New Year, New Start: an End, a Beginning

It’s hard to know how to start this, but let’s go for it anyway. If you’re a regular reader/viewer of Contemplating the Clouds, have you noticed that the frequency of posts has dropped substantially over the last month or two? Well, there are at least three of you that probably have, but then agian that’s because you already know.

Know what? I hear you ask. Well, to put none-too-subtle a point to it, Contemplating the Clouds is coming to an end. In fact, this is the final post.

Bratislava at sunset

The final sunset of my three-city holiday in 2012: Bratislava Castle

After two and a bit years of blogging away, it is time to move on and move up. From my perspective, Contemplating has reached a natural point at which to stop and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you for reading. Whether you read virtually every post or just one or two, I do appreciate the fact that it is being read.

In the last 26 and a half months the blog has come quite a long way – and I hope very much for the better. From simple photos with barely even a title that no one really saw to certain posts which get traffic almost every single day, and from silence to long wordy rambles; it has, above all, been one gigantic learning curve. One that has made me realise some things I absolutely love doing, helped me to get and understand my job, and one that has allowed me to share my passion for various things in a way that people seem to quite enjoy.

The Giraffe, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The Giraffe in the NMS

Some of the most popular things that I’ve done are probably not too surprising: posts on the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the National Museum of Scotland and The Water of Leith all rank in the top 10 posts, in terms of visitors (with reviews on the NMS’s exhibitions on Mummies and Catherine the Great also featuring in the top 20). The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee gin-fest, the Olympics and my trip to Moscow are also up there, along with a couple of posts about St Andrews and Graduation (the latter two get visited almost every time either of them is in the news). All in all, I think I can say with some confidence that the blog that started out as a good way to procrastinate that looked more studious that staring out the window, contemplating the clouds, has morphed into something a whole lot more.

Tower bridge and the Olympic Rings

Tower Bridge, during the Olympic Games

There are definitely some things I’ve really enjoyed: going on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Virgin Money Festival Fireworks in 2011 was a treat, so was writing about the Olympics and my little holiday to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava last year. The two blog-birthday ‘Year in Photos‘ series also rank in my highlights, as do the G&T cheesecake and the Chilli and Lime gin.  The entire premise behind Instagrammers Anonymous has been great fun, and that’s without even mentioning St Andrews and some of the heartfelt posts about it.

A year in photos, st andrews, sunlight

St Andrews: Where it all began

But in this world all good things must come to an end. It is not without sadness that I’m hanging up my boots for Contemplating – and don’t worry, it will still be here if you want to read it, there just won’t be any updates – in fact, it was not an easy decision at all, but it’s time to move on to something more.

Chocolate and Ginger cake with Orange butter icing

The Chocolate and Ginger cake – the most viewed post

In the round up of popular posts above I ommited an entire category of posts: food. Food and drink is, as is probably fairly obvious to regular readers/people that know me, a big part of my life. I absolutely love it. I love making it, I love sharing it, I love tasting it, I love talking about it and I love writing about it. Of the top twenty posts on this blog, 10 of the top 20 are based around food or drink. And if you look at the search terms the blog gets found for then 14 of the top 30 relate either to food or drink. Can you spot where this is going?

If you’re curious, then the top two search terms, and the most read post relate to this: the chocolate and ginger cake with orange icing that I made for my Mum’s birthday back in 2011. The searches in positions four and five relate to the second most popular page – the Gin and Tonic Cheesecake. Thinking about it, there’s a fairly obvious direction that we’re heading in.

Sure, I could have just continued on Contemplating and just altered the blog’s theme to be more foodie-orientated, but I took the difficult decision to start over a little while back. Since late November I’ve been writing a few posts and getting a few things sorted out elsewhere on the big bad world-wide web and now seems like the right time to take it to the rest of the world. Please let me introduce you to The Usual Saucepans. Here you will find my latest kitchen adventures, my successes, my ‘must do better next time’ dishes, my love for all things local, and many other things besides. Over the next twleve months I hope to add more and more to this little recipe list and maybe throw in a few exciting twists here and there. So why don’t you pull up a stool, grab a plate and a glass and join me?

I’ve had a lot of fun writing Contemplating the Clouds, and have learnt many valuable leasons from it. But with a new year comes new priorities, new opportunities and so much more. I hope you will come over to The Usual Saucepans and join me there, but first and foremost let me say thank you for reading Contemplating the Clouds and making it such a pleasure to write.

