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72 posts categorized "There'll always be an England"

10 September 2009

Jubilee

Isn’t this rather gorge? It doesn’t quite fit into our house decor, and it costs an absolute fortune, but je l’adore, oh yes I do.

To me it sort of sums up Britain in a way - different and edgy, fun and funky, a mish-mash of styles, slightly uncomfortable-looking and with a heart of pure unadulterated old-fashioned chintz.

 

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Available at the Rug Company, { via Countryside Wedding}

17 August 2009

The Desserts of Summer – Lemon Frosted Pistachio Cake

I already wrote about this cake from Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries when I was also writing the blog A Year of Living Gorgeously, so there’s more cake-y description, links and photos here

However the inlaws are in town, so the Minx and I whipped up another cake and I made a few modifications to the original recipe to make a bigger cake, so I’m writing out the full recipe here.

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Here’s the cake in its latest incarnation.  Perhaps one day the Minx and I will manage a tasteful version.

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I have a 23cm cake tin instead of the 22cm one specified in the recipe and used to end up with a slightly flat cake, so I have modified this by ‘adding a little bit more’ to the butter and dry ingredients which seemed to work although they weren’t precisely calculated.  The amounts I used are given below. In order to keep the ratio of dried ingredients to wet similar, I also added one tablespoon of olive oil, which I’ve used before in dense, moist middle-eastern type cakes such as this and which was a super successful addition.

If you want the original recipe for a 22cm tin then there is a link here.

Lemon Frosted Pistachio Cake (from the Kitchen Diaries, with slight modifications)

275g butter

275g Caster (baker’s) sugar

3 eggs

Shelled pistachio nuts 100g

Ground almonds 130g

A large orange

1 tsp rosewater

1tbsp olive oil

75g plain flour

 

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C/Gas 3.  Line the bottom of a non-stick 23cm cake tin with baking parchment.

Cream the butter and sugar in a food mixer until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating between each addition. Blitz the pistachios to fine crumbs in a food processor, then add them, with the ground almonds to teh butter an dsugar. Finely grate and squeeze the orange, then stir it in with a the rosewater. lastly fold in the flour with a large metal spoon.

Scoop the mixture into the lined baking tin and bake for fifty minutes (I usually need to add 10-20 mins but start checking at 50) covering the top lightly with foil for the last ten minutes (I never bother). Chek the cake by inserting a metal skewer (I use uncooked spaghetti) into the centre. It should come out fialry clean, without any wet mixture stuck to it. Leave to cool in the tin before running a palette knife around the edge and turning it out.

Decorate with icing made from 200g sieved icing sugar and the juice of 1 lemon.

You all know how much I love my American readers (and er, those in Liberia and Myanmar), but today I really can’t be arsed to translate all the quantities into pounds and ounces.  If must insist on being pretty much the only nation not using metric measures then Google is your friend.

13 August 2009

Little Bo Peep

Funnily enough one of the things I miss most about England is sheep.  There is something so very quintessentially English and homey and comforting about a windswept hillside dotted with fluffy white blobs – a sight I don’t think I’ve ever seen in America, the land of the cow.

Lamb here is an exotic meat - tucked into a corner of the supermarket at the end of the huge counters displaying every possible cut of beef, chicken and pork, and viewed with some suspicion.  It’s rarely on the menu in restaurants, I’ve never had it served by American friends in their homes, and a waiter once told me that I may not like a lamb dish because the lamb taste might be ‘too strong’.

Anyway, I like this story, because it is so very English, so very charming and so very sheepy.  Vegetarians may be aghast to note that not only did sheepbreeder Louise Fairburn make her wedding dress from the fleece of her Lincoln Longwool sheep, but she served lamb from her flock to her guests.

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Full article here, {via Rose-Kim Knits}

06 August 2009

River Mirrors

I’m sorry and I’m enjoying life in the US more than I ever thought I would, but from a design perspective I still wish I was living in the UK, there’s so much fabulous stuff coming out of there.

A case in point are these spectacular ‘River Mirrors’ by British artist and designer Caryn Moberly {via The Art of C}.

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Each River Mirror is created from beautiful pieces of burred elm and resemble water flowing between the natural banks of a river.  Caryn uses the natural undulating shape of the tree to form the ‘river banks’, and so no two mirrors are the same.

I find the choice of wood particularly poignant – as a very young child I lived close to a stand of magnificent elm trees and remember feeling quite overwhelmed by their height and majesty.  It pains me somewhat that, due to Dutch Elm Disease, it is unlikely that my daughter will ever see a mature elm tree in all its glory.

