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8 posts from August 2010

27 August 2010

Things I Am Loving - Jme Foods for Williams-Sonoma


Or, more precisely, I’m loving the labelling, since I haven’t tried the foods themselves yet.

Jamie Oliver has just launched his Jme range of artisanal British foods in the US in conjunction with Williams-Sonoma. I’m definitely going to be trying the mango chutney, mint sauce and marmelade as it’s difficult to get good versions of these oh so British delicacies over here. (Though I’m also noting how flippin’ expensive they are in comparison with the same products in the UK.) I’m hoping that at some point his full range of British products finds its way over here.




What I’m most intrigued by, though, by the packaging.  It looks very British - as in so many things American packaging can get very busy and very ‘more is more’ - whereas this is simple, old-fashioned in a modern way, if that makes sense and quite austere.

I love how the simplicity and retro styling makes everything hang together, despite using a  mishmash of different packaging shapes, fonts, label styles and colours.  It looks like a very idealised version of how my mother’s pantry might have looked in the Mad Men era (in her dreams haha!). Interestingly the actual branding is very subtle, the only thing the have in common is the sixties-style  ’J’ on the labelling.  I’m also loving that he’s calling a biscuit a biscuit.

I’m most intrigued by how this reads to an American audience. Does the styling make you want to buy the food? Or does it just seem too plain, too old-fashioned and unappealing?

26 August 2010

Days of Wine and Roses – Aix en Provence


Do you want the bad news or the good news?

On the downside the Minx’s interminable summer vacation continues, so you’re just going to have to make do with holiday snaps and maybe the off it of flybynight blogging for the time being.

The good news is that she goes back to school NEXT WEDNESDAY (be still my beating heart!). Not only will it be business as usual, but I’m hoping to unveil a bit of blog re-launch then as well. I’ve no idea how y’all can cope with the excitement. 

In the meantime though, here are some pictures from the next stage of our French adventure (which seems so long ago now). 

After five very pleasant days in Menton we drove north and east to spend a few days in a gite near the beautiful town of Aix en Provence.

As you can see, we indulged in a lot of shopping, sitting in cafes, drinking wine, eating patisserie and general loafing about a la francaise.




We stayed in some very sweet and well-equipped gites, in beautiful old stone buildings set in a vineyard close to St Maximin and Aix. The Minx managed to swim her very first length in the huge pool, which accounts for the enormous cheese-eating grin below.




Not surprisingly the Minx has decided that she likes France very much. This was all part of my cunning plan to ensure that she continues to enjoy going to a French immersion school.  I have not yet revealed to her that not every corner of France is quite like this.

20 August 2010

Recipe of the Week – Cherry Clafoutis




Apologies for the light posting of late – the Minx is only doing morning camp this week, so I don’t have so much free time. The good news is that the interminable summer holidays are coming to an end in less than two weeks, may the Lord and all the angels be praised. Call me a bad mother but I am counting the seconds. America, is ELEVEN weeks of summer vacation REALLY necessary?




But I digress.

For a brief moment at the end of the cherry season in the UK, the market in Portobello Road was full of deep, dark, rich, ridiculously expensive cherries, the colour of the very best red wine, marked ‘USA”. I used to look forward to those cherries all year.

Little did I know then that the chances were that those cherries came from Washington state and that I would one day be living in a place where the farmers’ markets would be heaving with them. Apparently it’s something to do with the climate and the volcanic soil, but they truly are the best cherries I’ve ever tasted.

Last week was pretty much the end of this year’s Washington cherry season, so I seized the opportunity to make a clafoutis. I first ate (an awful lot of) clafoutis in the South of France when I was teaching there as part of my university degree and every year since then I’ve made it religiously when cherry season comes around.

The recipe I’ve found which seems to me to be the most authentic comes from my ancient battered copy of Paula Wolfert’s the Cooking of South West France which has apparently been recently reissued.

