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7 posts from April 2013

23 April 2013

Roasted Pumpkin and Coconut Soup with Thai Flavours


This velvety, rich, sweet and downright luscious soup fits right in with my attempts to eat paleo (ie. omit all grain-based carbs) while not feeling remotely deprived, and my current obsession with the awesome kubocha pumpkin, which is dense and filling and absolutely packed with flavour and nutrients (however any flavourful pumpkin or squash would do here).

By the way, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to Thai cooking, so if you’re expert please don’t snigger at the back. All I know is that these flavours taste delish and their brightness and freshness cuts through the creamy, sweet soup perfectly.


Pumpkin and Coconut Soup



(Serves 4)

4-6 cups of peeled pumpkin or squash (cubed)

1 tablespoon olive oil or melted coconut oil

Salt and pepper to taste

A few branches of thyme


Pumpkin and Coconut Soup


2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

2-3 plump cloves of garlic, minced

1-2 fresh green chilis, finely chopped

4 inch piece of lemongrass, finely chopped

A small handful of Thai basil (or normal basil), finely chopped

3-4 lime leaves

This is the perfect place for one of those small boxes of fresh herbs from the supermarket entitled ‘Thai Flavours’ or some such. If you can’t find that I’ve made this with a couple of tablespoons of Thai green curry paste in place of the lemongrass, basil and lime leaves.

1 can light coconut milk

2-3 cups of good chicken stock (I use my own bone broth)

Chopped coriander (cilantro) and spring onions (scallions) to garnish.


Pumpkin and Coconut Soup



Roasted Pumpkin

Place the pumpkin cubes on a baking sheet, sprinkle with the olive oil or melted coconut oil and rub it into the pumpkin cubes with your hands until everything is well anointed. Season with sea salt (I use Maldon) and freshly ground pepper to taste and add a few branches of thyme.

Bake in the oven at 200 degrees C (approx 400 degrees F) until the pumpkin is soft and golden brown round the edges.

(You don’t have to roast your pumpkin, but it really does bring out the flavour).


Pumpkin and Coconut Soup Pumpkin and Coconut Soup


While your pumpkin is roasting, start to caramelize your onions.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot, add the onions, garlic, chili, lemongrass, basil and whole lime leaves and cook gently until the onions are a soft and have turned rich golden brown, being careful not to burn them.

When the onions are done, add the roasted pumpkin cubes (or raw pumpkin if you prefer), the coconut milk and 2 cups of bone broth and bring everything to a simmer. Cook for around five minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft if using raw pumpkin, and then fish out the whole lime leaves.

Using an immersion blender or liquidiser, blend the soup until it is thick and creamy.  Add more broth as necessary depending on the texture you like your finished soup to be.

Serve piping hot, garnished with chopped onions and coriander (cilantro). Obviously garnishes are optional, but the crisp green crunchiness really complements the earth, creamy soup.



17 April 2013

Amtrak Train Journey from Seattle to Vancouver


On Friday I did something very extraordinary and made the trip from Seattle to Vancouver ON. THE. TRAIN.

Of course I used to take trains all the time when I was in Europe, but here on the West Coast (is it different on the East Coast?) trains seem to be few and far between and are a very much mistrusted form of transport.


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


You have to time your Amtrak train trip to Vancouver perfectly – the train only goes once a day, though there is a bus service.


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


Which is the most tremendous shame, because once on board you are rewarded with the most stunning journey.

The clouds and rain on the way to Vancouver were quietly beautiful, as the train hugged the coastline and seemed to fly across the water, before turning inland past the pastoral idyll of Skagit County.

Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


And then on Sunday I was welcomed back to the US by the most glorious sunset imaginable.


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


Amtrak Train Seattle to Vancouver


It really was ridiculously beautiful. Pacific Northwesterners, you have to do this journey at least once.

I’m back in the CreativeLIVE studios once more doing a Lightroom workshop with ace photographer and Lightroom genius Jared Platt. I highly recommend you download this course if you want to get to grips with Lightroom once and for all.


12 April 2013

Palm Springs Uptown Design District Shopping and Dining Guide


I’m off to Vancouver tomorrow bright and early for a weekend with friends, so I thought it was about time I posted up the last of my images from Palm Springs, before I get a whole bunch of new ones.




Truth be told, last time we went to Palm Springs we had been a bit disappointed by the shopping and dining out options. We visited some great places, yes, but overall the downtown area came across as a bit tired and down at heel - resting on its laurels from a bygone era, like a vacationing grandma.

