What To Do When a Cold is Kicking Your Ass

As many of you know, I work in a university admissions office, because nobody is yet willing to pay me for bingeing Netflix and being sarcastic on the internet. Come October, that means one thing: Freshers flu. A combination of working too much during enrolment period, dealing with thousands of germy Freshers, handling passports from all over the world and hotdesking in a draughty tent means that as soon as October hits, my entire office is taken down by a vicious strain of the lurgy.

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The change of season seems to see a lot of people getting ill. Whether it’s getting caught in a rainstorm wearing flip flops, being sneezed on on the tube or your kids bringing it home from school, it’s somewhat inevitable that everyone ends up poorly round this time. Here’s how to deal:

The Spa Day

I am significantly too poor to go for an actual spa day – although if you’re not, you should totally do that. But nothing soothes shivery, achy bones like a scalding hot shower. Splash a little Olbas oil onto your shower tiles and crank the temperature up. This creates a lovely little steam room in your shower and can help you get a glorious amount of junk out of your nose. I know, I know, I’m irresistible.

While we’re on the subject of pampering yourself, buy actual soft tissues with that nice balsam stuff. If you use toilet roll or *shudder* kitchen roll, you’re just going to scratch all the skin off your nose and make yourself miserable. You are awesome. You deserve luxury tissues.

Leaking liquid constantly out of your face has a nasty habit of drying everything else out, so stick a nice moisturiser and a lip balm in your handbag/pocket/desk drawer. Being ill is rubbish enough without your face crumbling and falling off, which will totally happen if you don’t moisturise.

The Tea

Full disclosure, I have no idea whether this tea actually helps get rid of a cold. But it always makes me feel better. Honey is great on a scratchy throat and the combination of steam and spices helps clear groggy heads and blocked noses. Cut a lemon into quarters and squeeze the juice from one quarter into a mug. Drop the squeezed quarter into the mug – this helps get more lemony goodness and also makes me feel fancy. Grate about a teaspoon of ginger into mug and fill with hot water. Sprinkle over a little turmeric and stir in a few teaspoons of honey. Enjoy.

The Soup

This soup is the greatest. I have yet to find a better cure for a runny nose, a drizzly evening or a shitty day than this creamy, carby, spicy bowl of goodness. Stick an onion, a couple of handfuls of mushrooms and two or three red chillies into a pot with about 500ml of stock and a big tablespoon of lazy lemongrass. Throw whatever other veg you have in the fridge in there as well. Carrots and peppers are particularly good. After that’s been bubbling away for a little while, add half a can of coconut milk, two tablespoons of fish sauce and a decent chunk of grated ginger. Let that simmer for ten minutes or so and then whizz it up in your blender. Squeeze in the juice of one lime, stir in a dollop of chilli sauce and add a packet of noodles. Cook your noodles in a separate pot first or it’ll make your soup taste weird. Next time you’re feeling rubbish, try this soup. I promise it’ll change your life.

Last but not least, just take care of yourself. Wrap up warm, wear really comfy socks, get lots of sleep. Most of the time, colds are as much about tiredness as they are about actual illness, so take your foot off the pedal a little. Drag your duvet through to the sofa and watch TV all evening. Eat delicious, comforting food. Say no to plans you don’t feel like making. And remember to wash your bedsheets once you’re feeling better.

Apple Therapie

Do you remember that scene in Bruce Almighty where everything gets really out of control, so Bruce goes and mops a load of floors? I think about that a lot. I realise that an old Jim Carrey movie might be a slightly odd place to look for life lessons but inspiration comes in many forms.

Sometimes I feel really overwhelmed, often for no reason at all. One of the worst things about having a powerful imagination is that you spend a lot of time powerfully imagining that everything is going wrong. Some days, out of nowhere, I’ll feel as though someone has yanked the rug out from underneath me and I’m struggling, teetering, trying not to fall. When that happens, all I can do is press reset. And pressing reset usually involves doing something simple, something methodical, something that forces you to slow down and take your time. For some people, it might involve mopping a whole lot of floors. It might be alphabetising your bookshelf or colouring in or writing a letter. For me, it’s baking a pie.

