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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.

What Not To Worry About #44

What Not To Worry About #44

Happy Tuesday pals!! It’s been a chilly few days here in Belfast with the snow arriving and characteristically playing havoc with everyone’s lives. I secretly love how people suddenly lose the ability to talk about anything other than the snow and each conversation includes a rotation of the following:

“Did you get snow where you are?” – My Mum

“Mind those roads” – My Dad

“Traffic was mental this morning!” – My colleagues

“Thon road is like an ice rink!” – My country friends

“It’s fairly coming down out there” – My boyfriend

“It gives it to snow all night!” – My little sister

“Ye daren’t leave the house if this carries on…” – Me

Everyone I know becomes an expert meteorologist overnight that can judge the severity of the snow based on the shade of white the clouds turn. While this can be a little irritating (especially when the drama can reach apocalyptic heights – it has snowed before people!), the sense of excitement can be contagious and can encourage festive magic to spread across to even the Scroogiest of Scrooges. On Friday it felt perfectly acceptable to blast Christmas music all day long (the office was practically empty anyway!) as we spent most of the day with our noses pressed up against the windows gazing up at the torrent of snowflakes.

On Saturday we woke up to a blanket of white and I was practically giddy as we drove down to Murlough Bay to walk along a snowy beach. The air was icy but it felt wonderful to walk through the dunes with our coats wrapped up to our chins, spying a few snowmen along the way before reaching the sand. We walked along the waterline, taking pictures of the beach and the snow-capped Mourne mountains towering above us while we still had sensation in our fingers. Feeling thoroughly frozen, we sought refuge in Mourne Seafood Bar in Dundrum to warm our toes and our bellies. We sat beside the log burner which thawed us out in no time and I ordered seafood chowder which, although advertised as a starter, stuffed me to the brim along with the pint of Guinness I washed it down with.

I begged Andrew to take us the scenic route through the mountains to Armagh where we were headed to catch up with family. He eventually relented under the agreement that I would pay for any damage if he was to slide right off the mountain (another snow drama queen). It was worth the risk because it was a winter wonderland up there. Spelga Dam looked like something from a Christmas card with the evergreens dusted with snow alongside the water which was turning gold as the sun set over the mountain. Who knew Ireland could resemble a Nordic paradise?

On Sunday there was more snow and more pictures and more delight from me as I watched the sunrise from the country lane by Andrew’s parents’ house (who are always so dumbfounded by my glee at the scenic views they are spoiled with). After a walk with friends, I headed to Downpatrick for an afternoon of pure magic. I have spoken about Mel in the blog before and the Assembly Gatherings she organises for the creative women who are craving connections with other like-minded souls. I attended my first Gathering back in February and it filled me up with so much inspiration I felt capable of just about anything.

This Gathering was for the festive season and was focused on finding time for ourselves before the whirlwind of Christmas consumes our lives completely. We were told to gather in the hills outside of Downpatrick at Laura Bayley’s farmstead where the roads were just a little bit dicey in my new wee Polo! After a white-knuckled drive I arrived when everyone was just sitting down to dine in Laura’s stone barn that had been beautifully styled by Grace & Saviour (an Instagrammer’s dream!). We ate the most delicious organic food cooked by Laura while I forged connections with the new faces around me (and put faces to Instagram handles!).

After being stuffed with amazing food, we shuffled in to another room in the barn where we learned about organic chocolate from the lovely women of Nearnógs. We learned how to identify tastes within chocolate and were even given some truffle balls to take home with us which we rolled in our favourite flavouring – yum!

Having been well educated in deliciousness, we braved the bitter cold to go out to the nearby wood to forage for materials to make our own wreaths – you know I love to make a wreath! Janice from Gathered Threads showed us the best pieces to search for while the sky above us turned a crimson pink and the light started to fade. We had our very own workshop to work in after the sun went down, turning a bunch of ferns and evergreens in to something beautiful (if a little rustic in my case!).

As the temperature plummeted we gathered around the firepit and drank hot chocolate to keep warm. There was a gentle murmur of shared gratitude amongst the group as if we all felt the weight of such a golden afternoon and weren’t quite ready to let it go. Eventually we had to head on home to save us losing toes and fingers but I am still feeling the weight of that afternoon and have been carrying it around with me to keep me going during this crazy season.