Clearly we weren’t the only people who felt like that because in the intervening three or so years since we were last there a whole district of fabulous shops and boutiques, art galleries, vintage furniture stores and cool restaurants has sprung up – the Palm Springs Uptown Design District, on North Palm Canyon Drive.

The area begins north of Cheeky’s – breakfast here is still a highlight of any trip to Palm Springs, though be sure to get there early as the lines are LONG.

On the other side of the street from Cheeky’s is Copley’s which has a beautiful outside terrace on which to drink superb cocktails and eat excellent food.  The highlight for us, though, was the fabulous sticky toffee pudding that British chef Andrew Copley has snuck onto the menu.


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We were told by a shop owner that Trio, just north of Copley’s on North Palm Canyon Drive had spearheaded the development of the area, and it certainly was a fabulous place to eat, big and bustly, with a fun and funky interior, impeccable friendly service, and a menu full of upmarket comfort food (and truly excellent mac ‘n cheese for the Minx).

North of Cheeky’s you’ll find some extremely cool vintage furniture stores and Jakes restaurant. We didn’t have a chance to eat at Jakes -  though we stuck our heads in and it looked like fun - but it comes highly recommended by people we met at the hotel.







Carry on walking and you’ll reach a small Spanish style hidden courtyard, where’ll you find the fabulous NotNeutral store, selling beautifully designed contemporary homewares. Originally conceived as a temporary pop-up shop, it’s now a perfect fit in the design district. We could have bought the whole store and nearly did.



palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-5 palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-3


The courtyard also hides the glamorous interior of Workshop Kitchen + Bar. We really enjoyed this restaurant, from the cool décor to the duck fat fries, the use of seasonal ingredients, the excellent cocktails and the ‘large format’ options, which led to the family sharing a large platter full of mustardy chicken and delicious vegetables.


palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-20

The pop-up store concept thrives at Raymond Lawrence.  Named for the delightfully friendly owners they feature a number of pop-up collections in their quirky store.

We fell in love with these limited edition portraits of vintage Barbies by Judy Ragagli.  The cutie in the middle with the curled brown hair ended up coming home with us.






The jewel of the design district is Palm Springs designer Trina Turk’s huge eponymous store, featuring women’s and men’s fashions and  the world’s most colourful homewares. Spent a lot of time ogling cushions here.


palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-7 palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-8
palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-9 palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-10



palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-11 palmspringsuptowndesigndistrict-18


With the development of the design district, Palm Springs has just become even more fabulous, if rather dangerous for the wallet and waistline.  I for one can’t wait to go back and am fascinated to see how it develops over the next few years.




10 April 2013

Paleo-Friendly Oxtail and Pumpkin Stew




As I mentioned I’m trying to be more ‘paleo’ in my eating, which essentially means cutting out all grain-based carbs and eating primarily meats, nuts and vegetables. Pumpkins and other squashes are allowed and they provide some much needed starchy bulk in the diet. So when I came across a recipe for Oxtail and Pumpkin Stew in Yotam Ottolenghi’s eponymous first cookbook, which seems to fit the diet perfectly, I was all over it like a rash.




The joy of this recipe comes from the unusual spicing – the earthiness of the wine-stewed meat melds with the sweetness of the pumpkin and aromatics like orange, cinnamon and star anise and just melts in your mouth into layer upon layer of sumptuous flavour. This dish truly is like nothing else I’ve ever eaten.  Kids and husbands adore it too.

Since this is a stew there is no need to be exact with the ingredients. Add all items ‘to taste’. Whatever you do, it will all cook down into a bowl of scrumptious deliciousness. Also do not be put off by the longish list of ingredients. Prep time is not long and the hardest part about the dish is waiting for the darn thing to cook already. And your house will smell AMAZING.


Ingredients (Serves 6)

2 tablespoons of your favourite oil or fat for frying (Ottolenghi uses olive oil, I used paleo-recommended lard)
Approximately 1.5 to 2kg (3-4lbs) oxtail pieces (I used 3 supermarket packs)
4-5 shallots or half a large onion, roughly chopped
3 large carrots, cut in large chunks
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
500ml (approx 2 cups) red wine
650g Italian chopped tomatoes (I used 1 large can)
10 sprigs thyme and 5 sprigs rosemary, tied in a bundle
Zest of half an orange, peeled in long strips
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
1 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
500g peeled pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-3cm chunks (I used my favourite kubocha pumpkin, but any other flavourful pumpkin or butternut squash would do)
300ml water
Salt to taste

Gremolata (optional)
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 large clove garlic, very finely chopped
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon





If using, preheat the oven to 180°C or 350 F.  I, however, cooked my stew in the slow cooker in the 6 quart bowl. This is perfect slow cooker fodder.