26 February 2009

Man Cooking

Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday - Pancake Day in the UK - so like good little expats we whipped up some batter and pretended we were in England.  English pancakes are more like a French crepe than fluffy American pancakes, but are cooked in a smaller pan and are tossed to make them brown on both sides - with much ensuing hilarity in the kitchen. 

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Pancakes are most traditionally served with a sprinkling of lemon juice and sugar, but this year the Husband introduced a new level of danger and excitement by caramelising the sugar with his blowtorch. 

This proved to be a great innovation, as it introduced a layer of sweet crunch between the smooshy folds of the pancakes, and family cooking is definitely made more interesting by the brandishing of naked flames and throwing food around the room.

09 February 2009

I 'Heart'

Just in time for Valentines' Day, here is a small collection of heart-themed pieces from British design company Deadgood for Barker & Stonehouse stores.

I'm trying to work out whether these are kitsch or cool.  Unfortunately I suspect the former, though I'm loving the shapes and the detailing such as the covered buttons on the chair and the beautifully executed heart-shaped joinery.

Thoughts?

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{Images via Deadwood. Found via 'If It's Hip It's Here'}.

Our New Lamp

Bought at Christmas from Habitat in the UK and shipped to the US at vast expense.  There are some shops I just can't live without.

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One day that wall and wood trim will be painted a different colour.  However, I really wouldn't hold your breath.

28 January 2009

Victorian Colour

I'm not so sure about some of the textile choices in this English Victorian house - a bit too old fashioned for my taste - but I love the owner's use of colour and the use of contemporary furniture contrasted with the house's old bones. A couple of great Ikea hacks too.

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The stair runner is made of Barnslig Rand rugs sewn together.

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The round bed was apparently sold in Ikea but I can't find it on the current website.  There's one for sale here.  The owner of the house made the round headboard for her teenage daughter's room.  I would have KILLED for this bed when I was a teenager (except for the surprisingly nasty Lulu Guinness bed linen).

{All house photos from Living etc.)

17 January 2009

Life is for Sharing

When I first started working in the City I used to commute into Liverpool Street Station every day.  I miss London SO much. Best TV advert EVAH.

05 January 2009

Pretty Buildings

We are back. UK was fab.  I have flu. Off to bed.  Christmas 2008

Here are a few pics of lovely OLD buildings....and one or two new ones.

15 December 2008

Christmas Cake Update

So on Friday the Minx and I worked on the Christmas Cake.

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Here's one for the parenting police.  We made lots of tiny holes in the cake with a skewer and then poured a couple of tablespoons of brandy over the top. The Minx is spreading the brandy over the cake to make sure it got properly impregnated.  We've done this about three times since the cake was baked.

Next I made a vast quantity of marzipan using Delia's recipe which was super fiddly as the eggs and sugar are cooked over a gentle heat to make a meringue before the ground almonds are stirred in.  It makes really good marzipan though.

Here is the cake all marzipanned and ready to go.

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Because Christmas cake isn't made in the US there are no kitsch Christmas cake decorations for sale either, so the Minx and I decided to make some out of marzipan.  Santa is still waiting for his snow white beard made of royal icing. The Husband insists that no Christmas cake is complete without a 'frozen pond' made from card and tin foil, so he's been told to make one of those, before I make some royal icing and assemble the whole thing by the middle of the week.

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15 November 2008

Christmas Cake - Part II

The next step in the Christmas cake saga is to bind everything together with a simple sugar/butter/eggs/flour mixture.  The only unusual thing is to use dark brown muscovado sugar which gives the mixture its dark colour and a unique taste. Interestingly this particular recipe (unlike, say, Delia's) doesn't use any of the traditional Christmassy spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or mixed spice. The 'Christmassy' (for Brits anyway) taste and smell comes from the sugar and fruit.

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Here's the cake all ready to go into the oven for 4 hours. The recipe gives complicated instructions about lining the tin with a double thickness of greaseproof paper, wrapping brown paper round the prepared tin and then standing the cake on brown paper while cooking.  I have no idea why you have to do this but we followed the instructions anyway.

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Here's the finished unwrapped cake.  The next step is to wrap it in greaseproof paper and tin foil and then store it in an airtight tin, before 'feeding' it once a week with brandy.  The cake will keep like this until the week before Christmas when I'll take it out and ice it.  The next step for me is looking out kitsch decorations online.

I assume that any Americans readers are staring to understand why this only gets made once a year.

11 November 2008

Christmas Cake - Part I

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Interestingly Christmas round these parts (or, as I should euphemistically say, 'the holidays') seems to be rather Germanic in flavour with plenty of gingerbread and not a sign of traditional English Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings or mince pies.

