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!
If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time you’ll know how much I love peanut butter. I got an ice cream maker for the sole purpose of recreating the peanut butter ice cream I had in New York. I’m nutty for Nutter Butters. Reese’s peanut butter cups are pretty much my idea of heaven. Any friends travelling to the US are charged with restocking my supply of peanut butter M&Ms. I can eat the stuff smeared on a cracker, or an apple, or just a spoon. I really, really love peanut butter.
We also all know that I love baking, and that peanut butter and jam are the best of friends, so how could I possibly resist these peanut butter and jam blondies? More plus points for this recipe include being surprisingly effortless, looking a bit special, and keeping well (if given the chance). Make some, you know you want to!
Peanut butter and jam blondies (recipe from Averie Cooks)
1. Melt 110g butter (1/2 cup) in the microwave, then add 1/4 cup peanut butter and soften by microwaving for another 30ish seconds. Stir together until smooth then add 1 cup packed light brown sugar and mix until well combined. Add 1 large egg and 2 tsp vanilla extract and mix again.
2. Add 1 1/4 cups plain flour and 1/4 tsp salt and stir until just combined, being careful not to over mix. Pour the batter into an 8 inch square tin, lined with baking parchment.
3. Dollop another 1/3 cup peanut butter on top of the batter, then do the same with 1/3 cup jam (I used strawberry). Using a knife, marble the peanut butter and jam over the top of the mixture until nice and swirly. It’s easy to overdo it and end up with a mush, so watch out.
4. Bake at 175 C for 22-27 minutes until the centre is set and the edges pull away from the side of the tin. Cool in the tin for 45 minutes before slicing and serving.
As part of an attempt to be lighter and brighter this year I’m doing the 100 happy days photo project. Here are my first 25 days all squished up together; when I see them like this January doesn’t seem so bad after all. There’s been a good mixture of food and exercise, some cheery bits and bobs at home and at work and around the city, some fun times with friends and family, and a good hair day! If you fancy a daily dose of happiness you can follow me on instagram for regular updates, or of course sign up yourself.
Some of the recipes that have made the happy list include tattie scones (a brunch of Burn’s night leftovers, with haggis and egg) and roasted cauliflower, but perhaps my favourite is the one pictured as a work in progress, second from the left in the bottom row. A re-creation of a Christmas day dessert, this white chocolate Bûche de Noël (that’ll be a yule log, then) went down a treat when my parents came for dinner. You need to plan ahead with it (the cream needs a few hours in the fridge to set) but it is well worth the effort for some light, fruity, festive deliciousness!
White chocolate Bûche de Noël (recipe from Sainsbury’s Magazine)
1. Make a fruit syrup. Put 200g mixed red berries and 100g caster sugar over a low heat in a small pan and simmer for 10-15 mins. Sieve over a bowl to drain the syrup and set the fruit and syrup aside to cool.
2. Make the sponge. Separate 5 medium eggs into two large bowls. Add 100g caster sugar and 2 tsp vanilla extract to the egg yolks and whisk until doubled in volume, then set aside. Next whisk the egg whites with a clean whisk to stiff peaks, then whisk in 25g caster sugar. Fold 100g plain flour into the egg yolks, then gradually fold in the egg whites until smooth but still fluffy.
3. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and spread the mixture so it measures about 25cm x 35cm and is level. Bake at 180 C / gas mark 4 for 10-12 mins until golden. Cool for 5 mins then brush the sponge liberally with the syrup you made earlier. Cover with clingfilm and set aside.
4. Make the white chocolate cream. Break 200g white chocolate into pieces and melt (you can do this over a pan of simmering water but I just use the microwave, a la Nigella). In a small pan gently heat 300ml double cream until hot but not boiling. Pour the cream over the melted chocolate and whisk. It might look scarily lumpy but don’t worry, just keep whisking until smooth. Stir in 1 tsp vanilla extract and 100g mascarpone and stir until glossy. Add the zest of 1 lime, then cover and chill for 2 hours.
5. After 2 hours, use an electric hand whisk to beat the chilled white chocolate cream to peaks. There’s a fine line between thick but spreadable and split, so go carefully. Spread a thin layer of the cream over the soaked sponge, and scatter the berries over.
6. Use the baking paper to roll up the Yule log tightly, starting with one of the long sides. Slice off a piece at an angle to make a branch and arrange on a serving platter. Cover the log with the rest of the white chocolate cream. Chill until ready to serve.
Having had a nosy inside our flat last week I thought you might like a look around outside too! I’ve always preferred the east side of Edinburgh and this sunshine-and-showery stroll took in a fair bit of it. We walked from our flat through Canonmills and Broughton, then up North Bridge to see the Terracotta Warrior Lanterns on show at the university’s Old College, all of which seemed to justify a cake stop at the National Museum of Scotland on the way home. If you’re in Edinburgh this week do try to pop in to see the warriors, they’re pretty impressive. Originally made for the Beijing Olympics, they’re here to celebrate Chinese New Year. There’s something very unnerving about a courtyard full of colourful figures swaying in the wind, and I bet they’re spectacular at night.
We moved into our lovely flat in May last year, so it’s only taken me eight months to share a little tour with you! There have been some sneak peeks along the way but I thought it would be fun to show you around. We are lucky enough to be renting this place mainly unfurnished from landlords with great taste, so I can’t take credit for the wonderful wallpapers or the bright yellow door, but I can appreciate them! It’s especially nice to be treated to a cheery entrance when you’ve climbed four flights of stairs to reach it.
The hall is huge with lots of wall space, so we’ve covered it with pictures and prints. That mirror of photographs is one of my favourite things in the flat, and is filling up fast. The whimsical woodland ‘home sweet home’ print above was a Christmas present, and it’s pretty much perfect.
The kitchen is all white, so it’s a menace to keep clean, but is nice and bright and there’s loads of room for cooking and entertaining even with our big oak table. The ‘I like cake’ print was another Christmas present, and I think it’s perfect for that spot. It’s temporarily taped up until we find a frame for it.
The living room brings together the boyfriend’s love of travel and my love of colour (and owls)! He spotted that wingback chair and cushion in Ikea months before we moved in and was determined to make them his. The trunk we’re using as a coffee table belonged to my dad when he first left home, and I love that we now use it for storing our board games and resting our feet.
The spare room is a general dumping ground, storage space, walk-in wardrobe, craft workshop and guest bedroom all rolled in to one. Thankfully it’s on the same scale as the rest of the flat so there is plenty of space! In a bid to make it more homely we’ve displayed some more of the boyfriend’s treasures from his travels.
Finally, here’s our bedroom, complete with my favourite wallpaper and the beautiful dressing table left by our landlord. I love how cosy this room seems, even when the temperatures are chilly. High ceilings and wooden floors make this place hard to heat, but the bedroom always feels snug.
Obviously we have a bathroom too, but it’s hard to photograph the amazing Japanese tub, and nobody wants to see a photo of a toilet! I hope you’ve enjoyed the wee tour. Come over for a cuppa some time?