Monday, March 30, 2009

California reading list

Five years on, I'm still traumatised by the memory of an eight hour delay at Cochin airport with no reading material, not even a newspaper. My idea of hell is not having anything to read. I have no internal resources, no desire to be left alone with my thoughts. They scream at me all the time as it is; I need books to drown them out.

As I will be on my own in California, with the voices screaming away, I'm going to need a ready supply of reading material. I'm not trusting to the availability of good bookshops when I need them: Miami scarred me for life a few years back when I discovered there wasn't a single bookstore in South Beach (bar a New Age one, which does not count), the day before my flight and had to drive an hour round trip to a mall to ensure that I wasn't reliant on the airport newsstand.

I've saved up the last month of my New Yorker subscription for starters, which will provide my fall back position in case of literary emergency, but am relying on the following books to keep me occupied for the first fortnight or so. As you can see, I'm all about American authors these days:

Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century by Laura Shapiro
"The book chronicles the ways in which an impulse to liberate women from the drudgery and imprecision of daily food preparation led to its debasement." I probably read more books about food & cookery than any others and, since my move to New York and ready access to the extraordinary food section at Strand Books, have been obsessed with immersing myself in American culinary history.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Been meaning to read this for ages: I suspect I'll need some humour to divert me on this trip.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritan
ce by Barack Obama.
This has been sitting on my bookshelf for two years. I must read this.

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
Required reading for anyone who cares about the food industry, this will be a re-read as I think it bears a second go-round.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
I like to try to read books set in the places to which I travel, and I will passing through Monterey on my way to San Francisco.

Speaking of which, any good suggestions for books about, or set in California will be gratefully received. Of course, I've read everything by Armistead Maupin: I worked on a newspaper in San Francisco for four months during a university vacation and gobbled up all the Tales of the City, enjoying them all the more for living just a few blocks from Mrs Madrigal's imaginary home.

I've also just read Whacked by Jules Asner, a modern anti-morality tale set in present day Los Angeles, but didn't enjoy the preposterous plot & unappealing heroine too much.

So: more suggestions, please.

Packing myself into an early grave: Why travelling light is not an option

Apologies for the radio silence over the weekend: I think that is the longest that I've ever gone without blogging. Even my mother in England emailed to complain that there were no updates on here. The hiatus was caused by my frantically running all the errands and sorting out the admin I've been avoiding for months. Nothing like a deadline combined with leaving the state for six weeks to prod me into action.

Packing up all my possessions is taking forever: having constructed one large parcel from brown paper, salvaged cardboard & crossed fingers, filled it with my heaviest shoes, books & toiletries, & lugged it down from the fifth floor (no lift), and along the street for five blocks, I discovered that the sodding post office was closed.

This whole business was engendered by my lack of a second set of arms. Two suitcases means an impossible juggling act for a lone traveller who's also wielding a carry on and a handbag (and a coat & laptop etc etc). In addition, I discovered that Virgin America would charge me a larcenous $25 for a second hold bag.

The clever solution is care of the USPS: mailing 70lbs (20lbs more than the airline case limit) of my junk Priority Mail to San Francisco costs a grand total of $35. Not only is it a complete bargain, it means I can take the subway to the airport, there's no chance of my precious possessions getting lost in transit by the airline and, best of all, none of the inevitable tripping over my cases en route.

As it happens, it's a good thing the PO was shut, as my suitcase is overweight and I realised I hadn't packed anything suitable for horse riding or hiking. (As usual, my clothing thoughts were turned more towards cocktails, restaurants & a little light sightseeing of the art gallery variety.)

So, now that I've added sweatshirts and wicking socks and leggings and moleskin to the towering pile in my bedroom, I've had to completely give up on travelling light for this trip. It's impossible when I need to pack everything from a sleeping bag & hiking boots to YSL heels & cocktail dresses. I'm not solvent enough just to buy what I need out there and anyway it seems like an arrant waste of money when I already have everything I need here in New York.

I just hope it all fits in the rental car boot.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A picture speaks a thousand words

I am in a catastrophically bad mood today. Broke & owed money by too many companies. So, I thought I'd post this photo of me at a haunted house last Hallowe'en. Pretty much sums up how I feel right now.

Cooking at a Manhattan Soup Kitchen

At the risk of sounding pious, the best thing I’ve done this year was spending two hours yesterday evening in a church hall kitchen on the Upper West Side. Along with a friend, I cooked supper for a group of great guys at a soup kitchen & homeless shelter.

As we arrived the recipe and ingredients were waiting out for us: minced beef, onions tomatoes and seasonings to make Sloppy Joes, corn, salad stuff and oven French fries. It didn’t take long, and we doled it out from big cauldrons to the long line of men, before washing up and tidying the kitchen.

In one corner of the room, screened by a floor length curtain, camp beds were set up with sheets and a pillow. By each was a plastic chair and, when we left, I could see a small bag or backpack resting on each seat. That was all the possessions most of these men had.

I had been expecting a group of street people, but what we got were normal guys in Levis and sweatshirts. Sure, some had obvious learning difficulties, but for the most part these were just average Joes who were down on their luck. It was a chastening experience. In this economy all one can think is there but for the grace of God go I.

Special Christina Oxenberg dress discount for LLG readers!

So many of you left lusting after comments regarding the utterly brilliant Oxenberg Wiggle dress that I got in touch with the designer, Christina Oxenberg, to see if she would be interested in selling the dress directly to my readers, as apparently it is now sold out for the season in the stores that bought it.

I’m happy to say she thought it was a great idea and, even better, she has suggested a special LLG discount.

The dress normally retails for $500, but as her stocks of this style are now somewhat depleted, she is offering it at a 50% discount for $250 (plus standard postage) to you all. The dress comes in grey & in espresso brown in S, M & L. (I am a pretty average UK14/US 10 and I wear the large.)

If you are interested, please email Christina at Stocks are limited, so please include your first & second colour choices and size required and she will see what she has in stock.

(The offer does not include the matching bolero jacket, but do ask Christina if you are interested in purchasing it also.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Where does the time go? Reprise

I would be lying if I said I wasn't in an almighty tizz right now. I have long known that I only function at 100% capability when under pressure of a deadline, and now that I only have four days until I leave for six weeks in California, I am, to put it frankly, doing my nut.

How can there be so much to do? Partly it's because I am researching interesting California-based stories to pitch to my various editors in the UK, which occupation could fill as much time as I cared to give it, and partly because I gave up my apartment so I could afford to go away, so I can't just lock and leave.

Every day I cycle fifteen blocks to my storage container, my bike basket filled with a teetering pile of winter clothes, books & random stuff, which gets replaced on my return journey with items from my summer wardrobe that I'll need in CA. Of course I could just save time by booking a car, but I need the exercise and I need to save the money. And then there's all the admin: car hire and insurance and buying & researching my GPS and guidebooks and booking hotels and eh, just, eh.

Of course, I do have plenty of time, it's just that I get distracted by the internets, Twitter and watching re-runs of Law & Order on Netflix.

And there's the packing. The state of my room has to be seen to be believed. My case is brimming and I am at my wits' end about how to fit everything in that I need. Normally a light packer, I'm finding that you need as much for six weeks as you do for six months. Even though my summer wardrobe is basically silk frocks & shorts, I'll need clothes for three distinct climate zones: Los Angeles, San Francisco and the desert, all my shoes seem to be clumpy wedges which weigh pounds and, as I am covering various physical activities for work, I need my hiking boots & yoga kit & a sleeping bag (the horror), as well cocktail frocks & party dresses. Then there's all my unguents, hairdryer, books and the rest.

It's been suggested that I box up some of the small but heavy stuff and send it on, so maybe that's the answer. Only problem is that whatever I do, it all has to fit in the trunk of my rental car eventually for security reasons. Sigh.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The post where I admit to taking your advice internets.

