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Apple & Blackberry Muffins

Apple & Blackberry Muffins

September is my January. Maybe it’s that crispness that suddenly arrives out of nowhere (crisp air, crisp leaves, crispy-clean duvet sheets after a summer without one) or maybe it’s that back-to-school-ness I still feel aged 30. Whatever it is I feel ready to start all over. Fresh new notebooks are bought by the armful and immediately filled with lists and ideas that I was too busy to write down all summer. And this renewed sense of purpose doesn’t just stop at stationery my friends. Oh no, no, no. I also remember that I have a kitchen! And that I love baking! I think! Unsurprisingly this newfound desire to cover myself in flour also coincides with Great British Bake Off arriving on our screens to help welcome in those dark cosy nights and when I, yet again, truly convince myself that I am a domestic goddess.

The thing is though, I’m a bit of a crap baker. There is no rhyme or reason with the way I create anything so baking for me is a step too scientific. I prefer to whack things in a bowl rather than measure too accurately which sometimes works but sometimes really doesn’t. With that in mind I dusted off the cookbooks that had been deserted (geddit?!) and leafed through until I would come across a recipe that didn’t seem too easy to screw up.

When that failed I knew I needed to think smaller and instead re-focus on easy ingredients. With it being September I realised that it gave me the perfect excuse to pretend that I am a real forager and head home to Armagh to pick some apples, one of my favourite autumn things to do. My home county is bursting at the seams with fruit this time of year and I always head to Andrew’s friend Thomas’ orchard (#connections) to pick a few Bramley’s to bake with and to just generally take a gazillion photos of apples. His Dad is pretty used to this kind of thing since his daughter-in-law is a fashion and lifestyle blogger herself and when we popped down last weekend for the annual visit his face fell in apparent recognition. “I remember you”, said he with a painted smile.

David is a dote though and he very kindly pointed us in the direction of the trees with the best fruit (he’s well trained) and we skipped AKA drove down the lane to pick a few while taking a few very causal and very natural snaps. Only thing is I forgot an Instagram-friendly prop to collect my Bramley’s in – d’oh! So I collected a few using my dress like a basket – cute, right? What’s not so cute is climbing apple trees in tights – those darn things will catch like nobody’s business.

I picked a fairly modest dress-load of apples and headed back up the road to Belfast with them thrown in the bottom of my camera bag. The next evening, with still no recipe in mind, I went for a wander round Crawfordsburn Country Park and spotted blackberries out of the corner of my beady eye. They had arrived early this year and I was warned by Andrew’s parents that they’d likely be all gone by mid-September. They’re usually right on the money with this sort of thing, like a pair of botanical forecasters they are but thankfully they were wonderfully WRONG this time. There were loads!! I hit the freakin’ berry jackpot and again ripped more tights as I tramped through brambles to get to them (also stung myself with nettles which was sort of lovely because it made me feel about 8 again). I collected them in a nifty old pick ‘n’ mix bag I found in my car door (note to self: buy some cute props for next years forage) which then proceeded to seep all round my fingers staining them bright purple which again made me feel about 8.

Now that I had the perfect autumnal crop to bake with I went back to the drawing board and tried to find an unintimidating recipe. This time I used the power of social media and asked if anyone knew of any good recipes that a gal like me could use and holy smokers did I get recipes o’plenty. There were dozens of crumble requests but since I gave that a whirl last year I decided to try something new. I finally landed on Apple & Blackberry Muffins since these could be easily shared with my work chums or else just eaten entirely by me while I watch another Bake Off episode – let’s not think about which option I went for.

If you fancy trying your hand at some apple pickin’ too then you might just be interested in the Armagh Food & Cider Festival that’s happening this weekend. There are heaps of events across the entire weekend including foodie film nights (The Godfather is being shown in an actual pizza joint, I mean?!), sunset markets, harvest suppers and so much more. What’s really great is that a few local orchards are hosting tours so you’ll get to have your very own orchard photo shoot if you so choose. Otherwise you can take a few Bramley’s home and try your hand at this recipe which thankfully, tasted amazing!