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I measure out 260g of plain flour. I use a cup to measure, so I’m never sure how close to 260g I actually am. It doesn’t matter. This doesn’t have to be precise. I add 150g of hard butter, cut into cubes. Using my fingertips, I gently rub the flour into the butter cubes until I’m left with a mixture that looks like fine breadcrumbs. Don’t squash your mixture. Take your time, I tell myself. There’s no rush. I close my eyes and take a deep breath and I feel the soft flour and the cold butter in my hands. I feel the puffs of powder that escape from my bowl and coat the kitchen worktop. Inevitably, I end up with a smudge of flour on my nose. That is fine.

I add cold water, tiny bit by tiny bit, mixing with a knife until a dough starts to form. Every time, I’m sure my mix isn’t going to come together. Every time, it does. I think about that a lot. I get my hands in and knead it a little until it forms a smooth ball. I wrap the ball in clingfilm and put it in my fridge while I prepare my apples.

I use between 3 and 5 green apples, depending on how big they are. Bramley apples are best, but any tart green apple will work. I promise, it’ll still be delicious. I peel each apple in one huge, snaking twist and drop the rind on the counter like my Auntie Kathleen taught me, to see the initial of the person I’m going to marry. I wonder if I know anyone whose name begins with an “O”. I chop my apples. If you like a chunky pie, chop large pieces. If you like it smoother, chop little ones. Both are delicious.

I put my apples in a big pot with a splash of water and I sprinkle over a few tablespoons of soft brown sugar. I turn the heat on very, very low and put on the lid. Every so often, I take off the lid to stir and watch the sugar turn to caramel and let the drunken smell of sharp stewing apples fill my tiny kitchen. You can add cinnamon if you want to. I don’t. After about 15/20 minutes, I turn off the heat and let my apples cool down a little.

I push everything to the side, because our kitchen is so little that there’s only really one surface. I dust the worktop with flour. I usually dust everything else in the kitchen with flour at the same time. I have a rolling pin now, like a proper grown up, but until recently, I just used a litre bottle filled with cold water. This works just the same and helps keep your pastry nice and cold. I don’t have a pie dish, so I grease a round cake tin. The best thing about making pie is that you can almost always make do with what you have. It always works out fine.

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I take my pastry out of the fridge and chop a third of it off. This will be the lid of the pie. I drop the bigger piece onto my floury surface and knead it into a big circle. Sometimes it breaks. Sometimes it sticks to the surface. This is okay. It can be fixed with a dab of water or a smattering of flour. I carefully place my dough circle into my cake tin and use a little blob of dough to push it into the base. I trim off the untidy outside with a sharp knife. I pour in my apple mix. It’s almost always too hot. It always, always smells divine. I roll out my pie top and press it over the apples, using a fork to crimp the edges. This makes it look like a cartoon pie. This makes me smile. I roll out my trimmed edges and slice and press them into beautiful patterns. I make enormous flowers and pretty, lined leaves. I place my decorations on top of the pie and brush the whole thing with a beaten egg. If you have a pastry brush, use that. I dab it on with kitchen roll.

I realise I’ve forgotten to preheat my oven. I roll my eyes, but I don’t beat myself up. I’m feeling gentle. I’m feeling like being kind to myself. I set the oven to 200C and put the pie in straight away. I’m dimly aware that this probably isn’t the right thing to do but it doesn’t seem to matter. I leave the pie in the oven for half an hour while I clean the flour from every nook of the tiny kitchen.

After half an hour, the pie is golden and crisp. If it isn’t, I stick it back in the oven and put the kettle on. Once it’s ready, I pop it out of the cake tin and put it on a plate. I take a photo. I give myself a second to congratulate myself on making something so pretty. I put a little icing sugar in a sieve and sprinkle it over the top of the pie. I feel like a fancy chef when I do this. I cut a slice straight away, even though it hasn’t cooled and the hot apple oozes out. I pour double cream on mine, much more than is really reasonable. You can put ice cream or custard on yours if you like. I make myself a cup of tea. I sit in my comfiest seat, take a deep breath and eat an enormous forkful.

It’s never perfect. It’s usually messy. It tastes wonderful. Always.

