I like to think of myself as an autumn person, much happier putting on a chunky sweater and tights than a summer dress (even if I have a nice collection of the latter). There's no longer any danger of sweaty nights and the days are often golden and filled with colours. Winter doesn't affect me like some people who feel the cold terribly and get depressed by the dark mornings and short days but every now and then I get a touch of the blues, made worse by miserable grey skies and heavy rain. With that in mind, I've decided to put together a list of things that bring a smile to my face and help me get through times when everything seems as bleak as the wind blowing outside.
Some books are simply better for reading in winter and having a good book or two on the go makes staying in seem less bad. Reading Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell always make me feel as if I'm sitting curled up in some country house by a roaring fire, even if the reality is a little less charming. Persuasion has the wistful melancholy of an autumn afternoon and its golden leaves and last year, Cranford had me laughing out loud.
In our family, we spend our Christmas evenings selecting our favourite texts and reading them aloud. It's so much fun so if you don't live alone, why not give it a try? Diaries like those Pepys are be great orBoswell's Life of Doctor Johnson or some correspondence. Or how about some classic ghost stories like M.R James or Wilkie Collins?
2. Baking with fruit and spices
The kitchen is my favourite room to spend time in but it's unfortunately also the coldest with only a tiny radiator and thin windows and a cold draft. Switching the oven on is a necessary step, plus what could be better than having an apartment filled with the smell of chocolate cake, cinammon or baked apples? In a few weeks' time I'll be preparing my yearly batch of Plätzchen or Christmas cookies to give to my friends. This year though I'd also like to try this Panforte recipe and Julia's Kardemummabullar. In the meantime, there's the stem ginger shortbread recipe at the end of this post.
Stem ginger shortbread
Even if I can never resist a pretty summer dress, secretly I'm always looking forward to the day when the thick jumpers come back. I'm happy to say that fair isle patterned ones are a key trend this season. I covet this one from Gudrun and Gudrun but sadly not the price tag but there are plenty of high street alternatives. I've just ordered this one from Esprit, along with this knitted dress and this jumper from H&M. Otherwise, I'll be wearing my Muji hat from last year on frosty mornings and slipping on the thick socks in the evenings. My best investment recently has been a pair of Sandra Juto wristworms which make it possible for me to write, work on the computer and read while keeping my hands warm.
3. Kitchen stories
One of my favourite films which I found thanks to Julia and wrote about in more detail here. A story about a Swedish man from a home research institute sent to investigate the kitchen habits of single Norwegian men. Funny, touching and quirky, it's perfect for winter viewing.
4. TV series
There are some things you should know about me; apart from pyjamas and sportswear, I don't own any trousers, I have never had a washing machine and I don't have a TV. Recently though, I've discovered the joys of television series on DVD, the satisfaction of viewing something over several weeks, that sometimes I only feel like watching something for a hour or 30 minutes, rather than a whole film. Last summer I once again fell in love with Brideshead Revisited, nostalgic for a Britain of a different time, and the autumn evenings have been devoted to Fortunes of War with the amazingly young Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. Classic comedies like Frasier or Open All Hours remind me of Friday nights spent glued to the television as a teenager when I had a crush on Niles and wondered if Granville would ever find a girlfriend while the House of Elliott takes me back to Sunday teatime watching it with crumpets and boiled eggs, dreaming of having Evie's style.
Right now though my waking hours are largely devoted to thinking about the Killing, A Danish series revolving around a single case and a stubborn female detective with a black and white jumper I'm also obsessed with. No silly car chases, explosions or glamourous police officers. It's tough limiting myself to just two episodes a week.
5. Woody Allen films
Whenever I feel the winter blues or the mean reds coming on, I reach for a film in my Woody Allen collection. Somehow they make you feel that it's Friday evening even on a grim Monday and that everything is all right with the world. In Woody Allen films there's always something good at the cinema, people burst into song or stroll along the Seine. There are flea markets to visit, restaurants that stay open all night and most of all, New York with jazz music.