Never, dear internets, let it be said that I ignore your myriad words of wisdom. When you told me that my new shoes were indeed as remedial as I had feared, I took your advice and changed them for these Corso Como suede and patent wedges:

The remedial shoes also had canvas uppers which I realised would give me hideous bleeding blisters & cause me to swear intemperately at darling JK when trotting around Southern California sightseeing. These are much more practical (honest guv) as they have padded leather cushions at the heels and balls of the feet. Maybe I will even be able to wear them for dancing at Coachella. All in all a much higher quality pair of footwear all round. And a bargain $39.99.

Even more of a bargain when I later found them full price on-line for $160. (This is one of my favourite occupations: buying discount shoes at Loehmann's and then seeing how much I've saved.) As my dear papa always says, gotta spend it to save it. This phrase is usually directed at his spawn rather than at himself when he sees us reeling into the house under the weight of TK/TJ Maxx shopping bags.

There are many benefits to my temporary accommodation in Manhattan, but I'm not entirely sure that living opposite Loehmann's Designer Discount Store is one of them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hot Cross Bun bliss

I don't spend my hours lingering outside English food purveyors Myers of Keswick, lusting after British food, but every Easter my thoughts turn to Hot Cross buns and Creme Eggs.

Unfortunately, all the Hot Cross buns I've seen on sale over here are not the Real Thing. Most recipes suggest that the cross should be made of ICING (as opposed to flour & water pastry). Some even have bright green & red candied fruit in them. So wrong. (Although Gourmet gets it about right with a Hot Cross bun recipe here.) And Cadbury's Creme Eggs are produced under licence in the US by the dreaded Hershey's so the chocolate is not echt.

Last year I tried to make Hot Cross buns for Easter Sunday at JK's. They were edible, but rather heavy and the crosses were distinctly wonky. Still, they were better than the bakery aberrations.

And now I've been spared from getting yeasty dough glued to every kitchen surface as darling JK flew back from a meeting in London yesterday with a packet of M&S specials and two bags of mini eggs.

I am in heaven, writing this with one hand and a bun firmly gripped in the other.

Signature scents

Some girls feel naked without a slash of red lipstick, others need the comfort blanket of several swipes of mascara. Me, I can't leave the house without walking through a cloud of scent. Nothing too overpowering, (I don't want to asphyxiate anyone), just a spritz up into the air, which leaves an impression.

The desire not to announce my presence with scent is a reaction to my first attempt at a signature perfume. At school I wore the quintessential early 90s knockout: Eternity. Thick & cloying, it is so evocative that, when I smell it on the street, I am transported back to the Quad, Chapel and a particular boy who I kissed behind the Library. I can't bear it now.

As a reaction I wore Eau de Givenchy for a couple of years, subtle, rose based and light as air. Then in 1996 Chanel launched Allure and I just knew from looking at the box that this was going to be my scent. I remained fiercely loyal until my mother introduced me to Annick Goutal's Eau d'Hadrien, with its sharp citrus tang and hint of summer.

Still, Allure remains on my dressing table, but as my mother (who wore Balmain's Vent Vert when she was sixteen and then Hermes' strongly chypre Amazone all through my childhood) started to flirt with different fragrances, so did I. She wore Antonia's Flowers for a while, which was divine, like an English country garden, moved on to Goutal's Eau du Sud and at the moment wafts the gentle orange blossom breeze of Goutal's Neroli.

I've decided I love florals too and after an obsession with the violent tuberose punch of Robert Piquet's Fracas, I've drifted to scents with a jasmine nose. I use Miller Harris Nouvelle Editions' elegant Jasmine Vert when I am feeling sophisticated, gently spritz Allure for meetings, and absolutely long for a bottle of Serge Lutens' A La Nuit. But, along with my mother, I always return to the simplicity of Christian Dior's Diorissimo whose addictive lily of the valley base with jasmine notes has become my signature scent. For the time being, that it.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Honing your wardrobe: Using alterations to get the perfect fit

I've been receiving a lot of emails from readers wanting to know where I shop: it seems I'm not alone in my frustration at not being able to find clothes that both fit and flatter a top heavy figure. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to have a proportional figure, to be able to experiment with clothes or wear pieces I really love for their design aesthetic, rather than pieces I love merely because they fit.

Over the years, I've come to realise what works for my shape, and to play to my strengths. Unfortunately the styles and shapes that flatter me aren't easily available in the mass market, and barely exist at designer level. (Unless of course you have a handy friend with a clothing line - see below.)

Which is why there's barely a piece of clothing in my wardrobe that I haven't had remade in one way or the other. And that is why my advice to the letter writers isn't in the form of a list of shops, but is merely to make friends with your local tailor.

If you use a little imagination, there's very little that can't be improved with a pair of scissors.

It's amazing how frumpy the wrong skirt length can be, so I generally start by taking up my hems. (Plus I do like to get my legs out on any available occasion.) For this I usually use the services of the retailer's in-house tailor: somewhere like Banana Republic only charges $10 and high end stores will often provide a free alteration service.

Then there are the alterations which are more of a makeover, & this is where your local tailor comes in. I often buy smock tops in my correct size, and then get darts put in the front: this way the back is the right size from the start, and the front then fits perfectly. I also like to take two or three inches off the bottom of sleeves to draw the eye down to my skinny wrists and away from my boobs.

I'm also a big fan of remaking necklines - anyone well-endowed knows that crew necks are a complete no-no. Take this Topshop dress that I bought online back in summer 2007.

Topshop; Topshop dress; floral dress; ditsy print dress Unfortunately, when it arrived, its high neck gave me the upholstered shelf effect so familiar to big breasted woman. My local tailor in Gospel Oak, (London), is nothing short of genius, so I save up all my alterations in the US and take them when I go back for holidays.

With this frock, we decided that we could lower the neckline to give a more flattering effect without ruining the line of the dress, and I thought that a contrast silk trim would be pretty. (Bear in mind you have to use bias binding for a curved trim, not ribbon, and the satin colour selection is pretty limited.)

I sent lil'sis off on the bus with the stumpy legged dachsie to Johnny Lou-Lou's famed haberdashery department with instructions to choose me a binding that picked out one of the colours in the print. She rather cleverly chose this fab fuchsia pink which works perfectly.

I'm lucky that Mr S is not only super-talented but possibly the cheapest tailor I've ever worked with - I think he charged me maybe five or six quid. Granted this is cheaper than normal, but it would have been worth it at four times the price to give me a dress that went from a ball in the corner of my closet to being a cornerstone of my summer wardrobe last year. floral dress If you are going to start lowering necklines, do bear in mind that what you will think looks rather shallow is quite deep enough. I was all for making it quite a lot deeper but Mr S over-ruled me and, as usual, he was absolutely right: any lower and it would have tipped the dress from sexy/pretty to slutty/pretty.

Food Thought for the day...

Blackboard outside Boqueria on Spring Street, Soho.

Oxenberg Wiggle dress (or my favourite winter dress)

My delicious friend Christina Oxenberg is an evangelist for luxurious garments made from the wool* of endangered & rare species: arctic musk ox, Patagonian guanacos, Andean suris (alpaca) and Bolivian llamas. Not only does she produce exquisite scarves, boleros & wraps made in Peru & in the US under her Oxenberg label, but some pretty fab cardigans jackets & dresses too.

When we first met a few years ago she invited me over to her Manhattan place to look and try on the collection but unfortunately my over size bosom meant that I couldn't fit into her dresses. Christina is not a stupid woman: she took that as a challenge to design a dress with me in mind. The code name for the dress was Stacked, but I think Wiggle is, well, subtler.

