Saturday, 31 August 2013

The joy of blackberry picking.

In light of the sad recent loss of Seamus Heaney, I though I'd start off with the beginning of one of his poems, Blackberry Picking:

"Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot."

And that's all I remember. Sure, I could look up the rest, but the reason I remember any of the poem is because I recited it in the Arts Festival at my prep school a loooong time ago.

For some reason, I've always remembered those opening few lines, and I get them stuck in my head at this time of year, every year, without fail.

We're lucky to have loads of blackberry brambles at the bottom of our garden, and I adore going down there at the end of the summer to pick them. I always have done, and I'm sure I always will. Early autumn is my favourite time of the year.

I find blackberry-picking very therapeutic - maybe because it's something I've always done.

Yesterday, I ventured down past the still-ripening plums, damsons, pears and apples in our garden, empty punnet in hand, not knowing what I'd find on the blackberry bushes. Nearly an hour later, I was still there, picking away.

It seems to me that the plumpest, juiciest, sweetest blackberries are always the best-hidden and the hardest to reach. I genuinely think that's a metaphor for life. In order to get to those beauties, you have to dodge wasps and nettles (always wear full-length trousers and top!), and practice your best ballerina arabesque, all while trying not to fall over or spill any blackberries in your punnet. It's a challenge.

Wild blackberries may not look as perfect as their supermarket counterparts, but they're so much better. When you find - as my mum would say - a beezer, it's just sensational. The best ones are glossy black and just slip off the plant - if you have to pull too hard, it's not ripe enough.

One of the biggest challenges of blackberry picking, as far as I'm concerned, is not eating them all as you go. When you get one of those super-ripe ones that just falls apart in your fingers as you pull it off the bramble though, what can you do? You've just got to eat that baby.

My punnet was already brimming full before I'd even picked them all, so naturally I just carried on, munching as I went.

With sticky fingers covered in juice and nettle stings all over my right hand and wrist (it was worth it), I carefully returned to the house, feeling jolly pleased with the fruits (HA!) of my labour. Tragically, I tripped and dropped a couple but at least I didn't spill them all. Now that would have been catastrophic.

For as long as I can remember, mum has made blackberry and apples crumbles, both fruits from the garden, for pudding after our Sunday roast dinners. For a long time I even believed the lie that the custard was home-grown on a custard tree too. What an idiot. Served with vanilla ice cream too, it was delicious. The ultimate home comfort for me.

As we have so many, we're going to freeze a load of our blackberries so they don't go to waste, and that way we can have them at the ready to be popped into cakes, crumbles or just eaten by themselves. Yum!

Friday, 30 August 2013

RACHEL LOVES: Smythson's Eliot Collection and 2014 Diaries

As a girl who loves both handbags and organisation (oh and alright, cupcakes too, but that's by the by), I was very excited when an email about Smythson's new collections pinged into my inbox.

Oh, dear friends, Smythson's new Eliot collection is just beautiful! It's all smooth, supple leather and rich autumnal tones - prepare to be hit by a big ole wave of bag lust. Behold:

This midnight blue tote is totes my fave. (Couldn't resist, sorry.)
Ooh actually I think I prefer it in this Prussian blue colour!
The new Eliot mini tote has five pockets and a very practical detachable shoulder strap. My favourite touch of all, however, is the striped cotton lining.

Structured but made with soft leather, doesn't it just ooze sophistication? And wouldn't you just love to be the girl who whips out a matching purse to pay for her Pret skinny latte?

When I think of Smythson, I think of the stylish, sophisticated, elegant woman I aspire to be. It's all so beautifully well-made, which is really important to me.

Now, I love a pretty bag as much as the next girl, but as well as good-quality leather and craftsmanship being right up there for me, a handbag has also got to be practical in my books. Well, it would actually be my books in my handbag. Moving on...

Just  beautiful
My point is that I need a bag with pockets, with compartments, and ideally, I'd like to have matching cases for my various pieces of technology, thank you very much. And, if you have the money, this is where Smythson steps in.

Their pouches are so versatile that they could be an extra in-bag purse for valuable, an iPad case (and I am now a proud iPad owner...) or a clutch for evening. Rachel likes this versatility a lot.

I don't think I'd buy one of their pony handbags (not just because I can't afford one), but I'm definitely going to be dreaming of the leather bags tonight.

As well as their beautiful handbags, Smythson have been making diaries for over 125 years, with all the same elegance. Shall we have a gander at their 2014 collection? Yeah, go on then...

