I’m not usually one for getting into the Christmas spirit during October; with exception of snacking on the giant Toblerones which line the shelves at this time of year, I like to wait until Bonfire Night is out of the way before pulling out the Christmas jumpers and supping on mulled wine. However, there are some festive activities which even I can’t resist when the invitation comes my way, and Christmas wreath making is one of those.
Whilst I may be competent in the kitchen, my home-making skills pretty much end there. I am certainly no domestic goddess, and my crafting efforts in particular are usually thwarted by my clumsy hands. So the opportunity to be guided through such a gloriously festive craft by the ever-so-talented florist Katie couldn’t be missed, and even I managed to make a beautiful autumnal wreath by the end of the session.
Katie’s workshop is absolutely delightful, and everyone who walked through the door commented on the gorgeous smell of the flowers and plants laid out in front of us. Piles of spruce, rosemary and other assorted foliage (which I couldn’t name for the life of me…) were set out to make the base, with boxes of berries, dried hydrangeas and other pretty sprigs ready to add the finishing touches. Katie patiently answered our questions (of which there were many) and explained how to forage and find the various materials if we ever wanted to try our hand at wreath-making again.
After consuming the obligatory Christmas chocolates we set to work – trying to copy Katie’s skilled demonstration to the best of our abilities, with mixed success. The first step is to wind wire around the frame to create a base, before affixing bunches of greenery around the circumference with yet more wire before tucking in the final bits of decoration. It’s safe to say that everyone had a different style – from the neat and delicate to the quirky and haphazard; I’ll leave you to guess which end of the spectrum I was on… I liked the ‘no rules’ aspect of the craft, and how quickly it seemed to come together; despite no eye for floristry whatsoever (I can’t keep flowers in the house because Tuna eats them…) it was easy to create a natural, rustic wreath thanks to Katie’s expert tuition (even if she did have to take matters into her own hands a couple of times…). In fact, my wreath is hanging proudly in my kitchen as we speak – a little reminder than maybe I’m not so bad at this crafting lark after all.
It took us a few hours to create our wreaths, but it was wonderful to chat as we worked, stopping occasionally for cake breaks along the way and wandering around to admire each other’s handiwork. As I said, Katie’s studio is absolutely delightful and it was an incredibly cosy place to while away a few hours on a crisp autumn afternoon.
If you’re a local, I can’t recommend Katie’s workshops enough as a pre-Christmas treat. I couldn’t possibly do justice in this blog post to Katie’s breadth of knowledge and the tips & tricks she shares – I felt like a veritable pro by the end of it, even if I couldn’t remember the name of any of the flowers…
Lovely readers of this blog can get a 10% discount on this year’s workshops, making them just £49.50 (which includes all the materials to make your wreath) – just mention it when you book, and be sure to send me a photo of your finished wreath!Disclaimer: I attended this workshop for free with some of my blogger friends, but I had an absolute blast. I’m not usually a crafty person but this was genuinely so much fun and I wouldn’t recommend it to you if it wasn’t! Plus, I get to show off my hand-made wreath to everyone who visits, which makes me feel smug – and I’m pretty sure you’d feel the same with a wreath this good on your door… Oh, and we totally went to Yorkshire Meatball Company afterwards, which was an excellent idea and comes highly recommended from me!
This week has been mostly spent making to-do lists. I am full of ideas for this blog right now but, as with all things, time is in short supply so I’m scribbling notes to myself left, right and centre so I don’t forget anything. It’s not just for this blog, though, it’s been a productive week all round – sorting out the house and finally digging out my winter wardrobe, starting and finishing books I’ve been meaning to read for weeks, going on as many runs as the weather will allow… It still never feels like enough, though. I’m a perfectionist Type A to a ‘T’ – I don’t think I’ve ever sat down at the end of the week and been satisfied with how much I’ve achieved – there’s always more to do. As evidenced by those mammoth to-do lists.
As well as beavering away on a hundred different things this week, I’ve also stuffed myself silly with Canadian food, courtesy of my expat friend Cheryl who’s just been granted a visa to live here (hooray!), reminisced about 90s TV theme tunes, celebrated the 1st birthday of Trinity Kitchen, baked Izy‘s Swedish Chocolate Cake (again) and dug out all of my winter scarves. How about you?
