Saturday, 31 October 2009

Happy Halloween!

Hope everyone has suitably spooky plans for the evening, if you like that sort of thing, or suitably unscary plans if not. I am about to go create a backcombed up-do, smoky eyes and red, red lips and slip on my long black dress (no particular costume as such, but some sort of vampire maybe?) before trekking even further into South London than I am now (currently at M's) to a Halloween housewarming. We will be taking a few bottles of wine, a couple of carved pumpkins (see photo above, mine on the left and M's on the right) and some more of those pumpkin cupcakes, as I baked another lot this afternoon. I've had a request for the recipe from mise of pretty far west (hello, thanks for stopping by!), so will leave you with it, along with a photo of batch number 2, which I iced with a different piping nozzle - not sure which I prefer as I think this second lot may be a bit too pretty looking for Halloween.

I know it is probably a bit late to be of any use for today, but they are so good they are worth making anyway, Halloween or not!

Hummingbird Bakery Pumpkin Cupcakes

40g unsalted butter at room temperature
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
120ml milk
2 eggs
200g pumpkin puree (it says tinned, but I reckon you could also make your own if you can't get hold of any - I found some in Waitrose though)

12 holed cupcake tray lined with cases (there is a note at the start of the book that states that American cupcake trays are larger than British so I used a muffin tray, lined with muffin cases, if you want to use a British cupcake tray you will just get more cakes and have to reduce the cooking time slightly)

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/ Gas 3.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and butter in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined. Gradually pour in half the milk and beat until the milk is just incorporated. Whisk the egg and remaining milk together in a separate bowl for a few seconds, then pour into the flour mixture and continue beating until just incorporated. Stir in the pumpkin puree with a spoon.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until light golden and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.When the cupcakes are cold, spoon or pipe the cream cheese frosting on top (recipe below) and dust with a little more cinnamon.

Hummingbird Bakery Cream Cheese Frosting

125g cream cheese
50g unsalted butter at room temperature
300g icing sugar

Blend all the ingredients together until smooth.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Pumpkin Cupcakes

Pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, which I baked last night, courtesy of the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. I took them into work today and they went down very well indeed. Planning to make some more for the Halloween party I'm headed to tomorrow night, as I figure it's not everyday you have an excuse to bake using pureed pumpkin!

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

Wonderful costumes. Layered fabrics in plum, russet, pine green. Nightgowns embroidered with tiny birds. Fingerless gloves. Tasselled shawls, woven with flowers and leaves or shot through with gold thread. Strings of pearls, red lips and fabulous smoky eyes. Masks and chain link and animal disguises. Turquoise ribbon wound round wrists and a chain of tinkling bells around an ankle. Flashbacks to another era, with elegant tailoring and softly waved hair.

A magical, several storied caravan painted with stars and symbols, led by black horses and furnished with drapes and hangings, ancient books and a bottomless dressing up box.

The backdrop of modern-day London, drunken twenty-somethings on a night-out, the Metropolitan police, the ever-changing river Thames, Southwark Cathedral, Tower Bridge.

The sense of magic and possibility, that stayed with me on the journey home, the feeling that co-existing with the dirt and grime of the city, alongside the rubbish bins, derelict buildings, chewing gum stained pavements, an alternative, more fantastical, reality exists.

(all images from here)

Sunday, 25 October 2009

A weekend of orange

Smoked salmon draped over soft cream cheese in chewy bagels. Aptly named, exotic looking flowers early Sunday morning at Columbia Road flower market. Leaves everywhere, turning shades, falling. A bright carrot soup to be eaten with thick slices of bread from the farmers' market, and thin slices of hard goat's cheese. Pumpkins in the supermarkets, reminding me to plan next weekend's costume. Bright coffee cups, full of hot, frothy liquid. A root vegetable korma from the pages of the new Nigel, glowing with tumeric.

And a few fantastic foxes.