I’ve doubled the quantities she gives to make enough to fit my 34 cm x 20 cm ( 13ins x 8ins). You don’t need to get too precious about the quantities – you just need enough batter to almost cover the cherries.


- Enough cherries to completely cover the bottom of your dish. Many people in France don’t stone their cherries which makes it much easier to prepare but a bit of a pain to eat. I stone my cherries if I’m feeling posh. You could also use apricots or pears – any fruit that doesn’t get too soft in cooking.

- Enough butter to grease your dish

- 5 tbsps plain/all-purpose flour

- 1/2 tsp salt

- 4 tbps granulated sugar

- 5 large eggs

16 fl oz /500 ml/ 2 cups single cream or half and half or creamy milk or a mixture of milk and heavy/double cream, depending on how decadent/slim you’re feeling

- 1 1/2 tsps vanilla extract

- 2 tbsps dark rum, kirsch, Armagnac (optional, I prefer it without)

- enough granulated sugar to dredge thickly when cooked




- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180degrees C/Gas Mark 4

- Remove stems and pit fruit if necessary, if using apricots or larger fruits instead of cherries, slice them in half.

- Slather your dish with butter and add the fruit in a single layer

- In a mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients.

- Warm the milk or cream until barely simmering

- Whisk the eggs into the cream

- Whisk in the dry ingredients mixture until well-blended.

- Add the vanilla and rum etc. if using.

- Strain the batter over the fruit (very often I can’t be bothered to strain it).

- Bake for 40 minutes or until firm and golden




Before                                                                                      After          
During – oh clafoutis you gorgeous golden hunk of love


- When it’s cooked, take it out of the oven and dredge thickly with granulated sugar while still warm. Serve either lukewarm or cold.

The best accompaniment to this is the sort of extra-thick spoonable double cream that you can buy in the UK and which is unheard of in the US (which I have verifired via a heated Facebook and Twitter discussion). If you can’t get thick spoonable cream, then creme fraiche would do at a pinch or just pourable heavy cream. Or else, it’s really so delicious that you don’t need any cream at all.



17 August 2010

Adventures in Knitting – Summery Things


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It’s that time of year, when I don’t get much else done – the Minx is in camp and it’s a struggle to fit everything in – but I do manage a ton of knitting.

Knitting is the perfect accompaniment to sitting by the playground or wading pool or beach while the Minx grubs about with her friends. Honestly I have no idea how other knittingless mothers cope the boredom. And it’s really interesting to see how fascinated kids are by knitting – they’re always coming up to see how it’s done and what I’m making.

First up is my ever project in a true laceweight yarn – an Abrazo wrap using SweetGeorgia Silk Merino with copper glass beads. This was my holiday knitting project, and after the first few rows, which were a complete nightmare (you start knitting from the bottom up and shape the top with short rows) it was extremely plain sailing and a very enjoyable knit. There’s more here (Ravelry link)

I love the finished product, which has been getting a lot of summer party action.


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Here it is pinned out and ‘blocking’ on a towel.


This is what it looked like when it came off the needles


I also managed to complete a little somethin’ somethin’ for the Minx. I actually started this little cotton top last year and practically finished it except for the straps, but then it spent nearly a year languishing in my knitting basket. Yet another quick and enjoyable knit. Ravelry link here. If you’re on Ravelry, I’m mirrormirror, do come and be my friend.


And no, I have no idea when the Minx turned into Hannah Montana.


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09 August 2010

All About Me – Me and My Girl

You won’t see many photos of me out there, mostly because the Husband, who obviously has MANY fine attributes, is the worst photographer known to man.

This weekend we fled the terrible Seattle summer and went to Lake Chelan, high in the mountains of northern Washington, which has a sunny microclimate and beautiful, swimmable waters.

And hell must have frozen over or something, because the Husband actually took some photos which made me look like a human being and not a water buffalo. They’re not amazing or anything – hair had just been in swimming pool and I’m wearing no make up – but I share them with you in memory of this miracle.






