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14 posts from May 2012

29 May 2012

Easy Cake Decorating Idea

 

I’m starting to think that Pinterest has pushed back the cause of feminism by several hundred years.

 

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This weekend we were hosting a Eurovision party and since it also happened to be the birthday of one of the Minx’s friends who was attending, I offered to make a quick birthday cake.

And then I went on Pinterest, disappeared down the rabbit hole, and emerged to find several hours had gone by and the kitchen was totally covered with food colouring and buttercream.  This is indeed a very easy frosting idea, but quick it is most certainly not.  It was enormous fun to do though.

 

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The Minx and I got a little carried away with the food colouring and made coloured layers inside the cake, which I think in hindsight was a garishness too far, particularly as they were not quite as subtly pretty as I was hoping  It would have looked better just as plain cake with white buttercream inside.

But then garishness isn’t really a problem when making cake for an eight year old. Please excuse drunken pic below, but you get the idea.

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Update: Several people have asked me to provide a bit more information on how I did it. I mixed up a big batch of vanilla buttercream (beat together 2 sticks/220g of  room-temperature butter, 6 cups/640g icing/confectioner’s sugar, plus a little vanilla extract, plus a tablespoon or two of milk until the buttercream is soft and smooth).

Then I divided the buttercream into six and the Minx and I conferred long and hard over which colours to choose. I spread a very thin crumb coat over the sides to even them up and then used a #21 tip to pipe little rosettes onto the cake, making sure that I didn’t pipe the same colour in adjacent spots.  And then kept going and going and GOING until every bit of the cake was covered.

Further Update: Thanks to the comments below, I’ve been able to track down the original source of the idea at I Am Baker. Thanks for pointing it out. The original pin I found was ‘uploaded by user’ and no source was indicated, so I’m glad to finally be able to credit the right person.

   

24 May 2012

Food Photography Workshop with Andrew Scrivani

 

At the weekend I popped down to San Francisco for the day.  It was meant to be longer, but then it worked out that the Minx’s end-of-year performance was on Saturday afternoon and of course I couldn’t miss that.

But I also couldn’t miss a food photography workshop held by New York Times food photographer, Andrew Scrivani hosted by the wonderful Contigo, a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighbourhood.

 

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Andrew is the master of a more painterly approach to food photography – he focuses on perfect lighting, simple propping and graphic styling to make the food seem to leap from the page and which makes you the viewer wish it would leap straight into your mouth.  Truly it’s food porn at its most succulently droolworthy.  Luxuriate in his portfolio here and you will see exactly what I mean.

I met Andrew before when he came and gave short workshop in Seattle (which for some reason I forgot to blog) and I was really excited to see and hear him again.  Andrew used to teach before becoming a food photographer, and you can tell.  He’s infinitely patient and very good at explaining what he does.  He went through a greatest hits slide show in the morning, explaining in great detail how he manages to achieve his shots (and imparting a whole load of new knowledge that I hadn’t picked up during the first workshop).  Then we had lunch featuring the most incredible paella known to man, followed by an hour or two to play, with props and food provided by the restaurant.  For the last part of the day Andrew critiqued our work, which was scary – I never want anyone to see my outtakes, let alone a professional food photographer, but obviously incredibly useful. And it was almost more fascinating and inspiring to see what other photographers were able to achieve with the same lighting, food, props and equipment, just by looking at things differently.

We learned that sometimes it’s good to go in close.

 

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And sometimes we should look for shapes and colour.

 

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Drips and oozes are always good.

 

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Or else you could just focus on tiny details.

 

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Flares and reflections on bottles add shape and interest.

 

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And sometimes food is just too darn ugly, however much you try and brighten it up with props and garnishes and bright sunlight.

 

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Make sure your board is clean and free of grease stains and salt (now you tell me).

 

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And sometimes harsh backlighting is your friend.

 

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When in doubt about which picture to choose try a diptych (and yes I fell in love with a pot of pink curing salt).

 

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A little bird tells me that Andrew will be giving a workshop in Seattle in June.  Details have not yet been published but follow him on Twitter @andrewscrivani or on his blog Making Sunday Sauce for news.  You won’t regret it.

   

23 May 2012

Are You Over-Propped?

 

This article which appeared in the New York Times last week has caused a lot of controversy out there in the blogosphere and touches on stuff we’ve been talking about recently.  The author, with a hint of self-deprecation, gently criticises those who style their homes to within an inch of their lives and fills them with ‘props’, such as vintage typewriters which look pretty but which are never going to be used. 

 

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You used to see it a lot in homes which were styled for interiors mags or had been pulled together by an interior designer and filled with objects, art and even books, which had been chosen for how they looked in the space and not for what they meant to the inhabitants.