So beautiful, non? And so many different sizes, which is great. A diary is a very personal thing, in my opinion. Whether you use yours for jotting down thoughts and feelings or just organising your life, you need one that fits your lifestyle. Smythson certainly cover all bases.

Me? I like a diary to be small enough to fit in my bag and carried round all day, but big enough to have enough space for all my plans. I make a lot of plans.

And again with the practicality:

The 2014 Panama diary

A simple, clean layout, days of the month at the bottom, and a ribbon page marker as well as tear-off page corners so you never have to faff around finding your place.

And I LOVE the new Soho Diary with its list of days and dates at the beginning and in-built to-do list. I can't get enough of my to-do lists:

I think if I had a diary this beautiful I would feel inclined to write in an old ink pen and learn swirly calligraphy.

For the ultimate finishing touch, you can have your diary personalised with your initials in gold or silver leaf. Oof, I'd like that an awful lot.

At the moment though, my student budget is keeping me admiring Smythson from afar. *sob* Hopefully some day I'll be able to afford my own piece of the brand. If you had an unlimited Smythson budget (a girl can dream!), what would you choose?

Have a peruse at

RECIPE: Banana cinnamon breakfast muffins

If you've read any of my blog posts from our family holiday to Brittany, you probably won't be surprised to hear all our jeans are a little (or a lot) tighter now we're back. It happens. It's fine. It was worth it. We'll just be extra healthy for a few days and it'll all balance out, thought I.

Then I got home to find a bunch of over-ripe bananas sitting unloved in the fruit bowl. And we know what over-ripe bananas call for, don't we? BAKING, of course.

So, I decided to make a pretty-good-for-you-in-the-scheme-of-baking batch of muffins, so as not to derail our healthy eating intentions. Not too much, anyway.

These babies are made with sustaining, slow-release-energy wholemeal flour, oil instead of butter and relatively little sugar thanks to all the luscious sweetness from the banana - that's why you need reeeaaally ripe, brown, speckly bananas. Said bananas also ensure moistness.

The muffins are also home to healthy-but-scrummy raisins and pecans, which adds interest to the texture and complements the banana and cinnamon perfectly, in my esteemed opinion. (If you were feeling more indulgent you could add some cheeky chocolate chips though.)

Quite frankly, I think the flavour combo makes these muffins just parfait for breakfast. But obviously they'd be delicious at any other time of day. And c'mon, there are oats on tops. Anything oaty has got to be good for you, right? Oh, and I once read that cinnamon boosts your metabolism, so that's nice.

Putting my handy cupcake carrier to good use
I made them late at night (hence the less than great light in the pictures) for breakfast-to-go on the next day's early morning road trip. It was VERY hard not to devour them fresh from the oven. That banana-y baking smell is just irresistible.

Breakfast en route
My favourite part of a muffin is the muffin top, so with that in mind I always fill my muffin cases relatively well. Doing so, this recipe made 11 sweet, yummy, moist muffins of yumness.


150g wholemeal flour
100g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
100g dark muscovado sugar
25g chopped pecan nuts (I actually just break them with my fingers)
25g sultanas or raisins
3 big or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp milk
100ml sunflower oil
a sprinkling of oats

Fresh out of the oven


1. Heat the oven to 180C and line 11 holes of a muffin tin with paper cases. Sift the flours, baking powder and cinnamon into a large bowl and stir in the sugar, nuts and raisins - make sure no lumps of sugar are left.

2. Add the banana, eggs, oil and milk and fold in quickly with a large metal spoon - don't overmix (it should be lumpy) otherwise the muffins will have a tough texture.

Ready for baking!
3. Divide the mixture between muffin tins. Fill them just about to the top, sprinkle on a few oats and bake for 20 minutes. Leave to cool for ten minutes in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. If you can wait that long, that is...

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Brittany's Best: Dinner in Dinard - Bistro Resto Oliver

It's somewhat rare that all five of us busy Hosies are actually together, so when we realised we could all be in Brittany for just one night, we decided to do something a bit special.

Holly was 18 in June, Jamie 23 last week, and I'm going to be 21 in September, so instead of going to Pizza Express three times, we pooled our birthday dinners and went out for a real treat of a meal in Brittany. We chose Bistro Resto Oliver in Dinard. 

We arrived in Dinard with plenty of time to stroll round the seaside town on a lovely sunny evening. 