(film image from here)

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Quilting and Pom-poms

I went to the sewing circle of my WI last night (the not-so-very-local-to-me-but-worth-the-journey, East End branch, The Shoreditch Sisters) where we are beginning to piece together a quilt for the Stop Domestic Violence Campaign. Members all over the country are contributing squares, and our branch has volunteered to sew them all together. We were also joined by some photographers from The Telegraph's Stella magazine in which we are to be featured in a few weeks time (v. exciting!). I also agreed to help run a WI stall at the Barbican Library's Autumn Fete tomorrow. It was all a bit last minute and I think we are just demonstrating how to make tassels and pom-poms, but do pop by if you are in the area! Details below and here.

(images from The Shoreditch Sisters)

Wednesday, 21 October 2009


(image via The Guardian. Hare Spat. Photograph: Morten Hilmer/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009)

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2009 exhibition opens on Friday at The Natural History Museum. M and I go every year, and always come away feeling awed and inspired. With one or both of us being at uni these past few years we haven't usually made the visit until the Christmas Holidays, or even as late as Easter, but this year, with both of us in London, I am hoping to get there sooner. Can't wait, I'm sure it will not disappoint.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Late night baking

We are feeling a little fragile today after last night's escapades, M more so than I, but he was the birthday boy so that's probably appropriate, so I thought I would just share a nice simple recipe.

On Thursday evening I found bags and bags of very ripe bananas in the reduced section of the supermarket and, not being able to resist a bargain, bought some to make into banana bread, milkshakes and breakfast smoothies.
I used the following recipe from 'Miss Dahl's Voluptuous Delights', Sophie Dahl's cookery book. It made a wonderfully moist banana loaf that is delicious toasted with butter or just by itself. It was also so, so simple to make which made it perfect for a mid-week evening.

75g unsalted butter, softened
4 ripe bananas
200g soft brown sugar (I used brown muscavado, which I'm not sure is the same thing, but it seemed to work, giving the cake a treacly quality)
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
170g flour (Sophie Dahl suggests 'spelt or whatever', I just used plain flour)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius / 160 fan / Gas 4. Grease a 30 x 23 cm bread tin.
Mash the bananas in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the butter, sugar, egg and vanilla extract. Add the bicarbonate of soda and salt and finally mix in the flour. Pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 1 hour, remove and cool on a wire rack.

See, simple!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Friday feeling

Off out for M's birthday celebrations this evening, for dinner and drinks and dancing (hopefully-if I can get enough mojitos down M) with some friends. Looking forward to my first sip of Friday night cocktail already...

Happy weekend everyone, hope you have a good one!

w4m - 23 - (London)

I have just discovered Missed Connections (via Goodnight Little Spoon - though I'm sure I have seen links to it somewhere else before, I just never followed them until now). Sophie Blackall is an illustrator based in Brooklyn, New York who started a blog containing her own illustrations for some of the many 'missed connections' adverts that appear daily. She writes this: 'Messages in bottles, smoke signals, letters written in the sand; the modern equivalents are the funny, sad, beautiful, hopeful, hopeless, poetic posts on Missed Connections websites. Every day hundreds of strangers reach out to other strangers on the strength of a glance, a smile or a blue hat. Their messages have the lifespan of a butterfly. I'm trying to pin a few of them down.'

Pure brilliance, check it out if you have a moment.

(all images from Missed Connections)

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Longing for Vitamin D

I feel like I haven't seen the sun for days.

My office looks out onto a central courtyard, but the surrounding buildings are high and close so it is hard to see the sky at all, unless you clamber past the printer, over the rubbish bin, and peer hopefully upwards. Normally I walk to work and, I'll admit, did catch a few welcome morning rays slanting down through the trees of St. James' Park on Monday and Tuesday, but this morning I crammed onto the bus from Oval as I'd stayed at M's. Even getting off a stop early to walk across the brown, swirling River Thames didn't provide me with much joy as the sky was grey and overcast. I have finished late every night so far this week, so whilst others may still be able to catch a bit of daylight (retreating as it is) if they leave the office at 5pm, I've come home each day in darkness. I don't mind too much, cold, dark nights spent warm indoors with a good book/DVD/board game/craft project/loved one (delete as appropriate) are one of my favourite things about the colder seasons, but I do like a bit of sun. Peonies' post today reminded me how a good bit of natural light can make everything seem that little bit more tolerable.

