When we were little, Mum would give us chocolates to hang on the tree, and if we were peckish after school, Al and I would sneak into the lounge and nibble away at one. Every tree needs something edible and so I made some gingerbread decorations over the weekend. I used this recipe with some adaption, adding more golden syrup instead of black treacle and replaced the separate cinnamon and cloves for ground mixed spice. The finished cookies have a lovely ginger flavour and aren't too spicy. I tried out cooking batches for different lengths of time; the longer the better (though don't let them burn) as they biscuits crisp up nicely and don't go soggy and fall off the tree... I've got some dough left over in the fridge so I'll make another batch later on in the week.
Now that we're in our own place, and I have my evenings and weekends free (unlike the dear days of student hood) I can spend time getting ready for Christmas. The tree is up laden with a mix of hand-me-down decorations and hand made ones... more of those soon. I have been super inspired by one of the blogs I regularly read, reading my tea leaves. Being green fingered Erin Boyle has brought the outside nature indoors, so I'm planning to add more to our flat with pine branches from a tree in our back garden, visiting a local garden centre to get some mini cypress trees, finding some pine cones to string up and making garlands of dried fruit. Head to my Pinterest to see more of my Christmas decor inspiration.
Images by Erin Boyle
I had an urge to bake last week and so I went back to a recipe I have been tempted by for a long while. I like to try more unusual flavour combinations, like the courgette cake, and this time it was Nigel Slater’s chocolate beetroot cake. The beetroot flavour is there but very subtle and the cake itself is rich and moist. The recipe is very easy to follow but make sure you have an electric whisk to hand – soft peaks takes a long time with a hand whisk! Mum and Dad popped over on Sunday and enjoyed their slice, and Dan won’t let me take the rest to work… so it must be good!
Last weekend a gaggle of us girlies headed on a packed train to Bath (the same that took me to Bristol) for Rachel’s hen weekend… and what a weekend we had! Bath is a beautiful city and we had lunch in a hotel on the world famous Royal Crescent, a must see in the city especially for a former architecture student! Over the past few months I’ve come across some of the greatest buildings in the country, from the contrasting details at St Pancras station, the hotel possibly being my favourite building in London, to the Royal Naval College in Greenwich and across the river gazing upon the city. Further north my dear friend Jess visited Edinburgh and I can’t wait to check out her Bath snaps on her blog here. So with all these British beauties… where will we visit next…?
A birthday is a great excuse for me to get baking (although simply bringing in baked goods for my colleagues seems to be too at the moment!) For Louise and Mike's birthday I decided to bake a lemon and poppy seed cake, adapted from this Mary Berry recipe. I simply added the poppy seeds and a squeeze of lemon juice. The decoration was inspired by the Lovecrumbs Bakery in Edinburgh which I came across this week. Their flavour combinations sound magical and visually the cakes are beautiful. If ever I'm up in Edinburgh I'll be sure to go.
Back to the birthday cake, it went down a treat so I think this is a recipe to be replicated again and again!
On Sunday the school girls had dinner round at Fran's place, a flat in the iconic Balfron Tower. For an archi-geek, which you inevitably become after over 6 years of studying, seeing one of these dilapidated yet well-designed flats in the flesh was fantastic. The flat is shabby chic especially with the hand-made furniture and painted murals on the walls. We enjoyed the feast and a light post-dinner competition in the form of Linkee - great game, we'll be playing that again for sure!
Today my "little" brother Alex turns twenty-two (the secret's out!!) As I write he's somewhere in the United States enjoying the last few weeks of a three and half month road trip which has taken him on a figure of 8 shaped route around the country. Aside from the odd Skype call from all manner of destinations, we have been keeping up on his progress via his online journal, seeing landscape changing from east to west and north to south and reading anecdotes of the adventure. Envious is an understatement, but I look forward to a catch up on his return to see all the photos and hear all the tales of this once in a lifetime experience. Happy Birthday Al!
Images by Alex Dowle
The final destination on our tour of Italy was the capital. We stayed in a studio apartment with a vast roof terrace in the neighbourhood of Monti, an area off the tourist trail but only a 5 minute walk from the Colosseum. Two days wasn't enough time to explore the city but we had an incredible taster... from the Trevi fountain, to a tour of the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica, a morning visit to the Colosseum itself, walking through the incredible ancient ruins of the Roman Forum (a favourite of Dan's) and absorbing the architectural triumph of the Pantheon. In the evenings we had dinner in Monti and also made our way across the Tiber to Trastevere. A gorgeous bohemian part of the city with narrow streets bustling in the evening with restaurants, cafes and bars, we sat and enjoyed a drink whilst watching a cardinal and a rabbi walk by!
Our next stop, now in our trusty Fiat 500, was high in the hills of Tuscany in the town of Montepulciano. This place played host to two more of our culinary highlights. Osteria Acquacheta harks back to the Italian dinners of old when everyone sat together to eat and big long wooden tables, and we munched our way through 1.2kg of T-bone Tuscan steak. Best ever perhaps? We also tried our hand at cooking our own Italian dishes when we had a cookery class with Giorgio, whose flat we were renting in the town. We made potato gnocchi and tiramisu and then sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labour. During the day we visited Siena and San Gimignano.
On from here we stayed for two nights at Forestaría, a gorgeous farm house in the hills above Lucca converted and run by Eleanora and Marco. Our full day was spent exploring Lucca, possibly the least touristy city on out entire trip, where we climbed to the top of the tower with trees on top and cycled round the city walls (twice!) One of my happiest memories of Italy...