I absolutely love being by the sea - the boats, the ripples, and when set to a backdrop of blue sky it's just perfect. 

In a flowy sundress and ballet pumps, I felt like I wanted to dance down the cobbled streets and skip down to the sea. It may sound cringey, but it's true. I'm just that kinda gal.

I was loving life.
This is nearly a whole family photo - dad was taking the picture. Classic dad eh? I love the picture, but I'd love it more if he was in it too. 

Admiring the view. I was doing a bit of a Rose-in-Titanic, almost looking over too far.
But that was enough view-admirage. It was time for food-eatage. I was deliberately wearing a smock. Wearing a tight dress to a big dinner is a rookie error. I've learnt from my previous mistakes.

So, to the restaurant! 

Our round table for five was ready and waiting. Mama Hosie had already shown off her French skills by booking the table over the phone a couple of weeks earlier. When she said we were a group of five, Oliver immediately suggested a round table, which was great. I had a good feeling before we even arrived. 

When we did arrive, however, Oliver popped out for a little chat, which was lovely. We also liked the fact that you could see into the kitchen and watch Oliver bustling around. Or maybe he just wanted to watch his diners...

While trying to decide what to order, we had a glass of Champagne each as an aperitif. Well, Holly didn't, as she's not a fan (weirdo.) Instead of the usual Coca Light, however, she was brought a bottle of local Breton cola and it was délicieux. (I had a sip, of course.)

We were also brought a little plate of traditional Breton craquelins (sort of Yorkshire puddings crossed with crackers, I think) and a tuna mix to nibble on while perusing the menu. I like the fact that Oliver uses so many local products. 

It's not a huge menu, but I think that's a good sign as it shows the dishes they do offer will be done really well. 

We placed our order and got down to some serious conversation: trying to settle on a name for our new puppy. Despite having discussed it for most of the evening, we still haven't agreed on one. 

Still, we were having fun. The good thing about being with your family is that you can be completely and utterly your true weird self. And I am very weird. As are the rest of the Hosies. I love my friends, but there's nothing like family. 

While we chatted, we munched on some yummy crusty bread, served in a rustic paper bag (it looked better than it sounds, trust me.) I tell ya what, the French really know how to do good bread. And don't you love it how they automatically refill the bread basket without even asking? Bread to your heart's content. 

However, before we could even get onto our second load of bread, our starters arrived. 

I had basil-infused Charlotte summer vegetables with a 'brick' of crispy goat's cheese. Mmm. It wasn't too heavy, which was great considering what was coming...

Oh yes. This was very very good. A veal cheeseburger, chunky chips (my favourite kind), salad, what I think was a gingery pumpkin purée and a brown sauce (we genuinely couldn't work out what it was but hey.)

Aww yeah.
It was probably one of the juiciest, snazziest and all round best burgers of my life. I think the amazing crusty sesame bun really added an extra yum factor. Posh burgers are all the rage right now, and I'm a big fan. 

The rest of the fam all adored their dishes too - I'm told from a reliable source (my sister) that the steak was really quite spectacular. 

Mum had this sea bass dish:

As a poppy seed lover, she particularly enjoyed the seedy addition to her rice. 

It's safe to say we were all sufficiently full by this point, but neither Holly nor I was going to skip pudding. Obviously. 

Naturally, we wanted everything on the menu, and were very tempted by the giant raspberry macaroon with white chocolate mousse, but in the end we went for the chocolate fondant with traditional Breton salted caramel sauce. We'd heard good things about it, and we were not disappointed. 

A little crust round the edges and gloriously melty and squidgy in the middle. Accompanied by the caramel, it was heaven. 

I'm not a huge fan of cream so I used mine to write a message back to Oliver:

I'm quite the artist. Not.
Mum, Dad and Jamie had coffees, each accompanied by a mini Daim bar. That was a nice touch. I may or may not have eaten Dad's. Don't judge.

And right at the end of our meal, we were served complimentary shots of Oliver's special rum. Well, it'd be rude not to, wouldn't it?

It was a really special evening - delicious food, lovely atmosphere, friendly staff and great service. Oh, and the company was alright too, I guess. Put it this way, I was glad I wore the smock. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Brittany's best: Dinan by day and then by night

Well, I may be home from Brittany now, but I've still got a lot more beauty to share with you. On the first day of our little Breton break, the Hosie fam (and I mean the entire Hosie fam, older brother included for once!) headed off to the beautiful medieval town, Dinan. 