In case you think I’m exaggerating, here is one the Husband’s first, and more typical attempts.



05 August 2010

Things I Am Loving – Wobbly Bowls


One of the things I learned at Lara Ferroni’s food styling photography workshops is that food props should be small, so as to make the food look ample and luscious, and preferably have texture and colour help too, to add visual interest.  (Check out also this fascinating series of guest posts on food props at  Lucullian Delights.)


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{Images above from Atelier BB}

So I was delighted to come across these delightful little wobbly plates and bowls in dozens of bright intoxicating colours from Atelier BB on Etsy.  Each bowl and plate is made of thick glazed ceramic and imprinted with different lacy designs for extra texture.

I bought a few little plates for my new ‘food styling prop cupboard’ (how VERY Martha Stewart of me) and will probably be buying quite a few more.




And yes, they DO make food look good. Here’s a very quick snap of some potato and beetroot gratin which we had for dinner last night and which was DIVINE. I’ll make it for you guys with pictures next time we get beets in the organic box.



04 August 2010

Things I Am Loving – Crochet Covered Stones




Stones and beaches and kids and summer go together, like well, stones and beaches and kids and summer.

Everytime we hit the beach supposedly ‘beeyootiful’ stones get delivered with regularity to my beach towel. The heaviness of my bag is due not just to the sunscreen and goggles and bags full of cherries I carry everywhere but also to the stones I keep finding in the pockets.

A collection of large stones from French beaches even found their way into the Minx’s little roller suitcase to take back to Seattle, though, since we are cruel parents, these were surreptitiously removed from her bag and left in the hotel room and have remained studiously unmentioned ever since.

So, you can imagine how delighted I was to find a beautiful project requiring smooth round stones – heck, the next time we go to the beach I’m even going to send the Minx off on a stone hunting expedition. 




Artist and photographer Margaret Oomen crochets little covers for her stones which make them look like sea urchins reimagined by a Victorian grandma and sells the stones themselves (though they disappear quickly and still-life photographs of them on Etsy.




Now you can make them too as she has put a tutorial up on the Purl Bee to make a basic version of her stones, though I would imagine that any number of doily patterns (Ravelry link) could be adapted for the purpose, once you’ve go the hang of the basic concept.


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Will definitely have to try this at some point. I’m just wishing that there was more knitting/crocheting time in the day.

03 August 2010

Menton Mon Amour


After a few days at the Hotel du Clos, we drove a couple of hours along the Grande Corniche, with fabulous views of Eze and Monaco and out to sea towards Corsica.  Our destination - Menton, the lemon capital of France, situated at the very Eastern end of the French Riviera and within jogging distance (even for me) of Italy.

If ever a place was my spiritual home then this is it – an almost perfect blend of Provence and Liguria in Italy – with a bustling and beautiful old town; a warm, shallow sea perfect for swimming; great food; a superb market; tangly old streets and magnificent people watching.

We all just LOVED it. (Except for the jellyfish, though on the plus side the Minx can now say ‘jellyfish’ in three languages.)






We stayed at the Hotel Napoleon on the waterfront – wonderfully located with great views of the old town from its balconies.  The hotel itself is very pleasant, comfortable, well-equipped and modern, though no great shakes from a design perspective (hence I forgot to take any pics of the interiors) and had excellent breakfasts. Next door was sweet little chapel marking the pilgrim route from Rome to Santiago.




The best bit though was the luxurious private beach club, fully equipped with comfy loungers, a great restaurant and bar and handsome beach boys.




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The Minx particularly appreciated the SELF. SERVICE. GELATERIA (help yourself to icecream, toppings, sauces and flavourings and then pay by weight at the end) next to the beach.



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I, on the other hand, hugely appreciated the mesmerising view behind me, while we were at the bar watching England crash out of the football…