soundtrack series: december

December is such a throwback month for music, dusting off cobwebs from some Christmas favourites I wish could be played all year.

Compiling a list of my favourite songs this month was so hard as I wanted to list most of the charts. There’s nothing better than singing along to a Christmas classic whilst baking up some winter goodness.

I’m not a big music buff, and dip in and out of genres and artists, so I’ve enjoyed sharing my soundtrack series this year, in the hope it might introduce you to artists you haven’t heard of before. I find that if you like one specific genre, it can be easier to stick with it instead of venturing out into the unknown. (My dad is a stickler for this – apparently music from his era is the only ‘good’ music out there!)

So I bring you my 12 songs of Christmas (because 5 just wasn’t enough)…

1.Fairytale Of New York – The Pogues

Always at the top of any Christmas soundtrack I write, Fairytale of New York is my ultimate Christmas singalong. Whether I’m at home, driving in the car, or out and about, it’s on every playlist I listen to in December. Who doesn’t love The Pogues?

2. River – Eminem & Ed Sheeran

I like this song so much that it’s often on repeat and the volume is turned up as soon as I hear it. It’s quite catchy and good to listen to if you’re wrapping presents and not yet in a very Christmassy mood.

3. Let Me Go – Hailee Steinfield

A great background song which at first, I really didn’t like. After a few listens, however, I’m a fan. Not my favourite song from 2017 but it’s a good one.

4. Anywhere – Rita Ora

A good for everything song which I think is one of my faves from 2017. Not usually a huge fan of Rita Ora but I like the chorus (and know all the words which helps).

5. New Rules – Dua Lipa

I need Dua Lipa to write me a rule book to life because it’s just so true. The lyrics of this song are great and it reminds me of dancing around the kitchen in Edinburgh on a girly weekend away.

6. Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?

Another Christmas classic comes from Band Aid. I love the original version but the modern one is equally as good. I always associate Christmas with a small collection of songs, this one included. It wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

7. Christmas Lights – Coldplay

I absolutely love Coldplay, and would say they appear in most of my playlists. And I’m not usually a fan of modern day Christmas songs, but I absolutely love the mellowed out sound. The piano introduction is really magical.

8. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday – Wizzard

I adore this song. It’s incredibly cheesy and corny, but it’s so catchy and I really do wish it could be Christmas everyday sometimes!

9. Reggaetón Lento – CNCO & Little Mix 

I might not know any of the words, but this is one of my favourite songs of this year. I make up the lyrics when I sing along because I love it (and wish I could remember the words.)

10. Havana – Camila Cabello

Such a good song to do anything to. Not too loud, but loud enough to enjoy wherever. great for driving (and singing along to) and great lyrics. An easy listener.

11. Perfect – Ed Sheeran & Beyonce

Although I wasn’t originally a huge fan, the Beyonce version of Perfect has definitely grown on me. I love Ed and his music, and like Beyonce and hers but didn’t imagine them ever crossing over. But I like.

12. Roots – Grace Davies & Paloma Faith

I’m not a huge fan of The X Factor anymore, but I watched the final this year and loved the addition of original songs. This one was one of my favourites. It’s such a humble song and I adore the lyrics. Paloma is also a gem.

So there you go! It was very tough to whittle it down to just twelve, and there are lots more which I’ve loved listening to that will no doubt make an appearance in the new year.

Have a good one x

love sophie

the big traditions: the present swap 

There’s just something about traditions. They usually involve meeting up with people you don’t see too often, or doing something you wouldn’t normally do, which is why I absolutely love them.

One of our main traditions around this time of year is with university friends of my parents. Our families have grown up together, but living in separate cities means we only get reunited for special occasions (or the occasional fundraiser!)

The annual pre-Christmas present swap takes place in York, and each family brings a different course. I love it because it’s possibly the only time we are all together and catching up. I’m the youngest ‘child’ at twenty one, and with the older ones in full time jobs (I’m too busy with my MA) we are rarely altogether.

