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!

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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West London Weekends: Petersham Nurseries

Petersham Nurseries is the furthest away you will ever feel from London, while still in London.

It is bizarre. We hopped off the bus, rounded the corner and suddenly we were transported to the countryside. There was a dirt track. There were fields. There was a cute little church. There was mud. And of course I was entirely unprepared and had dressed completely inappropriately in my brand new pink suede trainers. So I spent the entire jaunt prancing around puddles like a real townie. But no matter. Besides the puddles, mud and other non-London elements, there was also cake. Which is why we are all gathered here today, obviously.

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Petersham Nurseries is a garden centre meets antique and gifts shop meets restaurant meets tea rooms. It is a total delight. You can browse the plants like you actually have a garden to plant them in, frolic in the gift shop and then have a slice of homemade cake. Their food is seasonal so the menus are ever changing. And the cakes are exactly like you’d bake at home but more inventive and, let’s be honest here, better. The banana bread was excellent and they had interesting offerings like an elderberry drizzle cake and even gluten free chocolate cake.

The tearoom is in a glasshouse and the plants surround you, so you really couldn’t feel further from London. Petersham Nurseries say they are a refuge from the city, and they really are. They have a huge selection of plants and a big site, so you could browse all afternoon before having a cup of tea and slice of cake.

Being London’s answer to countryside, it obviously isn’t a particularly warm place to spend an afternoon. But wrap up, wear something appropriate on your feet and don’t leave before you’ve tried the banana bread. It is truly like no other place I have found in London.

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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!

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*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.

London’s Prettiest Cupcakes: Peggy Porshcen

WELCOME… to London’s most Instagrammable cupcake shop. With pastel pink walls, beautifully designed cupcakes and an enormous flower garland crowning the door, this is a very hard one to beat.

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The Peggy Porschen parlour has become somewhat legendary on Instagram. The marble table tops, feats of sugar craft and general pink-ness were enough to make it so, but the flower garland is what really attracts the attention. Based in London’s Belgravia, this hub of pink on the corner is impossible to miss.

And miss it you should not. You’ll get some beautiful pictures, but fortunately this place really does taste as good as it looks. You need a sweet tooth, but the selection of ready to eat cupcakes, layer cakes and confectionary are delicious.

We visited on an unseasonably hot day and with tables spilling out onto the street, it was the perfect pit stop for pink lemonade and people watching. And cupcakes of course. It’s a little out of the way but certainly worth it.

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New on the Block: Farmacy, Notting Hill

There’s a new kid on the block in Notting Hill, and it’s one of my favourite recent discoveries.

Farmacy opened just last month on Westbourne Grove. It is open throughout the day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and already causing a bit of a stir. Their philosophy is ‘clean indulgence’ – something I’m very willing to get on board with.

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Their menus are all about healthy choice comfort foods, no rabbit leaves here. It is incredibly rare that I look up a health restaurant’s menu online and decide I’d rather go for dinner than brunch. I’m all about the healthy brunches – homemade granola, smoothies and (if all else fails) avo on toast – but Farmacy’s evening menu was unmissable.

The menu is still a little small and rather pricey, but with delicious options such spelt sourdough pizzas, a clean curry and the Farmacy “burger”, I was willing to forgive those drawbacks. I opted for the porcini mushroom spelt pasta, which was delicious. If you’ve never tried spelt pasta before, then definitely do. It doesn’t have the grainy texture of other wholewheat pastas, but remains all the health benefits.

They also have a really interesting drinks menu (again, I’m never particularly fascinated by drinks menus, my interest can only be slightly piqued by cocktails). I went for the lemon-aid, an alkalising lemon juice, apple syrup and coconut water. It was amazing. I’m normally a bit scared of those kind of lemon drinks, as often they are too sharp. This was nice and sweet, but not sugary, as well as being healthy.

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If you’re in the area be sure to swing by (and don’t under any circumstances miss the lemon-aid!).

Healthy Chocolate and Almond Spiced Cookies

Since working in an office, I have become much more interested in what I’m eating.

I’ve never eaten particularly badly, but I would always eat what I wanted without giving anything a second thought. It turns out that attitude doesn’t cut it in an office. When you’re sat at a desk all day, burning those calories is so much tougher. And therefore, I have entered the wonderful world of healthy snacking (and it really is a whole world of deliciousness).

