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187 posts categorized "Seattleite"

12 August 2013

Lightning over Seattle




Finally getting a little time to catch up with myself and BREATHE.

Our vacation in Menton passed very successfully (yes, you will be inundated with pictures just as soon as I have time to process them) and father-in-law has been and gone.

The summer here in Seattle has been one of record-breaking and mind-blowing loveliness; day after day of clear blue skies, temps in the mid 80s, mountains and lakes sparkling in every direction, balmy warm evenings etc. etc. and we have been living on the beach, in the pool and up on the roofdeck.

The heady weather ended with a bang, literally, on Friday evening, when a massive thunder and lightning storm lit up the skies around Seattle. Because of the lack of humidity thunderstorms are rare round these parts, but this one was a doozy, with the lightning owning the sky like the 4th of July (with apologies to Katy Perry). For much of the time it wasn’t even raining directly above us, so I took the opportunity of getting out on the roofdeck (not as crazy as it sounds as the lightning was a still a long way behind the city at this point).

It’s the first time I’ve ever photographed lightning, but I balanced my camera on the railing, followed the rules for photographing fireworks and took a bajillion pix, pressing the shutter when I thought lighting was due rather than waiting for it to happen.

And yes, I got lucky.




If truth be told I find this sort of photography, though it gives spectacular results, to be the most unsatisfying kind of photography. It’s the very definition of ‘taking’ rather than ‘making’ a photo – I didn’t have to quietly observe, find interesting angles or perspectives, stalk the light or make compositional choices. All I had to do was own a good camera, have a nice view, find the right settings and then point and shoot.

Still, there’s a undoubtedly a satisfaction in taking photos like this off your card and I was thrilled to have one of my photos featured on the Seattle Times blog. I suggest you click on them to view them properly.  The blog format doesn’t really do them justice.



I’m sort of back blogging I think. After nearly a solid month of travel things are starting to wind down now and we have a couple of gentle weeks until the summer’s grand finale – the Minx is going to her first ever overnight camp! We will be without her for four nights. I think my entire parenting life has been gearing up for the moment.

17 June 2013

School’s Out for Summer


So henceforth there’s going to be an awful lot more of THIS going on in our lives.



School finished last Friday (I still can’t get over how LONG the school vacations are here), so we’ve got a summer full of camps and visits and trips planned.

I’m painfully aware that this is probably the last summer that the Minx will truly be my little girl (can you believe she’s already eight?) so I mean to make the most of it. I think it will be good for me to slow down a bit too. All the stress-related issues I talked about at the beginning of the year are much better, but I’m still not sleeping as well as I should and a summer of fun in the sun, relaxation, stress-free photography, reading, cooking and dreaming is just what the doctor ordered I think.

I’m hoping to get fitter (just started using a Fitbit yay!), learn stand up paddleboarding, read lots of books, do a few workshops, cook up a storm and host lots of parties.

We have trips booked to Menton again (leaving on Saturday!) – we have rented an apartment there for three weeks – and to Canoe Island, and Grandad is coming to stay. The Minx will be going on her very first overnight camp (leaving mummy and daddy to have our first consecutive nights away together since she was born).





I WILL continue blogging, but only when it really feels like the right thing to do (though I have got tons of things I want to talk to you guys about).  If you want daily updates though, please come and find me on Instagram

Instead this summer will hopefully be all about this












and this




I hope yours is too.

I’m hosting ‘Mom Camp’ tomorrow. In the morning I will be teaching five eight year olds how to make pie and then we’re doing on a photography scavenger hunt. Think of me…

29 May 2013

Wonderful Whidbey Island



No Photoshop filters were harmed in the construction of this photo.  It really did look like this.


I’ve been feeling just a tad overwhelmed over the last week or so – moving eleventy million tons of STUFF back into the remodeled kitchen and bathroom; shooting some pics for a friend’s cookbook (yay!); holding the fort while the Husband was in China and generally rushing about like a crazy person.




So when the lovely Clare Barboza told me there were still places left on her 2013 Farm to Table Photography Workshop this weekend on glorious Whidbey Island (just across the water from Seattle), I was wondering whether it might be a bridge (or indeed a ferry ride) too far.




But with the aid of some dear friends taking the Minx for a sleepover, a wonderful Husband babysitting through his jetlag and some frantic late night packing I managed to make it work.  And I was SO very glad I did.





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I met some mindblowingly talented and just plain delightful women, ate fabulous food (thanks to the amazing Sean, Joe and Christine), drank too much wine; enjoyed gorgeous weather, sunsets, rainbows and scenery; and generally spent some quality time with my camera, which I always find to be incredibly soothing for my soul. We stayed at at the exceptionally comfortable Willow Pond Lake House; visited two farms -  Willowood, where they grow organic vegetables and Little Brown Farm where they keep goats and make the most delicious cheese and butter; shopped at the very cute Bayview Farmer’s Market and then got to style and shoot the farm produce.



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As with the Gulf Shores workshop I have MUCH to think about and process (and I will be blogging both at much more length), but in the meantime here are a few photos of the gardens at the house and from a pond nearby.

Can you see now why I loved it so much?





Many thanks to Melissa (seen squatting above), who taught me how to ‘paint’ beautiful abstracts like this.

Stay tuned for the full story of the baby vegetables and the baby goats.

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.


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.


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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. 


18 March 2013

Project 52 PRO: A Weather Poster


This week’s Project 52 PRO challenge was to shoot a poster for the Seattle Chamber of Commerce advertising the weather in Seattle. 

Seattle is of course famous for its rain, but also has glorious clear bright days of sunshine, the most amazing sunsets and the most incredible cloudscapes it has ever been my good fortune to see anywhere.

For the entire week of the challenge though, we were blessed by unremittingly boring, flat, grey, overcast skies leavened by the occasional bouts of weak-willed drizzle.  Not even the rain was photogenic.

So plans had to be changed and this is what I ended up submitting.




Please ignore the amateurish graphic design – we weren’t being critiqued on that, though I’d love to improve my graphic design capabilities (can anyone recommend any good books or courses I could do?).

And although this isn’t at all the sort of photography I want to do, it was interesting and challenging to spend the afternoon with my coffee machine in the kitchen, trying not to get too many distracting reflections on the shiny bits.


26 February 2013

Project 52: Portrait of a Stranger


So a couple of weeks ago, I kicked off Project 52 PRO – a year of critiqued professional level photography assignments, with ace commercial photographer Don Giannatti (although Project 52 PRO is no closed, you can always sign up any time for the free version Project 52).

The first assignment was a tricky one for me. We had to make a portrait of a stranger – someone we’d never met before, even someone we’d just approached in the street with our cameras.  And they had to be aware that we were taking the shot and be participating in it, no candids allowed. 

It was difficult for me, not because I’m particularly nervous about approaching people, but because I have very little interest in actually making portraits and hardly ever do anything other than the odd snap of the Minx.  There’s a pressure to people shots which doesn’t exist with still life or landscapes – you want to create something interesting and hopefully beautiful, but you can’t push people, especially strangers. around like you can with food.



I cheated a bit with my first portrait by posting on here and on the Seattle Bloggers’ Unite Facebook page, to see if I could find a willing victim er, client. 

First out of the blocks was the gorgeous Inward Facing Girl Melanie Antley Biehle.  I’d been wanting to meet her for a long time, so it was no hardship at all to arrange a meeting in a local coffee shop which I knew had pretty light.  (Go read her blog – it’s excellent and thought-provoking).

It did feel like I was breaking the spirit of the assignment a bit though.  I’d followed Melanie via her blog and on Facebook and she really did seem like a friend, even though we’d never actually technically met. 

So I decided to challenge myself to just walk into local shops, and see if I could find someone willing to pose for me.  I struck gold in our beautiful local stationery and paper Paper Delights, where the very pretty assistant agreed to pose for me in between serving people buying Valentines’ cards, and where the window displays and light were made for photography.  We managed to put this shot together in about five minutes.

I ended up submitting the Melanie shot, because I found her wistful expression gazing out of the window to be more intriguing; though I’m prouder of the Girl in the Shop as I had to screw up my courage to ask her and had a much shorter time to get the shot.

Which shot do you prefer? Do you prefer portraits where the subject is looking away or one where they’re engaged and looking at the camera?

Thanks to everyone who emailed me offering to help.  I’m sure there will be many more chances to be my photographic victims as the year progresses.


21 February 2013

Five Great Things to Grow in Your Pacific Northwest Garden



I asked my great friend Nazila Merati to write a guest blog post for you while I was away sunning myself in Palm Springs.

Nazila is a very good friend to have.  Throughout the summer months she delivers an endless supply of beautiful fresh produce grown on one of her two allotments (p-patches) and in winter she delivers cookies and homemade rocky road chocolates made with her own homemade marshmallows. See what I mean?

