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28 posts from February 2012

29 February 2012

That Was The Week That Was

 

Last week was a wintry week of knitting, hotpot, pancakes and new sweaters, with a haircut, a pedicure and some new pencils thrown in.

 

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On the 1st January I started posting daily photos to Instagram. I’m @mirrormirroxx. Come and be my friend.

   

28 February 2012

What Do You Think? – Open Kitchen Shelves

 

One of the projects we’ve got lined up for this year is remodelling our horrible downstairs kitchen. 

The good news is that we have two kitchens in this house.  The bad news is that they’re each as ugly as each other – the downstairs one is a relic from the seventies, complete with crumbling cabinets, laminate countertops, ancient linoleum, probably an asbestos problem. I’ll show you pictures one day when I’m feeling especially mean.

I’m starting to consider design ideas and am very tempted to include lots of open shelves. They look good and of course are WAY cheaper than cabinets. openkitchenshelves

From a gorgeous house tour on Design Sponge. My kitchen is NEVER this neat..

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I’m loving these open steel shelves shown in last month’s Livingetc. I suspect they only look this good though, because they’re carrying half a ton of gorgeous vintage tea plates and spoons.

 

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Source unknown.  Love the juxtapostion of white shelves with dark wood counter tops.

 

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I could never keep shelves as tidy and uncluttered as these. From a this tour on Houzz.

 

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It would be nice to have a least some of my two hundred and fifty-odd cookbooks on display. From The Kitchn.

 

I am, however, intrigued to know what open shelves are like to live with.  How easy is it to keep everything clean?  Do you have to go out and buy tons of fancy plates and crockery to make them look good?  (This is not necessarily a problem).  Is it easy to keep them tidy or do they end up with piles of stuff just shoved on them? What are your tips and tricks for keeping them organised?

Tell me all your deepest, darkest, most sordid secrets.  No one reads this blog anyway.

 

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The above is from the Seattle house of the architects we’re hoping to use, which I previously blogged about here.

 

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This pantry makes my inner Martha squee with delight.  However I have more chance of flying to the moon than achieving such perfection. From here.

   

Separated At Birth: Billy Crystal Oscars 2012

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Finally, as Brit, it warmed the cockles of my heart to see Her Majesty take a break from her busy year of Diamond Jubilee festivities to bring her own special magic to the Oscars ceremony.

 (And yes, I do know Billy Crystal isn’t gay, but that would have spoiled the joke. And besides, I still have very fond memories of him as Jody in Soap).

   

Nuns on the Carpet: Gwyneth Paltrow and Shailene Woodley Oscars 2012

 

A couple more Oscars posts I think and then we’ll get back to talking about knitting.

What was with all the nuns on the Oscars red carpet? Are they doing a remake of the Sound of Music or something?

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Gwyneth went all Mother Superior on us – an utterly gorgeous dress though she’s not a good enough actress to make the born again virgin stuff convincing.

While Shailene Woodley turned up as the demure young penitent.

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Gloriously, and rather randomly there was even a real nun walking the carpet.  Mother Dolores is a former co-star of Elvis’ who now stars in a documentary about her life as a nun.

 

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And speaking of the Sound of Music there were huge cheers at our Oscar party when Captain von Trapp FINALLY received his Oscar – a moment spoiled only by his refusal to lead the auditorium in a rousing chorus of ‘Edelweiss’.

   

Dressing in Adversity: Vicky Beckham, Melissa McCarthy, Anne Sophie Bion Oscars 2012

 

(With honourable mentions to Princess Charlene and Gwen Stefani).

Appalling things obviously happened to the original dresses the following three ladies were going to wear, but adversity couldn’t dampen their determination to attend as they fashioned replacements out of stuff they had lying about round the house.

Fortunately Vicky Beckham is tiny enough to fit into one of David's knee bandages without any need for alterations.