But now in these days of interiors mags, design blogs, books about design blogs and, heaven help us, Pinterest, design trends and ideas seem to appear, become ubiquitous and turn into clichés in the blink of an eye. As this also fascinating article in Vanity Fair has it, so many of us now;

‘have become amateur stylists—scrupulously attending, as never before, to the details and meanings of the design and décor of their homes, their clothes, their appliances, their meals, their hobbies, and more.’

There has been an inevitable backlash from bloggers, and lots of heated discussions on Facebook etc. – after all what’s wrong with wanting to create a beautiful and carefully curated living space?

For me part of the key is authenticity – by all means colour code your books if it’s easier for you to find them that way; display your Le Creuset pots with pride if you actually use them for cooking and revel in that inherited Arco lamp that fills you with memories of a favourite aunt. 

And yes, stubbornly continue to enjoy your owls even after 81% of your readers have told you they’re over as a design trend.

But at what point does today’s pretty object turn into tomorrow’s ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ poster? How do you decide what objects to give houseroom to? And what mistakes have you made – barcarts and globes that just gather dust; trendy paint colours that now make you cringe; objects that you bought on a whim because you saw them in a design blog, but have never really fitted into your home?

The writer of the article lists – extremely weird - design clichés here. Some like the bar cart I can totally understand, but fresh flowers, a cliché? Seriously?

   

21 May 2012

Fan Bingbing at Cannes

 

Last week Chinese actress Fan Bingbing won the Internet.

 

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Firstly she gets to be called Fan Bingbing; secondly she gets to put tassels in her hair and look stunningly beautiful,  not utterly ridiculous: and thirdly she got to wear one of the most exquisite dresses I have ever, ever seen.

 

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Her glorious embroidered dress by Christopher Bu was inspired by a Chinese porcelain vase from the Qing dynasty and tells stories of the Four Beauties of Ancient China. Her hair is worn in the style of a young noblewoman from the Tang dynasty. 

 

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She and the dress are so freakin’ beautiful that I want to hang her on my wall.

   

18 May 2012

WTF Friday: Tom Cruise for W Magazine

 

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I have no words. 

Discuss.

17 May 2012

Teeny Trend: Colourful Circles

 

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Oversize necklace by LeJu available at Boticca.com

Details for cool DIY paint chip art project from The 3Rs Blog.

   

16 May 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Four Seasons Seattle

 

When the sun does come out in Seattle there is no more beautiful place on earth.  The unfortunate thing is, that, unless you have your own yacht, there are not so many places to just lounge and enjoy the view.

 

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Yes, there are the lakes and the cold ocean beaches, but there are very few loungers and margaritas types of places, and, as you have probably guessed, I am very much a loungers and margaritas type of girl.

So when it became apparent on Thursday that temperatures were set to soar in Seattle for the Mother’s Day weekend, we decided to throw caution to the wind and book into Seattle’s Four Seasons hotel for a ‘staycation’.  The Four Seasons is unusual for Pacific Northwest hotels in having an outdoor infinity pool, with breathtaking south-west facing views out over Elliott Bay to the Olympic mountains beyond, which reminded me of the similar views we had from our downtown apartment when we first moved to Seattle.  

 

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The pool area also features a hot tub and fire pit and is protected on three sides by the hotel and other high rise buildings, so I would imagine that it would still be very pleasant in the cooler months of the year.

The beautiful spring green planting creates a little rooftop oasis and exactly matches the beautiful spring green umbrellas, which looked amazing against the blue sky and turquoise water.

 

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The pool itself is heated to 85 degrees and also gently salinated, which makes the water deliciously soft and somehow bouncy, and there was plenty of room for the Minx and the Husband to practise their synchronised swimming routines.

 

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Inside the décor is luxurious, clean and contemporary, with an emphasis on natural stone and woods, soft autumnal hues and organic shapes, with lots of interesting artworks and glass.

 

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In the lobby, slatted wood walls are juxtaposed with intricate stone floors and striped carpets to give a clean, modern almost Asian feel.

Oh and the breakfast wasn’t bad either.

 

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We were also really impressed with the welcome given to the Minx.  When we booked they asked for her name and age, and there was a welcome pack waiting for her in the room, with a little treasure hunt questionnaire for her to complete.

 

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It’s the first hotel we’ve ever stayed in which provided a mini kids robe and slippers, to the Minx’s enormous delight and to cap things off, they also gave her a little pink sock monkey, from which she became inseparable. And yes, I do know that my daughter is INCREDIBLY spoiled.

 

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Here is ‘Chaussette’ lounging by the pool.

 

We left feeling incredibly relaxed and asking ourselves why on earth we haven’t done this sooner.  Truly that view is good for the soul.  Four Seasons Seattle, we will most DEFINITELY be back.

 

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Thanks once again to the lovely Sheri at Pacific Northwest Journeys for arranging our stay.   We paid for the hotel room ourselves.

