Christmas Eve and a Holiday Favourite

It’s Christmas Eve!  All of my presents are wrapped, and food is prepped, so not it’s time to relax and celebrate. Christmas Eve is always the bigger celebration in our house, with Christmas day more relaxed. One of my favourite things to make during the holidays is my family’s recipe for bourbon balls, which we’ve been making since I can remember. I have no idea where my grandmother got this recipe, but it’s definitely a favourite. Over time I’ve tweaked it a bit, most notably by adding a bit more bourbon than the recipe calls for.

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I’ve made a few other small changes, altering the sugar in the recipe, and the type of cookie used–the recipe itself calls for vanilla wafers, but since it can be hard to find these in dairy-free versions, I sub another wafer cookie,like Newman’s Own Alphabet Cookies, which give the same texture. I’m not a huge fan of adding corn syrup, so I like to sweeten with maple syrup, which also adds a bit more flavour rather than sugar. Sometimes I’ll coat them in cocoa powder rather than confectioner’s sugar for a more chocolatey flavour

Here is the adapted recipe as I actually follow it now. The coconut oil, one it solidifies, helps to hold them together without the corn syrup. You can tweak the maple syrup a bit to taste. I like to use a food processor to help crush the cookies and walnuts, but I recommend doing them separately, as you don’t want to cookies to be completely broken up, but to have some texture left.

Ingredients: 

• 7.5oz vanilla wafer cookies

• 4oz walnuts, chopped finely

• 1.5 tbs coconut oil melted

•2 Tbs dark cocoa powder

• 2-3 Tbs maple syrup

• 3-4 tbs bourbon (or rum)

• 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

• 1/2 c confectioners sugar

Directions: 

  1. combine cookie crumbs, cocoa powder,  and chopped walnuts in a large bowl
  2. add the bourbon or rum, vanilla, and coconut oil and mix until a cohesive dough forms. If the mixture seems a bit loose, add more bourbon (or maple syrup if you prefer).
  3. form the mixture into small spheres with about 1-1.5 tsp each.
  4. Let dry for at least 30 minutes, but ideally an hour, then roll in confectioner’s sugar or cocoa powder

You may want to double the recipe as they go quickly! These would also make a fantastic new year’s snack , or a super last minute gift that is both thoughtful and delicious.

Merry Christmas if you’re celebrating!

Day Trip- Oxford and Blenheim

Cameron’s family got into town last week, and on Saturday they invited us to come to Oxford with them on Saturday. Both Cameron and I spent a summer at St.John’s college in Oxford when we were at University, so we were really excited to go back.

We got a bus from London to Oxford Saturday morning and decided to go to Blenheim Palace first, which is about twenty-five minutes outside of Oxford. We’d each been there before- I was there in 2012 for the passing of the torch before the Olympics, but in the winter it was very festive. There were ivy crowns on all of the busts around the downstairs, and Christmas trees throughout. Even though it was a bit cold, it was a clear, almost sunny day. We toured the downstairs of the house, which Cameron and I have both done before, and then wandered throng the formal gardens before heading back into Oxford to do a bit of exploring before the sun went down.

Once we got back to Oxford we showed Cameron’s family a bit of St. John’s college, and then wandered over to the Radcliffe Camera, which is always gorgeous, then the Sheldonian Library, the Bridge of Sighs, and finally to Christchurch, which we managed to reach just before it got dark, though didn’t make it inside as it was about to close. It was a bit strange to be back at St. Johns, but fun to explore. I think Cameron and I will go back soon and spend a bit more time- it’s the sort of place that’s so packed with things to do and see that you could spend at least a full day wandering around.

We ended up having a late lunch/early dinner at a fantastic Thai restaurant which I’d actually been to before- Chang Mai Kitchen. It’s located in a really wonderful old building built in 1637, and has absolutely fantastic food- I wish I could go weekly! If you’re in Oxford I definitely recommend checking it out.

We took the Oxford Tube there and back which made the whole trip really simple and flexible, as they run all day at a pretty regular interval. I could ramble on for quite a while about all of the things to go and see, but instead I’ll opt for a short list of things I think are must-see’s if you’re planning a visit to the area. I’ll put it on the Get Away page so it’s easy to find!

 

Friday Cocktail: The Chelsea Sidecar

This past week has been unexpectedly busy. Our boiler broke, which left us with no heat and virtually no hot water (fortunately it was finally prepared yesterday, so I am once again warm and have clean hair!), Cameron’s family arrived for the holiday, and I’ve been hard at work on my end of term essays. All of this has left much left time for writing/creating new posts than I would like.

The weather in London has been surprisingly warm, and we’ve had a few (almost) sunny days that has made it hard to motivate myself to do work, but has made sightseeing quite nice. Cameron and I don’t usually do a lot of sightseeing, but having his family here has encouraged us to do a bit more, which has been a lot of fun.

