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So, 2016?




I know what everyone is thinking about round up posts to conclude 2016: we probably shouldn't bother writing one as it has been a shit year yah ahahssshaha. Election fuck-ups and dead celebrities aside, some good things have happened. No really: humpback whales are no longer endangered, the ozone layer is repairing itself, global malaria is down by 60%, there's now an ebola vaccine, tiger numbers have grown for the first time in 100 yearsSea World is finally getting what has always been coming to it and Leo won that goddam Oscar! 



On a personal note, 2016 has been a good year for me (something I almost feel guilty saying). Not because of any noteworthy event such as getting engaged or a promotion, 2016 was just the year where things clicked for me. At the start of the year I exclaimed that this was the first NYE in sometime when I felt genuinely excited for my future. And that still stands: I'm happy with where my life is going and everything has fallen into place for me. 
(Cat is out the bag; I'm a sociopath)

A few people have asked me - and by a few people I mean, like, 3 people - why I don't blog as much and if everything is okay. Everything is fine. I had previously been using blogging as a career building tool, hence a blog 4 times a week and numerous brand partnerships. At the end of 2015 I finally got my foot properly in the door of a job that allows me to do what I love, and my blog shifted to being personal. I still love blogging, and will never give it up, but I'm loving blogging on my own terms and I don't see myself returning to those stressy weirdo days with my head in my inbox. 

However, no year is 100% perfect (just as 2016 hasn't been 100% imperfect) and some of you will be aware that this was the year that I lost my gran. She was a private lady and that's why I've refrained from speaking about her passing publicly, aside from one Instagram of the beautiful ring she left me. While I loved my gran and miss her dearly, she passed the way we all ideally would: well into old age, with no major health problems, mentally sharp enough to enjoy her last few years, lived long enough to see her grandchildren grow up, and had reached a point where she no longer feared death and accepted that we all have to reach the sky one day.  I've lived my life somewhat unhappily for a few years now and I'm full of love that she lived long enough to see me happy once again. 

2016, you were definitely something. I don't want to take away from how shit this year has been for some people - especially those who will be directly squished-on because of shitty elections. But on the whole I was content and my emotions were positive. And that's not something I've been able to say in an end-of-year round-up since 2012. So thank you for something. 

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How we organised Christmas dinner




Christmas Day has come and went, so now it's time to pack up everything and start writing about our latest rose gold purchases and the best way to hide dark circles.

But wait, I still have another xmas blog post - about how to organise a gigantic Christmas dinner. Like, I know most of you would have benefited from this prior to Christmas Day but it wouldn't have been as authentic and I would have been making assumptions and talking out my behind. So erm, bookmark this for next year please? 

To start with, let's illustrate what me and my parents were trying to pull off here. There were 11 people on the day, two of whom have (different) dietary restrictions and my mum who hates onions. Plus, it was the first Christmas Dinner held in our house in years, with a brand new kitchen that nobody really knew how to work. And while me and mum share similar DNA, our attitudes towards organisation differs widely - my mum was still perusing recipes on Christmas morning as if it was no big deal whereas I was standing in the kitchen on the 22nd telling my parents off for not having a plan.

But my mum loves hosting and I love cooking so the challenge was on. And here's how we did it, and what our advice is for other people. 

1. First off, look at logistics
My parents' new kitchen has two ovens, a steamer, a hob, a deep fat fryer and a microwave. I also have an uncle who lives in the same street so we can use his oven and hobs. I was also arriving home on the 22nd and wouldn't be working so I could also cook in advance. These are luxuries I appreciate not everyone has, but if you do have relatives who live in the same street and you have time off work, make use of them/it. 

2. Remember it's about your guests, not you
When hosting any dinner party it is tempting to put on a spread of only foods you love. Believe me, I'd love to cook a 100% vegan Christmas Dinner with chilli and tangy flavours but alas everyone else in family eats meat and prefer their food to be straight forward and traditional. So those Brussels sprouts infused with chilli oil will have to make-do for another time.

Some questions to ask yourself include who is driving and can't drink (so you can buy in the appropriate number of soft drinks), who eats meat and who doesn't, who has a food allergy, are there any foods someone in your family hates (like my mum and onions), who has a big appetite and who has a small appetite and would your family prefer a quirky take on Christmas cuisine or would they prefer a traditional Sunday roast-esque affair?

