Halloween often leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I’m never entirely sure what I should be doing. I’m a little mature for trick or treating, but I still like to take part in celebrations in some way. I like getting into the spooky “spirit” – no pun intended. So this year I have made a conscious effort to search out my perfect Halloween night.
Many of the cities around the country are holding ghost walks or tours, which delve into the murky past of some of Britain’s oldest and supposedly haunted areas. I love a good ghoulish story so I was heartened to find that so many events are happening. Here are some of my favourites.
The Trial of Dr. Knox (from the Burke and Hare story) at Hotel du Vin Edinburgh .
Malloween at the Liverpool Malmaison, complete with monstrous munchies and creepy cocktails.
The Clink Prison, London, is Britian’s oldest prison and was a place of torture and suffering. Tour it if you dare.
Witching hour at Oxford Castle, home to a 900 year old crypt and a curse.
And if you’re slightly more faint of heart or have children in tow, the Halloween Disco and Ghost Tour for kids in Edinburgh may be more your thing? And if you’re anywhere near Cambridge, pop into Hotel du Vin for some pumpkin cheesecake with cinnamon ice cream. The staff have a pumpkin carving contest between themselves and all the pumpkins will be displayed in the library and lit at night.
Perhaps you prefer to stay indoors and scare yourself with a movie.
Here are my top 5 films and top 5 dishes to get you into that Halloween state of mind.
- Halloween – setting the precedent for many horror films that followed. Still makes you shiver with the feeling that you’re being watched.
- Nightmare on Elm Street – Making the comfort of sleep horrifying
- The birds – maybe that’s where my fear of pigeons comes from!
- Final Destination series – turning every day happenings into terrifying events.
- Stephen King’s IT – Clowns. Need I say more?
- Pumpkin soup. After spending hours carving out a pumpkin, the least you can do with it is make a superb soup for those chilly nights.
- Spicy batwings. Chicken wings with a twist.
- Apple pie. All those bobbed apples have to go somewhere, right?
- Spaghetti. A worm inspired pasta main – not for the faint hearted.
- Risotto. A maggot like dish can easily be created here.
Do you agree? What’s your favourite scary movie and what will you be eating while watching it?
Whatever you choose to do, whether it’s dressing up as a pumpkin and dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, or hiding in darkened room with a scary film, be sure to have a stupendously spooky time.
Celebrations are in order. We’ve been given another chance to appreciate the sunshine and relax a little with the arrival of this beautiful Indian summer. So don’t shelve the barely worn shorts and sandals just yet, there’s still plenty of alfresco dining, Champagne afternoon teas on the terrace and maybe the odd barbecue still to be had.
If you were a little disappointed with the summer and missed out on that holiday feeling, think of this as a stroke of good fortune. Steal a moment at lunch to sit in the warm air. Take the opportunity after work to dine alfresco with friends over a bottle of chilled sparkling wine recommended by the sommelier. Set your alarm clock a little earlier to catch the most stunning sunrise to inspire you for the day ahead and grab a coffee and some you-time before nine.
It’s not often we get a second chance, so let’s grab this one with both hands and have a most wonderful Indian summer. After all, autumn is just around the corner.
I’m organised for once. I’ve bought my card in advance. Isn’t this one of those dates to remember, that unlike Mother’s Day, often gets forgotten? I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the macho versus emotions thing. Well this year, I want to make sure it and he gets remembered. He deserves to be put on a pedestal. It’s the perfect opportunity (or excuse) to have a family get-together over dinner. I’m thinking of surprising him with a whisky tasting too. A bit of quality time over some quality drams. A little treat is the least I can do. He makes me laugh. He’s always in my corner on any of my battles and my biggest supporter in any of my achievements. He nurtures the most amazing plants with the greenest of fingers. Has the innate ability to fix a car over the telephone line. And he’s always made the most perfect boiled eggs with soldiers. And that just skims the surface of my appreciation. So here’s a little reminder for those who feel the same as me. June 19th let’s fly the flag for fathers and for all the loans, taxis, advice, laughs and dippy boiled eggs, take some time out to say thank you.
I should do this more often, Father’s Day or not.
I’ve been asked a few times over a glass or two of vino, who would be the top ten people on my invite list to a dinner party hosted by moi. The rules are: they need to be famous, well known or historical and can be from any time/any era.
Now most of these don’t take much pondering over – I have a list as long as my arm I’d like to invite, full of the people that intrigue or inspire. The key is collating the most cunning mix of characters that, to me, bring something to the table. Here’s my list and why (in no particular order):
1. My first invite goes to the iconic Marilyn Monroe. A classic beauty and with poise rarely seen these days. I imagine she has a fair few secrets to tell.
