Delight

balloons

[Photo by Luca Upper]

Melted cheese, in all its forms. Really, really cold white wine. Perfectly ripe raspberries. Hot buttered toast. Hot buttered crumpets. Really, anything that’s hot and buttered. A pile of mussels cooked in white wine with salty chips to dip in the sauce. Preferably to be eaten close to the sea. Crispy roast potatoes. A really fudgy brownie. The crack when you tap your spoon on top of a perfectly cooked creme caramel.

The true, gurgly laughter of young children. The true, raucous laughter of adults. 

Tiny baby socks and tiny baby toes. Giant puppy paws and giant puppy licks. 

Bubble baths on a cosy winter night. Showers after a long summer day.  

An unopened book. The smell of new books. The smell of old books. A finished book that stays with you for a long time. A book passed to a friend because you know they’ll love it. The text message they send you when they’re at the cliffhanger and know you’re the only one who will understand their pain. Buying books as gifts. Receiving books as gifts. Discussing books for hours on end. Bookshops. 

Cheesy 90s and 00s pop music on the radio at work.

The moment you first turn on the heating in autumn. The moment when you turn the heating off for good in summer. 

A bed made with freshly laundered sheets; ones that have been dried on the line so they smell a bit like softener and a bit like fresh air. 

Those nights with friends that you know you’ll remember forever. Those moments with family when you realise that you have the very best family, no matter that everyone else says the same. When friends become family, and you make plans for your lives together as if you were all just one giant married couple. 

Baking a pie. Baking brownies. Decorating a cake. 

When bus drivers wave to each other as they pass each other on the road. 

When you get to the bus stop at exactly the right time so you don’t have to wait but you don’t miss the bus. 

An Old Fashioned that is orange-y enough to take out the sting of the bourbon, but not completely. A cold gin & tonic on a warm summer’s day, but only when shared with friends. The bitterness of an Aperol Spritz and the sweetness of a glass of Pimm’s. The fruit you fish out of your glass of Pimm’s when you think no one is looking. Spaghetti aglio olio. Fish & chips by the beach, with liberal amounts of vinegar. Really good pizza. Really dirty pizza. 

Realising you really live somewhere when you can’t go to the shops without spotting someone that you know. 

Getting proper post. Writing letters. Sending cards. 

Writing in a brand new notebook using my best pen and my best handwriting. 

Roof gardens. Roof gardens with a view. Roof gardens with a view over Manhattan, in particular. Briggate on a Friday night. Roundhay Park when the sun is shining (especially when there are lots of dog-walkers about). The Mustard Pot on a summer afternoon or a winter’s evening. Chapel Allerton on Saturday morning. Leeds Town Hall lit up at night. Spotting the Candle House from the train and knowing you are so close to home. The ‘nearly home’ bridge on the way to my grandparents’ house. My aunt’s kitchen. My best friend’s childhood bedroom.  Yorkshire villages. Yorkshire countryside. 

Spotting a woman who is dressed outlandishly but so well you can’t help but grin and wish for some of her pizazz. 

People who are passionate about a really niche subject that I have no interest in. 

Twitter, when it’s at its very best. 

Fluffy peonies. Roses that actually smell like roses. Very bright daffodils. 

A really good sunset. 

Inspired by The Dolly Mail

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Weekend Link Love

sea

[Photo by Luca Bravo]

What a beautiful day it is today! I hope it is similarly sunny where you are, and that you are able to make the most of all this autumn-ness. After I type this up, I’m heading to Lotherton Hall with some friends to go apple picking, before coming home and cooking up a giant roast dinner. It’s my first time trying to roast beef properly, so wish me luck! I’ve also prepped some pastry ready for us to make an apple pie with the literal fruits of our labour, so excuse me whilst we all don our flannel shirts and step into a glorious autumn catalogue scene. It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me, but something about the autumn just makes me happier than ever. Maybe it’s the crunch of leaves underfoot or being able to wear snuggly jumpers or maybe it’s just that things are going really well right now. I know that is rather sickening to read, and I apologise. I think it’s just that the sun shining in through the window really puts me in a good mood and it’s hard not to share that. I hope you all have a wonderful Sunday! 

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Autumn Bucket List

autumn

This season, I am all about creating traditions. Now that we’re settled into our home, it’s time to start making memories here and I’d love to do start setting up some things we can look forward to every year. The summer is a loosey-goosey sort of time when anything can happen, but autumn and winter feels like a good time to have traditions. For all my joy at the crispness in the air and the crunch of leaves underfoot, there is the misery of endlessly rainy days and dark mornings to content with, so a little bit of excitement is only ever going to be a good thing. 