3. Research and plan your menu
Now that your know who your guests are, have double checked any allergies and have had a look at the logistics, now you can start planning your menu. Because we had quite a few stoves and ovens at our disposal we were able to go a bit crazy (which was great, considering there were 11 people and 2 had dietary restrictions). In the end we ended up picking a home-made tomato soup for starters, a ham, turkey and vegan dish for mains, god knows how many roast vegetables and two gravies. While dessert was a buffet selection of sorbets (store-bought and homemade), banana-based chocolate ice-cream and a cheese board. We also bought in plenty of soft drinks and a few new wine bottles.

4. Cook some dishes in advance
On the 23rd I prepared some vegan truffles....that went wrong. So we had time to come up with something else, which ended up being the banana-based chocolate ice-cream. Then on Christmas Eve my dad prepared the tomato soup while I made the filling for my vegan main. So on Christmas Eve all that was left was for me to wrap mine in pastry and leave in the oven, roast the aforementioned god knows how many vegetables, plus cook the turkey and ham.

5. Think about what time to invite everyone round
We went for 3pm which would allow us to finish up everything but isn't late enough in the day that we only get a few hours with our family (which is what this get together is meant to be about after all).

6. Ask people to bring dishes (but co-ordinate) 
Obviously my uncle (and cousins) brought stuff round from their house, however my aunt who lives a few towns away brought a pavlova cake with her. But remember to check what everyone is bringing - when we held Christmas at my uncle's one year there were double the amount of roast potatoes than planned.

7. What can be cooked together
Not all of our roast vegetables went in separately. The asparagus, broccoli, green beans and some brussel sprouts were roasted together in an olive oil and garlic mix. While the roast potatoes were all roasted by themselves. Some brussel spouts were also cooked in the steamer.

8. How to present it
My parents new kitchen has a breakfast bar which is where the carvery took place. They also have a new cabinet just outside the kitchen which is where drinks (and later, desserts) were found. The vegetables were all served on the table where everyone was sitting.

You might have a big enough dining table that allows enough room for a turkey or you might have to ask people for their order and fill all the plates in the kitchen. But thinking about this in advance can save a lot of time.

9. Decorate the night before
Don't make cooking harder for yourself by also having to decorate that morning. Get that sshhhh done the night before. Fairy lights? Check. Table out? Check. Table cloths? Check. Place settings? Check. All cutlery clean and polished? Check. Floor clean? Check.

10. Remember your leftovers
Christmas is awful for food waste and it's difficult to avoid if you're wanting to ensure your guests don't run out of things to eat. When planning your menu, also think about foods that store easily. Cooked vegetables don't if I am honest, but cooked meat stores easily and frozen desserts can last a while (but a fruit salad will need to be eaten that day).

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A Christmas playlist you haven't already heard 200 times





Despite my love of cheesy pop, I have very little time for popular Christmas songs. Wizard? Can leave it. Fairytale of New York? Will switch the channel. Band Aid? You don't want my opinion on super-rich tax dodging celebrities recording charity songs. As a teenager I remember my angst as the music channels shifted from being whatever was popular at the time into full on Christmas (and tbh, I still feel that angst). It's not because of some anti-establishment Grinch belief; it's just very few of the well-known classics do anything for me. 

But because I'm still music fan and a fan of over the top celebrations - every year I scout the internet for the best in festive melodies that aren't what we hear every single year. So here's my collection of lesser-known indie jams, forgotten Christmas songs from really well-known acts and some songs you'll have actually heard of. 