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Melissa McCarthy did extraordinary things with waxed paper lunch bags, unbleached of course for added eco-friendliness.

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Anne Sophie Bion resorted to that old friend the bin liner (trashbag if you must) and didn’t even try to disguise it. She’d be terrible on Project Runway.

 

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Princess Charlene must have suffered some sort of awful accident as she made yet another attempt to escape her loveless marriage, but she still made it to the ceremony while wearing a neck brace.

 

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And poor, poor Gwen Stefani clearly had a terrible accident with the ketchup bottle at the Vanity Fair party itself but still soldiered womanfully on.

   

27 February 2012

Separated at Birth: Jane Seymour, Natalie Portman, Mena Suvari Oscars 2012

 

Every year many starlets model themselves on other, more successful, movie stars, hoping that a little of the magic will rub off on them.

 

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Mena Suvari covers as many bases as she can by copying both a cartoon character AND a bird.

 

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Separated At Birth: Michelle Williams and Angelina Jolie

 

Some of the ladies took their inspiration from further afield.  Both Michelle Williams and Angelina Jolie decided to channel icons of 19th century British literature.

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It sort of doesn’t matter what Michelle wears, while she keeps with that gamine cut she will always be Oliver to me.

Angelina, poor girl, tried at every opportunity to divert attention from the wooden stump under her black velvet gown. Seriously, what was she thinking with all that ridiculous posing? Please tell me she was having a laugh.

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Separated At Birth: Heidi Klum and Anna Faris Oscars 2012

 

Many ladies of course take their inspiration from birds for their Oscars attire.

Heidi Klum would be all kinds of useful if you were trapped in a coal mine.

 

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While Anna Faris had struggled her way through an oil slick to be with us.

 

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Unfortunately for Anna, Rose Byrne did oilslick black sequins much better than she did.

   

Separated at Birth: Jennifer Lopez and Rooney Mara Oscars 2012

 

Yay it’s that time of year again, when we break off from the normal serious business of this blog and have fun at the Oscars.

First up, two ladies who this year took inspiration from the kitchen.

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Jennifer Lopez decided to pay homage to the great British baking revival by coming as a cottage loaf, albeit one who needed who needed stronger tit tape.

Whereas Rooney Mara clearly had a team of Michelin-starred waiters fussing over her bosoms for days.

 

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26 February 2012

Child’s Own Studio

 

So there’s this adorably crazy lady out there who custom makes soft toys for kids based on their own drawings, which are totally and utterly and completely awesome.  And I desperately want one for the Minx.

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The only problem is that she can only make four toys a week, has a waiting list as long her arm (well, duh!) and is so swamped she’s not taking any new commissions until she’s found some other softie makers to help her. So if that’s you, please contact her pronto quick.

If it’s not you and you just want to commission one of her toys, please forget you ever saw this post. At least until the Minx and I are on the list.

 

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Child’s Own Studio can be contacted here.

 

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Are you watching the Oscars tomorrow?  I’m going to an Oscars party, and hoping there’ll be enough crazy dresses for some ‘Separated at Birth’ posts on Monday.  Have fun and keep your fingers crossed!

   

23 February 2012

I Heart Blogshop

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It’s taken me ages to put together my Blogshop review, mostly because I thought I ought to use some Photoshop to put it together and Photoshop still takes me an agonisingly long time. But the fact that I can do any Photoshop at all is a testament to the teaching skills of graphic designer and blogger extraordinaire Bri Emery and commercial photographer Angela Kohler, who together are the team who make Blogshop happen.

This workshop is billed as ‘where blogging and Photoshop totally make out’ and if you write any sort of visual blog, you’ll find the skills you learn here invaluable – from putting together photospreads and mood boards, to designing blog headers and social media buttons, to creating animated gifs and retouching photos (which is taught using professional photo portraits of the participants, taken by Angela). It’s the only course out then which focuses on Photoshop from the perspective of bloggers, so while it’s expensive it is so, so worth it.

