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The Sunday Outfit: Dungarees

Sundays should really be spent in pyjamas. But, sometimes, brunch just won’t come to you. Therefore something warm, comfortable and, crucially, able to hide a food baby, is required.

At the beginning of the year, I shared my loved for The Pinafore Dress. But dungarees are even better. I was always put off because they can be quite pricey – and finding the perfect shade of denim is impossible (especially if you are like me and don’t like wearing blue jeans anyway…)

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But this skinny black pair from New Look completely changed my mind. Very cheap and so comfortable. And I totally bypassed the blue denim situation by opting for black. For a first time dungarees-buyer, try to find your favourite pair of jeans in dungaree form. I wear black skinny jeans almost everyday, so black skinny dungarees were an obvious choice (though it took me a while to work that out).

Dungarees are also one of those brilliant outfits that make it seem like you have made an effort – when really that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ideal for rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning with just ten minutes to spare before brunch.

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A November Reading List

It’s been so long since I’ve written a reading list. As ever, I’m tearing through books at a horrifically expensive rate but if I’m honest, I’ve had a bit of a poor reading spell lately. Throughout October I picked up three (three!) books by authors that I love, to find them just a bit disappointing. And every time I have visited Waterstones I’ve just felt overwhelmed. There are so many books, how on earth are you meant to pick?

So here’s hoping that November is a better reading month. It’s a fairly mixed bag this month. I’m back on career reading, something I never thought I would enjoy but it is fascinating when you get the right book. I have a light hearted read all about dogs (what’s not to love?) and a family drama you won’t be able to put down. Happy reading everyone!

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*For a fascinating career read: Inside Vogue: A Diary of My 100th Year, Alexandra Shulman. If you have read my post on Magazine Career Must Reads, you will know that I love memoirs by magazine editors. As I work in magazine publishing myself, I just find it fascinating. With British Vogue celebrating their centenary this year, I was so excited to discover the BBC had done a two part documentary on the magazine. But, to be honest, it wasn’t that great. The memoir by editor in chief, Alexandra Shulman though, is fantastic. It is essentially a collection of her thoughts over the year the magazine celebrated its 100th birthday. You get a real insight into how the magazine works and it doesn’t get bogged down in the glamour of her job (which is hugely glamorous). No name dropping or obsession with big parties and budgets. In fact she is very honest about how much they have to reign in spending. If you watched the documentary and felt a little underwhelmed – read this.

*For a light-hearted doggy romp: Peggy and Me, Miranda Hart. If you don’t find Miranda Hart funny, I wouldn’t recommend this. And I completely understand why people don’t find her funny, but her sitcom always particularly tickled me. I read her first book, Is It Just Me?, a couple of summers ago and could not stop giggling away to myself like a loon. This book centres on her dog, a Shih-Tzu Bichon Frise cross called Peggy. It’s simply a hugely entertaining recounting of their adventures together and her thoughts on being a dog owner. The perfect light-hearted read for dog lovers as the evenings are getting longer and darker.

*For an addictive domestic drama: Three Wishes, Liane Moriarty. I love Liane Moriarty with her larger than life characters and completely addictive story lines and plot twists. I would say that Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret are her two absolute best books, but Three Wishes is also brilliant if you have already devoured those. It centres on the Kettle triplets, Lyn, Cat and Gemma, focusing on their relationship and the various ups and downs they have to deal with in their own lives. As with any Liane Moriarty book, there is plenty of drama to keep you reading furiously and the characters are so vibrant you feel almost like their fourth sister by the end.

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Exploring Richmond Park

The temperature has seriously dropped here in London over the past few days. Out of nowhere, winter has arrived. It’s raining, it’s freezing and the Christmas lights haven’t even been turned on yet to cheer the whole situation up.

It’s so much easier to be enthusiastic about being outside in autumn. It’s chilly but only a little (enough to make you think ‘ooh it’s a bit nippy’ but then move on) and the world looks stunning in its autumnal colours. Winter though, it’s almost not even worth leaving the house. Only for minimal amounts of time when you absolutely have to.