Because she's a perfectionist she took a while to get it exactly right. A lot of knit dresses have high necks which make big breasted girls look upholstered: this dress has a scoop low enough to show off the collarbones & a little cleavage but not so low that you flash half your breasts if you happen to be talking to a tall man.

The sleeves are that super flattering length that covers bingo wings. They fall lower than the curve of the breast so your top half doesn't look too wide, but are still short enough to show off slim forearms and wrists. Unlike many knit dresses, it isn't tight to the body, but gently skims curves, and falls in a gentle A line above the knee but below the thigh.

The material is Christina's own cashllama, supersoft but still hardwearing. It comes in grey as above and a natural, undyed espresso brown (below). I've worn it continuously this winter and it hasn't lost its shape, it also washes like a dream. Love, love, love. And how cool to have a dress designed expressly with one's own body shape in mind. (But what's so clever is that it works equally well on skinny minnies too.) (I don't have stockists, but do email for further information.)

* No animals are harmed - using these humanely harvested wools promotes the welfare of these animals.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Housekeeping: interesting blog links of the day

My lovely friends Queen Michelle & Queen Marie of Kingdom of Style are springcleaning their wardrobes & selling off the surplus here

Two blogs new to me that I like very much:
Backwards in Heels from writers Tania Kindersley & Sarah Vine which they started as an adjunct to their Sunday Times bestseller Backwards in High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, reviewed by lovely India Knight here, extracted here and available from Amazon here.

Whistling by Miss Whistle, an Englishwoman in Los Angeles, who is interested in everything interesting.

On-line vintage store Love Miss Daisy came to my attention when they started following my Twitter feed, so I hopped off to take a look and thought their selection of vintage wedding dresses (mainly 1950s) extremely well chosen, and very well-priced.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hero beauty products: daily face creams

I have several enormous plastic buckets under my bed, chock full of brand new beauty products, as a leftover from my last Important Job. My way of dealing with the avalanche at the time was to dole out the goodies to the office, with the proviso that if I had given them something that they found to be very good they were to report back me, so that I could test it out too. I also handed out random surplus from the huge beauty drawers in my office to my assistant & to my friends, and stockpiled everything I wanted to try at home and in my desk drawers.

Of course, by the time I departed, I still had mountains left. It's been three months or so, and I am still breaking the seals on new pots of stuff. And the plus side for you lot is that I now have all the time in the world to find out what really works and report back to you, without the advertising sword of Damocles waiting to fall if I slag anything off.

I'm certainly not a label whore where skincare is concerned. My main proviso is that whatever I use doesn't aggravate my sensitive skin. I suffered from eczema as a child and now have rosacea, which means I can break out in tiny pustules at the drop of a hat, whilst still having dry & flaky skin on my forehead & cheeks. Nice.

So, I tread carefully when it comes to slathering on new creams, but I know if they work for me then they will have stellar effects on everyone else. My two latest recommends are from either end of the spectrum.

First off is Eucerin's Lipo-Balance Intensive nourishing cream for dry to very dry sensitive skin. Containing a combination of ceramide-3 and biotin, I used this small glass pot all winter as my main moisturiser on top of my various serums, and it kept my skin supple & hydrated with very few breakouts. (I didn't use it if I was outdoors for any period of time as it is SPF6, & I prefer an SPF of at least 15). Only problem is I can't seem to find any suppliers for it, and I can't remember whether it came from the US or UK publicist. Oops. Really helpful, me.

RéVive Moisturizing Renewal Cream, my superstar night cream, is fearfully expensive ($165 - but can be got cheaper on-line). I do not recommend the pricey stuff lightly, but it really is that good. It was developed by plastic surgeon Dr. Gregory Bays Brown after he had seen the cosmetic potential for a bio-engineered molecule called EGF (Epidermal Growth Factor, whose discovering scientist won the 1986 Nobel Prize) that, when applied to burns and wounds, dramatically accelerated healing in all patients tested. Dr Bays Brown patented EGF for cosmetic use and developed the skin care line that became RéVive.

A quick squint through the ingredients shows the usual antioxidants and moisturising &/or water retaining skin care suspects (squalene, allantoin, shea butter, sodium hyaluronate, dimethecone, various vegetable & fruit oils, glycerin) as well as EGF and glycolic acid (an AHA) which exfoliates the skin. Upon application there is a slight tingle from the acid (which would be my normal sign to scrub the whole lot away before my sensitive face burned off), but the tingle was momentary, and the next morning my flakiness had disappeared.

Two weeks later and I'm kind of gob-smacked: my skin really is glowing. The makers would claim that the cream eliminates imperfections and decreases the overall appearance of fine lines, but I would say merely that my skin has never felt so soft. Overall it really does seem to do what it promises: deliver a luminous & firm complexion. Again, I cannot remember which publicist sent me this (forgive me, all delivery records stayed in the office when I left)- but thank you!

Beauty editors: love 'em but don't necessarily believe 'em

It's hardly a trade secret that beauty editors get sent ludicrous amounts of product - entire make up ranges each season, boxes of dermatologist brand face creams at $300 a pop, hair products. You name it, it eventually ends up on our desks. Laymen often get envious streaks across their faces when contemplating that much free loot, but giving it to editors to try out makes sense: there's no magazine budget in the world that could afford to buy it all to test, and no one wants to read a magazine that only reviews $5 lipsticks.

Of course it's impossible to try everything, but a good beauty editor will work through as much as she can and will certainly have a much wider knowledge of the product on the market than any layman or blogger can ever hope to have.

However it's not quite that simple. Make up & hair products are easy to evaluate quickly: they either work or they don't. But given that it takes at least a fortnight, & usually a month to see even minor results from one face cream and, at any given moment, I might have had thirty entire ranges waiting for evaluation under my desk, how can you be sure that the editor in question really believes in the solution she's pushing?

I'm afraid the honest answer is that you can't. So, if there just isn't time to try everything properly, on what basis is it being recommended? Sometimes a beauty writer will get a chance to write about something she personally really likes (preferably if it is from a major advertiser), but there is nearly always a vested interest for a product's appearance on a page. Usually it's a direct link to advertising, but maybe the writer has a great relationship with the publicist or her dermatologist who is giving her free facials. Sometimes it's a trade off: maybe the beauty brand will broker access to one of its celebrity faces and the payoff will be lots of love for their products. Or perhaps the writer went on a fabulous all expenses paid press trip abroad with the brand and is now duty bound to return the favour.

Worst of all is the the celebrity recommendation. You didn't actually think the celeb used that product, did you? Sure, the publicist may have sent her a carton of the latest unguent but there's no guarantee it went anywhere near her skin. More likely that her agent or assistant benefited. This reminds me of an film actress friend who had heard about the beauty gravy train and decided to hop on (this was a few years back before celebrity gifting really got out of control). In her next national interview she was asked about her trademark dewy skin. Oh Creme de la Mer, of course, she breathed, although her beauty routine was more likely Ponds Vanishing Cream. Next day, she gleefully told me, the Estée Lauder publicist biked over a carton of the stuff.

Beauty editors will rarely tell the reader about bad experiences or products that don't work, which I think can be as helpful as reviewing the good stuff, for fear of offending the advertisers or the people who paid for their freebie facials or spa treatments. Worse still, they sometimes write about stuff that is terrible, but pretend it's good under pressure from management.

I will never forget going on a select little editor outing to a spa in the north of England where the facialist practically removed my epidermis. We editors all agreed the place sucked (sucked: very professional summing up there). Imagine my surprise when a positive review appeared in a VERY high circulation mag a few months later. Turns out that the editor in chief was fed up with the magazine's London-centric view (admirable) and wanted more regional coverage. So the crappy spa was included regardless of the fact that they left me and the other editor with raging skin after our treatments ((not so admirable).