After a couple of rounds of prosecco and some general chit chat, we make our way to the table (adorned with Christmas delights and crackers.) The most prized gift from the crackers is the fortune telling fish, which makes it’s way around the table between courses every year (one of the many traditions of the evening.) It usually assures me I’m independent and then by the time it gets to the end we’ve exhausted it. The poor thing no longer moves.

As well as amazing food (often vegan or vegetarian to cater for everyone) there is hilarious entertainment from the questionably talented Pete and Steve (my dad) who sing a rendition of their classic song ‘Christmas in the Clink’ (which is in its fourth year.) Pete strums guitar and Steve sings the lyrics he’s written to fit the events of the year. We’ve heard everything. We’re all primed to join in with the chorus and are sometimes even allowed to join in with percussion (although the latter not as much.) We joke every year that they should have made Christmas No’1 but it’s yet to actually happen.

This is followed by an orchestrated cacophony of music as we all receive a pitched whistle and become a whistle choir (each numbered so we know when it’s our turn.) Cue a lot of laughter, whistles flying across the room from excessive blowing, and several missed notes. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a ridiculous game of some sort, would it!

We’ll crack open the jokes from the crackers and wear our hats, and then one by one (we’re very diplomatic) we’ll take it in turns to say our joke. This year we even added some of our own.

After dessert, and several more drink top ups, we stay at the table and natter. It’s amazing how many random topics twelve people can talk about. Then out comes the tea and coffee along with a fine spread of chocolates to add to the food baby we’ve grown.

Before you know it it’s half eleven and the night has flown. We usually say our goodbyes over the course of half an hour (is this just us?) We’ll get up from the table and move to the kitchen. Talk. Put on our shoes. Talk. Find the coats. Talk. Collect up all our belongings for the food. Talk. And then remember to swap the presents, the main purpose of being there.

We’re in the car by midnight (on a good night) and then it’s back to Leeds we go, after a little more chatter whilst we load everything into the boot.

It’s the one night that always gets me feeling Christmassy, even if I wasn’t before, and I hope the tradition continues far into the future as it’s definitely one of my favourites.

Do you have any traditions you have at Christmas? Or generally throughout the year?

Let me know!

loce sophur

lactose free loves: mince spies 

The most frustrating thing I find at Christmas time (as well as other times throughout the year) is the lack of free from options for all the lovely treats. So much so that my mum actually mentioned it to the Manager in M&S when she couldn’t find a single cake in the shop that was free from dairy.

She and I both bake at home, and know how easy it is to swap some things around to make it lactose free. So why is it so difficult for M&S (who you’d think would be up on this stuff) to stock a single cake?

I really dislike food shopping at the best of times; I hate trawling through aisles of food that I know would make me really sick. I usually tend not to do it, and if I do I’ll just run around quickly for the basics which I know I need.

Going down festive aisles full of lovely treats and food which I would have once been able to eat just makes me so sad. (Seeing my mum put it in the trolley for the others makes it even worse!)

So, post-frustration, I came home and found myself in the kitchen, adamant I was going to make something I could actually eat.

So I made some mince spies (as we call them in our house.) The lactose free recipe is below for anyone else who struggles at Christmas.

(And M&S, if you’re reading this, it’s piss easy!)

Ingredients:

pastry:

4oz (100g) flour (and a little bit for rolling)

20z (50g) lactose free butter

a pinch of salt

3 table spoons of water

 

filling:

mince meat (I used 75g however this depends on how big you make your pies)

one shot of rum (for extra flavour, am I right?)

 

method:

1. Preheat the oven to 185 degrees. Rub together the flour and butter until small breadcrumbs are made. (If you have a food processor like I do, you can bung it all in there and it will do the hard bits for you!) Pop a hole in the middle of the crumbs and add the water a little bit at a time until the mixture forms a dough.

2. Roll out the dough on a floured surface (mine was roughly 5mm thick) and use cutters (or a knife and an imagination) to cut out twelve circles. Pop these into a bun tin. Then with the remaining pastry, cut out smaller circles (I did stars) for the lids.

3. Put the mince meat into a bowl and add the rum. Mix together and then add one teaspoon to each pastry circle. Top the filling with the pastry lid.