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For this week’s Friday Cocktail I found some inspiration in all of the exploring I’ve been doing, and thought this cocktail, named after one of London’s boroughs would be a fun tribute. It’s wonderfully simple, and the combination of orange, lemon, and gin is wonderfully fresh and crisp.

Ingredients:

• 1.5 oz gin

• .75oz triple sec

• 1tbs lemon juice

• ice (for shaking)

Directions: 

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker, shake vigorously and strain into a cocktail glass.

I can’t believe next Friday is Christmas! Next week’s post will be from my family’s house back in the states, and I promise to do my best to post, but its entirely possible that life may get in the way. Either way, I hope everyone reading this has a great holiday (whatever you happen to celebrate), and safe travels!

Cheers!

 

Friday Cocktail: The Coffee Cocktail

As 2015 comes to a close and list detailing the “best ___ of 2015” show up more and more over the next few weeks, one one my favourites are the predictions for 2016. It was exactly one of these that caught my eye and inspired this weeks post.

Yes, I know that there were coffee cocktail in 2015, but it some ways I feel it hasn’t quite taken off yet. Sure, independent coffee shops with are popping up everywhere, and some offer fresh and creative ‘cocktails’ made without alcohol, but full of complexity and flavour. It only seems natural that the current obsession with all things coffee, mingled with the popularity of niche cocktail bars ranging rom speakeasies to 1960’s Americana, would create some sort of wonderful hybrid.

Sure, this one coffee cocktail is not the only one possible, but it’s pretty delicious. It makes sense- coffee is full of amazing flavours, and every bean, blend, and brewing method can bring out different flavours ranging from sweet, to smoky, to fruity, and of course, bitter.

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To make the cold-brew coffee this drink calls for, I find a french-press is the best tool, but you could also use a large glass container, then a fine mesh sieve to strain the coffee from the grounds. You don’t need a lot for each cocktail, which means more for you in the morning (an added bonus).

Ingredients: 

• 2oz dark rum

• 1oz cointreau

• 1oz cold-brew coffee

• 1/2 oz simple syrup

Directions: 

  1. shake all ingredients with ice
  2. strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with an orange or lemon peel

 

 

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If you’re a bit wary of having coffee in the evening, this amount should be fine. Personally though, I don’t mind the little bit of caffeine, as daylight savings in London makes me sleepy around 7:00pm. One of the things I think is especially fun bout this cocktail is the possibility of experimenting with different blends of coffee– something super dark would be a lot more intense, while something lighter has the option of making a lighter-tasting drink that would be lovely in warmer weather.

Have a good weekend!

Ai Weiwei at the RA

Today I finally got to Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy. When it first opened in September I’d just begun classes, and though I seriously considered going on opening weekend, I ended up not because of reading I wanted to get done. Last week I was looking at upcoming exhibitions and realised that this weekend is the last one for this exhibition. In a bit of a panic I booked tickets straightaway, and am so glad I did.

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Walking up to the RA you pass by a corridor of trees, not alive, but assembled from pieces of dead trees from southern China. They are just as beautiful as they are haunting; on of the most interesting features being how they came to be there. The tree’s a very large-scale installation, were made possible through crowdfunding, which I think is really interesting and pretty amazing. I’m not sure if this sort of funding will play an increasing role in the creation of exhibitions, but I really like the idea of people becoming more involved in the creation of such exhibitions. Yes, large institutions, especially those in the UK, receive funding from the government, but there is something very cool about having such a personal connection to an installation by choosing to contribute a sum of money, no matter how small.

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Straight, with the names of the earthquake victims on the wall behind

The exhibition charts a large portion of Ai Weiwei’s career, and features several of his large, recognisable works like, Grapes, Straight, photographs from his 1995 Dropping of a Han dynasty urn, a pair of jade handcuffs, and a massive bicycle chandelier commissioned for the space.

While many of his works active use humour, and display the amazing craftsmanship of artisanal techniques and historic materials- making them fun to look at and engaging to think about.  The two I found myself most affected by were Straight, and the 2012 work S.A.C.R.E.D.; Straight because of the heartbreaking source of the materials– rebar from the 2008 earthquake, and because of the unbelievable long list of names of the victims of the earthquake, largely children. S.A.C.R.E.D features six scenes from when the artist was held illegally by government authorities for over 80 days. Peeking into the large metal boxes that house them, the scenes are eerily real, yet almost unbelievable- making them all the more shocking.

I don’t usually opt for the audio guides, but I’d heard that the ones for this exhibition were particularly good, and they didn’t disappoint. With commentary about the history and background of the artist, there were clips of the artist himself featured, as well as additional photos and videos of some of the works, and a timeline of his history.