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It was great to meet up again with some groovy local bloggers - Cassandra from Coco+Kelley who hosted the whole event, Erin from Apartment 34 and the inimitable Uncle Beefy, who made us some utterly delicious churros (of which more hopefully next week).  It was also a chance to make some new friends – Jennifer from Art & Lair, Lisa from With Style & Grace, Alisa from Alisa’s Garden and Shannon from Happiness Is… (who both sat at my table and were incredibly patient with my thousands of questions).

The amazing space (that turquoise wall is to die for) is the Fred Wildlife Refuge, a fabulous photography studio and event space on Seattle’s Capitol Hill; with all the props and accessories being provided by Scout Vintage Rentals. And I’ve already told you about the great goodie bag

The one downside, and this is just a very personal opinion, is that, although the course is billed as being for beginners, it’s really quite challenging if you’re as much of a Photoshop ignoramus as I was.  Bri and Angela and their two interns were patience personified, but I would have got more out of the course if I had previously been familiar with the layout and the buttons and the concept of layers etc.  I feel like I do understand a lot of the basics now, but I’ve looked at the notes for some of the more advanced techniques we were shown, such as masking, and I am still deeply confuzzled.

 

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But we’ll see, you may have noticed me using Photoshop in some previous posts and hopefully you’ll see things getting prettier round here over the next week or two. Just promise me that if you’re a complete Photoshop beginner and are thinking of doing this course that you’ll have a little play to familiarise yourself with the program first. This set of beginners’ tutorials from Mashable looks like it would be a great place to start .

Photoshop experts out there, how did you learn?  Are there any books, courses or online tutorials you can recommend? I really want to get this thing LICKED.

 

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On a final shallow note, Bri is just the most ridiculously photogenic person EVAH, thanks to her translucently pale skin, shock of platinum hair and the cute bright colours she wears.  Here she is with Jennifer from Trophy Cupcakes, who was here to do the course and also injected cupcakes and gift cards into the proceedings. .

Oh, and I was just about to hit ‘publish’ when I found this video of the Seattle workshop on the Blogshop page.  See if you can spot me peering in deep confusion at my screen (the silhouette above will give you a clue) or, if you’re really quick, the shot of me in a long ginger wig (additional clue below).

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BLOGSHOP - Seattle from GMP on Vimeo.

   

21 February 2012

Mary Katrantzou for TOPSHOP

 

Well I tried but all that was left on the website was a scarf and a pair of floral leggings and I think floral leggings are a bit too mutton-dressed-as-lamb even for me. 

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I’ve blogged about my love for Greek designer Mary Katrantzou before, so I was thrilled to learn that she was producing a limited edition capsule collection of nine pieces for TopShop.  And my goodness they’re beautiful and so surprisingly WEARABLE, particularly the figure-skimming silk tunic and blouse. 

I’ve started stalking eBay, but the prices are absolutely cray-cray. Please TopShop make some more!

Did anyone out there get any pieces?  Are they as lovely as they look?

   

Yeah, Our Cats are Dorks – Cat Bibs

 

I posted this pic of the cats to my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feeds yesterday and got loads of questions back about the dorky bibs I make them wear, which I realise I’ve never properly showed to you.

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We started letting the cats outside last year when they were about six months old and it soon became apparent that between the two of them they are fabulous birders. Since, as you know, I have a bird phobia, you can imagine how much I was enjoying them bringing back tiny grey birds with their heads ripped off.  And I don’t think the birds were enjoying it very much either.

Deeply traumatised, I searched high and low online to see what could be done to stop them hunting and most websites informed me that it was an occupational hazard of cat ownership and that there was nothing I could do. 

Until I came upon www.catgoods.com – which sells thin neoprene bibs, which apparently stop cats from catching birds by slightly hindering the overarm pouncing action and disrupting the precise timing they need to catch their prey.

