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18 January 2013

WTF Friday: Versace Fall 2013


I’ve finally got my head back into the blogging game and have much to share with you next week. However, I couldn’t let this Friday go past without a quick WTF?

Today, we are going to be discussing lacy underwear for men.  As shown in Versace’s Fall 2013 Menswear collection.




By which I mean you will have to discuss it because I am rendered utterly speechless.


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I do appreciate, though, that Donatella, in keeping with couture tradition, added a more bridal look at the end of the show.





11 January 2013

A New Year, A New Kitchen


I haven’t been blogging regularly for a while and nobody’s currently reading this blog, so hopefully I can get away with slipping this in without anyone noticing.

WARNING:  I guarantee you will see nothing uglier on the Internet today than the following pictures.  Get the eye bleach ready just in case.

Finally, this year we will be remodelling our upstairs kitchen.  Our house has many fine features – a great location, a fabulous roof deck and spectacular views among them, but it is not blessed in its kitchens.

I say kitchens, because we have two of them, one upstairs and and one downstairs.  The downstairs one is very tiny and in need of extensive remodelling, so we tend to mostly use the upstairs kitchen.  Yes, the pictures you are about to see are of our nicest kitchen.




Aren’t those burnt orange walls and green laminate countertops just GORGEOUS?




I bet you’re jealous of those fabulously inconvenient shelves.




You too, can revel in the lack of storage space.  Now do you understand why you never see any ‘in progress’ shots on my recipes?

It gets worse in the other direction.






What about that LOVELY panelled ceiling?

The. fridge. will. go.




I am so embarrassed that we’ve been in this house for six years and done nothing about this hideosity.

We are on a tightish budget, so we can spend more on the downstairs kitchen, so it’s going to be Ikea or similar all the way up here, keeping most of the existing appliances and the existing layout intact.  We already have half a ton of Ikea kitchen stacked up in our basement, bought in the recent sale, and the contractor is due to start at the beginning of February.

Wish us luck! I’ll be asking for lots of our opinions along the way. At the very least we know whatever we end up with can’t possibly be worse than this.


05 January 2013

Hanging Gingerbread Cookies


It’s still sort of Christmas round these parts.  The Minx doesn’t go back to school until Monday and we keep the tree up until January 6th as is traditional in the UK.




So I wanted to share one of the most fun things we did this Christmas, which was make gingerbread cookies for the tree.




I wanted to do something to pull together the hodgepodge of ornaments and decorations we’ve gathered together over the years, so I decorated them as simply as possible with white frosting and assorted pinkish ribbons from my ribbon box.




The very cool thing about them is that you’re always prepared for unexpected kid guests, of which there seem to be very many over the holiday period.  Kids seem to love being able to choose their own cookie from the tree.


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If you want to make some next year I can highly recommend this recipe which made easy and extremely tasty cookies.

I used this recipe for basic royal icing using egg whites but halved the amount (ie. 1 egg white to 1.5 cups of sugar). You really don’t need much icing for these babies.

I then pushed a little sugar ball into the cookie dough before baking, which could be pushed out at the end and left a little hole for hanging without the need to do dangerous things with skewers.  This worked fantastically for the heart and star-shaped cookies, but I think next time I need to find a way of creating slightly smaller holes for my gingerbread girls and boys, so they don’t all look like that have frontal lobotomies.




As you can see, my icing skills leave an awful lot to be desired, but they were hugely fun to do and I think they have a certain, er, rustic charm. 

I think this is the start of a new Christmas tradition anyway, though I bet I’ll be cursing these come December-time. Did you guys start any new traditions this holiday?


02 January 2013

Walking in a Winter Wonderland in Whistler


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Good morning dear hearts and a happy new year to you all.  I am BACK.  Thank you so much for all your good wishes and butt repair tips here, on Facebook and via email.  This thing has been a complete BITCH but I’ve got it down to mild sciatica in the morning and a sort of bruised feeling in my bum at all other times, so definitely making progress. I can also sit which is a Christmas miracle in and of itself. 


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In case others think they might have the same problem I'll be writing a post in the near future about all the treatments I did and how they did or did not help.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season in the meantime.  We made our annual trek to Whistler, wherein I pack the Husband and the Minx off skiing and then take myself off on snowy walks with my camera and my thoughts. This year we had plenty of snow and plenty of sunshine and it was quite breathtakingly beautiful.


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One thing I did in Whistler was to read This Year I Will… which is full of tips and tricks for actually sticking to New Year’s resolutions.  One tip that is resonating hugely with me at the moment is to concentrate the mind and give the year a title.

So for me this year is going to be The Year of Getting Organised, The Year of Photography, and The Year of Getting Fit.  I like the idea of not making specific resolutions, but instead choosing areas of focus and attention.  That way I can accommodate my butterfly mind by doing lots of different things in a certain category and not have to beat myself up if I fail to keep specific resolutions.


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Have you made any resolutions for 2013?  What will be your areas of focus?  Do you think I’ll actually manage to tidy my desk this year?


10 December 2012

A Right Pain in the Butt


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So it turns out that I have something called piriformis syndrome, where a small muscle in my butt (just under the glutes) has tightened up so much (through sitting) that it’s pressing on the sciatic nerve and causing a lot of pain in my lower back, butt and right down my left leg.  Unfortunately sitting is incredibly painful and seems to make the pain a whole lot worse.

Things are getting gradually better after a lot of acupuncture, chiropractic, deep tissue massage, Rolfing, stretching, hot baths and heat treatments but progress is slow, and as you can imagine, blogging is almost impossible.

So I’ve reluctantly and sadly decided to stop blogging for a bit and just focus on resting my hip and getting treatment, hopefully back at the beginning of January.


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In the meantime I wish you all a very happy holiday season, with lots of love and laughter.  I will miss you all horribly.


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If anyone has had this and can recommend any treatmets that helped you, let me know in the comments.  I’m dying of frustration here.


05 December 2012

Advent Calendar Day 4: Separated At Birth


I wonder which came first.

This Anthology magazine cover?




Or these Country Living cookies? (via Design Crush)




04 December 2012

How To Cook the Perfect Turkey: Advent Calendar Day 3


We’re just coming out from under a heap of Thanksgiving turkey leftovers, but unlike many Americans we’re going to miss those suckers because this year I managed to cook the Most Incredible Turkey Known To Humankind – moist, succulent, and bursting with flavour, with a delectable burnished skin and not a trace of sawdust or cardboard. 


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This was the best turkey, avocado, bread sauce, gravy and mango chutney sandwich in the history of turkey, avocado, bread sauce, gravy and mango chutney sandwiches.

I take no personal credit for this superhuman feat, as all we did was gather advice from Alton Brown, Saveur Magazine, the Kelly Bronze website and various wonderful Facebook friends and squoosh it all together.  It ended up so good though that we made detailed notes for posterity.


Buy the most fabulous turkey you can afford:  TMITKTH was a 14 lb heirloom turkey. If you’re in the UK, Kelly Bronze turkeys are definitely worth the extra expense in my experience and I believe they are now becoming available for sale in the Eastern US.


Brine your turkey:  I know this is not very usual outside of the US but believe me it makes all the difference. We adjusted this recipe from Saveur Magazine to fit our turkey and bucket. 

Make a brine with 2tbsp of fresh sage which has been chopped and toasted in a hot dry frying pan (skillet), 2 cups of kosher salt, 1 cup of brown sugar and 2 quarts (2 litres) of warm water.  Feel free to add other herbs, spices and aromatics, this is just what we did for TMITKTH. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then add another quart/litre of water and leave to cool.

Place your turkey in a clean bucket (we lined ours with a bin liner) add the cool brine and then cover with water and ice. Squash the bird down with the lid of a Le Creuset pot if it’s floating too much.

Leave it overnight in a cool place. We brined ours for 15 hours in the end.


Butter it to within an inch of its life:  Dry the turkey thoroughly.  Soften at least one stick (120g) butter (the Husband told me afterwards that he had used two sticks, which did seem slightly excessive).

Stir a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh sage, thyme or other herbs into the butter, together with 4 fat minced garlic cloves. Feel free to try other herbs. That’s just what we used for TMITKTH.

Slather the garlic and herb butter all over the turkey and smear a ton under the skin of the breast.  Chop a lemon in half and shove into the turkey’s cavities. Tie its legs together. Sprinkle with sea salt and ground black pepper. DO NOT STUFF WITH STUFFING.


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Yeah, I was too drunk and stressed to take a picture of the actual turkey itself. I’m such a crap food blogger.