But I’m trying to hold on to that autumnal spirit of adventure rather than give in to the temptation to hibernate. So Tiarnan and I set off to Richmond last weekend for breakfast and to explore Richmond Park. Because even though we live so nearby, I’ve never properly walked around, admired the deer and enjoyed it before.

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We started with breakfast at Muriel’s Kitchen, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite London breakfast spots. They have branches in South Kensington, Soho and Richmond which recreate the warmth and cosiness of a family kitchen. All of their restaurants are beautiful and entirely unique, and the food is fresh and beyond delicious. Highly recommend!

We had a quick look around the shops because I can’t bear to see a high street of shops and not venture in to at least one (or maybe several). And Richmond has a wonderful higgledy-piggledy high street that seems like it should belong to a village rather than London. I was a little caught off guard that all of the shops have already cracked out the Christmas decorations, but I guess that Bonfire Night is over so it’s time to eat mince pies and deck the halls. But still, I admired everything (and made mental lists of what I want to buy for others, and myself…) but it still felt a little too early to commit to any purchases.

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But anyway, the main attraction – Richmond Park. It really is an incredibly sight, one minute you are walking through the residential streets of London and the next you are in an enormous, sprawling deer park. It’s hard to miss the deer, but if you don’t want to get too close you don’t have to. But they are the most amazing, calming presence, just minding their own business as you mind yours.

The red deer in particular really are a sight to behold. Red deer are the fourth largest deer species and the stags are enormous. But again, they are so peaceful and calm. You can get relatively close, stop and take pictures and they will just gaze back at you. Amazing. And they are as much a resident of London as I am…!

So if you are visiting London, take a trip out of central to Richmond Park. Or if you are a Londoner, there’s nowhere better for some fresh air and a walk. It’s getting cold, but Richmond Park is definitely worth it.

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How to Spend… November

October felt like a gentle introduction to autumn. Now the typical crisp mornings are here and carrying around an emergency pair of gloves (just in case) is absolute necessity. The leaves are still falling so we’re trotting around on golden carpets but now that the clocks have gone back and the days are getting shorter, winter is definitely on its way.

I am December’s biggest fan, but I’m also very much on board with November. Even though the dark evenings feel hugely depressing when its a Wednesday and raining, there is nothing better than seeing the newly black sky fill with fireworks for Bonfire Night. And when it is a Wednesday and raining, I’ve been trying to curl up with a book and enjoy the cosiness. At home we have an open fire, but here in London I’m making do with an electric blanket and it’s pretty fantastic. And let’s be honest, it’s not that cold yet (we’ve got the treat that is January and February for the real temperature drop).

But anyway, November. Time to bundle up and head out for hot dogs and fireworks on the 5th, wear our poppies in remembrance on the 11th and stir the Christmas pudding to make a wish on Stir Up Sunday. Have a happy November, everyone!

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*Go to a firework display: Halloween was all well and good, but Bonfire Night is still my favourite. Fireworks beat scares any day, in my book. We’re coming to the end of the Bonfire Night weekend, so I hope you all headed out to big displays or at least set some sparklers off. And then, of course, warmed up with hot dogs and big cups of steaming tea afterwards. If not, there’s still time tonight…

*Explore a place you have always meant to go: Isn’t it always the way that if somewhere is close to you, no matter how pretty/historic/amazing, you never end up visiting? Well, become a tourist at home for the day. Although it’s getting chillier, everywhere still looks beautiful in its autumnal get up. And pretty soon we’ll want to hibernate until spring, so now is the time for day trips. For me, that place was Richmond Park and we finally got round to exploring it on Saturday afternoon and, of course, it looks beautiful at this time of year. Blog post coming soon…

*Make homemade warming drinks: Autumn is the time for warming drinks. Mulled apple cider, Winter Pimm’s, mulled wine or hot chocolate – take your pick and become your own mixologist. There are so many simple recipes online, and I’ve been surfing around for the best homemade hot chocolate which I’ll share soon. And a spicy, appley hot brew is practically autumn in a cup.

