This time of year is hands down, my favourite and my best. I positively long for Autumn through the summer months and those first glimpses of the change of season - leaves slowly turning a tarnished orange, woodsmoke lingering in the weekend air and wrapped-up walkers trooping past our door - make my heart sing.
Fortunately, we live a stone's throw from a beautiful woodland, complete with poo-sticks bridge access, a dip for sliding down and pheasants and wildlife galore, so this weekend, buoyed by a 5.30am sleepover start, we decided a mid-morning restorative trip to the woods for hot chocolate and brownies was in order.
Time spent in the woods is never wasted time. Whilst the boys played, I leant against a tree trunk and watched a red kite in a hunting loop above me as orange and chestnut-coloured leaves fell to the ground. It's a wonderful place and one I shall miss when we move.
We also found a little door in a tree trunk on our way home. This term, Xav's teacher 'found' a tiny door in the skirting board of their classroom and all manner of creative writing and art projects have sprung from its discovery. Happening upon a similar door in our woods sparked a wonderful chat on the way home about a possible (and very hard-working) mouse who had installed a moving walkway from his woodland home, round many curving underground bends to reach their classroom...
And in case you're in need of restorative brownies, this is my all-time favourite, ridiculously simple recipe, from the original queen of baking herself, Mary Berry. Its from one of her books that's so old, it pre-dates wonderful food photography. Unfortunately, I don't have a photograph of my own as they're always scoffed heartily as soon as they're made.
The gooiest chocolate brownies:
275g softened margarine
375g caster sugar
4 eggs (I use large organic)
75g cocoa powder (I use Green & Blacks)
100g self-raising flour
100g milk chocolate chips (I use Dr Oetker)
A greased traybake or roasting tin lined with baking parchment, pressed into the corners carefully to leave no pesky folds and an oven preheated to 180 degrees celsius (or gas mark 4).
1. Measure all the ingredients into a large bowl and mix until they're evenly blended.
2. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth it in to the corners and level the top.
3. Bake for 40-45 minutes in the middle of the oven until the brownies have a crusty top and spring back when you gently press the surface. You can covet them loosely with foil for the last ten minutes if the mixture is browning too much.
4. Allow the brownies to cool in the tin then lift them out, still in the parchment and dust with icing sugar. Then peel back the parchment and cut into 24 brownies. They can be stored in an airtight tin for up to a week but they don't ever tend to last that long in our house.