The Joys of Winter – A Final Thought For The Year

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December has been drastically busy. In the in-between moments I have been busy making wreaths – it’s a bit of a tradition, and I make them out of whatever I can find. At the old house it used to be wisteria, and last year I made them from fabric. This year it’s conifer.

Do you remember that last Christmas we cut our own tree? Well this year my colleague Neil brought me one. How very kind. It turned out to be a conifer, so I cut it up.

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At the beginning of the month we had a lovely evening at Pint Shop in Cambridge with fifteen of the Cambridge Eat Up! crew. Eating, chatting, swapping foodie stuff, and sharing goody bags filled with delights from my friends at Willie’s Cacao, and Teapigs, Hope & Glory Coffee Co, Whitworths, Graze and Yushoi. Good goodies.

That morning, when I’d gone to let the chickens out, six of the girls hopped out of the house, but the Slipper Sisters didn’t appear. I poked my head into the run and found poor little Cindy Slipper dead, her sister Patty was sat close to her making quiet little noises. It was a sad scene, but as I kept an eye on Patty for the rest of the day I noticed how kind the other chickens were. They stood close to her, they shared food with her, and I think they showed her compassion. Where it used to be a gang of six, and the Slipper Sisters, now it’s a close-knit team of seven.

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We celebrated my mum’s birthday and had a day out in Suffolk exploring. We celebrated 10 years of MoJo living with us, and celebrated by buying him some cat breath spray and trimming his nails.

I re-visited my BA Photography portfolio group at Staffordshire University and was so pleasantly surprised by all the hard work they’d put in, and how ready they are to now show their work to prospective clients. Then we had the Shutter Hub meet up at The Snug in Cambridge and that was bloomin’ lovely too!

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It’s just been busy, and fun, and hectic, and now, all of a sudden, it’s going to be Christmas. It’s one of those things, people talk about it all the time, but you never think it’s going to happen to you, and then it does.

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I keep seeing things online saying ‘What’s the best gift you’ve even given?’ and ‘What does Christmas mean to you?’ and it makes me think, because I don’t really have an answer for them.

I know that soon we’ll all be moaning about having eaten too much, knocking out lists to show how we are going to be stronger/better/richer/happier in the new year and then disappointingly falling of the positivity wagon on January 1st when we accidentally eat a cheese and onion pasty washed down with a low quality banana milk drink (see here). And hey, on the scale of things, it doesn’t really matter!

Amongst all the cheer and the fun, the gifts and the dinners out, and all that shiny stuff, amongst it all I’ve had it continually demonstrated to me that the thing that really does matter is family.

Not the wonky idiots you were born to (I speak for others, my mum is ace and I love her dearly) but the family you build around you. The family you create from the people you gather into your life and the wonderful weirdos who join you on your journey of ups and downs. It’s okay if they sometimes go off on their own journey but come back to you when they need you or you need them, and it’s okay if they never come back – because we don’t need to be beholden, we need to be empowered.

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Just lately I have been reminded of the wonder of the human heart – not in an anatomical sense, but for love, and kindness, compassion and perseverance.

I don’t need to hear people whinging on about the insignificant crap of Christmas, and quite honestly I can’t hear them, I’ve tuned out. All I can hear is my own little brain, ticking away, filing information, collating relating articles, wondering why people are so arrogant, or ignorant, or selfish, and then the ticking stops, and a little goofy face pops into mind.

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My dearest friend from forever ago, my stupid, daft, wonderful friend. With the voice of an angel and Meatloaf combined(she does a bloody good impression), the teeth of Nanny McPhee (her words, not mine), a heart of absolute gold and a sense of humour that has been the saviour of her and of others, Emma.

A lot has happened in the past few weeks, and whilst everyone else seems to have been rushing around preparing for Christmas, Emma has had other things on her mind. A dear old friend was killed in an accident, her brother is in intensive care after a brain aneurism, and Emma’s husband has been in a coma after a horrific accident at work.