Of course there are great beauty editors out there but they are the exception rather than the rule. I've lost count of the number of fawning press round tables and presentations I've been to where no editor has had the balls to ask tricky questions about a product's efficacy or, frankly, the insight to do so.

The great exception is the legendary take no shit Kathy Philips, ex Beauty Director of British Vogue. I first met her in a car on a way to a beauty event and she scared the living daylights out of me. As a fellow Vague House inhabitant, I sometimes got paired with her for intimate product presentations, and will never forget a beauty meeting some ten years ago where she took the publicist to pieces over a spurious aromatherapy claim on some face cream. It was a joy to behold.

Look out for beauty editors who write about products from small independent companies as much as those from the corporate behemoths with large ad budgets. There's a fair chance that their recommendations will be worth taking. The only reliable source I know (ahem, apart from me) for completely unbiased beauty information is the anonymous blog Miss Malcontent Seeks Truth in Beauty by a beauty editor who really knows her stuff.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Self control. Or lack of it.

Eventually I knew that I would give in to the siren call of the cookie dough in the chill cabinets not 50 yards from my bedroom window. It didn't help that I'd eaten half a Whoopie Cookie earlier in the day (for valid journalistic reasons, I assure you) and my bloody taste buds had got all excited about sugar after a month of near abstinence. Plus I'd been cycling around the city on errands for two hours and was properly hungry. So my reward was a supper of hot, melted chocolate, straight from the oven cookies. Mmmmm.

More embarrassing than giving in to cookies tho is the fact that I bought pre-made cookie dough full of additives and nasties, rather than making it myself. My excuse was simple: I don't have any store cupboard supplies and as I am leaving in a fortnight it seems silly to buy bags of flour & sugar.

I am always astonished at the serried rows of cake & cookie mix in the supermarkets over here. I think it's a cultural thing. In the late 1940s & early 1950s when America was being lured by advertisers into the world of pre-made & convenience food, the United Kingdom was still under Second World War rationing, (sugar rationing didn't end until the end of 1953), and that frugal mindset remained for a long time in British heads. Sure you can buy cake mix in England, but it's a tiny section in the supermarket, completely overshadowed by the raw ingredients section.

Certainly I have never in my life used a box mix to make anything, be it brownies, pancakes or plain old cake. When a batter is as simple as blending together flour, sugar, eggs and butter why on earth would I need some one to pre-mix that for me? Of course it helps that not only is my mother an extraordinary kitchen goddess, my godmother Rachie is a fearsome good cook too. She gifted me a mini cookery set with a rolling pin inches long when I was about five and I haven't stopped baking since.

Anyway, my cookie supper was damn good. And so it bloody well should have been: each raw round of cookie dough (see below) is 85 calories a pop. I ate six straight from the oven.

The proof:

The only question that remains is what on earth do I do with the rest of the package?

Whoopie Pies!

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll know that we got rather tweet-cited about the existence of Whoopie Pies a couple of nights back in response to a link I posted to this New York Times piece. The name had such comedy value that I felt it was my duty to seek out a Whoopie Pie and report back.

Fortunately, I live Downtown within close proximity of Magnolia Bakery on Bleecker in the West Village, which was cited in the piece for its brown sugar and maple frosting version.

So, in the manner of David Attenborough, I set off on my voyage of exploration, expecting to have to hack my way through the urban jungle to find a Whoopie Pie in its natural habitat. The main obstacle standing in my way was a small TV show: Sex & the City. You may have heard of it? In one minute long scene, Carrie & Miranda sit on a bench outside Magnolia eating a cupcake each.

That was enough for Magnolia to earn a place on the Sex & the City location trail. Every day hundreds of batshit crazy women turn up, map in hand, to queue up for maybe thirty minutes to buy a (frankly mediocre) frosted cupcake & snap themselves outside the shop, prize in hand. The bakery is open until 11pm at night and there are still lines around the block then. However, my super explorer instincts chose a rainy, grey day for capturing my Whoopie Pie and there were only ten or so sheep-like Italians bleating & waving maps outside when I arrived.

A mere $1.75 was enough to secure what Magnolia label a 'Whoopie Cookie' from underneath a glass specimen dome. Unfortunately I needed proper scientific conditions to photograph and then dissect it thoroughly, so I carefully placed it in my expedition bag and headed for the nearest friendly laboratory.

Under proper lighting it looks like your average cookie sandwich. A grown up blondie Oreo if you like.

Grasping it between finger and thumb, I took a large bite. There was no crunch, just a soft, dense, moist crumb, more cake than cookie, with an almond-like texture. There's a floury aftertaste which isn't exactly unpleasant, just dull with no real discernable flavour.The frosting had a vague maple hint to it, but it wasn't lip smackingly delicious.

So: as good as the publicity?

Frankly? Nope.

Photographs by me

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On self-effacing behaviour.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this post: I’ve never been a salacious , ambulance chaser type of journalist but there’s something about the tragic loss of Natasha Richardson that made me think about the nature of being English. It’s engrained in us from birth not to make a fuss, to wheel out the stiff upper lip. I can just imagine her brushing off the offers to send her for a check up after her accident. It would have been anathema to her, the idea that a little fall would require special attention. The kind of me, me, me behavior that the English abhor. Especially to an actress whose family conscientiously avoided the spotlight. And it made me think that the peculiarly English form of self-effacing reticence about looking after ourselves when really we should be demanding help is just staggeringly counter-productive.

And my thoughts go out to her family at this time.

Lenten Fast update

As someone who hasn’t really done much dieting,(zero self control, food obsessive), I’m amazed at how quickly weight loss can gain momentum if you really apply yourself to the business. For the first three weeks of my Lenten Fast the needle on the ancient scales in our bathroom didn’t shift from a steady 145lbs. But I continued to eat elephantine mounds of tofu, fruit & vegetables, restrict carbs to oats and a scant tablespoon of rice here & there, drink no alcohol and resist take out.

Then in desperation two days ago I tried on a pair of rejected skinny jeans when I couldn’t find anything I disliked enough to wear to clean out my storage container. And they fit. As did the other two pairs of trousers I had stashed away in February when they wouldn’t do up around my waist. And then I got back on the scales of horror to discover I had lost five pounds, seemingly overnight.

My increasingly frequent bouts of dull work-related insomnia have helped: when you don’t fall asleep until 5am you end up missing breakfast and moving straight on to lunch, which consequently becomes a much lighter meal. I’ve been boringly rigid about having no bread, muffins or waffles in the freezer for snacks, so my butter habit’s almost disappeared. I’ve drunk no juice or sodas, only pints of iced water & a few espressos. On the few occasions I’ve been out & about and needed energy I’ve chugged a Diet Coke (much against my instincts – all those hideous chemicals).

I also haven’t been socializing so my greatest vice, eating my way through restaurant menus, hasn’t been in play. So my portion sizes have become smaller, and I’ve found myself satisfied with increasingly small quantities. But I’m not up for complete deprivation: my omelettes are still fried in butter, my soups often coconut milk bases and, because I am generally eating less anyway, the odd burger, cookie or cinnamon roll is still within my daily calorie limit which, even though I eat vast platefuls of food, I rarely reach.

And I’ve discovered that once you get the weight loss ball rolling you enter a healthy zone, where the odd hunger pang between meals is ignored, rather than being a snack signal, and where it’s much more rewarding to resist eating the rubbish that would help to pile the pounds back on again.

I don’t know who’s happier right now: me or my greengrocer who has taken to slipping his best customer free pieces of fruit in recognition of the $25 dollars & upwards I spend at his market stall. (Believe me, that’s practically my body weight in broccoli.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Things I love about New York. (Moments of grace)

The prospect of leftover anything (including pudding*) for breakfast brings me much joy, & New York has proved particularly glorious in enabling my habit. In England doggy bags are the exception not the rule and restaurants, particularly outside of London, do not appreciate being asked to wrap up your leftovers - I’ve found waiters will often say that the dread Health & Safety regulations won't allow it and, if pushed, will present you with a mound of food wrapped in leaky aluminium foil to take home - whereas there doesn’t seem to be a restaurant in Manhattan that would object.