I photographed the cyclamen on my bedroom windowsill on Sunday afternoon, and on Monday took it in with me to work to sit on my desk. I have spent the last few days pausing occasionally to admire its almost translucent petals, delicately tipped with a darker pink and imagine I am in a woodland somewhere in green wellington boots, mushrooms sprouting from fallen logs and hundreds of these beauties pushing up amongst the trees. I don't imagine the poor thing will last long with such limited availability of natural light, but maybe I'll buy another and rotate them, one week in the office, one week on a windowsill at home.

Maybe I could buy another me and rotate us too, one week in the office, one recuperating? Now there's a thought...

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Tuesday brownie recipe

Whisper it, but my favourite home bake brownies have long been those Betty Crocker ones that you make from a box, because I have never been able to find a recipe that matches their fudginess.

On Saturday I made Nigel Slater's brownies to take to a party, and they disappeared within about ten minutes, but though I have made them before, and they always go down fantastically, I personally find them a bit too dark and chocolatey (M disagrees, but he comes from the school of thought that nothing can ever be too dark and chocolatey).

On Sunday, with the sky grey and a run looking less and less appealing, I decided to try another recipe to take to work on Monday, one that I had never used before, that from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. I was very pleased with the result. Dry on top and squidgy in the centre, these are sweet and chewy without the bitter, deep, dark chocolate taste that I am not a big fan of unless it is tempered by a drizzle of cream. It was also one of the simplest recipes for brownies I have ever found (though Nigella's is also pretty straightforward) and doesn't use tons and tons of eggs and dark chocolate, which can end up getting a bit expensive.

The recipe is here for those of you who haven't got the book (link above for the Nigel Slater one if darker brownies are more your style):

200g dark chocolate
175g unsalted butter
3 large eggs
325g caster sugar
130g plain flour
a 33 x 23 x 5cm baking tray lined with greaseproof paper (not sure mine was of these dimensions exactly as I just have a rectangular brownie tray I use whatever the recipe, so don't worry too much if you don't have one this size!)

1. Preheat oven to 170°C/325°F (Gas 3).
2. Break up the chocolate and place the chocolate and butter in a heat proof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water without letting the base of the bowl touch the water. Leave until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally.
3. Remove from heat. Add the sugar and stir until well incorporated. Add the flour and stir until well incorporated. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl then finally stir in the eggs to the chocolate mixture and mix until thick and smooth.
4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking tray and bake in preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes, or until flaky on the top but still soft in the centre. Be careful not to overcook otherwise the edges will become hard and crunchy. Leave to cool completely before cutting into squares (or don't, and dive in whilst they are still slightly warm and eat with vanilla ice cream on a Sunday night whilst watching Mad Men...!).

Monday, 12 October 2009

Autumn morning in the park

Sunlight on gloriously coloured leaves, scarlet, amber, gold. Red berries. Delicate, almost translucent, pale purple crocuses with saffron stamens, and darker purple veins. A fern frond, unfurled and heavily spotted with dark brown spores. Rainbows in the fountain spray (taken by M).

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Autumn weekend

We were out Friday evening, having dinner to celebrate M's birthday, and last night went to two parties, taking a taxi across London between the two then fighting to stay awake on the night bus home from the second, not getting home until the early hours of the morning.

But evening adventures aside, it has been a slow, lazy weekend. Saturday morning in the park in the sunshine, playing with the camera, capturing delicate autumn crocuses and rainbows in the spray from the fountain. Time spent cooking, baking; oven roasted squash to go in a risotto, two batches of brownies using different recipes, a loaf of bread made by M.
I feel relaxed but not quite ready for the long day at work tomorrow. Monday always arrives so quickly! Hope everyone else's weekend was lovely.

