Sunday, 21 December 2014

Dreamland Welcomes You

When I was a child, Margate wasn't really called Margate. It was known as Dreamland. One right turn out of the station and that's where you'd find yourself, a big ferris wheel dominating the sea front, the incessant dings of arcade games and the "wooooooo!" of teenagers riding the scenic railway filling your ears as your mum slathered your legs in sun screen. Candy floss and Margate rock were dietary staples at Dreamland, as were metre-long sticks of sherbet and bubblegum flavour ice poles which would turn your tongue blue. For a 10 year old, it really was a dream land.

I'm sad to say, however, it has since become a nightmare. Dreamland closed its doors in 2003 and, over the following decade, Margate crept into dereliction. Caf├ęs once filled with rambunctious pre-teens were empty. The bright lights of the arcades were switched off. And Margate was left behind, stuck in a time that once was.

...Until 2011, when a new addition was made to the tired, ageing sea front: the Turner Contemporary. This rather imposing building has been a much-needed catalyst for the regeneration of Margate, and it's working. Lots of independent and antique shops have popped up (guide to follow in the New Year!), there are some very good restaurants (in fact, the owner of that fox terrier told us he's opening a fish restaurant in April), and people are visiting from afar - and for more than just a stick of rock and some cheap thrills.

Dreamland is also undergoing a facelift - the "Save Dreamland" campaign is working tirelessly to get the park up and running so that by next summer, this old seaside town will once again entice Londoners with its carefree, candy-coloured charm. So go on, stick a trip in your new 2015 diary - Dreamland welcomes you.

What I'm wearing  |  Yellow raincoat: Petit Bateau  |  Breton stripe dress: c/o Joules  |  Brogues and satchel: Vintage 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Engagement Survey

Every year at work they make us complete an “engagement survey” which is intended to show how satisfied / dissatisfied we all are with our jobs. I’m not entirely convinced that the survey’s methodology works, or that it leads to any tangible improvements, but I suppose it does give us an opportunity to vent about the lack of custard creams in the kitchen and the horrendous colour combination of this year’s Christmas decorations.

It got me thinking that perhaps I ought to run an engagement survey on Take Courage. This little blog has been going for almost four years now, and although I’d like to think that the Texan and I produce high-quality content on a regular-ish basis, the number of followers has remained fairly steady. I look at some blogs and see 50k followers and think, “what the hell are they doing that I’m not doing?”. Then I remember how lovely my readers are and how numbers aren’t all that important – but, equally, while that’s true, I do want Take Courage to grow. I wouldn't necessarily give up my day job to blog full-time, but I’m increasingly thinking that I could make something more out of all of this. What that “something” is, is a question that bewilders me every moment of every day that I’m stuck at my desk writing letters to claimant law firms.

So, I’m looking to you to tell me what you think about Take Courage. In 2015, is there something you’d like to see more of? Less of? Is there anything we could do better? I posed this question last night on Instagram and so far it looks like you want:

  • more DIYs and interiors 
  • more of Chutney (well, that is easily done!) 
  • weekend day trips 
  • more stories about my life, keeping it personal 
  • a monthly “ask the Texan” post to introduce a male opinion and voice 
  • a live “how to” session for readers in London 
  • a community 

I really want to commit myself to Take Courage in the coming year, but I need some direction and your advice – as much as I run this little space for me and my sanity, I also run it for you, and your opinion matters to me. Instead of Googling “how can I make my blog grow?” (which is pointless anyway, because I’m already doing all of the things that these articles suggest I do), I’m asking the people that count – my readers. Please don’t hold back, be honest, I won’t take offence!

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Mulled & Minced

Christmas is well underway in the Take Courage household! The Christmas tree is up and still intact, which is incredible given we have a 16 week old monster living in our flat...the presents have been bought (thank god for online shopping) and wrapped...the mince pies have been baked, and the smell of mulled wine is in the air (recipes below). And yesterday was Save the Children's Christmas Jumper Day! Did you remember to wear your festive jumper?! Luckily for me I was spared the mad dash to Primark and instead ordered my holly-adorned cardigan online from Beyond Retro* - the perfect outfit for baking mince pies and brewing up mulled wine, don't you think?

For the mulled wine, you will need  |  2 clementines  |  200g golden caster sugar  |  6 whole cloves  |  1 stick cinnamon  |  3 bay leaves  |  1 whole nutmeg  |  1 vanilla pod, halved lengthways |  3 star anise  |   2 bottles of red wine - thanks Harvey Nichols for the hamper!

Step 1: Peel large sections of peel from your clementines. Put the sugar in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the peel and squeeze in the clementine juice. Add the cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves and 10-12 gratings of nutmeg. Throw in your halved vanilla pod and stir in just enough red wine to cover the sugar.

Step 2: Let the mixture simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved into the red wine, then bring to the boil. Keep boiling for 4-5 minutes, until you've created a lovely thick syrup.

Step 3: When the syrup is ready, turn the heat down to low, add the star anise and the rest of the wine. Gently hear the wine for about 5 minutes. Then ladle into glasses and serve.

For the mince pies, you will need  |  Two packets of pre-made shortcrust pastry (yes, I know that's cheating but come on!)  |  A jar of mincemeat  |  A star cutter  |  One egg, beaten  |  A sprinkle of golden caster sugar

To be honest, if you need a recipe to make mince pies then perhaps you ought not to be in the kitchen at all! Roll out your pastry and cut out twelve circles. Place the circles in a lightly greased muffin tin. Add a spoonful of mincemeat in each, and top with a star-shape. Lightly brush a dod of beaten egg on top of each star, and sprinkle on some caster sugar. Bake in the oven at 200 degree fan / gas mark 7 for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

*Share your Christmas jumper for a chance to win a £250 shopping spree at Beyond Retro with the hashtag #xmasjumperstylechallenge! Competition ends tomorrow so you better get cracking!