Until the next time,

Craig

The first photo to ever appear on the blog

The first (and last) photo to ever appear on the blog

Instagrammers Anonymous: A Moral Christmas Jam

After last week’s Bond-tastic, Christmas-decoration-busting Instagrammers Anonymous, this week’s edition is back to the good old ‘honestly, I’m not actually middle aged’ stance. Yup, I’ve spent a large chunk of the week in the kitchen.

First off, I started the Christmas Cake! Yes, I am aware that Christmas is still seven-or-so weeks away, but I’m making the actual cake this weekend (it needs to be ‘fed’ at least 5 times before Christmas), so I started prep-ing early. Most recipes say that your fruit needs to steep in the brandy for ‘a couple of hours’ or (in some audacious recipes) ‘over night’. This is clearly nonsense – mine are going to have 6 days. I call this Winning at Life (and most certainly not casual alcoholism).Soaking fruit for the Christmas cake

As if that wasn’t a middle-aged enough start, this week also saw my mum and I’s annual jam making session. We came across loads of wild fruit whilst walking the dog over the last few month, so we helped ourselves to some raspberries, brambles/blackberries (whatever you care to call them) and redcurrants, chucked them in the freezer, and the other night made jam. It’s pretty darn good, even if I do say so myself – just don’t look at the ingredients too closely.Raspberry, bramble and redcurrant jam

And finally, another little bit of ‘It’s too early for Christmas‘ moaning. From today a certain coffee chain (beginning with ‘star’ and ending in ‘bucks’ – I’ll leave you to guess who it is) started selling their Christmas flavours. At least, I suppose, they had the ‘decency’ to wait until November (unlike The Dome), but it’s still too early! Although in saying that, they do have a ‘buy one get one free’ offer on at the moment, so I might have caved and cheered my Friday afternoon up with a cheeky gingerbread latte. My morals are flexible, what can I say?Christmas Drinks (Gingerbread Latte) from Starbucks

My weekend is going to be taken up by Christmas-y things (too early, I know, but we’ve already established the flexibility of my morals), but no doubt there’ll be plenty of photos for Monday. Whatever you’re up to, have a great weekend.

Cr

Swedish Cinnamon Buns – Easy Like A Sunday Morning

A couple of weeks ago I made several references to the fact that I’d spent a (very domestic) Sunday morning doing a spot of baking and – the dreaded – ironing. Now that all the blog-birthday frivolities are over it’s time to share the better half of that morning’s labours – Swedish Cinnamon Buns.

Swedish Cinnamon BunsI’ve always been slightly scared of baking with yeast. No other ingredient has ever stopped me in my kitchen exploits (although granted, the octopus was an unmitigated, rubbery disaster), except yeast. It’s a bit pathetic really. It means I’ve never made a loaf of bread – I think we can all agree that using the breadmaker doesn’t count as baking, delicious as its produce is – not even a measly Chelsea Bun! But these times are a changing, and I’ve done a little manning up.

The Swedish (whose tourist board provided this recipe), it would seem, are quite into their buns. Take that as you will, but they would have it with a healthy dose of cinnamon – none of this icing nonsense that the Belgians and the Americans are in to – and use it as a snack to accompany coffee when they’ve guests about. In fact they like their kanelbullar so much that they even have a national day of celebration for it! Kanelbullar Dag – 4th October, if you’re interested – has been marked for the last few years by bakers up and down Sweden, and I think I might start joining them.

This recipe is really straightforward and whilst that nightmare ingredient might put some off as it initially did me, I would thoroughly recommend using this as the perfect excuse to get over the baking fear. I took the end result into work with me the day after I’d made them; I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that they didn’t last long.Swedish Cinnamon Buns

Swedish Cinnamon Buns

Ingredients

For the dough:
25g yeast
75g butter
250ml milk
50g granulated sugar
1 pinch of salt
1 tsp cinnamon
600g plain flour

 For the filling:
100g butter
100g caster sugar
4 tsp cinnamon

For the Glaze:
1 egg
2 tbsp water
Pearl sugar/demerara sugar to decorateSwedish Cinnamon Buns

Directions

1. Crumble the yeast into a bowl and mix with a few tablespoons of the milk. Melt the butter and pour the yeast/milk mix on top. Add in the other dough ingredients and knead for 10-15 mins (I cheated and got the dough hooks for my mixer out of the cupboard).

2. Put the dough mix into a lightly-oiled dish (it makes it easier to get out), cover in clingfilm and allow it to rise at room temperature for 30 minutes.

3. Roll out the dough – it should be about 3mm thick and 30cm wide. Spread the butter over the dough, then make a mixture of the cinnamon and sugar before scattering it evenly over the dough.