4. Cook them in the oven (at 185 degrees) for 22 minutes (or until lightly golden.)

5. Coat in a dusting of icing sugar to make them look nice, and enjoy!

love sophie

 

 

one hand wonder: a silver lining

So, to top off having a delightfully painful shoulder surgery (not just a little hurt, A LOT OF HURT) I got my arm trapped in a door for added shits and gigs yesterday.

Spoiler alert: NOT FUN!

(Post op, would not recommend leaving the house unless you have a large selection of body guards in tow, or after several G&Ts to take the edge off. I had neither.)

It’s most frustrating because it’s really bashed my confidence (and pain threshold) to the point where now I get anxious on buses and in busy crowds. Not good for someone relying on them for transport to uni or to get home for Christmas.

I’ve gone from being stuck inside unable to go anywhere, to being stuck inside too anxious to go anywhere.

Since my op in November, I’ve been *attempting* to manage with one arm since one is, for the near future, trapped in a sling. It’s not easy. I found it was the things I thought that would be easy, or didn’t worry about, that turned out to the the things I struggled most with.

And everything takes aaaaages! I could be pulling on my jeans for at least ten minutes. Or brushing my hair for half an hour (even longer if I had to wash it!)

Which is why I’m trying to find a hilarious silver lining to help me through recovery.

Behold: ‘A list of five things that are difficult with only one hand.’

  1. slicing bread.

You’d think I’d just buy sliced but it just isn’t the same. Picture the scene: I’m stood in the kitchen, delighting in the fact I managed to reach the shelf with the bread on in the first place. Then I get the bread knife and, with one hand, attempt to saw a piece off.

Spoiler alert, it ended with crumbs everywhere, and the bread acting like jelly and going all over the place (I think it even landed on the floor at one point.) Safe to say I gave up and wedged the packet between my legs and pulled a piece off in anger. It was much more effective.

On a general, cooking is really difficult. Lifting heavy pans full of food is impossible, even with the good arm. As is getting things in and out of the oven. The microwave is just about possible because you can slide things in and out straight off the counter.

I’d recommend a balanced diet of biscuits ( although you might have to get someone to open the packet), houmous and carrot sticks, raspberries, and pasta.

And that’s without me even mentioning cutlery.

2. ‘doing’ my hair.

As a general, I didn’t really care what I looked like for the last few weeks. I was at home, everyone was AWOL so I spent most of the time under a blanket on the sofa with a cuppa and the television. I didn’t do much, and when I did it was so cold I’d just shove a hat on or wrap my scarf around my head to cover it all up.

One thing I love to do (if I’m just doing nothing all day) is having my hair on top of my head in a might big bun. It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing thing in the world but it works for me.

A fun fact about me is that I really don’t like having my hair down. It gets frizzy, especially in the latest arctic temperatures, and never does what I want it to.

So this factor was a nightmare! I had to compromise with a weird twirled up bun which I’d make with one hand and just tuck the end result into whichever top I’d managed to pull on. Voila!

3. making a brew.

I mean, seriously. I’ve just had a lovely operation and now I’m tortured with the fact I can’t even make a cup of tea without some sweat.

Step one is boiling the kettle. But I couldn’t lift the kettle. And I definitely couldn’t lift the kettle and work the tap at the same time. In the first week, what I’d do was put the kettle on a tray which I’d carry across to the sink with my good arm and then put in the sink to fill, carrying it back the same way. Tetris.

Step two is getting the tea bag. It’s alright if you’re already in the packet, but if you’re unfortunate like me you have to go and acquire assistance from a neighbour. It is really hard to pull packets apart if you’ve only got one hand.

So the brew is on the go, but how am I going to carry it whilst turning off the lights as I go, and then put it down within easy reach. Impossible.

In comes my grand invention of the swirly chair tray. You put a tray on a swirly chair and slowly (you don’t want to waste any tea) push the tea to it’s desired location. (Yet to be approved for stairs.)

4. reading.

So I’ve sat down with my cuppa, finally got warm from the frost outside, and I’ve got a new book I’ve been looking forward to reading.

