Instagrammers Anonymous: Christmas Cake and All the Wrappings

Did you know that the other day was Christmas Day? Yes? Thought as much, I suppose that means we can skip the introduction and just assume we all got presents then ate and drank a little lot more than is probably good for us.

But Christmas time also means that the end of the year is coming up very soon, making this the last Instagrammers Anonymous of the year! Sad times indeed.

You know how sometimes the strangest of things make you smile? Well, that happened to me the other day when I discovered Christmas Jumper wrapping paper. Possibly the most unnecessary thing this Christmas, but amazing none-the-less.Christmas Jumper Wrapping Paper

Sticking with the Christmas theme, here’s something I did the other day. After a couple of months of baking and feeding, I finally decorated the Christmas cake on Christmas Eve. After years of penguins and parcels, this year it was high time the turn of gingerbread men.Christmas Cake

I hope that you had a wonderful Christmas, whatever you did, and are now looking forward to the new year. See you in 2013!

Cr

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

A Second Year of Contemplating

Picture the scene: It’s Monday evening after a long day in the office. I’m sitting on the sofa  slurping my way through a bowl of my roasted tomato and red chilli soup, mopping up as I go with a big hunk of crusty bread; the dog is, as ever, lying at my feet trying to soften my heart of ice with those big brown eyes. It was then that I had a thought. I dismissed it as a little ridiculous to begin with, but as I was finishing off my follow-up ‘course’ of a glass of lovely red wine left over from Sunday night’s dinner the thought came back to me and this time I couldn’t shake it – tomorrow is the 16th October. Contemplating the Clouds is two years old.

Yes, in the disorganised chaos of my daily life – it’s my preferred choice for organisation, it would seem – I almost forgot the blog’s birthday. This wasn’t the case last year – oh no – then I was so organised that I even went out and bought it a cup cake and a number 1 candle (have a look over here, if you don’t believe me). This year, the dog and I are sitting staring at the screen, wondering what to write (or in the dog’s case, why there isn’t cake involved this year).

The first year of Contemplating the Clouds was my first foray into the blogging world. It started with just photos, then was transformed by the addition of words. This time last year I thought that perhaps I was getting better at both the photos and the words; now I feel – I hope – that they have improved again – I know there are certainly fewer typos (and thanks to the friend that has no qualms about calling me out on them if they do appear; I do appreciate it, even if I don’t always sound grateful). But what of the theme and overall purpose of Contemplating? Well, that too has solidified a bit. This is a blog about a 20-something living, working, procrastinating, eat and drinking in Edinburgh. Oh, and about the adventures I run off on every so often.Edinburgh, Carlton Hill, Old Town, Lent, 40 Days of photos

I said last year I had no idea what the coming year would hold, and whilst it hasn’t been without its share of appearances from the drama-llama, I think it’s been a fairly settled one. At birthday numero uno I was three weeks into a temporary job that could end with virtually no notice in a company that had less than six months before it ceased trading  to say it was a little uncertain is a bit of an understatement, and the fact that I had no idea what ‘proper’ job I was ever going to get (if I would get one at all) was weighing pretty heavily on my mind. As it transpired I temped at the exporters for five months, and only left because I found gainful employment in the real – or perhaps that should be the surreal – world. I’ve now worked in internet marketing for the last seven months. It’s a massive jump from the world of academic biology that my university days in St Andrews were filled with, but I really enjoy it. Of course it’s tough at times and after seven months I feel I have only just begun scratching the surface of all there is to know – but that is part of the fun of it. Working mainly with the travel industry is also something I really enjoy – even if I do get pretty severe travel envy at least once a week – but perhaps what’s surprised me the most is how much I love writing. That may sound rather stupid from someone who writes an often fairly word-y blog, but when this started it was all about photos. My writing still has some way to come, I think, but we’ll see what the future holds on that front (although I wouldn’t hold your breath for a novel, quite yet).Defender of the Nation, Edinburgh Castle