*Book ahead for Christmas:  I feel a bit guilty talking about Christmas (is it still too early?) but here in London there are Christmas activities that simply have to be done and they book up fast. I’m compiling a mental list of everything I want to do in December, and thinking about booking the tickets so there’ll be no disappointments (because no one wants disappointments at Christmas). We always go ice skating so I’m starting to decide whether we’ll book somewhere new or, more likely, head back to Somerset House which we love. And I’m desperate to go to the ballet. I’m hoping that with just a little bit of organisation, we can fit everything in…

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A Few Favourites: October

The clocks have turned back and we’ve shared our sweets with the trick or treaters. I have actually really enjoyed October this time round. Usually autumnal celebrations are reserved for Bonfire Night so Halloween passes me by, as do the beautiful autumnal colours as I spend my days wrapped up in city life.

But this time I have made a real effort to enjoy the changing season and celebrate Halloween. And I’m so glad I did, it’s been a great month. We started in Amsterdam for Tiarnan’s marathon, exploring the canals and the cafes, I’ve made the flat a cosy haven for the ever darkening evenings and we celebrated Halloween by picking pumpkins and baking sugary, spooky treats.

But before we welcome November and the skies fill with fireworks, here are some of the things I have been loving this month.

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*Pluk, Amsterdam: I have written an entire post on Pluk so I promise not to bore you, but spending the weekend in Amsterdam was a real treat this month. It’s a place that I’ve had half-heartedly on my ‘to visit’ list for far too long, but the lure of other European cities has always been stronger. After a quick Google search I stumbled across Pluk and set my heart on visiting, so it was the first thing we did on Saturday morning. It’s unlike anywhere else I have ever found – a gorgeous café attached to an interiors, gifts and stationary shop. If only they were here in London…

*Orange Grove candle, by The White Company: It has started to get so dark so early in the evenings now the clocks have gone back. Hugely depressing – but I’m trying to look past the darkness and instead use it as an excuse to enjoy cosy evenings at home. Home cooked dinners, good TV and plenty of candles has been the way of October and that’s set to continue for the foreseeable. I’ve bought more candles than I’d care to admit this month, but my favourite has to be Orange Grove by The White Company. I love the look of their pillar candles and even though I love all citrus scents, this one just feels so autumnal.

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*A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman: October has been a bit of a poor month on the reading front. Everything has just been distinctly average. Fortunately there was one exception though – A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman was brilliant. I picked this up when I had half an hour to kill and ended up in Waterstones. It is about a grumpy old man called Ove, as he struggles through daily life suffering ridiculous situations and idiotic people. It is funny and moving in equal measure and after I turned the final page my commute felt a little bleaker without Ove for company.

*Halloween: This is the first year that I have taken Halloween even slightly seriously and it has absolutely exploded over here in the UK. I went to my first ever fright night, which was hugely fun if slightly terrifying. And while I used to do pick your own strawberries when I was little, I had never even seen a pumpkin field before this month. But we got went down to one on the back of a tractor and returned with a pumpkin harvest fit for homemade soup. It’s been a great month, but now it’s time for fireworks, early Christmas preparations and much shorter days…

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Halloween Chocolate Bark

If pumpkin picking is one way to do Halloween without the scares, then getting creative in the kitchen is the other. And baking is always more fun when you have a theme to follow.

This Halloween chocolate bark is unbelievably simple. It requires absolutely minimal skill, effort, ingredients, equipment and time. I really mean it. You could make this bark now and it will be ready for tonight’s scary movie session.

You just need a lot of chocolate and as many toppings as you wish. I went a bit crazy in the Halloween aisle of Waitrose and ended up with skeleton faces, tiny bats, chocolate stars (big and small), mini ghouls, crunchy bronze glitter and fudge chunks amongst other things. But the choices are endless, and you don’t need as many decorations as I have. I also used milk, dark and white chocolate (because why not?) but again, do whatever you prefer. I would recommend at least two chocolates though, as the bark will look prettier and the combinations taste great.

