Sunday, 11 January 2015

New Year Reflections

It's 2015! And it feels so strange. I'm still stuck in 2012... And remember the song 'I gotta feeling'? - 2009!
Time keeps ticking on and before we know it, a year has passed. I've moved into 2015 making all of the necessary resolutions (get fit, spend less time online) but there's something else that's been on my mind too.

I was reading a '2014 in pictures' supplement from a newspaper and I suddenly realised how, whilst my year may not have been a year of fun and games, it was certainly a better year for me than for many others.

The Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Plane crashes.The crisis in Ukraine. The Ebola outbreak.

It was the Nigerian girls in particular that struck me the most. Many of them are the same age as me, and the only difference between us is that I live here in the Uk and they live in Africa. If circumstances had been different, I could have been living in Africa. I could have been kidnapped. I could have been beaten or raped or killed.  It's a shocking thought. And suddenly I've become much more appreciative of all that I have. I can go to school freely; I can speak out without being rebuked; I can even go to university if I want.

I'm not going to pretend I know what life is like in other parts of the world - I know it varies depending on country, class and sex - but even  taking a few moments to remember the ways in which I have been blessed  helps me to stay more positive. I have a warm bed at night (something I don't appreciate enough); I can come home and choose something nice to eat; I'm even able to buy clothes not because I need them but because they look nice.

I'll leave you with a little thought. Whether you pray or not, this picture that I posted on my Instagram last week sums everything up pretty clearly for me.




I'm not saying you have to jump around ecstatically every day (though that wouldn't hurt); it's more a question of attitude. Are you going to spend your year longing for more or are you going to step back and say 'thank you' for what you have now?

Friday, 2 January 2015

Travel list

Thought I'd continue on with this little list series. I'm a list fanatic and it's quite nice to be able to share them with other people!

On a recent trip to Dublin I became filled with excitement at the thought of having the whole world at my fingertips (well, almost). Being in a city always thrills me because I am suddenly made aware of the diversity on our planet - we passed French people, Spaniards, Germans, Japanese... There's so much to discover out there and I hope to do as much as I can now, in my younger years, before I settle down and have a family. 


London

I visited London last year but to be honest, you could spend weeks there and not get bored. After purchasing one of these cute guides last week, it has made me want to return to the capital and seek out tiny restaurants and independent boutiques - not to mention take a walk around some of the markets! 



Copenhagen 

The city of the moment, and one that fascinates me. There's something so simplistic about Scandinavian style and I've fallen in love with the decor of many Instagrammed cafés. Plus, a carbon-neutral city? Now that's impressive! Let's also nod towards the food - cinnamon buns and coffee, or fresh fish and vibrant herbs. I'm going to keep my eyes open for cheap flights, although unfortunately Belfast hasn't established air links with Denmark yet! 


New York


We visited NYC as a family a few years ago - and it's an experience which I will treasure forever. However, having grown up quite a bit since then (and having watched about one hundred more episodes of Gossip Girl), I would love to re-visit the City That Never Sleeps - for brunch, a trip to the Met and another walk around Central Park.

Where would you like to go? Is there anywhere else I should add to my list? 

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My 'To Read' list

A New Year always brings lists. Lists of ways to lose weight / get a promotion / save money... This year I thought I'd make a list about books I want to read over the next few months. 


This Side Of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald's first novel - and one that is 'painfully autobiographical', according to the blurb on my edition. I bought the book because studying The Great Gatsby this year in school made me want to find out a little bit more about Fitzgerald and the Jazz Age. I've only read the first two chapters or so but already I can see parallels between his life and the life of the main character. 

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green 
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.
The above two books were presents from a good friend of mine. He's been asking  me to read them for ages now and I imagine he just got sick of me saying, "I'll buy them later"! Still, I've nearly finished An Abundance of Katherines and, whilst it's very different to TFIOS, it is a lovely book enriched with humour and a little touch of romance. I'm interested to see how the double authorship works in Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Paris by Edward Rutherfurd
I love historical novels, so when I spotted this in Waterstones I thought it would be perfect for me. I'll admit that the large size is putting me off beginning  it in the midst of a busy school term, when I'll only be able to read a hurried page here and there; but we shall see. Perhaps the pull of France will be too much to keep me away from it for very long!


Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz
 I haven't bought this book yet (I might just get it from the library instead) but I've read a sample chapter and it gripped me immediately. I've always been a Horowitz fan (though I never got round to reading the The Power Of Five series) so I'm looking forward to see how he puts his spin on the Sherlock Holmes story. 

You're The One That I Want by Giovanna Fletcher
This book has been on my mind for a while now - initially because the author is married to Tom Fletcher of McFly fame, but also because it sounds like the type of cute love story that could take you away from the troubles of the day. I also received a recommendation from a friend - someone who doesn't read, may I add! - so it's certainly one to add to the list.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray 
Practically a classic by now, this was another Christmas present. Mum and Dad told me that they read it together before they got married and whilst I'm miles away from that stage yet I know it is going to make a good read. It's refreshing to have something different to my usual novels and, after flicking through a few pages on Christmas Day, I can tell that it will be very informative! 

So, those will keep me going for a while! What have you been reading recently / what are you looking forward to reading? Let me know if you have any recommendations! 

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Christmas Tag

I feel as if there's been a serious lack of posts lately - sorry about that! There's been quite a lot going on in my life recently, such as concerts (plus accompanying music practices), dinners out and homeworks, not to mention driving lessons and Christmas shopping.

Anyway, I saw this 'Christmas Tag' on Beth's blog and I thought it would be nice to share a bit of my Christmas with you. I often think I should be more personal in my writing so here's a few little facts about our family Christmas traditions. 


