This Friday 20th January is the inauguration of Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America. Unlike his predecessors he did not give any press conferences for at least six months last year and instead communicated using Twitter. It doesn’t look like he’s going to stop tweeting any time soon.

As a social media platform, Twitter is vast but it has essentially stopped growing. There has been talk of it being up for sale, and even talk of the end coming and closure. Advertising revenues were low, new users were few. Donald Trump has given it such a high profile that he may be partly responsible for slowing the decline. I speculate, but there does appear to be a flurry of interest in Twitter once again. And don’t ignore the fact that it remains the third biggest social media platform with 310 000 000 monthly visitors according to eBizMBA.

How to Start Using Twitter - A Guide on Falcondale Life blog

Several friends have told me they don’t “get” Twitter and would like me to explain. I am not a big-shot tweeter and I don’t use all of it’s functionality, but I can help you get started and make it useful for you.

1. Understand this: Twitter is public.

If you tweet something, you are just as responsible for publishing it as a newspaper would be. So if you break the law (eg you publish the name of a defendant in a court case which the judge has said must be kept secret) then you are potentially liable for an offence. But chill! This restriction doesn’t really cramp anyone’s style and you shouldn’t get hung up on it. It is possible to set up a private Twitter account with protected tweets. Not many people do this. It means that only people whom you choose to accept as followers will be able to read what you write. There’s not much fun in this because you can’t join in chats on a whim, but maybe you’re happy with that, or would like to just start this way.

2. To start, follow 100 people.

This is about the right number to give you enough interesting stuff to read. People who are interesting on the telly are not necessarily interesting on Twitter. It brings out different skills in people. The main types of tweeter who interest me are – journalists and commentators for the news, comedians for light relief (especially topical satire), businesses for special offers and competitions, writers and bloggers for articles, celebrities and personalities if you’re a big fan, people and businesses who are local to you and talk about your own area, politicians and activists, the not-for-profit sector and lastly events and entertainment venues or museums or tourist information for “what’s on”.

3. Hearts and Arrows.

If you agree with a tweet, perhaps click the heart below it to show how much you like it. If you really love a tweet or wish you had said it yourself, re-tweet it (two circling arrows). The person who wrote it will see that you have done this. You just might get followed back. The things you have re-tweeted will of course be visible to your own followers. So if you hate a tweet and want to say something you have two choices – one is to choose “quote tweet” then it will put it in a box and you can caption it with your own words e.g. “What tosh!” Or you could reply (one arrow icon) and tell the person who wrote it how much you disagree. Your reply will likely be seen by a large percentage of their followers. You can annoy people this way, get in arguments or indeed make them admire you greatly. Mostly – let’s be honest – you will be ignored. There are so many tweets out there, no-one bothers responding to most.

4. Keep looking out for new people to follow.

People retweet stuff they love and this will draw new tweeters to your attention. Apart from the people who fall in to the categories I describe above, there are also regular ordinary folk who tweet in a personal capacity. Some of these are absolutely brilliant. Witty, smart and fascinating to follow because apart from their own clever missives, they find and retweet wonderful stuff from all over. It is like they are a magazine editor, and you can read their personally curated feed. I aspire to be like this. Some folk use Twitter only to moan at companies like Vodafone or DHL about bad service. Others use it only to enter competitions (retweet to win!). Some boring farts just tweet things that make them cross like bad parking. You will see spam accounts, companies who only tweet adverts, people who almost never tweet. They’re easy to avoid, just scroll down and have a look at what they’ve recently tweeted and decide not to follow.

5. If someone bothers you.

If someone bothers you, you can mute them. This means they don’t know it but you no longer see their tweets in your feed. If someone really bothers you, you can block them and they won’t be able to see what you are tweeting. They will only notice you’ve done this if they look at your profile, and it will say they’re blocked. I’ve never blocked anyone and I muted one person briefly ‘cos I didn’t like the creepy crawlies in their new profile picture! You will see that some people with a really big Twitter following will get abusive tweets sent to them sometimes. But the great thing about Twitter is the people who will leap to defend. It is mostly a friendly place, with more kind strangers than on Facebook.

