Friday, May 29, 2009

Vote Beatnik Jr!

Back in April I wrote about the fantastic Beatnik Jr. They were competing, as one of 150 bands across America, in the Hard Rock's Battle of the Bands. The ultimate prize: an all expenses-paid trip to appear in London at Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park on the same bill as Neil Young, The Killers and Bruce Springsteen.

I was dragged to their LA show, thinking they would be rubbish (Hard Rock? Yeah right). I was wrong. They were properly good, and it would seem that I am not the only one to have worked that out.

After demolishing the local competition, they went on to the Battle of the Bands private judging round against the other 20 regional American winners. They sailed through that, emerging as one of just five bands in the on-line public voting final.

They are in second place right now, so I urge you to check out their MySpace and, if you like what you hear, click through below to vote to send these charming LA boys to my home city.

Hard Rock Cafe Ambassadors of Rock Battle of the Bands

ps I was blown away not just by Beatnik Jr's live set, but by the charming email they sent to thank me for writing about them. Manners: few & far between these days, I find. (Hmm - I am well aware that I am turning into my mother.)

So Beatnik Jr (John Maro, Jordan Vernik, Drews Jones & Collin Winner), I wish you the very best of luck!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Cannes Dolce party vs The Halkin Hotel

Several years ago I went to the Cannes Film Festival every May for work and for play. It’s a quite extraordinary experience, but it is not exactly what I would call endless fun. Everyone is there to work, from the A list stars promoting their movies to the socialites networking on the flotilla of enormous yachts moored out in the bay. Sleeping, eating: they don’t really factor in on any Cannes schedule. It’s just one whirl of interviews, round tables, appointments, meetings, broadcasts, copy filing, screenings, premieres & parties (which you have to attend) over fifteen days of coffee & Champagne-fuelled insanity.

Too busy stuck in the Dantesque hell of press junkets and round table interviews with the talent, I never had time to go back to my hotel to dress for screenings (you have to wear proper Black Tie to enter the Palais des Festivals), so I would hop it to the Christian Dior suite at The Martinez, where they would kindly do my make up, and change into my frock (balled up in the bottom of my daybag), before dashing down the length of the Croisette to The Majestic Hotel to find whoever was hosting me at that evening’s premiere.

Walking the red carpet at Cannes is not an exercise for the chronically shy or the self conscious. There is no back entrance: everyone attending has to climb those stairs (usually in vertiginous heels) and, sooner or later, you will see your face flashed up on the big TV screens. Which is just great when you have been invited by, say, a well-known jewellery company and your fellow guests include Eve Herzigova. No hungover English writer in a crumpled dress with a giant spot on her forehead shows to advantage when blown up ten feet high next to gorgeous Eva in couture & half a million quid's worth of bling.

Then I changed jobs and, after five years, Cannes attendance was no longer necessary. But the next year MTV kindly offered to fly me out for their legendary party and I had a ball. I wasn’t there to work, and suddenly I could see the point of Cannes when I didn’t have to get up at 6am to file copy after reeling in from late night networking drinks at Le Petit Martinez or Soho House at 4am.

I haven’t been to Cannes since, and then Dolce & Gabbana kindly invited me to their super glam party at the close of the Festival last week. Knowing how much fun those parties can be when you don't have to ask intrusive questions or find out what everyone is wearing, & having seen the party coverage, I’m wishing I could have made it.

But I did have a very, very good reason for not going: I had already arranged to book into a suite at The Halkin Hotel in London’s Belgravia for a mother & daughter escape that same night. Altho, given a choice between the Dolce party in Cannes & eating supper at David Thompson’s Nahm restaurant and holing up in a glorious taupe suite, it was a very, very close call.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

World MS Day - please email Congress TODAY

Until my lil'sis was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis over ten years ago I barely gave MS a second thought. Now I think about it every day.

It’s more common than you might think: not only was our lovely cousin also diagnosed several years ago, but I have several very close friends with family members who have MS who live on both sides of the Atlantic. (If you are unsure about what MS is, please read my previous blog here.)