6. Beauty products
As a teenager I was an avid reader of fashion and beauty magazines, saving for weeks to buy Lancôme skincare and Clarins make-up. I've since become disenchanted with the whole industry but still rely on a few key products, especially in winter. I suffer from rosacea on my face and eczema on my hands (it's not as bad as it sounds) so need gentle, effective and most of all, unperfumed products. For my face I wouldn't be without my Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish hot cloth cleanser complete with muslin cloth or Simple Hydro Boost cream for dehydrated skin. Sali Hughes has a brilliant beauty column in the Guardian and following her recommendations, I threw away my tins of Vaseline and bought a dinky little tube of Clinique Superbalm. For hands, Body Shop Almond Hand and Nail Cream or L'Occitane Shea Butter hand cream are wonderful.
7. Winter walks
It seems a strange thing to suggest a walk when it's freezing cold outside but often when I'm feeling down, a brisk stroll through the park helps me collect my thoughts. The days are shorter but the light can be amazing. On Christmas Day, there's no feeling like it as we put on our coats, boots and scarves and set out down frozen lanes, silent for once. In Berlin, I keep seeing posters for great houses and palaces in Brandenburg. A walk through fresh snow around Schloss Rheinsberg below would be wonderful.
If anything can make you grateful for that chill in the air, it's a comforting bowl of hot soup. Except for summer, I eat it almost every evening, dipping into Lindsey Bareham's A Celebration of Soup or my other cookbooks for inspiration. On warmer days, I tend to prepare clearer, lighter soups but now is the time for hot, thick ones, with strong cheddar grated on top and a piece of dark, crusty bread. I'm planning a series on soups, beginning with the cauliflower one below in the next post.
9. Films/ exhibitions
When I'm not brave enough to face the great outdoors, I head for an afternoon screening at the cinema which still makes me feel as if I'm skipping school. A season of musicals is beginning at the British Film Institute very soon which I'd love to see and in Berlin, I'm looking forward to seeing Meek's Cutoff, the new Paolo Sorrentino film, Polanski's Carnage and perhaps rewatching the latest Jane Eyre because of its Derbyshire landscapes and wonderful performances.
In Berlin there's still time to catch the Hokusai and Faces of the Renaissance exhibitions if you can face the crowds but I preferred to go upstairs in the Gropius Bau to look at the photos by Eugene Smith. The Museum of Photography is always worth returning to and I'm dying to see those Helmut Newton Polaroids. In London, if you can, it's really worth going to see the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy, along with the Soviet Art and Architecture one. At Somerset House there will soon be ice skating but what I'd most love to see would be these exquisite photos of Venice, like the one below. If you can, will you go there for me?
Apologies for the rather rambling post but then I like so many different things. Let me know what brings you comfort through the winter.
Stem ginger shortbread (from Linda Collister's The Great British Bake Off)
200g soft unsalted butter
100g caster sugar, plus some extra to sprinkle on top
240g white spelt flour, or 260g plain flour if you prefer
40g rice flour, ground rice or cornflour (I used the third)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
a pinch of salt
50g chopped glacé ginger
1-2 baking sheets, greased
1. Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer until creamy. Pour in the sugar and cream again until light and smooth.
2. Sift the flour, rice flour or cornflour, ground ginger and salt into the bowl. Add the chopped ginger and using your hands, combine all ingredients until the mixture can be formed into a ball. Roll the dough into a log shape, wrap in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge for around 20-30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F. Remove the dough from the fridge and using a sharp knife, slice 20 evenly thick rounds. Place them slightly apart on the baking sheet.
3. Bake the biscuits for approximately 20 minutes or until firm but not coloured. Take them out of the oven and sprinkle a little caster sugar over them. Leave to crisp up for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring them to a wire rack to cool. They keep really well for up to a week in an airtight container, if you can make them last that long!
If ginger isn't your thing, you can leave out the glacé ginger and ground spice and use 50g chopped dark chocolate instead, skipping the caster sugar sprinkled on top. 50g of chopped, unsalted pistachios would also be a great alternative.