The visit wasn’t all serious– shortly before I took the photo above of Straight, a gentleman tripped over the corner, causing one of the pieces of rebar to roll a few inches away from the the whole, yet continued walking like nothing had happened. The work was virtually unharmed, thankfully, but it is interesting to think about what Ai Weiwei’s reaction would be to the incident.

The exhibition closes at the end of this next weekend (13 December) so if you are in the city and haven’t made a visit, I definitely recommend trying to fit it in before it closes.

Friday Cocktail: Cranberry Old Fashioned

As I mentioned at the end of last week’s post, this week’s cocktail is inspired by the holidays;  this drink, combined with one of Spotify’s holiday playlists, and you’re ready to trim the tree and start wrapping presents.

Shockingly, this year I’m actually on-top of Christmas shopping, which never happens. Perhaps it’s because I know I will have to fit everything into my suitcase (which requires a bit of planning), or perhaps it’s because Christmas in London has been happening a bit longer than it does in the US, and is visible just about everywhere you go. One of my friends recently said that Europe just does the Holidays better, and after experiencing this year I’m inclined to agree. Everything looks so festive, there are lights over streets, christmas markets, and I’ve even seen a few groups of schoolchildren carolling. The only thing missing may be cooler temperatures and some snow.  Actually I take that back– I’m totally okay with temperatures around 50°F.

This cocktail actually came about last week at “Friendsgiving” on Friday night- we managed to have both prepared cranberry sauce and fresh cranberries, so rather than letting them go to waste, we repurposed. I suppose you could use cranberry sauce (if you have any leftover) instead of the cranberries and sugar, but it may make a much sweeter drink depending on how you like your cranberry sauce.

Ingredients:

• 5-7 fresh cranberries

• 2-3 dashes bitters

• 1tsp sugar + 1tsp water

• 1.5oz bourbon (Bulleit is my favourite here)

Directions:

  1. Muddle sugar, water, and cranberries in the bottom of a shaker (tip: to have a more red finished drink, let the muddled cranberries sit for a little bit before adding the rest of the ingredients and shaking)
  2. Add the bourbon, dashes of bitters, and some ice. Shake vigorously to combine
  3. Strain into a highball glass and garnish with an (optional) orange slice

I hope your holiday preparations are off to a good start. Give this cocktail a try at your next holiday get-together, or next time you are feeling extra festive at home watching Christmas movies on Netflix.

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Cheers!

 

 

Finding Calm in the Holiday Hustle

Where did the last three months go? I feel like it was just September and Cameron and I were moving, and suddenly I’m prepping to go back home in two weeks for the holiday. Crazy! Recently I read a quote that really resonated with me, especially at this time of year– as we get older the days feel longer, and yet the years feel shorter. It’s a strange concept, but the more I thought about it, the more true it seemed. I suppose that means there is all the more reason to make the days count!

With all of the excitement (and a bit of stress) this time of year can bring, I feel its even more important to enjoy the days as they come. Every year it feels like there’s so much time around the holidays, but then before I know it, its New Year’s Eve and I find myself thinking, ‘where did the time go?’

Last year on the first day of December I challenged myself to do yoga every day through the new year so that I could carve out for myself a little bit of quiet and calm, while maintaining some sort of fitness routine through all of the holiday parties and yummy foods. I ended up sticking with it for far longer than planned, and rekindling my love of yoga, which first began in after-school kids’ yoga through middle school.

The past few months I’ve only sporadically found myself on my mat, focussing instead on upping my running milage, and getting caught up in all of the speed of the city. Feeling a bit at a loose end a few weeks ago, I decided to revisit my yoga every day challenge. I decided to follow Leslie Fightmaster’s YogaFix90 (on youtube here) to get me back into a daily practice because hers is one of my favourites available for free online. If you haven’t tried any of her classes, I definitely suggest giving it a go– she has all levels and incorporates some great quotes during savasana.

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My favourite yoga mat (available here)

Since I’ve begin the 90 day challenge almost two and a half weeks ago, I’ve definitely noticed some positive changes. Surprisingly, I’ve been calmer, you could even say more centred, which is strange considering all of the work I’ve been doing for school while gearing up for the holidays with the minimal free time I have left. Not as surprising are the physical changes I’ve noticed already- my biceps have returned, my running times shortened, and my posture has even improved. So, if you find yourself stressed just thinking about the next few weeks, or even just in need of a short workout you can do indoors, I definitely suggest trying Leslie’s channel. Most of the videos in the 90 day challenge are 30 minutes or less, which is amazing, and makes squeezing in some ‘me-time’ totally doable.

How do you find calm when things get busy? Let me know in the comments, or if you try any of Leslie Fightmaster’s classes!