Saturday, 29 November 2014

Advent

I love Advent. I love the fact that even the Scroogiest of people can no longer really say that it's too early to be getting excited about Christmas. I can watch Christmas films, write Christmas cards, start wrapping presents, and sing as much as I want. 



I was in Waitrose last night picking up mince pies and a little panettone (Christmas food is amazing) and while I was browsing, I saw a little girl peering through the glass of the cake display. 

"Mummy", she called "Why are there men with beards on top of that cake?"
"They're the Three Wise Men, darling", her mother replied "They're on their way to see the baby Jesus. As I keep telling you, Christmas isn't really all about Father Christmas. It's Jesus' birthday!"

I think that's the thing. Amongst all the Black Friday deals, amazing Christmas food, festive drinks and Christmas parties, it's really really easy to forget what this whole holiday is about. Regardless of whether you believe in God, and Jesus, and whatever- at the end of the day, this is a religious festival.


As much as I adore the incredible Lindt advent calendars I've been sent (they really are so incredible, I feel so spoiled!), part of me thinks that perhaps I should return to the more traditional type of calendar. Perhaps we should all be reminded about what Christmas and Advent are really about. I mean- Christingle services, and the lighting of the Advent calendars, and Nativity plays were always some of my favourite parts of the run up to Christmas as a child. So why do I let these things slide now I'm an adult?

That said. I'm feeling more festive this year than I have in an absolute age. Maybe it's a London thing. Maybe it's just completely random. But I'm so pleased that I'm able to feel festive this year.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

On The Year That's Been




This year has been tough, no?

Maybe it's just me. Maybe it isn't just me. But in 2014, I've started  new jobs (twice) and moved cities (twice). I've lived in four different houses, with nine different people. I found a boyfriend. I broke up with that boyfriend. I've played for multiple korfball teams. I've visited Dorset and Cornwall and Wiltshire and Lincolnshire and Norfolk and Kent. I've been to Barcelona and convinced a waitress I speak fluent Spanish (I don't). I've made friends and drifted apart from friends. I've celebrated engagements. I've mourned the loss of a grandparent. I've lost weight- and gained it all back again and more. I've baked a wedding cake, and brownies and countless cupcakes. I've drank wine and gin and something like 371031 ml of tea (I worked it out. I''d say I drink an average of four half-pint (284 ml) mugs of tea a day. So 284 x 4 x 365 = 371031. Jesus). I've drank so few cups of coffee they could probably all be counted on my fingers and toes. I've sobbed and I've laughed and I've found myself lying on the floor wondering what the hell is going on- both drunkenly at 3am and soberly at 3pm.

I've had to deal with so much this year, and my poor little brain has just about given up on it. This year I've been fine and not fine and everything in between. 

But it hasn't been the worst year on record. It really hasn't. It's not been the best year on record either though.


I've achieved so much this year. I'm really so proud of myself for being so bloody BRAVE this year- both in ways people know about (like moving jobs) and in ways people don't (which I'm not going to talk about). I've impressed myself, and I've apparently blown other people away. I've been generous and I've been selfish and I've been kind and I've been mean.

I feel like I'm ending 2014 knowing myself a little better than I did on 1st January. I've been SO unbelievably hard on myself this year when I should be proud of everything I've done. But while that isn't in my nature, I at least have a camp full of cheerleaders yelling and screaming for me every step of the way. I'm finishing 2014 feeling battered and bruised and hurt and lost and sad but just a little hopeful. At one point, I never thought I'd make it to 2014, let alone the whole way through it. And maybe that in itself is something to be proud of.

2014 has been a rollercoaster. And we still have another whole month left of 2014. But at least I have socially-accepted daily chocolate (more on my AMAZING advent calendars to come) and more mince pies than I can shake a stick at to get me through December.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Happiness Is... (vol. 88)


I should probably branch out in my breakfast choices, but porridge is just so bloody delicious that I kind of don't want to. And when you stir raisins and blueberries through, then add more blueberries and walnuts on top? It's a little bowl of perfection, let me tell you. And it's even sweeter knowing that I rescued these blueberries from the reduced to clear section. My local Tesco has the world's worst stock management system, which means treats like this happen on a pretty damn regular basis. Is that a bad thing? No, no not at all.