Perched on top of a hill and full of cobbled streets and lovely old buildings (some from as far back as the 13th century!), Dinan really is beautiful. It's one of those really charming towns. To be fair, all I need is cobbled streets and I'm happy.

We wandered round, past the boutiques, brasseries and biscuiteries (naturally, I made everyone stop at all the regional foodie shops.)

I really love boulangeries.

Dinan is full of very pretty buildings - I thought it was all almost Stratford-Upon-Avon-esque. I also love that every house I saw in Brittany seemed to be dripping with flowers, particularly pinky, purpley, bluey hydrangeas, which I love.

Some people are really stuffy about looking in the touristy shops, but I for one love browsing what may initially appear to be naff and tacky. You never know what you might find.

I love these vintage plaques, especially having studied Banania branding in relation to French colonisation at uni last year. Yup, this French student knows a bit of stuff. Supposedly, anyway. 

See, they really do wear Breton stripes. I've found it genuinely surprising how many French people have been wearing them. Evidently Brittany is where I belong. 

This amused me. Crêpe me, baby. 

There are so many interesting things to look at when exploring a new place, but when you're in a foreign country it's even better. I find it amazing how much you can learn about a culture just by strolling round. I love it. 

Looking for a loo (classic me), I stumbled upon a lovely covered market, Les Halles, into which we went. Don'tcha just love a good market, particularly abroad?


Of course, we sampled all the tasters, including some amazing crème de caramel au beurre salé. It's basically a dulce de leche sort of spread, but with a salted caramel flavour. Another regional speciality, and a real winner in my books. Luckily, mama agreed with me, and we bought a jar to take home YAY! I'll have mine spread on toast with sliced banana, drizzled warm over vanilla ice cream, or, knowing me, straight out of the jar with a teaspoon. Don't judge. 

We also found an absolutely stunning gothic church, l'église Saint Malo, and had a little lookie inside. With such incredible stained glass windows and ornate architecture, it's amazing that such an impressive church was built so long ago, purely for worship, in what apparently isn't even a city. (Dinan is technically a town, I believe.)

Beautiful, huh? And such a wonderful place to stop and reflect for a moment or two. 

Back outside, the hustle and bustle of a Saturday afternoon in August continued, as did we. The sun was trying so very hard to come out, but sadly it wasn't quite 'sit outside at a restaurant' weather. Quelle dommage, eh?

Soon, it was time for lunch, and oh, what a traditionally Breton lunch it was!

The boys went for moules frites, while we three ladies opted for galettes (wholemeal savoury pancakes, in case you didn't know) - I adore the taste and texture of galettes. All washed down with a traditional bowl/cup of Breton cider. Deeeeelish. 

Mmmm cider
Moules frites
My galette
To be fair, my curried chicken galette wasn't the most authentic of fillings, but when it's that yummy, who cares? We were totally planning on having a sweet crêpe for pudding, but I tell ya what, the galettes finished us off. A digestive stroll was very much in order...

So beaut, non?
So off we went, happy and full, to explore some more of the old town. We walked down cobbled streets filled with artists' workshops and beautiful leather shops, chocolateries and brasseries. Before we knew it, we were at the old town walls at the edge of Dinan. It's fantastic, you can climb right up and stroll along the top of the ramparts, feeling somewhat like a medieval princess (just me?)

Très jolie, n'est-ce pas?

A couple of days later, we returned to Dinan le soir for our final dinner in Brittany. We parked by the river, next to the impressive viaduct, and strolled up a cobbled street until we found a slightly hidden little gem of a restaurant, Crêperie Fontaine du Jerzual.

Doesn't everything just sound better in French?
We sat outside and enjoyed our dinner as the sun went down on a beautifully peaceful evening. Somewhat unsurprisingly, I once again went for a galette (mozzarella, smoked ham, roasted courgette, homemade pesto and salad)...

Only this time I found room for a pudding crêpe too - I couldn't not go for the local speciality, so devoured a huge crêpe smothered in caramel au beurre salé.

Holly opted for chocolate and coconut - another fine choice in my opinion.

Despite being so full of yumminess, I couldn't stop myself dancing down the street back to the car. I adore the way cobbled streets look in the night-time light, and it was all so beautiful I felt like I was in the ballet, Coppélia. 

Much to the amusement embarrassment of my family, I pas de basqued my way all the way home. Well, to the car anyway.

Bonne nuit!
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