4. Roll the dough up (the long way, like a Swiss Roll) and then chop into equal slices – the mix should make about 25.

5. Place the bun dough into muffin cases on a tray*, cover with a tea towel and allow it to rise for about an hour (or the buns have doubled in size).

6. Beat together the egg and water before brushing over the buns. Sprinkle with sugar and bake in the centre of the oven for around 10 minutes at 225ºC, or until they are golden.

Enjoy,

Cr

*The original recipe told me to put them in muffin cases, but if I did this again I would probably place them side-by-side on a baking sheet, then tear them apart when I wanted to eat them. I would have put this in the recipe, but since the photos show them in bun cases I thought I’d go for a little bit of continuity.

Instagrammers Anonymous: Mixed Reactions

Now that the year has been suitably reviewed in A Second Year In Photos, it’s time to get back to something a bit more normal. Somehow it is once again Friday (where has the week gone?) which means it is time to take stock of the week that has been and look  ahead of another busy weekend – it’s Instagrammers Anonymous.

We’re going to start this week with a moan and a boycott. There is an excellent bar in Edinburgh called The Dome, it was (I think) once a bank, so has fantastically ornate marble floors, floor-to-ceiling mirrored walls and an enormous circular bar. All in all it’s pretty special, and it’s very to lose an evening in amongst the mood lighting and palm fronds. However, they also have a tendency to put their Christmas decorations up too early. WAY, WAY, WAY TOO EARLY! They’ve now been up for a week and a half, and it’s NOT EVEN THE END OF OCTOBER!!!!

In case you hadn’t already gathered, this irritates me quite a bit. I will, therefore, be boycotting it in a sort of one-man (slightly pointless) protest until the 1st December – then it can be Christmasy to its heart’s content.

Christmas decorations, the Dome, Edinburgh

This week also the rather sudden disappearance of a famous landmark. The other day a fog descended on town and Edinburgh Castle vanished from view, leaving some very bewildered tourists looking at their maps and pointing to the blank patch where they (quite rightly) thought it should be. As a side remark to this photo (because the tram-wire pillar is about the only thing you can see) a ‘progress report’ on our sodding tram project came out this week – apparently the whole thing is now “on track”. I think the painful irony of this pun was rather lost on the report’s authors.Edinburgh Castle in the Mist

On to happy and less irate news: In case you haven’t realised, I’m quite the Bond fan. In celebration of the release of Skyfall today (!!!) my younger brother and I decided a while ago to watch all of the previous 22 films. We watched the first 4 then ‘skipped a couple’ before watching number 22 last weekend. With a spare evening popping up on Wednesday, we decided to squeeze another one in, I had an excellent evening in with my favourite Bond film and a large glass of wine. And even better, I have my tickets sorted for seeing Skyfall later this evening. The word ‘excited’ doesn’t even come close to describing my feelings.Casino Royal dvdWith an action-packed Friday night planned and the potential for making some jam to follow on Saturday (just how I roll) it looks like I’m in for a jam-packed (sorry, couldn’t resist) weekend. Whatever you’re up to – I’m just assuming you’re going to the cinema – I hope Adele and the sound explosions brightens up your weekend.

Cr

A Second Year In Photos: Instagrammers (Not So) Anonymous

One of this year’s regular features only started back at the end of April, but since then it’s happened almost every Friday; it is, of course, Instagrammers Anonymous. When I got my iPhone in April one of the first apps I downloaded was Instagram, and the addiction has flowed from that moment on. It’s slightly pathetic, I fully admit, but it’s so easy (and addictive) to take your phone out, take an average photo and make it look more fun with a simple filter. It’s certainly a lot quicker than using a camera and spending an age doing the same thing on photoshop! Over the last six months there have been pets and parties, cakes and castles, gin and *insert something beginning with G (excluding giraffe) here*. Basically, you name it, it’s been there. It seemed only right, therefore, to let Instagrammers Anonymous retain its usual Friday spot and make it day 3 of A Second Year In Photos.

Hello, my name’s Craig and I’m an Instagramming-aholic.

Following the success of the lime and chilli gin and other exciting home-flavoured alcohols I decided to refill my empty Raspberry Edinburgh Gin bottle with my own version of the scarlet nectar. Once bottled it… uhm… evaporated… very quickly…raspberry gin in a bottle with label

The following is one of the first photos I took with Instagram. And to this day remains one of my favourites (nothing like starting well and going downhill from there). It is, of course, of Keira, and until the delightful catastrophe that was me updating to iOS6 it was my phone’s background image.
Instagram, iPhone 4S, Keira

Tomorrow it’s time to celebrate the Jub-Olympic summer!

Cr