Apple & Blackberry Muffins

IngredientsMakes 12 muffins
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup superfine sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 medium grated Bramley apples
  • ½ pint blackberries (washed dried and floured)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ⅛ cup brown sugar

Method

  • Preheat oven to 400F/200C/Gas Mark 6 and paper a 12 cup muffin pan.
  • Combine the dry ingredients.
  • Combine the liquid ingredients (I measure the milk in the measuring cup and then add the butter and egg). Add the liquid ingredients to the dry and combine in a few strokes.
  • Add the blackberries and the grated apple and mix quickly. Spoon the batter into the cups. Mix together the brown sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle over the tops of the muffins.
  • Bake at 400F/200C for 25-30 minutes.

The Struggle With Being Present

The Struggle With Being Present

Hello friends! It’s been a while hasn’t it? I so hope that you’ve been enjoying all the amazingness May has brought with her; wildflowers, blossoms, SUNSHINE! My goodness it feels great to be able to swish about in dresses again but not so good for the lazy git in me who hates shaving her legs (I flat out refuse to go above the knee).

While I would use this chance to apologise for my unplanned stint of absenteeism, I am choosing to forego excuses and admit to you that I was just busy living as best I could now that the longer evenings have slipped in and cold afternoon beers are perfectly acceptable. This refusal to apologise ended up being the basis for this post as I began to feel the familiar guilt creeping in when I realised I hadn’t written anything beyond work emails and social media captions in weeks.

Truth be told I am consciously trying to enjoy the perks of Spring with no strings attached. This might sound ludicrous to some people but for those of us who are on the never-ending hamster wheel of social media the struggle to keep up is very real. There’s a running joke amongst many that if you didn’t put it in on Instagram then it didn’t happen which is a frightening truth I have come to see in myself.

A few weekends ago Andrew and I took a stroll to a local woodland to see how the bluebells were coming up. I had taken the camera to snap a few photos and asked Andrew (the ever-patient Insta partner) to take a few portraits of me while I was there. Now this is nothing new for either of us but Andrew nervously commented how he would like to go somewhere just once without the need to document it and felt that I wasn’t being present when we were exploring these places together because of my addictive need to get as many beautiful photos as possible.

I might have looked hurt for a second but the truth was he was right. I’m not sure if this is because of social media or because I truly love photography but it is an obsession I am becoming more and more aware of. I have definitely been that friend at dinner who takes a quick video or photo of the food before we eat and I have definitely visited a place based on how Insta-worthy it is. And while I know there is no real harm in this (and I am certainly not alone!), I am only recently seeing how it’s beginning to affect my own ability to be present especially when I am with the people I love.

Doing it for the ‘gram is not something I want to be known for. I recently read a piece by Mel Wiggins recently where she spoke about adding value and being more conscious about what we decide to share with the world be it through blogging or social media and it made me think about why I started blogging in the first place. I have always wanted to use this blog as a way to make a connection with someone else, share my thoughts and discover places that you or I didn’t know about. However I also want to keep that separate from my own wee moments that I have to myself or with those close to me. I don’t want to interrupt that time just because I see an ivy wall and think “OMG I HAVE TO GET A PHOTO HERE!” because does it actually matter if I keep something for myself?

I want the people I love to get all of me when I’m with them, not a half-present scroller who is double checking if she got a decent photo or replying to comments on her latest post. I also want you guys, the folks who I love to share stories with, to see the real genuine side of my life. While it might be hard to believe, I actually do love to visit the apple blossoms when I go to visit my family in Armagh and I live for exploring new places on my weekends. However I will be making a conscious effort to not put pressure on my spare time to produce pleasing content proving I did something worthwhile with my time because we all deserve time to just be, right??

Don’t get me wrong, I will continue to share photos and words from places I want you to see and I think are beautiful because that brings me immense joy! Sitting here writing and editing cross-legged on the sofa after a day of work (with jeans unzipped naturally) makes me stupidly happy because I love nothing more than being honest whether it be through my writing and photography. I also want to be able to forgive myself for the moments of supposed weakness when I see something beautiful and want to capture it. There is absolutely no shame in doing something that makes us happy so there should be no shame when we want to record or share it but for me the key is creating those boundaries where I don’t feel like I’m living my life through a screen.

With that in mind and in the spirit of Mental Health week I have decided to set myself a few boundaries in the hope it might help me become a more present person but also become more relaxed and focused. In case you’re feeling the same I’ve decided to share them but please let me know if you have any of your own thoughts that you’d like to share too!