We missed our Christmas cake last year and so this year have decided to make one courtesy of all the glace' fruit we shipped back from Vancouver recently (how funny that one of the British delicacies we miss most is glace' fruit).

For those of you who've never seen one before, a traditional British Christmas cake is a dark and dense rich fruit cake, made some considerable time before the big day, left to 'mature' through the constant application of brandy and then coated with thick layers of almond paste and royal icing.  It is a long and laborious process.  We started ours yesterday, though in an ideal world you should start making your cakes and puddings about two months before the big day.

My ma-in-law has many splendid qualities, not least of which is her quite ridiculously good Christmas cake. A couple of years ago she gave me the recipe, though this is the first time I've actually made it.  I was expecting some ancient family recipe carefully handed down through the generations, but instead discovered that it was a Waitrose recipe of very recent vintage. No matter, it's absolutely delicious and the addition of less traditional ingredients such as dried apricots and glace' pineapple means it isn't as dark and dense as traditional cakes which are essentially a solid wall of raisins.

The first step, which the Minx and I completed yesterday, involved chopping and stirring an immense quantity of mixed dried fruits and nuts and then steeping them for 24 hours in orange juice and brandy.

An Atelier LZC tea towel covers up our nasty green countertop.

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20 May 2008

Britain v America - Book Covers

Here's our next look at British v. American design sensibilities.

Last time round we hugely preferred the uncluttered British approach to magazine cover design, though we did stop to note the American fondness for glitz and glamour, as exemplified by Gwyneth Paltrow in a ballgown on the cover. Immaculately groomed movie stars and celebrities are everywhere here, all over the TV and on the covers of every magazine.

The British on the other hand are notoriously bad at glamour and polish.  We can very rarely pull it off and so regard deliberate attempts at glamour with suspicion, resorting instead to cheerful eccentricity which often tips over into untidiness or even dowdiness. Brits like to call this 'reality'.

Compare if you will the UK and US covers for the book Petite Anglaise.

I got hooked on 'petite's' blog a couple of years back, just as she was leaving her live-in partner and father of her child for someone she'd met in her comments box.  The blog is hugely well-written and for a while was as suspenseful as a daily soap-opera. Petite (Catherine Sanderson) became globally notorious last year when she was 'dooced' for blogging at work - the first high-profile European blogger to whom that had happened. As a result though she managed to snag a big book deal for global publication of her story.

Until I came to live in the US I didn't realise to what extent books etc. are repackaged for different geographic markets. Sanderson writes amusingly here about how much the text has to be 'translated' from English to American. The covers are also COMPLETELY different. 

Sanderson's book is half about her dissatisfaction with her day-to-day 'metro, boulot, dodo' routine, her unsatisfactory  relationship and the difficulties and sometimes loneliness of bringing up a young child.

This is the half of the story which the British cover very clearly focuses on.  Have you ever seen anything more mumsy and dowdy?  You just know that there's going to be dog poo/poop (see how good I'm getting at this English/American translation business!) somewhere in that picture. Note the flat shoes and huge nappy/diaper bag. And I bet her nail varnish is chipped and her legs are hairy. And yes I know that's how most mothers dress, but do you really want to see that on a book cover? And no sign of the various menfolk in the book.  Indeed it's unlikely, despite appearances, that the woman on the cover has ever had sex.

The dowdy, old-fashioned, feel carries through into the design.  Note all the sugary pink, serif fonts and pretty pretty flowers. Though maybe the layout, aside from the fussy illustration, is, in true British style, a little cleaner.

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UK cover art for Petite Anglaise 

The other half of Sanderson's story on the other hand is about the illicit thrill of flirting on the Internet via blog comments and emails, meeting this stranger in real life and her subsequent mad affair. Her blog at the time this was happening fairly crackled with sexual excitement. And guess which half of the story the American cover focuses on?

 

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US cover art for Petite Anglaise 

Look at those heels! Is she even wearing any clothes? Note the cinema posterish layout. On this cover Petite has been turned into Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt is lurking behind the Eiffel Tower.  This woman has sex all the time, NEVER has chipped nail polish and probably doesn't know one end of a stroller from another.

And yes, I know real life is not like this, but really, if you're feeling mumsy and badly put together, do you need to be reminded of it in a book cover? The only thing I don't like about this cover is the actual title where the curly font and fiddly border reminds us of the American love of excessive ornamentation.

So,

 

Which cover would you buy?






 
UPDATE:  I'm intrigued that people seem to be preferring the UK cover - would love to hear your reasons in the comments.  

20 April 2008

Britain v America - Magazine Covers

Ever since I moved from London to Seattle, I've noticed that there is a very different design sensibility between Britain and the US, not just in interiors but in every aspect of life.