Since I was at the end of my tether I decided to give them a try.  And lo and behold they really do work.  Over the last six months or so I think they’ve only managed to catch one bird between them while wearing their bibs (despite still being quite successful hunters when they go out bibless). 

The bibs don’t seem to stop the cats doing anything else; they can still go in and out of the cat flap, climb trees and fences like crazy and jump prodigious heights with them on.  And after the first few goes, they didn’t seem to mind wearing them at all, napping with them, eating with them and even grooming them.  They do get a bit muddy in the Seattle rain, but, being neoprene, we just rinse them under the tap at night. I like that they make the cats more visible to traffic too, and they’re certainly good for striking up conversations with the neighbours.  All in all, they have transformed my cat-owning life and probably saved the lives of dozens of birds. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

I’m writing this post as a public service announcement to help anyone who’s having the same trouble as us with prolific bird hunting.  I would prefer it if we didn’t get into a conversation about indoor v. outdoor cats.  I know letting cats outdoors is frowned on in the US, but we live on a VERY quiet urban street and our house backs onto a bunch of well-tended gardens. They have had all their outdoor vaccines and are brought in just before sundown and not let out until sunrise. The cats ADORE being outside, they even go out in the snow, and if you saw them you’d understand that I could no more keep them in than keep Nicole Kidman off Botox.

20 February 2012

That Was the Week That Was

 

Last week was an Instagram week of hearts and flowers, grey skies, cuddly cats and a newfound love of the colour yellow.

 

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On the 1st January I started posting daily photos to Instagram. I’m @mirrormirroxx. Come and be my friend.

Downton Abbey Paper Dolls

 

I know, I know.

Downton Abbey finished last night here in the US, ending on a spectacular high with a Christmas special which almost made up for the sheer ridiculousness of most of the preceding season, and you, as I know from my sobbing Twitter feed, are suffering from terrible withdrawal symptoms already.

Believe me I do understand, having mysteriously managed to watch the entire season last year *taps nose*. 

But fear not, for I bring you solace in your hour of need, in the form of these utterly awesome paper dolls from Vulture.

 

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Re-enact Matthew and Mary’s ‘will they, won’t they?’ romance, complete with the hovering spectre of dead Mr. Pamuk.

 

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Marvel as Thomas and O’Brien engage in deeds of ever-increasing evilness for no fully explained reason, just because they can.

 

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Help the Dowager Countess run the full gamut of emotions from irritation to disdain, all while sabotaging Cousin Isobel at the village flower show.

And don’t forget to send all the plot ideas you come up with to writer and producer Julian Fellowes, since on the basis of this season, he really could do with some help in that direction.

If you’re also missing the fabulous costumes and sets, here’s the post I wrote about Highclere Castle during season one.

   

17 February 2012

Go Fug Your Room? – DvF’s Manhattan Penthouse

 

I hugely admire Diane von Furstenberg’s fashion style and her inspired use of prints and colours, even though, as I don’t have much of a waist, her iconic wrap dress is just not flattering on me.

So I was fascinated to see online previews of a spread in March’s Architectural Digest featuring her incredible penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

 

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The penthouse, built over DvF’s design studio and flagship store, is absolutely stunning, with apparently incredible views through its transparent glass walls.

 

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But inside? Well, it all strikes me as just a bit too MUCH.

 

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Those chairs are gorgeous, the art is apparently priceless, but it all feels as if it just can’t breathe. The backdrop of the leopard skin rug really doesn’t help matters.  And who sticks art, however exquisite, on the windowsill, thereby obscuring the billion-dollar views?

 

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I love the Andy Warhol portrait, dislike  the table and am meh on the clashing animal prints. Again, I think this would have looked a whole lot better with a more neutral rug.

 

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I sort of admire her for attempting to recreate a pasha’s boudoir in her big glass eyrie -  just because the structure is ultra-modern, you don’t necessarily have to go ultra-modern with the décor. But I just don’t think this works, the attempted grandeur is overwhelmed by the ceiling and it just looks incongruous.