Today, Wednesday 27 May, marks the first-ever World MS Day. Over 100 nations around the world are joining together to build awareness for multiple sclerosis and to campaign for quality, affordable health care to ensure all people with MS can lead a life of possibility, dignity and fulfillment.

Whether or not you believe the British National Health Service works, the fact remains that it does provide free care, drugs and therapy for MS sufferers. For more than 400,000 Americans and their families living with multiple sclerosis in the United States it’s currently an entirely different picture.

As many Americans hope that the change in the White House will bring accessible, affordable health care coverage for all, it’s important that when Congress sifts through the barrage of recommendations and ideas about health care reform that it takes into account the needs of persons with MS.

The National MS Society of America aims to deliver 50,000 letters to Congress by midnight on World MS Day to send the message that Americans are united on behalf of all people affected by MS.

Americans: Please take action now - tell your legislators to create health care policies that work for people living with MS and their families.

You can click here to send an email letter to your elected official. It will only take a minute or two of your time.

Thank you

Burberry Prorsum to show in London for SS10

Maybe London Fashion Week might finally be a destination worth including in the international editors’ schedules, after the announcement today that Burberry Prorsum is showing in London for SS10 this September.

When I worked as an English fashion editor, I was fiercely partisan about the London shows, and was always shocked at how few international editors & buyers bothered to come to London, the so-called laboratory of trends.

La Wintour might come say every five years for a quick recce, and maybe US Elle might send Kate Lanphear, or US Vogue’s Hamish Bowles might swing by, but no editor in chief bothers to attend each season.

But then I moved to New York, and became the fashion director on a major US publication. And it all became crystal clear: attending the London collections from America is an exercise is setting fire to dollar bills. With no major advertisers to justify a physical schmoozing presence, the scoop on new designers can just as easily be picked up from

It's difficult enough justifying the cost of Paris & Milan. The final total for me (& no assistant) to attend five days of shows & meetings in Milan topped $7000 last time around – my car & driver alone came to $3000. Add on the cost of Paris & London & the logistical problems of being absent from office & home for over three weeks in a different time zone and omitting LFW with its lack of major advertising money suddenly becomes a very simple decision.

But if a major, major advertiser like Burberry decides to show its main line at LFW, (as opposed to, say Marc Jacobs bringing the relatively unimportant diffusion Marc by Marc show over here a few seasons back to support the Mount St store opening), then normally one has to presume that the editors will follow.

But, in this cash-strapped time, with head-count reductions across all the major US publications, can they really justify sending more editors to London to basically attend just one show in the hope of continued advertising dollars? Prepare for a nasty battle on the costs vs results equation at the US mags.

Grazia has the scoop here And get the inside track on what it's really like to attend the Milan Collections here

Monday, May 25, 2009

Dramatis personae: the purrs & furs

I am gloriously home alone this evening. Muv has driven down to stay with old friends in Kent (it’s where we lived until I was fourteen), and I am holding the fort. That’s not to say I don’t miss my family, but for a girl who has lived out the back of a car in California for the past seven weeks, it’s rather lovely to have a proper house with which to play.

Basically this means that I get to hang out with the furs, test new recipes, eat all the ice cream I’ve found in the freezer, pretend to write a chapter or two of my book and go to bed when I like. At the moment I’m writing on the Knole sofa in the sitting room, being gradually pushed onto the floor by the dogs that are stretched out over, under and beside me.

I’ve spent a good part of the afternoon engaging in advanced ball throwing in the garden and in the field behind the house. It’s the game that never seems to tire (for everyone but me).

By everyone, I mean:
Mr. Bilbo Baggins. Also known as Billy, Bilton & ASBO. Blue whippet. Hasn’t quite worked out that he’s not still a puppy, likes to climb the back of the sofa to drape himself around our necks. (This is known as ‘doing a dog boa’.)He's very depressed right now as he can't work out where his mama has gone:

whippetMaudie Littlehampton (because she has a very long nose as did the original ML, a character in a 1930’s cartoon). Also known as Miss Moo & Maudiepops. Jack Russell Terrier. Make no mistake: She’s in charge. The grande dame of our family. Has us all under her thumb.