   

10 May 2012

Go Fug Your Kitchen: Sophie Conran’s Bayswater Flat

 

Sophie Conran is yet another child of British design royalty Sir Terence and his second wife cookery writer Caroline Conran.  Sophie is maybe not quite as famous as her brothers Jasper and Sebastian (whose Notting Hill house has already had the honour of featuring in GFYR) but still has serious design chops as the designer behind the Sophie Conran for Portmeirion dinnerware and a newish range of wallpapers for Arthouse among many other food and product collaborations.

Her Bayswater flat is not really interesting enough for a whole Go Fug Your Room, as most of it is blandly inoffensive and seems to have come straight out of the pages of Fuck Your Noguchi Coffee Table’.

 

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Collection of mis-matched white jugs. CHECK.

 

Sophie Conran

 

Collection of mismatched white vases. CHECK.

 

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Saarinen Tulip Chair. CHECK

 

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Arco Lamp AND Arne Jacobsen Series 7 Chairs. CHECK and CHECK.

 

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Saarinen Tulip Chairs and Tulip Table. CHECK and CHECK.

Utterly hideous pink walls. CHECK. 

Er, excuse me?

Apparently Ms Conran let her daughter chose the wall colour, an evil which has been compounded by picking out the ornate mouldings in stark white, making the whole thing look like a particularly tasteless wedding cake.

So, in the run up to Mother’s Day, I’d like to ask the delightful mirrormirror commentariat two simple questions.  Is this kitchen fugly and should kids ever be allowed to make décor decision not immediately pertaining to their own bedrooms?

   
   

In previous Go Fug Your Room news, around 30% of you liked Adam Levine’s house (and weren’t influenced in any way, shape or form by his cute smile. No sirree). Around 30% of you thought it was fugly and 40% of you were meh on the whole thing.

   

Pinterest Take 5: Persimmon

 

I bought an orange, or, more precisely, that orange-veering-to-coral-pink known as persimmon, sweatshirt last week.  At least five people have since told me that it is the ‘colour of the season’.

All I know is that if you have boring mid-brown hair and pale skin with a warm undertone as I have, there is no more flattering colour on earth, and you will have to rip this sweatshirt from my back.

It’s been popping up all over Pinterest too.

 

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1. Bottega Veneta Silk Chiffon Colour Block Dress at Net-A-Porter via Anne Deotte 

2. Jasper Conran for Wedgwood Kilim Teacup and Saucer via Mackenzie

3. Labyrinth Persimmon Pillow by Dwell Studio via Bibi Rogers

4. Fleuvog Sandra shoes via Casapinka

5. Peach, Strawberry and Vodka Popsicles by Endless Simmer via Kimberly Taylor Not quite persimmons I know, but the colour is persimmon perfection and they did seem a little more seasonally appropriate.

   

07 May 2012

That Was The Week That Was: California Spring Break Edition

 

Oh goodness, it’s been ages since I did one of these. I’ll fill you in with Spring Break pics today and then maybe do another one towards the end of the week. 

Not sure if anyone else likes them but it makes me happy to keep this little visual diary.  Our Spring Break was a week of soft clouds and soft pastels, sea creatures and great food, with quite a lot of knitting thrown in.

 

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On January 1st  I started posting daily pics to Instagram.  I’m @mirrormirrorxx. Come and be my friend.

   

04 May 2012

WTF Friday: Ann Romney’s Blouse

 

I don’t want to get into the political whys and wherefores of this, but honestly, would you spend $990 on a blouse that looks like it’s going to bite off your right nipple?

 

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{For non-US readers, this is Ann Romney, the wife of presumed Republican Presidential nominee Mitt}
   

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Reed Krakoff Spring 2012
   

Actually as a bird-phobic the whole ensemble (Ann Romney didn’t wear the trousers though) makes my skin crawl. Just look at the beady eye on that thing.

   

03 May 2012

Adventures In Baking: Meyer Lemon, Rhubarb & Pistachio Bundt Cake

 

Continuing in my quest to make the most of my new bundt tin, and take over the world one bundt cake at a time, a couple of weeks back I made a Meyer Lemon, Rhubarb and Pistachio Bundt Cake.  This ethereally soft and springlike bundt cake couldn’t be more different from the squidgy, fudgy chocolate cake I made for the Joy the Baker event, but it was still devoured with alarming alacrity by the whole family.

 

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This cake is an adaptation of a recipe from Kimberly Taylor’s charming blog which bowled me over the minute it popped up on my Facebook page.  Her cake features Meyer lemons and rhubarb, but I couldn’t contemplate putting these two ingredients together without adding pistachios, the flavours are a match made in heaven and the delicate pink and green pastel colours are so very spring-like.