2. Bill Murray – the sense of humour to break the ice and of all the comedic guests – he’s one of my favourites.
3. I’ve always had a great respect for Richard Branson – his business mind mixed with daring ‘live life to the full’ attitude inspires that anything is possible.
4. Mark Zuckerberg – A lucky find or a stroke of genius – whatever the answer, he’s current and happening – I’ll FB him his invite.
5. Seth MacFarlane – I’m obsessed with the work of this master of many trades: animator, writer, comedian, producer, actor, singer, voice actor and director. He makes me laugh a lot.
6. Banksy – Graffiti art with substance, humour, meaning and summons a reaction – I’d be interested to hear the conversation between him and my next guest – how art movements differ.
7. Van Gogh – a different emotional impact with his work than Banksy, but a reaction nonetheless.
8. Stephen Fry – for more witty humour and topical discussions – and an avid tweeter – I can perhaps poach some tips to multiply my following.
9. Elvis – The King (hopefully he won’t be leaving the building).
10. Coco Chanel – Ultimate style and inspiration, whether she meant to become the icon she is or not. Her story is one I’d like to hear first hand – as well as a few fashion tips.
So, picture the scene. We meet in the bar for cocktails and canapés first, for introductions and some jovial quips from Bill and Seth. Coco, Marilyn and I are having a giggle over the fashion faux pas in the bar. Then to the private dining room, a large table beautifully set for dinner. I make sure I’m sat in the middle. And as the dishes are served and the Champagne and conversation flows, my ideal dinner party inspires me: I must have more.
However, just in case Banksy and Zuckerberg don’t show face – I’ve got a few on the reserve list.
(Mary Quant, CS Lewis, James Dean)
One poignant moment comes and goes and we’re all asked – ‘Where were you?’, then shortly after comes another one. Life is a stream of decisions, moments and memories, so although you might not think it at the time, your choice of where to watch the Royal wedding, who to spend your 21st with, and what to wear on your graduation day for fear of tripping up on stage, are all decisions, that lead to moments, that lead to great memories that last a lifetime.
I’d like to say I cracked open the Champagne and celebrated my graduation with my friends and family, digging in to a good steak and swapping comments of thankfulness and hilarity that I was the one who tripped on the gown, but I sort of let the occasion go by without a sense of importance and without much appreciation to my family who had seen me through the long, long hours and mounds of drawing pads. Talks of drinks and meals with fellow graduates fell by the wayside and no-one really seemed too excited about yet another night at the Dog and Parrot.
In hindsight, if I were to do it again, I’d absolutely make more of an occasion of it all. I’d gather up all my loved ones and celebrate with them in style. Dressed in our finest I’d splash out and have the Champagne on ice, the chocolate strawberries in circulation and weather permitting, we’d be dining alfresco. I’d have definitely opted for the Champagne Afternoon Tea all round, which to me would have suited the occasion and the moment down to a ‘tea’, with delicate, delicious finger sandwiches, creamy scones (my father’s favourite) and sponge cake (my favourite).
Many, like me, may let the day drift by, or spend it in the ‘Dog’ without putting any great significance on the achievement. But having spent years of studying, striving and of test cramming, to set a platform for the future, I think a celebration with substance is the least the graduate and equally their nearest and dearest deserve.
And so, I’m gathering my family for that Champagne Afternoon Tea, even if I am a decade late, to toast to them, and to all those who support and nurture with love, humour and wise words. Thank you. To all those decisions, moments and memories. This time, no trip ups.
We’ve been given an extra day off. Another blissfully long, four day weekend. Thanks to the Royal Wedding, whether you’re big on bunting or burying your head under the duvet, for this extra day off, I am truly thankful. I for one, think it’s a day to celebrate. To be proud of being British and of all things British. We sometimes forget to rally our sense of spirit and be a part of something, especially after the recent tough times and impending ‘double-dip’.
This is a happy event, that will go down in history and that as a country we kind of need to lift that spirit again. You may be sick as a chip of seeing it on the news, but I say let’s dig out those smart get ups and have something to talk about when we inevitably get asked when back at work ‘Where were you on Friday?’ And let’s face it, there’s not many occasions I can get away with my blue, spotted, heart shaped fascinator – but I’m sure this is one of them.
So, I’ll have my fingers crossed and shades at the ready for the sun to stick around. I’ll be gathering my nearest and dearest together in their most glorious finery, and instead of my usual glass of Pinot, I’ll be trying out some of the English wine and fizz everyone’s talking about. They sound like they’re going to be as big as the wedding itself this year. British wines and bubbly they tell me, are becoming a big hit for 2011 and beyond. as trends change and our summers are a few days longer. I think it would be rude not to give them a whirl. And they are of course being served at the Royal Wedding itself, so if it’s good enough for the happy couple… The Sommelier at Hotel du Vin & Bistro suggested I try a Balfour Brut Rosé or a Nannette’s English Rosé both from Hush Heath Estate in Kent, so I’ll be ordering a couple of those.
