Thursday, November 24

nothing gold can stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost

Christmas is starting to have its way with me and before I know it the end of December will be here. So I'm desperately trying to cling on to my favourite season before I get tired of the bleak cold. Since when did autumn pass by so quickly? I think it's a result of the annoying 'Indian summer', which meant we got barely any of the crisp October and November weather I love so much!

December is exciting though. Christmas coffees, fairy lights, frosty mornings, cold nights, Santa's grotto, wishlists, planning what to bake and make... Unfortunately everything seems to happen in December. I'm up to my ears in Christmas card commissions, portfolio work, gift ideas, baking plans, as well as my usual two jobs! Oh, and Christmas parties and get-togethers, ice skating, Christmas shopping...

The photos are of some of my favourite leaves from this year, and the Frost poem is lovely. I first came across it in SE Hinton's novel The Outsiders - a brilliant book should you ever be looking for something to read. I like how these photos came out, considering I don't have an SLR camera (this is going to be rectified next week!).

I hope you all have a wonderful last weekend of November. I'm off to Newcastle for the weekend to visit a friend. Catch ups, Christmas markets and coffee are on the agenda. I've never been so far up North so I'm looking forward to seeing a different part of the country.

And happy thanksgiving to any American folk - mail me some pumpkin pie, please.

Monday, November 21

amazing almond biscuits (greek kourabiedes)

Kourabiedes are these amazing Greek biscuits which are a Christmas favourite. Light, crumbly almond shortbread coated in a liberal layer of icing sugar. They're incredibly simple, incredibly tasty and incredibly moreish. The almond saves them from being like your average sickly buttery Highland shortcake, and turns them into something absolutely delectable.

(The word 'delectable' definitely isn't used enough these days!)

You will need these things,

8 oz butter/margarine
4 oz icing sugar (caster sugar is ok though)
2 egg yolks
10 oz plain flour
6-8 oz ground almonds
a generous tsp almond extract
half tsp vanilla extract
cloves (a festive option)

to do the following:

Beat the butter in a bowl until it's soft and easy to work with.
Gradually beat in the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Beat in the two egg yolks.
Add the almond essence and vanilla essence.
Mix in the flour and almonds, bit by bit. You'll think 'it's going to be too dry!' but it will come together eventually.
Once the mixture is dough-like, form into crescents by rolling balls into sausages and pinching and bending the ends. It's up to you how big you want them - remember they get a bit bigger in the oven, but the shortbread texture is more enjoyable in a bigger sized crescent rather than just a 'bite'. Ideally this recipe makes around 20-24.
Put the crescents onto a well greased tray and bake at 190 degrees celsius for around 15 minutes until the bottoms start to turn golden brown. Keep an eye on them!
Let them cool (after inevitably burning your tongue on an impatient taster), then roll them in lots of icing sugar.
Now put your willpower to the almighty test: resisting the temptation to scoff the lot in one go. 

Saturday, November 19

a day out in London

On 11.11.11 we caught the 11.11am train to Waterloo and had a day out in London town.

We went to the Whitechapel Art Gallery (excellent) where we saw a Wilhelm Sasnal exhibition (ok), a small Rothko room (coloured squares) and the Government Art Collection (good).

Then we went to the cafe in the crypt at St Martin-in-the-fields, Trafalgar Square, for lunch. It's one of my favourite cafes. We had spinach potato and nutmeg soup followed by a hearty bowl of apple crumble. Highly recommended!

We caught a bus to Bond Street and rode along Regent St looking at all the lights and festivity. Selfridges was stunning.

Near Bond Street is a grand old house which is home to the Wallace Collection. Lots of old paintings, furniture, etc, but what I liked most was the house itself. Very exquisite and out-of-this-era. There is also a wonderful restaurant in the centre of the house, in an indoor courtyard. I will go for afternoon tea there one day.

This week has been a busy, tiring one with lots of ups and downs. Head down, think of Christmas!

Wednesday, November 16

owl eyed

Here is a monoprint of an owl's eye which I did in my evening class. It's called monoprinting because you can only make one print: you paint your image onto a metal plate, then cover it with dampened cartridge paper and roll it through a press. Real fun, but time consuming!

 I hope you are all having lovely Wednesdays.

Sunday, November 13

I love Sundays #3

that age old cliche of kicking through the autumn leaves

a big fat slice of sticky date and walnut cake

and a Sunday afternoon cappucino

then walking home as the sun set

I've had a lazy Sunday (and Saturday) in preparation for what will be a long and busy week: lots of shifts at work, including the grand arrival of Father Christmas to his garden centre grotto next Saturday - it's going to be chaos. Head down, think of the Christmas break - that's my motto.