I'm waffling. (Porridging?). This week, happiness is...

... finding half a packet of sweets in your coat pocket, left over from when you went on a walk four weeks ago. Is it just me who does this? Who tucks sweets in her pocket for long walks, and then forgets all about them? It's so much fun to find them though, when you jam your hands into your pockets when you're on your way to the supermarket. 

... finding the perfect black jeans. I mean seriously. Uniqlo's Ultra Stretch Ankle Length black jeans fit me perfectly (and the ones I ended up buying are two sizes smaller than I originally thought I needed). I haven't actually worn them yet- I knew I'd be baking yesterday and decided black jeans weren't the best thing to wear for that- but I am so excited to pair them with a stripy top and ankle boots, or white blouse and a maroon blazer. 

... coming home to the most ridiculously clean flat. We got a cleaner, you guys. It's not because we're lazy- though we kind of are- it's because two out of the three of us are just a little too busy to want to clean in our little bit of spare time, and the third was starting to get a little resentful. She is amazing and it's the best money any of us have ever spent.


... Fiorentina hot chocolates, consumed sitting at a pavement side table (in November!) in Marylebone with your oldest friend who is more hungover than you, and cheers you up with some of the best boy stories I've ever heard, told in the most entertaining way possible.

... Fortnum & Mason. It's so unbelievably charming, I wanted to move in. I picked up a couple of foodie gifts for Christmas presents and I am going to find it so hard not to just keep them for myself.

What's making you happy this week?

Saturday, 15 November 2014

What Are You Doing?


I'm aware I'm really a shockingly bad blogger.

I think the problem is that I'm not really feeling blogging in the same way as I used to. I'm finding myself drawn to posts about thoughts and feelings and happenings and considerations these days. I've long loved Meg's blog, and perhaps I'll take this space of mine in that direction- more writing, less waffling. Or perhaps not. Chances are though, I'll just keep it here to update as an when I want, about what I want.

I don't care about page views. I don't care about follower numbers. I don't care if this is just a shout into the void and no one reads it at all. If a blog post is written and no one reads it, does it exist?

But if you are reading... 

Lately I've been listening to Serial. If you haven't heard about it, oh my god you are missing out. It's an incredibly interesting true story of the conviction of Adnam Syed for the murder of Hae Min Lee. I don't want to say any more than that, but do listen to it- just perhaps not when you're walking home alone along the side of Clapham Common in the dark, okay?

I told him the walking-home-in-the-dark-listening-to-Serial story in the pub on Friday and he looked at me dead on. You didn't actually do that, did you? I told him that of course I had, I'm a big girl and I'm braver and stronger than I look, and why does it matter anyway? Apparently, when walking home, I should have no headphones in, my keys in my hand, sensible shoes on (ready to run), and just paying attention. Bless.

I think he overreacted. Or perhaps that's just another example of being reckless with myself? Who knows.

I've been sort of falling apart at the seams. My mental health really isn't the best right now, and admitting that is a pretty big deal. I kind of dropped it on my mum over the phone while I was shopping in Fortnum & Mason on Saturday morning. I just kind of went "Mama I got really sad after I'd been in the pub last night" and she guessed straight away exactly what I meant. She's worried, I'm worried, my boy bestie JH is worried- but I am okay, and I will be okay. So there's that.

I'm making headway on Christmas present shopping! I have something ridiculous like eighteen people to buy for, so it's kind of necessary. I've sorted my cousin and his partner, and I'm nearly there with my brother and my sister-in-law-to-be. I know what I want to get for my little sister, and I think I know what I'm doing for a few others... so I'm getting there. Time is an issue- I'm so busy over the next few weeks- but at least I have ideas, right?!