But all I can do is hold it. I can’t flick the pages over (you have to rest it down to do that) and you can’t hold it for too long otherwise it feels like you might need an operation on your other shoulder.

And that’s before you mention wanting to sip on your tea at the same time. Not even a straw will reach that far.

It’s the most frustrating thing because in the end, you don’t want to read the book. You just give up and drink your tea (or at least attempt to.)

5. writing.

I’m a writer.

I study it. I read about it. I do it.

So there’s nothing more frustrating than not being able to.

Whether it be the brain mush that occurred in the weeks after my op, or just the tediousness of typing on a keyboard with one finger, my writing took a real hit this past month. I’m back now, and although I still struggle I’m getting there. But it was the hardest thing for me to have to deal with.

I could live with tucked in hair and botched bread, but losing my creative vent was difficult. Even when I had an idea, my brain would sieve it out before I even got round to finishing the first paragraph.

…until I discovered dictation. And oh my goodness what a wonderful thing that is!

It saved me from many creative meltdowns and made sure my brain (all be it mush at this point) was still trying to chug away.

 

I’m much better now, I’m doing more and more each day and I’m finally starting to feel myself again (who knew it would take eight weeks!) I’m appreciative of the time I got to just be by myself and mindful. It was actually nice to have a change for a bit (even if I did have to rearrange life to accommodate it.)

For anyone in a similar situation, you’ve just got to take it as it comes. Don’t get disappointed if you can’t do something you could before. Just be creative. It doesn’t last forever (and I think I could make a killing with my swirly chair tray invention!)

loce sophur

ho ho no

I’m twenty one. I’ve done my fair share of believing in Santa and do enjoy the wonderful festivities that arise when it gets nearer to Christmas. But, this year, I’m simply not feeling it. (I don’t think the week I spent trekking in the desert really helped!)

I’ve tried. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been to the German Market’s in Leeds (twice), and I even came back to Bath just in time to see the Christmas Market’s up and hustling with crowds of eager shoppers. And I’ve attempted several excursions into torrents of other desperate shoppers to finally get some presents.

But somewhere along the way, I’ve found it’s lost it’s spark.

There used to be something so magical about it all.

When we were younger, my siblings and I used to buy all our gifts from the school Christmas fayre. We’d have a pocket full of loose change and be given the freedom of walking alone around the school hall for half an hour, going to every stall. I’d spend ages deliberating over what I thought my family would really want and put lots of effort into picking the presents for them, looking forward to seeing the excitement on their faces when they opened them. I always thought it was something they would really want and I’d have picked it for a reason. I’d get home and hide them straight away (probably in a really obvious place) and ask Mum for some wrapping paper so I could put them out under the tree in the lounge.

That magic just doesn’t happen anymore.

I don’t like Christmas shopping – I feel like it’s turned into a commercial holiday where you get bashed around and stressed out because everyone’s hard to buy for and already have everything they want. And with the added stress of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I question if the materialistic takeover is actually worth the effort.

I fear that I’m sounding old and cynical but it’s just a shame to see how much my perspective on it all has shifted.

Last Christmas, I decided I wasn’t going to do big presents. I’m the youngest of three and we all have what we need. If there’s something we want, we’re all old enough to go out ourselves and buy it. I limited myself on how much I was going to spend, partly because I was a student, but also because I didn’t want to get trapped into the saga of meaningless gifts.

Take my mum, for instance. A woman who has everything. What do you get for your mum? She has jewellery, candles, bath sets. She doesn’t want things. She’s said previously that she’d like to be given the gift of time with her, but I don’t think I’d ever thought about it properly. Instead I’d go for a photo frame or scented candle.

But last year, I decided to write her a letter instead of buying her something that I knew she would neither want, nor need.

We have a tradition in our family where ever since we were little, Emily and I have received a bauble every year for Christmas from my Dad’s Aunt and Uncle. And Jonathan would get collectable stamps. This went on until I was eighteen. It was a really lovely tradition and I used to love them arriving in the post and unwrapping beautiful glass, ornate baubles to add to the tree each year. It is definitely something I’d like to continue for my children.