Heat the fat in a large deep frying pan (if you will be transferring everything to the slow cooker afterwards) or directly into a large ovenproof casserole dish with well-fitting lid (be warned, this stew is BIG).

When the oil is hot, brown the oxtail pieces on all sides and transfer them to a colander so any excess fat is drained away. Do this in batches otherwise the pieces will boil in their juices rather than fry.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan and then add the shallots, carrots and garlic. Saute’ over a medium high heat for 10mins or so or until golden brown, stirring from time to time.

Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping any browned bits from the bottom. Cook until nearly all the wine has evaporated.

Add the canned tomatoes, herb bundle, orange zest, bay leaves, cinnamon, star anise, pepper and salt to taste.

Place the oxtail pieces on top and cover with a large piece of baking paper placed directly on the oxtail. Cover the casserole securely with a heavy lid and bake for 2-3hrs, or until the meat comes away easily from the bone.  Or reunite the oxtail and vegetables in your slow cooker and cook on LOW for about 8 hours or until the meat slides easily off the bone. I prepare mine in the morning and leave it gently cooking all day.

When the stew is cooked fish out the oxtail pieces and set them aside.  Ottolenghi suggests picking the meat off the bones but you really don’t need to.  One of the great joys of life is sucking oxtail bones I find (why does this seem so suggestive?).  Also fish out the herb bundle and the orange slices and bayleaves.

Add the pumpkin or butternut squash pieces to the sauce and  add the water if the dish seems dry, which it probably won’t if you’ve used the slow cooker.  Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 30mins or until the pumpkin is tender. Season to taste.

Meanwhile, mix the parsley, lemon zest and garlic together to make the gremolata. Traditionally served over osso buco in Italy the sharpness of the gremolata will ‘cut’ the unctuous creaminess of the stew. Serve the stew in a deep serving dish and scatter the gremolata over the top.

Serve with polenta or mashed potato if you’re not paleo-ing or some roasted cauliflower florets if you are.


05 April 2013

Canoe Island French Camp


This blog post is by way of a little favour to a friend.





You probably already know how much we love Canoe Island French Camp in this family, and that’s before the Minx has even been to one of their residential camps on her own.

We always have an idyllic time at their Family Camps and I had a magnificent time on my own at Patisserie Camp last year. 


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Canoe is like a little Garden of Eden dropped into Puget Sound – a perfect little island with its own forest and beaches and astonishing views in every direction. The camping here is high class – you sleep in brand new waterproof canvas tipis and have access to a comfortable club house with a pool, games room and proper indoor washing facilities. There are opportunities to learn French if you’d like – many of the camp counsellors are French – but it’s by no means obligatory and the French atmosphere just adds a delightful touch.




And the food is unbelievable, created by the resident chef and a young pastry chef who take the delectable produce from their own gardens and the surrounding islands and turn it into utterly scrummy restaurant-quality meals. And then there’s the sailing, the kayaking, the tennis, the yoga and the opportunity just to curl up in a hammock looking out to sea with with some knitting or a good book.


canoeisland-2 canoeisland-13


The very nicest thing, though, is the laid-back and utterly relaxing vibe. Connie and Joseph, the camp directors, are kindness personified and do everything to make sure your stay is as comfortable as possible.  And everyone who works there, even the resident animals, are just so friendly and charming.

Every Spring Connie and Joseph run weekend camps for adults, which allow grown ups to participate in all this magnificence and also contribute to a scholarship fund for financially disadvantaged kids, so they too can benefit from the incredible learning opportunities at Canoe. Each time I spend a weekend there, I feel like I’ve been on a week-long vacation.




Connie asked me if I could promote these weekends on the blog and I am delighted to do so – Canoe is one of my happy places.  If you live anywhere close to the Pacific Northwest and want to do some yoga, some art, some cooking, or just learn French, then I can’t recommend these weekends highly enough (and although the price of your stay includes a donation, they really are excellent value for money as you get looked after so very well).

Get more details about the adult camps here.  I think you’ll be seeing me and  the Minx at the Mother’s Day Camp. 


04 April 2013

The Big Bathroom Remodel: Hexagon Tiles


We were stuck for quite some time deciding on tile for the bathroom.