Roast it on a bed of root vegetables:  Quarter two or three onions, chop some big chunks of carrot, halve a head of garlic horizontally and create a ‘rack’ of root vegetables on the bottom of your roasting pan. Add branches of sage, rosemary and thyme.  Feel free to experiment with other root veggies and herbs, this is just what we used for TMITKTH. Lay your turkey on your bed of veg BREAST SIDE DOWN.


Cook it FAST:  This is what we learned from Alton and the Kelly Bronze website.  Long slow cooking creates cardboard birds.  This is also why you don’t stuff the bird, as this slows down cooking times.

Preheat your oven to 500 degrees F  (260 degrees C). Essentially as hot as your oven will go. ‘Sizzle’ for 30 mins. Then turn down oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and roast for a further 75 mins. Turn turkey over and roast for a further 30 mins or until the internal temp of the thickest part of breast is 165 degrees F (75 degrees C).  I do love my meat thermometer.  Don’t bother basting as all that does is cool down the oven (thanks Alton) and slow down the cooking time. In fact after turning down the temp we left TMITKTH in the oven and went out to our neighbours for cocktails and appetizers.

When your beautiful burnished bronze bird is ready,  take it out of the oven and rest it for about 45 mins covered in foil.


Make The Most Delicious Gravy Known To Humankind: Strain all the roasted root vegetables and pan juices through sieve. I hoiked out most of the onions as I don’t like my gravy to be too oniony and took out the carrots to serve as an extra side. Pour off most of the butter.  Add the juices back to roasting pan and smoosh the roasted garlic head with the back of a fork so that the super soft garlic puree oozes out into the juices. Remove the papery garlic skins. Warm the juices on the stove and sprinkle over 2-3 tablespoons flour, whisk all the time until smooth.  Add a generous slosh of white wine, dry vermouth or white port and strained home made giblet stock or other good quality chicken stock. (simmer the giblets from the turkey for about three hours in about a pint of water with half an onion, a chunked up carrot, some garlic cloves, parsley stems and peppercorns). Bubble the gravy until thick, whisking all the time to avoid lumps.


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To make up for not having an actual turkey pic in this blog post, here are some gratuitous pictures of the apple pie I made, after working a little bit of paste food colouring into the pastry.  I was delighted with how that turned out.

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03 December 2012

Advent Calendar Day 2: Christmas Baking


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I’m finding standing much less painful than sitting at the moment, which means I’m actually up to date with my Christmas baking. 

This year I’m going for the big British three of cake, pudding and mincemeat for mincepies. and thought you might like a reminder of the recipes I’ve used and published before.

How to make Christmas puddings

How to make Christmas cake and how to make Christmas cake part 2 and how to make Christmas cake update 

How to make mincemeat

02 December 2012

Advent Calendar Day 1: Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar


Still suffering with back pain (looks like I have something called piriformis syndrome), but I’m going to try a short, sweet Christmassy blog post every day as a little Advent Calendar for you all.




First up you must get your kids (and yourselves) a Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar.  These magically beautiful online calendars feature gorgeous animations, and lovely music, with a new little interactive Christmassy game or a charming little story or scenario every day.  As you open more windows the scene becomes more detailed and beautiful, and it changes through the day to reflect the time and the phases of the moon.  The Minx loves the little games such as decorating the Christmas tree and cutting out snowflakes online and spotting how the scene changes from day to day.  (I’d say this was perfect for 5-10 year olds).




The Minx is now excite to be working on this year’s beautiful Alpine village, but we retain a soft spot in our hearts for last year’s gorgeous London calendar which is still available.


26 November 2012

Things I Am Loving: Studio Mela


As it’s Cyber Monday and I’m awesomely well-organised (haha! :- Ed), I’m sitting at my desk gently shopping for Christmas presents for the Minx.


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Since she is now almost eight years old (how the heck did THAT happen?) I ‘m trying to get her a few more things which will still be very much loved and appreciated, but don’t fit into the ‘plastic tat made in China’ genre of presents.


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First up are these gorgeous prints from Studio Mela. I love how artist Shelli Dorfe’s charming illustrations are ridiculously cute, colourful and inspirational enough for any small girl, but never quite make it across the borderline into twee.


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Just the thing for the discerning girlchild in your life.


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Here is the Studio Mela Etsy shop, which is offering free shipping this Cyber Monday.


22 November 2012

Quick and Easy Chocolate Mousse


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I’m in a bit of a tizzy at present as tomorrow I’ve been designated as the Thanksgiving turkey provider  - we’re doing a neighbourhood Thanksgiving party crawl, with a different course at a different house.

Obviously and surreptitiously I will be doing my best to make the feast as much like a British Christmas dinner as  I can and will be sneaking bread sauce, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts and honey roast parsnips into the more traditional proceedings. 

I’m not on dessert duty, but if you are, here’s a very unseasonal but quick, easy and spectacularly delicious recipe for chocolate mousse, in case you’re looking for a suitably decadent dessert that you can whip up in double quick time. The best thing is that it only takes four simple ingredients.

This recipe was part of the fabulous Food + Foto course I did last month, which was an extremely fun and delicious way of working on your food photography.  I’m hoping they won’t mind me sharing this recipe.


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(Serves 4)

1 cup (180g)  bittersweet chocolate chips (the Minx said she would have preferred this made with a less dark chocolate, but she wolfed it down anyway)

3 tablespoons honey

1½ cups (375ml) whipping cream (for mousse)

½ cup (125 ml)  whipping cream (optional - to whip for topping)

sea salt to decorate


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Stir 1/2 cup (125 ml) of cream, the chocolate and the honey in heavy medium saucepan set over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.

Cool, stirring occasionally.

In large bowl, beat the remaining 1 cup (250 ml) of whipping cream until soft peaks form. Fold cream into the chocolate mixture in 2 additions. Divide mousse among four serving dishes of your choice. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.

If desired, whip the additional ½ cup of whipping cream to firm peaks. Decorate the chilled mousse with a coarse salt (not sel gris).

We loved this served with seasonal fruits.


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For those of you who are celebrating tomorrow, have a wonderful, not too stressful time.  You lovely blog readers and friends are one of the many things I am grateful for this Turkey Day.


20 November 2012

People I Am Loving: Lotta Jansdotter


There are some big changes happening round here, of which more anon, and I’m desperately trying to get myself more organised.  My office (in a corner of our bedroom) has been a disaster area for a very long time now, and I’ve promised myself I’ll get it sorted by the end of the year.

I’ve been finding these pics of Lotta Jansdotter’s NYC atelier very inspirational. If you look closely there are so many little organisational tips and tricks in each one.




I love the hanging clipboards in this picture.

And as someone who can NEVER find scissors when she needs them, this picture below is dribblingly gorgeous.







Lotta has been a busy bunny recently.

Last month she launched a beautiful line of dishes and linens at NYC’s Fish’s Eddy, also available online.


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And she’s just announced a range of beautiful fabric calendars, in all my favourite colours.  I may have to order one of each.


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So I’m sort of back. My back is definitely getting better – getting the inflammation down with heat, ice, and Advil is helping; together with chiropractic, stretching out the hip joint, some gentle yoga and not sitting at my desk too much.

Thanks for all your tips and messages!


14 November 2012

Leaf Apple Pie


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My back is still killing me, so trying not to spend too much time at the computer. I’ve now tried Rolfing, chiropractic and acupuncture without a whole load of success. If anyone has got any good ideas on how to treat lower back pain then I’d love to hear from you – especially about practitioners in the Seattle area.

In the meantime I made a Bramley apple and raisin pie, and had a little play while making the crust.


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I got a set of four different leaf shaped stamps/cutters at Williams-Sonoma a couple of years back, which I use all the time. Unfortunately they don’t have the same set for sale at the moment, but do have fall cutter sets that include at least one leaf.  And you could always make a pie covered in overlapping turkeys.


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09 November 2012

WTF Friday : John Derian


John Derian found and lovingly restored a dilapidated 1850s building in New York City’s East Village and in doing so thrilled me to my very soul.




Hey you guys, that’s not dirt in my house it’s a ‘patina’!

And now I can make a fortune selling ‘Pay Dirt’  - our own particular house-generated brand of dust and grey cat hair to New York City loft dwellers.

I have to admit though, that his house is GORGEOUS.





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Full  before and after slideshow here.

My back is much better today! It’s amazing what lack of chronic pain does to my mood.


08 November 2012



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Sorry for lack of recent bloggery.

