Despite its freshness, there’s something about peppermint that feels Christmassy. When paired with chocolate, it’s soothing, comforting and deliciously festive. Pinterest is peppered with peppermint cookies and I couldn’t resist whipping up my own batch. These are fancier than your regular cookies and all the dipping in various toppings can get a bit messy, but if you can’t pull out all the stops at Christmas, when can you?
Luckily for me, Christmas came early in the form of this Kenwood kMix mixer, which was kindly gifted to me by Argos. Whilst I may dream about a KitchenAid underneath the Christmas tree, I realise that Santa doesn’t have that of money – at least not for now. Argos has a great range of different mixers which are a bit more purse friendly. It’s certainly a revelation for this girl, who’s used to mixing with a good old fashioned wooden spoon – a mixer sure takes a lot of the work out of it! This is a fairly hefty mixer, and it’s a little heavy to hold for a long time but it also has an excellent base which means you can stand it on the side of the bowl for when you’re adding ingredients or testing the mixture – which is an excellent feature, because ones I have used in the past have been balancing acts to avoid splashing sticky dough all over the kitchen. It also comes with detailed instructions for what setting to use depending on what you’re making, and it all packs into a handy compact base. Neat, huh?
For simple things like cookies and brownies, a wooden spoon and a bit of elbow grease will do. In fact, I think I might personally prefer it – as you can feel more easily if the mixture is the right consistency and there’s less danger of over mixing (vital for a fudgy brownie). But for anything more labour intensive, like a cheesecake or meringue, a mixer is a must. Have you ever tried whipping cream into stiff peaks by hand? It’s no fun, let me tell you. What takes 15 minutes of hard labour by hand takes just a couple of easy minutes with a mixer like this beauty. Plus, it’s really pretty, right?
On a separate note, I really struggled to find candy canes to make these cookies with. I thought they were Christmas staples but I searched high and low in the supermarkets to find them with no luck. Eventually, with Wendy‘s help, I tracked some down in a 99p shop. So just a warning that it may be harder than you think!
To make 18 medium-sized cookies, you’ll need:
- 110g unsalted butter, softened (just leave it out of the fridge for a few hours before you start baking)
- 200g golden caster sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 tsp. peppermint extract
- 175g plain flour
- 25g cocoa powder
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 100g white chocolate chips
- 200g white chocolate
- 6 candy canes, crushed (I used the end of a rolling pin and crushed them whilst they were still in their wrapping but go wild with it, there’s no wrong way!)
1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C and line two baking trays with baking paper.
1. Cream the butter and sugar together (if using a mixer, set it on a fairly low setting).
2. Add the egg and peppermint extract and continue mixing until fully combined. The mixture might look a little odd at this point, but stick with it!
3. Stir in the dry ingredients until they form a cookie dough. Fold in the chocolate chips.
4. Using your hands, make 18 medium-sized balls of dough from the mixture. Place on the prepared baking trays and squish just a little bit so the tops are flat. They’ll spread a little whilst cooking, so give them room to breathe.
5. Bake for 8-10 minutes. The cookies should still be fairly soft when you take them out of the oven, as they will continue to cook and firm up after they’ve been taken out. Leave to cool on a wire rack for half an hour.
6. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Dip the cookies half into the melted chocolate, sprinkle some crushed candy cane and set on some baking paper or a wire rack to dry. Be prepared to get a little messy – it’s worth it!
Disclaimer: This post is in association with Argos.
I spent most of the weekend doing festive baking, so I am very much in the Christmassy mood right now! The Christmas jumper is out in full force, and when I got control of the office stereo this week, it was Christmas songs full-blast. Other than getting into the seasonal swing of things, I’ve been hibernating under a blanket for most of the week as some antibiotics have knocked me for six somewhat, finishing off my Christmas shopping (only a couple of bits to get now!) and eating my body weight in pulled pork and chicken wings at The Pit in Chapel Allerton. What have you been up to?
- I love these cute illustrations of scenes from Girls, my favourite show this year.
- And on that note, how awesome is this interview between Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling?
- The answers every English student has ever wanted about symbolism in novels.