The other thing I mentioned last year was that I’d like to go on holiday again. It was very much a passing remark, however, I am pretty sure it wouldn’t have made it in at all, had it not been something I really wanted to happen. And happen it did. With friends scattered across the country – and indeed the globe – I have been lucky to go away several times over the past twelve months, in fact travels have come to rather define the year. There was a little trip to London last Christmas time, followed Buxton, Peak District, Millers Dale, Wriggly Tin, quarry, hiking, viewpointvery quickly by another to St Andrews, the early new year was a bit dull, but the end of February saw the adventure of the Wriggly Tin (a long weekend to the Peak district, partying it up the likes of which Buxton has never seen before…). It took a while after that, but as the season that held the somewhat misleading title of ‘summer’ rolled around I put those accumulating holidays into use: first was my trip to Yorkshire for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and less that eight weeks later I was heading south again – this time bound for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Olympic Games in my capital city: London 2012. For anyone that was reading the blog around then, you’ll know that I had an absolutely fantastic trip, I didn’t shut up about the Olympics for weeks. But as the Jub-Olympic summer was drawing to a close I had other travels on my mind – my whirlwind trip to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava. Let’s be honest, my summer’s travelling has dominated the last twelve months, it was utterly extraordinary, and something I doubt I will ever get the chance to repeat.My tickets for the Olympic Tennis - so excited!

Icing dribbling over the side of the cakeAnd that neatly brings me to the present day. Whilst I have no idea what the coming twelve months will hold I am pretty safe in suggesting that it will certainly hold more of three things that have filled the blog with lots and lots of images this year (away from all my gallivanting). They are, of course, dog walking (Keira isn’t going anywhere, after all), my attachment/addiction to a single app on my phone, Instagram, which has spawned the weekly round-up of Instagrammers Anonymous, and my other huge and overriding passion – food and drink. These three things have kept me busy over the last twelve months and I have no doubt that they will continue to flourish – who knows where they might take me.

To celebrate one year of Contemplating the Clouds I ran a week-long series called A Year In Photos, which involved me picking out my favourite 12 photos from the year (plus perhaps a bonus one on the side). Whilst the connections between the paired up photos were sometimes pretty tenuous, we all struggled through and seemed to quite enjoy them, so to advance on that it’s my self-promoting pleasure to follow this long-winded essay by seven days of (considerably shorter) posts – A Second Year in Photos.Monument to Peter the Great, the Moscow river and the cathedral of christ the saviour

All that’s left now is to say thank you. There would be very little point in me writing this blog if I didn’t think there were others out there reading it, so I’d like to extend a thank you to each and every one of your who reads the blog; much as it is an enormous cliché to say, it does mean a lot to me. It doesn’t matter whether you read every post, or just the odd one or two; if you’re the person in Edinburgh or Auckland that visits virtually every time I write a post, or you’re the person in Singapore, the Bahamas or Kazakstan who has visited just a handful of times, the very fact that you read it makes me happy.

And here is the perfect time to raise a glass of whatever is you happen to have handy (mine’ll be a G&T, please) and say here’s to a fantastic year of Contemplating the Clouds and procrastinating to our hearts’ content; and here’s to the future, whatever it may bring.

Cr

A Birthday Indulgence – Chocolate and Amaretto Cake

Of all the family traditions we seem to have collected over the years – they range from the bizarre to the utterly ridiculous – one of my favourites is the birthday cake. if you’re at home on your birthday (or about the right time) you get an exciting and customised birthday cake – home-made, of course. This has led to many interesting creations over the years, like a 7 with the long part as runway with plastic fighter jets on it Chocolate and Amaretto birthday cake(my then life’s desire), a zoo with a chocolate finger fence and a jelly penguin pool, a chocolate and orange cake (made with some liqueur brought back from some Spanish holiday), and a Martian-green After Eight cake – to name but four of mine from over the years. But these masterpieces are almost always created by my mum; this leaves us a problem when her birthday comes around. The last couple of years I’ve been around, and so the predicament of what to make has fallen to me. Last year, after much debate, I made a chocolate and ginger cake with orange icing, so the pressure was on to come up with something original for this year.

Chocolate and Amaretto birthday cakeHaving flicked through a couple of cook books and put them back on the shelf with as much inspiration as before, I turned to my trusty childhood toy box (a big wooden box, covered in stickers, which once held all manner of games and jigsaws) which has now been recycled into an alcohol cabinet. It was here I came across my trusty bottle of amaretto. It’s a sweet, almond liqueur from Italy and as well as being very tasty as a drink it also works fantastically in baking – I use Disaronno, others are available but they’re not as good (I’d specifically warn against the other, cheaper, brand that Tesco sell – that experience was not pleasant).

