Monday, November 28, 2011

Why I Celebrate Thanksgiving

 Albino pumpkin

I warn you, I've gone mental. Mental for PUMPKINS. I've had a Thanksgiving pumpkin-filled weekend. It's been amazing.

Mantle Pumpkin 

I've been celebrating Thanksgiving for a while. It all started at uni when I used to live with an American and she made us all do a Thanksgiving dinner and it was a whole heap of fun. And then I went to actual America, and had ACTUAL Thanksgiving, and I was sold. I mean, a four day weekend where you literally do nothing but eat yummy food? I'll repeat that: Four days. Nothing. Yummy. EAT.

Sign me up.

Pie of Pumpkin 

And so I came to wholeheartedly embrace this quintessentially American holiday to my bosom. I have henceforth always taken that Thursday and Friday off of work and plan to continue doing so. But this year was the first year I decided that I would cook a proper authentic Thanky G feast all by myself like a GROWNUP.

Half-Eaten Pumpkin 

On the menu was a turkey, cranberry and cornbread stuffing, sweet potato with marshmallow topping, maple roasted parsnips, green bean casserole all covered in lovely turkey gravy and finished off with a pumpkin pie. I don't think there was anything on that table that didn't come into contact at some point with either maple syrup or cinnamon or both. Yum.

And I'm really impressed with my friends that they didn't run scared by some of the above (yes, that was sweet potato with MARSHMALLOW - which exploded everywhere but that's another story!), they all gave it a go. It was DEE-licious.

Munchkin Pumpkins

And it was lovely to share the feast with good friends, good wine and a good stretchy pair of pants. 

Oh yes, the pre-Christmas diet started again today. I'm already having syrup withdrawal symptoms. Hold me.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Boom Boom Boom. Even Brighter Than The Moon Moon Moon

Baby you're a firework

I love love love firework night! The bonfires, the wrapping up warm, the hot dogs, the drinking, and the fireworks. Ooh sparklers too, I almost forgot those guys.

Neon pink rain 

I find it really weird that fireworks can provoke such emotion in some people, myself included. When you see a really impressive firework display, it's such a spectacle and so dramatic. Usually a crowd of people is involved and the fireworks are there to mark an occasion so you're all there having this shared experience and it's just bloody lovely. I mean, when they let off a couple of rockets at the end of the Milton Keynes Foo Fighters gig in July I lost my shit and actually started blubbing all over my best friend. Possibly a few randoms too. Which now just seems stupid. But THAT is the power of the humble firework.

Burning leaves

But bonfire night marks the point in the year at which all things autumn are in full swing. The bonfire makes the russet and golden leaves on the trees glow so they too seem aflame. The smell of hot dogs and mulled wine is in the air, and you're all bundled up in your warmest scarves and coats, waving your sparklers (or in my case, spinny glowstick thingy) in the air like you just don't care. And the fireworks are the exclamation point to the whole evening. 

All of the lights all of the lights 

I think it's such a shame that so many of the firework displays in London haven't gone ahead this year because the council's can't afford it. Ally Pally and Clapham were cancelled. I love that we have this event in the British calender so I really hope this is just a sign of the economic times and not of the tradition dying out. I mean the American's have the fourth of July, the French have Bastille day, so this is our thing!! We need to keep it alive! With that in mind, I made my way to the other side of town to Battersea Park and I'm really glad I did, the fireworks were epic. I mean, it was super busy, and there were crazy queues for food, but I managed to snarf some hot dogs JUST before the fireworks started. Boom!

Spinner love 

Whilst the fireworks were really impressive, I thought the bonfire was a bit of a let down but then maybe that's because I seem to compare every bonfire to the EPIC BALL OF FLAME I experienced in Ottery St Mary many moons ago. That was like a 20ft beast of a fire that burnt for days, so I guess it's not really fair to have that as the yardstick. Everything's going to fall short.