 

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Those screens round the bath are lovely, as is the bathtub itself, but I would be terrified of knocking over all those little tables and stools when I emerged dripping wet from my ablutions.  But maybe DVF is not as clumsy as me.

Although I can see that one would want to create private areas in such an open space, overall all the clutter and clashing patterns and different styles and objets seems to fight with the open space rather than celebrating it.  She’s tried to make it cosy, but I don’t think it’s the sort of space that works with cosy.

But what do I know?  She’s is DvF after all.

What do you think? Please show your workings in the comments.

   

16 February 2012

Animated Valentine

 

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I dug out this little flip book I made the other day, and thought I’d share it with you, even though the great day has passed, as it’s obviously an idea you can let your imagination run wild with throughout the year.

The Minx and I made this a couple of years back when she was five and old enough to wield a pen. I dressed the Minx up, stuck her against a white background (I should have moved her a little to the right to leave room for making ribbon holes on the left).

I made ten copies of the photo and then asked the Minx to draw one heart on the first picture, two hearts on the second picture, three hearts on the third picture and then so on up to ten.  You get the idea. She also wrote a message on the back of the last picture.

 

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I then tied the photos together with a pretty ribbon (and yes the holes are on the wrong side, but we couldn’t be bothered to do the whole thing again) so the Husband could flick through the book.

 

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Of course this post is mostly about showing off that I learned to make animated gifs in Photoshop at Blogshop last week. Let me know if an animated gif tutorial on the blog would be of interest.

   

15 February 2012

Knock Knock, I Love You

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As if to prove how very much in sync old married couples like me and the Husband are (it’s going to be fifteen years in November for goodness sakes), we both got each other bars of chocolate yesterday from the Knock Knock range of graphic stationery.  Love the boxes, and the chocolate isn’t bad at all.

It’s telling that they’re being sold by the only decent stationery shop round these parts. Surely we didn’t both rush out at the last minute to buy our gifts? 

I won’t tell you which boxes I checked on which covers though. 

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Buy them here

14 February 2012

Last Minute Valentines Ideas

 

So it’s the afternoon before Valentines Day and the fancy restaurants are all booked, you forgot to buy a love token for your sweetheart and tomorrow is shaping up to be a very bad day indeed.

But fear not, as long as you’ve got some heart-shaped cutters or moulds lying around all sorts of quick homemade Valentines ideas are at your disposal.

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These Valentines sugar cookies were originally on sale through Etsy shop Sugar Sanctuary but really wouldn’t be too difficult to make.  Here’s a great sugar cookie recipe.

Suze has a great tutorial for how to make natural sugar hearts in candy moulds for your beloved’s coffee.

 

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The Novice Chef shows us how to make Marbled Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies (not sure I love anyone enough to share these).

 

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Sit down with your kids and make Valentines Rice Krispie Treats, courtesy of Lisa.

 

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For a romantic dinner Annie suggests making four cheese ravioli

 

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Or if you don’t have heart-shaped cutters, why not do twirly things with cinnamon rolls?

 

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Or if you have cutters but no cooking skills, how about some heart-shaped roast potatoes?

 

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Or a heart-shaped packed lunch?

 

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Finally, if you have neither heart-shaped cutters nor cooking skills, why not just put your toddler to work instead, while you relax with a lovely cup of tea.

 

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Happy Valentines’ Day my little chickadees!

13 February 2012

That Was The Week That Was

 

This was a golden Instagram week of baking, coffee and wintry walks, with a few signs of spring poking round the corner.

 

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On the 1st January I started posting daily photos to Instagram.  I’m @mirrormirroxx. Come and be my friend.

   

10 February 2012

We have a Winner!

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The winner of the Shabby Apple dress is Megan Paravato, who tells us that she will be baking and eating lots of chocolate on Valentines Day.