I’ve aggravated an old lower back injury and sitting at my computer has been painful, so I’m trying to limit desk time for the moment. 

A combination of chiropractic, Rolfing, rest and light yoga seems to be helping though, so I’m hoping to get back to business on Monday.

Miss you guys!


05 November 2012

The United Colors of Autumn


There’s no denying that Seattle know how to change seasons BEAUTIFULLY.


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23 October 2012

Adventures in Baking: Chocolate Eclairs


I’ve been itching to make chocolate eclairs for the longest time.

Old-fashioned British cream cakes (French pastries filled with sweetened whipped cream) were always my favourites and Jean-Marc demonstrated how easy it is to make choux pastry when he whipped up his Saint Honore’ back at patisserie camp.  And if you don’t fill them with crème patissiere (pastry cream) they’re actually surprisingly quick and easy to make and I prefer them as they’re not too sweet.




INGREDIENTS (Makes 13 small eclairs)

For the choux pastry:

60g (4 tablespoons) butter

1 good pinch salt

130ml (1/2 cup) water

80g (3/4 cup) plain flour, sifted

3 large free range eggs

For the filling and topping:

1 pint (2 cups) whipping cream

1-2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (or to taste)

Some chopped pistachios (or other nuts) optional

For the chocolate icing:

100g (3.5 oz) good quality dark chocolate (I used Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate)

50ml (4 tablespoons) cream

50g (4 tablespoons) butter





Preheat the oven 220˚C (430˚F) and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat (I love my Silpat).

To make the choux pastry, place the butter and water in a saucepan and bring to a steady boil until the butter is completely melted.

Remove from the heat and add the flour a little at a time, beating with a wooden spoon until it all comes together in a ball. Place back over the heat and continue beating the dough in the saucepan for about 40 seconds to cook the flour.

Remove from the heat and set aside for a few minutes otherwise the eggs will cook when you add them. Beat one of the eggs in a small bowl.

Add the two unbeaten eggs to the warm dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly until completely incorporated. The dough will look like it’s curdling.  Keep beating, eventually it will come together into a smooth paste.

Add the remaining beaten egg a little at a time until you have a smooth, shiny paste that will drop easily from your spoon. (I added all of my beaten egg).

Using a spatula, scoop the dough into a large piping bag fitted with a large round piping nozzle and pipe 10cm (3 inch) lines on to the lined baking sheets, leaving a good sized space between each one to allow for spreading. Brush each one with any leftover beaten egg. (I didn’t bother since I had no left over egg).

Place in the oven, reduce the heat to 190˚C (375˚ F), and use a wooden spoon to crack the door open an inch to let the steam escape (Chef Jean Marc taught us this trick at patisserie camp), Bake for approximately 25 minutes until the eclairs are puffed up, and are golden and crisp. If they’re not completely dry bake them for an additional few minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before filling.




For the filling, whip the cream with a little vanilla sugar (or sugar + a couple of drops of vanilla extract) and then either make three holes in the bottom of each éclair and pipe in the cream, using a small round nozzle, or, as I did, just cut them in half lengthways and fill with whipped cream using a teaspoon.

To make the chocolate glaze, melt the dark chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of hot water. When the chocolate has melted remove the bowl from the heat and gently stir in the cream. Fold in the butter until you have a shiny, spreadable chocolate glaze.

Dip the filled eclairs into the glaze and sprinkle with chopped nuts if liked.  Chill in the fridge until serving. They will keep in the fridge for a couple of days, though I bet they don’t get the chance.

I used Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70% Chocolate for the glaze.

When I first arrived in rainy Novemberish Seattle nearly seven years ago, it was only the discovery of Green & Black’s Almond Chocolate in our local supermarket which stopped me getting the next flight home. Since then I’ve discovered many delicious artisan chocolate bars (the Pacific North West appears to be the artisan chocolate hub of the US) but still no commercial chocolate bar that comes anywhere close in quality and is also organic and Fair Trade, for such a reasonable price as Green & Blacks.

Here’s the link to some brownies I made a while back using the fabulous Green & Black’s chocolate cookbook, which I also highly recommend.

FULL DISCLOSURE:  Green & Black’s sent me some free samples recently, but they didn’t really need to bother. I’ve been a fan ever since the first nibble I took back in the UK, years ago now.


19 October 2012

WTF Friday: Mercedes Castro Menswear


Since I’ve just finished knitting something for myself, I feel it’s only fair that I knit a little something something for the Husband don’t you think?







{Mercedes Castro Fall-Winter 2012 via Rose-Kim Knits}


16 October 2012

Adventures in Knitting: Garden Party Socks


Or why I *heart* Air Canada (and yes, Canadian readers, I have been told this is a controversial opinion).




Our flight back from the UK to Vancouver this summer was an eventful one, as we were returning on Air Canada flight chock-full of Canadian medal winners.  I spent most the flight working on a pair of socks. I had started these socks back in Del Mar for Spring Break and had knitted the whole of the first sock and and was about three-quarters of the way through the second, representing hours and hours and HOURS of work. Towards the end of the flight, exhausted, I packed my knitting into its Ziploc bag and tucked into the seatback pocket in front of me (you can see where this is going can’t you?).  AT the end of the flight we headed off into the maelstrom of an airport waiting to greet its returning Olympians and I didn’t give my socks another thought.




Of course, when we got home and I started to unpack, my knitting was nowhere to be found.  I called Air Canada in a panic and spoke to a very friendly person in India who took all my details, but didn’t seem to have access to any lost and found information. I was told that lost items would be cleared from the plane and then sent to a central lost property facility and I would be informed if they turned up.

I have to admit to feeling disproportionately grumpy about the whole thing.  It’s at times like this that you realise how much handmade things really mean; how very fond I had grown of my hippy clown barf socks made from one of a kind yarn; how certain I was that I could never be bothered to re-knit them; and how much of my time and myself I had invested in them.




Three weeks went by with no info, so I called again, spoke to another friendly person in India who had no access to specific details and was told that it was still possible the socks were making their way through the system.  But by this stage I had sort of given up.

And then, about three weeks after that, a small package was left on my porch, with small Air Canada label on it.  Could it really be?  With my heart thumping I opened the package and there were my socks, returned to me courtesy Air Canada’s Central Baggage Office in Montreal.  I tell you the Prodigal Son’s father wasn’t half as pleased to see him as I was to see them.

Here are my cuties in all their finished glory. 

The yarn, Mansfield Garden Party by Madeline Tosh, is extraordinary. It changes colour every few centimetres through moss greens, sky blues, pastel pinks and lilacs and mustardy yellows and browns – yes, just like a garden in full bloom- and doesn’t pool excessively into huge splodges of colour. I used Cookie A’s BFF pattern which I thought worked fabulously with the yarn.  It was interesting to knit , mixed up the yarn even more and was not overpowered by the variegated colour.

Goodness I love these guys. And how I LOVE Air Canada.

A friend was saying that a similar thing happened to her and now she always tucks a business card into her knitting bag.  Why didn’t I think of that?

As a special bonus here are some pics the Canadian Olympians returning home.  That was crazy fun.

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15 October 2012

Monthly Trend Report : Animal Print


Hi chaps, here’s Tina again with her monthly report on interiors trends.  Seems we’re going a bit wild this month.

Hello again! It's Tina here, back with your Monthly Trend Report. Fall is officially here and it's quite chilly in New York. When it comes to fall design many like to use materials that are warm and soft to the touch. Which is exactly why I think that animal print is here to stay! (At least for the next few months.) Animal print has been making an appearance over the last year, in rugs, upholstery and accent fabrics.



Via Lonny // Lonny // New York Social Diary // Martyn Lawrence Bullard // Lonny // Beck Design // Tell Your Interior Designer

Zebra print is the most popular, and it may be because black and white are classic colors that can be placed into any space easily. If you are looking for more of a pop you may want to think about leopard and cheetah print, which is huge in fashion right now. If it's fashionable for your clothes, it'll be great for the home as well.


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Via Robin Bell Interiors

Using actual animal hides can get expensive, and real hides may not be everyone's cup of tea. If you love the look but want to keep it simple, there are many printed fabrics you can choose from to help you get the look.

What do you think of animal print? Love the trend or hate it? Do you think it's here for the long run?

Please visit Tina’s blog Life in Sketch. I’m loving these monthly trend reports and want to make sure it’s worthwhile for her to stick around.


12 October 2012

My Mamma’s Tomato Sauce and a Foodportunity


I wanted to give a little shout out today to an amazing lady and an amazing idea.