 Purple rain

I hope there's more displays to choose from next year. I don't want to live in a world where we've forgotten our god-given right to, once a year, burn our (non-toxic) rubbish and let off some highly dangerous chemical explosions in the sky in an ORGANISED MANNER!! This is our tradition! Long may it reign.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Crazy Stupid Pumpkin Love

Pumpkinny wumpkinny 

Oops. It's been a while since I've written anything here. I guess I haven't been doing anything that noteworthy. Although to be honest if I have to really fully analyse the situation, I could probably chalk up at least a whole two weeks being lost to scouring the internet for photos of Ryan Gosling. If you are that way inclined, may I recommend this website.

I've been to see him in Drive (the soundtrack literally won't leave my ears) and Crazy Stupid Love this month and might be a LITTLE BIT obsessed. Honestly, I have no idea where the time goes. I could literally stare at him for hours. Excellent example of the perfect man. Well done to everybody involved. If I ever met him in the street I think the only appropriate reaction would be to give him a standing ovation. The Ides of March is the next Gosling cinematic offering and I'm already rubbing my legs in anticipation.  And don't even try and pretend you aren't too.

Next of (pump)kin

So ANYWAY. Enough of my lusting after Hollywood celebrities. What a contrast between my last post and this! Last time I was reporting from the front line of the unexpected but fully welcomed and fondly remembered late summer 2011 heatwave (RIP)... and now here we are, clocks gone back and dark evenings closing in, wrapped up warm, central heating on, surrounded by pumpkins and fake blood.

It's no secret, I love Hallowe'en. This was a love that was spurred on all the more from my experience of a full-on American 'We'en during my time in New York. I'm not sure Britain will ever quite reach those heady heights but it doesn't stop me trying year after year!

I have actually purchased a further four pumpkins of varying sizes. True story.

The past five years or so have been spent constructing elaborate costumes and getting very very (very) drunk. This year I've decided to take it easy, by purchasing a whole armful of pumpkins and getting my carve on in front of the umpteenth showing of Ghostbusters. Which to be honest, is probably more fun and with less hangover.

Altogether now: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together... MASS HYSTERIA!

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Last Days of Summer

Bee-ay-yoo-tiful beach 

But, Mr Weatherman, what have I done to deserve this? An extra week of summer. On my week off. On my week off BY THE SEA. Noone could have planned it better. I think it was the universe's way of making up for my lack of summer holiday this year.

I've spent this week back in Bournemouth with the rental units. And it's been a week of brunch, cinema, dinners, baking, beach and generally lazing around doing very little. I've been uber busy at work over the summer so I really needed this. I'm not really looking forward to going back to work tomorrow, but I think I'll be feeling more refreshed for sure. Which will last approx half an hour, before I'm working out how long til I can next take time off. I swear, someone needs to just pay me for hanging around chatting. I mean, I'm really good at that, you'd get your moneys worth.

 Beach Bird Stalking

I've spent the last couple of days at the beach. It's been the most weird thing to be lying on the beach, surrounded by people in their bikinis in October. OCTOBER! I mean, in mere weeks we'll all be carving pumpkins! Normally, I'm not a fan of unseasonal weather, but I guess I need to add a caveate to that. I'm not a fan, unless the weather is unseasonably WARM. Anything that increases the amount of time I can spend on a beach gets the thumbs up from me.

Cake and lashings of ginger beer 

I took the opportunity of a bit of time on my hands to treat the fam to my baking skillz. I chose the Apple Crumble Hummingbird Cupcakes to have a go at for two reasons. One, autumn = apples. And two, this recipe is EPIC. You have to stew the apples for the apple cake filling, then make up the cake batter as standard, then bake the cakes, then make custard FROM SCRATCH, then leave it to cool, THEN bake crumble for the topping, THEN whip cream to mix with your cooled custard and THHHEEENNN assemble all your toppings. I mean it took all day, I couldn't do this on a normal weekend.

