My Autumn To Do List

This is mainly made up of ideas to tide you over until Christmas. We’re still just a smidge too far away to get excited – but Winter Wonderland ads are starting to pop up around London, as are the ice rinks and the lights…

But not yet. I love this time of year too, it’s feeling crisp in the mornings and the days are getting forever shorter. The darkness is a little depressing – so all the more reason for a list of fun things to do. With Halloween just around the corner and Bonfire Night next weekend, there are plenty of things on to keep you preoccupied until it’s acceptable to chat all things Christmas…

IMG_0085 (2).JPGPicture25.png

*Go pumpkin picking: I have just got back from pumpkin picking and it’s still one of my very favourite things to do at this time of year. I imagine you can’t move for pumpkin patches in America, but here in the less-Halloween-obsessed UK it’s becoming more of a thing now. At our local one you pile on the back of a tractor, rumble down to the pumpkin field, pick as many as you carry and then get back on the tractor for pumpkin curry, pumpkin cake and hot dogs. The perfect Sunday.

*Have a Halloween film night: By this I do not mean scary films. I hate scary films. I get completely worked up by them and convince myself I am living in it for months afterwards – no thank you. There are actually hundreds of Halloween films that aren’t scary at all – I’ve got a nice pile of Tim Burton animated films (hello The Nightmare Before Christmas) as well as a few others, admittedly kiddy, films – and I’m looking forward to settling down and getting through them. There’s not that long until Halloween, so definitely need to get going…

*Go winter wardrobe shopping: Autumnal clothes have been in the shops for a while, but we’re actually in need of them now. I love a new jumper (who doesn’t?) but plan a big shopping trip to fill your wardrobe with autumnal colours – think all the browns, burgundys and even mustard if you’re feeling brave. I’m trying really hard to avoid black at the moment. It’s just so boring, and actually very easy to replace when you put your mind to it.

*Plan a cosy, pamper night: I read somewhere recently that summer is the time to charge around, and autumn is when we hunker down. It’s so true. As the evenings get darker, I’m filling my house with candles, fairy lights and blankets to make it really cosy and the only place to be in the evenings. Add a face mask and anything else you like to pamper yourself with and you’ve got the perfect night in.

*Go to a firework display: I’ve been quite enjoying getting into the spirit of Halloween over the past couple of years, but Bonfire Night will always be my favourite. I have already been to my local firework display at home this weekend, and can’t wait to see London light up next week. It’s the perfect excuse to get a big group together, eat hot dogs and toffee apples, get as close to the bonfire as you can stand and, of course, marvel at the incredible fireworks.

*Get outside and go walking: It’s getting colder and darker (I know I keep saying it but it is), but the beautiful autumnal colours are still clinging on and will do for another few weeks. So get outside and enjoy them. Find conkers, kick through enormous piles of leaves and enjoy the fresh air. We spend far too much time inside and that needs to be changed…

The Perfect Homemade Hot Chocolate

It hasn’t actually got that cold yet. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it meant to be a lot chillier by now? I haven’t got my big scarfs out. I’m in no need of gloves and I haven’t even swung my full coat collection into action. My real, big, winter coats are still safely in storage and I haven’t come anywhere near close to pulling them out yet.

That said, it is getting much, much darker (sob) and so cosying up in the evenings is still entirely necessary. Warm drinks are essential for this. I’m being slightly contradictory here though, as I’m not much a warm-drinks-drinker. I don’t like coffee and I’d say I am a ‘social tea drinker’ – I will if you will, but never on my own. So standing in line at a coffee shop with my coffee-obsessed boyfriend the other day, I had my usual tussle over what I wanted (the real answer – nothing). Then I noticed they had hot chocolate…

IMG_7858 (2)IMG_7862 (2)

I’m finding myself craving hot chocolate more and more these days. I love chocolate (who doesn’t…) – I’d happily give up sweets, crisps, cake etc etc but I could never let go of chocolate. So hot chocolates feel like the ultimate treat, especially as the days are getting darker (if not colder).

It turns out that making your own is ridiculously easy and it tastes so much better. Yes, stirring powder into hot milk is hardly strenuous in the first place, but just put in a little extra effort and it’s entirely worth it. Melted chocolate is better than powder any day.

I got the original recipe from here, but really you can add or take away anything you want (that’s part of the fun!) and the measurements don’t need to be precise. And the method is essentially chuck it in a saucepan and stir.

You will need – 100g of your favourite chocolate (I mixed milk and dark), 2 cups of water, 2 cups of milk and 2 cinnamon sticks. Put everything but the milk in the saucepan. When the chocolate has entirely melted, add the milk and keep stirring until it’s warm and ready to drink (this takes a little longer than you’d expect). Add whipped cream, cocoa powder, marshmallows, an extra cinnamon stick and whatever else takes your fancy and enjoy! Easy.