- Chilli and chocolate is a match made in heaven. Add some cream cheese icing into the mix and you’re really cooking with fire.
- These white chocolate peppermint pots de creme are the perfect dessert for a fancy festive party.
- Every considered going on a cruise? Here are 10 things you need to know.
- These shadow sculptures are absolutely amazing and so clever.
- Hayleigh’s pictures from Peru make me want to pack my bags and get on a plane straight away.
- If you’ve got a friend or family member who’s struggling for cash this Christmas, here are some Christmas gifts which are both fun and helpful!
- Are you thinking about making your blog better in the New Year? Elizabeth has set up a blogging e-course which is guaranteed to help you on your merry way.
- This piece on teenage girls, and why they’re so brilliant, is a must-read.
- If you’re a foodie and you’re not reading the Gingerbread Lad blog, you’re missing out. Take this brandy bread ice cream as an example. See?
- The radical politics of selfies. Yup.
- Why it’s smart to court your friends. Because they’re ace, obviously.
- 17 things to do which will make you proud of yourself in a year.
Christmas for me is, unsurprisingly, all about the food. Food is what makes this holiday the greatest of all – from the fluffy insides of a perfectly cooked roast potato to the crusty crumb of a mince pie and everything in between. A foodie gift is always a good gift in my book; the answer to what you buy the girl who has everything is always something that she can eat. There is one kind of foodie gift that we tend to forget about all year round, until Christmas rolls into view and suddenly it’s the term on everybody’s lips: hamper. Whether you make your own or buy one readymade, there’s no one in the world who wouldn’t grin upon receiving one during this festive season. So you can imagine my delight when I was gifted a Harrods Christmas Hamper - the holy grail of the hamper world.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever ventured into the Harrods Food Hall, but it is truly the stuff that dreams are made of. It’s a gastronomic adventure that assaults the senses (in the best way possible) and leaves you giddy for days. I have visited just once in my short life, and the memory of the creme brulee which I devoured there still sticks with me as one of my favourites. From opulent oysters to magnificent macaroons, you can’t help but feel luxurious (even through the crush of the crowds).
There’s no denying that a hamper from Harrods is expensive – inordinately so. But if you’re splashing out on a Christmas gift, then this might just be the way to go. Packed full of gourmet treats which are sure to delight the recipient, each is as wonderful as the last and will set the tastebuds tingling at the mere thought. As I unpacked mine, I cooed and drooled and exclaimed to Paul over the ingredients of each item. If you want to truly delight someone this Christmas, and you have a bit of money to burn then you can’t got far wrong with one of these bad boys. This hamper is the Harrods Limited Edition Hamper and it couldn’t be Christmas-ier! From mince pies to cranberry sauce, winter tea and lovely little caramels, it’s pure festive indulgence.
Do I think it’s worth the money? That’s a tough one. It costs what it costs, and I don’t think you (or rather, the recipient) would be disappointed if this turned up under the tree but I know that I certainly don’t have this kind of budget for Christmas presents, however much I want to treat my friends and family. That being said, they do have a surprising selection of hampers which come under £50 – a much more reasonable amount to spend on a present. I feel pretty confident in saying that I’m sure that those will be of as high a quality as the one which turned up on my doorstep.
Similarly, a home-made hamper is but a fraction of the cost but can elicit (almost) the same level of joy. If you are hoping to make your own, Rosie has been sharing some lovely recipes for things to include and this guide from the BBC gives you lots of good advice on making the perfect Christmas hamper!
Despite the proliferation of globalisation and the ability to communicate with the rest of the world, there definitely seems to be a push to think local. For environmental, economic and enjoyment reasons, buying and eating local has become more and more important. I’m obviously a big advocate, and where possible like to practice what I preach. When it comes to eating out, I’m a pro – I rarely eat in chain restaurants and many of the local places where I do eat out champion local suppliers.
I’m not as good when it comes to my own groceries, often choosing convenience over conscience, and it’s something I want to work on in the New Year. However, I am even worse when it comes to material goods. Most of my clothes come from ASOS and Amazon is the first place I look when searching for something – whether it be for myself or as a gift.