Since she is one of the most green-fingered (green-thumbed, I believe you crazy Americans say) people I know, I asked her to share her thoughts on easy vegetable crops to grow here in the Pacific Northwest. Since the climate here is very similar to that of the UK, these tips would work there as well, and can be easily adjusted for other parts of the US and Europe.  You can find Nazila at Flora and Flying or on her food blog BanamakPlease show her some love.

 Over to Nazila…





Spring is popping up all over Seattle and through much of the Northern hemisphere based on the images I am seeing in my social photo streams. I’m a big fan of rejoicing the return of spring through sappy tweets about daylight, romancing the first fat pussy willow, snapping a picture of the first snowdrop, but honestly, my biggest thrill is digging into that cold soil and getting things started.

What, you say it is too cold to go outside? Pshaw, I say. Go put on your big girl wellies you bought to match your hipster beret, double glove up and head outside and survey your back forty. If that is not an option, go look at your meager raised bed in front of your house with the shriveled remains of last year’s bean plants and dead basil stalks. (I believe she is referring to me here:- Paola)

Now that you have gone and looked, it isn’t all that bad is it? Sure there is stuff to clean up and a few weeds to pull out, but the moist soil makes this task so much easier. Look carefully, do you see your tiny chive patch reemerging? Your mint for mojitos? Rosemary to make chicken skewers survive? Fabulous. The bones of your perennial herb garden made it through. Now go inside, make a nice cup of tea and devise a plan about how you are going to succeed growing a small manageable garden of things you actually like to eat and do well here in our temperate Northwest. Here is my list of five things that are easy to grow, give a lot of bang for your gardening dollar, and increase your smug factor when entertaining.

Snap Peas - I suggest growing bush snap peas instead of pole peas because everyone promises to put up netting for a trellis and very few people actually get around to it. Bush varieties seem to yield better and are easier to pick in my opinion. Seeds or seedlings can go in the ground as soon as the ground can be worked which in Seattle is now. The shoots can be consumed along with the young pods. They are great for salads, stir frying, and eating out of hand. Two varieties to look for include Ed Hume’s Oregon Sugar Pod Pea and Territorial Seeds Avalanche Peas .

Swiss Chard – Swiss chard has replaced the ornamental cabbage in many landscape applications. The bright lights variety with its orange, yellow, red and vivid pink stalks and veins makes it a great addition to a small garden as it produces like crazy and through a few frosts and can be used at many stages of maturity. You can start it from seeds, but my recommendation is to go to any local nursery and pick up a 4” pot of seedlings. Plant a few colors in your vegetable patch and then throw a few into ornamental pots for a splash of unexpected color. Use young leaves in salads, mature leaves with kale etc. in braising mixes and throw some in a lemony lentil chard soup. My pick would be Territorial Seeds Bright Lights (you will find many growers will have this available as seedlings) or if you like a monochromatic look and a more traditional chard, try Hume’s Silverado.




Lettuce – As I look at the four dollar heads of Buttercrunch lettuce I am buying this time of year, I secretly wish I had a hydroponic set up just to grow lettuce. The price for something that is so easy to grow starting in April and if you are careful about the type you grow, through November here in Seattle. I am a big believer in growing your own lettuce from seed or from seedlings, just remember that it will mature around the same time, so planting in succession is important. If you like variety in your greens, I recommend growing a patch of mesclun mix with a bit of bite from mizuna and arugula. A patch, if well-tended and harvested regularly, should last you a month or two. Plan to do another sowing of seeds two weeks after the first planting to prolong the growing season. If you are a head lettuce person and are not sure what you like – try putting in seedlings. Some nurseries will have seedlings in different varieties – try out a few through the growing season. My mesclun pick is Hume’s Mesclun Mix. My favorite lettuce varieties are Territorial’s Tom Thumb for its petite adorableness and taste and the beautiful heirloom variety Speckles.

Tomatoes – Who doesn’t like a fresh tomato picked right off the vine? In a small garden with at least six hours of sunlight, try for something with great appeal that is easy to harvest, does not require staking and promises a big return on investment not based on the poundage of tomatoes harvested and canned, but on the number of ways you can use that fruit. A cherry, pear, grape or currant tomato will fill this requirement quite well. If you are a dedicated gardener, then you have already started your seed trays full of the tomatoes you will tend all summer. If you are a practical gardener, you might have taken notes on what didn’t work last year and avoid that variety entirely this year. If you are me, you will read the tags on the seedlings at the first big plant sale and pick something with the best name and the fewest number of days to maturity. This is probably not the best way to proceed, but look for varieties that say they do not require staking, are compact, yield lots of bite sized tomatoes with sweet fruit. I am a fan of growing at least two of these types – a yellow and a red variety. Some varieties to look for include Sun Gold and Juliet and Yellow Canary. Sun Gold and Juliet will require cages and staking. You can’t go wrong with the Juliet, it will produce until the first frost.



Leeks – The Leek is misunderstood by Americans and is revered as highly as Jerry Lewis is by the French. They are simple to grow, take up so little room, make a great onion substitute for those who want a little onion flavor but can’t handle sulfur and side effects of the rest of the allium family. They also look pretty – the blue green leaves that can look grey in certain light are gorgeous in the fall. You can plant a row in the spring to harvest in the summer for use in sofritos, soups, grilled alongside lamb. Plant a row later for fall and winter harvest. I believe that the novice gardener should start with leek sets,sold either in bunches like onion sets or in 4” pots if you are looking for specialty leeks. My picks for leek varieties to last you through your first vichyssoise until your last chicken pot pie is Cook’s Garden’s Blue Solaise Leek.

Gosh, there are so many other things I would recommend you grow, but these five things are good places to start. The peas and lettuce will start you off right, the chard and lettuce will keep you green and strong, until the tomatoes and leeks start coming in.

Happy gardening.


Thanks Nazila!  Let me know in the comments if you’d like to see more gardening on the blog. I’m into year two of my little raised beds and need all the tips I can get.


14 November 2012

Leaf Apple Pie


leafapplepie (1 of 1)

leafcrustpie (4 of 6)


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.


leafcrustpie (6 of 6)


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.


leafcrustpie (1 of 6)

05 November 2012

The United Colors of Autumn


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


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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.


tomato sauce


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?


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),


roastedtomatoes-2 roastedtomatoes


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.


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.



escalapenthousefiftyshades10 escalapenthousefiftyshades3







{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.

12 July 2012

Project 52: Freedom




About six months too late I’ve just started doing something called Project 52

Every week awesome commercial photographer Don Giannatti sets a real life photography challenge via Flickr and then does a weekly live online critique of all entries. 

The most amazing thing of all is that it’s completely free, no commitment, no worries if you miss an assignment, nada. You just show up on Flickr with your picture and then tune in for the online critique later, together with a chat room full of hugely talented and hugely helpful fellow photographers. 

This week’s theme was for a single shot that sums up the words Independence, Freedom or Celebration.

The pic above was my first attempt – a random cute kid at Seattle’s Golden Gardens beach.

I also like this shot from the same afternoon.


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Come and join me on Project 52.  It would be great if there were more newbies in the room.


06 July 2012

How To Photograph Fireworks





I’ve had the summer cold from hell over the last week, AND I’ve been organising our big annual 4th July party, so over the last week I’ve been rushing around like a very grumpy crazy person.

Today though the house is clean and tidy, our roof deck is hosed down and looking beautiful, cherries are being picked from our tree, the second clafoutis of summer is being made, cats are gambolling on our vast acreage, a Brit is in the final at Wimbledon, THE. SUN. IS. SHINING. IN. SEATTLE, the oceans of sticky yellow snot in my head seem to be receding (possible TMI?) and all is right in my world. 

So I thought I’d indulge in a little gentle bloggery.

This year I decided to make an effort photographing the 4th July fireworks at our party.  In previous years I’ve generally been too outrageously drunk and inept to anything more than a pitiful job, so this year I armed myself with this blog post by the very lovely John Cornicello (whom I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting in person at a recent Creative Live workshop) and set to work.





This is what I learned.


1) Use a tripod

This year I took the trouble to set the tripod up on the deck before I got started on the margaritas.  This is imperative as in previous years the tripod has defeated me in my drunken state and I’ve ended up leaning the camera on railings instead.  That doesn’t work at all.




2) Use a GOOD tripod

I bought my tripod 6 years ago when I was just starting out doing product photography and I distinctly remember it being the cheapest one in the shop.  Its flimsy and lightweight and not suitable at all for long exposures.  If you’re serious about photographing fireworks you may need to SPEND MONEY. My next birthday present is sorted out now.


3) Find the BULB setting on your camera

This will allow you to push on the shutter release, hold open the exposure as long as you want and then release it when you think you’ve got the shot.  I practised doing this the day before.  Go me.