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Simply melt the chocolate in separate bowls. Line a baking tray with parchment and pour your base chocolate onto it. Spread out using a spoon into a neat rectangle. If you are using a second chocolate, drizzle over the top. Don’t spread the second layer as the chocolates will mix together into one big mess.

Then decorate! Go crazy and put as much as you want on top, the spookier the  better. You can also drizzle leftover melted chocolate on top, which is what I did with one of my slabs.

Then put in the fridge/freezer (depending on how imminent the scary movie session is) until the slabs have completely hardened. Remove and break into shards.

And that’s it! I’ll be spending tonight watching The Nightmare Before Christmas (for the first time!) with plenty of chocolate bark while listening out for the trick or treaters… Happy Halloween everyone!

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Pick Your Own Pumpkins

Halloween has never been my thing. I don’t like things jumping out at me. I don’t like creepy clowns, lunatics escaped from the asylum, vampires in their coffins or skeletons fresh from the grave. Cats are the tamest (literally) part of the whole thing and I don’t like them either (I’m very allergic).

But I love anything festive, all year round. Waiting for midnight on New Years Eve, hunting out chocolate eggs at Easter, watching fireworks fill the sky on Bonfire Night and the complete delight that is Christmas, I love them all. So I can’t skip Halloween, but it needs to be adapted. Which brings me to this Sunday’s blog post – pumpkin picking. Entirely Halloween and not remotely scary.

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Every Halloween, Secretts throw open their farm gates for Pumpkin Week. The Pick Your Own farm becomes dedicated to pumpkins and for just £1 you can jump on a tractor down to the pumpkin fields. You ramble around the field for as long as you wish, selecting the biggest, smallest, prettiest or most misshapen pumpkin you can find, before seeing which hole it fits through (each hole is a price), paying what you owe and then hopping back in the tractor to the farm.

In the run up to Halloween weekend I did my fair share of research into pick your own pumpkins, and the distinction between pumpkin field and pumpkin patch is not one to be overlooked. At pumpkin patches the pumpkins have already been picked, and are then displayed so you can pick the prettiest to take home. Pumpkin fields are the real deal, leaving you to roam around in the mud carrying as many pumpkins as you can manage. There aren’t many farms that let you lose in their pumpkins fields, but Secretts is one of them and it is definitely the only way to do it.

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Back at base, Secretts have all kinds of pumpkin treats to greet you (think tiny gourds with warm pumpkin soup inside). Or you can venture into the farm shop where they have an enormous selection of home grown fruit and veg, freshly baked breads and cakes, preserves and sauces, chocolate and confectionary, a delicatessen stocked by the in house butcher and a cheese counter with an impressive listing of over 300 cheeses. If you couldn’t find what you were after in the pick your own fields, you’ll definitely find it in the farm shop and you can rest assured that it’ll be just as fresh.

There are also cafes onsite for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Having worked up an appetite in the pumpkin fields, we opted for Eliza’s Teashop and warmed up over baked potatoes and homemade quiche. The perfect setting for the post-picking discussion of what exactly to do with the pumpkins (pie, soup or lantern?)

We took our pumpkins home and Tiarnan’s mum kindly whipped up a pumpkin soup, which we will be lunching on all week. Who says that Halloween needs to be scary to be fun? Certainly not me.

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Three Tier Biscoff Cake

I have heard a lot of people talking about Biscoff lately. I assumed it was an American thing and not for us Brits. Loaded with sugar and not even remotely natural, I was sure Waitrose and co would turn their noses up. How wrong I was. It is everywhere.

Biscoff is a brand of biscuits (for those not in the know) but they aren’t just biscuits. They have the biscuity answer to Nutella. Biscoff spread is delicious – you can spread smooth, biscuity goodness over anything!

If I had to choose my best baking creation, this would be it. My sister and I always stick to cupcakes and cookies, but we decided it was time to be ambitious and attempt a layer cake. It turned out to be quite the monster. But this enormous, biscuit tasting cake is actually pretty easy to make. You can use Biscoff spread with anything (cupcakes, cookies, cheesecake, crumbles…) but I reckon this is a pretty good place to start. We got the recipe here and it worked really well.