So I thought it would be fun to launch a series of posts where we can compare and contrast everyday elements of British and American design and just have a chat round the differences.

First up, here are the May 2008 covers for British and American Vogue, which to me exemplify the two different design aesthetics (even though American Vogue is famously edited by a Brit).

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May 2008 cover of British Vogue featuring Natalia Vodianova

The cover of British Vogue is simpler and cleaner, with far fewer words and simple fonts (though note the use of the serif font).  Colour though is brought into the typeface.

The focus is very much on the model. Note it's a model not a celebrity - celebrities do appear on the cover of British Vogue but comparatively rarely.  Though admittedly the lines get a bit blurred with celebrity models such as Kate Moss, who seems to be on the cover of British Vogue all the time.  The colours are very bright, clean and fresh and to my eyes very English.  The whole thing seems much more uncluttered and spare.

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May 2008 cover of American Vogue featuring Gwyneth Paltrow

American magazine covers - and this is no exception - seem to have a lot more going on.  There are more words and more different font sizes (though only one sans serif font is used throughout).  There are more emphatic caps and italics and a quote is included. All the words mix lower case and upper case. 

The image used is much busier (and more obviously photoshopped?) - more Gwyneth, more dress, more background. There's a lot more Hollywood glamour - a movie actress, big hair, silver and sequins. And with the mask, even obvious movie product placement (for the Iron Man movie, starring, you guessed it, Gwyneth Paltrow). The colours, though, are more muted and soft than on the British cover.

So, which one do you like best?  Which one would you buy? Do you prefer the cover from your 'home' country?  Does the other cover seem very different and/or strange?  Does the British cover seem scarily uninformative and gaudily bright? Does the US cover seem more old-fashioned (as it does to me)? Or does the serif font on the UK cover look old-fashioned to American eyes? If you're neither British nor American which one stands out for you? Am I the only person who thinks Gwyneth look strangely like she's been carved out of wax?

Discuss.

(Just adding a poll, because your answers are intriguing me.)

So the thing that's intriguing me, is that not a single person has said they prefer the US cover, but surely Anna Wintour et al must do focus groups and stuff about this sort of thing? And must think that the US-style cover will sell best? Can anyone out there explain?

By the way is the poll working properly? I've had all sorts of trouble getting it up.

22 March 2008

More Cooking In Translation - Hot Cross Buns

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My photo of the buns

It's funny how important the 'old country's' food traditions become when you move abroad.  Hot cross buns are now available all year round in England and are no longer such a big deal - though I still remember fondly feasting on hot cross buns for breakfast on Good Friday morning and being excited because my father was home on a Friday (Good Friday is a public holiday in the UK).

But here they scarce as hens' teeth and need to be sought out even at Easter time. And even when you can get them, they're somewhat spoilt by having an cross piped on them in white icing.  Which is OK as far as it goes but means you miss out on the essential splendour of toasting the buns and serving them oozing with butter.  They're supposed to be hot. (The clue is in the name).

So yesterday the Minx and I set to work.  Having had only mediocre success with the usually reliable Delia in the past, I used this recipe from the BBC website which came highly recommended by some food blog or other (I'm sorry I can't remember which).

And then I came across my usual raft of translation issues. 

I couldn't find a source of fresh yeast (a big fat boo to the Essential Baking Company - I'm not linking to them -  who refused to sell me any) so substituted one of those little sachets which seemed to work fine.

'Mixed spice' is a unknown quantity here.  I had to look that up on the Internet, to find that it's a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg with possibly some cloves and ginger.  So that could be recreated.

Mixed peel, however, was impossible to track down. Chopped, candied citrus peel turns up in all sorts of British home baking and is traditional in hot cross buns, even though the slightly bitter flavour is disliked by many and the peel if often picked out.

But who knew?  I made the buns without and although they tasted wonderful that slightly bitter edge was definitely missed.

I followed the recipe and piped on crosses of flour and water paste which are then baked in the oven so they form an integral part of the bun. And then we gobbled them up, hot from the oven, with plenty of butter. Although the Minx proved how American she has become by requesting a 'cold crossed bun' sic.

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The Minx's photo of the buns taken with her new camera.  We were both so proud. 

15 March 2008

My new crush

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Piers Morgan, mostly because, well, I'm a sucker for any man who can make me laugh.

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But watching Piers being utterly and totally obnoxious here on the Celebrity Apprenticerunning rings round all the has-been actors, singers and sportspeople, because he has more business-savvy in his little finger than all of them put together and a fatter contacts book even in New York than all the Americans on the show -  has been utterly hilarious TV. 