Read a Scary Book 

This one is more for me, but with Halloween on the horizon and plenty of time to snuggle under blankets and read by lamplight, a scary book or two is definitely called for. Last year I dipped my two into two of Stephen King’s classics; Carrie, which I didn’t find all that scary, The Shining, which I very much did. I’m thinking of reading HEX which came out earlier this year, but I’d love any other recommendations. The two scariest books I’ve read in recent times are I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Bird Box by Josh Malerman – both incredibly creepy! 

Bake a Pumpkin Pie

I meant to do this last year but ran out of time, so I still have some canned pumpkin in my cupboard ready for a pumpkin pie adventure. I made a sweet potato pie last year, which I really liked but my colleagues couldn’t get on board with (I think more for the concept than the taste!) so I’m excited to try this instead and see what they think! 

Host Friendsgiving

The first of many, hopefully! We’ve already got the invites in the post and we’ll be hosting 20 of our nearest and dearest friends for a Friendsgiving feast on 19th November. I’m eschewing the traditional turkey roast for piles of pulled pork and plenty of mac ‘n’ cheese, but I’ll be serving up pie for dessert and decorating with mini pumpkins so I think it still counts. We consider our friends in Leeds to be very much a part of our family, but at Christmas we don’t often get to celebrate with them all because of everyone’s work and family commitments so I’m hoping this can stand in as our festive celebration and a chance to eat, drink and be merry! 

Finish a Blanket

I’ve abandoned my knitting over the summer, but I need to pick it up again ASAP. I have three friends with babies very much on the way so I need to finish at least one blanket during the autumn if I want to keep giving them to little ones of my acquaintance! Knitting is a cosy autumnal activity, so it’s not really a hardship – I’m imagining holing myself up in front of Gilmore Girls and knitting the afternoon away! 

Go on a Spa Trip

I’m cheating a little bit with this one, as it’s been booked for months but I’ve never actually been on a spa trip so I think it still counts as a bucket list item! A group of us are heading to Thorpe Park in Leeds for a weekend of spa fun in mid-October, and I’m very much looking forward to an excuse to laze around doing nothing with some lovely ladies. I wouldn’t be mad if this became a yearly tradition! 

Watch the Fireworks

We didn’t go and see any fireworks this year, so I’d like to catch a display this year. Bonfire Night is definitely one of the highlights of the autumn, and we’ve got a friend coming to stay that weekend for the Abbey Dash so I’m hoping it can be something of a group affair at a local display, followed by sparklers in the garden, plenty of chilli & jacket potatoes and maybe some mulled wine if we’re feeling festive. 

Go Apple Picking 

Another one I’m slightly cheating on, as we’re off this weekend but I can’t not include it! In the spirit of hygge, I’m trying to plan more outdoorsy things and apple picking is so delightfully seasonal. Wrapping up in scarves and hats, filling our pockets with apples before coming home to a roast dinner and baking those same apples into a pie? Can you think of a more glorious way to spend a Sunday? Because I certainly can’t. I’m also hoping to visit a pumpkin patch at some point, but we’re rapidly running out of weekends before Halloween! 

What’s on your autumn bucket list? 

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October Goals

writing

[Photo by Freddy Castro]

So, October. How did this happen? I think we might blink and it will be Christmas. I hope we don’t, because I am so not prepared, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I woke up and 2016 was drawing to a close. It’s a cliche, but it really does feel like time speeds up the older I get. Which is scary, because life also gets so much more awesome with every passing year and I want to hold onto it. I am pretty proud that I managed to keep up with my Couch to 10k programme in September, especially since things were so busy, but I failed pretty miserably at my other two goals. I did get a nice photo of me and Paul all dressed up for a wedding, though, which is a rare occurrence. I’m usually far too busy having fun to pose at weddings. So this month, I want to…

Keep Up with Couch to 10K

With the Abbey Dash coming up fast, I don’t want to lose momentum with this one. I’m really pleased with the progress I’ve made – I can now run for 15 minutes straight (!) and, dare I say it, I’m actually enjoying exercising for once so it would be a shame to lose that. It’s my aim to be able to run the whole way round the Abbey Dash, which I managed two years ago but failed spectacularly at last year – even if I am the slowest person by miles, that would feel like a big achievement.