How to Start Using Twitter - A Guide on Falcondale Life blog

 

6. Settings and identity.

As with any social media platform, make sure you adjust your settings so that it doesn’t email you or make your phone chime every two minutes. Expect distant acquaintances like your husband’s bachelor work-mate with the bad breath to follow you. It’s a public place, he’s not being weird. If that’s likely to annoy you, don’t use your real name on your account. I shortened mine to give me a small degree of mystery.

7. Useful functionality.

Twitter has a few inbuilt functions that are quite fun. One is “trending”. If you click on the search button (magnifying glass) it will show a rundown like a top ten list of what most people are talking about at that moment. Breaking news stories and gossip always feature highly so you can be well informed this way. Another inbuilt function is the use of # (hashtags). If you click on a word that is preceded by a hashtag then you will see a list of all the latest tweets which include it. An example would be people using #Sherlock whilst watching the TV programme, to join it the chat about it whilst it is broadcast. Lastly there are Twitter “moments” (lightening bolt icon). This looks a little bit like the BBC news app except it consists of tweets. It changes through the day, offering you a selection of highlights by subject. It’s another way to see what people are talking about. I only ever read little bits and I never customise it as that looks too confusing for me.

How to Start Using Twitter - A Guide on Falcondale Life blog, trending

How to Start Using Twitter - A Guide on Falcondale Life blog, moments

8. Final thoughts.

Lastly, although I mention Trump at the outset I would urge you not to tweet like him. He certainly has his own petulant style, and it usually ends with a one-word adjective and an exclamation mark. Sad! Failing! Shameful! As a result, he’s pretty easy to send up. Have a look at #tweetliketrump for some fine examples. There are parody accounts dedicated to pretending to be him. I don’t follow him or his parodies. There are now enough people who react with incredulity to his tweets and I follow them instead, thus keeping the tangerine goblin himself at a safe distance.

Take a look at who I follow on my Twitter, I’m @falcondalejan. You will see a lot of bloggers and also local businesses, sharp satirists, beautiful national parks, sparkling personalities and perceptive commentators. I follow people whom I agree with and also people I don’t. I don’t dare write a list of recommendations for you because it would be too long.
One extra final word – you will find “promoted” tweets in your Twitter feed. Please don’t keep blocking these adverts and once in a very blue moon, click on one. They’re a bit annoying but they keep this valuable service free.

I’ve also written about another social media platform, Pinterest

5 ways with leftover Christmas mincemeat, shortbread recipe on falcondale life blogAre you wondering what to do with leftover mincemeat? Delicious, fragrant and fruity, it is a favourite part of my Christmas feasting. But now it’s January I’m just not in the mood to make mince pies again.

Mince pies with star tops, homemade, 5 ways with leftover Christmas mincemeat, recipe on falcondale life blog

Mincemeat lasts quite a long time so I haven’t rushed to use mine up, but now all the Christmas cheese and turkey is eaten and only the last quarter of the cake remains, it’s come to my attention that the mincemeat is sitting there without a clear plan for it’s future.

There are lots of mincemeat cake recipes around and I often make one at other times of the year, but right after Christmas I personally can’t face another cake in the house. We’ve still got lots of Christmas cake to eat. Instead, here are my five favourite ideas for using mincemeat in January.

1. As a dessert sauce: Heat a tablespoonful of mincemeat gently in a saucepan with a tablespoon of water until hot, then pour over ice-cream or a lemon cheesecake.

2. For breakfast: Add a heaped dessertspoonful of mincemeat to porridge – add it before you begin cooking it so the flavours cook all the way through. Or stir some mincemeat into plain natural yoghurt.

3. As a dessert filling: Add some mincemeat to one of your favourite dessert recipes. Maybe fill a baked apple, stir it into your crumble filling or mix it into a bread and butter pudding.

4. Store it until next winter: If you’ve got a jar of mincemeat that has been opened already, it would be a good idea to re-boil it and put it in a freshly sterilized jar with a wax disc on top, like jam. Then store in a cool place. That sounds like hassle to me! Depending on the sugar content, it will keep for maybe 6 months or possibly 3 years. You could freeze it in bags or tubs. You may have to heat it up after you defrost it to dissolve the sugar crystals. Dried fruit can go a bit chewy when frozen so after defrosting add water, heat through and leave to cool so it re-absorbs some moisture.