- I wrote a little guide on my favourite places to eat, stay and shop in Leeds over on The Loveliest Food. If you’re looking for more recommendations, take a look at my Leeds Food Map.
- These iconic photographs had me crying at my desk, even if they were pretty US-centric. It’s amazing to think how much we have already lived through and how much is yet to come. (via Tracy)
- What’s it really like to write a cookbook? There seems to be a lot of washing up involved…
- I am still obsessed with reading about Gone Girl (although I still haven’t seen it). This one was particularly interesting: What ‘Gone Girl’ is Really About.
- I think we’ve all wondered how to make friends as an adult.
- On the subject of friendship, this piece is completely beautiful.
- Along with pretty much all twenty-something women, I’ve been reading Lena Dunham’s ‘Not that Kind of Girl’ this week. I loved Emma’s thoughts on how it made her feel.
- How Instagram made me a better person.
- I want this in my mouth: apple cardamom oat crumble. Perfect.
I *loved* reading your answers last time I did an Ice Breakers post. It’s so easy to forget when you’re writing a blog that there are real people out there reading it. I am endlessly fascinated by other people and anyone who knows me will tell you that I’ll happily chat away for hours. All of which to say, I want to know more about you! So, tell me…
1. What film could you watch over and over?
2. What’s your middle name(s)?
3. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
4. What are you most excited about right now?
5. What’s the sweet treat that you just can’t resist?
1. My favourite film is The History Boys and I do regularly re-watch it, but it can be a bit of a bummer if you don’t space out your viewings. I think I could watch Mean Girls and Pitch Perfect over and over and never be bored. I love me a sassy teen flick.
2. This one’s obvious for me! Elizabeth. Which meant that my family has recited the phrase ‘Amy Elizabeth Ermintrude Annie, went to the country to visit her granny’ for my whole life. I’ve actually just looked it up and there’s a whole poem to go with it, but I’ve only ever heard those two lines.
3. As cheesy as it sounds, I don’t think I’d want to live anywhere other than Leeds right now. However, if I was forced to pick somewhere else, I think that Copenhagen would be a fantastic place to live (plus, it’s polled as the happiest place in the world, which can’t be a bad thing).
4. Right now, I am excited for next weekend. I’m going to a wedding (as always) and then heading to London for the day to hang out with one of my favourite people. It’s definitely a fun thing to look forward to.
5. Sticky Toffee Pudding. So sweet. So spongy. So good.
It’s a cliché to love brunch, isn’t it? Everyone loves brunch. There’s a reason for that, of course. Brunch is absolutely brilliant. Brunch is for days off and weekends, when there’s nothing else to do but to indulge in piles of pancakes and gloriously dippy eggs. Plus, you can drink at brunch, and what’s not to love about that?
This is one of my favourite recipes to whip up for guests on mornings after nights before – it’s slightly fiery and the wonderful combination of runny yolk with melted cheese and rich tomato sauce is very restorative. It’s incredibly simple, and therefore perfect if you’re feeling a little fragile, so when Inghams Italy asked me to contribute an Italian recipe to their blogger cookbook, this was the first thing on my mind.
I first made this dish after watching Nigella’s Italian-inspired show ‘Nigellissima’, cobbling together the ingredients the very next day and trying to remember the method. It’s pretty close to the original, so I obviously have a better memory than I thought, although she poaches her eggs in the sauce rather than baking them in the oven. If you want to save on washing up, you can do the same, although I find it’s easier to get a perfect yolk in the oven – especially if you’re feeding a crowd. This particular recipe is just enough for one person but, as is often the case, you can double and triple to get the required amount for your brunch party. Serve with ciabatta, obviously, although any crusty bread will do in a pinch.
P.S. Find more brunch inspiration over on my Breakfast & Brunch Pinterest board.
- Olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely grated
- 200g chopped tomatoes
- 1 squeeze tomato paste
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- 1/4 tsp. chilli flakes
- 1 egg
- Parmesan, grated
- Ciabatta, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 180C
- In a small saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat and add the garlic. Fry gently for a minute or two, but don't allow the garlic to brown.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir together.
- Season with the salt, pepper and chilli flakes.