4) Use a low ISO and smallish apertures

Fireworks are BRIGHT and you don’t need to bump up the ISO number, or open the aperture miles wide to get the shot (mistakes I’ve always made in the past).  I used the settings John C recommends – ISO 100 and apertures between f/13 and f/18  and they seemed to work well. I held the shutter open for anything between 1 sec and 6 seconds depending on how much was going on in the sky.


5) Use a remote control shutter release

This was the thing I didn’t do and regretted, instead relying on my margarita-fuelled finger to hold down the shutter, and thereby gently shaking the camera every time. So between that and the crappy tripod I got lots and lots and LOTS of photos full of movement blur as below.






So I still have lots to learn and practice where fireworks are concerned.

Until next year. 

In the meantime here’s a very lucky shot of a bottle rocket taking off from our deck which is maybe my favourite shot of the night.




Also two really cr*ppy shots of the 100 mini celebratory cupcakes I baked, just to prove I made them really.


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16 May 2012

Fancy Hotel of the Week: Four Seasons Seattle


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


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

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


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

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




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


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


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

Oh and the breakfast wasn’t bad either.


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


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


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Here is ‘Chaussette’ lounging by the pool.


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


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


28 April 2012

How To Bake British Without Freaking Out


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I just wanted to let you all know that there are still some places left for the class I’m giving on Monday night at fabulous Seattle cookbook store Book Larder.

And it would be lovely to see blog readers there.

The class is called Baking In Translation – How to Bake British Without Freaking Out and is for anyone who’s tried to use a recipe from British website or cookbook and been flummoxed by the strange ingredients or metric measurements.

I’ll be covering the basics of weighing and measuring in metric rather than using cup measures; discussing differences in flours, sugars and creams; translating strange ingredient names and suggesting the best sources and substitutions for hard-to-find ingredients.  I’ll be demonstrating how to make a traditional English Victoria sponge cake and maybe, if there’s time, English flapjacks (sort of sticky sweet granola bars, not pancakes) and there’ll be treats to sample.

The class will run from 6.30 to around 8.30 and you can find full details and buy tickets here. Here’s my previous blog post on the subject.

I’d love to meet Seattle blog readers and if you can’t make it, anything you could do to promote the class via various social media would be very much appreciated.

See you on Monday!



17 April 2012

Washington Tulip Fest 2012


Yes my dears it’s that time of year again, when we go and visit the spectacular Washington tulip fields and then I get to bore you all my photos. And yes I do realise you’ve seen very similar photos before.  Long time readers may want to grab a cup of tea at this point.


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You will have noticed that a certain not-so-little-anymore Minx was also avidly photographing. That’s one of her pics below.  I’m such a proud mama!


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We’re still quite early in the season.  If you live in the Pacific Northwest I reckon you’ve got at least two more weeks to see the splendour.


13 April 2012

That Was The Week That Was: Spring in Seattle Edition


Oh goodness, it’s been ages since I’ve done one of these.  It’s been a pastel-coloured, blossom-filled, playing in the sunshine, baking goodies couple of weeks.


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

02 April 2012

Baking In Translation: How to Cook British Without Freaking Out


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I just wanted to let readers in the Seattle area know that I’ll be teaching a baking class at Book Larder on April 30th entitled Baking in Translation. I’m nervous already, so it would be wonderful to see as many friendly faces as possible in the audience.  And of course, if you’re a Seattle blog reader, do come and laugh at my funny accent, I’d love to meet you.


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The class has arisen from the occasional blog posts I write lamenting all the difficulties I’ve had over the past five years translating British recipes into American and vice versa.

We will cover weighing ingredients in metric versus measuring with cup measures; differences in terminology and vocabulary, such as flour and cream equivalents; where to source strange ingredients in the Seattle area and what to substitute if you can’t get hold of them, and discussing things like pan sizes and oven temperatures. Please come armed with any questions that have been bugging you and we’ll try to cover them all.

While we’re chatting, I will be showing you how to bake a classic English Victoria sponge (measured out in metric) and, if we have time, English flapjacks, using weird British ingredients like porridge oats, golden syrup and sultanas. There will also be treats available to taste.

I will be putting together a detailed hand-out containing all my hard-won knowledge which will be yours to take home, and by the end of it, the world of British cooking will be your oyster and you’ll be buried knee-deep in the Guardian’s food website and ordering obscure English cookbooks from Amazon UK.


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Tickets cost a bargainaceous $25 and can be ordered here.  Spaces are limited to 24. Oh and if you haven’t been before, you will adore Book Larder so come armed with lots of money too.

The pictures are from last autumn when I made five Victoria sponges for Seattle’s annual Will Bake for Food event (click through and you’ll see one of my sponges out in the wild).


21 March 2012

Adventures in Baking : Chocolate Bundt Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Glaze




Having a bad morning? Chocolate cake always makes things better I find, and this one is a complete doozy – dense, moist and fudgey with smoky almost indiscernible undertones of coffee.  See, you’re feeling better already.  And hardly any carbs I’m sure.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ve told you yet about Book Larder.   It’s a fabulous new Seattle shop modelled on my darling Books for Cooks in London, which I used to live round the corner from and still sorely miss. Book Larder not only offers an amazing range of both popular and hard-to-come-by cookbooks, it also hosts a number of events and demonstrations from famous cookbook authors and chefs.


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Last week, they were hosting a book signing for food blogger Joy the Baker and I was asked if I wanted to bake something for the event from the Joy the Baker Cookbook: 100 Simple and Comforting Recipes

It’s a wonderful book, chock full of original and droolworthy comfort food recipes written in Joy’s chatty style with an accompanying photo for every dish and lots of excellent baking tips.   It’s also very American, featuring lots of maple syrup, bacon and peanut butter, cookies, marshmallows and waffles, to the extent that I was a little intimidated.  What is a ‘toasted coconut Dutch baby with banana and pineapple’ when it’s at home? What the heck is a ‘buttermilk skillet cake with walnut praline topping’ supposed to taste like?


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I decided to test the book out properly by making a bundt cake.  Bundt cakes are ubiquitous in the US but I’ve never come across them in the UK and certainly never made one.  Could Joy the Baker teach this English girl how to bake a bundt?  (This was of course mostly a good excuse to buy myself a fancy bundt pan)

As far as I understand it, a bundt cake is just a cake baked in a bundt tin, which was traditionally a ring-shaped ridged affair.  In the US you can nowadays buy bundt pans in the shape of forts or football stadiums, roses or pumpkins – the challenge with all of them is making sure that the giant slab of cake with no filling is moist and decadent rather than dry and dull.  I needn’t have worried. Joy’s recipe features sour cream, vegetable oil and freshly-brewed coffee, which makes for a very wet batter and a delectably moist cake.  In fact, having had some cake in the fridge for a few days now, I can confirm that it just gets moister and fudgier and more delicious with keeping.


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I was also nervous about getting the thing out of the pan. After taking lots of advice on Twitter (thanks particularly to Jeanne Sauvage aka @fourchickens) I brushed the pan with melted butter, sprayed it with Bake Easy for good measure and floured it to within an inch of its life.  I then took Joy’s advice (she has a whole section on getting bundts out of tins) to wait for 20 minutes while the cake cooled in the pan before taking it out.  As a result of all this advice, both cakes I made just slid out of the pans with no fuss. Aren’t they pretty? I nearly burst with pride and couldn’t stop patting them. It seemed almost a shame to glaze them at all.


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Joy’s bundt is finished with a chocolate coffee ganache. This almost caused a bit of a commotion by refusing to set, meaning that I turned up for the event with only five minutes to spare. If you’re making this for an event I suggest you make it the day before. The cake honestly improves with fridging and then you won’t have a last-minute ganache-fuelled panic.

The glaze is also maybe the one thing I’d change about the cake.  The cake and ganache are surprisingly unsweet and sophisticated, perfect for adult tastes, but the Minx has declared that she doesn’t much like the mocha frosting.  If making this again with kids in mind I would replace the sour cream and coffee with normal cream for a sweeter frosting.  If you’re catering for adults though this is perfect as is.

Sorry non-American peeps, I didn’t have time to make the conversions from cups to weight.  Time to get out those cup measures again!


Chocolate Bundt Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Glaze

makes one 10-inch bundt cake

For the Cake:

1 1/4 cups freshly brewed hot coffee

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Pernigotti which is just insanely good)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 1/2 teaspoons baking (bicarbonate of) soda

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sour cream

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons canola oil


For the Glaze:

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter

1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

4 tablespoons freshly-brewed hot coffee


Place an oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.

Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan (see above) and set aside.


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To make the cake:


In a small bowl, whisk together the coffee and cocoa powder until smooth and no lumps remain. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a whisk attachment, whisk together the sugar and eggs until thick and pale. . Add the sour cream and oil and whisk until well incorporated.

Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk until the flour is well incorporated. Add the cooled coffee mixture and gently mix to incorporate.  The batter should be loose and smooth.

Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for around 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan and then invert onto a cooling rack. Cake should be completely cooled before frosting.