Plan my NaNoWriMo Book 

Every year I think about doing NaNoWriMo (for those not in the know, it’s where you commit to writing 50,000 words of a novel in November – 1,667 words per day, or thereabouts) but always chicken out. I talk big about being able to write a book, but I’m not actually convinced that I really can. But this year I am going to do it – even if I end up with 50,000 words of total crap that I never want to look at again. And that means I need to do a little advance planning. I am better with a plan and I don’t want any excuse to procrastinate when it actually comes to November. 

Finish my Reading Challenge 

As I type this, I’ve read 92 books out of the 101 I planned to read this year. It may be more by the time I come to publish this, which means I’m almost at the end. I’m not going to stop reading in November & December but things are likely to be pretty busy so it would be cool to get the ‘challenge’ part out of the way so any reading I do at the end of the year is just an added bonus! 

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September

september

Toasting marshmallows on our new fire pit.

Cooking more pulled pork than was strictly necessary… 

Dancing my socks off (or, rather, my shoes off!) at a friends’ wedding.

Losing yet another bake off at work (!)

Loving the crispness in the air now that autumn has arrived.

Spending time with my mad-hatter family and feeling lucky.

Getting good use out of our new dining table. 

Drinking whisky. 

Trying to be brave and do more driving. 

Running the most I have all year, and maybe even enjoying it… 

Lusting after big scarves and suede jackets and ankle boots. 

Sending my sister off to University (and trying not to cry). 

Feeling pleased as punch that two people thought it was *me* moving into halls. 

Being taken down a peg when everyone else laughed at the idea! 

Experimenting with silver shampoo, and kind of liking the ‘grey’ look. 

Lighting candles and getting into the ‘hygge’ spirit. 

Celebrating big milestones for some of my favourite people. 

Pinning all the wedding dresses – bridesmaid duties are now in full force! 

Trying to find some down time in a very busy month. 

How about you? 

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My Symmetry Breakfast

symmetrybreakfast  

If you hang around on Instagram much, you’ve probably seen the excellent Symmetry Breakfast account. Run by Michael Zee, who makes breakfasts for his partner Mark, @symmetrybreakfast is full of beautiful photos of two perfectly plated breakfasts side by side, with inspiration collected from around the world. That was about as much as I knew, when I picked up the Symmetry Breakfast cookbook a few weeks back; it had been on my wish list and was reduced on Amazon (I know, I know, Amazon is the devil) so I decided to treat myself and see if I could find some new brunch dishes to cook up in my new kitchen. Side note: how long will I refer to my kitchen as my new kitchen? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. 

symmetrybreakfast2

With big glossy photos, stuffed full of interesting recipes for breakfasts from around the world, this is a beautiful cookbook. But it is also so much more than that. It’s a love letter, to Mark (the dedication in the front will make you cry), and also to food itself. Food is so much more than calories and nutrients, or even than flavours and textures and colours. It is nourishment for the body and soul, and this book will help you see breakfast in a whole new light. Not just as the most boring meal (for me) in the day, but as an opportunity for joy and connection. 

symmetrybreakfast3

Michael woke up at 5am so that he could cook for Mark; the mornings were the only time they could spend together due to their other commitments, so he not only made these beautiful breakfasts for Instagram, but also for his partner. Food cooked with love is the greatest joy of all, and I do think you can tell the difference. This book, more than anything, was a reminder that any mealtime can be a chance to show that love to someone, and that it’s worth taking a bit of effort and care over. My symmetry breakfast is definitely not symmetrical (!) but it does, hopefully, embody some of the spirit of this book. I’m inspired to take the time over meals which feel like maybe they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. 

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Pomegranate & Walnut Chicken Stew

pomegranatewalnutchickenstew

I’m sure I’m not the only basic bitch around here who is a big fan of autumn. After a rather disappointing summer, it is a joy to be experiencing a season who knows its stuff, isn’t it? The crispness in the air in the mornings. The crunchy leaves under foot. This is the very best time of year, for me. The sun is still shining more often than not, but it’s still perfectly acceptable to turn your attention to comfort food. Because, of course, the joy of the changing seasons is so much in the change in menu, is it not? Roast dinners with plenty of gravy, freshly baked apple pies, stews and big hunks of crusty bread. The food of autumn is like wrapping yourself in a snuggly blanket. I have some old favourites that I always like to bring out at this time of year – sausage and bean casserole, my fail safe chicken curry and these pork, apple & cheddar meatballs – but it’s always nice to try something a little bit different. 

pomegranatewalnutchickenstew2

I made this pomegranate & walnut chicken stew for a dinner party of sorts, served up alongside some other middle Eastern inspired dishes, but I actually think it’s a pretty good weeknight meal. It’s warming and cosy, but with the bright crunch of the pomegranate seeds doesn’t feel too wintery. Plus, it reheats pretty well in the microwave (sans pomegranate seeds) if you want to take the leftovers in for lunch the next day. The combination of toasted walnuts and sweet pomegranate molasses is enough to brighten even the rainiest of days, and you can easily double (or triple) if you’re feeding a big group. Serve with rice or fresh flatbreads, and maybe some honey roasted carrots if you’re after some more vegetables in you life. 