- Simmer for 3-5 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly.
- Pour into an oven-proof dish and crack the egg onto the top. Grate some parmesan over the top until there's a light covering over the whole dish.
- Bake for 8-12 minutes (depending on how runny you like your eggs!).
- Grate over some more parmesan and serve with slices of ciabatta.
One of the things that I love most about Leeds is the vibrant independent food scene. In fact, it’s probably the thing that made me fall in love with both Leeds and with food blogging. To see so many passionate people creating such wonderful food and drink is incredibly inspiring, and in the last couple of years the number of collaborations between these fantastic businesses has grown to foster a true community spirit that is heart-warming and stomach-pleasing.
Leeds Indie Food are the new kids on the block but they’re already making a splash. They’re organising a collaborative, city-wide festival of independent food and drink culture scheduled for May 2015, designed to celebrate and nurture this awesome community. Unlike the council-backed Leeds Loves Food, this will be run by and for the independent businesses and will spread over the city rather than focus on one, jam-packed marketplace. Don’t get me wrong, Leeds Loves Food is pretty ace, but this sounds even better. Tasting menus, cook-offs, special events and screenings. So much good stuff – I can’t wait.
They’ve launched a Kickstarter project to raise some start-up and promotional costs (£6750) to get this off the ground. Although the team behind Leeds Indie Food are working as a labour of love, the money will go to pay other independent businesses for things like advertising, design and printing. I’ve already thrown some cash their way and if you’re a Leeds local (or even if you’re not!) it would be fantastic if you checked out their page for more information and maybe to donate a quid or two to what is sure to be a fantastic event.
Another week is over. How can that be? Every time I sit down to write one of these posts it feels like just seconds have elapsed between them. If you can’t tell, I’m feeling kind of philosophical at the moment. More than New Year, autumn feels like a time for reflection, for planning, for making goals. Only, I have so many goals, some of them conflicting, that it feels almost impossible to choose which ones to go after. For now, I am focusing on getting this blog done and knitting a bunch of snoods. There are worse things to accomplish.
This week has felt a bit all over the place, but looking back on it, that’s probably because I packed in a lot. Like coming joint 3rd in a Friends-themed pub quiz. Watching the final of The Great British Bake Off (what did you think to the winner?). Baking a HUGE batch of salted caramel and Nutella cookies. Eating my weight in cheese at The Pit on Friday night. People watching with Paul during our date night. Making a whole bunch of cocktails (recipes to come!). Finishing three books. Finding my wedding dress. It’s been pretty intense.
A particular highlight was trying some of the new menu dishes at Roast & Conch on Tuesday, which felt very indulgent indeed. We got to have a little chat with the head chef as well, which was a real treat – it’s so fascinating to hear from the people who make it happen. The mac’n’cheese pie with a cocoa nib pastry was truly delicious, and I think the Cocoa Gin Martini (which I’ve tried before) is still one of my favourite cocktails in Leeds. It’s worth the trip for that alone, although I will be heading back there for a proper meal in the not-too-distant future, which I’ll be sure to tell you all about.
What have you been up to this week?
- Could you wear just one colour all the time?
- This is something I need to work on: How to become a more eco-conscious consumer.
- I’m desperate to see the Gone Girl movie, even though I didn’t love the book. This is relevant: I tried to be the ‘Cool Girl’ and it wrecked my life.
- I cried a little at Gem’s post. We spend so much of our lives trying *not* to get pregnant, that we don’t imagine it will be difficult for us. Until it is.
- How to be a solo female traveller. I think I would hate to travel alone, but I have infinite respect for people who do.
- I loved this interview with Izy from Top with Cinnamon. I added a whole bunch of new food blogs to my reader after I finished that.
- Bloomin’ Brilliant Brownie Cake. Need I say more?
- These little portraits would make such a sweet gift.
- 10 words you need to know when buying white wine. I usually just look for reduced Pinot Grigio, so I need to up my game. (via Rachel)
- I’m excited to sign up for the Food Photography School on payday. Another area where I need to up my game.
- If you need a little bit of daily inspiration, here’s 50 inspirational women to follow on Twitter.