So I decided that when it comes to Christmas, it was time to put my money where my mouth is and explore my local shops searching for gifts for my loved ones. I knew that there was plenty of choice, it was just a matter of getting off my backside, closing my Internet browser and discovering the treasure trove that sits on my doorstep. Shopping local is one of the best things you can do for your area; those indie shops won’t stay open if you don’t shop in them – so shop in them I would!
It wasn’t quite as easy as I expected, however. I could rave forever about how wonderful some of the shops were – but I found it very difficult to find presents for the people on my list; I kept getting distracted by things that I wanted to buy myself! The beauty of online shopping, as I’m sure you’ll know, is that you can be precise in your search and browsing is much more difficult (have you ever tried to find a new book on Amazon when you haven’t known quite what you are looking for?).
That being said, I managed to pick something up for almost everyone that I needed to buy for. Some will require a bit more thought before I plunge back into the shops – what do you buy people who say ‘there’s nothing we want or need’? It’s a toughie. A better battle plan would have served me well and a list is paramount when it comes to Christmas shopping, but I’m sure you knew that already.
I can’t ever hope to write a comprehensive guide to all the independent shops in Leeds, but I will share with you a couple of the places we popped into on our Christmas shopping spree:
Chirpy: Celebrating their first birthday, this little store in Chapel Allerton is a veritable feast of goodies for the design-conscious; their tagline is ‘design to make you feel fine’ but this shop makes me feel more than fine, I come out positively grinning with joy. There are lots of fun framed prints, cool cushions, lovely nick-nacks and even stylish babywear which will make perfect presents. Definitely one to check out if you’ve not already.
George & Joseph: A cheesemonger tucked down a back street in Chapel Allerton and something of a hidden gem. This was my first time visiting, and I think I want to live there. Watch out for a bit of a feature on this shop in the near future, I want to share more with you! Other than the obvious array of cheeses and a very knowledgeable cheesemonger to guide you around the selection, there were lots of cheese-related gifts (cheeseboards and the like) which would suit the foodie on your list.
The Corn Exchange: I couldn’t possible name all of the shops that make up the Corn Exchange but suffice to say there’s something to suit everyone. From bubbly bath stuff to vintage cameras, jewellery and scarves to prints and posters – you could lose hours browsing in here. Definitely one to check out on your next jaunt to Leeds.
Handpicked Hall: Another place you could lose hours and hours, Handpicked Hall is made up of lots of independent traders who come together under one roof for your shopping pleasure. I picked up a lovely little gift for my grandparents at the Handmade Collective, but there were plenty of other things I could have picked up and taken home with me (see, I can’t be trusted shopping in real life!). This is also one of the most beautiful buildings in Leeds – worth a visit just to see the gorgeous roof on the top floor.
I obviously can’t tell you exactly what I bought – plenty of people that I buy for read this here blog and I don’t want to spoil any surprises, but suffice to say I felt pretty good at the end of the day when I returned home to wrap my presents, safe in the knowledge that I had spent my money wisely.
Are you shopping local for Christmas this year?
I love the idea of going to bars with my friends, sipping cocktails whilst dressed to the nines in sparkly outfits. In reality, however, bars often irritate me. They’re too busy, too loud and too often full of strange men who cop a feel as you walk past. Not cool, guys, not cool. I like to be able to talk to my friends, get a drink in a reasonable amount of time and sit down when my feet hurt. It’s surprisingly rare to find that. Which is where RARE comes in…
Whilst I may sound like an old lady who hates fun, I was gratified to know that someone out there heard my pain and started creating a bar where I could have all of the fun with none of the complaints I usually have. It’s clearly not just me that gets frustrated with the bar scene as it stands (see also: bars which turn into clubs at 10pm. What even is that?). RARE is a bar with a difference; not only is it stylish, staffed with friendly, attentive waiters and waitresses, and stocked to the brim with delicious food and drink, it is also a bit of a sanctuary for those of us who love cocktails without the crowds. Standing room is limited at RARE and ‘uncommonly excellent’ table service is offered all night. Wonderful.