How to Spend: October

It never fails to amaze me just how much everyone loves October. I’ve always been more of a summer person, and surely everyone loves Christmas, but it turns out that for most – autumn rates pretty highly.

And I can see why. The world looks stunning in its autumnal get-up, I love pulling out all of my jumpers and coats again and the slight nip in the air is a reminder that Christmas is on its way… But there is the other side to the change of seasons as well. It’s getting dark and cold, everyone is coming down with some sort of illness and the disappearance of the sun is just a bit, well, miserable.

We don’t spend nearly enough time looking after ourselves, so this month remember to schedule in some time for just that. Buy all the bath bombs, put on a face mask, read a book, catch up on Bake Off… The summer was so busy for me and I feel like I’ve been running around without ever stopping. Use October to finally catch up with yourself, because Christmas is on it’s way and it’s all going to get really busy again before we know it… But until then enjoy the changing leaves, don’t forget that the clocks turn back on the 29th and prepare to scare yourself silly on the 31st!

IMG_7599 (2)Picture15

*Have a pamper night: Even if you can’t spend the entire month looking after yourself, one night isn’t too much to ask. Say no to going out and put yourself first for once – the world won’t end! You can’t go wrong with a Lush bath bomb, a face mask (Glamglow is my personal favourite) and a good book. Use the time to catch up on Bake Off, watch a film and get a really early night. They say that no good stories start with an early bedtime, but it’s OK to opt out of that for once and just look after yourself.

*Explore somewhere close to home: Part of taking things a bit more gently this month for me has been using the weekends to explore what’s on my doorstep. The summer is the time for jet-setting, and my head has been filled with plans for far-flung places for months now, but with the arrival of autumn something has just switched. Suddenly I don’t want to be up all hours, boarding flights and living out of a suitcase anymore. But that doesn’t mean staying at home and doing nothing – I’m never one for that. There is so much to explore just outside your front door when you open your eyes. Things as simple as breakfast in the nice cafe you spotted to a walk in the park are just as wonderful as Instagrammable holiday destinations (and maybe even better…)

*Go pumpkin picking: Finally, my favourite suggestion for this month, there is nothing more fitting for Halloween than to go pumpkin picking. This is really taking off in the UK (or maybe I’m just really slow to the party), so a quick Google should bring up something local to you. At our local one you get to pile onto a tractor down to the pumpkin fields, pick as many pumpkins as you can carry and feast on pumpkin soup served in tiny gourds. And then of course, back home, you get to carve them… Don’t forget to put your finished creations out to encourage the trick or treaters to come knocking (but don’t forget to buy sweets!)

The Oversized Denim Jacket

I am a jeans person without being a denim person. For years now my uniform has been dark skinny jeans, blue denim makes me want to run a mile. But (and it pains me to admit this) it’s starting to feel like the dark skinnies have had their time. Blue denim is making a comeback and I’ve finally felt pushed to do something about it.

I have actually bought two pairs of blue jeans (I know, crazy). I’ve even been wearing them! FYI they are both from Zara and great, but that is not why we are gathered here today. For those, like me, who are a bit afraid of blue denim because – let’s be honest – it’s not as flattering as trusty black, jeans are not the place to start. Enter, the denim jacket.

IMG_7185 (2) - CopyPicture10

Didn’t everyone have a denim jacket as a child? There are some great pictures of me in true blue double denim like the 90’s baby I was. But this time around it’s all about the oversizing, and this Topshop denim jacket is what finally convinced me. A big oversized jacket acts like a coat, keeps you nice and snug – and when your outfits are already built around dark skinny jeans, turns out a splash of blue goes with everything.

Admittedly, I bought this denim jacket months ago and haven’t worn it. But now the seasons are changing I’ve discovered that this is the time of year it’s made for. Slightly chilly? Layer it up. A bit warmer? Just chuck it on over a t-shirt. It’s perfect for everything – apart from rain. As I discovered when taking these very pictures, denim jackets are terrible in rain.

So there’s no need to ditch your trusty dark skinnies in favour of the blue denim trend. Pair them up while it is still (kind of) warm out. It won’t be long until we start pulling our proper winter coats out again…

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!

p1040296-4Picture4 (2).png

*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…

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.

img_3645-2

*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.

picture1

*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…

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.

p1040218-2picture2

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!

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.

1.JPG2 (2).png

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.

3.JPG4.png

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.

567

How to Spend… October

Is it just me, or does everyone seem obsessed by autumn? My social media feeds have been playing fancy dress in anything red, orange or yellow and I’ve seen more pumpkin pictures than I could have ever fathomed, accompanied by an endless stream of excitement for the change in season.

Now, I am not autumn’s answer to Scrooge. I bought a teeny, tiny pumpkin entirely for decorative purposes this weekend (yes, I know it was a completely bonkers purchase and no, I do not care). But all that excitement in September felt like the world was furiously over-egging the pudding. It was definitely still summer in September. My legs were without tights and my face was with sunglasses. We hit over 30C. Records were broken.

