Sunday, March 28, 2010

Almost Seven

It’s almost 7 pm, except it isn’t because it’s really almost 6 pm. I feel like I’ve been up for two days straight, as William was up ultra-early this morning and now that this pointless exercise otherwise referred to as British Summer Time has started, we will have to fight the light for even longer than usual. Over the past three weeks or so I’ve woken up at 5.45 am, as I just cannot abide it filtering through and getting worse as days go by. At least it ain’t Norway where I once found myself in late May and where the sun almost never set, but it was so blue and clear today that... well... waking up wasn't that great.

Tortured as I was at 8 am (no, at 7 am), I got up and decorated the cupcakes I prepared yesterday. These are, again, the Banoffee Cupcakes from Eat Me, which I told you about here, but this time I covered them in Mr Whippy-like icing, a mixture of Golden Syrup, egg whites, cream of tartar, salt and sugar whipped for ten minutes in a double-boiler. I adore this icing because it holds its shape beautifully and because it looks swirled in a rather complex manner when, really, you just whack it on with a spoon and twirl upwards and away. Pink sanding sugar from Williams-Sonoma, if you care to know.

Then I wrote for an hour, took notes, looked at my pictures, strung buttons on a wire thread and generally lounged about, even forgetting that it was Palm Sunday and that I would have got a little branch of olive if I had made it to the church. Well, never mind, the big celebration is next Sunday anyway. But then I must confess that, although Easter is by far the most important celebration of the Christian calendar, I am never that excited by it. Yes, I hang my head in great shame! I am not excited by Easter!

Deep down I know what it is: it’s all to do with the pastel colours of spring and with the whole springy-ness related to new beginnings. Well, I don’t believe in new beginnings in spring, I believe in new beginnings in autumn or even in January. But I’ve checked the weather forecast and if I am lucky it may get really cold again this week. And then it will be a bit like Christmas rolled into Easter, yippe! I can live in hope.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

This Is Not A Pen

That’s right, this is not a pen. A pen is my gold Bulgari fountain pen that cost a mint and was given to me in its own leather box. No, this blue thing right here is a piece of me, an olfactory epiphany like no other.

I first bought the Uni Ball Signo Blueberry Scent in 2006. I found it in PaperChase, amidst a million of other similar things. Except this one was scented. I bought in bulk, but by the following year, I’d run dry. No bother, as on a trip to Paris in the autumn, I found myself in a quaint and mouthwatering stationery shop in St Germain des Prés and there it was again, the Blueberry Signo, the most delectable olfactory experience since Marmite hit the hot plate of the George. I bought all the ones they had but, alas, fast-forward to 2008 and again I was out.

This morning I had to go out after a four-day hiatus spent holed up with tea, computer and books. I walked straight past the stationery shop even though I knew that I was really out because in desperate need of envelopes. When I returned, I could not believe my eyes when I saw the Scented Signos stacked neatly by the till, in all of their scented plastic glory.


The shrill in my voice was not lost on the shop assistant who smiled and said: ‘Aren’t they lovely? And they smell so!’. And off I went on a monologue about how many happy notebook pages the Blueberry Signo has filled over the years, most notably during a lone visit to Paris when I was listening to the Louvre taped guide and taking notes with it. Oh happy, happy, happy memories. Oh happy, happy, happy return. I am going to buy all I find this time. I’ll never run out again. And that, my dear reader, was my day.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Of Baking And Reading

I don’t understand why people don’t cook onions more often. And I don’t mean as the staple basic item that always goes, and should go, in casseroles, soups, risotti and all else, but on their own. I’ve meant to say this many times on here and lest I forget this time as well, here is what I think: onions are at their very best when boiled until they are very soft, drained and dressed with salt, vinegar and oil. Gosh my mouth is watering. And don’t worry, please don’t worry about reeking of onion; you won’t, it’s only raw onion that will make you stink to high Heaven.

Now that I got that one off my chest, I should tell you of my return to baking. It took place at the weekend, perhaps unsurprisingly, as I spent the previous two days ticking things off Eat Me, a delightful pink book by Cookie Girl.

