lots of people struggle with wrapping gifts or just don't enjoy doing it. Here's a quick step by step guide to creating perfectly wrapped gifts that people just won't want to open!

Gather your wrapping materials; wrapping paper, tissue paper, box (great for difficult to wrap shapes), ribbon, name tag, sticky tape and scissors.
Cut the wrapping paper to size by placing the box in the centre and rolling to paper around to check it will completely cover.

Cut the tissue paper (if using) to shape and snuggle into the box.
Place your gift inside, remembering to remove any price tags!

Fold the tissue paper over to enclose and pop the lid on.
Line the box up on the pre-cut wrapping paper which is right side down of course.

Wrap the paper round and secure in place with a little sticky tape.
Starting at one open end, fold the corners in neatly, running your finger along the paper to secure in place.

Trim the end with a scissors, as it looks better
when it doesn't wrap up on top of the gift when taped in place. Fold the end up and tape in place with sticky tape.

Repeat with the opposite end.
Sticky tape side down, wrap the ribbon around the parcel and cross over. If you have a longer ribbon and want to wrap it in the other direction also, then start with the sticky tape side up, cross the ribbon over and then turn the parcel right side up.

Tie the ribbon in a bow.
My sister in law, Beckie showed me how to double bow and I think it looks really posh so I do this all the time now! To do this, leave the bow quite small and the ribbon ends hanging quite long. Then gather the ribbon ends and tie them in a bow also.

Next, prepare the name tag. Write your message on the tag before you add it on. You can either make a hole with a hole punch and tie it on with a little ribbon or in this case I simply cut a little slit in the card and then slid it onto the ribbon. And Voila!

The mother has said it looks better when the ribbon is off centre; I think she might be right!

More Wrapping Ideas

This year we have used wallpaper leftover from decorating our sitting room to wrap our gifts - how very environmentally friendly! It's quite christmassy anyhow as it's very deep purple with lots of shiny silver on. I think the red ribbon goes really well with it and we're so impressed we're thinking of bringing lots of red into our sitting room now too!

Anyhow, if not being savvy like us by using leftover paper, try buying wrapping paper that you can use throughout the year for other occasions (like the paper in the post above). So nothing with 'merry Christmas' embezzeled all over! Try opening gifts carefully so that you can save the paper, particularly if it's pretty, to reuse for wrapping other gifts or for crafty projects. Remove any sticky tape with a scissors rather than ripping it off, and keep paper flat in a box file or art folder.

Place any odd shaped gifts in boxes to make them easier to wrap (and throw the person off the scent of what it is also!). Reuse boxes that have come in the post or have had chocoates, toiletries or perfumes in for example. Obviously, good old tissue paper is really handy too. Use to wrap a gift inside the main wrapping so it builds the suspense for the person unwrapping! Or if you pack the present in a gift bag, then top with a ruffle of tissue paper so the person can't sneak a peak.

Cellophane is really handy for wrapping gifts also, whether wine bottles, jars of chutneys (as above) or plates of mince pies. Buy a roll from any good stationary shop (like Easons) or buy smaller amounts of it from your local florist. While in the florist, pick up some raffia (stringy stuff that comes in lots of different colours) that you can use to tie the cellophane closed. Raffia is also handy to tie name tags onto parcels if ribbons are too wide to go through the hole.

Speaking of name tags, rather than spending more money on tags, cut a piece of coloured card into smaller pieces or reuse old cards by cutting them into suitable shapes where appropriate and punch with a hole punch. Don't forget to write on the card before attaching it - and be careful not to get the cards and gifts mixed up!

Then, the wonderful world of ribbons! Reuse ribbons from other gifts received, from fancy boxes of chocolates, or even those ribbons that are attached to clothes for hanging (but end up sticking out just when that important photo is being taken!). Alternatively, buy new ribbons online, in your local haberdashery or trimmings shop. Also, at Christmas time ribbons are easily available in garden centres and hardware stores, particularly the wired type, which are easily made to look quite dramatic. The ribbons in the picture above were double bowed as per the post above to make them look really fancy.