Meyer lemons are a wonderful seasonal American delicacy, thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin.  If you can’t get hold of them then normal lemons will do just fine. I amended the recipe by adding in some ground almonds/almond meal, some pistachio flavouring and sprinkling the finished cake with whole pistachios.

 

Ingredients

For the cake

1 cup butter

1 3/4 cups bakers’ (caster) sugar

zest of one lemon (Meyer or normal)

3 large eggs

1/2 tsp pistachio flavouring (or almond extract)

Juice of 1 Meyer lemon or 1/2 normal large lemon

1 3/4 cups all purpose (plain) flour

3/4 cup almond meal (ground almonds)

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup buttermilk

3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

 

For the glaze

2 1/2 cups icing/powdered sugar

Juice from one lemon

2 tablespoons softened butter

Whole pistachios to sprinkle on top

 

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Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/ 180 degrees C.

Brush melted butter into every single nook and cranny of your bundt pan and then shake in a couple of tablespoons of flour, so that every part of the surface is greased and floured. Shake out the excess flour.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together into a bowl. Stir in the almonds.

Cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until very pale and fluffy. Whisk the eggs together in a small jug and then little by little beat them into the creamed mixture, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the pistachio flavouring and lemon juice.

With the stand mixer on a lowish speed, add a third of the flour mixture and then a third of the buttermilk and then alternate until all the flour and milk are fully incorporated. Mix for one additional minute.

Stir in the chopped rhubarb with a wooden spoon. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt tin. Bake for 1 hour. Insert a skewer or a stick of spaghetti and if comes out clean the cake is ready. If not return to the oven for a few more minutes until a skewer comes out clean.

Set a timer and leave the cake in the pan for 20 minutes, no more, no less. When 20 minutes is up (the optimum time, according to Joy the Baker, to ensure best bundt removal) turn the cake out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

To make the glaze, whisk the butter and lemon juice together. Whisk in half the icing sugar.  Add the second cup of icing sugar and whisk until incorporated.  The glaze should be thin enough to pour, but thick enough to cling to the cake.  Either add sugar or juice to amend the consistency as appropriate.

Sprinkly a few whole pistachios over the top and serve when the glaze is fully set.

 

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Toms Makes Wedges

 

We interrupt normal blog service for a public service announcement.

 

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After I posted the above picture on Instagram this morning I got a number of comments along the lines of ‘Toms makes WEDGES?’.  Well yes, they do ladies, and have been doing so since 2010 as far as I can work out.

I got mine from a cute boutique in Ballard called Horseshoe which carries lots of Toms.  I love the linings on these as much as the shoes.

 

Toms Wedges

 

As you were everyone. 

Normal blog service will be resumed shortly.

   

02 May 2012

Homemade Vanilla Extract

 

At my baking class on Monday night (and thanks so much to everyone who supported it in any way, either by being there or spreading the word on Facebook and Twitter) we talked about making your own vanilla extract and I realised I hadn’t shared this with you on the blog.

 

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As you can imagine, since I am a cake baker, vanilla extract is one of the most used ingredients in my kitchen, which was not good given how fiendishly expensive it is.

After doing some research online, I tried making it last summer, and I am utterly delighted with the results.  Like so many other homemade foodstuffs, there’s no turning back when you’ve tasted homemade. And this is so, so EASY.

All you need is a smallish bottle (depending on how much extract you want to make), some unflavoured vodka or white rum and some vanilla pods. 

 

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I buy my vanilla pods in bulk via Amazon, so much cheaper than the single pods in glass jars you find in supermarkets. As for alcohol, if you want a pure vanilla flavour use unflavoured vodka.  I however prefer to use a white rum such as Bacardi.  The rum has a flavour that goes very well with vanilla, and adds an additional something, something to cakes and desserts.  But which alcohol you choose is up to you.

Then all you need to do is fill your bottle with alcohol, score a few vanilla pods lengthwise so the seeds are showing (don’t scrape them out) and then add them to rum or vodka.  How many you add is up to you and will depend on how the big the bottle is, how strong you want the extract to be and how many you can afford to use.  I currently have around six in my biggish bottle, but experiment with what seems right for you.

 

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Here’s my bottle posing out in the sunshine last summer, just after I’d made it.

Then leave the bottle in a cool, dry place (mine is in the fridge door) somewhere where’ll you see it often. Then, every so often, pick up the bottle and give it a shake.  After several weeks the clear alcohol will darken to brown and will be ready to use.  Thereafter just keep the bottle topped up with additional alcohol and vanilla pods as necessarily and depending on how strong you want your extract to be.

 

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If you want to get going on your Christmas gifts now (hahahahahahahahaha!:-Ed) then homemade vanilla extract is a very quick, easy and thoughtful gift for the baker in your life if you put it in a fancy bottle.

 

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