Jack RussellPosetta Baddog. (AKA Ratbag, Chorizo. Real name: Rosebud) Miniature wire-haired dachshund. Came to us from Dachsie Rescue as a very damaged little dog. In three years has discovered her inner puppy, and no longer bites everybody. Well, not everyone. Partic fond of licking out ice cream cartons. (Note to self: gather up 1,000 pieces of shredded paper container before Muv gets home tomorrow.)

miniature wire hair dachshundTiger. More usually known as Iggy (My fault: I named her IggyWiggyTiggyWiggy). She’s a Maine Coon with the furriest knickerbockers & loo brush tail I’ve ever seen on a cat. She’s ace and has supercilious down to a tee. Don’t believe me? The proof:

Maine CoonAnd, of course, our beloved Violet, (Billy’s mother). The sweetest natured, most affectionate whippet in the world.

blue whippetShe’s in the animal hospital, recovering from being knocked down by a car on Friday morning. She’s not out of the woods yet, but we are cautiously optimistic about her recovery.

Thank you everyone for all your good wishes on here & on Twitter. I know some people think that we English anthropomorphise our animals too much, but the fact remains that they are a part of our family and when they are sick we all suffer.

Picture of the day: Eggs collected this morning & dropped off by a friend

FREE RANGE COUNTRY EGGSI'm thinking they would be best served by buttery Marmite soldiers?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Saturday night supper: Green salad, grilled salmon & courgettes

Saturday wasn’t ideal: we came home at lunchtime from our stay at The Halkin to a very bruised & battered Violet the whippet, and poor Rog, our long-suffering neighbour who had taken her to the vet, quite obviously needed some restorative feeding. I immediately made doorstop chicken, mayo, lettuce & plum tomato sandwiches on squishy white bread & insisted he return for supper.

After my gastronomic odyssey around California and the stunning six course tasting menu at David Thompson’s Nahm on Friday night, all I wanted was a salad. But you can’t feed hungry men just salad. So we poked around in the fridge, and put together a green salad, seared salmon with soy, Jersey Royals and griddled courgette (zucchini) with olive oil, sea salt & mint. Which took a scant 25 minutes to prepare & cook.

English country lunch; kitchen lunchThe salad was Webb’s (butter) lettuce with chunks of smooth ripe avocado with two handfuls of rapidly defrosted petit pois thrown over it. As this is a soft salad, & we were cooking yielding salmon & potatoes, I added some textural crunch to the salad with peeled cucumber dice, shards of chicory & chopped Little Gem.

I like soft lettuce & pea salads with creamy dressings rather than vinaigrette, in a bastardised homage to petit pois a la Francaise, so I made a quick dressing from fresh mayonnaise from a tub I found in the fridge, thinned with milk and whisked together with salt & pepper.

The Jersey Royals were simply boiled, and served with a slick of salted butter; we seared the salmon on a hot plate with soy sauce.

grilled salmon I brushed thick slices of courgette with olive oil

and griddled them on a very, very hot pan for just a few minutes so they still had some resistance. I finished them off with chopped fresh apple mint from the garden, Greek olive oil, crunchy Maldon salt & black pepper.

I don’t eat salmon, so I had some fresh mozzarella instead from this bag of heaven:

We had a very enthusiastic audience as we ate:

hungry dogs; dachshund; jack russell

Cooking in the English countryside

I grew up in a kitchen: my mother is a truly exceptional cook, and all my earliest memories (from the 70s) revolve around food.