With the drop in temperature and the onset of darkness in the early evening has come a reduction in my social calendar. In the summer I was inundated with invitations; no one wanted to stay inside, they wanted to go out and play in the sunshine. For the first time in forever, I wasn’t juggling a mix of studying and working – I was free in the evenings and weekends for all sorts of high jinks and it was glorious to make the most of it. This could be the most carefree time of my life and it’s worth holding on to that for as long as possible.
Next year I will be a married woman and working towards being a homeowner. The thought is both thrilling and humbling. Life seems to move at such a fast pace, especially during those heady summer months. Before next year, however, I have some respite. A time for hibernation and recuperation. A chance to charge my batteries and get stuck in to all of those creative projects that have been on the back burner whilst this grasshopper played all summer.
My weekends are gloriously empty, with only a few key dates peppered here and there, which means that it’s time to spend some serious time in the kitchen. This year has definitely highlighted that whilst I am a good cook, I am certainly not great and there are a lot of things I have never even tried to turn my hand to. I am excited to start, armed with my books and my wooden spoon. Here’s a little list of the books I’ll be cooking from this autumn, and a few that I have saved up on my wish list ready for when I run out of recipes. Can that ever happen? It’s best to be prepared, just in case.
Top with Cinnamon by Izy Hosack
If you’ve not read Izy’s incredible blog, then you are seriously missing out. This girl has so much talent for both creating incredible dishes & bakes and for photographing them. It sickens me slightly that she is so accomplished and still six years younger than me but, petty jealousy aside, her book is glorious. Savoury and sweet, all photographed beautifully. It’s a piece of art as much as it is a cookbook, and although I have already tried my hand at the Swedish Chocolate Cake and am a convert to Courgetti as a side dish, there’s still so much more. This is the one, you guys.
Crumb by Ruby Tandoh
With the Bake Off sadly drawing to a close, I have a renewed excitement for all things kneaded and proved. I loved Ruby’s bakes on last year’s Bake Off and have since enjoyed her column on the Guardian, so I was very excited to snap up her new book when it was released this month. It’s only just appeared at my door and I’ve only had a cursory glance through, but this weekend I plan to curl up and read it properly with a notebook so I can choose exactly what to bake first.
Homemade Decadence by Joy the Baker
Joy the Baker is my food blogging idol. She is pretty incredible, and her podcast is one of my favourites. Her first book was so much fun to bake from – easy, indulgent, impressive food that didn’t take itself too seriously and provided a serious sugar hit. I’m excited for her second book, which is released on the 16th October. The tagline is ‘Irresistibly Sweet, Salty, Gooey, Sticky, Fluffy, Creamy, Crunchy Treats’. Yep. I definitely need this book in my life.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Is it any surprise that a lot of this list comprises the work of food bloggers? Smitten Kitchen is one of the original and best food bloggers, and I have been a fan of her blog for years. It’s simple enough to encourage even the most novice of chefs and yet offers some great inspiration and new dishes that I have never tried before. Despite that, I’ve never owned her book (although I have given it as a gift) and I’d love to get my hands on it before she releases her next one!
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
I am always completely intrigued by Julia Child. What a fascinating woman she was, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking is truly her masterpiece. I love French food (who doesn’t) but I suspect my skills are a little lacking for it so I’d love to absorb this wildly-acclaimed book and get to grip with some techniques that will help me improve. French food is often incredibly rich and decadent, wonderfully so, which makes it a perfect project for the wintery months. I’ll let you know how I get on…
The Recipe Wheel by Rosie Ramsden
I first read about this book on Rachel‘s blog and was immediately taken with the concept – one, simple core recipe at the heart of its own ‘wheel’ with a number of variations to choose from depending on the occasion. I love the idea, and I think it might be helpful for using up leftovers as well. I hate getting stuck in a rut when it comes to our weekly meal plan, so this kind of book is perfect for me – I’m usually much better at coming up with occasional recipes than I am the regular, everyday stuff which actually makes up the core of what we eat. I’m definitely putting this one on my Christmas list, if I don’t splurge beforehand!
Which cookbooks are you reading this autumn?