While I usually make a beeline for WH Smith’s ‘nutritional snacks’ stand, these cookies are one of my first homemade efforts. They aren’t the sugar explosion you expect when you bite into a cookie, but that is part of their charm. You can eat them all day and not feel sick! The banana really sweetens them, and the spices make your entire house smell incredible while they’re in the oven. I followed this recipe – they are so easy to make and turned out really well.

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YOU WILL NEED:

  • 2 cups ground almonds
  • 2 heaped tbsp coconut oil
  • 9 small squares dark chocolate
  • 1 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 small banana
  • 1 tbsp almond butter
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger, nutmeg, salt and baking powder

TO MAKE:

Preheat the oven to 170C. Mash the banana together with the chocolate.

Heat the coconut oil on a low heat. Add the syrup, spices and salt and stir until combined.

Mix the ground almonds, baking powder and almond butter together with the banana and chocolate. Add the melted ingredients and stir until combined.

On a tray, take a tablespoon amount of mixture and press down to form a cookie. Bake for 10-15 mins and enjoy!

How to Spend… March

February really dragged, didn’t it? The tail end of winter is always my least favourite time. Everything is grey and bleak, and it feels like a lifetime ago when we last saw some sun. But with Easter arriving early I feel as though we are suddenly fast forwarding into spring. The weather needs to get the memo (where did all this rain come from?) but there are chocolate eggs and bunnies everywhere and you can buy tulips and daffodils on every street corner.

So from celebrating Mothering Sunday right through to eating all the chocolate over the Easter bank holiday weekend, I hope you enjoy the start of spring as much as I will!

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*Spoil your mum on Mother’s Day: This year, skip the standard flowers and a card. Actually spending some time with your mum is what really counts, so take the day out especially for her this weekend. Take her out for lunch, go shopping or just stay at home and bake a cake, play board games or do a puzzle. And this doesn’t have to be exclusive for the two of you – get the whole family involved for a fun day together. Even if it isn’t Mothering Sunday where you live, no excuses… Our mums always deserve more of our time, right?

*Try yoga: As my job has got busier, my time in the gym has significantly decreased – something I’m not overly thrilled about. Now we’re past the “new year, new me” health kick, some extra motivation is needed. The secret lies in doing things that can fit easily into your routine. I’m not really one to get a sweat on before work (how many of us really are?) but yoga is such a gentle introduction to the day whilst also doing great things for your body. While it won’t burn major calories, it’ll help you feel energized and focused for the rest of the day – definitely worth hopping out of bed a little early for.

*Spend a Sunday at the farmers market: You always hear about the joys of farmers and fresh food markets, but the winter wind and rain hardly makes for an enjoyable Sunday outdoors. Now the weather is improving (supposedly), now is a great time to get down to your local one and bag some bargains. The buzzy atmosphere of a market will put the weekly supermarket run to shame, and discovering the best local honey, jam and breads (or whatever takes your fancy) will leave you desperate to return for more!

*Set up an Easter egg hunt: With the long Easter bank holiday weekend to look forward to, now’s the time to start planning with your family and friends. And you don’t need little ones to make an Easter egg hunt fun. Buy one of those cute kits with the little signs, split up into teams and get competitive! And don’t forget the obligatory rabbit ears for a ridiculous group photo…

Lunchtime at Borough Market

Find yourself in London at lunchtime and not sure what you want to eat? I have the perfect place.

It’s a bit shameful that I’ve only just visited Borough Market, to be honest. Whenever I come into London by train (which I’ve been doing very regularly for 21 years) I roll right next to its glass roof, and it is on the same street as my office. So in a bid to make up for lost time I popped down last week for lunch and I wasn’t disappointed.

Borough Market is bursting with atmosphere, even on a miserable January day. With stall holders bundled up while calling you in with their deals, and plenty of hungry punters prowling the stands in search of the tastiest offering, it’s a foodie’s heaven. With grocery stalls, delis, bakeries and street food, you’ll want to sample everything and the best thing about a food market is you can!

So skip breakfast, go hungry and get stuck in. Pick up a fresh juice to fuel you round the stalls (but be prepared for frost-bitten fingers), choose the best looking street food and take a bag to stuff full of fruit and veg before leaving. The best kind of London lunchtime.

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Very sadly, my offices are moving in a couple of months, so I won’t have this foodie delight on my doorstep for summer lunching adventures. However, I have heard that the ice cream is to die for so I will be back…

If you are in London I’m sure you’ve already been, but there’s always something new to try at Borough Market right? So wrap up warm, brave the cold and you will be rewarded with whatever warming street food takes your fancy.