Finally, the all important reminder not to forget to remove those price tags!!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A Christmas Mess

(c) Trevor Hart
This is a delicious recipe for a Christmas flavoured Eton Mess that I wrote (& styled) for a mag which undeservedly ended up on the cutting room floor! What a yummy scrummy shame...

Christmas Eton Mess

Eton Mess usually screams summertime as it is full of fresh strawberries and raspberries. As it is Christmas, why not try this version using mince pie meat and cranberry sauce. It is really quick and fun to make and a great way of using up leftovers.

Lightly whip 500ml of double cream to soft peaks. Break 8 meringue nests over and stir gently through. Ripple through 75g of mince meat and 50g of cranberry sauce. Divide between 8 pretty bowls or glasses and scatter over 50g of toasted almonds to serve.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Turkey Alert

Don't go killing the family at Christmas time with an undercooked turkey! Text the weight of your turkey (in metric i.e. kilos) plus the word 'stuffed' or 'unstuffed' as appropriate, to 51500 and you will get a reply with the correct cooking time. Alternatively, check out the safefood website for more help and advice on food safety as well a turkey calculator and recipe ideas for leftovers.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Who ate all the pies?

There isn't a mince pie to be had in this house, I'm ashamed to say. Especially after all the Christmas cooking I've done this year with work. Besides the fact we have the excuse of not having an oven, neither of us have really been here very much to even consider such Christmas treats.

Anyhow, my mate Cliona sent me on these piccies she took on one of the many Christmas shoots we did. They are just a bit of step by step fun to assembling your mince pies. If you're really lazy, buy the mince meat (mix a splash of brandy through it to perk it up) and the pastry.(either shortcrust or puff). Pop a festive pastry shape on top to make them look more homemade.
If you want to make your own mince pies from scratch, follow the recipe for mince meat and pastry in a previous post.

Thursday, 11 December 2008


One final gift idea which would make a cute stocking filler.
This gorgeous mug cosy is from

City Scape Gifts

Some more gift ideas - if you're anything like me and love cities (just back from London and fallen in love with it's diversity all over again) then you'll love these city scape gifts. Hint hint to anyone like say, marty, reading this....

tower bridge (my favourite
london bridge), battersea
bridge & the dreaded M25
looking hot in pink.

mugs from

you could be in any city with a traffic jam mug!

glasses from

...showing various city scapes

Something Fishy

I've finally started to think about Christmas shopping and at this stage will have to do most of it online. Starting with my parents - they won the seafood bar of the year award recently and their seafood chowder recipe is printed in the newly published BIM Seafood Bible, from Tide to Table (see my work blog for more info). Anyhow, that leads me onto all things fishy I have found on the web lately...with perhaps some ordering to be done quickly!


some old fashioned metal signs


...napkins (might have to get some for myself!)

...tea towels

....and fishy cushions

Here's The Lobster Pot Seafood Chowder recipe:

My Dad uses cubes of undyed smoked haddock, fresh salmon fillet and monkfish with cooked mussel meat, baby squid and cooked peeled prawns but you can, of course, experiment with your own selection.

1 onion, diced
1 courgette diced
2 carrots, diced
300ml ( 1/2 pt) dry white wine
900ml (1 1/2 pts) milk
300ml ( 1/2 pt) fish stock
1 small onion, roughly chopped
2 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
75g (3 oz) unsalted butter
75g (3 oz) plain flour
250g (9 oz) selection of prepared seafood
chopped fresh flat leaf parsley to garnish
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the onion, courgette and carrots in a pan with the wine and, if necessary, some water, until just covered. Cover and simmer gently for about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are just tender.

Meanwhile, make a bechemal sauce base for the soup: Warm the milk and fish stock through in a pan with the small onion, peppercorns and bay leaf until coming to the boil.

In a seperate large pan, melt the butter and then gradually stir in the flour to make a roux. Remove from the heat. Strain the warmed milk and stock through a fine sieve into the roux mixture, a little at a time, stirring continuously until all the liquid is added and the mixture is completely smooth. Return the pan to a gentle heat and simmer for about 4-5 minutes until the sauce has thickened, stirring constantly.

Add the cooked vegetables and any remaining liquid into the sauce. Gently stir in the fish and seafood and cook gently on a low heat for 3-4 minutes until all the fish is just cooked and the shellfish is heated through. Ladle into warmed bowls and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately with the brown soda bread slices.