To make the glaze:

Bring 2 inches of water to simmer in a medium pan. Place the chopped chocolate (I used chips) and butter into a heatproof bowl. Place over the simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the boiling water. Remove the bowl from the heat when all of the chocolate bits have melted.

Remove from the heat and leave to cool for around 20 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the hot coffee, followed by the sour cream. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of coffee and stir until glossy.

This ganache will be very liquid and will need to spend half an hour or so in the fridge before it’s ready to be spread on the cakes, and will probably need an hour or so in the fridge subsequently if you’re planning on transporting the cake anywhere.

This is where I admit that I actually wasn’t a reader of Joy’s blog (I’ve started now though – I love her ‘voice’). It seems there are a ton of people who are though. It was standing room only to meet her.


Please don’t look at the picture of me.  My hair was suffering from being raked-through too often by my fingers during my ganache-fuelled panic.


14 March 2012

That Was The Week That Was: Back In Seattle Edition


This has been an Instagram week of raincoats and snuggles, marmalade and bundt cake, polka dots and salted caramels, with a hint of spring green peeking through.


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


29 February 2012

That Was The Week That Was


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


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


23 February 2012

I Heart Blogshop



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

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


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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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BLOGSHOP - Seattle from GMP on Vimeo.


20 February 2012

That Was the Week That Was


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


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

13 February 2012

That Was The Week That Was


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


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


07 February 2012

Blogshop Goodie Bag


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

Clockwise from left:

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

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

Thanks so much everyone!


29 January 2012

That Was The Week That Was


It’s been an Instagram week of sunshine and baking, turquoise, spring green and yellow.  Come and find me. I’m ‘mirrormirrorxx’.


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23 January 2012

That Was The Week That Was


Some favourite Instagram photos from last week. Come and find me, I’m ‘mirrormirrorxx’.  (Going to try and do this every weekend).

As you can see it’s been a week of snow and soft pastel colours.


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We had a massive snowstorm in Seattle last week which meant that the Minx and I were both trapped at home.  What with that and going away on a jolly with the Husband’s job last weekend, I’ve still trying to catch my tail after Christmas.

Normal, hopefully better than normal, blog service will resume tomorrow.

02 December 2011

Picture the Holidays – Holding on to Gratitude


This December I’ve decided to try my hand at putting together a ‘Picture the Holidays’ photo prompt book put together by Tracey Clark of Shutter Sisters via Paper Coterie.

Every day I am emailed a photo prompt to inspire me to take a photo, which I then upload into a photobook on the Paper Coterie site, which I can then have printed if I wish. I know I’m crap at following through on these sorts of projects, but a month of photos seems just about manageable.


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Yesterday’s prompt was entitled ‘Holding On To Gratitude’, encouraging us to think about what we’re grateful for. Funnily enough the night before I had gone to sleep thinking particularly grateful thoughts as I’d been reading a thread on Ravelry where people had been asking for good wishes and prayers because they were going through some particularly horrible things in their lives. I know I am insanely lucky in so many ways.

Unfortunately, the things I am most truly grateful for – my health; my bright, beautiful, healthy daughter; my lovely husband and his lovely job; my wonderful friends; even my fabulous blog friends, were either too abstract, or too absent at school or work to be photographed yesterday. 

Instead I hit up on something rather random. When you’re doing the Dukan diet you do become incredibly grateful for that morning cup of joe, which is permitted – oh joy! – if made with non-fat milk.  This photo for me sums up the warmth and comfort of home; reminds me how lucky I am to be able to afford a fancy coffee machine to make fancy coffee in a fancy mug; makes me think of my husband, and of Seattle, where I’m so lucky to be able to live. And in a literal interpretation of ‘hold on’ I like that this pictures is full of handles.  Oh well, it made sense to me.

What would you photograph given that prompt?

In a spectacular photography fail yesterday, I took my camera out last night to see the Christmas Ships without its SD card. So you’ll just have to image the fabulous pictures I would have taken of my daughter’s shining face as she gazed at the lit-up boats, next to blazing bonfires, against the sparkling backdrop of downtown and the Space Needle.  They might have been a little more appropriate for the above challenge too. Grrrrrr.

Oh and Dine & Dish is doing this too, go to her blog for a different perspective on things.

11 November 2011

Lest We Forget


Every year around this time I get sad that I can’t buy poppies in the US.

In the UK it’s a huge big deal, with poppies for sale in every public building and in many shops, worn by every public figure, sold out on the streets and laid in wreaths around the war memorials which are in every city, town and village. Even schools get in on the act and since the donation amount is not fixed, ever since I can remember I was supposed to hand over a little of my pocket money to buy a poppy.




So this year I decided to crochet poppies for the family. I used this pattern with full details on my Ravelry page.  The shape is based on the paper poppies for sale on behalf of ex-servicemen and women in the UK.




It was a good excuse to start talking to the Minx about the horrors of war and the debt we owe our soldiers and she went off to school this morning wearing her poppy with pride.  We even read In Flanders Fields together, though I suspect most of it went way over her head.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

10 November 2011

Autumn Leaves


Today I went out for a stroll to grab a coffee.


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I really must admit that Seattle does trees extraordinarily well.

08 November 2011

Adventures in Baking – Torta alla Gianduia with Pears


Keep reading, I’m hosting a giveaway at the end of this blog post


Following on from my astonishing third place triumph in the Queen Anne Farmers' Market Pie Competition almost exactly a year ago, I thought it was about time I entered another baking competition, this time Edible Seattle’s Cake v Pie Competition. Since I am an equal opportunity baker and like baking and eating both pies and cakes, I decided this time that I would play on Team Cake.



My cake and its competition (Photo by Myra Kohn)

The only catch was the theme - ‘Trouble in Pearadise’ or pies and cakes featuring pears. Making a pear pie or tart is easy peasy lemon squeezy but there aren’t so many pear-y cakes out there.  I started to think about what flavours go with pears – chocolate, of course, and all kinds of nuts, and hit upon the idea of incorporating pears into a torta alla gianduia, the traditional chocolate and hazelnut cake of Piemonte, my mother’s home region in Italy.

Gianduia has a long and illustrious history in Piemonte, where expensive chocolate was stretched with the addition of hazelnut paste, from the hazelnut trees which grown in abundance in the region.  It’s one of the most famous flavours in the world today, as Nutella, from Ferrero, a great Piemontese company, is just a commercial form of gianduia paste.

The climates of Piemonte and the Pacific North West are not dissimilar and I was delighted to discover that hazelnuts grow well in the PNW too, most famously in Oregon. So this cake would be both delightfully seasonal and local.

This cake is a little complicated, but you’ll end up with a dense, fudgey, chocolatey, delight, which perfectly complements the sweetness and delicacy of juicy pears. But don’t just take my word for it. 


Step 1 – Poaching the Pears

I found David Liebovitz’s guidelines on poaching pears here to be super useful.


4-5 firm ripe pears (I used some lovely Bartlett pears from my organic box)
1 litre/1 quart water
1 1/3 cups (250g) sugar
1 miniature bottle Frangelico (Italian hazelnut liqueur or another liqueur to taste)

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Heat the water and sugar together until the sugar has dissolved. Add the pears and cover them with a circle of parchment or greaseproof paper with a small hole cut in the middle.  This ensures that the pears don’t float up from the liquid and turn brown. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes making sure the pears don’t turn mushy. Remove the pears and boil the peary liquid down fiercely until you have a thick syrup. Turn off the heat, pour in the bottle of Frangelico, add back the pears and set aside to cool.

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Step 2 – Making the Cake

This recipe is based on this one here by Annamaria Volpi, with a few tweaks.


1½ cups (180 gr) ground hazelnuts (you could substitute other nuts such as almonds or pistachios)
7 oz (200 gr) semi or bittersweet chocolate, finely diced (I used Guittard 72% cacao)
4 + 4 oz (115 + 115 gr) sugar
7 oz (200 gr) butter, at room temperature
8 eggs, separated
¾ cup (110 gr) plain or cake flour

Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C).  Oil a 9 inch (23cm) Springform cake tin and line it with parchment paper.  Sprinkle the paper with cocoa powder. I wanted to make a three-layer cake. You could bake yours in a 10 inch (25cm) pan and just cut it in half for two layers instead.

Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie or glass bowl set on a saucepan of simmering water.

Cream the ground hazelnuts, 4oz (115g) of sugar and the butter together until soft and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and mix together until smooth. Combine the egg yolks one at a time with the hazelnut-chocolate mixture, reserving the egg whites.  Sift the flour and stir it in thoroughly.

Beat the egg whites. When they are half beaten add the remaining 4 oz (115 gr) of sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed.

Fold the egg whites carefully into the hazelnut-chocolate mixture. Pour the mixture into the cake tin, level with a spatula and bake it for approximately 30–40 minutes (for a 10 inch cake) or 50 minutes for a 9 inch cake. The cake is ready when a stick of spaghetti poked into the centre comes out clean and dry.