Once we’ve watched the celebration on TV or big screen and the vows have been made, being a Friday off and all, I know I won’t want the moment to end there. I’m never the first one to leave anything, so I’m thinking how quintessential a way to continue the afternoon than with an afternoon tea – a Champagne one of course. I can’t not have cake at a wedding…..any excuse. My favourite cake at that, light, fluffy, jam and cream filled, a nod to the British baking tradition, the Victoria Sponge. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Before the sweet I also can’t resist my favourite crust free sandwiches. I’m hoping for salmon, cucumber and cream cheese.
I’m not having my own street party as I live city centre and the main road might prove tricky to block off – so I’m heading for my local Hotel du Vin. That way I have the option of indoors or al fresco and they’ll definitely have all the treats I’m hankering for to save me attempting them at home – minus the cake mix plastered walls! – so I’d like to be treated like Royalty this weekend and be served wine and cakes for no other reason than I’m British.
You may choose to join me and be waited on, or you may fancy trying some of these specially created recipes below from Keith Shearer, Executive Chef at Hotel du Vin, for your own street party or soiré at home. Here’s to a happy Friday wherever you are. Whatever you choose to do, I choose to celebrate with loved ones. It’s not often we get a free Friday together.
Where will you be?
Victoria Sandwich cake
200gm caster sugar
200gm self raising flour
1tsp baking powder
Cream butter and sugar together,
Add eggs one at a time and mix till well creamed,
Add sieved flour and baking powder,
Mix till a smooth batter is achieved,
Pour into a greased lined cake tin bake at 180c,
Bake for 20mins till well risen and firm to the touch,
Leave to cool split through the middle spread with strawberry jam (fresh whipped cream or butter cream optional),
Replace the top and dust with icing sugar
250gm strong white flour
500gm plain flour
45gm baking powder
500ml butter milk
Rub butter through dry ingredients until fine crumbs are achieved,
Add buttermilk and mix to combine, do not over mix,
Roll out to one inch thickness and cut out circular shapes,
Egg wash the top (careful not to get any egg wash on sides of scone or it will stop them rising),
Bake at 210c until well risen and golden brown,
Serve with clotted cream and strawberry jam
1lb ripe bananas
1lb caster sugar
4 whole eggs
8oz melted butter
1lb plain flour
1 1/2 oz baking powder
In a machine bowl whisk bananas and sugar together,
Add eggs oil and melted butter,
Sieve flour and baking powder together,
Fold into banana mixture,
Pour into greased and lined 1lb loaf tins scale at 400gm,
Bake at 180c for 30-40 mins
1125gm strong white flour
Lightly cream butter and sugar together,
Add eggs slowly until well incorporated,
Add flour until just combined,
Reserve till needed,
Roll out 3-4 mm thick line small tart cases bake blind till fully baked leave to cool,
Brush melted chocolate into the tart case
1 vanilla pod split and scraped
6 egg yolks
125gm caster sugar
30gm plain flour
15gm corn flour
Heat milk with vanilla pod,
Whisk caster sugar and egg yolks together,
With the flour and corn flour,
Add hot milk to egg mix return to stove cook out,
Chill reserve till needed, fold in semi-whipped cream to soften
Fill tart shells with pastry cream, decorate with seasonal fruit – nice combination of colours,
Finish off with a clear pastry glaze on top, set removes drips,
Run toasted desiccated coconut round the edge to finish.
Recipes by Keith Shearer, Executive Chef at Hotel du Vin & Bistro
I can’t function without a strong brew the minute I open my eyes – but I must have it in a tea cup with a saucer. Unbelievably I’m a novice and have only once ventured into the world of afternoon teas, and that occasion was for a particular charity event at which we had to dress in a 20’s to 40′s theme and have our pictures taken in sepia. Thankfully my wardrobe’s full of items from every era and always a pair of red Mary Janes, so I was pretty well suited and this was the ideal way to spend the afternoon for me. I enjoyed it thoroughly, leaving me with the one thought that ‘I must do this more often’.
Other than this, my eclectic collection of retro cups and saucers continues to take over my kitchen, coupled with my mission to bake the perfect jam sponge. But until recently, I had nowhere that fully accommodated my desire for cake and tea served in exactly the right way. Attention to detail is the most important ingredient of a well created afternoon tea.