It’s only just opened, so only time will tell if this new offering on Lower Briggate will provide exactly what I’m looking for in a night out – but from the preview night I can say that the prognosis is certainly good. When we arrived, we were greeted by a smiling face and an interesting drinks menu. The cocktails were inventive and unusual – my gin cocktail came with a pancetta garnish (yes, you read that right) and the menu as a whole was small but perfectly formed, which was rather the theme of the whole evening.
Drinks in hand, we were lead down the candlelit stairs to the restaurant below. The decor throughout is stylish but forgettable – exposed brickwork, low lighting (hence the slightly grainy photos, apologies!) – but there is one thing that will stick in your memory for a while. The crowning glory of the restaurant, Sue the taxidermied cow watches over you as your eat from atop her pedestal – this isn’t one for those squeamish about where there meat comes from, but she is truly a thing of beauty.
The service during our meal was excellent at all times, despite only just having opened the waitress certainly knew her way around the menu and made some excellent drinks recommendations. We opted for the Porterhouse Steak to share – a big hunk of meat that retails for £60, which is no small amount. Is it worth it? Perhaps not, depending on your budget (there’s plenty on the menu for less), but I’ll bet you won’t regret it once it shows up on your plate. At first I was disappointed in the lack of accompanying sauces, as I usually like a peppercorn with my steak, but the full flavour of the beef was so delicious that I really didn’t miss it. It was a little more medium than medium rare, but there were no complaints from our table.
If you’re a vegetarian, this is perhaps not the place for you – the veggie options were limited but for the rest of you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the food at RARE. Like everything in the place, it’s well thought out and executed brilliantly. After that steak, I wasn’t sure that dessert would impress me but I was entirely wrong. We both opted for the Cinder Toffee Pudding, which was gorgeous. Plenty of sauce (no one likes a dry pudding) with a sharp apple ice cream which I’ve not seen with toffee pudding before, but which went absolutely perfectly – cutting through the sweetness of the sickly toffee with pizazz.
If you’re a Leeds local, this is definitely somewhere you’re going to want to check out – a welcome addition to our dining scene and nightlife and one that I hope sticks around for a long time!
Is it just me, or is the end of the year always the busiest? It feels like everyone is trying to squeeze in as much as possible before 2014 and I’ve been a super busy bee for the last few weeks. It’s ironic that everyone wants to go out just as the weather turns and makes me want to stay in. Or is that ironic? I’m never sure on the true meaning of the word – but you get my gist. So it’s been rather quiet on the blog over the past week – I’ve been busy battling the elements to do plenty of socialising and travelling about instead. Thankfully, today I’ve been able to slow down a bit and have spent the day snuggled on the sofa next to the cat merrily typing away on my laptop so there’ll be plenty of lovely things for you to read on this here blog over the next week. Christmas is coming up fast, so I’ve also been blasting through my Christmas shopping this weekend and am almost done! How has your week been?
- Hannah took photos of the men who harassed her on the street; the resulting pictures are very interesting.
- The Other Woman’s story makes for fascinating reading, whether you agree with her actions or not – I joined Ashley Madison and now I’m sleeping with 4 married men.
- I’m constantly perving on houses to buy in our area; this article questions why we’re so obsessed with the concept of owning property.
- Mindy Kaling gives some wonderful advice to teenage girls in her own indomitable style.
- Time for a spot of cuteness – these 10 cats are Internet famous for their unusual markings.
- I have a lot of Thoughts on ‘Choice Feminism’ (basically, I’m not into it) and this article on what went down at a MumsNet discussion on mummy blogging and feminism is definitely food for thought on the subject.
- What kind of procrastinator are you?
- Chipotle is one of the best flavours going. So I’m drooling at the thought of these Double Chocolate Chipotle Cookies.
- I’ve always liked gravy on my chips, but apparently that’s a Northern thing. Find out how one writer got on in the quest to find Northern food in London.
- I have never been more in agreement with something written on the Internet than this amazing article from Yes and Yes – My Problems Aren’t Your Responsibility (YEESSS!!!)
- Buttermilk is hard to get hold of in the UK (I’ve only ever found it in Waitrose) so here are some of the best buttermilk substitutes from Joy the Baker.
- Feel like you’re in a rut? You need to read this.
- Aren’t bodies awesome: Why do I always wake up 5 minutes before my alarm goes off?