I arrived in Seattle six years ago with approximately two hundred cookbooks, several boxes of kitchen paraphernalia, knowing not a soul and no idea that I was about to encounter one of the most vibrant and inspiring food communities on the planet.


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I caught glimpses of the scene through various blogs and then through Facebook, but it was always as an outsider wistfully gazing in, with my nose pressed firmly against the window pane, while the assembled throng feasted inside. Twitter was a help; finally I could follow the restaurants, farmers, bloggers and assorted foodies I’d been admiring, but the conversation always seemed to be swirling around me rather than including me.

And then I heard about Foodportunity. And it was revelation.

Seattle food blogger, super mum, and networking genius, Keren Brown, of the blog Frantic Foodie, started the Foodportunity meet ups back in 2009 as a way of bringing together the disparate elements of the Seattle foodie scene.  Food enthusiasts of every stripe – chefs and  restaurateurs, writers and bloggers, photographers and PR people, farmers and winemakers, bakers and makers and anyone who is enthusiastic and passionate about food is invited to attend, sample delectable fare from a variety of restaurants and producers, and talk about food, until the cows (all organic and locally reared of course) come home.

At my first Foodportunity I met bloggers I’d been following for years, chefs I had admired from afar and a whole bunch of knowledgeable, witty and friendly fellow food enthusiasts, who were only too keen to share their insights and expertise. Finally, after three years of being in Seattle, I had found my ‘family’. People I met at that and subsequent Foodportunities now number among my dearest friends and I’ve been invited to some amazing events as a consequence.  It has quite literally transformed my life in Seattle and I can never thank Keren (who has also since become a friend) enough.  Every city needs a Keren and a Foodportunity.

If you’re pressing your nose against the glass of the Seattle food scene and want to be welcomed inside with open arms then get yourself a ticket to the next Foodportunity on October 22nd.  I am girlishly excited because fabulously inspirational food blogger and food stylist extraordinaire Aran Goyoaga of Cannelle et Vanille is going to be there, talking about her new book. Do let me know if you’re thinking of attending.  I’d love to meet up.

Anyway, I’m throwing in a quick recipe for my mum’s tomato sauce as for me this is the ground zero, the sine qua non of my own foodie journey.  Even as a tiny kid I could tell that my Italian mother’s homemade tomato sauce was in a different league from all other canned and jarred sauces I’d ever tasted and now I see the Minx having the same thoughts when I make this for her.  I used to adore this not just on pasta, but on breaded shallow-fried veal or chicken fillets.



A generous slug of good olive oil

1 small carrot, finely chopped

One medium or half a large onion, finely chopped.

1-3 cloves of garlic, crushed, to taste

A couple of pounds of ripe tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and filleted or a bottle of good passata or a couple of cans of good quality tomatoes

Half a good quality stock cube (optional)

A couple of glasses of white wine

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Herbs to taste (see ‘Variations’ below)



Heat a generous slug of oil in saucepan and gently sizzle the carrot, onion and garlic until softened and very slightly golden. This is your soffritto. You could add finely chopped celery, but cooked celery is the work of devil, so I do without.

Squeeze your tomatoes through a mouli-legumes (foodmill?) if necessary and add to the soffritto.  Make sure you scrape and add all the flavourful stuff from the bottom of the mouli. Cook the sauce on a medium heat until it has reduced and thickened (about 30-45 minutes depending on your tomatoes) again making sure that you scrape in all the flavourful stuff that clings to the side of the saucepan.

A dirty little family secret is that my mother and aunt would crumble in half a good quality stock cube (they call them ‘dadi’ or dice in Italian) and this does add an extra layer of flavour.  I bought some good stock cubes when I was in France this year for exactly this purpose but you can use whatever you have to hand or nothing at all.

When the sauce is pretty much ready, throw in a couple of glasses of white wine and then simmer the sauce for an extra ten minutes. Season to taste.

You could probably can this, making sure to add either citric acid or lemon juice. I am scared of canning, so freeze my sauce in a stack of Ziploc bags.


You could add some finely diced pancetta or dried herbs such as oregano to the initial soffritto, some bayleaves during cooking or some fresh basil, thyme or fresh oregano to the sauce with the wine at the end.  You could also experiment with substituting red wine, vermouth or white port for the white wine.

If you want other ideas for what to do with a glut of  tomatoes – you could dry them and preserve them in oil, make gazpacho, or bake tomato focaccia.

I think it’s about time I made a cake, don’t you?


09 October 2012

Adventures in Baking: Focaccia




So in an effort to work on my food photography I’m doing this thing called Souvenir Foto School – Food+Foto.  Each week for four weeks, we’re given different courses of a virtual dinner party to make and photograph. Recipes are provided but we can also use our own recipes or buy in our own food. I’m feeling particularly inspired as the menu given is an Italian one, so it gives me a chance to go back to my Italian roots.

This week the first course of the dinner party was ‘ flatbreads and infused oils’, which gave me a great excuse to bake my favourite focaccia recipe, which comes from Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy. As an aside I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s packed full of comparatively simple but very traditional Italian recipes, the sort of thing my Italian family cooks all the time – plus lots of little anecdotes and stories from Roden’s travels. 





1kg (2lbs) plain or all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

25g/1oz dried yeast (1 sachet is perfect)

About 500 ml (2 1/4 cups) warm water

4 tbps good olive oil

Additional oil for oiling the baking sheet and brushing the bread

Coarse sel gris, rosemary, sage, thinly sliced red onions or cherry tomatoes for the toppings


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Put the flour in a big bowl and make a well in the centre.  Activate the yeast according to the packet instructions and add it to the flour (either hydrate it in some of water or just stir it into the flour). Add the salt and olive oil.

Then add enough warm water to make a workable but slightly sticky dough.  I ended up adding a little more water this time round.

Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until it is soft and elastic.  You need to get to about medium gluten development on the window pane test, but I don’t normally get that technical.

When it’s ready, cover the dough with oil and leave it in a clean bowl in a warm place until it has at least doubled in bulk. You could leave it in the fridge overnight if necessary.

After the initial rise, punch the dough down and divide into two. Shape each portion into a rectangle and place on an oiled baking sheet (I find 13’ by 9’ pans perfect for this).

Use your fingers to press and push the dough out until it fits the pans.  It should end up being about 1 inch thick and you should be able to see the indentations from your fingers in the dough. They are what catches the oil and flavourings, so push firmly.

Brush with oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and herbs, or add thinly sliced red onions, or halved cherry tomatoes. Let the dough rise again until it’s puffy all over and about two inches thick.




Whack your oven up to the highest setting and set a cast iron pan or similar in the bottom.  Put the bread in the oven, and simultaneously add a cup or two of water to the hot pan in the bottom to create steam. Shut the oven door quickly and don’t open it for about 15 minutes. Your bread should be golden brown and ready after about 20 minutes.  When ready, tip it from the pans, brush it again with oil and serve warm.

I also made a couple of simple infused oils..  I just added some springs of rosemary to one batch, and some small whole dried chilies, slivers of garlic and strips of lemon zest to the other.




08 October 2012

Pinterest Take 5: Orange Front Door


After breaking my addiction for a little while, I am suddenly back on Pinterest with a vengeance – thereby using up all the time I could be spending sprucing up my home, cooking good food, or doing cool craft projects by pinning up pretty pictures of said activities instead.

But I digress. It must be the season, but suddenly a plethora of orange doors – in vibrant, juicy, mouthwatering, knock ‘em dead mandarin orange – have been popping up all over my stream. 

It would be impossible to be depressed in a house with an orange door, wouldn’t it?



1. From That Kind of Woman via Mrs French *

2. From Dwellers without Decorators via KMinNYC

3. From Planete-Deco via Maria Kunkel

4. From The Designer Pad via Carrie Hampton

5. From Justina Blakeney via Happy Mundane


05 October 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Fairmont Empress Hotel


I’ve just realised that although I blogged the awesome afternoon tea we had at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria on Vancouver Island, I never got round to blogging about the actual hotel, which is a shame, as the Minx and I had the most fabulous stay there and can’t recommend it highly enough.




To put it in context, the hundred-year old Empress is probably the closest thing this corner of the world gets to Downton Abbey and yet the hotel manages to pull off an amazing juggling act.  It is supremely comfortable, laid-back and not remotely stuffy, full of 21st century amenities and luxuries, whilst beautifully and wittily preserving all the over-the-top Edwardian splendour and graciousness.