Crumbly in my tumbly

Some people wouldn't have the patience for all the different stages, but I kind of like the luxury of spending all day creating something a bit spesh. Plus, I've never made custard properly before - it's actually surprisingly easy.

The cakes turned out really yummy, the custardy topping was unusual but actually worked really well to give the apple crumble effect.


Indulging in one of these guys with a nice cool glass of ginger beer in the last summer sun of the year in the parental backyard was a real treat.

Now, when's my next holiday?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Run to the Beat of my Biscuits

Maritime Museum, Greenwich 

In case you didn't know.. 

This weekend I watched my best mates boyfriend, J-Man Jizzle* complete an amazing achievement - he ran the Nike Run to the Beat half marathon and we are all very very proud of him.

(*Not actual name. Name that I call him. Largely against his will)

He's training to run the London Marathon next year, and this race signifies the furthest he's ever ran so it's a huge deal.

Cheerleaders (although I think I was better AND I didn't have balloons!) 

Arms outstretched, J-Man at the 11 mile mark, only two to go! 

However, the day was not without its drama. The day was lovely and sunny, but we think the heat got to him because 150m before the end of the race, J started to slow and come to a stop. Even the encouraging screams from two old lady spectators couldn't help him. A random man (we're not sure whether it was a fellow competitor, a marshall or a member of the crowd) came to help him over the final finish line, before poor old J collapsed from heatstroke/exhaustion and had to be taken to the medical tent.

He is now fine, just needs to rest up and get lots of fluids, but it just goes to show what a huge effort it is to complete these things and how amazing it is that he crossed the line. I'm so impressed. Props. Massive props.

Greenwich Observatory, obvs

Love the smell of biscuits in the morning

Other than that dramz at the end of the race, the rest of the morning had been really fun. There's always a great atmosphere at these events - I'm a natural cheerleader of life in general, so I love that it's socially acceptable on such occasions to scream COME ON ALEXXXXX!!! in random stranger's faces. Not that I do that at any other time, OF COURSE.

I'd baked some Apple & Oatmeal cookies for our group to eat whilst we were waiting for J to appear at our vantage point at the foot of Greenwich Park, and they were just the ticket for a sunny autumnal mid-morning snack.


Of course I gave the majority of the cookies to J and his girlfriend (not that he could appreciate them at that point in his poorly state), but I kept a select few back for me. And they were just the ticket to soothe my aching hands (from clapping) and scratchy throat (from aforementioned stranger-face-screaming). I mean, really I worked JUST AS HARD. Right?!

No, I know: not right. I joke.

Well done J-Man Jizzle, Jam Master Jay. SO PROUD.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Friends With Benefits


Before anyone gets excited - not thooose kinds of benefits.

I've just come back from a delightful weekend in Brighton. I have a friend who has just moved to a gorgeous flat moments from the seafront (and also, Preston from Big Brother fame, apparently *sounds shit celeb spot klaxon*) and a bunch of us went down to visit. They are all friends that I met as we all did the same New York exchange programme and I love it when we all get together. It usually involves good food, good drink and good chat. Including but not limited to X Factor contestants and Youtube video analysis. Don't judge. You know you do it too.

Halloumi and houmous. Never have two finer 'H's been stuck in a sandwich

We started with lunch straight off the train at a great place, Bill's. It was a wicked weekend brunch spot, popular with the crowds, so a bit of a wait - but very worth it. Set up in a former greengrocers, the decor played off of the industrial functional feel of the building. Food was good honest well-sourced ingredients and I can confirm, they give good hollandaise. What more do you want in a brunch purveyor?

A girl keg! 

Then later, it was some kick-ass food back at the flat in front of X Factor. We cracked out the housewarming gift of a vintage medicinal-esque drinks dispenser with a cocktail recipe invented on the hoof (i.e. we had gin and they only stocked appletizer at the local shop - was pleasantly delicious).