5. If you’re on a health kick and you don’t really want to eat more mincemeat yourself in January, how about making bars for the kids packed lunches? I’ve developed an easy shortbread recipe, inspired by Mary Berry’s date shortcake recipe from the book “Fast Cakes”.

Mincemeat Shortbread

Ingredients

8oz (225g) plain flour

1 level teaspoon of baking powder

4 oz (100g) soft margarine

2 oz (50g) light soft brown sugar

5 oz (150g) mincemeat

Zest of half an orange (optional)

¼ tsp of dried ginger (optional)

.
Method

Grease and flour a rectangular tin, 11 by 7 inches (27.5 x 17.5 cm) or a circular tin of 10 inches (25cm) diameter. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees F or gas mark 4)

Sieve the flour, baking powder and ginger into a bowl, then rub in the margarine until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

5 ways with leftover Christmas mincemeat, shortbread recipe on falcondale life blog

Sieve in the sugar to remove lumps, add the orange zest and stir again. Add the mincemeat and mix with your hands until the mixture comes together to form a dough.

5 ways with leftover Christmas mincemeat, shortbread recipe on falcondale life blog

Press evenly into the tin. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden and firm. Sprinkle a teaspoon of sugar over the top whilst it’s hot, cut into 16 pieces and leave to cool in the tin.

5 ways with leftover Christmas mincemeat, shortbread recipe on falcondale life blog

If you make this please do come back and leave a comment!

If you love Christmas baking, why not bookmark my Christmas pudding recipe blog post?

Encouraging New Parents - Using Shepherds - Falcondale Life and the Christmas story, the nativityChristmas is a twelve day feast and the last day is 5th January. But by about the 2nd January the spell is broken and most of us have a strong desire to take down the decorations and move on. Through the Christmas period I was either hosting visitors, or away being hosted, or nursing a sick child so I didn’t publish a blog. I did write this on Christmas Eve and I feel that as it is still technically Christmas, I can get away with sharing it now.

I learned recently that at the time of Jesus’ birth the shepherds were considered to be quite a low class of society. They were outside the town most of the time and were physically tough and lived fairly rough. It’s important to be able to camp out and fight off wild animals when you are a shepherd in Judea. Respectable townsfolk would not see shepherds very often. They can’t desert their sheep without leaving them in danger. Yet God sent the Angels to invite them to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and to meet him. God has always had a bit of a soft spot for shepherds. King David’s first job was to be a shepherd, and Jesus helped his disciples to understand by describing himself as the good shepherd. God also loves a bit of reverse logic. He loves to raise up the lowly.

Sheep on Falcondale Life blog, the nativity

If Jesus was born today I can’t help thinking that the Angels would appear to warehouse staff in Sports Direct and UPS delivery drivers (other delivery services are available). It’s pretty clear from recent media coverage that someone somewhere considers these people to be “lowly”. The Sports Direct workers would likely get in trouble for taking unscheduled breaks, just like the shepherds abandoning their sheep. We’ve all heard tales about the pay and conditions. The delivery drivers annoy us by perhaps bashing our parcels or not actually ringing the bell. And yet we are grateful for their work. These are the people who spring to my mind. Who do you think of?

In Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph are many months further on from their respective Angel visits. The Angel told them that they would be parents to God’s son. They believed what they were told. However life has been plodding on for months since then in its mundane way. I’m sure they are sustained greatly in their faith, but even annunciated parents can feel knocked. They live on earth and as we know, that grates on your faith a bit. At this point they must be feeling a bit less supported by God than they expected. If this is his son, why hasn’t he reserved them a nice hotel room? Are things going wrong? Did they make a mistake with their travel arrangements and not follow His plan? I expect they were questioning themselves a lot.

The Nativity on Falcondale Life blog - a vector image by the blog author

I’m guessing here but I don’t hold with the view that God was floating them along on some heavenly, cosseting cloud in their life on Earth at this time. That idea doesn’t fit with the way He does things throughout the rest of the Bible. He sent his son to earth as a baby to have a fully human experience, and that includes being parented by people who are coping with life’s stresses. Even so, a stable is clearly an unexpected come-down for Mary and Joseph. On the flip side, He’s got this. Things appear a bit impoverished but in fact they lack nothing.

