Thursday, September 27

Just a minute... in September

I've just finished The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff - very timely! Really loved this book, it was such an honest and unpatronising portrayal of ordinary people, touching and funny in its simplicity. One of those books where not much happens, but all the more brilliant for that.
Next up: The New Moon With The Old by Dodie Smith. High hopes for the author of my all-time favourite book.

Listening to
My autumn playlist which I recently compiled and will post up soon. Also, the new Killers album! The Killers have been a favourite of mine since they first started out when I was about twelve. I'm still not sure about their new one though - it's a shame a lot the album's inspiration is drawn from the eighties, i.e. worst decade in music ever.

Suddenly there is so much good stuff on telly! Completely obsessed with The Great British Bake Off (and James' jumpers), spend Monday nights feeling stupid in front of University Challenge, have been plunged back into the glory that is Downton Abbey (best accompanied with a bowl of apple crumble), need to catch up on the new series of Grand Designs, and was glued to Parade's End. Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall are two very beautiful human beings.

My bank account is hating me at the moment. I'm desperately in need of new autumn/winter staples so treated myself to some of the beautiful Orla Kiely dresses at Uniqlo, as well as a pair of leather Urban Outfitters Chelsea boots. I also found a Laura Ashley cardigan in a local charity shop for £5! There seems to be a lot of stuff I 'need' at the moment...hurry up Christmas!

Seeing the trees start to change, remembering how nice roasted butternut squash is.

Monday, September 24

River Cottage for lunch

Food in order of photographs: selection of homemade breads & butter; sugarsnaps, hazelnut pesto & toasted almonds; wild boar burger, foccacia bun, homemade ketchup & chips;  smoked wild boar tenderloin, blackberries & Trill leaf; chocolate brownie, praline & ice cream.

So there's this guy called Hugh who wears black-framed specs and is a bit of a foodie. Once upon a time he ventured into the depths of Devon in search of a better, more self-sustaining lifestyle. He moved into a former gamekeeper's lodge called River Cottage and began growing and rearing his own, turning his produce into delicious meals. A few years (ok, a decade and a half) later and River Cottage isn't just a cottage with a vegetable patch any more, it's grown into many projects, from books to television series to canteens and delis. But everything is still centred around the same belief in locally sourced food. Which makes sense really - the fresher the food, the better it tastes (especially if Hugh has a hand in the cooking).

We found this out back in August when we went to the River Cottage canteen in Axminster to encounter a very tasty lunch. Wild boar burgers. Focaccia bread. Delicious homemade butter - and I hate butter. Hazelnut pesto, fresh greens, blackberries. And a really gooey wodge of chocolate brownie.

River Cottage may have become a bit of a business enterprise, but it's one with its heart in the right place. If you find yourself in that part of the country, go to the canteen. And you'll remember how good a humble homegrown vegetable can be.

Tuesday, September 18

On the farm

During our Dorset-Devon-Cornwall sojourn (which now seems a million years ago), we enjoyed a really lovely stay at Spiller's Farm, a farm and bed & breakfast near Axminster, Devon. We wanted to visit the River Cottage Canteen and needed somewhere nearby to stop the night. We were lucky to find somewhere so nice.

There was a walk around the farm lake with the owners' dog Merryck, who was friendly and full of character; a flock of curious sheep with wise faces and bouncy woollen coats; a glorious Aga-cooked breakfast with homegrown tomatoes, homemade jam, hand-cured bacon and sausages; clusters of ducks and hens roaming about; a ramble through another farm and up the nearby Musbury Hill with its sea-view'd summit; fruit trees groaning with produce and a garden full of beautiful flowers; and in the morning, snuffling their way around the straw of their pen, a litter of ten, tiny, perfect newborn piglets.

My mum grew up on a dairy farm, and I may have been born and bred amongst the bustle and noise of London, but I think I'm a country girl at heart too.

Take a look at Spiller's Farm here if you're ever looking to stay in the area. It's highly recommended!

Wednesday, September 12

Let's go blackberrying

Autumn is beginning to stretch its limbs and wake up. Fresher mornings, lower mists, mellow light. If September was a vegetable it'd be a butternut squash - sweet, but in a more grown up way than raspberries and white chocolate. A delicately rich, homely, earthy smell. Like when you roast squash and it turns that deep caramel colour and tastes better than anything else could on a damp October night. Autumn is my favourite season. 