Friday, 9 October 2009


M turns 24 today.

Happy Birthday darling.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Harvest and rain

The sky is a rapidly darkening blue-grey, heavy with clouds, and I can hear the drip of rain from the rooftops and the gentle swish of the cars on the wet tarmac of the street below. Many people I know feel sad on nights like this, mourning the loss of long, light evenings spent outdoors, but I have secret thrill within me, because this is the season that I love.

Tonight I am going to cook cauliflower cheese with purple cauliflower from the farmers' market, accompanied by a spinach leaf salad (grown by Mum) with orange and walnut dressing (oh Mr. Slater, how you inspire me!). I have both leeks and potatoes from Mum's garden in the fridge, calling to me to make a big pot of soup for lunches this week, and a bright orange onion squash on the sideboard (also grown by Mum - I am a very bad daughter for reaping all the rewards of her summer spent sowing, weeding and watering and yet rarely being around to help with it all! Thanks Mum!) which will probably be turned into a Sunday night risotto. I have the recently purchased Season 2 of Gossip Girl to nestle down with as the rain trickles down the windowpanes, and I am planning on having a long bath, my first of the season as I prefer showering in summer, with scented oils and possibly candles if I am feeling very indulgent.

I just had a phone call from M who had arrived home after cycling from Marylebone to Oval, in the rain. He sounded exhilarated. 'It was fun!' he exclaimed, 'damp, but fun.'.

I am glad it is not just me who gets a kick out of this sort of weather.

Another tag and passing it on

Awhile back I also had another tag from trishiekoh at Under Lock and Key (see here), so I am going to belatedly do a post in response to that, then back to business as usual!

1. What books are on your favorite shelf?

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
My Family and Other Animals, Gerald Durrell
His Dark Materials Trilogy, Phillip Pullman
Eve Green, Susan Fletcher

and many, many others!

2. What DVDs are on your favorite shelf?

Amelie, Stealing Beauty, Some Like it Hot, Chinatown, The English Patient

3. What are your two favorite cookbooks?

Nigel Slater's 'The Kitchen Diaries' and Nigella Lawson's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'

4. Select 1-3 recipes you will cook for your special guests:

Probably cupcakes because they always go down well...

5. What will we be drinking that's available?

And I will tag:

Melina at Owl and Peacock

Choose either these questions or the ten interesting things tag from here and of course anyone else join in that wants to!


I have finally joined flickr and I don't know why I never got round to doing this sooner! It currently only has holiday photos from Nice, but I hope to add more soon.


I love reading cookery books, and will happily curl up on the sofa and read one from cover to cover like a novel. Right now, I'm reading Nigel Slater's new book, 'Tender', all about his vegetable patch and the things he cooks from it. I have long been a fan of Nigel, as not only are his recipes brilliant but I also think he writes so beautifully. Right now I am dreaming of marigold soup (so called because the carrots and yellow tomatoes used to make it give it the most glorious colour) and creamy white cauliflower draped in thick, cheese-rich sauce; perfect food for an autumn day. Incidentally, last night M and I went over to Anna and her boyfriend's new house in New Cross where we ate the mushroom and pesto lasagne from Slater's 'The Kitchen Diaries' (another fantastic book!). It was absolutely delicious, eaten hot and bubbling from the oven with a crisp green salad, as the rain fell outside and in a garden a few doors down fireworks were released into the dark night sky.

Sunday, 4 October 2009


I love throwing parties, but sometimes I think that perhaps I get a bit too carried away with a theme. Take Friday night's London themed party for example...