Aside from wood, nature doesn’t feature very strongly in our house, so all the natural stone and marble options didn’t seem very much  in keeping. Glass on the other hand seemed almost too contemporary for a craftsman house, so it quickly became apparent that ceramic tiles were the way to go.

We didn’t, however, want to default to subway tile walls with a penny tile floor, although we do find them very American and charming.  The bathroom we are remodelling is a later addition to our 1912 house and it probably makes sense to go for real Americana in the original downstairs bathroom.




{via Apartment Therapy}


In the end we were inspired by this bathroom on Apartment Therapy that we found via Pinterest, and fell in love with the large size hexagon tiles, which seemed both contemporary and a bit different but still timeless and in keeping with the rest of the house.

Much intensive searching online later, and the only 4 inch hexagon tiles we could find were these beautiful matte handmade Savoy tiles, made in the US by Crossville Inc, which come in a range of neutral colours, including white.



{via Crossville Inc}

So that’s what we went with, and the floor was finished yesterday. Delighted doesn’t even begin to cover it.  It looks spectacular and we are THRILLED.




Onwards and upwards.  It’s finally all starting to take shape.


03 April 2013

Project 52: Red Balloons


So last week’s assignment was simple. A concept shot inspired by “Red Balloons’. 

Because I wanted to do something a bit different, and because blowing up balloons makes my cheeks hurt, and because I’m trying to improve my food photography, I decided it might be easiest to just whip up a bunch of cupcakes.




In that I was almost certainly wrong.  Trying to organise and tame that ridicuously curly gift ribbon with tiny bits of sticky tape into strands that might possibly look like they were floating through the air tested my patience to the very limits.  Food and product stylists everywhere, I salute you.

I was worried that the photo above might be insufficiently conceptual, so then dug up a photo I had of a tiny Minx chasing balloons.  I used my still extremely crappy Photoshop skills to turn her into a Brush and included her in the picture.




I wasn’t entirely happy with this shot either as I couldn’t help wishing that the Minx had been stretching up towards the balloons, and the composition just didn’t look right. The Minx thinks it’s fabulous though, so I think I’ll make a canvas copy for her toyroom.

In the end I decided to use the same conceit but have the cupcake balloons wafting in front of the Space Needle.

This involved taking a photo of the Space Needle, converting it to a Brush and then using a mask to reveal the bunch of ribbons.  My Photoshop ‘skills’ pretty much exploded at this point.




To be honest, I think this is my least favourite of the Project 52 images I’ve produced to date, and I’m not sure that red flying cupcakes look particularly appetising, which, after all, is the point of food photography.  But it was a fascinating creative exercise and certainly tested my Photoshop skills, such as they are, to the very limits and beyond.



You can convert any image into a brush in Photoshop which gives it an interesting flat effect and means you can colourise it, move it about, multiply it, turn it, stamp your photos with it and do all sorts of jiggery pokery (note use of correct Photoshop terminology).  In fact do all the things you can do with the standard Brushes, but with a photo.

- Use your preferred selection tools to select the area of the image you wish to use.  (I had trouble selecting the Minx as you can see, the Space Needle was much simpler).

-  Go to Select –> Inverse and then delete the areas of the image you don’t want to use, so that you end up with your image on a transparent background.

- Convert the image you want to use to black and white, remembering that grey areas will show up in the brush but white areas will be transparent.

- Adjust contrast etc. to get a good strong B/W image

- Draw a box around the image with Rectangular Marquee Tool and go to Edit –> Define Brush Preset. And that’s it, you’ve created a new fancy Brush!

- If you want to save your brush permanently go to Window –> Brush Presets –> click on the Brush Presets Icon (second from left along the bottom) and Select the Brushes you want save. Then save them in a named set.

If you want to download some groovy premade Brushes for your digital artwork, check out Brusheezy or TwoPeasinaBucket.

And if you want to see how Photoshop Brushes can be used to make all sorts of crazy and inspiring art then check out this CreativeLIVE course with the incredibly bubbly and charming Khara Plicanic, which was one of the most fun courses I attended at Photoshop Week.

I spent the last couple of days at CreativeLIVE again, doing a course on Photoshop Working Foundations with ace photographer and Photoshop guru Ben Willmore.  My only regret is that I wish I’d done this course before Photoshop Week as I would have got so much more out of all the other courses I sat through. 

I can’t recommend this course highly enough if you want to get the basics of Photoshop – selections, layers, masking, adjustments etc. down pat. One of the most useful courses I’ve ever done and it would be a great purchase if you are fairly new to Photoshop.