Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Mulled Wine How To

Stop! Don't do it! I know it says mulled wine on the bottle, but it ain't. It's cheap vino with sugar and a vague cinnamonny flavour, and it'll be wholly unsatisfying and give you a killed hangover tomorrow. You're going to get a pan dirty anyway to heat it up (unless there's a magical way of microwaving the bottle), so you might as well make your own.
You know that amazing mulled wine you had at that Christmas market? The one that warmed your hands, and hypnotised you with its deep plum colour and alcoholic fumes?

Well you can recreate that at home, in about 5 minutes. You don't need a packet mix, or sachet.

Just get:

  • Something citrussy, its juice and peel (one or two of lime, lemon, orange, clementine)
  • Something spiced (two or more of ginger (a thumb size, peeled), cloves (4 or 5), cinnamon stick, vanilla pod, star anise, a bay leaf)
  • And something sweet (castor sugar, white sugar, muscovado sugar, even maple or golden syrup - about 4 tablespoons per litre).

PLUS (of course) a bottle of red (or if you prefer, apple juice).
Get a saucepan. Add the juice and zest of the citrus (wash, then peel the outside with a vegetable peeler for the zest. Then slice in half and squeeze into pan).

Add the sugar or syrup, and the spices. Stir over low heat, until syrup gently bubbles (you don't want it to boil). Add half a cup of the wine, and let this bubble away until it smells delish (5mins).
Now add the rest of the wine, and turn the heat down LOW. You don't want to boil away all the alcohol, just heat the syrup into the wine.

Give it 5 minutes, or until just steaming, and then serve.

Mmm. Christmas in a cup. Much more delicious than a posh bottle of shiraz on a cold winters night, and about £10 cheaper than buying it at the pub. *hic*
Drink up!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


Sometimes I wonder if visitors to Amsterdam pass through the city in a bleary haze of hash and red lights, because I've never heard someone rave about the city. So prepare for some raving, because I just got back from a long weekend there, and it was wonderful. The city - beautiful. The people - amazingly friendly. The tram driver, the cashier, the ticket inspector, the shop keepers, people on the street...I've never met so many smiley, helpful people. It made my trip.

My friend and I stayed at a hotel by the lovely Vondelpark, a long stretch of green gardens bordered by beautiful tall slim houses. Our room had a high ceiling, long grey sheer curtains, and an extremely modern (and therefore confusing - for me anyway) bathroom. The carpet was hideous (orange, with purple sports), but when lying on the king sized bed I couldn't see it!

We hired bicycles on that first afternoon, and then didn't get off the bikes for what felt like two days. We cycled everywhere on dedicated bike lanes, eating frites and peperstek, sketching by the canals and wandering through late autumn markets. Pedestrians AND cars giving way to cyclists, and I felt completely safe zipping around.

Perhaps because we kept to the outer ring of canals, and the areas surrounding, we were able to avoid the tourist ridden area. We saw only 1 star bucks, no MacDonald's or H&Ms, but dozens and dozens of streets filled with independent stores. The kind of streets that you travel across London to visit, but here in Amsterdam they were everywhere.

There were cool little cafes, gorgeous clothing stores and those designery knick-knack shops where you walk in with a mind to browse, and walk out with a pack of 5 letterpress cards, a hand blown glass ornament in the shape of a moustache and a soy candle that smells like Christmas. I ran out of time to enter every little boutique, bakery and gourmet produce grocer I saw, and had to resist the urge to cart hard rubbish back to the hotel - who could throw out a pair of chairs this beautiful?

I stopped and sketched until my hands froze, and then rode on until I warmed up again. I ate frites at least 4 times, with pepper-mayonaise. Can you blame me? It was HEAVEN.

On the second afternoon we cycled out to open fields along the wide river to the Rieker Windmill. As it grew dark (at 4.30pm) the lights in the little apartments on floating pontoons in the river switched on. They had such clever designs - little mezzanines, and big open living spaces, and half-submerged bedrooms.

I returned reluctantly home on Sunday with a backpack filled with my bodyweight in stroopwaffles, a non-stick frying pan and a book full of sketches. 

See Amsterdam in my Etsy store, soon!