Monday, 1 December 2008

A year in the life of a spare room fireplace...

I am very excited to unveil the finished fireplace in our spare bedroom. We finally had the room wallpapered (and the sitting room too, which I will show you another time) yesterday. Mart was busy over the weekend, giving the grotty fireplace a new lease of life. I went hunting through my photo files to see if I could find any older photos taken and can't believe the transformation over the last year. It's hard to remember us living in the house like this (well, downstairs is still just as bad!), but at the time I thought I would never forget it. Thank goodness for photos to help us appreciate how far we've come and to remind us to not loose faith that we will make it in the end...

This is what we payed a small fortune for way back last year!

And the work begins. It can only get worse before it gets better.

Some light at the end of the tunnel after replastering

The fireplace gets a facelift over the weekend. Mart's painting revealed a sweet little pattern on the fireplace that we hadn't noticed before.

And then a little old lady wallpaper to complete the look. A far cry from the first few photos!

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Christmas Pudding Hotline

My friend Carmel is on the Domestic Goddess bandwagon and has this year decided to make her own Christmas Puddings. She was very cautious about it and I had the Christmas Pudding Hotline open all hours to answer lots of questions along the way. Having now successfully made it to the 'puddings are wrapped, ready for mum and mother in law' stage, I think Carmel has realised that it wasn't that bad, pretty easy actually. Here are a few things that came up along the way...

I think the length of the recipe and the quantity of ingredients makes it look daunting but essentially it is very easy to make Christmas puddings. Carmel followed the recipe on my work blog. You don't have to follow it religiously with regard to the types of dried fruits and even nuts you use. Same with any pudding - as long as you use the exact weight you can use a mixture of sultanas, raisins, currants, mixed peel, dried figs, apricots, dates, prunes and of course candied cherries. Nuts wise, try almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or even pecans. Whatever takes your fancy really.

Carmel was unsure where to find the suet in the supermarket. Use vegetable suet (and not beef!) and you can usually locate it either in the baking section or around the area where you can find the paxo stuffings and stock cubes etc. This is what the pack looks like...

Instead of dark muscavado I sometimes use 'Siucra's' rich dark brown sugar - it's really yummy and not quite as bitter.

You can buy pudding basins easily at this time of year in places like Dunnes or Supervalu. You can buy plastic basins with lids cheaply (a 2pt in Supervalu is € 3.49 and a 3pt is €3.99) or spend more on a fancier old fashioned looking ceramic basin (also available in Supervalu or any good cookshop). Whichever you buy, you can reuse it next year anyhow. The basin size can be a little confusing. As with the recipe I referred you to on my work blog, the recipe may talk about 'Lb' sizes instead of 'Pt's'. A 3 Lb basin is the same as 3 pt basin and in the same way, a 2 Lb basin is equivalent to a 2pt basin.

You will need pretty big pans (with lids) to take the basins - check that they fit before you start. A large casserole pan is ideal for this. The basin shouldn't touch the bottom of the pan during cooking or the basin will melt and the pudding burn. You can either sit the basin in a steamer or on a metal trivet (which is a bit like a pot stand) that you can buy in any good cookshop. Add enough water to the pan to come half way up the sides of the pudding basin. If you're anything like me in being an expert in burning water (!), set a timer for every 20-30 minutes or so to go back and check the water level, topping up if necessary.

Carmel popped round this afternoon with her puddings in tow to have me check them over. She did a great job - they look and smell amazing. The mums will be very impressed! I told her there was one final job to do and that was wrapping them nicely. This is what we did...

Cut out a large square of fabric or soft paper and sit the pudding, still in the basin, in the centre. I had some florists 'Spiderweb' which I bought in a Florist's wholesalers. I'm sure your local florist would be happy to sell you a small amount.

Gather up two opposite corners to meet in the middle.

Followed by the opposite two corners.

Use both hand to bunch the gathering up in the centre.

Secure with a pretty ribbon.

and voila

little cutesy's!

Please leave any further Christmas Pudding Hotline questions on the comments below and I'll do my best to answer.