Muv making chicken liver patés in deep stoneware bowls to sell in the local deli, coming home from school on Wednesdays to discover the entire kitchen surface covered in cooling wire racks of cakes & biscuits from Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes, getting my first cookery set from my godmother when I was five and learning how to roll out my own pastry, the endless files of cutout newspaper recipes to thumb through by Marika Hanbury Tenison, Katie Stewart, Jane Grigson, Josceline Dimbleby Caroline Conran et al, playing with Arabella Boxer’s brilliant ringbound First Slice Your Cookbook, and packed lunches that had my schoolfriends speechless with shock: chunks of fresh mozzarella cheese, cold slices of gratins & homemade pizza, olives & halved kiwi fruits.

It’s not surprising that I equate food with happiness, and that feeding my friends & family is my favourite occupation. But it’s been a challenge in New York. I’d heard all the stories about Manhattan kitchens and their shoebox proportions but nothing really prepares you for a cooking space less than a metre wide – and that includes the storage. Especially when I’d designed & fitted my perfect London kitchen just a year before I moved to New York.

Cooking there was simple: my kitchen has two eight foot-long prep counters, lots of deep drawers full of esoteric equipment, my collections of serving dishes, pretty glass & piles of linen, electrical sockets everywhere and room for twelve people around the huge table for midweek suppers & long wine-fuelled Sunday lunches.

In Manhattan, I have nowhere to entertain, and counter space to plate for just two people. It’s not quite the same.

Now I am back in England until June, but my London flat is let and so I am staying with my mother in the Northamptonshire countryside for the next ten days. This makes me very, very happy.

There is this: cooking rangeAnd this:

saucepansAnd this:

And this: And that's not the half of it.

Imagine the joy of wanting to cook, well, anything, and having ALL the equipment and specific ingredients to hand, whether aesofetida or apples.

Whippet disaster

Utterly bloody Hell. Violet, our beloved whippet, was hit by a car at 730am on Friday morning. She was standing quietly at the bottom of our dead end country lane, waiting to be taken for her morning constitutional by our lovely neighbour, when the newspaper delivery man came burning down the lane and hit her for six.

She was whisked off to the vet, scanned, given stitches in her ear and kept in overnight. By the time we returned from London on Saturday morning, she was very subdued but we thought it was just the painkillers and general wooziness.

Unfortunately by 1am this morning she was completely out for the count. Muv took her to the emergency vet and it turns out that they had only scanned her head previously as she had had no external body injuries. (Fools.)

This morning it would seem that she has massive internal bleeding from a ruptured liver and possible damaged kidneys. Poor poor Vi. I feel terrible as I kept calming Muv down yesterday, as I was labouring under the misapprehension she had been fully X-rayed and therefore was just woozy from the drugs.

Muv has collected Vi from the vet in Towcester, who doesn’t have the equipment for a full diagnosis, and taken her to DVS, a fantastic small animal diagnostic and surgery centre in Hitchin. As she said, she can’t bear to make a decision about Vi’s future until we know exactly what is wrong with her internally.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Walking back to The Halkin Hotel from Battersea

A beautiful day here in London so I decided to walk back to my hotel from a meeting in Battersea. It's just over two miles and took me an hour, although I did stop for a sneaky samosa en route, which I ate on a bench, watched by the beady glare of several London pigeons. My path took me over the Albert Bridge:

Albert Bridgeand along the Chelsea Embankment.

Albert BridgeI diverted via Sloane Square to check out the Sloane Square in Bloom shop windows, celebrating the Chelsea Flower Show. Lovely ( v trad department store) Peter Jones (where I was measured for my first shoes and where my boarding school trunk was purchased), had gone for a quintessential English garden in their windows, recreated with the help of Moyses Stevens florists:

Peter Jones windows; Chelsea flower show
Peter Jones windows; Chelsea flower showTiffany & Cartier had clearly thrown large amounts of money at their concepts to stunning effect:

But my absolute favourite Chelsea window was courtesy of the fabulously chic retailers of all things doggie, Mungo & Maud on Elizabeth Street:

Mungo & Maud

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Marios Schwab to move to Halston & to New York

Marios Schwab, one of London’s design darlings, was today named Design Director at Halston, following in the not entirely successful footsteps of relaunch designer, Marco Zanini. He will present his frst collection for the house for Fall 2010.