They say ‘don’t work with children or animals’, but seriously, avoid falling trees too if you can. Although after four weeks Emma’s husband has now woken up – and his family are delighted that he can see, and move his hands, and speak – there’s still his memory missing and it’s terribly sad.

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Emma has been amazing. Amazing. She’s kept everyone informed, and been strong and powerful, and clever, and all the good words that you could possibly think of, but none of the words our school teachers would have called her. (Up yours Mr Stokes!)

I am so very proud of her brilliance, and grateful to have her as a friend, as part of my family. She reminds me not to take life too seriously, and she reminds me that things could always be worse, or better.

And, I wanted you to know that! I don’t know why. I don’t want to be gushy, and I certainly don’t want to make anyone sad, but I guess what I do want to do is share a little snippet of life, where things aren’t perfect, but good people do their best. And whilst the ugliness of greed and anger and ignorance goes on, I want to be drinking tea with Emma, laughing and joking, seeing the joy in every moment for as much as possible, because thats what we have. Snippets of joy, and family. Selected, chosen, dear and real, family.

So, this year, I’ve been thinking, for Christmas what I would most like is for Emma’s husband to remember who she is, so they can both go home to their children and carry on living, and, if there’re two gifts going because I have been very good this year, perhaps Father Christmas could bring Emma a fresh supply of hope, just incase her’s ever runs out.

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You didn’t think this had turned into Jerry Springers ‘final thought’ did you? I’m sorry!

I’m wishing you a Merry Christmas, and I am hoping you spend it with good people, people who you love and appreciate, and who reciprocate that love and appreciation.

We are off to run free, to celebrate the winter and a good year, to hang out with cuddly cats and compassionate chickens and really good people, and probably eat a little bit too much cheese.

See you on the other side, in the future, 2016. I suspect I’ll be dressed like her out of 2 Unlimited.

In the meantime, if you want to, we can hang out on Instagram?


Hot Chocolate at Home with The UK Food Blogger of the Year

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That’ll be at my house then, fwaaah fwaaah!

I was standing in the foyer of the Ibis Budget Whitechapel, reading the £6.95 24/7 pizza sign, when I discovered I’d been announced as a finalist in Blogging Edge’s UK Food Blogger of the Year Award. Shortlisted… in the top 5! Wow then.

In the end it came down to a public vote. I never thought I could win, and on the night the voting ended I stayed up until midnight, regularly refreshing the page like a weirdo whilst keeping my fingers crossed – which did hinder my refresh-ability somewhat, but I like a challenge.

I am absolutely, totally aware that I am not the best food blogger in the UK, but I do like dinners, so I am happy to take the accolade.

I really wanted to celebrate with a tea and biscuit party, but that hasn’t happened, I’ve been too busy (being a winner… ha!), but I have, rather miraculously, made time for hot chocolate. A timesaving creation, it’s a drink and a pudding all in one place, so marvellous.

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I’ve been hectically rushing around everywhere, so it was good to have a weekend at home for a change. With the wind howling outside, blustering and beating at the windows and blowing the chickens sideways across the garden, it was nice to be indoors with a fire for warmth, a fat cat for cuddling and a hot chocolate for multitasking (a drink and a pudding, I tell you!)

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I met Willie Harcourt-Cooze a while back, at lunch, in Islington. I was busy telling my companion how awesome the chocolate was, when a voice in my ear said ‘and it’s made by a very charming man!’ (For a teeny split second I thought I was thinking it, but then I realised I didn’t recognise the accent, it didn’t belong to my brain!) Willie really is rather charming, and just so because of his passion for his product. The beans are shipped from all over the world to Willie’s factory in Devon, ‘from bean to bar’, and the chocolate is all about the individual flavours, like fine wines, each single estate cacao has its flavour influenced by it’s place of production – the soil, the climate and so on. Also, all they add to these chunky little bars is a bit of raw cane sugar – no vanilla, no soya lecithin, no nasties. Brilliant.

If you try anything, I recommend giving these Apple Brandy Caramel Black Pearls a go. Made from ‘Rio Caribe 72’ dark chocolate and filled with delight, the best thing is to pop one in your mouth and allow it to melt – dont chomp it down, just let it melt so you get the full impact of the flavour. It’s like a grown up candy apple.