Honey, just make sure you can fit into your fabulous new dress!

Thanks to everyone for participating.  I’ve got a couple more great giveaways in the works very soon.

Megan, please email to claim your prize.

09 February 2012

Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table

 

The best new Tumblr ever, well at least since Unhappy Hipsters, Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table calls out all the design clichés we all know and love from blogs and shelter mags. 

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Clockwise from top left: ‘Fuck your… knit pouf…card catalog…plate cascade… Saarinen tulip table’

I am happy to report that, with the exception of graphic pillows, I have none of the things they mention in my house, though that’s mostly due to lack of budget. I have to confess to having wanted most of these things at one time or another and I’m still determined to knit a pouffe one day.

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Clockwise from top left: ‘Fuck your…chair hodgepodge,,,  Keep Calm and Carry On poster…chalkboard backsplash…bookshelf with the books arranged by colour’

How many do you have in your house?  Are there any that you would still secretly covet?  How many of these trends were started by Domino? What other clichés should be on the list?

I would also respectfully ask the author if writing your blog in faux typewriter font isn’t one of the oldest design clichés in the book.

   

07 February 2012

Blogshop Goodie Bag

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I’m still processing Blogshop but thought I’d take a moment to go through the rather nice goodie bag we were given, full of crafty goodness from a bunch of new-to-me Seattle names.

Clockwise from left:

Cute graphic tote bag: rather delicious pesto; very wearable turquoise earrings; psychedelic art cookies; green nautical rope bracelet; cut & fold paper polyhedra ornaments (the Minx and I are thinking of making these for our Easter tree this year); gorgeously scented soap; a handmade Valentines’card; a vintage postcard; some graphic gift tags (I also won a notebook by the same artist in the raffle) and finally the latest edition of Hoarse, Seattle’s occasional literary magazine.

There are some interesting shops and blogs in this list, some of which I’ll be featuring at a later date, so do click through.

Thanks so much everyone!

   

06 February 2012

That Was The Week That Was

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It’s been an Instagram week of blue skies, sunshine and hearts, with a bit of bread baking and crochet thrown in.

It’s also been a weekend of attending Blogshop here in Seattle.  My brain is fried, by backside is numb and my Photoshop skillz are still frighteningly amateur as you can see.  But at least they exist, which they didn’t before the weekend.  I’ll tell you more about it during the week. (Above images are all Instagrams as usual, but silly old Photoshop doesn’t have a Polaroid frames tool such as I have on my usual blogging software).

Happy Monday!

03 February 2012

Cute or Creepy? Maroquinaris Zoologicae for Louis Vuitton

 

I don’t normally feature designer labels on the blog.  I’m not a label hound and they’re covered by thousands of other blogs in much greater depth than I ever could. Personally I find Louis Vuitton stuff particularly ugly and never imagined in a million years that it was a brand I’d end up writing about.

Having said all which,  I saw these fabulous animal sculptures chez Tom and Lorenzo and had to talk about them.

 

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British artist Billie Achilleos was commissioned to celebrate Louis Vuitton’s 100th anniversary by cutting up a ton of bags, belts and other small leather items (nice work if you can get it) to make a menagerie of small animal friends.

I have to admit upfront that the fur elements weird me out a lot, and not just because they’re presumably made of real fur, and I’m not entirely sure how many of these I’d actually have in the house. But some of them, particularly the super cute squirrel and owl and the multi-colored armadillo and rooster are seriously imaginative and  lovely.

 

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There’s a fascinating video which gives more insight into their creation here

 

Bilie Achilleos for Louis Vuitton

 

Billie Achilleos’ blog is here.

What do you think? Are these cute or creepy? Would you have them in your house?  Do they make you want to cut up your old Louis Vuitton bags? Does the thought of all these destroyed LV bags make you want to cry?

