Because I'm happy


Today is international happiness day. Now, I wasn’t very happy this morning - it was the cloudiest morning ever and all I wanted to do was see the solar eclipse. It has quite honestly been in my diary for over a month but, I guess you win some, you lose some! Instead of being negative though I thought I’d end the day with some refection on what’s been making me happy recently...
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My oh my, Macarons

I don't know how often I flex it on here, but I can bake. Really well! The problem is that my kitchen is so small and the lighting so variable it's never worth shooting anything for here because the images are pretty mediocre. I'm a champion office baker, spent hours of my life at university cooking up a storm with my pals and am not one to be shy about my abilities (if you can't already tell!), but there is one thing I have never, ever been able to bake - Macarons.

An old friend and I have been on the quest for the perfect macaron recipe for what is literally years! After numerous attempts - together and solo, we thought we would never perfect the art of that crispy shell, chewy inner and sweet delicious filling. Until now. We've always made the French version as neither of us own a sugar thermometer and have often followed hugely complex recipe books that have simply failed. This time we went to our old friend the internet and found a recipe that the author found in a 200 year old book passed down from their mother.

Find the original recipe here, we added in an extra step, drawing on previous experience so I'll write the full recipe below too. They were nothing short of a masterpiece! I'd go for more than a success; we genuinely kept saying over and over that this was the best day of our lives. Which in hindsight may have been a little over zealous but nonetheless - a triumph.

Do any of you have failsafe macaron recipes? If so tweet me them. The confidence from this batch has left me feeling pretty invincible!

The rest of the weekend was a dream, the weather was one of those perfect spring days where we could walk Chester and skip trough the meadows. We didn't skip through any meadows though...

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Vanilla and Raspberry Macarons

4 large egg whites (or 5 small)
1/3 cup or 70g caster sugar
1 1/2 cups or 230g icing sugar
1 cup or 120g ground almonds
Salt (tiny pinch)
Gel food colouring (optional)

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C (145 fan assisted)

Beat the egg whites and caster sugar to stiff peaks, they would be shiny and stiff enough to turn the bowl upside down without pouring out! – At this stage you’d add your gel or powdered food colouring and beat until combined.

Sift the ground almonds and icing sugar twice, disguarding any bits too big to fall through the sieve.

Fold into the egg white mixture – the recipe calls for 30 to 50 folds (fold not stir! You don’t want to knock too much air out of the mixture). I actually counted 45 and it was perfect! Over-mix and your macarons will be flat and have no foot, under mix and they will not be smooth on top.

Pipe with a wide nozzle onto a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking paper.

Rap the tray, hard, on the counter top. You want to be rid of air bubbles that could cause cracking.

Leave on the surface uncovered for 30-45 minutes. They will produce a nice skin – we found the ones we left out for longest came out best despite some wobbly piping.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Then leave to cool and fill with the fillings of your choice – we went for buttercream and jam. Then ate the lot.

Make sure you check out the link to the original recipe above for an awesome troubleshooting video.

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In the lonely hours of Midnight - Tor Miller

I find it's very easy to fall into clichés when writing about music. Right now there is a sea of incredibly talented musicians whom I love; on their own they are niche and exciting, but when lumped together seem to fall into a 'modern bluesy old time crooner' category (although crooner maybe sounds a little 1950s...). It can be hard to not just iterate the same words over and over - so don't hate me too much if you think you've heard it all before, trust me it's worth it.

When I wrote 'my year in music' last December it was inevitable that the tides would change pretty quickly and since then I have a real gem for you all - Tor Miller. There is true soul to Tor's tone and unlike many other of my favourites, we have a piano in place of the usual guitar. I went all the way to Dalston to see Tor last week, and it was nothing short of brilliant; smooth and evocative, his voice has a real Jeff Buckley quality to it - especially in terms of his range.

My favourite song 'Midnight', is arranged in such a special way, the song builds and lifts with real ease as the percussion and strings set in. Sparse to magnificent in all of three minutes. There is a real hymnal, poignant tone to his music that denotes so much passion and fervour it's hard to believe he's still so young. He also stopped for a quick chat after his set and I can say with ease not only is he super talented but genuinely lovely to boot. I should also mention, because it's not hard to notice, he's pretty easy on the eye too!

As always, I could go on and on but instead watch the video below and listen for yourself. Make sure you let me know what you think! Tor is also on Huw Stephens' Piano Sessions tomorrow night on Radio 1 at 11pm.

One more thing, his EP 'Headlights' was out last month - buy it now and say you were first on the bandwagon.

Tor Miller Servant Jazz Quaters

March 2015: Love Want Need