The wreath is hanging above the fireplace too 🙂

And here’s a few worries I am letting go of this week:

Getting frustrated at Andrew when he is sick – I have zero sympathy when it comes to colds and flus but it turns out some guy actually went out and conducted a study to actually prove that men suffer worse than women when they have flus! I’m still dubious but maybe I should be a little kinder when it comes to sickness, just in case.

Having it all figured out – there is so much pressure to know exactly where you are meant to be going and what you’re meant to be doing but in reality a lot of us are winging it most of the time. What’s encouraging is to know that even some of our personal idols feel the exact same which was why I just loved reading this article. Joanna Goddard is someone who I have looked up to since I started reading her blog Cup of Jo a couple of years ago and it was great to know she’s as personable in real life as she is through her words.

Blue Planet – the series finished last week and it ended with a pretty ominous message that the plastic crisis is severely affecting the world’s oceans and all that live there. This is a very real problem that affects all of us but we can do something, even little things to help improve the future of the world’s oceans. Find a few tips here if you want to find out how you can help too.

Not reading enough books by women – I have read a lot more books written by men than women; not because I prefer the words of male authors but because it is so much easier for a male to be published than female. John Boyne wrote a great article on why he thinks women are better writers than men and how often he encounters men who write for the prizes rather than for the connection with the reader.

Not staying in a tree house – sometimes you just want to run away and live in a treehouse and live up high above the ground. Or even just pay a load of money to stay in a fancy adult version! Check this piece out for some serious treehouse-envy.

Have a great week! 

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta

Not so long ago a friend of mine took me to a secret woodland that lay hidden from the walkers of the nearby park. We followed an indiscriminate path that suddenly opened up in to a cathedral of trees and a carpet of bluebells and wild garlic. The scent was incredible (and my sense of smell is shocking) but it was the colours that moved me the most. It was as if the saturation was turned up wherever I looked as the sun streamed through the birch trees.

 

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We were there to forage for wild garlic before we reached the end of it’s peak season. I’d been wanting to start foraging for food for a while and wild garlic was a good place to start since it’s an easy substitute for other fresh herbs like basil. It’s also incredibly simple to find since you’ll find the stuff in abundance in pretty much every woodland. Luckily Rebecca (an extremely talented photographer/blogger who took all of these amazing woodland photos you see in this post) knew the perfect patch that was off the beaten path and on a slope which meant there was little human or animal footfall which makes it a little nicer to eat!

 

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I was planning on using the leaves in my recipe but you can add the flowers to salads to save any waste. Young leaves are the tastiest so I picked leaves with flowers that were newly opened or hadn’t quite opened yet. There was so much to choose from that I came away with a basketful – plenty to use for my pasta recipe!

 

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You can use the leaves in so many different ways; pesto, dip, soup, you name it. I chose to reinvent a favourite pasta dish that I cook by introducing a few cupful of leaves hoping that it might elevate it a little. It definitely did the trick! There was more of a kick of flavour (I used kale in previous recipes) and the smell when cooking was delicious. Cooking with ingredients that I hand-picked made it a little more special and I can’t wait to head out and collect more before the season finishes in a few weeks.

 

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I would recommend this dish for one of those spring evenings that has a chill in the air. We know this kind of evening well in Ireland; after a full day of sun the temperature suddenly drops and we find ourselves reaching for the winter blankets again. It’s warm, filling and a little bit indulgent but using foraged ingredients makes it a little less shameful!

 

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Happy foraging!!


Wild Garlic Chicken Pasta 

Feeds 2 – 3 people – depending how hungry you are! 

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 x chicken breasts, diced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 1/2 cups penne pasta
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 cups of chopped wild garlic leaves
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp double cream
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method:

  1. Heat olive oil in a pan over a medium heat
  2. Add onion and stir for about 3 minutes
  3. Add chicken and stir until cooked all over
  4. Stir in garlic and cook for an additional minute
  5. Add uncooked pasta, chicken stock, water, wild garlic and bring to boil
  6. Stir and bring to boil, then reduce to a lower heat, cover and leave to simmer for just over 20 minutes
  7. When all liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat and stir in cheese, double cream and lemon juice
  8. Serve with crusty bread

 

 

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