02 February 2012

Giveaway! – Gorgeous Shabby Apple Dress

 

It’s February and the only bright spot on the horizon is the shedload of diamonds you are undoubtedly going to receive for Valentine’s Day.  Too bad you haven’t got a thing to wear with them.

 

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But fear not, the solution is here at hand, in the shape of this beautiful ‘Nothing Like a Dame’ dress worth $78 in a gorgeous Valentines’ red, which the lovely people at Shabby Apple, purveyors of gorgeous women’s dresses, have generously offered as a giveaway to mirrormirror blog readers.

There are three different ways to enter the competition and everyone can enter up to three times. Just make sure you tell me how you’ve entered in a comment below. The competition closes at midnight Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday 8th February and I’ll use a random number generator to draw the winning entry as soon as I wake up on Thursday 8th.

 

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If you win you’ll be able to choose your size and the dress will be shipped directly to you from Shabby Apple if you live in the US. If you live elsewhere, I’ll have it delivered here and then ship it out anywhere in the world for FREE, so everyone in the UK and beyond can enter too. .

Here are the three different ways to enter. Remember you can enter all three ways as long as you leave a comment telling me how you’ve entered below. You also need to have ‘liked’ Shabby Apple on Facebook as a condition of entry.

1) Leave a comment below telling us whether you’ll be celebrating Valentines’ Day or if it leaves shivers of horror running up your spine.

2) ’Like’ mirrormirror on Facebook (leave a comment below saying you’ve done this)

3)  Tweet the following: I’ve just entered to win a beautiful Shabby Apple summer dress. You can too!  http://is.gd/aFFYsY (And leave a comment below saying you’ve Tweeted).

Good luck!

Update: If you’ve already ‘liked’ mirrormirror or Shabby Apple on Facebook just let me know in the comments and that can count as an entry too. Oh and remember that each entry is a separate comment.

Babette Blanket – Here We Go!

 

So I finally decided that, instead of just hoarding yarn, I actually ought to start working on Babette, the infamous crocheted granny blanket I first wrote about back in 2009.

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The last couple of evenings have found me peering at my beginner’s crochet book - the gorgeously photographed Simple Crochet by Erika Knight – and various YouTube videos, trying to figure out how on earth to make the simple granny square that forms the basis of the design.

So far it’s been a long tortuous process and I’ve managed two squares – out of 126 of varying sizes. I have a feeling this is going to take a LOOOOOOONG time.

01 February 2012

Adventures in Cooking – Shepherd’s Pie

 

Just after Christmas we held a little party and I decided to take a leaf out of Jeffery Archer – British author, politician, crook and all-round slimebag’s - book and make shepherd’s pie; which he apparently used to serve at his high society parties washed down with vast quantities of Krug. 

 

shepherds pie (3 of 3)


I don’t agree with Jeffrey Archer on very much, but have to say that shepherd’s pie makes fabulous party food. This quintessentially traditional British comfort dish is tasty, rich and satisfying; easy to fork up while standing; can be made beforehand and baked just before the party; sits around happily; freezes beautifully afterwards and delights adults and kids alike.  However, it’s also quick and easy to prepare and makes a fabulous midweek meal.

But before we get on to the recipe I must interrupt this broadcast for a quick semantics lesson.

<pedantry> Firstly it is spelled Shepherd’s Pie not Shepard’s Pie, because it is named after people who used to er, herd sheps and not after a has-been Hollywood actor. Secondly it is called Shepherd’s Pie because it contains lamb ie. sheep meat. You can make it with all beef, but in that case it is more properly known as Cottage Pie since shepherds had nothing to do with it. </pedantry>

The meat you choose is important.  Traditionally it is made with the ground up leftovers from the Sunday roast, either lamb or beef, but i) you’re unlikely to have enough leftover nowadays and ii) it can be a little dry.  I find it better to use at least half raw ground (minced) lamb or beef, though if you do have some leftover meat, it is fabulous added to the meat mixture towards the end of the initial cooking period.