He is another in the long line of outspoken Brits (such as Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay) who don't give a flying f*ck what anyone thinks of them and are so shocking to Americans because everyone here is so concerned with their public image.

And somewhere buried deep in all the ridiculous shenanigans with all the ridiculous people, there are some interesting business lessons to be learned about the power of networking, the value of just mucking in and getting things done even if you have to parade through the streets of New York dressed as King Arthur, and the fact that you can say practically anything in a British accent and people will take you seriously.

12 March 2008

Cooking in Translation

 

It's funny the things you end up missing as an expat.  Who would have imagined that glace cherries would be among them? But I haven't been able to find those ridiculously sweet and sugary candied fruits in US supermarkets, until a few weeks ago when I found a pot in DeLaurenti, Seattle's legendary Italian deli.

 

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So the Minx and I set to with a will to make Nigella's Cherry Almond Loaf Cake from How To Be A Domestic Goddess, mostly so that the Minx would get to experience that quintessentially British childhood cooking experience of shoving as many sickly sweet and sticky cherries into her gob as humanly possible.  It is no coincidence that Jane Brocket from Yarnstorm's new book on classic childhood cooking will be entitled Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer.

 

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Note that my precious cherries were of the traditional lipstick scarlet variety and probably full of unmentionable additives.   Nigella suggests using the more natural dark red ones, and yes, Nigella, I would if I could.

 

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Cooking from a UK book in the US is not without its challenges. You will notice that UK books use metric measurements instead of cup measures (to which I have become entirely converted since living here).  So I first had to fiddle with my scales to stop them weighing in pounds and ounces.  (The hyperlinked recipe above gives quantities in cup measures, presumably from the US version of HTBADG).

Self-raising flour also doesn't exist in the US, so I had to refer to the Internets to find out how to make it from plain flour (add 1tsp of baking powder to every 125g/4oz of flour according to Good Housekeeping). And then I had to use the Internets again to find out how to convert centigrade temperatures to Fahrenheits. Can someone somewhere please unify all these measures immediately? It really is doing my head in.

But the resulting cake is one of those quietly delicious cakes that you appreciate much more in adulthood.  I had to add a brown sugar crust (not exactly a hardship) to appease the Minx's disgust at the lack of 'sprinkles'. And yes, the cherries did sink towards the bottom of the cake, as is only traditional and right.

 

 

18 February 2008

An Entirely Satisfactory Evening

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A bowl of linguine alle vongole  from Nigel Slater's The Kitchen Diaries (the clams in this part of the world are so good and so cheap).

A bar of Green & Black's Almond chocolate (if you couldn't get this in Seattle I would have returned to the UK by now).

The definitive BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle (the perfect Lizzie Bennett, eat your heart out Keira Knightley) on the telly.

Some knitting.

No, I've not exactly become American quite yet.

06 February 2008

Super Tuesday

Tonight we were mostly...

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In one little corner of America, it was Pancake Day.

19 January 2008

These I Must Have

Utterly glorious calico and felt cushions that gladden my little expat heart. From Karen Hilton Designs on Etsy (via black. white. bliss).  

18 January 2008

Atonement

I finally got to see Atonement last week.

A great film, which stayed with me for days afterwards - always a good sign.  A wonderful performance by the girl playing the young Briony Tallis and even Keira Knightley managed not to set my teeth on edge too much.  And James McAvoy is of course very easy on the eye. In fact the whole film is ravishingly shot - it must win Oscars for cinematography if nothing else.

It was also a very faithful adaptation of Ian McEwan's book and managed to conjure up the same atmosphere with images and sound that he does with words.

The evocation of a hot, humid, sticky, oppressive English summer's day is particularly well done in the film. This article is well worth reading as it explains how the set designers went about creating the atmosphere of an overblown, high summer day, just tipping into decay, by adding lots of green to the set (including, obviously, Keira's iconic green dress).

Stokesay Court was the house used, unusually, for filming both interior and outside shots, and it appears to be a fabulous example of Victorian nouveau riche excess and lack of taste. 

Every single surface is overloaded with pseudo-Elizabethan, Jacobean, Gothic, you name it ornamentation and really serves to heighten the sense of brooding oppression and of a rigid class system which the war is about to tear apart.

This article from the Daily Mail gives a really interesting history of the house and also tells how production designer Sarah Greenwood chose the house for its dark, stolid wooden inner hallway - the dark heart of the house and evocative of the story's dark heart.  (Cue lots of scenes of Cecilia and Briony swishing up and down the staircase).

It also explains how one whole (ugly) wing of the house was photoshopped (or whatever the movie equivalent is) out in the film.

All photos from the Stokesay Court website.