Stay here and you can believe that the sun really never set on the British Empire, though there is no Lady Violet raising a disapproving eyebrow over the teapot.

After all, where else could you find tigers, lions and killer whales?  (There are elephants too, but my photos were blurred).


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Perfectly preserved post boxes adorn the walls together with steely-eyed wives of Governors-General (clearly Maggie Smith’s close relations).


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The carpets are swirly and the vistas are imposing.



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Yet our room was cosy and comfortable, with a beautiful view, and we were given access to the gorgeously pretty Gold Lounge and its neverending supply of elegant pastries (I highly recommend paying for this upgrade if you can).



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The Minx had an absolute ball.  I think she thought she as a princess in a fairytale palace and we had enormous fun running round the hotel doing the scavenger hunt she found in her kid gift pack and finding out more about the hotel’s history.


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She also really appreciated her kid-sized bathrobe


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and the truly phenomenal indoor swimming pool.




The staff were kindness personified to the Minx and were a key part of the enormously relaxing and unintimidating atmosphere, despite the grand surroundings.

We even had fun playing ‘Silent Ninja’ on the gracious lawns outside.




That night after popcorn and a movie in bed I snuck the Minx out in her pyjamas to see the beautiful harbour views.






Before my friend and I repaired to the Bengal Lounge for some truly excellent cocktails.




This wasn’t just a hotel stay,  it was an experience we won’t easily forget. Everyone deserves to live like a Dowager Duchess at least once.


If you can’t stretch to a stay at the Empress, the Afternoon Tea is fabulous way of joining in the fun and seeing the hotel’s most beautiful public rooms..

Full Disclosure: The Minx and I were the guests of the Fairmont Empress for one night and for afternoon tea. I promise that they have had no influence on the content of this blog post and all opinions are my own.


02 October 2012

Adventures in Cooking : Gazpacho




I know, I know, yesterday was the first day of October .

But it’s been a crazy warm here in Seattle this September and the farmers’ markets have been overflowing with delicious tomatoes.  I’ve been skinning and deseeding tons of tomatoes to make stacks of tomato sauce for the freezer and have discovered that if you rub the leftover skins and seed pulp through a sieve you get lots of the most delicious pulpy tomato juice.

Which is perfect for gazpacho.

The recipe below is one I cobbled up myself from various books and online sources. I’ve been fiddling with it for years now and can’t remember what my sources were, sorry. Spanish people have tried it though and it’s apparently pretty authentic.




This chilled soup, which is nothing more than a whizzed up salad, is gorgeous when (if) the weather is warm and the tomatoes are juicy. I quite often make a big pot just for us to eat at home, but it also makes a great starter for a summer dinner party, in which case you may want to add the optional garnishes. Don’t bother making this if you can’t get hold of really delicious, juicy ripe tomatoes – in the US I use heirlooms and in the UK cherries.

You will need to whizz every thing together with a handheld blender. If you don’t have one you’re going to have to do messy things with a food processor or goblet blender. If you don’t have one of those, I really wouldn’t bother making this.


A big jugful of thick, pulpy tomato juice, or passata or a bunch of fresh, skinned and de-pipped tomatoes

½ large cucumber, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled

1 small onion, red for preference

½ green pepper (optional, but Anaheims are nice)

2 slices white bread or 8 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (or substitute red or white wine vinegar)

1 big handful parsley sprig

1 large sprig mint

few drops Tabasco (optional)

1 teaspoon tomato ketchup (optional, I prefer to use the Heinz stuff without HFCS, called ‘Simply Heinz in the US)

salt and pepper


1 red pepper, chopped into tiny dice

1 green pepper, chopped into tiny dice

1 small red onion, chopped into tiny dice

2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped into tiny dice

Tiny croutons





Place the tomato juice/tomatoes into a big jug. Roughly chop the cucumber, onion (and pepper if using) and add to the tomatoes together with the garlic, mint and parsley. Tear up the slices of bread or add the breadcrumbs. I always have a bag of fresh breadcrumbs in the freezer and add them frozen to the soup.

Whizz every thing together with your handheld blender. Add the oil, vinegar, Tabasco and salt and pepper to taste and a teaspoon of tomato ketchup if you think that your tomatoes need it (apparently they do this in Spain, so that’s OK). Stir together and chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Add a few ice cubes if you want to chill it faster.


01 October 2012

Art Yulia


Here’s a bit of lovely to start your week. Yulia Brodskaya is a Russian paper artist and graphic designer who now lives and works in London.

Her amazingly intricate and stunningly beautiful artwork made from coiled strips of coloured paper has been commissioned by a number of big brands.  I’m intrigued to see where it will end up next.






Starbucks_instant Yulia_Brodskaya- 100-songs


Neiman_marcus_catalog_COVER BOstonglobeTNcover


See Yulia’s entire portfolio here.  All images by Yulia Brodskaya.


29 September 2012

Saturday Link Love




At Piebox, they create raw pine boxes designed to transport a 9 inch pie safely and easily.  I may well be investing in one of these.


Inaki Aliste Lizarralde draws incredibly detailed floorplans of the dwellings in famous TV shows. The post I wrote several years ago about Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment still gets hundreds of hits a week.




In Fictitious Dishes, Dinah Fried recreates iconic food of literature in her food photography.  Here’s the grilled cheese from ‘Heidi’  that sounded so delicious when I was a child.




Sheri Silver has been making fruit leather from all the excess fruit sitting in her fridge and I must do the same, since we’ve been going a little crazy picking wild blackberries recently.




Lotta Jansdotter is launching a new line at Fishs Eddy.  The above invitation is from her Facebook page.

Have a great weekend!  I will be going to the North West Chocolate Fest tomorrow. Anyone else got some exciting plans?


28 September 2012

WTF Friday: Prada Spring 2013 Shoes


prada shoes spring 2013


Here are Miuccia Prada’s latest shoes.  Apparently the ‘socks’ are soft leather booties to which you can strap different shoe platforms. I’m not sure that makes them better or worse.

I have to admit that though my first reaction to these was ‘WTF?’ as I’ve been putting this post together I’ve come to appreciate them more as, I dunno, performance art or something.

And if I were very tall and very skinny and very rich, I might be tempted to wear the pink ones with skinny jeans and a simple cashmere sweater.

What do you chaps think?


27 September 2012

Father Rabbit


Why oh why oh WHY isn’t beautifully curated online shop Father Rabbit based in the US?


father-rabbit-onlineIt is incredibly unfair.  The good news though is that the New Zealand-based shop, run by husband and wife team Claudia Zinzan and Nick Hutchinson will shp worldwide at flat rates. 

Don’t tell the Husband, but I may have placed a teensy order today.


26 September 2012

Adventures in Cooking: Oven Dried Tomatoes in Oil


It’s been the most incredible warm, dry, sunny September here in Seattle and the whole place, even my little sidewalk veggie patch, is overflowing with ripe tomatoes. (If you’ve ever been to Seattle in September before you’ll know that it’s usually green tomato central round here).




The farmers’ markets are teeming with fragrant ripe toms of every shape, size and hue and I’ve been desperately roasting them, drying them, making sauce and jugs of gazpacho (on the blog soon) until it comes out of our ears, in a frantic race against time to make the most of the bounty.

One quick and easy way to use up great tomatoes, particularly any pretty cherry or small tomatoes you can find, is to dry them in the oven.

Pick off the stalks and calyxes and wash the tomatoes.  Pat them dry with kitchen towel.  Put them in a bowl and add around a tablespoon of olive oil and a little pepper and good salt (I usually use Maldon Sea Salt). Swish everything around with your hands until each tomato is coated with oil and seasoning and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You could add some chopped fresh herbs at this point.




Heat the oven to its lowest possible temperature – my oven goes down to 180 degrees F (around 80 degrees C) – and then bake the tomatoes for a number of hours until they reach the level of dryness you want. 

These have been cooked down to a medium level of squishiness (mi cuit),


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Some of my mi cuit tomatoes have been stored in Ziploc bag in the freezer, ready to be slipped into sauces, casseroles, soups, stews in the winter months, but I also experimented in preserving some of them in oil.

Sterilise a pretty jar and pack with dried tomatoes.  I added my tomatoes hot from the oven so as to the flavour the oil as much as possible. Pour some good olive oil over the top leaving around an inch of headspace and tuck in garlic, herbs, spices or small chilis for flavour. I used branches of rosemary and slivers of garlic in this batch.