As Anna and I sat at the kitchen table on Thursday night, her cutting pigeon silhouettes out of grey card, me making Union Jack bunting out of string, paperclips and 12 for a £1 postcards, it occurred to me that most people are content with dim lighting, plastic cups of wine and a bowl of crisps and that this maybe was all a bit too extra. The thought crossed my mind again on Friday morning as I cut cupcakes in half to turn into mini Victoria sponges, and later as M mixed red, white and blue cocktails (Pomegranate Martinis, Lychee Punch and Blue Lagoons). I'm not sure either that many people would turn a Union Jack tea towel into a cushion cover by hand stitching it to a blue pillow case, purely so it could take pride of place on the sofa. Still, I enjoy doing it, and my friends all enjoying coming (though possibly more on account of M's rather potent cocktail mixes than the well thought out decor!), so I think that probably makes it okay...

(I didn't actually take that many photos on Friday, I was a bit too busy before it started trying to perfect 1960s style eye make-up, and a bit too busy during it catching up with friends and keeping drinks topped up!)


I love sending and receiving post (not sure how much of a random fact this is, because doesn't everyone?!). So when I saw the Benevolent Postcard Society mentioned on a blog somewhere a few months ago I joined immediately. It means I get to send and receive one postcard each month for a year, which in the days of text, email and only bills in the post should keep me happy until next September.

I had my September postcard from Melissa at thisgirlandthatguy, it was a postcard she had bought on her recent travels in Peru, showing a beautiful image of Machu Picchu shrouded in cloud and featuring a rather brilliant stamp with a picture of a kiwi fruit. I have never been to Peru, but would love to go, so it was great to recieve the postcard and browse all the wonderful images of her trip there on her blog. It is also things like this that make me realise how many connections we actually have with people spread far out across the globe, as Melissa used to live on Edgware Road, near where I live now. Small world!

Not sure if the September postcard I sent was ever received by Holly in California (at least I think that is the state that 'CA' stands for?), but here is a photo of it anyway as I know I promised I would share at some point. It is a photograph that I took last autumn of our apples in crates at the farm where we take them to get juiced. I had it made into a postcard using the brilliant online company, Moo, and I added text typed onto brown paper using my old typewriter. I'm hoping it did reach its intended recipient eventually!

Eagerly awaiting my October postcard now!

Saturday, 3 October 2009


Someday, I dream of owning a bookshop...

Friday, 2 October 2009


Ever since reading Phillip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy as a teenager, I had longed to see the Northern Lights for myself. Not on the television, not as a still image, but to have them looping and shifting above me, as I turned my face to the sky.

M also shared this dream and a few years ago, for M's 21st birthday present, his parents bought us flights to Tromso, Norway, in the Arctic Circle. The first two days we didn't see anything, but on the third afternoon, when the sky was already as black as night, I looked out the window of the cafe we were sipping hot chocolate in and gasped with delight as above the buildings I saw what looked like a giant green highlighter mark scrawled across the sky. We ran outside, down to the harbour and the stretch of dark, silent water, where there were fewer buildings to interrupt the view, and stood, mesmerised, as the green light danced lazily above. My poor quality photograph doesn't do the beauty of the scene justice, the other-worldly, living quality to a naturally occurring phenomenon that M could explain the science behind far better than I ever could. But I will never forget it.


This January, M and I will have been together for four years.

I am hopeless at decision making and in the early stages of our relationship, before we were officially a couple, made a list of the positives and negatives of going out with a tuba-playing, boat-rowing physicist who didn't really like to dance. This list was rather extensive, squeezed onto a scrap of notepaper and written during a particularly mind-numbing lecture on flood management, and not, looking back at it, probably the best way to decide whether to embark on a relationship or not. The content was not particularly enlightened, written more, I suspect, to pass the time in a dull lecture rather than to actually provide answers, with comments such as 'Tall - useful for heel wearing' and 'Good at explaining how gears work, planes fly, boats float etc.' in the 'Positive' column and 'Needs haircut' and 'Physicist' in the 'Negative' one. In the end though, 'Actually can't stop thinking about him...' won out, and here we are, three and a half years on.

Which just goes to show that however bad you are at decision making, somtimes you shouldn't overthink things, but rather pay more attention to floodplains and river channels instead.

Thursday, 1 October 2009


I believe it is possible to be a feminist and still love baking cupcakes. Especially if the boy does the washing up!