I had planned to post this last weekend but then I came down with something unpleasant and it hung around all week, so my plans went awry. I am thankfully feeling better now and finally getting caught up! Being ill while the boyfriend was away with work was pretty miserable though, so it made days 78 to 82 of my 100 happy days project more challenging than the others. But you’ll have to wait until the next (and final) round up for those (unless you’re following along on instagram); for now here are days 51 to 75, which have seen some family time, a beautiful bouquet, some sunny and sociable days, and some experimenting with curling hair and making marshmallow fudge, the latter of which I’m sharing with you. I’ve never had much luck with fudge before – I’m a bit scared of all the boiling sugar – but the marshmallows make this much less of an exact science. The results are yummy but dangerously moreish!
Chocolate, peanut butter and marshmallow fudge (adapted from Lorraine Pascale’s recipe)
1. Put 70g butter, 300g soft light brown sugar and 125g evaporated milk in a pan over a low heat and melt gently until the sugar dissolves. Add 225g mini marshmallows, turn up the heat and boil for 5-6 minutes.
2. Take the pan off the heat and add 150g chocolate chips and 150g smooth peanut butter. Rest for a minute while the chocolate melts then stir together until smooth.
3. Pour the mixture into a greased and lined 20cm square tin. Cool in the fridge until set then cut into squares. It’s best eaten straight from the fridge.
We had friends round for brunch on Sunday and it was very lovely. We were out celebrating another friend’s birthday on Saturday night so I knew I had to prepare ahead, as there would just be time to roll out of bed and have a shower to shake the hangover on Sunday morning! We love entertaining (brunch, dinner, karaoke, cocktails … you name it, we love to host it) so over time I have developed these tried and tested tips for easy entertaining. I have a friend who is so on top of things he types up a detailed timeline for the day of the do; I’m not quite that organised but here are my top tips for stress free hosting!
1. Plan food that you can prepare in advance. Inspired by my mum, an expert in prepare-ahead meals, I always try to choose a menu which can be prepped earlier in the day (or the night before) and either popped in the oven or quickly assembled on the plates when our guests get here. For brunch we had this spinach and cheese strata (with added chorizo) which I smugly put together before going out on Saturday night! Much less stressful than the tapas feast I made last month which left me in a total last minute flap: lesson learned.
2. Set your table as far ahead as you like, and pick out your serving dishes too. If we’re hosting on a weeknight, I might set the table in the morning before work, or even the night before. It always takes longer than you think to find the matching cutlery (we have two sets that always get mixed up), and the sight of the table all set and ready has a strangely calming effect on pre-party nerves. The same goes for doing any dishes the preparations have created so you start the festivities with a clear, clean kitchen.
3. Clean your bathroom and put out a fresh hand towel. Even if it’s just hanging on top of your own damp towels from your hangover-clearing shower, this is a must.
4. Pick out lighting and a playlist to set the mood: whether it’s bright and bouncy for a big party, or nice and soothing for an early brunch, both can really help to get you and your guests in the right mood.
5. Get yourself very nearly ready before you finish off the food. I usually do my hair and makeup before the final food preparations so all I have to do at the last minute is change my clothes. We live on the fourth floor so at a push I can get changed in the time it takes visitors to climb the stairs!
Last weekend I visited my sister, and on the Saturday we had a girls’ day out to see our Grandma (and my niece’s Great Grandma). I love that we all have multiple roles as our family expands: my big sister is now a daughter, granddaughter, mummy and auntie too. I also love Grandma’s home, and being there with my niece doing all the things we used to do when we were four. Grandma still lives in the house where she birthed her children and lost her husband and although she no longer cooks on the built in stove in the kitchen (it used to back on to the coal fire in the living room, which has now been replaced with a more practical sort for a lady in her nineties), the house still seems the same to me as it always has. Full of big, bold patterns and so many pictures, faces of children and grandchildren and great grandchildren among the knick-knacks and musical boxes and crochet blankets and copies of the People’s Friend. The living room is always cosy, but your bottom almost freezes to the toilet seat when you go to the loo. There always seem to be flowers blooming in the garden, along with the old greenhouse and a shed bursting with stuff, my dad’s domain now. Every corner of the house too seems full to bursting, with treasures crammed in everywhere. I guess when you live so much life in one place you accumulate a lot of stuff to accompany the memories.
I’m over halfway through my 100 happy days now, and I’m enjoying it so much I might do 200 days! Keeping track of happy things every day is encouraging me to notice the little things, the bright spots in dull days, as well as celebrating the big things, and I love that I’m making a record of it all together. Days 26 to 50 have seen spring start to emerge with longer days and cheery flowers, fun with friends and a family filled weekend, and some birthday treats. And that last picture in the bottom corner is evidence of my resolve to be less passive with pinterest, as well as shake up my meal planning. I’m trying to make more of the recipes that I pin, and this one was a big hit.
Creamy cauliflower sauce (recipe from pinch of yum)
1. Saute 8 large garlic cloves, minced, in a little butter. Cook until the garlic is soft and fragrant but not burned as this will taste bitter. Or, if you’re lazy like me, just squeeze some garlic puree from a tube into the mixture in step 3.
2. Cut a medium cauliflower into small florets (about 6 cups) and put in a large pan. Add 6-7 cups vegetable stock or water and bring to the boil, then simmer for 7-10 minutes until the cauliflower is tender.
3. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cauliflower florets to a blender (or large bowl if you’re using a stick blender), reserving the cooking liquid. Add 1 cup of the stock or water to the cauliflower along with the garlic, 1/2 cup milk and some salt and pepper. Blend until you have a lovely smooth sauce; you might want to add a wee bit of olive oil to help with this, and you can add more of the cooking liquid as required.
You should have made a nice smooth creamy white sauce; you can add parmesan or seasoning to taste. We had some with linguine, sundried tomatoes and crispy bacon one night, and made creamy cauliflower garlic rice with spinach the next. This sauce has definitely made it on to our regular recipes list!
Have you ever been to the Camera Obscura? As well as all sorts of weird illusions and a super fun mirror maze (we spent much longer than is reasonable playing hide and seek in it!) there is the camera obscura itself (a giant Victorian periscope which projects live images of what’s going on in the city outside) and the brilliant rooftop terrace too. The roof of a tall building at the top of the Royal Mile is a great vantage point to see the city and beyond. We were lucky enough to have the sun break through the clouds while we were up there, and the views across my beloved Edinburgh were just beautiful. Remind me never to live anywhere in the vicinity with a window facing the terrace though; those are very powerful telescopes!
It was my boyfriend’s birthday yesterday so of course I made him a cake; a birthday without cake is no birthday at all! His Canon enthusiasm and our planned trip to the Camera Obscura inspired this one (along with a suggestion from a friend, who is bound to complain if I don’t mention that it was her idea – hi Jennifer!). I figured black icing wouldn’t be too appealing with sponge cake so made my new favourite chocolate celebration cake recipe from Lindy Smith, and crumb coated it with chocolate fudge icing before getting busy with the fondant. I also quickly realised it would be kind of tricky to cover it all in fondant in one go, so hastily detached the lens and covered that separately. I reckon it added to the authenticity anyway! Once the fondant was all done it was just a case of trying not to cover the boyfriend’s actual camera in icing sugar (and trying to keep my hand steady) as I replicated the controls with edible paint. I’m so proud of the result it was quite a wrench to cut into it – not that the birthday boy seemed to mind!