Has God Remembered?

Mary has the baby Jesus, lays him in an animal feeding trough (honestly, she’s scrubbed it with a whole bottle of Flash and lined it with every tea towel should could lay her hands on). These are not the best arrangements for a new baby. Mary’s just done childbirth (always undignified) and now she is getting used to sleep deprivation. She’s living in her pyjamas and doesn’t get to drink more than two mouthfuls of her cup of tea before it goes cold.

The new parents must be wondering whether God has remembered the glory he promised for their child. How does God affirm them? A crowd of burly warehouse staff and unwashed Amazon delivery drivers knock at the door. How VERY alarming. (You get the idea).

The Shepherds have seen Angels and they must have been glowing. Joseph lets them in (was there even a door?) and then to Mary’s astonished delight they tell her about the Angels and her worship her son. This reassures her; it’s true! And how astonishing that God would celebrate first with the shepherds. Mary knew that she was quite lowly when God chose her for this job, she must have marvelled at How God raised up the Shepherds.

God used Shepherds – of all people – to encourage these special new parents. It’s a reminder that we should look at people without pre-judgment, and a person’s job doesn’t define them.

I got very cross and grumpy with a UPS delivery driver this week. I feel a bit bad and I wish he could read this. But does anyone know where I can get a label saying “please use the bell”?

This part of the Nativity Bible story can be found here, Luke 2 v 8-20

Printerpix canvas review on Falcondale Life blog. Wall art.

My favourite type of photography is wall art. This isn’t a true category in photographers’ circles. I am not sure if I can call my work “fine art photography” because I don’t sell or exhibit professionally. I’m not sure what the true definition of “fine art photography” would be. So “wall art” is what I call it in my head, and if it makes it onto the wall then for me this is the highest accolade.

For many years I got sidetracked into photographing people in the studio and at weddings, but I felt disquiet doing this. Really, I prefer to focus on that blank wall. And I do have a blank wall; a chimney breast. It’s a real problem because it’s a focal point. I wrote about it in my post “Can I get a picture“. Here’s the culprit.

Blank wall needs a picture on Falcondale Life blog. Chimney breast. Picture hooks.

We were going to buy a painting but to do that several things would have to come together.

  1. Finding enough time to visit a load of galleries.
  2. My husband and I agreeing on a choice (laughably difficult).
  3. My children not complaining loudly about what we’ve picked (no, I don’t want a picture of a panda).

That’s enough problems already. It’s held us back for months! So I am delighted that the lovely people at Printerpix got in touch to offer me a canvas to show off on my blog. I already have a portfolio of photos suitable for wall art so it was just a case of selecting one to fit with the decor. I tried to get my husband’s agreement when I chose the shot but he just found it too hard to decide. We have green accents in the room so I selected a shot titled “Little Launch”. I took the photo a few years ago in this lovely harbour at Mousehole, Cornwall.

The harbour at Mousehole, Cornwall on Falcondale Life blog.

Printerpix – printing tips

The Printerpix website was really easy to use. The maximum jpeg size you can upload is 20MB but I would recommend that you resize your image to a size close to what you are ordering. If you don’t do this yourself then the printing company will have to do it, and as a photographer I prefer to retain control of what the image looks like after compression or enlargement.

From experience I have learned to only send an image to a printer which is no less than 133 pixels per inch and no more than 300 pixels per inch. For example, for a canvas that is 10inches wide and 12 inches high, resize the image and set the width to no more than 3000 pixels and the height to 3600 pixels. Make sure you are happy with the result before you order (the website will tell you if the resolution is too poor). Printerpix has a handy chart to explain how to find the right size and image resolution click here.

When you order a canvas, remember that the edge of the image will be wrapped around the frame. Leave a little more space than usual when you crop your picture. The Printerpix website will show you a preview of this.

 

Our new canvas

Printerpix canvas review on Falcondale Life blog

Delivery from Printerpix was excellent, very prompt and extremely well packaged. Funnily enough our order co-incided with a colour glitch on their system so the canvas had to be sent again. The next delivery was also prompt and well packaged so it was definitely not a one-off. Printerpix tell me that they have recently invested in an expensive software upgrade for their canvas printing department so no more colour glitches.