But now it’s October (and I appreciate that I am no authority on this), autumn is actually here. I’ve bought a coat. I can see my breath in the mornings. I’ve remembered why I love jumpers, and my electric blanket, and chai lattes. So from kicking your way through piles of leaves to scaring yourself silly on the 31st to starting the silent panic of how on earth you are going to fund Christmas… Happy October everyone!

img_3935-3

*Invest in an enormous scarf: October is a really awkward time of year. First thing in the morning you are a frostbitten, sorry soul. By lunchtime you are a hot, flustered mess furiously ditching the layers. The solution is a blanket scarf – possibly the world’s greatest invention. You look cool and you are essentially wearing a blanket. So you can plod along to the station all swaddled up like a baby in the morning and, when the sun puts in an appearance, you can hide it away in your bag. And it will cooperate with this in a way that no coat ever will. Zara do the best, biggest, softest scarfs, but the H&M ones are also amazing and not quite such a hit to the bank balance.

*Stay in and cook: It’s getting cold outside and we have to be sensible and start thinking about the monstrosity that is Christmas spending. I gave up cooking for a year (it became a “boy job”) but I am back on that bandwagon and really loving it. In the summer it is far too hot to be slaving away over the oven. But now it’s getting cold, that’s the only place I want to be (as it’s not acceptable to spend all evening, every evening, in bed). Find some fun new recipes and spend your time cooking rather than your money eating. Then eat in front of the TV. Bliss.

*Make your home a cosy, autumnal den: Other than new recipes, the thing I am obsessing over is interiors. In summer, who wants to be surrounded by blankets and candles and fairy lights? But now it’s autumn, who doesn’t?! We’ve just moved into a new place and the bare whiteness of it was depressing me. So, seeing as I can’t nail anything into the walls, move anything around or spend much money, I’ve been finding other ways to make it cosy and homely. The aforementioned tiny pumpkin is one of my exciting autumnal touches. And  I’ve bought a crazy number of candles (you can never have too many), fairy lights and new bedding – which was from ASDA and it is so soft and was so cheap! I’ve also got some fake plants because I cannot be trusted to look after anything living. The ones from Oliver Bonas are cheap, realistic and (being fake) don’t require any maternal attention.

*Go pumpkin picking: Pumpkin picking seems to have suddenly become a thing here in the UK. And it makes sense. We harp on about picking strawberries in the summer, so why not pumpkins in autumn? Lots of the Pick Your Own farms are now offering pumpkins and squashes and there couldn’t be a more autumnal activity. Admittedly, picking and shifting pumpkins is slightly more back-breaking than strawberries, but cart them home and cook up an American pumpkin pie. Or just carve a ridiculous face out of it.

Summer Baking: Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Is it an ice cream? Is it a cupcake? It’s a celebration that The Great British Bake Off is back. That’s what it is.

Paul Hollywood’s steely stare is back and Mary Berry’s delightful way of saying ‘layers’ (watch out for it). Mel and Sue’s innuendos, union jack bunting, blue plasters and an entire batch of new contestants who will inevitably get teary over tarts. I can’t wait.

Most important of all though, you can’t watch an episode of the Bake Off without some kind of baked treat to hand. When I discovered that Martha from a few series back had teamed up with Waitrose, I was immediately lured in by the recipe cards showing off her incredible baked creations. And believe it or not, they aren’t that impossible to recreate at home. Hallelujah! 

IMG_3024 (3)Picture1

These ice cream cone cupcakes are simply an ice cream cone filled with fluffy vanilla sponge and a dollop of whipped meringue on top, complete with chocolate flake. One word against them – they aren’t that easy to actually eat. Prepare to have meringue on your nose.

YOU WILL NEED:

For the cones

  • 12 flat bottomed ice cream cones
  • 12 squares of dark chocolate
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 5 tbsp milk

For the icing and topping

  • 120g caster sugar
  • 80g golden syrup
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 Cadbury flakes, halved
  • Coloured sprinkles

TO MAKE:

Preheat the oven to 180C, gas mark 4.

Place each cone into a muffin tray. Place a square of chocolate in the bottom of each and put in preheated oven for 5 mins.

Beat the butter and the sugar. Add eggs one a time and the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, combine flour and baking powder. Add to mixture gradually until it is a thick batter. Pour in the milk. Distribute between cones, make sure you don’t overfill them. Bake for 20-25 mins.

For the icing, place sugar, syrup and 2 tbsp water in a pan. Cook on a medium-high heat until it reaches 118C on a sugar thermometer). Beat eggs whites until soft peaks form then, with the mixer on a slow speed, pour in the hot sugar. Increase to high speed and whip until mixture is thick and glossy. Add the vanilla extract.

Using a piping bag, pipe and swirl and decorate with half a flake and sprinkles.