In New York I’ve doggy bagged everywhere from Le Bernadin to my local diner, and rather like the get two meals for the price of one that results from having the balls to ask. (Altho apparently if you ask for a doggy bag on dates 1-3 with a new man, he will take that as sign that you are not interested. Or just more interested in the free food.)

The difference stems partly from English restaurant portions being human sized (as opposed to dinosaur sized), so there is usually little need to halve your food and save the rest for later, but I suspect the main reason is that takeout food is generally the sole province of ethnic places and fast food outlets, so restaurants just aren't used to packing up food to go.

Using a restaurant is an occasion for most people, rather than an everyday thing as it is for many Americans: it’s just way, way more expensive in the UK to eat out. We don’t have the equivalent of family friendly diners where anyone from a truck driver to an office worker can get a good, cheap hot meal. This emphasis on restaurants being for occasions means that asking for your leftovers to be wrapped can be considered distinctly down market, and results in having some over-bearing waiter looking down their nose at you.

*Have just discovered – after two years of NY living - that pudding over here is the sweet,creamy chilled stuff that comes in pots with a foil lid in the grocery store, rather than being a catch-all name for the sweet course at the end of the meal.

I do like living in New York, I do...

I've been feeling rather homesick, partly because however much I miss London, moving back home is not an option. And, being a contrary person, generally I want what I can't have.

With almost every long-term English friend now involved with bringing up their delightful children, my life would be utterly trammelled by the schedules of their multitudinous offspring. And, whilst I don't want every activity out to be subordinated to the need to relieve the babysitter/husband/nanny, neither do I want to make new friends. I like the ones I have, thank you very much. So, until the disparity in the way we live our lives evens out, London is not going to work for me. Which could well mean forever given that the last time I met a man I really properly liked was at least two years ago.

New York is just so much more conducive to being single. Naturally a loner, (I blame boarding school - it left me with a perpetual need to be away from the pack), living in the centre of everything is less alienating for me. In London, working from home all day means doing so in a residential area, and dragging myself to the shops or a restaurant is either a fifteen minute walk minimum, or braving public transport. So, being extremely unmotivated, I never go out. When everything I need from grocery store to Urban Outfitters is within a couple of blocks there's just no excuse here for holing up.

And, of course, you aren't alone here. New York is full of single people, and even the ones in couples go out more. The concentrated nature of Manhattan means that leaving the house isn't the performance that it is in London, (yellow taxis are a quarter of the price of a Black Cab), so you can be somewhere interesting in ten minutes from pretty much anywhere in this city.

Plus no one really entertains at home in Manhattan, so it's considered perfectly normal to gather in restaurants here, which means the eternally single aren't doomed to being the odd man out at laborious dinner parties with disgusting food and then having to drag their drunken bodies home alone half way across London in a twenty quid cab.

So. I'm going to start thinking about the very small things (moments of grace) that make my life more pleasurable over here, and maybe I'll stop pining for dog walking & advanced ball throwing on Hampstead Heath & Primrose Hill, the Ladies Pond & Gospel Oak Lido, fairy cakes not cupcakes, proper Indian & Chinese takeaways, Daunt's books in South End Green, Kingsland Road Vietnamese, driving a car, cycling on streets without potholes, Hot Cross Buns, real Cadbury's Creme Eggs (not the Hershey's imposters they flog here), very dry wit, my friends' children, bicycling down the canal to Shoreditch from Camden, Sunday lunch, my lovely kitchen, and a proper London spring.

(BTW I blame lovely Belgian Waffling for enhancing the pining. Although I draw the line at missing the tube & Benjy's coffee.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Beautiful earrings

Oh my goodness! The kindness of my virtual friends in the blogosphere never ceases to astonish me. Last year the ravishing Queens Michelle & Marie of Kingdom of Style sent me these vintage dancing shoes just because. And then today a package arrived in New York for me containing these:

Here's the story: a couple of weeks ago Blue Floppy Hat, who writes the fab blog Nonsense on Stilettos from India, and with whom I have been blog friends with pretty much since I started LLG, sent me the following email:
"I remember seeing an entry on your blog about a month back about how you liked dangly Indian earrings. That stuff practically floats in the air here in Calcutta, and I'd love to send you some (think of it as a sort of belated return-to-blogging present)."

I was absolutely blown away - how could I possibly refuse such a generous & kind offer? Anyway, a parcel arrived this morning with five, FIVE! pairs of pretty dangly earrings, just up my street. I'm already wearing the blue pair which match my eyes perfectly, and will wear a pair each day this week in BFH's honour. Sweetheart: I am chuffed to bits. You say that you hope I will get as much pleasure from wearing them as you did from choosing them. Oh I will, darling, I will. Thank you SO much.

Where does the time go?

So the Sunday evening date was, well, easy. Like having a drink with a friend. Relaxed, funny. Interesting guy. I can see I run the risk of being too laid back about dating: I should be worrying about more than my shoe choice for the evening ahead. A healthy dose of trepidation/ anticipation is necessary to keep me on my toes, I think. Tomorrow I have a dinner date (with the charming guy from last week) in the West Village, although I’m starting to wonder from where I will carve out the time.

Suddenly we are half way through March, I leave for LAX in exactly two weeks and there is so much for me to do that my head is spinning. I think I’m going to have to go cold turkey from Twitter & Bloglines for a few days if I am to have any hope of getting up to speed.

I have to burrow through my storage container for my summer clothes to sort & wash, finish a draft of the first four chapters of my novel, lose ten lbs, get a mani/pedi, earn some money, and tie up all my writing commissions for California. (No, I’m not just lotos eating for a month on the West Coast, I’ll be wearing my journalist’s hat for a fair part of the trip. Need any stories from CA? I'm your gal. Email me!)

I have at least booked a one way flight to Los Angeles, ($128!), and reserved a car for an initial month. My itinerary is both set & fluid enough for me to feel relaxed about my plans out there. I have a few chunks of time with no plans or places to stay, but I can’t get that over-excited about it: things always work out, and there is so much to explore. I keep pulling up maps of California & Nevada on my laptop and gloating to myself. Death Valley! Joshua Tree! Canyons! The Getty Center! Redwoods! Hot springs! Frank Gehry!

I am seriously considering extending my trip to spend the first fortnight of May in Los Angeles and have been scanning Craigslist for a suitable sublet/house sitting gig/god knows what. It’s tricky tho when I have only the broadest brush stroke sense of LA’s geography. Still, I guess I’ll have more of an idea once I get there and if the worst comes to the worst, there’s a sofabed with my name on it in the house of one of my best friends from school. (I know I could start harassing friends of friends to put me up but, even after two years in Manhattan, I am way, way too English to go down that route.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

More shoes...

Finally I gave in. I really wanted new shoes for my California trip and, although I think I have plenty of summer shoes (it's difficult to remember when everything is in storage), there's nothing like a pair of shiny new shoes to kick off a shiny new venture.

Although as far as I am concerned the higher the platform wedge the better, experience tells me that if I am going to be sightseeing, shopping and generally trotting around California, a pair of slightly lower wedges for everyday would be a practical decision. (I can't bear flats with short shorts: the stumpy limb thing is just plain wrong.)

Anyway, I bought these Faryl Robin(ludicrous name) wedges to wear with with shorts. Reduced from $145 to $39.99 so I can live with myself. What really sold them was their cushioned upper which feels like walking in marshmallows. God,I do hope these don't end up looking too remedial.