Traces of summer still linger on in September though. Last weekend it was really warm in London - 28 degrees - but the heat didn't last all evening like it does in June. Late Sunday afternoon we went blackberrying, just as the weather felt like it was beginning to turn from hot summer to early autumn . Considering I live in built up suburbia with just the odd lonely field crammed between streets, there are so many blackberries to be picked; on the roadside, down lanes, tucked along driveways. We came home with purple stained fingers (and mouths) and tupperwares full of ripe blackberries ready to be turned into bramble jelly and blackberry and apple crumble. Another reason to love autumn.

The colours of these sloe bushes were lovely too.

Monday, September 10

Jammy baking


I used raspberry jam to make a little feast of pretty edible treats, as a kind of last hurrah to summer. All floral, pink and light, before autumn begins properly and I get stuck into squashes and gingerbread lattes and pies.

The first thing I made were jammy dodgers. These are like the ones you can buy, except better because they taste homemade. An alternative is to make shortbread biscuits and sandwich them together with jam, but this biscuit is made with milk and is a little bit smoother and creamier. I essentially made up the recipe after failing to find anything suitable online. Somehow it worked!

I also made raspberry cupcakes from 'Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery' (a wonderful book for all cake lovers). You lightly swirl raspberry jam into the cake mixture, meaning you get the odd really jammy bit of cake - it's good. I didn't go all out and spoon jam inside the cake after baking, then ice the cakes with white chocolate buttercream, as the recipe instructs, but that extra effort does transform them from good to brilliant. It was just white water icing and pink glitter for lazy old me. They were still delicious though.

Recipe - Jammy dodgers

Makes 12 jammy dodgers (i.e. 24 biscuits sandwiched together)

150g butter
75g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
225g plain flour, sifted
3 tbsp milk
100g raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees celsius and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Rub together the butter, sugar, vanilla and flour (or use an electric mixer) until sticky breadcrumbs are formed.
Add the milk a tbsp at a time, until a dough forms - don't let it get too sticky.
Wrap the ball of dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 5-6mm thick. Use a 3 inch round cutter to cut 12 circles, then use a 1.5 inch round cutter to cut out smaller circles from the centres. Gather all scraps, roll out again and cut 12 more whole 3 inch circles.
Bake everything on a lined tray for 12-15 minutes until pale gold and fairly crisp.
When cool, sandwich together with 1-1.5 tsp of jam, then leave in the fridge to set a little before eating. If you can resist.

Recipe - Raspberry cupcakes

Makes 12 regular cupcakes

110g butter, softened
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
125g self raising flour, sifted
120g plain flour, sifted
125ml semi skimmed milk, at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp raspberry jam

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 for fan ovens). Line a 12 hole muffin tray with cases.
In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar until pale and smooth, which should take about 3-5 minutes using an electric mixer.
Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Combine the two flours in a separate bowl.
Mix the milk in a jug with the vanilla extract.
Add one third of the flours to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, and beat well. Pour in a third of the milk and beat again. Repeat until all the flour and milk have been added.
Gently fold in the raspberry jam until it's mostly combined. You want streaks of jam through the mixture, rather than an evenly coloured batter.
Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases, filling them to about two thirds full.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until slightly raised and golden brown.
Leave the cakes in the tin for about 10 minutes before cooling on a wire rack.
Once they are cooled, cut a small hole in the centre of each cake and carefully place a teaspoon of jam inside. Ice the cakes with buttercream.

Friday, September 7

An awfully lovely day at Corfe Castle

During our sojourn to Dorset a very happy few hours were spent in the town of Corfe Castle, a village nestled in the Purbeck Hills. A picturesque home to said castle, the village is also famous for being the inspiration behind Enid Blyton's Famous Five books. Stories I will always love. (And the reason for the very cheesy title of this blog.)

It was one of the most English places I've ever visited. A paintpot blue sky with perfect white fluffy clouds, quaint stone cottage buildings clustered around a church. Sweetshops, bookshops, a deli selling pork pies & cheese, National Trust tearooms with low ceilings, wonky staircases and a garden sitting right at the very edge of the castle. After stopping for tea in the garden - and getting rather hot in the sun - we explored the village station. It's full of gorgeous retro railway ephemera and there's a fully functional steam train running through to Swanage - I felt like I was in a scene from the Railway Children, or Goodnight Mr Tom, or about to board the Hogwarts Express.

We then roamed around the castle, taking in its wild beauty - crumbling stone walls, gorse bushes, hidden walkways and panoramic views of the Dorset countryside. You can easily see the resemblance to Blyton's books. A picnic was eaten sitting amongst the ruins - almost like the Famous Five themselves. If only we'd had a dog, jam sandwiches, fruit cake and lashings of ginger beer!