As I mentioned, you can use either lamb or beef, though all raw ground lamb can sometimes be a little greasy. For my Christmas pie I used half raw ground lamb and half raw ground beef and this worked out great. For my base recipes I used one entitled ‘Sarah’s Amazing Cottage Pie’ that I copied down from a friend ages ago, combined with the recipe from the Ivy Cookbook, which gives dishes served at London’s eponymous celeb hangout (it’s a great and accessible cookbook if you can get hold of it).

 

granny square (2 of 3)

 

The beauty of shepherd’s pie, though, is that is it a fabulous vehicle for experimentation. Leftover roasted vegetables in the fridge? Throw them into the meat sauce or mash them into the potato topping.  Want to stretch out the meat with fresh vegetables, beans, or feta cheese? I won’t stop you. Want to try different herbs, or flavourings? Give it a whirl.  Here are the basics, with lots of suggestions for options and additions, the rest is up to you.

The following quantities makes a reasonably sized shepherd’s pie for a family of four. Scale up or down as you wish and remember that you don’t have to be precise here.  All that’s important is that the meat sauce does not have too much gravy and you need to have about 2 inches of potato topping over the meat to prevent oozing.

 

INGREDIENTS

For the Filling

1 1/2 lbs minced/ground meat (see above)

salt and pepper

A couple of tablespoons vegetable oil

1  large onion, finely chopped

2 carrots (optional) either finely chopped or sliced

Several cloves crushed garlic (optional and definitely not traditional)

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 pint (1 1/2 cups) of good quality beef stock

A couple glasses red wine (optional)

1 tablespoon tomato puree (optional)

a glug of Worcestershire sauce (optional)

a couple of teaspoons of mixed dried herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, herbes de Provence are all nice)

1tsp cinnamon (absolutely not traditional but I like to add it for a slightly Middle Eastern flavour)

a tablespoon of chopped parsley and other fresh herbs

1 can chickpeas/garbanzo beans (absolutely not traditional but they bulk out the meat and again works well if you’re going for a Middle Eastern dimension)

Season the meat. Heat the vegetable oil (I use olive oil) in a large saute pan and brown off the meat.  Drain the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add a little more oil and gently fry the onion, garlic, carrots and dried herbs until very soft.  You could also add chopped chilis or other finely chopped root vegetables at this stage.

Return the meat to the pan, dust with the flour and stir in the tomato puree if using (purists don’t like it, but I do) and any spices such as cinnamon or paprika. Cook, stirring constantly, for a few minutes. Slowly add the beef stock and any other liquid flavourings such as wine, Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup.  Bring it to a simmer and cook for thirty to forty minutes until you have a thick, unctuous meat sauce.  About 10 minutes before you finish cooking the sauce add any cooked meat, cooked vegetables, and the can of chickpeas/garbanzo beans if using to warm through,

When the sauce is ready leave it to cool.

   

For the Topping

1 1/2 llbs mashing potatoes

salt, cream, butter, olive oil,  eggyolks etc. as desired

In the meantime boil, mash and season the potatoes and add butter, milk, cream, sour cream, egg yolks or olive oil to taste.  You could also add flavourings such as mashed roasted garlic, or horseradish, Just make sure the mash ends up being quite stiff and not too soft and creamy.

 

shepherds pie (1 of 3)

 

Pour the meat sauce into a deep oven-proof dish and top with the potato, being careful to cover all the meat sauce with at least 2 inches of topping.  It’s traditional to fork ridges into the potato to get a crunchy topping. Dot with a little butter. Some people top with grated cheese, but that seems like gilding the lily to me. Don’t let me stop you though.

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C/ 375 degrees F and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes until golden brown on top. This dish is very forgiving of being left in the oven before a party, just make sure the topping doesn’t burn.

Serve with some sort of green vegetable or salad and enjoy experimenting!