All I want for Christmas is You - Mariah Carey
Love is Christmas - Sara Bareilles
My Only Wish (This Year) - Britney Spears
Christmas Without You - OneRepublic
New Year's Resolution - Camera Obscura
Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End) - The Darkness
Sleigh Ride - TLC
8 Days of Christmas - Destiny's Child
Holiday Celebrate - Toni Braxton
Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Bruce Springsteen
Early Christmas Morning - Cyndi Lauper
Xmas in the Hood - 3LW
Last Christmas - Ariana Grande
This Christmas - Christina Aguilera
River - Tall Heights
Last Christmas - Carly Rae Jepsen
Christmas is All Around - Brad Callow
It's Only Christmas - Ronan Keating

Open on Spotify

And this gem that Spotify didn't have a high-quality version of:




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Vegan Christmas recipe round-up




As I type this, me and my parents are finalising our Christmas Day menu. And this is no easy task. My mum loves hosting (she also has a new extension and kitchen to play with) and I love cooking so neither of us want to do the 25th of December by halves. Plus, we're preparing a 3-course meal for 11 family members, one of which is vegan (me!) and another can't eat wheat. No biggie.

But it's got to the point where we're having to cut back and reduce the amount of dishes we're talking about. But all of those extra recipes sure do make for a good blog post! If you're still not sure what to cook for your meat-free Christmas dinner, I hope the following can be of help. I've included recipes that are vegan by default, ones that require a quick substitution and also vegetarian recipes for those of you taking that first step.

Starters


Baby artichoke bruschetta - http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/bread-recipes/baby-artichoke-bruschetta/

Aubergine boats - http://www.veganrecipeclub.org.uk/recipes/aubergine-boats

Make-ahead mushroom soufflés - http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/4979/makeahead-mushroom-souffls

Parsnip soup with parsley cream - http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/847640/parsnip-soup-with-parsley-cream

Sweet potato & butternut squash soup with lemon & garlic toast - http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/sweet-potato-butternut-squash-soup-lemon-garlic-toast

Main - Centrepiece



Cashew Nut Roast with Sage and Onion Stuffing - http://whyveg.com/recipes/make_this.php?recipe=45





Main - Sides








Lentil Mushroom Walnut Balls with Cranberry-Pear Sauce - http://ohsheglows.com/2013/11/13/lentil-mushroom-walnut-balls-with-cranberry-pear-sauce/


Sweet potatoes stuffed with apples, cranberries, and pecans - http://www.foodista.com/blog/2011/11/22/heavenly-hasselback-sweet-potatoes

Desserts



Co-op are also selling a pre-pared Christmas pudding that is vegan suitable - https://www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk/institute/food-reviews/christmas-pudding




Drinks







Barnivore to check what brands are vegan friendly!

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Christmas Gift Guide: Geeks and Nerds




Hands up if you're hoping for something geeky under your tree on Christmas Day?

*puts up hands*

I might still like unwrapping make-up and clothes, but ultimately I want something I can geek on. So, um, this is perhaps a little less "what to buy a geek for Christmas" and more me hinting exactly what I'd personally like under my tree. 

But I'm sharing it anyway. 

Retro Gaming Console. Did you know you can buy GameCube's for as little as £50 these days. And game boys for even less. Heck, there are Playstation 1s going for £40 on eBay. Shelling out for the most recent model might put you back a few hundred, but any geek appreciates a new addition to their console collection. 

Light Saber Chopsticks. I don't even like Star Wars (bad geek, I know!) but even I'd use these.  

A floor plan of their favourite TV show. I'd personally be eyeing up Carrie Bradshaw's flat

Harry Potter Bookmarks. Yes, please.

Bulbasaur planter. Because even geeks have plants. 

A Hand Towel with their favourite fandom. This Etsy shop has loads.  

A candle that smells of their favourite fictional place. Pretend you're in the Hufflepuff dormitories or out catching Pokemon. 

Batman cookie cutter. Because even the Dark Knight has a sweet tooth.

Programming Deck of Cards. Because, why not? 

Superhero Nail Decals. Even if that Captain America looks a bit out of place....

A phone case with their favourite fandom. Redbubble has a good selection. 

Tablet stand. For when they're binge watching in bed.

Middle Earth Mug.

Monopoly. But one of the cross-over editions: Frozen, Pokemon, DC, Call of Duty and Star Wars all have their own versions. 

Comic Photo Frame. An award-winning present

Game of Thrones cookbook. There's a few running around, but here's the official one.

RPG Dice Desk Calendar. For the organised geek.

Pop Vinyl. Choose their favourite character.

Punderdome. A card game for pun-lovers.

Loot Crate. A box of geeky goodness.  

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