Of course, what I really wanted to buy were these Marni wedges on Ebay reduced from $660 to $99.,

and these gorgeous cream patent ones.

Such a bargain, but at 39, they are half a size too big for me. Someone buy them please!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday night dating

It has been forcefully pointed out to me that the reason that so many of my dates do not work out is because I am dating guys who have approached me, rather than the other way round. I trot off to the dates intrigued but not excited and with little or no expectation of anything clicking. After all, it is their interest which is driving the date, not my own, so it’s no surprise that I feel little or no investment in the process and am usually disappointed romantically, however much I enjoy their company.

I, like most women on-line dating, receive so many emails that it’s just simpler to engage with the already interested. In addition, I very rarely find profiles when I browse that interest me and, if I were to be brutally honest, the very, very few men I have reached out to have not got back to me bar one or two. So, I take the passive route.

Anyway, browsing away on-line for odd usernames for a previous blog post whilst watching CSI the other night, a photo jumped out at me. Good looking man, witty, engaging profile, compatible job, right age and lots of similar interests. This probably happens once every two months. So I emailed him, with absolutely no expectation of hearing from him.

And then he emailed me back. So far, so good: can spell, is funny, likes jumping around at gigs. Still, although I pretty much like what I’ve seen so far, I am finding it hard to summon up any enthusiasm. I think I am just so jaded by dating men who don’t interest me that the whole process has lost its sparkle.

But I am trying hard to engage.The bar he has suggested for our date tonight is a particular favourite, and I like Sunday evening as there’s no pressure to truss myself up like a Christmas turkey. My main dilemma right now is trivial in the extreme: 90% of my clothing is in storage so outfit choices are limited. I’ll prob wear my leather biker jacket with a little dress & Wolfords underneath and a huge knitted cashmere scarf wrapped over all.

But: shoes? Heels feel over the top (I only have leopard print, platform strappy suede things, suede & patent ankle boots (maybe?) or Azagury suede courts (too grown up) and flats are either MBTs (yeah, right), Minnetonka moccasins (def not ), ballerines (too fey), or 3cm heel thigh high black suede boots which I adore but maybe a little risqué for a Sunday night…(they did go down EXTREMELY well on a date last week tho). Hmmm. Decisions, decisions.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Random picture of the day

I miss my dog.

Erickson Beamon for Target

Mystery: Target spends big dollars on blanket promoting the hideous McQ by Alexander McQueen collection. Yet a rather good diffusion line by the fabulous jewellery design partnership Erickson Beamon goes almost completely unheralded.

I only discovered that it was on sale by chance when I was flicking through the Design for All section of the Target website. Bizarre. It's not as if they weren't intending to promote it: I went to the press preview back in October. Checking my notes, I have an estimated Feb 15th delivery date. So God knows...

Anyway, these rather chic necklaces are available and are $49.99.

These cuffs are on the website but not delivered for order yet. (No price listed).

Lovely earrings are $49.99.

If you don't know Erickson Beamon, let me assure you: these prices are a bargain for costume jewellery from the label. A cuff would normally run somewhere around $500, and earrings from $300 - $500. The business is based in London's Belgravia, where their store is a treasure trove of alluring pieces, most notable their collar necklaces and the chandelier earrings with which they made their name. Although the label is often thought of as English, its creators, Vicki Sarge Beamon and Karen Erickson are from Detroit.

Over the years they have collaborated with pretty much every major designer label and have also moved into using diamonds and semi-precious stones. I have both worn & shot Erickson Beamon for years, so I'm thrilled at an opportunity to pick up pieces at these price points. When I examined them at the press day, I was impressed by the quality of most of the pieces: the rings aren't so great but the cuffs, in particular, are a steal.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My sister:The one thing I am grateful about

Oh hurrumph. This Five Things to be Grateful meme has driven me bonkers. I’m copping out and writing a paean to my little sister instead. She’s the thing about which I have most to be grateful

Our parents have driven each other batshit crazy and we need each other as no one else could possibly understand our situation but our relationship is based on more than supporting each other in a war zone. Without her I would be a lesser person in every way. She bullies me, grounds me, makes me see sense. We trust each other's opinion implicitly.

We speak every day on Skype, often just wittering away about how much we love the psycho stumpy dog who is generally doing unspeakable things in the background. She’s kind, generous, super intelligent, & very skilled at driving me crazy with her self-consciousness & lack of self-belief. She thinks she is boring and unattractive when she is mesmerizing. She is little, just 5'2", with skin that puts peaches & cream to shame and will never need cosmetic intervention, silky thick brown hair with auburn lights & a widow’s peak, a nose that tips up in just the right way, a tiny waist & gentle curves that men adore.

I am way more social than she and so am forever introducing her to people who come away wanting to be her friend. But she either doesn’t believe them or thinks they are just trying to be nice. Pah. I keep telling her that everybody is essentially selfish so if they want to be her friend it’s because they REALLY want to. The single thing that scares me most in my life is that she won’t get all the things in life that she deserves so much through her self-sabotage.

Oh & she is going to be FURIOUS at me for posting this.

Blog stuff

Just to let my regular readers know that I keep changing my header description to try to find a way to stop people I know & won't tell the address to from finding my blog through Google searches. (If you Google the obvious words that are associated with me & my job at present, this blog comes up in first place and that means random people (i.e. people I go on dates with) can find this blog rather too easily.) Once here, it's not exactly rocket science to work out that I am the author if you know me, and I do prefer my dates to get to know me face to face rather than by reading about my disasters.

I also wanted to thank sweetA Pretty Face for awarding me a Your Blog is Fabulous badge, and my beloved Jacob Wrestling for asking passing on her meme, asking me to cite five things for which I am grateful. I am working on it and will post later.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

GQ April Cover - Robert Pattinson

Apart from Morrissey when I was sixteen, I don't think I've ever found an actor, celebrity or famous person attractive in any way. Then I saw this today. But Robert Pattinson is twenty-two, so I'm just going to say that I greatly admire (photographer) Nathaniel Goldberg's body of work.

Random virtual shopping

As my new found financial rigour disallows any shopping apart from essentials such as new sunglasses, I have decided that virtual shopping is the way forward. Usually this would imply Lanvin frocks & Tom Binns jools, but now I even have to virtual shop for the kind of reasonably priced stuff I would normally have bought without even thinking about it. This is today's trawl of frustration:

Lovely new Pierre Hardy satin sandals. A mere $150 on Ebay. This does pain me IMMENSELY as they were originally over $1000 in The Shops.

A miniature pressure cooker for LLG-sized portions of all the beans I can't be arsed to boil for HOURS. All about instant gratification, me.

Two everyday sundresses from Gap. After all, they do have a 30% off Friends & Family sale this week. And sundresses last about 30 seconds in the NY humidity. Left: T shirt dress $24.50 (was $34.99). Floral shift dress: $47.60 (was $68)

Wardrobe frustrations

Last summer, although I had a healthy bank account, I was too tied up with my job at the House of Pain to do any real shopping. Occasionally I would do a mercy dash into Banana Republic or Zara on Fifth after being sheep dipped in fake tan next door to pick up a generic frock for work to replace my humidity crumpled rags, but that was about the extent of it.

I certainly didn’t have the time or inclination to engage with my wardrobe in any meaningful sense, certainly not in any agenda setting, I am an up my own arse Important Fashion Editor type of way. And, consequently, all that I have in my summer wardrobe (er, suitcase) are a series of faux pregnancy smocks from 2007, knackered work outfits from last year & vertiginous heels suitable only for Town Car transport.

What I want for my Cali trip are short shorts, perfect jeans, sundresses that don’t suggest the third trimester and clumpy wedge sandals to give impression of colt-ish legs. (Look, I said impression, okay? I am allowed my fantasies.)