Whenever I make muffins, I always get the 30 Rock ‘Muffin Top’ song stuck in my head for days. So, naturally I’ve been singing it to myself since Sunday, which is the perfect muffin-making day. I have been setting aside time to bake and cook on Sunday afternoons and it definitely puts me in the best mood. A Sunday well spent brings a week of content, and all that. These muffins are very simple to whip up on a lazy afternoon, and are particularly good eaten slightly warm with a good brew.
- 230g self-raising flour
- 150g golden caster sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 110g unsalted butter, melted
- 3 large ripe bananas, mashed
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 4 spoons Nutella (approx.)
- Preheat the oven to 180C.
- In one bowl, stir together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt).
- In a separate bowl, combine the wet ingredients (butter, bananas, eggs and vanilla).
- Tip the wet ingredients into the dry, and gently fold together until fully combined. The mixture will still be lumpy but don't panic!
- Spoon the mixture into 12 muffin cases.
- In a small saucepan, warm the Nutella gently until it's slightly runny (but not too liquid).
- Using a teaspoon, put a small amount of Nutella on the top of each muffin. Using the end of a spoon or a skewer, gently swirl the Nutella into the muffins.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes.
So the nights are drawing in and the central heating is firmly on, which means its time to start rustling up warming stews and decadent roasts. Yorkshire puddings. That sort of thing. I have already posted a recipe for chilli on the blog before, but now that Bonfire Night is coming back around, it’s back on my mind. I love chilli con carne – it’s one of my favourite meals – covered in cheese, sour cream and piled on top of a fluffy baked potato. I could eat it all year round, but it’s particularly good on cold nights when slippers and snuggly jumpers are a must.
This particular chilli takes a little time, but the investment is worthwhile. The meaty brisket just falls apart, and brings a tonne of flavour to the mix. Make it the night before if you’re throwing a fireworks shindig and reheat for your guests – it can take it. I don’t tend to put peppers in my chilli due to personal preference, but they’re traditional so feel free to throw some in. Carrots wouldn’t go amiss either if you want to bulk the dish up. Pile it up high with your favourite toppings, and be sure to wear gloves if you’re using sparklers on the night…
- 500g beef brisket
- salt & pepper
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 300ml red wine
- 300ml beef stock
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 can kidney beans, drained
- 200g mushrooms, chopped
- 1 tbsp. dried chilli flakes (or more or less to taste!)
- Pre-heat the oven to 150C
- Cut the brisket into large chunks and season with salt and pepper.
- Gently fry the brisket and onion until the onion has softened and the brisket is browned. Add the garlic for the last minute of cooking.
- Place everything in an oven-proof casserole dish and cover with the wine and stock. Season with more salt and pepper and cover with a lid.
- Cook for 4 hours until beef is tender.
- Remove from the oven and using two forks, gently pull apart some of the larger chunks of meat.
- Stir in the tomatoes, chilli flakes, kidney beans and mushrooms.
- Turn up the heat on the oven to 180C and cook the dish uncovered for a further hour or so, until the sauce has thickened and everything is cooked through.
- Serve with baked potatoes and your choice of toppings.
It seems like autumn is well and truly here – I’m sitting under a fuzzy blanket dosed up on painkillers thanks to my first cold of the season. No fun. However, it’s not all doom and gloom; is it ever? This week has been slow-paced and much-needed. I baked some salted caramel cookies and some banana muffins. I watched Buffy. I cuddled the cat. I ordered some sparkly dresses to (maybe) wear as a wedding dress. It’s been good for me. How was your week?
- This is important: A journalist photographed me topless without my permission and sold the picture to the Daily Mail.
- 5 Questions to Ask Yourself when Decluttering (via Elise)
- I am definitely making these char siu buns. How good do they look?
- I’ll also be whipping up some of these cinnamon sugar popovers. Yum.
- I keep seeing adverts for Borrow my Doggy, which seems perfect for proody (puppy-broody) people like me – it’s good to know a little inside perspective.
- This will make you giggle: Texts from your Ex.
- Related: Niche dating sites that need to exist. I’d definitely be up for a Harry Potter-themed dating site if I was single.
- With the election coming up, it’s definitely worth thinking about this: 5 reasons I’m not politically engaged and how that can change.
- Now that the seasons are changing, why not try these different spice pairings?
- The top 10 things I learned in culinary school (via Tracy)
- An interview between Lena Dunham & Roxane Gay? Yes please.