Allocate Time for Social Media

For a while I was sharing on IG stories, Instagram and Facebook multiple times throughout the day but now I allocate a short time in the evening after dinner to do all of this. It means I’m not having to constantly check my phone for replies or comments and I’m spending a lot less time on my phone because of it.

Leaving My Phone Behind

I’ve been doing this recently when I go for a big walk or get out in nature. I’ll take my camera just in case but just not having my phone in my pocket removes the temptation to check for updates and allows me to feel so much more present.

Posting Less

For a while there I was completely guilty for buying in to the social media climb. I really wanted to see my numbers grow which convinced me that I had to be present on social media throughout the day and post a photo at least once. This pressure meant I was posting photos and content that felt rushed and irrelevant which meant that my following weren’t really seeing me. At the end of the day, an authentic following is one who you engages with you naturally and who continue to support you no matter how often you post. This is a lesson I am so glad to have learned and now I’ll only post a few times a week when I have the time.

Using Apps

I downloaded the Forest app to help gain a bit of willpower in my moments of weakness. The app allows you to plant a seed and the longer you manage to leave your phone the seed will grow in to a tree. It’s been a great tool for me because I’m a visual person who needs to see the reward so I’ll be keeping it up (especially in the office!).

Autumn Yumminess: Apple & Blackberry Crumble

Autumn Yumminess: Apple & Blackberry Crumble

Autumn is a season of sounds. Leaves crunching underfoot, the cooler winds howling at night, the first fire crackling in the hearth. Nature puts on the finest display for us before the famine of winter when we are robbed of foliage and fruit and the sun barely makes it over the horizon to warm our ruddy faces. There is nothing more autumnally glorious to me than the sensation of bitterly cold air nipping at my nose and ears, threatening to take away all sensation before escaping in to the warmth of the house where a hot bath awaits me.

But before we retreat indoors we must absorb every little bit of the harvest season by foraging for the treasures we miss so much in those long winter months. Being from Armagh, the orchard county of Ireland, I’m a cute hoor and have many opportunities to gather the last of the season’s produce whether it be plums, damsons and as always, the faithful Bramley apple. The bramley is something of an icon in Armagh and it’s been the principal variety to be grown here for almost a century. It’s blossom decorates the Armagh countryside in May and it’s green skin turns red in the heat of the late summer; even the apples get sunburned in Ireland!

 

I popped down to my friend’s orchard about a fortnight ago to gather some apples before the end of the season and as usual I came away with too many to use. Last year I made an apple tart but this year I wanted to use the blackberries I had picked from the roadside at home a few weeks before and thought an apple and blackberry crumble would be just friggin’ lovely as a midweek treat for two. Of course this recipe can be used for a rustic dinner party or to cheer up a mate or to just eat in one big bowl by yourself when you’ve had a shitty day. Your choice my friend, no judgement here.

I hope you can give it a whirl but more than that I hope you are embracing Autumn and all of its amazingness because this is the time to start doing things for you. Summer can be a hurricane of plans and commitments but as the colder months unfurl we are treated with weekends to ourselves, moments when we can actually revisit the things we cast aside in the summer haze. Let the briskness and sharpness of the change in seasons wake you up to what truly makes you happy and get out and do it.


Apple & Blackberry Crumble 

Ingredients

For the crumble topping:

  • 120g plain flour
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 60g unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small pieces

For the fruit compote:

  • 300g Bramley apples
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 30g demerara sugar
  • 115g blackberries
  • ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
  • vanilla
  • big dollop of ice cream

Method

  1. Heat oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Tip the flour and sugar into a large bowl. Add the butter, then rub into the flour using your fingertips to make a light breadcrumb texture – try not to overwork it! Sprinkle the mixture evenly over a baking sheet and bake for 15 mins or until lightly coloured.
  2. Meanwhile, for the compote, peel, core and cut the apples into 2cm dice. Put the butter and sugar in a medium saucepan and melt together over a medium heat. Cook for 3 mins until the mixture turns to a light caramel. Stir in the apples and cook for 3 mins. Add the blackberries and cinnamon, and cook for 3 mins more. Cover, remove from the heat, then leave for 2-3 mins to continue cooking in the warmth of the pan.
  3. To serve, spoon the warm fruit into an ovenproof gratin dish, top with the crumble mix, then reheat in the oven for 5-10 mins. Serve with a big scoop of ice cream or a dollop of fresh cream – yum!