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Magic Star Deep Dish Cookies

You know those days where you just need a bit of comfort food? Where all ideas of health and calories go right out the window. Where you want something warm and sweet and lovely.

Minds out of the gutter, you folks sniggering at the back.

I was having one of those days last week, and in my sweet toothed madness, managed to create probably my greatest invention ever. Milky Way Magic Star Deep Dish Cookies.

I’ll say that again. Magic. Star. Deep. Dish. Cookies.

magic star chocolate chip cookie recipe

Yes. Yes that is an enormous chunk of melted, gooey Magic Star. Wedged in an inch thick layer of sticky, golden cookie dough. Still soft and sweet on the bottom, crunchy and toffee like on top. Basically, this is a whole lotta heaven for such a little bowl. And they can be all yours in less than half an hour.

If you fancy making your own (of course you do), here’s what you’ll need to make four:

125g self raising flour
100g soft light brown sugar
50g caster sugar
100g melted butter
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
50g Milky Way Magic Stars

Cream all the ingredients except the Magic Stars together in a mixer until they form a soft dough. Add the Magic Stars and mix with your hands to get them evenly through the dough. Really get your hands in there, this is an awesome way to get general world-rage out.

chocolate chip cookie recipePreheat your oven to 160C. Lightly grease some 3 inch ramekins and half fill with cookie mix. Don’t put too much in, these babies will rise up like Godzilla and swamp your kitchen given half a chance.

chocolate chip cookie recipeStick your cookies in the oven for 20 minutes, until the top starts to go golden brown. Don’t overcook them, you still want them to be moist underneath. Drown in cream and serve with a big mug of tea and a hug from your favourite person.

chocolate chip cookie recipe

A 6-Step Chicken Pie For Pi Day

One cannot live on pecan pies and pancakes alone, regrettably proven by my first year at university. So today, in honour of International Pi Day (3.14, in case anyone is confused), let’s make some real person food! This chicken pie is one of my absolute favourite dinners to make, and it’s even reasonably healthy – delicious, buttery pastry notwithstanding. It will feed four people with potatoes, or two very hungry ones without. Niall and I have definitely polished off a full one between us before.

To make this pie, you will need:

Some excellent music

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I was feeling all summery.

A delicious candle

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Some baking equipment

Scales, two mixing bowls, a rolling pin and a pie tin.

Scales, two mixing bowls, a rolling pin and a pie tin (I use a cake tin because I’m a failure of an adult).

260g plain flour
150g butter
10 tablespoons cold water
Pinch of salt
1 egg
Milk
2 chicken breasts, cooked and diced
100g cooked ham, sliced
200g green beans
1/2 a broccoli
300ml tub of creme fraiche
Tarragon, to taste

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And yourself

Here in body, if not entirely in mind.

Here in body, if not entirely in mind.

Alright, let’s do this!

1. First, we’re going to make pastry exactly like we did for the pecan pie, except this is a covered pie, so we’re making roughly twice as much. Put your flour, butter and salt into a large mixing bowl and gently rub it together with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. The finer you can get this bit, the more crumbly and yummy your pastry will be. Maybe. I might have made that up.

Like this!

Like this!

2. Add the water to this mixture slowly, stirring with a cold knife (or your hands, if you want to be really old school) until it binds together into a ball of dough. Wrap the dough in cling film and stick it in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour.

I wish I’d made a picture of some dough with sunglasses on, chilling. Anyway!

3. While the dough chills, make your filling. This is almost offensively easy. Chop your chicken, ham, broccoli and green beans into bite sized chunks and put them in your mixing bowl with the creme fraiche. Add a good teaspoon of tarragon, a pinch of salt and pepper and then stir together. Filling made. Well done you.

I never thought I'd eat anything this green.

I never thought I’d eat anything this green.

4. Remove your dough from the fridge and split it in two. At this point, preheat your oven to 200C. Roll out your first half until it is big enough to fill your pie tin. Fill your pie with your meat and vegetables.

IMG_24345. Dampen the edges of your pastry, then roll out your second half of dough and place it on top. Press down gently to ensure the lid is sealing the filling inside. Crimp the edges of your pie with a fork. Make some leaves from leftover pastry if you’re feeling super fancy.