This weekend I did manage to get my Mum to cut my ridiculously long hair (it was down to my waist and any layers had turned to wisps) to all one length, very sixties-looking. She also dyed my roots. Eagle eyed readers of this blog will know my hair is shiny blonde, but alas it's all an act as I'm a natural dishwater (especially during the sunless winter months). Garnier Nutrisse is my best friend! Anyway I quite like being able to get a cut and colour for free, all from the comfort of my own home! It's handy having an amazing Mum.

Other than that I have just been working in my sketchbooks, drinking vast mugs of green tea and eating tender-cooked beef puff pastry pie, as well as our traditional roast dinner, the most amazing Greek almond cookies (to be blogged about soon) and the biggest apples you ever saw. Sundays were made for slobbing.

Also, wasn't today's sunshine beautiful?

Wednesday, November 9

probably one of the best soups ever

Like a hug. That's what this soup is like, a warm and comforting hug on a cold November night. It's the perfect autumn soup - the rusty orange of the squash with the red lentils are like the colours of the leaves outside, and will brighten up the long chilly winter evenings. Spoonful after spoonful of heaven - thick, velvety, naturally sweet from the squash but with a nuttiness that comes from the lentils as well as a bit of spice from whatever you throw in. You have to make this soup.

You'll need

1 medium sized onion, chopped fairly finely
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1.5 lbs of butternut squash
1 medium potato
1 litre vegetable stock (preferably bouillon powder)
1-2 bay leaves
Olive oil
150-200g red lentils, depending on how thick you want it
A good tsp of cumin
Salt and pepper

Cut your squash into chunks, not too big, not too small. Don't worry about peeling the thing, but remember to remove all the seeds. Peel and cut your potato into similar sized pieces.
Roast the squash and potato in 2-3 tbsps of olive oil on a baking tray at 190 degrees celsius for 30 to 40 minutes. Give them a good toss now and then. When the squash is soft and turning a deep caramel orange, it's ready to come out. Leave the tray to cool.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic until soft.
When the squash and potato chunks are cool enough to handle, peel the squash.
Make up a litre of vegetable stock.
Add the squash, potato, lentils, stock, bay leaves and cumin to the saucepan. Season to taste (you won't need much salt) then bring to the boil. Let everything simmer for 20-30 minutes until the potato and lentils are soft and starting to break up a bit.
Turn off the heat and let the soup cool a little. Then transfer to a blender and blend until there's no lumps and the soup has a thick consistency. Don't overblend!
Transfer back to saucepan and reheat. Check the seasoning.
Serve, with a sprinkle of sage on the top if you want, and a hunk of good crusty bread.
Savour the first spoonful, enjoy that warm huggy feeling.

Because I was too busy enjoying it to take any photos, here's a soup-er rushed little illustration:

Delicious! x

Sunday, November 6

I love Sundays #2


Cycling across the fields through the early morning autumnal mist, seeing the horses in their winter jackets

Going for a late afternoon walk before the light fades, picking the best looking leaves, admiring the newly wintered skyline

Shopping for wellies and wellie socks!

Sparklers outside, the evening air full of bonfire smoke and spice

Roast dinner, with brussel sprouts and roasted squash. Enough said.

Baking another fruit streusel pie to serve up and enjoy in front of Downton Abbey

(On Sundays it's ok to be like a granny.)

Friday, November 4

life drawing

On Monday evening I did some life drawing. It's something I've always wanted to do so I was pretty excited. Rumours of an old man posing with a cane were, thankfully, just rumours. We drew a woman instead. It's strange - even though you're concentrating so hard on the body in front of you, and looking at it so closely, you sort of forget about the nakedness. I like drawing the female form, but I did feel bad for the one guy in the class. I think he coped alright though.

We did a series of drawings in different amounts of time. Weirdly I found the quick sketches (2-5 mins) a lot easier than the longer ones (25 mins), maybe because there's less pressure to draw perfectly when you've only got a few minutes. Some of my work was absolute rubbish, but I keep reminding myself that a) it was my first time, b) I haven't done intense drawing in years so I'm a bit rusty, and c) I was working with charcoal, which I hate using (it's so dry!). It was difficult, but I wasn't as terrible as I thought I was going to be.

I'd recommend life drawing to anyone - even if you aren't working in the art field/don't think you're arty/don't know what a pencil is. It's great for practising hand-eye coordination, a valuable skill in lots of situations. It also makes you look at things with more care, noticing what you haven't noticed before, seeing things in a different way.

I'm typing this whilst enjoying the smell of roasting butternut squash waft through the rooms - tonight I'm planning to make butternut squash and lentil soup. With a bit of spice. Nice.

I can hardly believe it's Guy Fawkes Night tomorrow! I love bonfires but hate fireworks, which is a tad awkward, but I will be partaking in a sparkler or two. I might even have my first gingerbread latte of the season!

Enjoy your weekends everyone!