Mum would joke that one day, when we left home, she’d have no baubles on the tree. Now, wherever I go, I bring a bauble back for her so she has her own collection.

As well as the letters, I bought her a small glass heart decoration for the tree.

In the main letter I expressed my thoughts about the year that had just gone. I explained what I enjoyed, what I didn’t enjoy. I shared some of my challenges, some of my accomplishments, and my hopes for the coming year.

Along with the main letter, I included six smaller envelopes. One for every other month after Christmas. These included things I’d like us to do together that month or ideas of ways to spend time together.

Although we weren’t able to realistically live up to all of them, with me being away at University for most of the year, she really appreciated the idea and the thought behind it and I hope it starts another tradition and allows us to spend more time together.

We get so wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of life, buying excessive amounts of food we wouldn’t usually eat, spending hundreds of pounds on gifts people might not ever use, and forget to actually take the time to appreciate the people around us.

This year, it was suggested that instead of buying each other presents, we should all just put the money towards flights for a family holiday. Something we haven’t actually had chance to do in years.

Although I don’t think that’s the plan this year, I like the idea of it, and hope that maybe next year we might decide to jet off somewhere nice together.

It would be a nice excuse to steer clear of the pedestrian traffic, and chaotic few weeks that December brings.

loce sophur

 

 

lactose free loves: gingerbread Christmas trees

Just call me Nigella, or Mary Berry, seen as it’s baking, because my gingerbread trees are golden! (not literally – I could only find light muscovado sugar in the cupboard.)

And they were so easy to make (even one-handed!)

A great craft for all ages. They’d be particularly good to make as a gift for family members (a good bit of paper and a string ribbon would do wonders.) and for bigger kids like me who just like baking (and eating.)

A very simple, easy to follow recipe, that makes the most beautiful little star trees.

Just marvellous!

(Adult supervision may be necessary on some steps, especially the icing where there is potential to get slightly carried away. My kitchen ended up covered in a beautiful dusting of snow.)

So… without further ado, the recipe:

Ingredients:

125g butter (I used a dairy free alternative)

100g dark muscovado sugar

4 tbsp golden syrup

325g plain flour (plus extra for rolling)

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1tsp ground ginger

1tsp ground cinnamon

To decorate:

Icing sugar (I spilt most of mine on the worktop)

You will need a set of three different sized cutters, plus a small circular cutter (or a knife and artistic flare.)

Method:

Step 1:

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees, gas mark 3. Although my recipe told me to line two large baking trays with parchment, I’d say you might need a couple more or to do two trays at a time.

In a saucepan, melt together the butter, sugar and golden syrup on a low heat, stirring occasionally. Once melted, remove from the heat.

Step 2:

In a bowl, sieve the flour, bicarb and spices and give a little stir. Then pour in the melted mixture a bit at a time, stirring until a firm dough is formed. (I accidentally translated 325g into 9oz instead of 13 so this took a lot longer than it should have for me. For those using oz, it’s 25g to 1oz.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and have a roll. Careful not to get below about 5mm. I did and those ones caught the heat on the edges.

Step 3:

Stamp out 5 of each star size, and 10 of the little circles (these are to help the tree be a little bit taller.)

Place them on the baking sheets (make sure to leave lots of gaps between them so they don’t get stuck together.)

Step 4:

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown. If you use light muscovado sugar, not dark, be careful not to overcook them. The biscuits will be a lighter colour, so won’t necessarily be golden.

Once cooked, transfer to a wire cooling rack. Meanwhile, mix together some icing (I did 1 cup of icing sugar to 1 tsp of water and added more water if it was required.)

Step 5:

To assemble each tree, use the icing to stick one of the little round biscuits to the centre of the five largest stars.

Continue to build the layers. (I used one of each size but you could double it up to have a larger tree.)

Save the smallest stars for the top. Decorate this with icing/piping/silver balls/anything that takes your fancy, and then stick it on top!

Brush the tips of the stars with icing sugar (or if you’re me – the more the merrier!)

Leave them to dry before having a munch!

Happy Baking!

loce sophur