I’ve also been watching a ridiculous amount of the Great British Bake Off recently (well, I had to catch up on the episodes I’d missed whilst on holiday!) so I got a little bigger than my boots and let ambitions reach some lofty heights (for me, that is). And so the matter was settled – I would make a Chocolate and Amaretto cake with a whipped Dark Chocolate and Amaretto ganache. Simple…Chocolate and Amaretto birthday cake

The recipe for the sponge is adapted from the blog of a former GBBO contestant, Holly Bell, and the ganache was made up as I went along from a combination of GBBO watching and recipes I found online. My ambitions may have got the better of me when it came to piping the ganache, but we’ve all got to start somewhere, and as the rest of my family are terrified of piping bags the thought and effort was noted, rather than the final presentation. Clearly I need to make more cakes with piped ganache on top!

Ingredients:

For the sponge:

150g castor sugar
175g butter (room temp.)
150g plain flour
3 large eggs (room temp.)
2 tsp cream of tartar
35g cocoa powder
35g Greek yoghurt
40ml amaretto

For the ganache:

300ml double cream
200g (good) dark chocolate (broken/cut into little pieces)
20ml amaretto (or other alcohol of your choosing – or no alcohol, if you’re so inclined)Chocolate and Amaretto birthday cake

Method:

1. Butter and line two cake tins; put the oven on to 180ºC (GM 4).
2. Cream together the butter and the castor sugar – I was lazy and used the mixer – until the mixture’s light and ‘fluffy’. Then add in the flour, cream of tartar, bicarb soda and cocoa powder and combine.
3. Add in the eggs and Greek yoghurt slowly until the mixture comes together. Then add in the amaretto – I might have been slightly more liberal with the measurements than the volume stated above.
4. Mix for about 3 or 4 minutes, or until the mixture is light and smooth. Scrape into the two lined cake tins and shake gently to level.
5. Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until risen and bouncy. (My oven appears to be playing up at the moment and over heating – the originally suggested 30 mins in the oven – so keep an eye on them!)
6. Allow the cakes to cool – do not ice until completely cooled as you’ll melt the ganache.

7. To make the ganache pour the cream into a saucepan and heat until it starts to bubble. Then add it into a large bowl containing your chopped up chocolate.
8. Stir the chocolate-cream mixture until the chocolate is fully melted, then add in your amaretto – again I might have taken a liberty on quite how much amaretto went in.
9. Allow the ganache to cool until it has semi-set. For a glossier finish you’re meant to do this at room temp., but I was short on time so chucked it in the fridge, where it took about 20 mins.
10. Once the mixture is thick enough, whip it until it forms soft peaks, then put a couple of spoonfuls in between the two sponge layers and spread almost to the edges. Pipe the rest on to the top of the cake in whatever fashion you chose.

Give it a try – it’s a pretty simple recipe and tastes absolutely wonderful, even if I do say so myself.

Cr

Instagrammers Anonymous: Back to Normal

Aaaaaand breathe…

For about the first time in a month I sat down last night and did absolutely nothing. I sat watching reruns of various BBC panel shows on Dave. There was no rushing about searching out last minute holiday essentials, no reading up on destinations, no being on holiday, no post-holiday chores like washing or writing excessively long blog posts (over here, if you want a look – I know I sell them so well). I took the dog for a bit of a walk and that was it. Life is clearly back to normal. If life is back to normal that means it’s high time for the weekly addiction round up – Instagrammers Anonymous!

First off we’ve got the dog, and the attention I got whilst eating chocolate cake which she wants in the worst way, but obviously can’t have.

Following all of the high winds and rain that have been battering the UK this week, I noticed  that the benches in Princes Street Gardens appear to be sinking!

I also upgraded this week to iOS6. It’s caused me a few problems (don’t even get me started on the maps – although this has been my favourite website this week) but, much more excitingly, I discovered that I can now take panoramic photos on my phone! And embarrassingly they’re as good as (if not better) than the ones I can take on my actual camera.Panorama of Princes Street Gardens and Edinburgh Castle

Hope you’ve had a good week and are looking forward a weekend that’s as lazy as mine is going to be!

Cr