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Less than a week after being crowned King Food God Extraordinaire, or whatever it was, I trotted along to the Cambridgeshire Digital Awards with my chum Claire and ate a lot of potatoes. Food Godding it up, I was.

To warm us up, the ‘comedian’, Mark Dolan (he’s off the tele and everything) was on stage for 20 minutes – or ten years, I don’t know which, it seemed a very long and unfunny time, littered with the C word. I told Claire I was going to lay on the floor in protest, but I couldn’t be bothered, and I thought people might notice that I was actually wearing old lady slippers and not proper shoes.

When the award giving got underway it was a relief.

The third award to be given out was for the Best Website for Lifestyle and Culture, I cheered as the bronze and silver awards were awarded, and then when the gold was called, I actually shook. Shutter Hub! Oh my goodness! We work so, so hard, and to be recognised means a lot. I jigged onto the stage (apparently, that’s what it said on twitter!) and accepted our award from former BBC journalist Robin Bailey. He was really kind about Shutter Hub, and I was doing so well, so it was bound to happen – ‘What makes you different from everyone else?’ he asked, ‘I’m a weirdo!’ I announced gleefully to the large audience in front of me.

Claire said I got more laughs than the comedian. Someone tweeted ‘Best speech of the night!’ and I was oblivious because I was smiling so much that it was hard to see.

When it came to Best Blog for Entertainment, I had an idea that it would be between Jessica in Your Ear and Loved by Laura, they both put a lot of work into their blogs, so I wasn’t surprised when Laura got Bronze, and Jess got Silver, but I was totally gobsmacked when the winner was announced – I Don’t Like Peas!

I made my way back onto the stage, a familiar face (weirdo) to the audience. I told them that my blog came about because I really didn’t like peas and I needed a portal for sharing this information. Later a man came and shook my hand, all gangster stylee, he told me that he didn’t like sprouts, and I felt that we had a moment of honesty there, where he knew he was in a safe place and he could speak freely.

I can’t remember who won awards for what, but Claire got Silver in the Best Blog for Business and I was chuffed for her, because she works bloody hard, is super nice, and has a squishy faced cat called Tamarillo. Tick, tick, tick, in my book!

The grande finale of the night was two boys crashing their cars into each other right in front of me as I went to leave the car park. I think they were showing off, I was in my pimp mobile (hundred and fifty quid Golf) looking fly, obvs. It’s not The Fast and The Furious, you know! I’m not going to race your for your mum’s Kia Picanto.

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Any way, the chocolate! The chocolate, as eaten by multi-award winning High-Tech Princess Dinner Master of the Millenium, or something like that.

Even though they say the Venezuelan Gold ‘Rio Caribe 72’ has ‘complex notes of coffee and nuts’, I really like it, and I don’t like coffee, and nuts don’t like me!

For the hot chocolate I chose the Madagascan Gold ‘Sambirano 71’ for it’s tangy fruitiness, as I thought it would go perfectly with a pinch of cinnamon.

I took two 50g bars, broke them up and popped them into my magic pan, melting the chocolate with 100ml of semi-skimmed milk, to start with. (Use a bain-marie, or a microwave if you have one!)

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When the chocolate had melted into the milk I added the rest of the milk, double cream and stirred it up. I whisked it until it was lovely and hot, not boiling.  Then poured into cups, and glasses, sprinkled with cinnamon, and savoured.

My ingredients:

100g of Willie’s Cacao Madagascan Gold
400ml semi skimmed milk
200ml double cream

That makes enough to serve  3-4 people, in small cups, you really don’t need a lot!

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It’s an easy peasy thing to make, and so satisfying. You can use any chocolate you like, milk or cream, make it thick or thin, you can add a touch of chilli if you wish, it’s really up to you. Just make it!

So far this week I’ve not won any prizes, but there’s still time.

Cheers to the chocolate drinkers! How do you like yours?