So I picked the Banoffee Cupcakes and the Lemon Meringue Cupcakes and they both turned out fantastically awesome, even though I decorated the banoffee ones with a slice of strawberry but I guess I really wanted to go saccharine sweet in the style stakes and I don’t think that a sliver of banana cuts it as well as one of strawberry. Do you agree? Or don’t you agree? In any case I am now hankering after Lakeland’s piping set (which I already mentioned here) and I can’t stop thinking about all of the other cupcakes I can try. I really ought to fill the cupboards with chocolate as well as we are rushing towards Easter and I am convinced I can make my own egg this year.

I’ve also been reading a novel which is something I rarely do. It surely seems odd to be a literary person stating that I don’t really read novels, especially when it ain’t quite an accurate statement. There surely would be no English degree and no PhD if I had not read plentiful. But over the last year or so I have mainly concentrated on non-fiction, thus relegating the memory of fiction to the long-lost days of summer holidays spent on a beach (and this was... oh my God... a lifetime ago). Being the person who doesn’t judge a book by its cover but chooses it on its merits, I picked up The Elegance of the Hedgehog, as its pictorial reference right here reminded me of many happy times in France.

I am barely half-way through it and I am enjoying it very much, except for a vague sense of pretentiousness poking out from between the lines. When I am done with this, I think I will read Dr Zhivago. Just thinking about it thrills me. It thrills me because I know nothing of it. Strange to be admitting to ignorance, right? Well, I am not afraid of confessing that there are books that have always been present in my life, and yet in a removed state, a bit like certain actors. Robert Downey Junior springs to mind, a guy I’ve always been aware of but never quite followed. Like the stench of disinfectant in Starbucks if you sit near to the toilet you know? Something you know it’s there but you do a great job of ignoring. And so it was with Dr Zhivago, a book (or movie) that many people mention in passing but that I know nothing of. Not for long though. Thrills I am telling you, frigging thrills...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Time Flies

I am, in a way, on fire. It’s a funny thing to say, ‘being on fire’, because someone on fire is usually running around trying to put the fire off. Crucially, this someone needs to put the fire out pretty quickly if he hopes to survive. But being on fire figuratively speaking means that you’re bursting with ideas, even when following them up requires much thought, much planning and an awful lot of attention to a rack of potential issues.

Still, I don’t mind being on fire, even though I have to sit myself down, and have to keep myself there, for an insane stretch of time. I am plotting out the workshop I am going to run in May and I am finally getting somewhere. I’ve always known what I wanted the workshop to be about, but that is quite a different thing from knowing exactly how it will unfold. And so it has been a busy week and again tomorrow is Friday and ten minutes after that it will be Monday again and so on and so forth.

It seems only five minutes since I wrote that we were careering towards the end of January and, already, Easter is around the corner. Since leaving my old job, and that’s one year and a half ago, I’ve been acutely aware of the passing of time. I don’t know whether it preoccupies me or whether it doesn’t bother me, but, yes, I’ve been realising more and more that everything is in a rush, including the ticking clock. Who knew? When I used to spend very long days holed up in the office in the city, time proceeded with the grace and speed of a geriatric tortoise; now it leaps and bounds like a young hare. You know what they say... time flies when you enjoy yourself, right? I guess it must be true.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spinach Cake

How long has it been since I posted a recipe? Too long my friends, but I am going to rectify it right away with the most fantastic spinach quiche you'll ever taste. Try this and you'll never, ever buy one from the supermarket again.

You'll need:

a narrow, rectangular cake tin (think Madeira cake-sized), lined
500g spinach, better if not frozen
150g grated Parmesan
200g single cream
4 egg whites

You'll do it like so:

Warm the oven to 170C.

Wash your spinach and boil them for about five minutes. Drain and squeeze the water out of them with your hands or a wooden spoon (and the spoon is better if your hands aren't made of asbestos).

Put the spinach in a large bowl and add the egg whites, the Parmesan, the cream, a pinch of salt and pepper, and half a teaspoon or so of freshly grated nutmeg. Get the electric whisker fitted with the dough hook and whizz away until all ingredients are well incorporated. Quality control for salt and pepper and then scoop it all into the tin lined with baking parchment or, as I do, with a cake-tin liner to size.

Place the tin in a larger tin and add hot water to the tin containing the tin NOT to the tin containing the spinach (you're doing a water bath). Place in the oven for a good 80 minutes, or until the top of your cake looks nice and ready, as per pic above. Take out of the oven and leave to cool for about 20 minutes, after which you can unmould the cake and slice away.