Our canvas came with a protective coating and a brass hanging attachment, which was great. This is the first canvas I have ever had. Previously I have only used photo paper and often that would be behind glass. The advantage of a canvas was immediately obvious when we hung it up as there was no reflection in any glass from the ceiling lights. This used to be the bane of my life with our last painting on the chimney breast! Problem solved, thank-you Printerpix.

Doesn’t it look great?

Printerpix canvas review on falcondale life blog

Printerix canvas review at Falcondale Life blog

One Hundred Pound Giveaway

For one lucky reader, I’m giving away a Printerpix voucher worth £100 – click here to see what you could buy with that.  You could order a canvas, a photobook or prints – the choice is yours!  Complete one or more of the Rafflecopter options below to enter. To enter you must add a comment on the blog and confirm that you have done this using the Rafflecopter box below. Then you can gain extra entries by completing other Rafflecopter options which will appear next. You must be UK resident and enter by 7th January 2017. Full terms and conditions below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

 

Check out a few of my photography boards on Pinterest!

Photography – Inspiring

Photography – Learning

Photography – Equip Yourself

Advertising disclosure – I was given the canvas and vouchers by Printerpix for purposes of this review, however all words and opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Terms and Conditions 1. This prize draw runs from 20th December 2016 to Saturday 7th January 2017 at 23:59. 2.One winner will receive a voucher of £100 to be spent with Printerpix (UK). The voucher is valid until 30th April 2017, they are solely for redemption with Printerpix in accordance with their terms and conditions and have no cash value. No alternative will be offered. 3.You must be over 18 and a UK resident to enter. 4. Entrants must log in via Rafflecopter and answer the question in the widget – this is the only mandatory task. You then can gain extra entries by following the instructions on Rafflecopter. 5. One entry per household. 6. The winner will be chosen at random using Rafflecopter’s automated system. 7. The winner will be informed by email or Twitter (if appropriate) by 14th January 2017. The winner has 7 days to respond and provide a UK delivery address for the prize. If this does not happen then another winner will be chosen.  8. The prize will be delivered within 7 days of response by the winner. Whilst every effort will be taken to deliver the prize carefully using a postal tracking service, the promoter is not responsible for loss or damage in postage.  9. This prize draw is governed by English law and the courts of England shall have exclusive jurisdiction over any dispute arising in connection with it. The winner’s name will be available on request. 10. The winner’s details will be handled by Falcondale Life for the sole purpose of sending the prize and for legal compliance.

 

Christmas pudding is a traditional food and sometimes it’s nice to use a traditional recipe. I come from a very large family and for decades we used my Grandma’s hundred-year-old Christmas pudding recipe. However, eating it was tough going for some of us. It felt rich, thick, heavy and the children didn’t like it. Does this sound familiar to you? Do you sometimes cop out and eat ice cream instead?

Many years ago a lady gave my Mum a slightly different recipe for Christmas pudding. She didn’t even know my Mum very well, but was so passionate about this recipe that she was keen to share it. The list of ingredients looks completely traditional but something about it just works. This recipe works better than anything we have tried before. It tastes light and almost fluffy, which is deceptive because it’s actually very rich. The pudding is fruity but not chewy. It’s flavoursome and aromatic without smelling like pot pourri or tasting like treacle, like so many supermarket puddings. We have given this recipe to lots of people who have enjoyed it too.

Most importantly, it is EASY. You simply measure and mix the ingredients together, there’s no beating butter, no risk of curdling, no chance of it sinking in the middle. If you have gone to the trouble of making a Christmas cake, or mince pies then you will find this a doddle. The only difficulty is finding time to steam it; you need to be on hand so it doesn’t boil dry. A one pint pudding needs 5 hours steaming and a 2 pint pudding needs 8 hours steaming. If you’re a parent then you could get a neighbour to walk the children home from school just for one day perhaps, or find time at the weekend. I’m told you can use a slow cooker if you have one.