- Looking for some more blogs to read? Check out this list of the best fitness, health and happiness bloggers.
- Here are 17 productive ways to spend 5 minutes instead of checking your email again. So useful!
November has been jam-packed. I feel like I say that all the time, but having a look at my calendar I can safely say that this time it is very true. I can’t complain really, it’s lovely to go out so much, eat out at lovely restaurants, try new bars, spend time with my gorgeous friends but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to January when things might calm down a little bit. Plus, we’ve booked a weekend away in Edinburgh for the end of January – so that’s something to look forward to in itself!
Since my Masters has finished, I’ve been very much enjoying having weekends again! Rather than making careful choices so that I have enough time and energy to write my dissertation, I can finally take up everyone on their invitations. November saw me making a trip to Nottingham to stay with friends (and their adorable daughter) and getting myself down to London for a flying visit to see my best girl friends. Aren’t they gorgeous?
We ate Mexican food, feasted on churros and sipped tequila. We ooh-ed and aahh-ed at the Christmas lights and then we headed home to watch that perennial favourite, Mean Girls. We know all the words but it still has us in hysterics. I wish that we could spend more time together, and I was reminded how much friendships are made up by knowing the mundane little details of each others lives, rather than just the big things that you tell colleagues and acquaintances. I miss that, living so far away from my oldest friends. I need to make a better effort to be more involved – and having weekends again will hopefully make that easier.
I love London, but going there does make me feel very grateful that I live in Leeds. I feel like I get all of the benefits of city living without the crowds of tourists, the price tag or the need to trek for hours to get where I’m going (seriously, everything in London is so bloody far away from each other!).
November is often a time for reflection and gratitude. Whilst we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK, I’m glad that part of the holiday has made its way over the pond to us. I think it’s natural to want to reflect as the nights get darker and colder, as we look forward to the end of year and the start of another new one. I am always a positive person, but this month I think I have genuinely felt happier and more content than at any other stage of my life. I sometimes have to stop myself from smiling as I walk down the street so people don’t think I’m odd.
There is a lot to be grateful for, and I am very lucky in my life. I have a great job which I love, a homely flat full of lovely things, a partner who makes me laugh every day, a wonderful group of friends, a loving family, an adorable cat (even if she does hate me), and a comfortable life where really I do not want for anything. I could skip down the street I’m so happy (but again, people might think I’m odd). Some of those things come from my own hard work, but so many of them are down to luck. I don’t want to take a single thing that I have for granted because my cup runneth over, and I know there are many people who are not as happy as me. November has brought this into very sharp relief for me, in one way or another, but it is something to take forward into December and into 2014. If I can continue to be as lucky, I want to continue to be as grateful.
That all got a bit deep – but it genuinely has been the theme of November for me. December’s theme is looking like a lot of cocktails and not a lot of sleep but I am very much looking forward to the end of the year, spending time with my friends and family and launching into 2014 with as much enthusiasm as possible.
How was your November?
As a blogger, there can be a lot of pressure to create bigger and better things. To experiment with salted caramel and tuiles and recipes that use up all the bowls in the kitchen. Even the simpler recipes should involve fashionable foodstuffs, like kale and pine nuts. Don’t get me wrong, I love a pine nut along with the best of them, but sometimes the simple things are the best.
We went to visit some friends in Nottingham this weekend, so I whipped up some fairy cakes for their little girl. She’s a super cutie and, thanks to my intervention, she took her first selfie this weekend. She’s definitely a girl after my own heart, but unlike me she doesn’t care for caramelised onion or cardamom. Fairy cakes, however? She’s all over those.
There’s something very comforting about the fairy cake. A handful of ingredients all chucked into one bowl, spooned delicately into colourful paper cases. It’s reminiscent of childhood baking, where the decoration (read: sprinkles and coloured icing) was more important than the cake itself. When you couldn’t be trusted to break the eggs but licking the spoon was your speciality.
I used a Mary Berry recipe, but a fairy cake is a fairy cake. Be sure to sift the flour, or at the very least whisk it before adding it to the mixture, to get a lighter sponge. I added a little bit of vanilla, because I can’t leave well enough alone. Other than that, get stuck in and enjoy the nostalgia (and this cute baby photo).