I’m not sure how long these will last as they have not been properly canned.  I suggest you use yours up with two or three weeks (this will not be a problem as they so utterly delicious).  I’ve had mine for two weeks now and they are still perfect and taste mindblowingly good in salad or as an accompaniment to charcuterie. When you’ve used up all the tomatoes, the flavoured oil will be fabulous on salad or pasta.

Last night I chopped some of mine up fairly finely and added them to some melted butter and lemon juice as a topping for roasted halibut and they truly were exceptional.


25 September 2012

Go Fug Your Room: Nina Garcia’s New York Apartment


This month Architectural Digest is featuring the Upper East Side apartment of legendary fashion editor and US Project Runway judge Nina Garcia.

Which I was very much expecting to like as I enjoy her personal style very much (check out Sirs T and Lo’s ‘Judging the Judges’ columns for some examples). 


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And at first I thought I did. The light airiness of the apartment itself is lovely and the colour scheme seemed refreshing and unusual.


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But oh, Nina, Nina.  The more I looked at it I realised that I didn’t really like it at all. The colour story is only interesting because the stylist brought in some hot pink flowers and green leaves.  Look more closely and you’ll see that it’s a rather bland combination of white, grey, terracotta and camel, with some powder blue accents.

It also all seems rather uptight and uncomfortable – I think due to the lack of personal items beyond busts and artwork, and the spiky, brittle, skinny, fashion model legs on nearly every single piece of furniture. These are chairs and sofas made for perching, not for cosy snuggling.

The stone bust, vase and fireplace surround also seem rather hard and unfriendly, while the hideous carpet in the dining room, which admittedly is one of the few things with any personality in the entire apartment, looks like some fiendishly complicated children’s board game.




This is apparently the apartment that Nina shares with her young family, and though I’m a great believer in keeping some spaces free of kid stuff, the fact that there is no trace of them in any of the rooms on show – no photos, kid art, toys, clothes or kid-friendly furniture -  seems a little sad. Or perhaps they’re occasionally permitted to play on the dining room carpet when their mother isn’t looking.

All in all the whole ambience just seems too controlled and impersonal, with any hint of quirkiness, personality, warmth, exuberance or life, expertly stifled by layer upon layer of expensive ‘good taste’.  But heck what do I know.


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The closet, on the other hand, is completely and utterly to die for.


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What do you chaps think?



24 September 2012

Emmys 2012: Canary Yellow Dresses


So you’re an uber stylish mega lady celebrity attending one of the big celebrity bashes of the year and you decide to wear a colour which is rarely seen on the red carpet but which will really make you stand out in the crowd.

Unfortunately for you, you have forgotten that mirrormirror is clearly the uber stylish mega lady celebrity’s fashion blog of choice (which is astonishing since we rarely discuss fashion) and that back in September 2011 we were discussing Caitlin Moran’s maxim that ‘yellow goes surprisingly well with everything’.



So if you thought you were going to stand out in the crowd wearing your canary yellow dress, you clearly had another think coming.

Can you imagine how pissed off these women were yesterday evening?

UPDATE: Oops. Just found another one.




22 September 2012

Saturday Link Love


I’m trying to be a bit more active on social media nowadays, posting up interesting things I see around and about to the mirrormirror Facebook page and to my Twitter stream.

I thought I’d also start doing a regular Saturday link round up for those of you who inexplicably don’t follow my aimless meanderings on social media, just in case you find yourselves with time on your hands at the weekend


Liberty Christmas Crackers


Apologies for talking about Christmas in September, but these Liberty print Christmas crackers are too beautiful not to share {via the beautiful new blog from erstwhile British rock chick and now designer Pearl Lowe}.




I went to a class at the Pantry at Delancey a week or two back and was lucky enough to try their homemade roasted pepper hot sauce.  Which was amazing. You definitely need to make this.



Marmite has brought out a limited edition gold version with edible golden flecks. I love it. (British in joke). Poor bereft overseas Marmite fans such as myself can order it from the official expat page on the Marmite website, which ships worldwide.




Finally someone has worked out that it would make sense to have differently coloured dollar bills. And making them different lengths to ensure better money management is a fabulously ingenious idea.

I just wish these were real,  I get so confused. {From designboom via the lovely Tula}.


21 September 2012

WTF Friday: WTF Stamp


I don’t think I’ve ever needed a piece of office equipment more.



{Available from Knock Knock.  I love that according to the site it now comes with a ‘smooth, satisfying ker-chunk’. That makes all the difference.}


20 September 2012

Fifty Shades of Decor


Come and visit Christian Grey’s penthouse at the Escala in Seattle.

I have yet another terrible confession to make. I have been reading over-hyped spankbuster Fifty Shades of Grey.




And yes it is excruciatingly badly written, the sex scenes are repetitive and surprisingly dull, the hero is a borderline psychopath and the heroine is gobsmackingly, or rather, bottomsmackingly irritating. But yes I read it through to the bitter end (and, oh the shame, the two sequels) and yes, I will go and see the movie if they cast Ryan Gosling.  I really hate myself though.




As an aside, by far the best thing about it are these hysterical reviews on Goodreads featuring the most inspired use of cheesy animated gifs ever. It’s worth reading the books for these alone.

One extremely amusing aspect of the books, for me at least, is that British author E L James set them in Seattle, evidently without having set foot on the American continent, let alone in the Pacific Northwest, and having seemingly done most of her research from a map (held upside down) and real estate websites.

I can see the fabulous Escala condo building, where Christian has his wicked way with lip chewing, ever flushing, Ana from my bedroom window, and for the delectation and delight of the mere handful of my erudite readers who will have read such garbage, I have found some photos of Christian’s penthouse online.

And it is amazing. Enjoy.



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{All photos by Choi Yee Wong from I.C.E Digital Studio}

Inexplicably there are no photos of the ‘red room of pain’ though.


19 September 2012

Seattle’s Great Wheel


Yesterday was my birthday and for a special treat we decided to take a spin on Seattle’s Great Wheel - the new super Ferris wheel which opened this summer on Seattle’s waterfront. 






It’s not quite the London Eye, but the views over downtown Seattle and Elliott Bay are just as spectacular.  The sun shone for me yesterday and we were lucky enough to board just as the sun was setting over the Olympic mountains.




The Husband treated us to the exclusive, all black VIP Gondola – which was expensive but worth it I think for the super comfortable bucket seats, which for some reason made me feel much less nervous (I’m not so good with heights), the see-through glass floor and the fact that we didn’t have to share with another party.  I think we also got a longer ride than others too (and some super uglyass tee-shirts).





Here’s the view down through the glass-bottom of the gondola


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And here’s a gratuitous shot of some folks on the pier watching the sun going down, just because I like it really.



Seattle peeps, I highly recommend this if you haven’t been already.  I understand the light show is pretty major too.

14 September 2012

WTF Friday: Wenlock and Mandeville, A Retraction


And so the Paralympics have drawn to a close - though you’d never have noticed if you were relying on the shameful lack of coverage by NBC in the US – and Britain can go back to being its normal curmudgeonly self.

But in the meantime I have an apology to make.  Do you remember this recent WTF Friday featuring Olympic and Paralympic Mascots Wenlock and Mandeville? And how scathing I was about their godawful ugliness (an opinion shared here by the Guardian)? And how no one in their right minds would possibly buy them?

Designer Grant Hunter has always defended them against the most scathing criticism by saying that children love them.




And guess who has pride of place amongst the very special stuffies who get the honour of sleeping with the Minx?

And who did we spent hours chasing after in London? (Though unfortunately we didn’t make it to Regent’s Park to find Sherlock Wenlock).





The Minx adores him. We have four in total, in various sizes and colours.  The kids we were staying with in London adored him too.

Grant Hunter, Wenlock, Mandeville. I apologise.


13 September 2012

Monthly Trend Report: Chalkboard Paint


Hello again! It's me, Tina Ramchandani, from Life in Sketch. I'm back again with this month's trend report. It's a little funny, actually. When I wrote last month's polka dot trend report, I felt the polka dots becoming more popular, but I didn't think they would explode so quickly. As soon as the article posted, I felt as though I was seeing dots at every turn! It could just be that I had been noticing them more, but I really feel the trend is in full form now, and here to stay for a while. I've even invested in a tone on tone polka dot sweater. I can't wait for fall to arrive so I can wear it!




via Nicety // Onszelf // DesignSponge // DanataMachi // From Scandinavia with Love // Curbly // Houzz

This month I'd like to talk about chalk paint. Painting walls with a chalk board finish is an easy DIY idea for the home. It's also great for those who are scared of change, because you can always erase your chalk drawing and start over again. Benjamin Moore makes a chalk paint product, and I know there are others out there as well. The obvious use for chalk paint would be in kids' rooms, so the kids can have free range to be creative, and draw on the walls without causing much trouble. Another area would be a multi-use room, like a living room or kitchen. Yes, chalk paint is a nice decorative item, but it can also be useful for list making and recipes.



via VTWonen

Have you jumped on the chalk paint bandwagon? What do you think of being able to draw on the walls?