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If you’re making your pie ahead of time, this is the point to cover it in tinfoil and stick it in the fridge. If not, plough on!

6. Lightly beat an egg with a dash of milk and brush your pastry generously with it. This will help it get nice and golden and crispy. Stick your pie in the oven for 30 minutes, then serve to the adoring “oooohs” of your friends.

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This is just a basic recipe, but you can switch up ingredients however much you fancy! If my boyfriend had less awful taste in food, I’d swap out half of the creme fraiche for cream cheese and add a tin of sweetcorn. An awesome dinner if you’re looking to get kids (or picky adults) to eat their greens. Enjoy!

The Greatest Pancake Recipe Of All Time

Pancakes were the first things I ever learned to bake, guided by the knowledgeable hands of my great granny. That’s right, this is an awesome, secret, hand me down family recipe, which I’m probably going to be disowned for putting on the internet, so you guys better enjoy these pancakes.

We’re talking real pancakes here, none of that crepe nonsense. This recipe will give you amazing, thick, fluffy Scottish pancakes.

They are still one of my favourite things to make, because they’re so simple and taste so freaking delicious. If 11 year old me can get it right, so can you!

I’ve doubled up my recipe today, because I intend on eating pancakes for every one of my meals, but I’ll give you the standard one and you can do with it what you will.

1. Put 2 cups of self raising flour, 1 cup of sugar, 2 eggs and a big glug of milk into a big bowl.

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2. Beat this together with an electric mixer or whisk, if you’re super old school. Keep adding more milk and mixing until it gets to the stage where drops of mixture take a second to sink back into the mix.

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3. Secret ingredient time! Add a great big dollop of Lyle’s golden syrup and stir that in. I will fall out with you if you don’t use Lyle’s.

Look at it, glowing in the heavenly light.

Look at it, glowing in the heavenly light.

4. You’re ready to cook them! I have a pancake maker, which seriously, might sound frivolous and stupid, but means you can mix up a batch of batter on a Sunday night and have pancakes in 4 minutes for the rest of the week. It also means you don’t have to sacrifice your first pancake to the pancake gods like you to when you fry them in a pan. But if you don’t have a pancake maker, get a pan nice and hot and grease it with plenty of butter. Put a ladleful of batter into your pan and wait for it to start bubbling like crazy. Flip it. Check the other side occasionally. When both sides are a nice, rich brown, it’s done.

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I like them best just with butter on, but they’re also amazing with jam, syrup, sugar and lemon, and cheese (trust me on this one, it’ll change your life).

Enjoy!

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Easy As Pie

Since I have quite a lot of time on my hands right now, I have been seriously, badly bitten by the baking bug. Those scones started something.

So, welcome to Saturday kitchen, pecan pie edition. I should point out that I have never made a pecan pie before, so this is going to be a bit of a kamikaze bake. But sure let’s see what happens. This recipe makes one 9″ pie.

These are the things you will need to make a pecan pie.

These are the things you will need to make a pecan pie.

For the pastry:

140g plain flour
75g butter
5 tablespoons cold water

For the filling:

1 cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons golden syrup
50g butter
150g pecans
4 eggs
Vanilla extract

1. Put on some awesome music. This is very important for the overall baking experience.

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2. Put your flour and butter into a large mixing bowl and rub them together until they look like fine breadcrumbs. Nice and gentle, like we were with the scones.

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It should look roughly like this once you're finished.

It should look roughly like this once you’re finished.

3. Add your cold water, and stir it in with a cold knife until your dough binds together. Add more water if it’s too dry, but go sloooowly, dough gets soggy really easily. Once you have a good ball of dough, wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge to chill for at least half an hour.

I recommend filling this time with awesome kitchen dancing, to make up for eating an entire pie later.