Remove from the oven and let the cake cool at room temperature. Then remove from the cake pan.  When it is fully cooled, slice into two or three layers.


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Step 3 – Making the Chocolate Ganache Filling and Topping and Assembling the Cake


1 cup (250 cc) double (heavy) cream
12 oz (340 gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, diced
2 oz (60 gr) butter, at room temperature

Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over a medium heat until just starting to bubble. Add the diced chocolate and beat together until the chocolate has fully melted into the hot cream. Beat in the butter. Leave to cool at room temperature for 2 hours. I hurried mine along in the fridge which is fine, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold and stiff.

Take your cake layers and spoon a few tablespoons of the peary poaching syrup over the cakes. Wait for it to soak in.  Spread the bottom two layers with chocolate ganache and then top with sliced poached pears. Assemble the cake and spread the remaining ganache all over the top and sides.  Put the cake in the fridge so that the ganache sets firmly.




Step 4 – Glazing and Decorating the Cake

You only need to do this step if you’re feeling fancy, though I’m glad I did.  The first ganache layer (step 3) will produce a perfectly delicious cake. This is what you need to do if you want to create a smooth, shiny finish, say for example if you’re entering a cake competition.


¾ cup (180 cc) double (heavy) cream
6 oz (180 gr ) dark, bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, diced

Pour the cream into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over a medium heat until just starting to bubble. Add the diced chocolate and beat together until the chocolate has fully melted into the hot cream and the ganache is very light and soft.  Immediately spread the glaze over the refrigerated cake with an offset spatula.

In Italy it is traditional for some reason to write the word ‘Gianduia’ on the cake in script.  So I melted a little white chocolate and piped it on.

Here is my cake basking in the sunshine.


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Here’s a glimpse of its fudgey insides.


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And here I am after my cake won second prize! Told you it was a good recipe.



Photo courtesy of Myra Kohn

My prize was a year’s subscription to Edible Seattle a monthly magazine focusing on the fabulous food bounty of Seattle and its surrounding area, and the farmers and chefs who bring it to us. The only problem is that I’m already a subscriber. So I have a subscription here to give away.  It would obviously be most relevant to a blog reader from the Seattle area, but it’s so full of great recipes and fascinating articles that I’d encourage anyone interested in food to enter.

If you’d like to enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below telling us what is your favourite autumn ingredient. I’ll draw the winner at random on Friday 11th November. Good luck!

07 November 2011

Adventures in Cooking – Rosehip Syrup


Do you have a favourite foodstuff you remember from childhood that is no longer available but that you’d love to magically taste again?


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For me that foodstuff was something you may not even have heard of – rosehip syrup.  During the war citrus fruits were extremely scarce in the UK and a cottage industry grew up picking homegrown rosehips and preserving them as syrup, as they are apparently astonishingly high in vitamin C and packed with antioxidants.

Even into the 70s rosehip syrup was available at the ‘chemists’ and we always had a bottle in the house, either drinking it diluted as a cordial or eating it spooned neat over tinned rice pudding or stirred into ice cream.  Because, you see, even though it was born out of austerity, rosehip syrup is extremely very delicious indeed.  Imagine a complex but delicate sugar syrup redolent with tastes of tangerine and apple and perhaps the odd echo of something tropical, mango perhaps, in the background, and you’ll see where I’m coming from.  Unfortunately for me, the manufacturers Delrosa stopped selling rosehip syrup in the UK some time in the 70s, though it is apparently still available in some developing countries.

So it happened that I was out blackberrying in Seattle one day in September and came across a row of rosa rugosa bushes, complete with fat, juicy sunset-coloured hips. Would it be possible to recreate my childhood memories? I decided to pick some and find out.




It seems I’m not the only person trying to recreate their British childhood and if you search there are a number of recipes online. I decided to follow the instructions given in this blog as they seemed very thorough.

The process is, however, surprisingly easy.

I had around 1/2 lb of rosehips which I ground to a pulp in the food processor.  Did you know that rosehips are full to bursting with hundreds of tiny seeds?


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The next step is to add the rosehip pulp to 3/4 pint of boiling water, turn off the heat and leave it to stand and infuse for 15 minutes. Filter the pulp through muslin or cheesecloth set in a sieve, until fully strained, about 10 minutes.   Take the pulp left in the muslin, place it back into the saucepan and this time add 1/2 pint of boiling water and repeat the whole process.  It’s important to make sure that the little itchy hairs which are apparently inside some rosehips (I didn’t see any in mine) don’t get into your final infusion.




When the infused liquid has fully filtered through, tip it back into the saucepan and reduce it down to half a pint.  Add 5 oz of sugar, boil it all up together until a syrup forms, about 5 minutes, and then pour your finished syrup into sterilised jars or bottles.

I served it to the Minx poured over Greek yogurt and fresh berries, or you could add it to sparkling wine to make an elegant cocktail, soak it into a rich, dense almondy cake, use it in place of maple syrup on pancakes or waffles or swirl it into ice cream or whipped cream.




Or you could do as I did.  Take a dessertspoonful, add some chilled sparkling water and travel thirty odd years back in time.

If you could, which foodstuff would you make magically reappear?  Have you ever tried to recreate it from scratch? Am I weird that I like eating roses?  Talk to me!

17 September 2011

Julep Maven


There’s quite a lot of self-reinvention going on around here.  I’ve lost 26lbs and counting since June 1st on the deadly but effective Dukan diet and am the thinnest I’ve been for about eight years (and yes, I will blog about it early next week).

This time I’m determined to see this thing through to the end, and as a result am holding off on buying too many new clothes as I’d still like to lose another 16-20 lbs. Instead I had to find another way to up the glamour factor round these parts – I’m feeling better about myself than I have in a LOOOOOONNNNNNGGGGG time – and give myself a bit of a reward.  And this treat fits whatever size you are.




I’ve been a fan of Julep ever since entrepreneur Jane Park opened her first salon about ten minutes from my house. They now have a presence throughout Greater Seattle and have launched their line of nail polishes online throughout the US.  These are beautiful polishes in glorious colours with lots of seasonal changes, all named after Hollywood stars.  I’m shallow enough that I find this occasionally problematic – I don’t care what colour it is, I am not wearing ‘Keira’ or ‘Gwyneth’.

They’ve also launched a monthly subscription service called Julep Maven.  You do a fun quiz to find out your style and they email you every month with personalised colour selections.  You can choose whether to take the colours, request another ‘shelf pull’, have the box sent to a friend as a present or just skip the box altogether.  And for around $20 a month, they guarantee at least $40 of product, including two nail polishes in either new seasonal colours or cult favourites, together with other hand care products.  Shipping is free and you also get 20% of other products on the website.

The quiz decided that I was an ‘American Beauty’, somewhat amusing as I’m neither leggy, nor blonde, nor even American, and the website said they’d be sending me ‘Alfre’ – a cool dusty lilac and ‘Carrie’,  a useful innocuous pink.  Since I have no idea who ‘Alfre’ is, and since I still have some residual affection for ‘Carrie’, despite SATC2, I thought these sounded good.

Everything arrived beautifully packaged, with a letter from the owner. As well as the two polishes, I received a bottle of Nail Therapy nail strengthener (which has been GREAT for my brittle nails), a full size 3 oz glycolic hand scrub and a couple of little samples.




The only problem was that they weren’t the right two polishes.  I’d been sent ‘Zoe’, a gorgeous autumnal copper and ‘Molly’ a true red, which isn’t really me.

I emailed instantly to inquire after the whereabouts of cool and beautiful Alfre, to be told that I’d signed up just as the monthly colours were changing. However they did offer to send Alfre to me free of charge, which was rather nice of them.  So here are my three ladies (plus nail protector) in all their glory.




Here I am modelling Zoe and wishing that I wasn’t such a f*cking amateur when it comes to giving myself a manicure.  I love her as she is glamorous, yet neutral and seasonal, and not a colour that I would necessarily have picked out for myself, which is sort of the point of doing this sort of thing.




I find myself strangely excited to see what colours are in my next box (I’m such a sucker for good marketing).  If you live in the US and want to give yourselves a little monthly treat then here’s where you can sign up.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I get $15 in store credit if you sign up through the link above.  However, as usual I haven’t been paid for this review, nor have I been sent free stuff, it’s something I decided to do for me).


13 September 2011

Blueberry Boy Bait




Speaking as we were about baking with kids, the Minx and I had very fun day for the last day of ‘mummy’ camp before starting school.

We went with friends for some pick your own blueberries (thanks Mercer Slough Blueberry Farm!) and then decided to do a spot of lunchbox baking afterwards.

The recipe for Blueberry Boy Bait from Smitten Kitchen seemed ideal lunchbox fare – easy to bake, easy to pack, not too sweet and packing enough blueberries that it could almost be counted as a healthy option. At least that’s what this mother tries to tell herself.  Oh and did I mention that they’re rather delicious?