1. What is your favourite Christmas film?
I haven't actually seen that many modern Christmas films, so my favourites tend to be the classics, like Home Alone and White Christmas. I also love The Holiday, even though it's  not really about Christmas!

2. Do you open presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?
When I was little I used to open one present on Christmas Eve simply because I couldn't wait any longer, but traditionally we open our presents on Christmas Day. Again, as a child I would have opened all of my 'Santa' presents in the morning, but last year it was well into the evening before I actually got down to opening them! I suppose it shows that the presents are becoming less important to me as I get older (but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy them!).

3. Do you have a favourite Christmas memory?
Not that I can think of - I enjoy it every year. 

4. Favourite festive food?
Christmas pudding. Mmm. 

5. Favourite Christmas gift?
That's a tough one. I think it would have to be my Cath Kidston purse (I take it everywhere) or an Animal Hospital set I got when I was about five.

6. Favourite Christmas scent?
Cinnamon! Everything cinnamon! 

7. Do you have any Christmas Eve traditions?
Typically it's just getting into my pyjamas early and relaxing with a mug of hot chocolate, an open fire and a film or a good book. This year I'm hoping to go to the midnight service at my local church, if I can stay awake for long enough! 

8. What tops your tree?
A very pretty gold star. 

9. As a kid what was the one (crazy, wild, extravagant) you always asked for but never received?
A singing Barbie which came with a headset/microphone for you to sing into. It was on my wish list for several years!

10. What's the best part about Christmas for you?
Coming home from carol singing to a nice warm house, mulled wine and mince pies. The atmosphere is unbeatable.  

Let me know if you decide to do this tag, too - I'd love to see what your Christmas is like. 

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Christmas baking - Mince Pies

Last year it was gingerbread biscuits. This year, I decided to tackle another Christmas classic - mince pies.

I have friends who think mince pies are disgusting - and maybe that's how you feel too - but for me, nothing says 'Christmas' more than a hot parcel of pastry and spiced fruits. However, mid-way through December I realised that I hadn't eaten any at all this year (well, apart from leftovers in January). Something had to change!


Making your own mince pies leaves a lot of room for variation. Make your own pastry, your own mincemeat... leave out the raisins if you like, add a shot of brandy... I'd never made them before but I'm a definite convert. I made my own pastry (using a 'brown sugar' recipe from an old magazine) but used shop-bought mincemeat and added orange zest, apple, cranberries and some nuts to put my own twist on it.

Have you made mince pies before? What's your recipe like?


Mince Pies (makes 12) 
Pastry
250g shop-bought shortcrust pastry 
OR
175g plain flour
37g (ish) brown sugar
30g lard, diced
30g butter, diced
1 small egg yolk

Filling
1/2 411g jar of good quality mincemeat
1/2 apple, grated
handful dried cranberries
zest of one orange
25g macademia nuts, chopped

1. Make the pastry by mixing the flour and brown sugar together. Rub in the butter and lard until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk and a few teaspoons of water until the mixture comes together. Kneed lightly with your hands until smooth, then roll into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for half an hour.

2. Heat the oven to 180 degrees (fan). Mix the mincemeat with the grated apple, orange zest, nuts and cranberries.

3. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll out until it is the thickness of a £1 coin. Taking a round cutter, cut out 12 circles and place into a bun tin. Spoon about 1 teaspoon of mincemeat mixture into each round, being careful not to overfill the cases as the mincemeat will expand.

4. Use the pastry offcuts to cut out stars or hearts. Top the cases with these shapes, brush with milk and sprinkle with demerera sugar. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until golden. Leave to cool slightly before eating.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Life Lately - November

I've been a little behind with posts recently, I'll admit it. Hopefully over the Christmas holidays I'll be able to get some good material prepared for you! 

Anyway, for now, here's  a little glimpse of what I got up to in November. 



I...
... attended a cookery course and made crème brûlée!

... visited the Christmas market in Belfast and tried a yummy tagine. 

... watched the heart-warming Joyeux Noël - my new favourite Christmas film. A must see!

... bought a gigantic Spanish dictionary from Waterstones. (Oh, I do lead a fun life...)

... played in the orchestra for the school production of 'Evita' - a roaring success and a really great experience.

... drank lots of tea (peppermint, green, chai and Earl Grey) in an attempt to stay warm. 


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Christmas market trip

You've heard about the Christmas markets in Vienna, Bath and Graz. But have you heard about the Christmas market in Belfast? 

It's been a regular event for the past few years, and I always try to fit in a trip at some point during the Christmas season. This year I decided to go early, so one day after school my friend and I caught the train into Victoria Station. We walked over to the City Hall, trying not to walk into busy city businessmen on our way, and squeezed ourselves through the gates into the market. 


I'm going to be truthful here and admit that these photos were all taken at the market last year by my sister. I've recently had to change my phone due to an unfortunate accident involving a pavement (sob) and the camera's not quite as good as I'd hoped. (What should I expect from a £40 phone?) Anyway, whilst some of the stalls have changed, the vast majority of them remain the same. This year there is an abundance of food stalls, which is great if you want to try lots of different foods, but not so good if you've eaten packed lunch a few hours before! 

The best time to go is definitely at night. Whilst the market will be packed out, you will be able to admire the Christmas lights in all their glory as they glow against the dark sky. I think that the food tastes better in the evening, too, when you're tired and cold and hungry for something warm. 

I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking! 



It's not all about the food. There are stalls filled with candles, soaps, jewellery, scarves... 


Treats for sweet lovers.


 And if you're looking for a little refuge from the cold... 





This French patissier has been in Belfast every year without fail. I always make sure I visit his stall! 





 Italian nougat in huuuuge chunks. 








Local chocolate company Fosters' came up trumps with some chocolatey treats. 








Have you ever been to a Christmas market? Where would you recommend?