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4. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C if your oven doubles as the gate to hell like mine. Put your brown sugar, butter and golden syrup in a pan. The amount of golden syrup is up to you, but I’m a big sweet tooth, so I went for 6 tablespoons. Turn on the heat until the sugar and butter has melted and you’re left with a thoroughly delicious smelling syrup. Let this boil for a minute, then turn off the heat. Leave for about 15 minutes to cool, because if you put raw eggs into boiling sugar, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Treat just for the chef: dunk a pecan into this syrupy mixture and enjoy.
Tip: don’t eat the whole pan like this, or burn your damn hands off with molten sugar.

Try to refrain from licking your screen.

Try to refrain from licking your screen.

5. Beat your eggs. If you skip this step and end up with pieces of fried egg in your filling, I will laugh at you. Stir your eggs into your syrup mixture. Keep the liquid moving until the eggs are totally incorporated.

6. Chop them pecans. I like big chunky bits in my pies, but you can do this as finely as you like. Add your chopped pecans and 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence to your filling.

Dem pecans.

Dem pecans.

7. Dust your work surface, a rolling pin, your hands, and anything else you fancy in flour. Take your dough out of the fridge and roll it out until it’s big enough to fill your pie tin. I say pie tin. I am still not a functioning grown up, so used a shallow cake tin. But if you have a pie tin, that would probably be better.

They see me rollin', they hatin'.

They see me rollin’, they hatin’.

8. Pour your mixture into your pie case. Try not to drool into it.

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9. Bake until it wobbles only slightly when shaken. Mine took about 30 mins.

10. Leave it to cool completely. Seriously, I mean completely. If you don’t leave it to cool, it’s not gonna set. This step is hard.

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If you want, you can use this time to laugh at the fact that your kitchen looks like this:

Lol.

Lol.

Serve your pie with a veritable bumload of cream.

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The results: This pie is sweet. Holy crap, it is sweet. And I say that as someone who likes to eat spoonfuls of golden syrup. But in little slices, it’s pretty damn delicious.

Also, despite my stern warnings in step 10, I totally cut my pie before it was cool, so it’s ever so slightly runny. Will leave longer next time. Maybe.

**Important pie update** It would appear that pecan pie falls into the same category as soup and chilli, in that it is better the next day. Today, the pie is completely delicious and I want to eat all of it with a fork.

Wooden Spoons Are For Scones, Not For Scotland

It’s finally happened: a Scotland six nations game that didn’t make me want to shrivel up and die! Let’s take that wooden spoon and make some victory scones. And then hope to god that someone else ends up with it.

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For victory scones, you will need:

350g self-raising flour
90g butter
3 tbsp sugar
180ml milk
1 egg
Big pinch of salt

  1. Preheat your oven to 220C. Stick a baking tray in the middle shelf to heat up. Put your butter, salt and flour in a large mixing bowl, and rub the mixture together with your fingertips until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Don’t squash it, treat it gently, as though you’re touching Johnnie Beattie’s beautiful face.
  2. Warm up your milk in the microwave. Make a little well in the middle of your mixing bowl and pour the milk in. Stir until your mixture is much smoother than Scotland’s road to the prestigious second-from-bottom position.
  3. Dust a surface and your hands with flour and tip out your dough. If you have any lingering resentment about the English battering us at Murrayfield, now is the time to get it out. Smooth the dough between your hands and flatten it out to however thick you want your scones to be.photo
  4. Time to cut out your scones. If you are an actual functioning human being, you might own a round cutter, I just use a small tumbler. Cut out four, then roll your dough back into a ball, flatten it out and cut out another two. Feel free to make amusing shapes/voodoo dolls of Owen Farrell with the leftovers.
  5. Beat your egg. Again, it may be helpful to think of Owen Farrell while you do this. Brush the tops of your scones with egg, place them on your hot baking tray and put them in the oven for 10 minutes.
  6. Make a cup of tea. Chuckle gently at the glory of winning by 1 point with about 2 seconds to go.
  7. After 10 minutes, check on your scones. If they are as golden as Ritchie Gray’s hair, they’re ready.

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I like mine with butter, but if you want to be super-fancy, crack out the jam and clotted cream. Feel free to add a big handful of cheese to your mixture if you aren’t in a relationship with a fromage hating philistine. Or, if you are a philistine yourself, why not add sultanas, raisins or other ruined fruit?

Serve with an enormous cup of tea and the tears of your enemies.

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