NYC corner. Every home should have one. 

This concoction accompanied the brilliant menu of Pulled Pork Tacos, Avocado and Onion Salad and Crunchy 'Slaw. All Martha inspired and all finger-lickin good. I've gotta have these girls over for dinner soon and I can safely report the bar has been set high.


This was all devoured in front the X Factor and swiftly segued into feeding our (HEALTHY) appreciation of various divas on YouTube. Celine, Whitney and Mariah. In any order. 

I literally want nothing more of a Saturday. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Faith Hope & Charity


First off, can I just apologise profusely at the poor quality of these photos. I originally took my beloved SLR with me to document my day, which lasted approximately 30 seconds until the red flashing low battery symbol of impending camera-less doom entered my life. What an amateur.

So I was stuck with my trusty iPhone which has very recently acquired an obscene amount of scratches on the lens protector. So the photos come out all smudgy. I mean I guess I GUESS I could have tried to dupe you all into it being some Hipstamatic effect to make the photos more "arty"/"scene"/"whatever" but y'all would have seen straight through that. So instead you'll have to make do with my grovelling apologies.

Victorian Crypt Roof 

So what is all this? Where have I been? What are the smudges obscuring from your eyes? I know. Sit down, take a load off and I'll begin.

Yesterday I decided to venture up the long steep winding hill to Highgate Cemetery. Highgate has a fascinating history, but is probably most famous for being the final resting place of Karl Marx. The Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust run daily tours of the west side of the cemetery.

Marble sleeping lion, marking the grave of George Wombwell, a famed Victorian menagerie exhibitor 

The first thing to note about Highgate is that it is so beautiful and peaceful. In the past, cemeteries have always kind of creeped me out - all those regimented rows of stone markers often under the shadow of a foreboding church. But Highgate is a romantic woodland, almost a fairytale environment. That sounds a strange thing to say, but it's an enchanting place, and I didn't feel at all uneasy. The tour guide we had explained, interestingly, that it hasn't always been like that. When Highgate first began, everything was very austerely manicured - but over time more and more trees have been planted, ivy has overgrown and nature has taken over.

Final resting place of Tom Sayers, a renowned Victorian bare knuckle fighter, with a marble carving of his trusty dog, Lion 

Our guide pointed out a handful of the noted examples of the thousands of graves at Highgate. Some of the most beautiful I tried (badly - again SO SORRY for the smudges) to photograph. There was the grave of the famous Victorian menagerie exhibitor George Wombwell. He famously owned a lion, called Nero, who was apparently so placid, children could ride on his back without fear. His tomb has a huge carving of a sleeping Nero on top.

I also thought the grave of a famous Victorian bare knuckle fighter, Tom Sayers, was particularly poignant. It had a marble carving of his dog, Lion, who went everywhere with him and was (get this) chief mourner at his funeral. He died a hero due to a famous fight with an American champion of the day which was so long and so bloody that it had to be called off and declared a draw as neither would quit, and Lion is depicted sleeping at the foot of his tomb. I'm a sucker for anything to do with dogs, so this stuck out in my mind.

Sleeping angel carved out of marble

This final tomb, you can just about make out in the terrible terrible photo (AWFUL) the form of a sleeping angel. This is unusual - normally the angels are carved so that they are standing over the graves. This angel has been carved sleeping on a cloud. You can't really tell from my photo, but it's very intricate and very beautiful.

There's an awful lot of history at Highgate, as it's been a working cemetery since 1839. If you've never been and are into that kind of thing it's a really interesting way to spend an afternoon. The ivy and overgrowth that make it so special are also unfortunately destroying the tombstones - the Friends of Highgate have a painstaking ongoing programme of work carried out by volunteers to restore those badly in need of repair and the main source of income for this comes from donations and tour fees. So please do go and visit.

And take better photos than me.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Tea and Cake

Tea, cake, flowers. Win. 

