25.09.2020- On my Bookshelf #12

Friday, 25 September 2020

For me, the cosy spirit of autumn tends to mean a few things- usually making a list of the period dramas I need to (re)watch, as well as setting myself up with a stash of books to see me through until Christmas. I don't know what it is about this time of the year which makes me so eager to buy book after book, but I think it's probably something to do with the back to school sensibility of this time of the year. Whereas past me would be having field-day in the gel pen section of WHSmith (man, life was easier then, wasn't it?!), now I'm committed to some serious reading- as manifested by the current selection of reads sitting on my bookshelf: 

What a haul! This is definitely the largest selection of items I've had on my 'to read' list for a long time, and I'm really hopeful that I'll be able to find a bit more focus for reading over the next six months (if that is, indeed, how long we're likely to be in this pickle for..!) Antigone Rising by Helen Morales is a loan from my lovely pal Katharine, and one which I think will be my next read after I finish my current tome. The premise is really interesting- a look at the ancient myths and their impact on so many aspects of our everyday lives, and re-examining the origins of so many of the stories which we've assimilated into our collective cultural consciousnesses. Next up, one of the most recent additions to my bookshelf- English Pastoral by James Rebanks. Rebanks is a total hero of mine (and his Desert Island Discs is a must-listen) so this new release is one which I can't wait to get started on. Looking at the heritage of rural landscapes and the inescapable human impact on agriculture, it's definitely a book for our times, and I hope will offer a glimmer of hope for the future too. 

Stephanie Yeboah's Fattily Ever After is a read which had been on my pre-order list for ages, and I'm so thrilled that it's arrived! It's such a joy to see Stephanie absolutely smashing it, and, after perusing the first chapter and reading some incredible serialised extracts, this is a book which I really cannot wait to get started on over the next few weeks. Olive by Emma Gannon is another book which I've got lined up to see me through the winter, as is How Do We Know We're Doing It Right? by Pandora Sykes, a book which I was very kindly gifted with by the publisher a few weeks back. Sitting down with these three reads over the next few months will certainly be the perfect comfort blanket for winter, and a balm to soothe the uncertainty which we're still living through. 

I picked up Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney when I visited Homeplace in Northern Ireland last month- it seemed like the perfect souvenir of a lovely trip. I briefly encountered this book when I was at school, so am really looking forward to revisiting it as an adult. Finally, a recommendation from my lovely Michelle in the shape of Unnatural Causes by Dr Richard Shepherd, uncovering the ups and downs of pathology- variety is the spice of life, after all!

Which books are you looking forward to reading this autumn and winter?

(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)

23.09.2020- What I Wore Today #431

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

As we ease into the final week in September, my thoughts are naturally shifting towards my cold weather wardrobe. In a previous life, right about now I'd be almost knee-deep in a stock take of my knits and winter coats, but as things have shifted so much this year and I'm no longer facing the prospect of commuting on bitterly cold mornings and making my way home in the dark, that's no longer the case- as is the same for a lot of people at the moment. Whilst I'll always be a practical Penelope at heart, it is lovely to have a bit more flexibility in terms of cross-seasonal dressing, and the sunnier days we're enjoying at the moment have meant that I've been able to get a little bit more wear out of some of my summer favourites:

Dress- Kemi Telford
Cardigan- Marks and Spencer
Sunglasses- Ray-Ban (c/o John Lewis)
Bag- Fjallraven
Shoes- Marks and Spencer

This Kemi Telford dress is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best purchase which I made this summer. I have been living in it! Even better, it's one of those truly timeless pieces which I know I'll continue to love and wear for many, many seasons to come- and it's even managing to mingle amongst some of my autumn essentials too, particularly as it works so well with chunky knits and cardigans. Long may it last!

Which pieces are you aiming to style up for autumn?

 (Image credit: Katharine Morgan, please do not reproduce without permission.)

21.09.2020- Adventures in Baking: A Floral Victoria Sponge Cake

Monday, 21 September 2020

With the brand new series of The Great British Bake Off kicking off tomorrow (finally, something good for 2020!), it felt like high time to resurrect this series! Like most people, I've really resurrected my love for baking over the last six months, and during lockdown it really was one of the best things I could do to keep my mental health in check- there's something about the methodical manner of following a recipe which really helped me to feel a little bit more zen about life, if only for a short window of time. 

It'll come as no great surprise to regular visitors to these pages that I'm a huge fan of the humble Victoria Sponge, and a few years ago I became a bit of an expert after creating a bespoke cake for my lovely friend Katy's wedding. Having said that, my skills had definitely become a little bit rusty in life pre-lockdown (so many cakes, but no time to bake!), so as I fired up the oven and dusted off my apron, this familiar favourite seemed like the perfect place to begin again, complete with a few extra design touches to elevate my cake game one step further. The Victoria Sponge recipe which has never let me down is Mary Berry's, so I delved back into my recipe books to dig it out: 

4 free-range eggs 
225g caster sugar 
225g self-raising flour 
2 tsp baking powder 
225g butter at room temperature 
Jam and whipped cream to serve 
Edible flowers and berries to decorate (I get my flowers from Maddocks Farm Organics but you can pick them up from most supermarkets, or your own garden- but only after some thorough research into which ones are fit for human consumption!) 

1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. 
2) Line two sandwich tins with baking paper. 
3) Mix the eggs, flour, sugar, baking powder and butter in a large mixing bowl. Combine well but don't overmix. 
4) Once mixed, spoon the cake mix into the cake tins and make sure there's an even amount in each. Carefully smooth the top of each to make sure there's an equal spread across the tins. 
5) Bake for 25 minutes each, until golden brown and the middle is firm. Set aside to cool in the tins before carefully removing and transferring to a cooling rack. 
6) Meanwhile, whip the cream and mix the jam (or marmalade, if you'd prefer) in separate bowls. Layer over the sponges once completely cooled and assemble.
7) For decoration, you might like to add a sprinkle of icing sugar. I washed my edible flowers and dried them in a sieve with kitchen paper before adding to the top of the cake with some fresh berries. This is a really fun way to get creative and add some colour to the bake, so free free to be as bold or as subtle as you like. 
8) Serve and enjoy! 

What have you been baking recently? 

(Image credit: Sarah Farrell, please do not reproduce without permission.)
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