First pick your blueberries.  I love how pretty they are.



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Then mix up a plain-ish yellow cake batter (the full recipe is here) made with butter, a little soft brown sugar and half a cup of blueberries. The cake is then topped with more cinnamon-flavoured sugar and another half cup of blueberries so that the fruit is  evenly dispersed throughout the cake. This is an ideal job for small fingers.


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You should end up with a golden rectangle of purple-flecked yumminess with a slightly crisp crust.  Cut it into small lunchbox-sized portions. Ours is now in a big ziploc bag in the freezer. Add a frozen slice to the lunchbox the night before and it will be fresh and ready to eat in time for lunch.


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Incidentally the fabulous name was apparently bestowed by the fourteen year old girl who devised the recipe and came second in a baking competition back in the Fifties.  She was obviously a marketing as well as a baking genius. Mr T, the only boy in our family aside from Flora the cat, confirms that the name is appropriate even though it doesn’t contain either beer or bacon.

07 March 2011

Cumming – the Fragrance


So we interrupt normal blog programming (insofar as anything is ‘normal’ on this blog), to talk about fragrance.




This Sunday afternoon, following a delicious brunch at Spring Hill restaurant in West Seattle with my dear friends eM and Uncle Beefy, we stopped by the delightful Knows Perfume fragrance boutique on California Avenue to sniff a few scents.

Twenty minutes later our senses were reeling as owner Christen Cottam talked us through our scent preferences and sprayed paper strips with gay abandon.  Knows Perfume specialises in small niche perfume ranges such as L’Artisan Parfumeur, Penhaligons and Juliette Has a Gun, rather than the big brands, and Christen has an encyclopedic knowledge of every one.

We were in between sniffs, when I spied a bottle of Cumming –  the celebrity fragrance from sexy, funny, androgynous Scottish actor Alan Cumming.  I’d vaguely heard that he’d produced one, but had thought it was entirely a joke, what was it doing in such serious perfume company?

Christen explained that it was actually fabulous  - with notes of pine, peat, rubber, whisky, leather, dirt and moss. Uncle Beefy tried it at once, and out of the bottle it was horrible – like rolling on an old beer-stained, smoke-imbued leather sofa in a sweaty club which has been cursorily wiped down with a cheap pine-scented cleaner.

So we continued chatting and sniffing and experimenting until Uncle B suddenly said ‘you know, this is actually smelling rather wonderful’. And it was. Sexy and earthy and natural and woodsy. 

So of course  I had to try it. Same nasty whiff of stinky jockstrap to start, but then on me it dried down to a most deliciously complex mix of vanilla, earth, pepper and orange peel – not like some of those overwhelming vanilla scents which smell like you’ve been smearing yourself with custard -  but more as if I’d been eating orange-scented sugar cookies and exuding them through my skin, with underlying sexy, sweaty undertones. Honestly my dears I was sniffing myself for the rest of the afternoon.


It smells EXACTLY like this video

The original commercially-produced Cumming has apparently been discontinued – the fact that it smells DISGUSTING out of the bottle probably doesn’t help -  but has been reformulated for extra longevity by the original perfumer Christopher Brosius and is now included within his range.  I know perfume is a highly subjective subject, but if it doesn’t work for you – and on eM’s skin chemistry it stayed resolutely ‘smelly wet sock’ – then chances are it will do wonders for your man, I couldn’t stop sniffing Uncle B either, though on him it smelled less vanilla-y and more earthy.

All proceeds from the perfume go to charity, so it really wouldn’t hurt to buy a little sample. I  am utterly obsessed.

26 January 2011

101 Things – Art of the Pie


Since living here I’ve learned how fanatical Americans are about their pies. 

In Britain a pie is a homely thing, most often made with apples, with a soft filling and a thin, light, crumbly crust. 

As in so many other things, an American pie is an altogether less delicate and more robust affair. The piecrust is generally thicker, crunchier, and baked to a deeper golden hue with a chunkier filling. Aside from apples, a whole cornucopia of different fruits is used, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest, with its fabulous stone fruits and soft fruits.  I remember watching Twin Peaks (which, incidentally, was set in the mountains close to Seattle) back in the day and being bemused that such a thing as cherry pie even existed.  It seemed so much more exotic and truly American than apple pie, which to me was just my British father’s favourite dessert and had no American connotations at all.




After finding out that I had a hitherto undiscovered talent for pie-making, I was determined to broaden my horizons further and take a pie-making class so as to learn how to make a classic American pie. Fortunately Seattle is home to one of America’s top pie gurus, Kate McDermott of Art of the Pie, so I added her class to my 101 Things List and two Saturdays ago, off I went.

The classes are held in the kitchen of her West Seattle home, where Kate first demonstrates her techniques and then you get to make your own pie to take home.

Kate first made her pastry. Her recipe is here and in all honesty, it’s not that different from the recipe I used for my Bramley Apple Pie.

Kate too is a fan of using pure leaf lard and European butter.  She gets her lard sent mail order from Pennsylvania - when I told her that you could get 100% pure lard in the chiller cabinet in any British supermarket, she nearly wept.  She specifies using King Arthur Flour, which she keeps in the freezer. Apparently this has a higher protein content than most flours, similar to Italian doppio-zero flour in Europe.

Kate’s not a great believer in strict measuring.  She doesn’t use scales, but instead pretty thrifted teacups and roughly-measured tablespoons. For her it’s all about the texture.




The big revelation for me was her method of rubbing in.  I’ve been making pastry on and off since I was tiny and used to help my mother and have always assiduously rubbed all the fat in until the mixture resembled tiny breadcrumbs. Instead Kate prefers to rub the fat in a little less so that you have mixture of crumb sizes – some like sand or cornmeal, others like chopped nuts, some the size of peas.

It seemed strange to see the finished pastry streaked with fat, but it’s the fat which gives her crust its mouthwatering flakiness and crispness.

While Kate’s pastry was resting in the fridge, we set to making our pie fillings. In January Kate uses high quality frozen fruits instead of fresh. I decided to unleash my inner Kyle Maclachlan and make a traditional American cherry pie.

To make Kate’s cherry filling you just add plenty of sugar and the merest hint of nutmeg and lemon juice to frozen pie cherries and then stir in a third of a cup of flour and a little quick cooking tapioca to absorb the juices. I am thinking of experimenting with adding ground almonds instead, but that will be for my next pie.

I also generally have a lot of trouble rolling out my pastry. Kate showed us how to give it a couple of hard thwacks with her sturdy ‘French pin’ to show it who was boss




and then roll it out using a pendulum-type motion.  I loved using her old-fashioned rolling pin, which is hand crafted from solid maple by Vic Firth Gourmet in Maine. Apparently he used to be timpanist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra before moving first into drumstick manufacture and then into rolling pins. Stories like this please me greatly and I have since bought one of my own. They’re available on Amazon.




Kate then filled her pie – a blackberry one – dotted the top butter and then showed us how to craft a lattice top







And here is my cherry pie.  I’m assuming you can imagine how proud I was of this.  Also I really want the little thrifted pot Kate uses for her eggwhite and water wash.





Then all our pies went into the oven and we spent the rest of the afternoon drinking champagne and eating Kate’s utterly delicious rhubarb pie, talking about pie, and reading about pie.


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I think this almost qualifies me to be an honorary American.



More photos here.

14 January 2011

Lady Marmalade – Blue Chair Fruit


A few weeks before Christmas I was lucky enough to get a place at a marmalade-making class hosted by Seattle Bon Vivant, and taught by Rachael Saunders of Blue Chair Fruit, who is also the author of the Blue Chair Jam cookbook.

Actually I really wanted to get to the jam-making class, as I’ve not historically been a great fan of marmalade, but that coincided with my trip to Pender Island, so marmalade it had to be.

In fact the class was fascinating and hugely informative, and since the Husband is a huge marmalade fan, my learnings were not entirely in vain.

We tasted various preserves;




learned the best way to prepare and chop the pre-blanched fruit;


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watched the fruit bubble through various stages of cooking;




tested for done-ness, and then poured the amber nectar into dozens of tiny jars.


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I learned to taste the mixture just before the final boiling and add a little fresh lemon juice for an extra layer of sparkle, and we were shown the best and easiest way to jar the preserves – heating the jars in the oven, rather than sterilising them in boiling water, and using a wide mouth funnel to fill them easily. Why haven’t I had one of these handy tools in my kitchen before?




Here’s Rachael admiring her handiwork, wearing her super cool retro apron.


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We were given four jars of differently flavoured and textured marmalades to take home, and my goodness they were a revelation, particularly to me who’s always disliked the thick. chewy, unpleasantly bitter traditional British shop-bought stuff.

Rachael’s marmalades melt in the mouth, and are bursting with zingy citrus flavours which overlay the subtly bitter chewiness of the peel and the rich sweetness of the (amazing quantities) of sugar.