Haven't baked any cakes for a couple of months (and my waistline has not just thanked me but rejoiced, holding a party in my honour, because of it). But fear not waistline - I am giving most (save half of one cake - yes, saintlike I know) of this batch away to OTHER PEOPLE. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

 Behind the scenes trivia: Noone actually drunk that cup of tea. It was for show only. I'M SUCH A FRAUD.

I've been wanting to try out the Hummingbird Earl Grey Tea Cupcake recipe for a while. And what with this being the last weekend we can really get away with feeling summery until next year (its knits, tights, bundling up warm, and cold extremities from now until March people!), and I feel the subtle light flavouring is more suited to warmer days, I decided to have a bash at these now, before it's too late and all I crave in a cupcake are cinammon, ginger and big bold Christmassy tastes.

Now, disclaimer: I don't actually LIKE tea. I know, I know. But I'm much more of a coffee girl, what can I say - slave to the bean.'s part of the reason why New York was such a good idea for me. They, like I, live off the stuff.

Behind the scenes trivia: The cakes got eaten though. Not by me you understand. Nope.

Having said that, I am living proof that you don't have to like tea (let alone Earl Grey tea) to love these cakes.

The Earl Grey flavour (lemony, bergamoty, tea-y(?)) is really subtle, light and refreshing and just seems to go so well with the plain sponge and butter frosting.

Just the ticket for the last summer Sunday afternoon. (When it rained. Predictably).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

But I Couldn't Find The Broom Cupboard


This weekend I went to visit the famous doughnut-shaped BBC Television Centre, which has played home to nearly all of your favourite British shows of TV history past, and also still some of your current faves. Strictly Come Dancing (which comes live from Studio 1, the back wall of which is in the above photo with 'Television Centre' on), Blue Peter, BBC News, Live & Kicking (and Going Live!), and the Broom Cupboard (anyone remember that!?!) and countless sit-coms and chat shows were all filmed here, the list goes on and on and on.

The site is currently up for sale, as part of measures to address a lack of spending cash-dollar in the BBC, which I think is a real shame given its rich history - but as its days are numbered, what better time to partake in a tour of the building?

 Bring Me Sunshine

The tour is really interesting, you get to see inside the news centre, inside Studio 1 and explained all the ridiculous intricacies of how to set up the custom built studios for a live set. They also give you the chance to see some of their star dressing rooms as well, and hear some of the stories of the countless stars the centre has played host to since the 60s.

Sadly, however, you don't get to see the Broom Cupboard. Or Edd the Duck. I know I know, but don't let that put you off!

 The Helios statue in the center of the doughnut

I mean, more than anything it was such a thrill to stand in the same concrete halls that some of the world's most famous people have been to. The tour guides had loads of stories of some of the craaazy things those celebs get up to. Mariah Carey apparently requested a box of puppies as part of her rider once, so she could stroke them to "relax" before her appearance - AMAZING. Totes on the same page with that idea. However, the good old BBC politely declined to provide. Wish I could have seen that conversation.

Studio 1 - The same studio doors the lovely couples of Strictly burst through straight after performing their dances! 

The building is very much of its time - it reminded me in many ways of my old school building, with classic 60s fixtures and fittings. In fact I'm pretty sure they could have got away with filming Grange Hill in the TV Centre corridors, it's definitely got that vibe. But the datedness of the building just serves to remind you of just HOW MUCH history is sitting within those walls. It's fascinating.

 Blue Peter, the world's longest running children's show - the studio board from the last time it was filmed at TVC this summer. It's now moved to the BBC studios in Manchester

The tour also gives you the chance to flex your presenting muscles and test your TV charm. You get to have a go at using the technology that is used to present the weather (so confusing!), and also get the chance to volunteer at using a dummy studio to present the news! My trusty housemate KINDLY volunteered me, and then videoed it, but there's is no way on God's green earth that anyone else is ever seeing that. Let's just say, I ain't no Moira Stuart.