Unfortunately, my usual solutions are out: I now know that sample sales are the route to wrong-ness - it’s 100% guaranteed that every piece you buy will end up on Ebay owing to over-enthusiastic belief that a whopping discount equals desirable item, vintage in this city is pretty hit & miss given the jaw dropping prices of the stores on Manhattan & the un-bosom-friendly sizing, fast fashion retailers have dubious ethics, fabrics & longevity, my sewing machine is in London and anyway, now that I am a freelance hack again, I have zero funds for wardrobe renewal.

Bloody annoying.

Just a quick reminder

I've said this before, and am writing it again as I believe it bears repetition: Fashion is a multi-millon dollar industry. Although clothing more advanced than a toga or a sarong may be perceived as unnecessary by some, it's no more unnecessary than any product that is 'designed' to be attractive beyond its essential usage, be it a car, door knob, book or house, so why people persist in thinking of fashion as self-indulgent nonsense is beyond me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Scattering accessories like confetti

The most aggravating thing about New York, (apart from the cab drivers who try to mow down poor cyclists), is the schizophrenic weather. It’s perfectly possible to frolic in spring sunshine (60F) one day, and cower in a raging sub zero blizzard the next. Not only does it make dressing fraught with complication (take it from me, trying to walk in ballerines on iced sidewalks in a freak snowstorm is impossible) but it requires diligence with accessories too.

As someone who always loses one of each glove, can never find her sunglasses/ear muffs/hat/scarf* and scatters umbrellas like confetti around the city, I can guarantee I am never carrying the right accoutrements for the weather. Of that list the absolute bane of my life are my bloody sunglasses. Can I ever find a pair of the sodding things when the freak sun shines here? Can I heck. When I’m not hiding them under the bed, behind the sofa or in the fridge, I am leaving them in random shops on the bus.

I have now lost THREE pair of Oliver Peoples tortoiseshell Vanadis. They are categorically Not Cheap and it distresses me enormously. The lovely London PR gave me my first pair, and that was it. Hooked for life. But now that I am here and not there I feel it would be rather rude to demand freebie replacements.

So sans Vanadis, and having snapped my emergency Bottega pair across the bridge of the nose, I have had to buy new sunglasses. Not only does this pain me financially (I’m supposed to be sticking to a shopping moratorium in Lent), it hurts me fashion-wise too. I do not suit sunglasses. Wrong face shape. Weird nose. They look all wrong on me. Hats yes, sunglasses no.

Anyway, I finally caved & bought these yesterday.

I know Mrs. Trefusis will be unimpressed, but they were super cheap ($70 on Ebay), have proper sun filtering lenses (which is almost impossible at that price point), and do actually suit me.

I just have to live with the fact that I look like I am trying to channel sodding Kirsten Dunst. I certainly can’t hang out in Williamsburg this summer wearing them in case I am mistaken for a faux hipster.

God, I want my Vanadis back.

*delete as applicable

Dating post mortem

Well, what a turn up for the books. After gibbering away on Twitter all afternoon about my lack of sleep the night before (insomnia not partying) and subsequent drained Skin of Death, I was persuaded not to cancel the date and to turn to expensive face cream, Champagne and good old Blitz Spirit to get me there. India had pointed out quite rightly that often one enjoys most the events that one was most tempted to scratch and, in this case, she was absolutely correct.

After raiding the beauty bucket under the bed (I’m not an ex-beauty ed for nothing), I resorted to a killer combination of Sisley Eclat Tenseur, Clarins Beauty Flash Balm and MAC Strobe Cream under my RMK Foundation, which managed to raise the morgue like pallor of my skin to something approximating a youthful glow. I eschewed the Champagne for a reviving pot of Earl Grey and hopped it to the date feeling that I was, at the very least, earning dating karma points for Making An Effort and Showing Willing.

This time the date looked exactly like his photographs (very good looking in a sort of clean cut, actor-y way; not my type but appealing nonetheless), was not a midget, made me laugh & did not overstay his welcome. And, even more impressive, emailed within a few hours to ask me out for dinner. Of course I am ridiculously flattered by this and am going to say yes without having to resort to an opinion poll.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

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My Manhattan Dating Odyssey Continues.

   /ˈɒdəsi/ –noun, plural -seys for 2.
1. (italics) an epic poem attributed to Homer, describing Odysseus's adventures in his ten-year attempt to return home to Ithaca after the Trojan War.
2. (often lowercase) a long series of wanderings or adventures, esp. when filled with notable experiences, hardships, etc.

I did go on a second date with the unappealing man. I weighed up all your opinions and came to the conclusion that everyone deserves a second chance. But, to all those who said I was bonkers even considering it as he sounded so boorish, you were indeed correct as to our incompatibility.

We met at eight for supper, and were done by nine thirty as the tumbleweeds of our conversation gently rolled off into the dark. I don't flatter myself: I suspect we were equally unentranced. Still, the food was excellent, I was home in time to watch CSI, and had proved a point to myself: don’t flog a dating dead horse.

I have my fifth date of the year tomorrow with a man about whom I know very little, apart from an amusing online dating profile and his age (45). He has plenty of full face photographs, is over 6ft (rare in this town of vertically challenged men) and can spell. I feel that this is plenty to be going on with. We are meeting for coffee, mid-afternoon, short & sweet. We can size each other up and go our separate ways with no danger of either of us over-staying our welcome.

Monday, March 09, 2009

California Dreaming. part two

It’s now three weeks until I depart for California. I already seem to have planned out the whole of April there quite successfully, and am wondering about extending the trip through May now too.

This much I know: I intend to fly into LAX, spend just one night in the city before driving on up the PCH (the coastal route) to San Francisco, stopping for the night en route twice, certainly in Big Sur (I want to see a redwood forest) and not sure where else. I don’t particularly want to do this on my own, but neither do I have a problem with driving alone or being alone, so shall just ensure a well-stocked iPod is on hand to keep me company.

Then it’s glad rags time in San Francisco with the ravishing L for two nights, followed by a meet with an old friend from London who is also an ex too. And with whom I hung out in SF when I worked on a paper there one summer during my University years. It’s a complete coincidence that he ended up back in SF, but it’s the reason why I haven’t seen him for maybe ten years. Anyway, there’s no putative romance there – he’s now married with two children but I shall be curious to see if DS (ex- techno head/Drum Club aficionado/stoner) has mellowed into the Californian version of Suburban Dad.

Then I think I may meander up to Calistoga to check out the mud baths & hot springs, followed by a leisurely drive back down to LA along the edges of Yosemite, depending on snow clearance. JK then arrives for a week of play along the coast. We will start off at her brother’s holiday house on Venice Beach, and then we are thinking beaches, hiking, and spas and, um, well, me anyway, is thinking Disneyland. I’ve always fancied a pair of mouse ears.

Then we are driving out to Palm Springs for Coachella, although we are toying with the idea of leaving a few days early to overshoot PS and visit Joshua Tree National Park first. Then it’s back to NYC for JK, and I shall go find E who is fortuitously flying into LA from her London mag job for a rare holiday about the same time. Bliss. I cannot wait to see her, even if we only manage it once.

Of course, these plans are all completely up in the air right now. There’s a couple of things I’m waiting on in NYC so I can’t book my flight out, JK hasn’t got her vacation signed off, LW is thinking about joining us from London & Tales Near the Runway is shooting in the middle of nowhere so can’t confirm plans for Coachella quite yet but fingers crossed.

I haven’t had a holiday since LW & I went to Lollapalooza in Chicago summer 07, & Manhattan is starting to feel like Narnia in the days of the White Witch.

No fun and an endless winter.