I was so inspired that I bought the Husband (who is the chief jam maker chez nous) a copy of Rachael’s wonderful book and one of the beautiful Mauviel preserving pans she uses for his Christmas present. 

This was not of course in any way, shape or form a present for me. Oh no.

25 November 2010

Snow Day


Or this is why I haven’t been blogging.

After complete and total snow-fuelled carnage on the icy, steep Seattle streets (this city is as laughably bad at snow as London was)  yesterday dawned crisp, clear and glorious. And yes my neighbours do need to look into insulating their roofs). 




After a two-hour journey back from school the previous day, the Minx was understandably pleased not to be going to school, especially when this is what we ended up doing.



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We went sledding, made a very unfeminine snowgal, drank hot chocolate with whipped cream, made chicken noodle soup, watched a Tinkerbell movie and altogether had a wonderful time.

And I’m so glad we did, because today the Minx and the Husband set off for England to spend the long weekend with his mother who is in hospital with kidney failure. They’re away for five days, which is by far the longest time I’ve been away from the Minx since she was born.

I’m sad not to be with them at Thanksgiving – this holiday, which meant beans to me when we first arrived, is one of the most beautiful American traditions, and I’m going to miss celebrating tomorrow, though I’m glad to share the Husband and Minx with my mother-in-law.

Instead I shall be spending Thanksgiving morning on the Clipper heading to Victoria on Vancouver Island, off to spend a weekend of laziness with a girlfriend out on the Gulf Islands.  As a consequence blogging over the next few days will be light to non-existent.

And  the whole thing has made me so grateful that I have my health and my own small family the rest of the year. To all those of you celebrating, I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving and good health and happiness in the year ahead.

22 November 2010



This is what’s going down in Seattle this morning.



In a miraculous first the Minx’s school DIDN’T decide that an inch of snow meant a snow day, so she went off to school well bundled up and practically bursting with excitement.

Because it’s so close to the sea, Seattle doesn’t actually get much snow, but by all accounts we’re in for a hard winter this year.  And snow this early in November is amazing.

Here are a couple of shots I took out in the garden. You expect to see snow on berries and evergreens but on autumn leaves and lavender?



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09 November 2010

Autumn in the Neighbourhood


It’s chucking it down with rain today, with views very much like the one below, but in truth this year we’ve been having a spectacularly lovely autumn in Seattle.

Last week temperatures hit 73 degrees just after Halloween, so I grabbed my camera, and went for a stroll round the neighbourhood in a wife-beater tank before doing a little sunbathing on the deck. Seattle is always full of surprises.

Enjoy the splendour.    I could never live anywhere that didn’t have seasons.






And here’s my attempt at photographing my street Cheryl Maeder-stylee. I can’t work out if if looks interesting or just drunkenly out of focus.




And finally here’s reminder of what these streets looked like in Spring

05 November 2010

Remember, Remember the 5th November


I always do, and not just because it’s Guy Fawkes Night



Here’s a photo I apparently took on 7th November 2006.  The view had been even worse over the previous two days, and that chink of light in the distance was a new and welcome development.


Four years ago, me, the Husband and a very small Minx woke up (at 2.30 am I might add, due to the Minx’s jetlag) in an apartment overlooking Puget Sound, ready to begin our new adventure in Seattle.

Record-breaking (so we later found out) torrents of rain were sheeting down the big glass windows, we had no decent food in the apartment, the Minx was bored with the eight books we had brought in our carry on luggage (the rest of her toys were following with our stuff) and was letting us know in no uncertain terms and we were utterly exhausted through sleep deprivation and getting everything packed and organised for our move.

If I’d had a return ticket I would have been on the next flight back.

You too can reminisce by reading my blog entries back then.

We intended to be here for only three years, but yes. four years later we’re still here with no plans to return. Life is a funny thing.

01 November 2010

101 Things – Learning Thai Cooking


One thing I’ve added to my 101 List is to learn Thai cookery.  It’s so thoroughly and deliciously complex, looks so very beautiful and is a wonderful vehicle for consuming tons of healthy vegetables and lots of yummy seafood.

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It’s also a cuisine about which I am almost completely ignorant.  I love it, but rarely stray from Pad Thai, Tom Yum Soup and Red Curries on the menus; never cook authentic Thai at home (though here’s a stab at inauthentic Thai) and have never been to Thailand.

For the purposes of the list I defined my goal as completing six workshops or classes on the subject over the next three years.  I know that Thai cooking is as complex, if not more so, than French cuisine, but I figured that six workshops would be enough to give me a somewhat reasonable grounding.

The class in Thai Comfort Cooking I took at PCC in Greenlake was perfect for a beginner like me.  The amazing teacher Pranee Halvorsen, is a lovely Thai lady from Phuket, despite the Norwegian married name. She took us through four courses of a Thai comfort food feast, with detailed recipes and wonderful stories, chopping and stir frying all the while and patiently answering all our questions.




She showed us her favourite products, talked about specific Thai techniques and  ingredients, offered substitutions for difficult to get items and demonstrated how to make garnishes and ingredients such as sauteed shallots, crushed chilli peppers, vinegar and jalapeno condiment and dark soy sauce, and then served out each dish to eighteen people, so we got a fabulous lunch along the way.

By a huge coincidence Pranee had been a student with me at Jackie Baisa’s photography workshop, so she very kindly let me take photographs throughout the class. Again the overhead lighting was flat and unforgiving, but the dishes were too exquisite (and exquisitely delicious) not to look amazing whatever the photography.



I’ll be attempting to cook all of these dishes over the next few weeks so there will be recipes and more pics coming.  In the meantime feast your eyes on these pics.


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28 October 2010

101 Things – Jackie Baisa Food Photography


Another weekend, another photography workshop, another tick on my 101 Things list. This time with Seattle food and wedding photographer and fellow oxtail stew lover Jackie Baisa.

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A bunch of us came together at gourmet cooking store 'Dish It Up’ in Seattle’s Magnolia district.  For the first part of the class we discussed Jackie’s extremely informative hand out and also critiqued a bunch of Jackie’s photos that hadn’t quite made the cut – this was an extremely useful exercise, and I need to get into the habit of doing it both with my own photos and those in magazines.



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Then after a sneaky lunch at Nikos Gyros (at last, I have found decent Greek food in Seattle!), the real fun began when ace private chef Becky Selengut arrived to cook a bunch of beautiful dishes for us to photograph.

To be honest, the photography conditions could have been better -  we were in Dish It Up’s demonstration kitchen which is wonderful for chefs but not so wonderful for photographers, with flat overhead lighting, no natural light, no dedicated photography lights and a very shiny reflective granite surface. No different from photographing in most restaurants though, I wouldn’t have thought.


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And that, my dears, was the very great thing about this course -  the opportunity to take plenty of pictures of a chef in action. And the dishes Chef Becky produced were literally pretty as a picture – photography skills hardly required.  If Jackie does another course, make sure you’re on it. (Also the opportunity to sample the dishes later is, shall we say, an added attraction).

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Here are Chef Becky and Photographer Jackie doing their thang. 


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 Just back from San Francisco y’all (<--- how American am I?).  Love that place.

14 October 2010

101 Things – Photographing Kids




I did another photography workshop at the weekend. They seem to be one if the easiest things to tick off my list of 101 Thingsgetting all the fun things out of the way before I start tackling the hard stuff I suppose.

I’ve noticed that I don’t very often photograph people – I prefer the still-life composition of food or interiors shots, or the drama of landscapes. Portraiture, particularly of strangers, doesn’t do much for me, which is weird, because I’d consider myself to be quite an extrovert ‘people’ person.

There is of course one notable exception and that is the Minx and she is horribly difficult to photograph – usually in perpetual motion and either pulling funny faces or smiling in a horrendously false and sickly way every time she sees the camera pointing in her direction.

So it seemed a good idea to take a workshop in Photographing Kids – both to take me out of my comfort zone and to improve my photography of the Minx.  This time I was working with the wonderful Clare Barboza, who is both an astonishing food photographer and does amazing portraiture. She shares the gorgeous and inspiring Spare Room studio with Lara Ferroni.

We talked about appropriate shutter speeds, using a bounce to soften the light, focusing on the eyes, composition, capturing details and using props, with the help of two beautiful models, just-turned-four Meilee and three-month old Kate.

One of the things I love about doing workshops with different photographers is that each one focuses on different things to create their pictures and has different compositional and lighting tricks they prefer, so I always learn a ton of stuff about photography in general whatever the subject.  If you’re in Seattle I can’t recommend Clare’s workshops highly enough.

Here are a few of my favourite shots from the day.  They’re not the usual stuff I post about on this blog, but what the heck, enjoy the cute.






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It does make me a little sad that I didn’t have the skills to take photos like these of the Minx when she was a baby and toddler, though I suppose it’s better late than never. Must schedule a photo shoot with her soon.