This is my first full weekend in London in about six weeks, and I'm making the most of it. I did some proper London shopping (I hit up Fortnum & Mason, Liberty, and Selfridges, in one morning). I sat outside a cafe with my oldest friend and drank thick thick hot chocolate while we screamed with laughter over her boy gossip. And I'll be making mince pies, soda bread, and sleeping in this weekend too, while listening to yet more of Serial (I have catching up to do), and Euneirophrenia- go on, click the link and give your ears a treat. Euneirophrenia is also a great word- it means the peace of mind that comes from having pleasant dreams. It's a new favourite.

I'd say that's enough for now. I'll be back soon, promise.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

To The Men I Fall In Love With On Trains

In particular, this is to the beautiful beard-sporting, tweed-coat-wearing, sheet-music-reading man I saw on the train to Wiltshire early on Saturday morning. He genuinely made my heart skip several beats.



Here's to spotting a handsome stranger on the train. 

Here's to angling yourself ever so slightly more elegantly in your seat. 

Here's to sneaking glances to see what they're reading. 

Here's to carefully choosing the music you listen to, in case they should by some random chance ask you about it. 

Here's to those moments of eye contact where your heart suddenly starts thumping in your chest. 

Here's to glancing away, only to glance back seconds later. 

Here's to finding him still looking at you. 

Here's to feeling your heart pound, just hoping he'll come over and say hello.

Here's to watching him gather his things, two stops before yours. 

Here's to sadly watching him step off the train, perhaps with a wistful smile. 

Here's to sighing and sinking back into your seat, feeling bereft. 

Here's to the next time. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

I Made A Wedding Cake



Well, if not (and you can't be bothered to click through- last December, S commissioned me to make her wedding cake. And to be completely honest, between then and June I kind of put the entire thing out of my head because I was just so worried about it. A wedding cake is a huge deal for a lot of people, and while S and P are very laid back, I knew that if I messed this up, they'd be so sad, and I couldn't do that to them.

So back in June, the three of us went for coffee and talked ideas. We established that their colour scheme would be ivory, navy, and silver, and that they wanted a simple, traditional cake. They asked for three tiers, enough cake to serve up to 70 people, and for the middle layer to be sponge, while the top and bottom layers were fruit.


In the end, I took a whole week off work around the wedding (which was a Thursday) to enable me to make the cake in a relatively stress free way back in Devon. I made the fruit layers back at the end of August (as fruit cake is best when it matures and you feed it. Consider it a new pet, albeit one that you feed with brandy.), but had to marzipan and ice them in the days running up to the event. 

I did have a small mishap when it came to the sponge layer, however. I may possibly (read: definitely) have made the sponge layer an inch too small- which sounds like nothing, but trust me, it was a big problem. Cue an 11pm dash to the nearest Tesco (read: a good 15 minute drive away) for a new correctly sized tin where, in my panic, I bought the wrong sized tin again. So Mama CupandSaucer took pity on me, drove out to Tesco again- this time with the cake board in tow to check the size- and left me re-making my cake batter. In the end, I think I got to bed around 2am, still with all the cake filling, icing, stacking, and decorating to do. Yeah.

Oh, and once it was all made and stacked, I had to transport it 30 miles across Devon in thick fog. 


So here are my top ten tips for making a wedding cake! Obviously, I have made a grand total of one so you know, I'm no expert but still, for a beginner, these might help:

1- Always check your cake tin sizes. Obviously.
2-  Fondant smoothers are the best things in the world. You will not get a decent finish without them. 
3- Don't over stretch yourself. If you aren't an experienced decorator, think simple- it's so much more elegant than a messy attempt at something fancy.
4- Get a little saw for your dowel. It's harder to cut than you'd think
5- A yoga mat under the cake box in the boot of your car will stop it from going anywhere
6- Use recipes you have practiced and are comfortable with. This isn't a time to experiment.
7- Royal icing sets like cement, so is the best thing to use between layers to stop them from moving. This will particularly help if your layers aren't perfectly flat.
8- But really, when you trim your cake layers. use a spirit level (yes, really) to check it- then turn it upside down before you marzipan and fondant the cake
9- Put each cake layer on a board the exact same size as the cake, then treat it as part of the cake- that is to say, make sure you drop the marzipan and fondant down to cover the board as well as the cake!
10- Make sure your cake layers are even heights. And if they aren't, you could either trim them or use cake boards of different thicknesses under each layer 


And a bonus no. 11-  Enjoy it! You're getting to be such a cool part of someone's special day- it's something to enjoy, not fear!

So yeah! I learnt a hell of a lot making this cake. And I absolutely cannot wait to make another.

Oh, and that wasn't my only wedding thing of last week. I also received my invitation for my brother's wedding, helped Mama choose her outfit for my brother's wedding, discussed cupcake favours with my brother and his fiancee, went to S and P's evening reception, and chatted everything wedding-y  over brunch with my friend LR, who is getting married next August. Seriously- no more weddings until the New Year. Thank you kindly.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Happiness Is... (Vol. 87)

I really didn't mean to miss as many of these posts as I have. Life has just been a bit funny recently- lots of weekends away, in particular, which tend to mean less time to write these posts. I'm keen to get back into blogging though- I'm aware that while I used to be super consistent, i'm now rather inconsistent, and a bit flighty. Sorry about that. I'm actually writing this on the train back to London following a week in Devon. I've eaten a slice of cake, and watched Frozen for the umpteenth time (never gets old), so figured this was next on my To Do list for the journey. 

I'm not going to lie- I'm sad to be going back to London. I completely broke down on Mama CupandSaucer in Costa on Sunday morning, a fortnight ago I cried on the Tube on my way back from seeing Jenny, and three weeks ago, I sobbed my heart our to my friend J  during out Wiltshire weekend. Turns out, I've been crying a lot lately. I might write a post about the reasons behind these breakdowns, but for now, let's just say that while my former boss recently told me that in the last ten months my rise has been nothing short of meteoric, I feel more like I've been fired out of a cannon and I'm flailing around in a new city, with new people, in a new job, trying to work out how to fly rather than fall. 

But it's okay. I have the next four months nearly chunked into four-week blocks between exciting things (and sometimes with extra exciting things interspersed), and I have the support of my Mama, even if I feel a little lost and lonely, and I think I could be okay. 

Anyway! More on that to come, I'm sure. Generally, I am okay, and this week, happiness is...

... Work trips. The week before I went on annual leave, I was sent on a work expedition to The North (also known as Lincoln). I went to an awesome conference, networked successfully, and left feeling energised and enthusiastic about my line of work. Don't you just love things like that!?

... Paolo Nutini's Caustic Love and Rumer's Boys Don't Cry. These two albums have been the soundtrack to the epic amounts of travelling I have done recently, and both albums are awesome (top songs: Rumer's version of Home Thoughts From Abroad, and Paolo's One Day)


... Devon air. I hadn't been back to Devon since the week before I moved to London in August- and I think that's the longest I've ever gone without visiting. It was so lovely to be back, to catch up with my mama, my brother, my sister-in-law-to-be, my friend J (another J, yes), Papa, Little L, and LR, who I haven't seen in god only knows how long. It was completely needed. 

... New make up and make up brushes. Can you believe that I've never owned any nice make up brushes before now?! I treated myself to Real Technique's stippling and blush brushes, and they have made so much difference to the way my face looks. As has Smashbox's BB Cream- that stuff gives such great coverage for a BB cream. Colour me impressed. 


... Hilarious compliments. An older man from Colorado said to me on Thursday night: "Alice, you have my number, right? Because we could do with a beautiful young chef to come and bake cakes for us..." . Of course, I told him I'd be happy to fly out whenever- but that my few would have to include First Class flights.

What's making you happy this week?