What we really wore in the 80s

90210; 90210 fashionWatching 90210's pilot last night when I couldn't sleep reminded me to post an NB to all those infants who think 80s clothes are cool. We didn't look chic in 80s fashion, as Decarnin @ Balmain would have you believe: this is what we really wore...primary colours, camel toe lycra, slouch socks, tucked in shirts with unflattering jeans, baggy T-shirts. (Yes, I had Junior Gaultier striped cycling shorts which I wore over tights in my teens. However the only photo I have (from 1988) is this, which is kind of tasteful, all things considering. Please note highwaisted & cuffed jeans, de rigeur holey grey cardi, flicky hair & DMs.)

Sunday, March 08, 2009


Just a spot of blog housekeeping. As I took an eight month break from blogging when I went to work on a fashion magazine here in New York, I believe that many of my links are defunct and that others who have linked to me are not linked here. I am working on this but, in the meantime, please do email me or leave a comment if you follow a link that is out of date or if you would like to exchange links with me.

I also wanted to remind new-ish bloggers that they should register their blogs with Technorati in order to make full use of the linking system as it can be difficult to discover who is linking to you and return the favour accordingly if blogs aren't listed there.

The projection of perfection

I had a meeting earlier this week with the kind of intelligent, extremely successful, stylish and, above all, young woman who makes me feel as though my career trajectory has been stuck on slow for the past ten years.

Yet, as I watched her glance over my career profile, I distinctly heard her say something along the lines of, goodness I’m always amazed at how much people have achieved in a short time.

I cannot tell you how reassuring it was to hear this. All my working life I have been haunted by the belief that I haven’t achieved enough, that I have wasted myriad opportunities, and that every other working woman I meet or see lauded in the media has achieved so much so quickly. Much more quickly than me, at any rate.

A recent posting by Belgian Waffling lamenting her mental sloth and stupidity where quotidian tasks were concerned and asking for readers to chime in with their own confessions elicited a staggering litany of unpaid bills, uncashed cheques, unchecked voicemails and suchlike. My perfectionist sister told me later that it was the most reassuring thing she had ever read. She spends her life beating herself up about not completing her endless To Do lists and to discover that women out there who do the same were legion was an eye opener.

She and I really are our own worst enemies as, I think, most women are. Instead of finding pride in what we do, in an acceptance of both our successes and our limitations, we endlessly hold ourselves up to imaginary models of perfection projected onto women who themselves believe they are sadly lacking too - which we would know if we bothered to ask them.

What we need to realise is that we, each and every one of us, do this dirty little compare & contrast trick, and that maybe what we all really need to understand is that we are all equally, gloriously, incapable of perfection.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Dating travails part three hundred

I make no secret of the fact that I use an on-line dating site here in New York. After all, it's not as if I’m ever going to meet an eligible man in the fashion world. When I’m browsing through the site, the usernames make me hoot with laughter. My personal favourite (filed under Not Necessarily Alluring But Damn Funny) is SarcasticJerk. But he has nothing on the following list of usernames:


Surely they can’t believe these are going to snag them the woman of their dreams, let alone the shag of their dreams? Which of the above do you think wins the Least Likely To Snag The Girl prize?

What I actually do...sometimes...

I really do need to work on leaving the house occasionally. It’s one of the reasons why having a Proper Job is good for me, even if my talents are probably better suited to being freelance. This is because I’m unusual in the fashion industry as I have worked as both a stylist and as a writer, & jobs that combine both disciplines are rare. (I generally describe myself as a writer these days.) The freelance projects where I can write & style, with deadlines set by others, and which pay very well have always been high on my list. Not least because they mean I have to get out & about, but don't have to work from an office.

These projects are generally either as a fashion editor on various contract publishing magazines or as a consultant on their launch or re-launch. (Contract magazines are the high circulation, usually giveaway, mags produced by a publishing house for a client, such as in-flight mags or mags for shopping malls, that kind of thing, rather than for general sale on newsstand.)

The job isn’t that different from that of an editorial fashion editor, just substitute tricky editor in chief for tricky client. Usually it involves coming up with all the fashion content of the magazine, both written & shot. The editor then either writes or commissions the copy, and conceptualizes the fashion stories, working with the art director to commission photographers, cast models, book hair & make-up, and choose suitable locations.

The overall difference from straight editorial work on contract client magazines is in providing content that is both acceptable to the client and not so bland that editorial interest is completely subordinated to commercial considerations.

This can be quite a tightrope to walk as often the product we have to shoot is not enormously appealing, and clients are often extremely opinionated but not necessarily informed. (For example: choosing models. If the managing editor is inexperienced enough to give the client ultimate sign off on model choices it can take weeks to find a compromise choice, as the client will ALWAYS want to book a model based on who they fancy or admire, rather than picking the model who is best for the job, a subtle differentiation you generally only recognize when it’s your job to book models, rather than gaze at them.)

On my last job, over a month & with the help of my wonderful assistant, I styled over 100 pages of commercial fashion editorial, covers and on-line content on location in South Africa (necessary to enable summer clothes to be shot in sunshine in January) and in the studio in London.

The difference on these shoots from standard editorial work was that instead of making sure I included pieces from major advertisers in the fashion stories, I had to ensure coverage of practically every label stocked at every retailer renting store space across the client’s four shopping malls. (In reality this meant not only calling in product from publicists, editing the selection down and packing the product (listing every single piece on customs forms), but tracking the photographic placement in the fashion shoots of over two thousand pieces of vital fashion product on location, without duplication or error, bearing in mind the malls all had separate stock allocations, vastly differing client bases, & the models didn't always fit the clothes. It involved way, way too much use of Excel for my liking.)

In the same way that advertising pays way more than editorial work, these projects can be pretty lucrative, as the pay needs to be high enough to ensure that good editors & photographers are happy to work on what are often extremely commercial projects. Money jobs like these have great rewards: they often involve shooting on location in lovely places, with fab crews, and can be unexpectedly challenging from the editor’s point of view (see Excel use above). This is a good thing: no one wants their brain to atrophy, a constant risk in fashion editorial work.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Back on the diet wagon

blueberries, linseed, blue bowl, blueberry, yoghurt, breakfast
I’m back on the Lenten Fast with a vengeance. No more sneaky French fries dipped in mayonnaise for me. My biggest food indulgence has always been allowing myself to order anything I want on the menu when I eat out. With the consequent results on my tummy & thighs. I met lovely Lola yesterday for lunch(so pregnant that I’m surprised her waters didn’t break in Café Luxemburg), and instigated the new regime: instead of the omelette frites with cheese & mushrooms that I really wanted, I ordered a small bowl of butternut squash soup and drank water.

I did eat three small pieces of bread & butter with it but that’s got to be better than a big fat American sandwich or the plate of French fries I would normally have ordered.

And above is today’s lunch: a bowl of organic no-fat yogurt (since I read Michael Pollan I’m steering clear of BGH and other nasties when I can), blueberries and my own mix of organic linseed, porridge oats, sunflower & pumpkin seeds. (According to this piece in the NY Times, pumpkin seeds are one of the top ten superfoods we should be adding to our diets.)

Why thank you internets!

Blimey. That's a lot of opinions on my shopping choices. Thank you so much each & every one of you for weighing in. (I should do this more often.) The Ebay auctions don't end for the frocks for a few days yet, so I'll keep you posted - and I'll get someone to do a headless photo of me in whichever one I win. (Or both - my little sister who thinks I am a spendthrift, impecunious fool suggested I buy both. Unexpected.)

It's also prompted me to go forage in my storage container for the blue & gold sequin version to see if enough time has elapsed since its celebrity overkill to enable me to resurrect it from my fashion archive.

Only problem is that yesterday, when I tried to dig out my writing portfolio from underneath all the crap piled high in the unit, I almost decapitated myself with a volley of baked bean cans. I may be taking my life in my hands looking for my dress.

Prospect of frock vs. danger of bodily injury. No contest. Frock wins.

The blue & gold version - sadly not modelled on me.