Back of Studio 1

I kept my eye out for any famous faces that might have been working there that day, but as it was a weekend it was quieter than normal and I was out of luck. In hindsight I really should have booked for a Saturday once Strictly is back up and running again, as all the cast would then be in the building rehearsing for that evening's show - GODDAMMIT! Maybe I'll go again - the tours are only a tenner, so really cheap fun thing to do, so I highly recommend going before it is sold and it's too late!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

So, I've Knitted A Crop Top...

 Wrap Stitch Shoulder

Yes. I've knitted a crop top. A. Cropped. Top. Probably technically about half a top. For me to wear on my own limbs. As someone who until fairly recently had been carrying a significant amount of extra poundage around (I'd been calling it 'holiday weight' for about 5 years - it was time to get real) this is a pretty big deal.

Excuse the shit* on the end of my bed (*not actual shit) 

I mean I'm still not rake thin or anything (who wants to be?!) but it actually isn't quite so much the sartorial nightmare I had started to fear it would be.

I mean there's a few rules that I've self imposed to make sure it doesn't look ridiculous ('Pair with high waisted stuff ONLY' being one of them - noone needs to get an eyeful of my blindingly white untoned stomach) but I kind of like it.

High waist = minimal blindingly white stomach

The pattern was another Kim Hargreaves from her most recent Spring/Summer collection, called Sizzle. Not sure if that's a reference to how SIZZLING HOT I look in it (haha, I jest, I jest).

I was drawn to it because the pattern has stripes of wrap stitch detailing in, which are the bands of the wider spaced stitches you can see. The sizes of the wrap stitches are randomly varied, which gives a kinda sorta laddered effect to the fabric that I really liked and was really eager beaver to try my hand at. Turns out it's super easy.

Totally photoshopped the tanned skin. I need a holiday. I realise this is irrelevant.

So I have about two weeks to wear this until summer is technically over and flesh-flashing becomes inappropriate and BANNED for another 6/7 months. But hey, when you hand-knit stuff this shit takes time.

But pretty pleased overall - I wear cropped tops now. And a KNITTED one at that. I literally never thought I'd see the day.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

The Success of Frozen Yoghurt as a Cultural Phenomenon

Frae = yay! 

There are quite a few places you can get frozen yoghurt in London these days (including the recently imported to Selfridges foodhall from the US, Pinkberry - an NY fave). It's a fairly new phenomenon in the UK with various local chains popping up, but my favourite - mainly because it doesn't have a hideous name (take note, Snog and Yog) is Frae.

Fro-yo, bro 

So why, is everyone all like, 'Dudes, Fro-yo is the best thing since sliced bread. Mr Whippy is sooo passe'?

Well, I've thought about it, and I'm here to explain. Frozen yoghurt is pretty much the best thing you can eat on a hot summers day (Ha! In London? If only. See: outside my window) for the following reasons: 1) It's delicious and 2) It's fat free. Yes, fat free. It's DELICIOUS and it's FAT FREE. These two things almost never happen at the same time, and for that, I do believe frozen yoghurt to be one of the best things on this earth. I will forever wonder why this invention didn't take off sooner.

Oreos & chocolate chips

Of course, the choice of toppings that you add can drastically reduce your smug angelic 'ooh, aren't I being good and stuff' glow, but even with a few chocolate chips and mini Oreos its a much healthier alternative to your traditional ice cream, and just as nice.

Demolished within approx 10 seconds of this photo being taken 

I highly recommend, for anyone dipping their toe in this concept, the Frae on Camden Passage in Islington. It's perfectly located for a dessert after a meal at a local eaterie or a pitstop midway through pottering around the gorgeous vintage shops in the area, or even just because.

In fact, mostly just because - let this be a lesson to you. There is NO SHAME in planning your entire day around frozen yoghurt. Once you try it, you'll understand. You'll understand and you'll thank me.