Thanks again Tina. Personally the very thought of chalkboards/blackboards sends me into paroxysms of goosebumps but that’s probably just me.

As ever, we’d love to know what you think of the trend – do you love it? have you used it? or do you just wish it would go away? Please comment and show Tina some love on her blog. I want to persuade her to stick around.


Love This Site: Catalog Living


You know those days when you seem to spend all your time picking up the cats’ stinky toys from the carpet, the daughter’s myriad accessories from every single freaking flat surface in the entire house and the Husband has left a trail of towels, paperwork and back copies of the Economist in his wake?  And you’re wishing that just occasionally your house looked just a teensy bit more like the the homes in the interiors mags?

Fortunately for my peace of mind, and thanks to the extremely amusing Catalog Living, we now know EXACTLY what those people who live in catalogs or even catalogues are REALLY thinking.



Elaine rushed to the dining room in a panic but was relieved to see that she misunderstood what Gary meant by “the number two on the table.”



After years of using a computer, Gary was admittedly out of practice when it came to dramatically ripping paper out of the typewriter and tossing it in the trash.



Gary thought his rough day was going to get the best of him until Elaine set down a tray holding what every man dreams of coming home to: an ice cold gin and tonic and a bound together stack of coverless paperbacks

More discussion of egregious interior styling here and here.


{Via Domestic Sluttery and lovely commenter Bushra }

11 September 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Babington House



Babington House’s cute little chapel

When it comes to fancy hotels, it’s not after all the décor or the food or the mattresses or the service which is the most important thing. It’s the ambience. That indefinable, indescribable ‘je ne sais quoi’.  That combination of all the aforementioned and more, which infuses the whole experience, and determines whether you’ll want to return.

Some hotels go for glamour, others for grandeur, some go for hipness and others prize efficiency.  At Babington House they do relaxation and and laid-back comfort on an epic scale. The sort of deep relaxation you’d love to experience at home -  if only the house were tidy, the chores were done and the kids were somewhere else. And if home really were a beautiful old stone country house with hundreds of years of history and its own stone chapel set deep in the English countryside.



The grounds and pool are scattered with gloriously huge and comfortable loungers


This summer was our first time back at Babington since the Minx was born and we were not disappointed, if anything it was even more beautiful and cheerfully laid back than ever.



Two storey ‘suite’ with its own terrace and gigantic bath


Babington House

How do they achieve this? Well stunning décor, which gives the whole place a modern ‘country house’ vibe helps a lot. As does the beautiful planting throughout the grounds. Seriously it’s impossible to take a bad photo in this place.

The rooms are incredible. We were in a two-storey family suite with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small outside roof terrace, all equipped with every possible creature comfort.

The food is fabulous.  Classic and beautifully cooked comfort food at its very finest, served in either a beautiful formal dining room, the ‘deli’ where you could wander in whenever you want for coffee, breakfast or kids’ supper, or outside on the lawn.



Breakfast. I wanted to steal all their ‘props’.


Add to that a ton of squashy loungers, deep leather sofas and soft velvet armchairs; unbelievably friendly staff; enormous and beautiful indoor and outdoor pools; funky chandeliers; quirky artwork; an exceptionally accommodating attitude towards the Minx and a bar which serves the most delicious caipirinhas known to man, and you’re onto a winner in my book.


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Babington House2

This time we paid for all hotel accommodation ourselves.  It was worth every penny believe me.  Do treat yourselves next time you’re out in the Somerset countryside. Babington House, we will be back.

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Babington House



Babington House’s cute little chapel

When it comes to fancy hotels, it’s not after all the décor or the food or the mattresses or the service which is the most important thing. It’s the ambience. That indefinable, indescribable ‘je ne sais quoi’.  That combination of all the aforementioned and more, which infuses the whole experience, and determines whether you’ll want to return.

Some hotels go for glamour, others for grandeur, some go for hipness and others prize efficiency.  At Babington House they do relaxation and and laid-back comfort on an epic scale. The sort of deep relaxation you’d love to experience at home -  if only the house were tidy, the chores were done and the kids were somewhere else. And if home really were a beautiful old stone country house with hundreds of years of history and its own stone chapel set deep in the English countryside.



The grounds and pool are scattered with gloriously huge and comfortable loungers


This summer was our first time back at Babington since the Minx was born and we were not disappointed, if anything it was even more beautiful and cheerfully laid back than ever.



Two storey ‘suite’ with its own terrace and gigantic bath


Babington House

How do they achieve this? Well stunning décor, which gives the whole place a modern ‘country house’ vibe helps a lot. As does the beautiful planting throughout the grounds. Seriously it’s impossible to take a bad photo in this place.

The rooms are incredible. We were in a two-storey family suite with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small outside roof terrace, all equipped with every possible creature comfort.

The food is fabulous.  Classic and beautifully cooked comfort food at its very finest, served in either a beautiful formal dining room, the ‘deli’ where you could wander in whenever you want for coffee, breakfast or kids’ supper, or outside on the lawn.



Breakfast. I wanted to steal all their ‘props’.


Add to that a ton of squashy loungers, deep leather sofas and soft velvet armchairs; unbelievably friendly staff; enormous and beautiful indoor and outdoor pools; funky chandeliers; quirky artwork; an exceptionally accommodating attitude towards the Minx and a bar which serves the most delicious caipirinhas known to man, and you’re onto a winner in my book.


Babington House1




Babington House2

This time we paid for all hotel accommodation ourselves.  It was worth every penny believe me.  Do treat yourselves next time you’re out in the Somerset countryside. Babington House, we will be back.

06 September 2012

Les Jardins Macarons by Pierre Herme




Since we’ve been chatting about both macarons and interesting food styling I thought I’d share the latest creations of master macaronier Pierre Herme’.

Through his online club ‘Les Jardins’ he is making a new limited edition flavour macaron available every month. Tragically they will only ship to the UK and Europe (which is officially NOT FAIR). 

Us poor unfortunates in the US and elsewhere in the world will have to make do with gazing longingly at the breathtaking food photography of French photographer Bernhard Winkelmann or attempt to make our own using Pierre Herme’s book ‘Macarons’ which I have, but which has officially scared the sh*t out of me, starting as it does with a chapter entitled ‘Thirty Two Steps to Successful Macaron Shells’.

I’m also wondering if some of these flavour combinations aren’t in reality ‘a step too far.’ Does someone want to buy some and report back?  I think I like the sound of Lime, Raspberry and Piment d’Espelette best.  What do you chaps think? The full list of monthly flavours released so far is here.



Green Tea, Chanterelle and Lemon


Lemon and Caramelised Fennel


Lime, Raspberry, Piment d’Espelette


Chocolate & Lime


Violet & Aniseed

All pictures by the amazing Bernhard Winkelmann.

The End of Summer




It’s a sparkly, warm day today in Seattle but the leaves are turning just round the edges, the evenings are growing cooler, the Minx and I spent  yesterday picking blackberries and there’s definitely an undertone of autumn in the air.

We’re back after an incredible weekend at the Labor Day Family Weekend at Canoe Island French Camp in the San Juans and the Minx went back to school this morning.  My little tiny, itty bitty scrap of a baby has just started third grade.

It’s been a wonderful summer, but I can’t wait to start a new year for me too.  I have BIG PLANS and maybe this year I’ll even get to execute them.

In the meantime here are some photos of our weekend on Canoe Island. Man, that place is good for the soul.









30 August 2012

Food Stylings: Charlotte Omnes


What are you having for lunch today?

I was thinking of ham, cheese and mustard on white.



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Or possibly cheese with mustard, mayo and ketchup or ham and mustard.

Followed by a selection of juicy citrus fruits.



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I love it when food stylists do things a little bit differently.

All photos by ace food stylist Charlotte Omnes.


29 August 2012

Anglomania: Google’s London HQ


One thing that really struck me when I went back to London was the sheer number of Union Jacks (or Union Flags for the pedants amongst us) everywhere.