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YOU WILL NEED

For the cake

  • 400g butter
  • 400g light brown sugar
  • 400g eggs (roughly 7 large eggs)
  • 400g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tbsp whole milk

For the Biscoff buttercream

  • 250g butter
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 300g Biscoff spread
  • 40-60ml whole milk

For the decoration

  • Crushed Lotus biscuits
  • Whole Lotus biscuits
TO MAKE

Heat the oven to 180C and line three sandwich tins.

Beat together the butter and the sugar. Add the flour, eggs and baking powder and beat until combined. Use the milk to loosen if it gets too thick. Divide between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes.

For the decoration, beat the butter to loosen it. Add the icing sugar at a slow speed until fully combined. Add the Biscoff spread, then the milk until you have the desired consistency.

When the cakes are cool, pipe on the icing and add crushed biscuits on top. Put the next cake on top and repeat. Add the top layer and decorate as you wish!

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Breakfasting in Amsterdam: Pluk

If you thought that my last post looked suspiciously unlike London, you were right. Just last weekend Tiarnan and I hopped over to Amsterdam for the marathon. I refuse to allow our marathon weekends to only be about limbering up and eating shedloads of pasta, though. We had Saturday for exploring, and explore we did.

After some minimal research I decided that I most wanted to visit The Nine Streets, or De Negen Straatjes, area. Just outside the centre and the very heart of Amsterdam’s canal district, it is a beautiful place to wander with plenty of independent shops and small cafes along the 17th century canals. It was here that we discovered Pluk.

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I challenge you to leave Pluk with just a full stomach. It is the most gorgeous café meets gift, stationary and interiors shop and not picking up an entirely unnecessary treat to self is almost impossible. From wooden platter boards, travel mugs, notebooks, photo frames and an enormous selection of fresh fruit and veg, it is only a small shop but you are completely spoilt for choice.

The café is on a mezzanine level overlooking the shop. The girls in there are absolutely lovely and as it was full when we arrived, while we were browsing the shop one of them hovered by the door looking for any leavers whose table we could take. Pluk’s menu is all about healthy and fresh food, with a huge selection of breakfasts, lunches and homemade cakes. We opted for breakfast and ordered a generous selection from the acai bowl to yoghurt to homemade banana bread – all delicious.

It’s only small and incredibly popular, so expect a little wait but the shop will keep you more than occupied. It is the perfect place to fuel up before a morning of wandering the canals. It was my favourite place that we visited over the weekend and the best introduction to Amsterdam.

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Autumnal Pinks

I am not a pink person. In fact, I’m not really a colour person. I always end up in blacks, whites and – my favourite colour of them all – grey. I’ve had to ban myself from buying grey jumpers, it has got that out of control. But autumn is just such a colourful time. The leaves are putting on a firework display of reds, oranges and yellows and we haven’t even set off the real sparklers for the 5th November yet. So this is my attempt to put a bit of colour into my monochrome wardrobe.

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Not only am I absolutely not a pink person, but it isn’t a very autumnal colour either. Spring and summer yes but autumn? No. But this dusky rose Topshop jumper absolutely fits the bill. I love how the colour is slightly unexpected, but still fits in. And it’s a great option if, like me, yellow makes you look a bit sallow and red is just a bit too bold. Baby steps. This jumper has an amazing fit – comfy and relaxed but still slightly fitted, and it can look smart if you want it to. It’s also not too heavy, so ideal for these warmer autumnal days we are still enjoying.

I am also completely in love with this H&M scarf. It is so soft, so comfy to wear and so cheap! And it looks perfectly autumnal without being stereotypically so. The mustard yellow brings it straight into the season, along with the dusky rose pink I am loving so much. It’s also not too heavy so, again, perfect for these crisp autumn days.

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So if you buy one thing this month, make it colourful. Or at least slightly so. We are going to have plenty of time for monochrome when winter rolls round.