Pomegranate & Walnut Chicken Stew
Serves 3
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Ingredients
  1. 300g walnut halves
  2. 1 onion, finely chopped
  3. 4 chicken breasts, cubed
  4. 400ml chicken stock
  5. 50ml pomegranate molasses
  6. 2 tbsp. honey
  7. 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  8. pinch of cinnamon & nutmeg
  9. salt & pepper to taste
  10. pomegranate seeds & chopped parsley, to serve (optional)
Instructions
  1. Toast the walnut halves in a frying pan over a medium heat. Allow to cool and then blend in a food processor until you have a fine meal.
  2. In a large saucepan or casserole dish, fry the onions and chicken until the onions have softened and the chicken has started to brown.
  3. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil.
  4. Stir in the pomegranate molasses, honey, turmeric, cinnamon and nutmeg followed by the ground walnuts. Season to taste.
  5. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-25 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through.
  6. Serve with basmati rice or flatbreads (or both!), and scatter the pomegranate seeds & parsley on top.
Adapted from Minimalist Baker
Adapted from Minimalist Baker
Amy Elizabeth http://amyliz.co.uk/

 

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September Book Reviews

september-reviews

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub*

Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe were in a pretty popular college band, but now they just do regular people things. The fourth member of Kitty’s Mustache went on to become a star, burning out in her youth and leaving behind the band’s best song as her legacy to the world. Now, they live almost-next-door to each other in Ditmas Park, and their lives are simultaneously tangled and completely separate. When a producer gets in touch to buy their life rights for a movie about Lydia, their once-friend and fated rockstar, it brings up a whole host of issues and feelings on ageing, purpose and relationships. 

This book manages to be dramatic and quiet, all at the same time – which is quite some feat. Fans of literary fiction will love the phrasing in this novel, which is beautiful and slow-paced without being dull. The characters are well-rounded and I very much felt that they could be real, from Andrew’s mid-life crisis to Ruby’s teenage one. This book does an excellent job of juxtaposing young love with the realities of what ‘happily ever after’ really means, the spontaneity against the monotony, the honest against the buried secrets. If you’re looking for something sweet and thought-provoking, then I think you will love this.

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven*

This book took me completely by surprise. I am a little sceptical, probably unjustly, by the suite of YA novels populated by dying teenage characters, or characters who want to die – as in Jennifer Niven’s first, very popular novel All the Bright Places. They feel a little bit emotionally manipulative to me, and they’re just not my jam. It should be noted that I haven’t read any of the really popular ones, but it’s just a feeling I get – and I’m willing to be proved wrong some day. This book, though? Is about the very opposite – about living, seizing every day and squeezing every last experience out of your time here on earth. It was inspiring, joyful and so full of love for the characters. 

Libby was once dubbed ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ and had to be cut out of her own house. That was years ago, and now she’s ready to embrace every possibility that life has to offer. Jack is one of the popular kids at school, but he has a secret. He can’t recognise faces – including those of his own family. Every day is a struggle to play it cool. When the two get tangled in a cruel high school game that ends them in group counselling, they come to realise they have more in common than they’d first imagined and they start to change each others’ worlds. This is a gorgeous love story, and if you don’t adore Libby and her fat-positive, grab-life-by-the-balls attitude then you maybe don’t have a heart. This is the YA story that I want to see them make a movie out of, please. 

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Holly Bourne 

I am clearly on a feminist YA kick at the moment, and this is the most feminist of them all, in that it is explicitly about being a feminist and all that entails. The third in Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club series, and the best of the three, in my humble opinion (although the others are definitely worth picking up), follows Lottie as she takes on the world with her #Vagilante campaign. Determined to call out every incidence of sexism she encounters for a full month, Lottie finds herself at the centre of a feminist revolution at school and in the wider world – until it all starts to get out of hand. This is a really excellent look at the struggles of being a modern feminist, and Lottie is such an amazing character – I love her no-holds-barred approach to life and love. The scenes of sisterhood in this novel had me welling up, and I’m sure I punched the air a few times as Lottie got down to some serious feminist business. We need more books like this – it’s an absolute triumph.

The Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan

I’m going to lump all these books together for the sake of this post, but they are all individually pretty excellent so I would definitely encourage you to look them up and discover their individual merits. As well a feminist YA kick, I’ve also been dabbling in the world of historical romances and I am completely head over heels for this series. I’m always a fan of books with crossovers, where characters you fell in love with in the previous novel come back with cameo roles and/or get their own starring title, and this series does it perfectly. By the time I was reading The Suffragette Scandal: Volume 4 (The Brothers Sinister) I was so enmeshed in the world of these characters that I never wanted it to end; I’m still in denial that I won’t ever find out more about their lives because they felt so real to me. These books completely smashed my preconceptions about romance novels – they’re body positive, they’re diverse, they’re feminist and each time I thought I couldn’t love another one more, the next one came along. Although the series is named for the Brothers Sinister, the three heroes of the novels, it is the heroines who steal the show. These are books about women who won’t be put into boxes, and the men who love them because of, rather than in spite of, that fact. 

DISCLAIMER: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS, WHICH MEANS THAT IF YOU CLICK ON ONE OF THE PRODUCT LINKS AND BUY SOMETHING, I MAY RECEIVE A SMALL COMMISSION. BOOKS MARKED WITH A * WERE PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW. 

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Weekend Link Love

bridge

[Photo by Anthony DELANOIX

Hey pals, I hope you have all had lovely weekends! On Friday night, I was out celebrating my friend Tom’s birthday at MOJO, complete with gin cocktails and cheesy chips on the way home. I always say I’m not going to stay out, and then get swept up in the excitement – especially when it’s somebody’s birthday. It is one of my favourite things to mix all of my friends together and see what happens, and so I always imagine everyone else loves it, too – it’s fun to meet the people who love the people you love, isn’t it? 

Whilst the weekend was off to a rock ‘n’ roll start, the rest has actually been very sedate – which is basically the best balance of a weekend. Paul was away in London for our friend Gillian’s birthday so I had the house all to myself. I ate baked camembert, read a whole load of books and took a bath in the afternoon. Afternoon baths are way better than evening baths, for some reason. It was delightful and I’m feeling ready to take on the next week! 

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Creating Not Consuming

create

[Photo by Beauty Cocktails Girltalk

I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between creation and consumption recently. I am a big consumer. I check my phone constantly throughout the day, I read as many articles online as I can manage. I’m easily distracted by videos, blog posts, Instagram photos. You name it, I’ve probably already seen it on Twitter. The Internet has brought so many wonderful things into my life and shaped so many of my ideas and interests. But so much consumption is getting the way of my creativity and creation. I’ve always got my head away from my own work, scouting out the competition. If comparison is the thief of joy, then consumption is the thief of time, energy and productivity. 

I’m so busy feeding my FOMO, and for what purpose? I’ve read enough of the Internet to realise that I’m not going to stumble across a think piece that’s going to change my life in any real sense. You can read as much as you like about inspiration, motivation and getting shit done but still not be able to write a bestseller or complete a creative project. I think that’s what I’m searching for with my endless scrolling of the Internet: the magical tips and tricks that will give me a better life and make my creative work better, without actually putting in the time to make it happen in reality. But I know as well as you that you have to do the work and grind out the hours to make anything of real worth. 

It’s not as if I’m neglecting my life in favour of articles about Millennial habits and Parks & Rec gifs, but my ratio between creation and consumption has been tipping too far to the latter side recently. Consumption is an important part of creativity. The inspiration and instruction you get from consuming others’ work in your field can be a vital part of the process. I am a better blogger for observing how others are doing things, and trying out ideas on my own. That’s the crux of it. I’m not a better blogger simply because of the observation, but because of the trying and the doing. And I know I have less motivation for the trying and the doing when my head is so full with others’ ideas. 

 

I’ve got a lot of projects on the back burner. I am constantly keeping lots of ideas warm. Sometimes they come to fruition. Sometimes they fall by the wayside. That’s just the creative process. But I need to make more space for actual work.I need space to let my own ideas live.  You can only find out which ideas are best through the doing, not the planning. You can only improve and create something worthwhile through doing it over and over again. Through actually creating, not just consuming. 

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