Like all quiches and flans, this is particularly good the day after, if only you can bear to wait that long that is...

Thursday, March 11, 2010


It’s past 8 pm and Rick is on his way back from London. It’s been one heck of a long day. I woke up at 5.45 am, got up at 6.45 am and have only just stopped after having fed the guys and fed myself. Late this afternoon, just before I tortured myself on that bloody exercise bike, I captured twilight as the sun was disappearing. Who knew that my own back garden could be this beautiful? I’ve taken lots of pics lately, and from snow to blue sky to pink sky, it is turning into a picture-perfect spot. And I never even noticed...

Another week has whizzed by and I’ve barely kept track of it. Lots of exciting things are happening and I continue to slack on the recording aspect of it. Perhaps if I didn’t work myself into the ground during the day, I would be able to make some time for this activity in the evening. As for now, quite frankly, I cannot wait to hit the sack, even though my head is a flurry of ideas. But above all of this, there is one thing that demands my attention: Tom Ford lipsticks coming to all Tom Ford counters from 24 April (click below to read). I’ve seen them in VOGUE and they keep popping into my mind. As does Tom himself. But then... he’s always done, he looks like one hell of a sex god.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Well Alert

It's been a weekend of crisp, cold weather and of coffee and work. Lots of work, in fact. I dare say I spend all of my days, weekends included, working. Pages, upon pages for my site; workshop and course plans; advertising and networking; you name it, I do it. I don't even make the time to write to my friends, let alone see them, as my own survival is currently more important that the much loved sit-in with a cuppa.

It won't last forever though. My plan right here indicates that, a few weeks down the line, I should be able to have a few days off and to go back to Tatton Park, as I always love to do, in company of a couple of dogs. My financial projections for this month indicate that I should be able to survive to its end, after which another handout from dad and maybe another piece of paid work would come in handy. At the same time though, I am all thrilled and hopeful and the Oscars take place tonight and all is quite well in Steph's world.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Valentine

I don’t remember whether I mentioned this or not, but months ago I organised a Valentine’s exchange with my friends from the Unravelling private Flickr boards. I suggested we all jumped in with scissors, glue and whatever else and sent an especially decorated Valentine’s box (see the Secret Santa). As I am the one organising these exchanges, the surprise factor (or perhaps I should say the secret factor) doesn’t apply, but this doesn’t make it any less exciting to receive the prized possession, especially if one has been waiting for three weeks.

My box came from a friend in Slovakia and was full of adorable goodies, including a hand-made lavender heart (the sort of things that I also love to make myself, as you’ve seen in the past), beautiful prints (she is a pro photog), chocos and vintage pics of Paris that come from one of Prague’s antique shops. I love to think of items winding their way around the world throughout the decades, which is the reason why I particularly cherished the copy of Biographia Literaria which I bought in New York years back. It was an Everyman edition and came from England, Bristol if I remember correctly, as it was scribbled on the bookmark. I speak in the past because, as you may remember, Victoria shredded it last year. I guess that, despite being a book of the world, that copy eventually went on a journey too many which can only mean one thing: I need to get back to New York and find another book to return to its homeland.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Eight Today

Victoria is eight today and can’t wait to get hold of that slice of cake baked for this very special occasion. I hope you had a good one birthday girl!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Hello March

The new month started with a whiff of burnt wood as I opened my window this morning and continued with a scattering of hail in the afternoon. In between, there has been sunshine and bitter cold. I guess we are approaching spring in some ways; after all spring here means cutting wind one second and tepid sun the next.

But do you know something? I don’t care. Yes, I don’t care. It doesn’t matter whether it rains or shines, whether it’s polar or tropical out there. It doesn’t matter because I’ve had the stroke of genius of all stroke of geniuses regarding my business. One month in and I am going to start monetasing the venture, which of course was the reason for jumping in to begin with.

I am plugging away all day and there is much to do this week in particular as I need to add new pages to the website, straighten a few things and change a few others. In any case, it’s creativity steaming ahead here, even though I did take a few minutes out this morning to ask myself why on earth all of this didn’t occur to me before. I guess that’s why there is a process and then there is a product.
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