09 October 2010

Brunch at the Corson Building


A few weeks ago the Husband had a rather big birthday, so in the course of what felt like weeks of celebrating we went for brunch at the Corson Building here in Seattle.

The Corson Building does its best to feel more like an underground dining experience than a standard restaurant. There is a changing calendar of events and no fixed menu, just whatever the kitchen feels like cooking that day from fresh seasonal and local ingredients, many picked from the kitchen garden.

The building itself is old, quirky and beautiful, the likes of which you see only rarely in not-very-historic Seattle. The food is by and large delicious, though be warned that you don’t get traditional egg and maple syrup-laden brunch fare (much to the Minx’s chagrin).  Instead are salads and cake, yogurt, cheese and fruit, with a small menu of main dish options – I had a roasted tomato tart which was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long while.

But for me it was all about the space and the decor – the prettiest restaurant in Seattle and the sort of place where you could point your camera in any direction and feel like you’d painted a watercolour.

Sit down and enjoy the pretty.


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04 October 2010

All About Me - Shuttertour


As part of my 101 Things list, I’ve challenged myself to complete at least six photography workshops or classes in the next three years.

First up was a Seattle Shuttertour with the amazing Valentina Vitols.



This is such a cool concept – you are taken on walking tour of some of the most photogenic spots in Seattle, while ace photographer Valentina tells you a little about the history of what you’re seeing, stops every so often to give the group photography tips and is always available to share her knowledge on an individual basis.

She also talks a bit about using urban backdrops for portraiture, making sure to pick up your camera and take plenty of pictures of you as well, so you end up with some nice portraits by a professional portrait photographer.  And she took us to corners of Seattle that I had never been to before.

I knew most of the tips, but it’s one thing to know these things in the abstract and another to be able to put them into practice straightaway afterwards. And in fact just walking round the city for the sole purpose of taking photos was so unusual for me and just so much fun. I must do it more often.

I think the Shuttertours are finished for the year now, but if you’re a photographer either living in Seattle or visiting as a tourist, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Go and do one next season!



Valentina in front of Seattle’s infamous and quite revolting gum wall.



Moments and details in Post Alley


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Coffee stop at the beautiful Caffe Stella near the Hammering Man


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Portraits and self-portraits (wish I’d washed my hair that morning)
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Colours and character in Pike Place Market


01 October 2010

Recipe of the Week – A Traditionally English Bramley Apple Pie


One of the challenges on my 101 List is to ‘Win something – anything’, which means I actually need to enter competitions.

Cue the 2nd Annual Queen Anne Farmers’ Market Blue Ribbon Pie Contest, which I decided to enter on a whim, despite the fact that I haven’t actually baked a pie for about ten years – crumble always seems so much quicker, easier and less daunting – and that Seattle is home to some fiendishly expert piemakers.




This year I’ve been able, through extensive excitable Twittering and emailing, to locate a local source of Bramley apples. Despite being home to more fabulous apple varieties than you can shake a stick at, America appears to be almost entirely ignorant of Bramleys, which I’ve missed horribly over the past couple of years.

For those of you who don’t know, Bramleys are a large knobbly British heirloom ‘cooking’ apple – too tart to eat raw, but which, thanks to the extra acidity, have a uniquely wonderful flavour and soft fluffy texture when cooked. It’s funny the things you miss, but I am not the only Brit to nearly wet my knickers with excitement at finding them.

So, I decided to make a traditionally English Bramley Apple Pie for the competition and show Americans what they’re missing out on.




And here’s my finished pie literally seconds before it slipped out of my hands as I was putting it in the oven and it crashed to the oven floor. Fortunately I was able to perform extensive reconstructive surgery using leftover scraps of pastry and make it look like a pie again, but it certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty competitions.

So you can imagine that I wasn’t holding out much hope of a prize when I was greeted by a veritable masterclass in the piemaker’s art on arriving at the market. (My poor battered pie is at top right in the red pie dish, I didn’t even bother to take a proper close up photo of it).




Here it is after the judges had tucked into it.


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And here it is sporting its ribbon for 3rd Prize! You could have knocked me down with a feather, quite literally. They clearly weren’t judging on looks.




Anyway, it was a lovely and very unexpected surprise to end to what has been a fairly shitty week, so many thanks to all at Queen Anne Farmers’ Market, to Jones Creek farms for their wonderful Bramley apples, to my lovely friend M for coming to my rescue with lard, and  to my fellow competitors who made some SERIOUSLY delicious pies (enough already, it’s getting like the Oscars round here :- the Ed)

And it’s made me think that maybe I should make pie more often.



Shortcrust Pastry

250g/2cups flour

75g/5 tbsps butter*

75g/5tbsps lard or vegetable shortening**

Iced water + lemon juice


1-2 tbsps of butter

5 Bramley apples – peeled, cored and sliced***

1 tbsp lemon juice

3 tbsps raisins soaked in Madeira****

6 tbsps bakers/caster sugar

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground cloves

A few grindings of nutmeg

1 tbsp cornstarch/cornflour/plain flour


* I used an imported European butter as the fat content is higher and it apparently works better for pastry. You can get Kerrygold and Lurpak reasonably easily in the US. I also used salted butter as Il like the whole salty /sweet thing in my desserts.

**It appears that good quality lard is also very difficult to get hold of in the US. It’s available as ‘manteca’ and extensively used for Mexican cuisine but the brands I’ve found seem to be full of partially hydrogenated fats. Or else you need to track down ‘leaf lard’ from a good butcher or farmer. I was lucky enough to be given some by a friend. Brits, treasure that pack of Tesco’s lard you’ve had squashed in the back of the fridge since time immemorial.

*** Bramleys are unique in my experience. If you can’t get hold of them, Granny Smiths have a similar tart taste, but very different texture and I’ve heard that Gravensteins and Belle de Boskoop are other good cooking varieties. You may need to adjust cooking method (below) accordingly.

**** Madeira is yet another very English thing. If you don’t have madeira, rum, whisky or Calvados would be great. If kids are going to eat the pie use apple or orange juice.



Soak your raisins in your booze of choice a few hours before starting.

Chop your fats into small dice and put the flour and fats into the freezer for around 15 minutes. If you didn’t use salted butter, you could maybe add a pinch of salt.

Prepare a cup of iced water and add a squeeze of lemon.

Put your flour and fats into a food processor and pulse process until the fats are fully incorporated and the mixture looks like coarse sand or oatmeal.

Add iced water to the mix a teaspoon at a time and keep pulsing until everything has almost clumped together. Fish it out and knead it into a smooth dough by hand. (You can of course use the traditional ‘rubbing in’ method. I like the above, courtesy of Nigella Lawson – God love that despicable woman – because it’s quick, easy and means you don’t have to handle the pastry more than is strictly necessary).

Put the pastry in the fridge for at least 30 mins to relax.



Core, peel and slice your apples and place the slices in a bowl of cold water with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to stop them browning. Americans seem to prefer more discernible lumps of apple in their pies, so may want to slice them more thickly.

Melt a tablespoon or two of butter in a large frying pan and then turn off the heat and add your apples, drained raisins, approximately 6 tablespoons of caster sugar depending on how sweet your apples are (if you’re not using tart Bramleys you may want to use a bit less), the spices and the cornflour. I also added a little lemon juice, and you can adjust this according to the tartness or otherwise of your apples. If you’re using very sweet dessert apples go for more.

Stir the apples around until all the buttery juices are amalgamated. If you prefer a softer pie filling or are using dessert apples that don’t disintegrate easily you may want to cook the apples gently at this stage.  I didn’t with my Bramleys.



Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Roll out the one of the pastry circles and line the bottom of your pie dish.

Add the filling.

Roll out the other pastry circle and place over the top of the pie dish, cutting the excess away with a knife.

Paint the edge of the pie with milk and then crimp together the top and bottom layers. Pierce vents in the top layer to let the steam escape and decorate how you like with the pastry scraps, eggwash or milk and lots of sugar. I experimented using different types of sugar – caster, demerara, and large-crystalled ‘sparkling’ sugar to decorate different elements of my design.

Bake for about 45-50 minutes until golden. I covered my pie with foil for the first 20 minutes so it wouldn’t get too brown.

I’m not going to count this as a win for the 101 Things, since it was only a 3rd place. However ask me again when the three years is nearly up.  Oh and here’s a gratuitous cute picture of the Minx chatting up a baby at the market.




Here’s a link to a write-up about the competition on the Queen Anne Farmers’ Market website, with a rare flattering photo of me (on the far left).



Photo by John Schussler


Thank goodness I didn’t know that professional bakers would be competing and that we would be judged by professional pastry chefs.

Here are links to the three other prize-winning recipes which all looked utterly incredible. Mine was apparently the highest-ranked apple pie (of which there were several) which I attribute entirely to the amazing power of the Bramley apple.