Being an adult is weird. When I was younger, I was desperate to be an adult. Now I am one, I’m still desperate to be one. I don’t feel like an adult, even though the trappings are there – the flat, the job, the responsibility, the age, the ability to drink in bars. I wonder if I’ll ever feel like one. I’m certainly enjoying being an adult – having disposable income and no curfew is the best – but I definitely feel like I’m playing at it.
What is it that make you an adult? Age feels like an arbitrary number most of the time; for some reason when you’re 17 years and 364 days you’re not deemed an adult but at 18 years and one minute, you suddenly become one and are allowed to do important things like own credit cards and vote for the next government. I look at my parents and they are adults. There’s no which way about it. My grandparents are even more adult than that. Maybe it comes with experience, or maybe it’s a sense of mind. I wonder if they feel as adult as I think they are?
As I continue to make more and more decisions about my life, it feels more and more important to act like an adult. I have to act like an adult and save my money, rather than spending it on lipsticks and shiny shoes. I have to think about whether I want to buy a house and what I want to do with my career. I talk constantly about how I want a puppy, but you definitely have to be a responsible adult to own a dog. It all feels like a lot, and whilst sometimes I think I’m nailing it, at other times I very much feel like I’m pretending.
I feel like an adult when…
- The bathroom and kitchen are clean
- I can answer questions on University Challenge
- People compliment my baking
- I go to my friends’ weddings
- I can give my sister advice about Universities
- I wear high heels
- I cook a successful roast dinner
- I don’t get ID-ed at the supermarket buying wine
- I know what kind of wine to buy from said supermarket
- I have an opinion on mortgage rates and housing prices
- I don’t have to sit on the kids’ table at family events
I don’t feel like an adult when…
- I spill things down my top (frequently)
- My shoes have watermarks and scuffs on them
- All I eat all day is Salt & Vinegar Pringles
- My nails are chipped (always)
- I hold my friends’ babies
- I fall over in high heels
- I chain watch Jersey Shore at the weekend
- I cry at Harry Potter
- Something serious happens and I don’t know what to do
- I wear business dress (does anyone else feel like a fraud in a suit?)
What a funny old week – there’s definitely been some weird parts! Our boiler broke so we spent most of Thursday night making a cat nest so Tuna wouldn’t freeze. Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t impressed. There was a bit of drama at work the same day with a man threatening to jump off the roof of the car park right in our eye line – don’t worry, they got him down! Other than that, I’ve been enjoying getting my Christmas jumpers out of hibernation, having dinner and cocktails with Emma, eating my weight in pulled pork at The Pit with my colleagues and spending the weekend frolicking in Nottingham with some of my favourite people and their adorable baby girl. Oh, and buying myself some McBusted tickets, obvs.
I’ve also been thinking about submitting my dissertation to a journal, but the thought of sitting down to do academic work again is very tiring – I might leave it until January. With the frost in the air (and, on Thursday, in our flat) and the Christmas lights twinkling, I’ve definitely been thinking a lot about next year and how I want it to pan out. But, I think I’m content. If 2014 could look a lot like the last couple of months, I’d be a very happy bunny.
- Want to know what it’s really like to go to Burning Man? Paul is desperate to go – me, not so much. Not because it doesn’t sound ace but I’d much prefer if it was in a colder climate!
- Bangs and a Bun nails it (again) on women, ageing and shining brighter
- If you’re a blogger, you might find this checklist of things to do before hitting publish useful!
- We don’t always want to think about what we would do if the worst should happen – but I think you should read this post on surviving if you lost your job.
- I want to make this candle holder for when I have a long table and dinner parties.
- Gruyere is my favourite cheese, so to me these fresh herb and gruyere puffs sound like heaven.
- The same could be said of these grated apple and cinnamon rolls.
- Souffles are usually thought of as tricky – but follow the instructions and you should be fine!
- I’m a total cat lady and an interior design fiend, so this cute post managed to combine a lot of my favourite things.
- And on that note, Megan’s flat tour video is adorable – I can’t wait until ours is more shareable!