Christmas Pudding recipe on falcondalelife blog

You can make this Christmas pudding as late as Christmas Eve but the taste does mature after a couple of weeks. You can make it up to a year in advance but store it in the fridge. Put the whole thing in it’s bowl inside an airless food storage bag. Christmas pudding can be frozen for a short period, perhaps one or two months, but not for too long because the fruit texture will deteriorate.

 

These quantities make two one-pint puddings or one two-pint pudding. Mix the ingredients one day then leave it overnight and steam it the next day.

Ingredients

  • 150g fresh white breadcrumbs
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp powdered mace
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 150g shredded suet
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100g soft brown sugar
  • 100g candied peel
  • 150g currants
  • 100g sultanas
  • 250g raisins
  • 75g chopped almonds
  • 100g chopped cooking apples
  • the juice and zest of half an orange
  • the juice and zest of half a lemon
  • 5 tsp brandy
  • 1 large egg plus 1 extra egg yolk, whisked
  • 60ml milk (approx.)

Method

Day 1: Mix together all the dry ingredients then add all the wet ingredients except the milk. Stir really well. Add enough milk to make a soft dropping consistency and stir again. Get all your family members to stir it too and make a wish. Keep your wish secret until Christmas day! Smooth the mixture flat in the bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm and leave overnight.

Christmas pudding recipe on Falcondale Life blog

Christmas pudding recipe on Falcondale Life blog

Day 2: Stir the mixture again. Anyone who didn’t get to make a Christmas wish yesterday can have a go now. Grease your pudding basins and pack tightly with the mixture. I don’t recommend adding a lucky bean or a coin because it’s a choking hazard but even the Health and Safety Executive would disagree with me. I leave it up to you!

Christmas pudding recipe on Falcondale Life blog

Christmas pudding recipe on Falcondale Life blog

Cover the pudding with greased greaseproof paper. Cover this with the lid or if your bowl has no lid then tie on some silver foil with string. Place in your steamer with a long band of folded foil under it to help you lift it out. Steam each one-pint pudding for 5 hours. Steam a two-pint pudding for 8 hours. If you have a one-and-a-half pint pudding then steam it for 7 hours. It will expand a bit; it always pushes the lid off my steamer so put a layer of foil under the lid. When the time is up, take out and leave to cool. Store in a cool place.

Christmas pudding recipe on Falcondale Life blog

On Christmas day: Steam a one pint pudding for 2 hours. Steam a 2 pint pudding for 3 hours. Turn out onto a hot dish for serving.

We love this Christmas pudding served with Mrs Hanrahan’s sauce.

Tips on Ingredients

Currants – buy the best quality seedless currants, not shops own brand. It’s better to replace the currants with raisins and sultanas than to use cheap currants.

Sultanas and raisins – take the time to pick them over and remove any stalks. They’re not very nice to bite into.

Almonds – I like to grind flaked almonds in a herb mill for a better texture. You can use packet chopped almonds but I find they stick in my teeth. I avoid finely ground almonds because it acts like flour and changes the recipe consistency.

Grinding almonds. Christmas pudding recipe on Falcondale Life blog

Breadcrumbs – cut the crusts off a day-old white loaf, break into chunks and whizz in a blender. With the leftover breadcrumbs, weigh out 100g bagfuls and freeze. They will last all year, they defrost in a matter of minutes and are useful for bread sauce, queen of puddings, chicken Kiev and other crispy toppings.

Apples – weigh them out after peeling and coring, not before.

Chopped apples. Christmas pudding recipe on Falcondale Life blog

Candied peel – if you can get this without added sulphites then you will notice a better flavour. Try looking for it in health food stores.

“Free From” adaptations – you could use vegetarian suet. You could also use any dairy-free alternative to milk and grease your pudding basin with a dairy-free spread. If you want to leave out the almonds because of a nut allergy you can do so but perhaps add a dash of vanilla and a touch more ginger.

This recipe contains no treacle, no golden syrup, no stout and no butter, which you may find in other recipes. I prefer to avoid all of these in order to get a good flavour and texture. In particular the use of stout is a hangover from pre-war days and it gives a slightly bitter aftertaste. My Grandma was prescribed a daily drink of stout by the doctor when she was run down. How times change!

Take a look at my Living – Eating Pinterest board for some of my favourite recipe ideas

I linked this post to the Holiday Foodie Linky