Christmas pies, frannie, and family

I have decided to do my first post as a bit of a reflection on the last few days I spent in America before embarking on my 6 month journey abroad. I've always been a Scottish girl at heart but now I can be one by experience. There will be many posts to come about my first few days in uni and exploring Glasgow. But for now I want to dedicate some time to posting about some great memories I made before becoming an official expat. A yummy christmas-y recipe will also be featured, Enjoy!

When it comes to holidays you could say my family is traditionally untraditional. Whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even just a birthday, our celebrations over the years have been uniquely comparable. For many there are specific things that signal the holidays. Like the anticipated and, for the most part, cherished gathering of your various aunts, uncles, 20 odd cousins, the grandparents etc, under one roof to cook up a huge meal on Christmas Day. Maybe your grandma bakes her infamous, mouth watering apple pie that you dream about constantly, you and your siblings gossip about the questionable meanderings of another cousin. Maybe someone has a little too much bubbly and a familiar family squabble breaks out. There might be some singing, dancing, lots of present exchanging and food, drinks, and hopefully lots of joy and cheer. For many people I know, this scenario closely resembles a traditional Christmas scene of their own. 

Having no other immediate blood related family members in the U.S., our family friends have filled the position of uncles, aunts, and so on, when distance and money prevent us from seeing our immediate family. For my sister and I, there are many people in our lives whom we have adorned with the title Uncle and Aunt. It is not so much that we throw the name around heedlessly, but instead that it seems that we just have so many people who really do feel like family to us. Ange and Steve are two of these people.

Steve is a fantastic artist who has played the roll of teacher for myself and mainly my sister for years now. You can check out some of his stuff here.

For our Christmas get away my mum, dad, Ines and I met Ange and Steve at their place upstate near Highland lake. We find that sometimes it is just necessary to get out of the city, walk through some real nature and breath some fresh air. We have spent a handful of holidays with Ange and Steve but this was the first Christmas spent together and upstate. It is safe to say we all had a perfect time. We also had a new addition to the group who I had only just met for this first time on this trip. Ange and Steve have adopted a puppy. This sweetest, most energetic, and social wee Jack Russel mix called Frannie. I in fact named my new camera (the best Christmas present I have ever received), after this lovely dog. It just seemed fitting. Frannie is only a few months old, and she spent the majority of our time upstate running around in the yard while we cooked up some delicious Christmas pies and puddings. 

For our Christmas Eve dinner Steve made Jamie Oliver's steak and Guinness puff pastry pie. I am mostly a sweet pie kind of girl, but savory pies follow closely behind as some of my favorite dishes to cook and eat. I will probably try to attempt Steve's pie in the near future as I still dream about the layers of puff pastry, cheese and gravy goodness. I made a bourbon caramel and pear pie, because despite working 8 hours nearly every day over my christmas break, baking pies and smelling like butter coming home at the end of every day, apparently I can't get enough of pie. We spent the day cooking and sitting by the fire place (Ines always makes a fire, it was probably nearing 73 degrees up state but it just seemed like a necessity for Christmas and Ines is potentially a closeted pyromaniac so there's no stopping her).

I spent most of my day in the kitchen preparing the pie and dancing to a "Christmas-y" play list I had made earlier that wasn't really Christmas-y at all as it consisted of mostly the soundtrack from Love Actually and Bend It Like Beckham, two movies I had recently watched with my friend Onnika. We had been in the mood to trigger some holiday/childhood-nostalgia feels and apparently to psych us up for the approach trip to the UK. Either way, after hours of cooking and pre-meal Christmas Eve day-drinking we decided it was time for an evening walk down to the lake, to burn some calories and make room for the loads of pie we were all about to consume. 

A super British photo 

Christmas Day was pretty much a repeat of Christmas Eve in the sense that most of the day was spent in the kitchen, Frannie running around outside potentially chasing nothing but her imagination, more drinking, baking, and dancing to my eclectic Christmas playlist. Ines and I have a few Christmas traditions that despite changing locations over the years have stayed pretty much consistent and, for us, salient. 

