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…

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…

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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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! 

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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.

Thoughts on Being a Runner

A few months ago I confessed that I’d signed up to the British 10k. I’d spent the day watching the London Marathon and if the London Marathon doesn’t inspire you to put on a pair of trainers, then nothing will. Watching those many thousands of people of all ages, shapes and walks of life running that incredible distance, you can’t help thinking “maybe I could do that too…”.

Well, in my blogging absence I did it. I didn’t run a marathon (God forbid!), but I did run 10k. Ten whole k’s. I used to only run for the bus. Then I met my boyfriend – my Strava-addicted, trainer-obsessed, marathon nut of a boyfriend – and in my attempts to hold an intelligent running conversation with him, I got a bit interested. Now look at me! I’m a changed woman.

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Going from the sofa to a 10k finish line is not impossible. Far from it. Most people have run at some point in their lives (even if, like me, it was only for the bus). For a 10k that just needs little refining. If I can do it, you can too.

*Sign up for a race: Give yourself something to aim for, it’s the easiest way to keep motivation high. I’d recommend a local race but with as many participants as possible so you have the excitement of a large event but without all the stress of travelling. Don’t be put off if the entry fee is a bit steep – it usually means you’ll get a good t-shirt and medal at the end.

*Get the kit: Everyone knows that a new hobby opens up a whole world of shopping opportunities. Embrace it. You don’t need to buy huge amounts, and running kit can get very pricey, but I would recommend a few items. First and foremost, a good pair of trainers. Did you know that some trainers are ‘fashion trainers’ and not meant for any proper physical activity? AVOID those trainers. Places like Sweatshop analyse your running style so they can recommend the best trainers for you. This is quite scary, but definitely worth it. Secondly, proper running socks. Seems silly but normal socks will rub your feet. And lastly, if you’re a girl, a sports bra. A great one is truly life-changing.

*Get a running buddy: Talk one of your friends into signing up with you and then support each other through the whole process. Go shopping together, drag each other out for runs in the rain and hold hands over the start line. It’s the best way to keep motivation high. Preferably, find someone to run with who is better than you. If they really know their stuff they’ll be able to pace you properly, recommend the perfect pair of trainers and encourage a little healthy competition – noone likes being left behind.

*Remember that it’s OK to hate your running buddy: The aforementioned marathon nut of a boyfriend was my running buddy. We had some tough runs. He lied about distance, tricking me into running 2k further. I told him I wanted to punch him in the face. He ran off without me. Expletives were hurled. He quoted Muhammad Ali at me (irritating), he didn’t need a post-run shower (devastating) and he foam rollered my legs until I screamed in pain (entirely unnecessary). Just remember that running you and rational you are two entirely different beasts. And know when to say you’re sorry.

*Create a running plan: Draw up a plan of all the runs you want to do leading up to the race. Remember to taper the week before the race. This is the best week where you don’t have to run and, instead, eat as much pasta as you want (apparently it’s good for you). Include some interval sessions, long runs and short, easy runs. Think about what you want to achieve from each run – for the longer distance ones forget about time, they are just about upping the kilometers. You don’t need to do the full 10k before the race, but if it’ll reassure you that you can actually go the distance then do it.

*Don’t stress out too much about said plan: Sometimes it’s raining. Sometimes you’ve had a bad day. Sometimes it’s raining and you’ve had a bad day and there’s a pizza in the oven and a new PLL episode on Netflix. Treat your running plan as a guide rather than strict commandment. Missing a couple of runs won’t kill you. If your running buddy refuses to get on board with this attitude, see above point that it’s OK to hate your running buddy.

*Get involved with Parkrun:  Parkrun is the absolute best. Granted, the 9am Saturday morning start time doesn’t feel so wonderful but the fun, community atmosphere and encouragement does make it all worth it. Parkrun is all over the country and is simply a free, timed 5k. There are the super-keen fast runners but the huge majority are just there to have a good time and run the best time they can. And a volunteer runs at the back so you will never come last. Genius.

*Enjoy it: Running can be fun. It’s so good to get outside after a long day in the office, feeling yourself improve and getting involved with the sportswear obsession. And to run a proper 10k race and have a proper medal at the end does feel like a huge achievement. Just remember, the day after the race, that noone has ever died from a pulled muscle. And that you’re entitled to not take the stairs for at least a week.

London Cupcakes: Crumbs & Doilies

To say Soho is a busy place would an obvious (and rather stupid) statement. But today I have a quiet little corner right at its very centre for you, and they serve London’s best cupcakes.

Crumbs & Doilies is quite easy to miss, hidden down a little cobbled street from Kingly Court, but you absolutely musn’t miss it. The shop is only small but the selection of cupcakes, cakes and brownies is enormous, with inventive flavours and excellent coffee.

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Crumbs & Doilies is the mastermind of Cupcake Jemma who shares all of her baking genius on YouTube and she’s just released The Cake Book with over 50 recipes. Crumbs & Doilies also have a Saturday stand on the Kings Road and deliver their cakes all over London. Using just the finest ingredients and no weird additives, preservatives or short-cuts, there are over 40 flavours of cupcake to choose from and the selection is changing all the time.

If you can make it to the shop in Kingly Court, it feels like a calm, cupcake oasis in the middle of the Soho hubub. For the huge selection that they have on offer it seems a little small in the shop but the flavours are always incredibly inventive and varied, and if you really can’t decide they have selection boxes that you can fill to enjoy at home. And if cupcakes aren’t your favourite sweet treat, there are plenty of others to choose from. From tiffin to rocky road to shortbreads and brownies, there really is something for everyone. Wash all that down with some excellent coffee and you’ll never want to leave.

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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!).