Not surprisingly with the Jubilee being followed by the Olympics, the place was awash with red, white and blue bunting and you couldn’t move for Union Jack merchandise.  Mostly fabulously of all most of it wasn’t done in a tacky way.  It seems the Union Jack has finally been reclaimed even by top end designers as a bit of a style icon.  There really was some good stuff out there.

So it seems that Google have hit the nail right on the head with their new London HQ, designed by award-winning British architects Penson Group.  Not only have they taken the Union Jack, but they’ve mixed in a huge number of dated British design clichés – chintz, lampshades, swirly carpets, Chesterfield sofas, wood panelling etc.  - and made them fun, witty and contemporary again.












I generally loathe that very trad English maiden auntish style of décor but this is fabulous. (Though I’d never get a stroke of work done here).

But what do you guys think? Do you love these offices, or should chintz, lampshades and swirly carpets be consigned forever to the dustbin of history, never to emerge?


28 August 2012

A Morning of Raspberry Macarons


It is Tuesday and there are no freaking macarons in my house. I know this because for some reason I’ve been craving them all morning and a thorough excavation of my kitchen cupboards has not yielded a single delicate French confection.  When the Minx goes back to school next week (may the heavens and all the saints and angels be praised), I will MAKE some.




But in the meantime all I have are some photos I took at Patisserie Camp, way back at the beginning of the summer. Sadly these will have to do.

Take it away Chef Jean-Marc.

Make a nice almondy macaron mix and colour it baby pink (I’ll put up a recipe when I’ve had a chance to make and test some, in the meantime just treat this as afternoon food porn).


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Pipe hundreds of the little darlings out on a bunch of baking sheets and whip up a little raspberry jam.


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Bake until crisp




Fill with jam




Sandwich them together and Robert est ton oncle. (Do Americans say ‘and Bob’s your uncle’ too?  I’ve never had a clue where that comes from).

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27 August 2012

IFBC 2012 : Food Photography with Andrew Scrivani and Chef John




On Friday I drove down to beautiful Portland with my dear friend Nazila, writer of the gorgeous blog Banamak and champion drunken snorer, to attend the International Food Blogger Conference. It’s the first one of these I’ve attended and I came away incredibly inspired and full of plans and ideas for the blog.

I met up with old friends and made new ones, attended incredibly useful classes, ate unbelievably good food and had some great conversations with advertisers, PR companies, ad networks and publishers. My head is still reeling from all the information I have to process.

One of the aforementioned old friends was food photographer Andrew Scrivani, who closed out proceedings on Sunday morning with a hilarious and informative cooking and photography demonstration with his good friend Chef John from Food Wishes

A note to all the many TV executives who read this blog - these guys need their own cooking show pronto quick.

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Mr S gave talked us through some of his amazing photos; an exciting dry ice shooting station was set up and the food paparazzi came out in force, with the maestro on hand to answer questions.


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Chef John tortured the assembled masses by frying up a batch of the world’s crispiest onion rings (featuring a special not-so-secret ingredient), and some garlic prawns, as well as putting together a yummy-looking affogato.


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Unfortunately the props didn’t last long in a room full of hungry food bloggers.


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An fabulously funny time was had by all, and many pictures were taken, despite the less than ideal lighting conditions for photography.

Please get The Baldie Boys on my TV set ASAP.


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23 August 2012

How to Make: Strawberry Lemonade




Our return to Seattle from the UK was marked by stunningly hot weather, over-enthusiasm at the farmers’ market leading to a glut of softening fruit in the fridge and the discovery of a batch of rapidly-shrivelling lemons and limes in our fruit bowl.

So the Minx and I set to to make a batch of strawberry lemonade.  Funnily enough, though strawberry lemonade seems to be very common here in the US, it’s extremely rare in the UK, so I provide this recipe mostly as a public service to my non-American readers.  It’s an absolutely gorgeous drink, both in looks and taste, which lends itself to all manner of variations, depending on the age and alcohol-tolerance of its audience (see ‘Variations’ below).




Basic Ingredients

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1 pint/punnet of very ripe strawberries, hulled, washed and chopped

1/2 cup water

1 cup fresh lemon juice

4-6 cups still or sparkling water to taste


Make a simple syrup by whisking together the sugar and 1 cup of water in a small sturdy pan. Bring it to the boil and then heat gently until the sugar has completely dissolved and disappeared. Set aside to cool.

Make a puree by attacking the strawberries and another half cup of water with your trusty whizzer thingy  immersion blender or just put them in a blender until you have a smooth puree.

Get a large jug and combine the simple syrup, strawberry puree and lemon juice. Then add 4-6 cups of water to taste.  Chill to within an inch of its life. This should make approximately two bottles of lemonade.



Once you’ve got the basic method down you can start playing.

Infused syrups:  Add herbs, spices or peels to your syrup ingredients before bringing to the boil and straining the syrup afterwards.  I’m thinking peppercorns, lavender, rosemary, bay, cardamom or orange peel might be interesting to experiment with.

Different fruits:  Once strawberry season is over, try using any other soft summer fruits which can made into a smooth puree. I’m betting rhubarb, peaches, plums, cherries or raspberries would all be delicious, just pass the blended fruit through a mouli or other sieve first to get rid of skins and seeds.

Use limes as well as lemons: The first batch of this the Minx and I made was made with lime juice, not lemons and it was delectable. Use either lemons, limes or a combination of both.

Dilute with different waters and alcohols.  I like mine diluted with a splash of lemon Perrier or San Pellegrino ( in fact if left to my own devices I would make it entirely with sparkling water but the Minx would disapprove).  I have also been known to add the teensiest splash of vodka or white rum. I should think a dark rum would turn this into something smooth and dangerous. Fruit-based spirits such as kirsch, maraschino or slivovitz might also be fun.

I hope you’ve been inspired to have a play around.  I am now in dangerous cocktail-creating mood. There may be more blog posts on this topic.


22 August 2012

London 2012: The Olympic River Part 2


Here are some more photos from our trip up the River Thames during the Olympics.  I’m assuming that the whole light show will stay in place now, minus the Olympic Rings of course, in which case I can’t recommend a night time visit to the river highly enough if you happen to be in London.

Magical is not a good enough word.

Here’s what we had all come to see.




But in every direction the river looked amazingly beautiful (that’s the home of the French Olympic delegation).




London Bridge has got itself a groovy new lighting scheme.






The Mayor’s Office had a laser light show featuring cyclists and tube trains amongst others.


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Remember I blogged about the incredible new light show they’d installed on Tower Bridge?  Well for some they flipped up the rings and then put the light show through its motions.  HMS Belfast to the right also changed colour too.






And then the rings flipped back on and the Bridge turned gold to celebrate Mo Farah’s win in the 5,000 meters.




Here’s the view from the restaurant we dined at in Hay’s Galleria.




Finally, at midnight, we stopped off at the London Eye.






Slightly awesome n’est-ce pas?

Here are some more shots from my boat trip along the river.


16 August 2012

Monthly Trend Report: Polka Dots!


It is with great pleasure that I’m introducing a new monthly columnist for ‘mirrormirror’.  Tina Ramchandani omits to mention that she works for a Very. Famous. Interior. Designer so she really knows her onions.   FINALLY we’ll get some proper insights around here. Check back around the middle of every month to hear more from Tina. (I have also been inspired to dye my hair bright orange).

Hello everyone! You may remember me, my name is Tina Ramchandani and I author the design blog Life in Sketch. A few months ago, I stopped by while Paola was on vacation and shared my New York Secrets with you. Well, now you'll be seeing more of me! Paola has asked me to return and share with you my monthly trend report. I'll be reporting on trends I see forming and those that are continuing. Today, I've got something really fun for you - polka dots!


MirrorMirror Kusama LV Shot


Many of you have heard of the fabulous Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama. She was very popular here in New York in the 1960's and the dots, well, they’re her thing, and they have been for a very long time Ms. Kusama is back with exhibitions in London and New York, and she's teamed up with Louis Vuitton to create a very special new collection.


MirrorMirror Polka Dots


It's interesting to see things getting popular, and it's even more interesting to see them become a full on trend. Everywhere I look, I see dots! This was happening before Kusama's exhibits and collection were announced, but now, there's no denying the dot love. Here are a few images I can't take my eyes off of.


Sources: BHLDN // DesignMom // Coolhunting // Parsons // via Cutting Edge Stencils // Oh Joy // All Pretty Little Things

Tina Ramchandani

Life in Sketch
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