Every Christmas Eve night we watch Raymond Briggs' The Snowman. If there is anything that reminds me of being a child, feeling at home and waiting intently for Christmas morning to come, it is The Snowman, and more specifically the opening line:

I remember that winter, because it brought the heaviest snow that I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long, and in the morning I awoke in a room filled with light and silence. The whole world seemed to be held in a dream like stillness. It was a magical day. And it was on that day, I made the snowman
— Raymond Briggs

That is how I picture Christmas morning. The scene and the feeling of it. And considering we have not had a "white Christmas" so to speak, in a really long time, watching this film, hearing the music and words always made me feel like it was Christmas at least in feeling and imagination. 

For Ines and I our traditions are more ritual and habit than they are the mark of Christmas spirit and celebration. We will usually wake up together and we don't let ourselves go downstairs unless it is together. Most likely my mum and dad will not have woken yet, so Ines and I are usually the first ones downstairs. None of us are allowed to open presents until we are all together, everyone with a cup of english breakfast tea in hand (not really any different than any other morning as we consume a least two pots all together every morning, but of course because its Christmas this is different). We all pass a present around so that someone has something for their own, the rest of the day is spent in PJ's watching a movie and eating loads of chocolate. This time Ange and Steve got to experience this absolutely riveting scene with us. Eventually though in the interest of preparing our Christmas dinner we move from the living room to the kitchen where my mum and Ange cooked a Christmas ham with veg, and I did a Christmas sticky toffee pudding with spices and brandy sauce

.We walked the meal off the next day along the road that boarders Highland Lake. The temperature finally dropped after two days of high 60's to a "brisk" 45. Ines, being Ines, decided she wanted to take her shoes off and walk barefoot for sometime, which my mum quickly protested. We hand out fresh from the oven mince pies (recipe bellow), courtesy of Ange to snack on. It was a nice end to our christmas festivities, as I had to drive back down to Brooklyn to get back to the pie shop. It was a good trip. It was a good Christmas.

Angela's Recipe for Mini Mince Pies

things you'll need

12 cup muffin tin
2 round pastry/cookie cutters, 1 for the base
and 1 slightly smaller for the top
A large mixing bowl
rolling pin
1/4 cup cup cold milk in a cup
1/c cup caster sugar in a cereal bowl

for the pastry

8 oz plain all purpose flour
4oz butter cubed (room temperature)
2oz white sugar
small jug of cold water

14oz jar of mincemeat mix (Ange likes to use Robertson's brand which you can get at whole foods)

preheat oven to 350ºF/177ºC.

in the large mixing bowl combine the flour and white sugar. rub the cold cubed butter into the flour mixture until you have a fine breadcrumb consistency. you can do this either by hand or blitz it in a food processor.
make a well in the middle of the bowl. pour cold water into the well, no more than about 1/4 cup, with a knife cut the water into the flour/butter mixture and then with your hands bring it together into a ball, being careful not to over work your dough or the butter will melt and your pastry will be tough. wrap the dough in cling film and place in the fridge to rest for at least 20 minutes before rolling out.
on a clean counter top, add flour to the surface and to the rolling pin. divide the pastry into 2 uneven pieces, 2/3 and 1/3.

on your floured surface, take the biggest piece of pastry and shape into a smooth flat round, so it's easy to roll out. roll out the pastry till it is about 1/8” thick - no thinner. with the larger pastry cutter, cut out 12 pieces, repeating the reshaping and rolling in order to get 12 out. anything left over, you can add to the smaller pastry ball. gently placing each piece into the cups of the muffin tins. there is no need to mold the bottom into the corners as you do want a little round bottom.

take the mince meat jar and spoon out the ingredients evenly to the 12 cases.

with the smaller pastry ball, repeat the flouring, shaping and rolling process as before, only this time use the smaller cutter to cut out 12 lids for your pies. take the milk in the jar and with a pastry brush, brush the under edges of the lids before placing them over the pies.
with your finger, pressing lightly on the lid, around the perimeter so that it bonds with the bottom pastry.
using the pastry brush, brush the tops of the pies. then with a sharp knife, make a slight incision in the middle of the lid, wiggle the knife slightly to create a small opening, about 1/4” in total, so that steam can escape while baking. sprinkle caster sugar over the tops of the pies

place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 40-50 minutes till the pies are a light golden colour. remove them when they are looking slightly golden on the top, you don't need to take them too far. pretty much straight away tap the muffin tin on your counter top till the pies become loose. leave to cool on a bakers rack.

when the pies are cool enough to handle, take 1 and drop it into the caster sugar bowl to coat both sides of the pie. repeat for each one. serve warm or cold with either whipped fresh cream, ice cream, or just plain.