When Halston relaunched in New York for Fall 2008 (at the Feb 08 collections) to much fanfare with the fiscal backing of Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo and of The Weinstein Group, with input from Rachel Zoe, much was expected. In a first for a designer label, Net a Porter introduced an online exclusive of two of the key Halston runway looks, which were made available immediately after the show. They sold out.

Unfortunately the people who really mattered, the critics, were underwhelmed, and US retailers weren’t enthused, with Zanini's refusal to play to Halston’s design heritage cited as the reason for smaller than expected orders. (He produced a collection consisting of two thirds daywear pieces, rather than the expected eveningwear more commonly associated with the label, and refused to utilize the extensive Halston archive.)

By the summer when Zanini exited the label, rumors were swirling that Zoe was disenchanted with the label, after she failed to attend the inaugural collection, and there were little or no appearances by Zoe’s celeb clientele in Halston on the red carpet.

Zanini resurfaced at Rochas last November, but Halston remained rudderless until today’s appointment. Although Olivier Theyskens was rumoured to be a contender, the lack of sales of his critically acclaimed collections for Nina Ricci were unlikely to appeal to Halston.

Schwab, whose family comes from a bra manufacturing background, is known for his body conscious and detailed designs, which often focus on eveningwear. His brand of intelligent 21st century slink which sometimes seems to reference early 90’s Versace could be just the route that Halston needs to take into the future, whilst respecting the house’s past.

Halston, meanwhile, have listened to the retailers whose main criticism of Zanini’s two collections was the lack of Halston DNA. The label will attempt to cover its fiscal back with the Spring 2010 launch of the Halston Heritage collection. Featuring reproductions of archival Halston looks, it will speak directly to those retailers looking for recognizable Halston pieces at mid-range prices (thought to be comparable to Marc by Marc).

Picture of the day: Shadow portrait

Liberty London Girl; shadow portrait

LLG's shadow at golden hour at the Griffith Park Observatory, Los Angeles

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Arriving home in London

As I swing open the iron gate to my sister's house in London, I can hear the thud of something being repeatedly hurled against the inside of the front door. As it opens, a small blur of brown fur races down the path and barrels into my legs, trying to jump up to say hello. Poor Posetta Baddog. As her legs are just inches high, she can only reach up to my knees at full stretch.

Thing is, I know better than to pick her up and, sure enough within seconds, she has reverted to welcome pose no.2: lying on her back like a little wriggling, squishy hedgehog, whilst emitting fountains of wee like a oil geyser in full flood. Apparently this is a typical dachshund move when over-excited, so I take it in the spirit in which it is meant, and gingerly pick past her to hug my sister.

Ten minutes later, I open my two cases to retrieve my sister's presents, which is cue for dachsie welcome ritual no,3. She jumps straight in looking for items of interest. She isn't hunting for specific dog presents; anything could catch her eye.

miniature wire haired dachshundToday she decides that a brown paper bag from Monterey Aquarium containing a present for Belgian Waffling is the most exciting thing she has ever seen and promptly retires to her bed where she destroys it forthwith. Fortunately she fails to notice the present within. So naughty and, I am afraid, so indulged.

As I write this, she is lying next to me, tummy & paws in the air, making the most fearful grunting, snoring noises. It's good to be home.

miniature wire haired dachshund
(Please excuse dark pic: all the lights are off & if I get up she will wake up.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ch ch changes (Still dont know what I was waiting for)

Ah London. I am feeling like as though my personality has been wrought in two. On one hand there is the new, active, (fake) tanned California LLG who wakes at 730am and promptly hikes up a canyon wall. On t’other there is the London LLG, who eschews all forms of exercise, sleeps like a baby dormouse in geraniums red till 11am, and kept her hiking boots at the back of the garage, where they remained, unworn & mouldering, for ten years.

I’m looking at said hiking boots as I type. They are glowering at me, daring me to pack them in my London bound case, rather than in the box that is being mailed to New York today to await my return in three weeks. Have I changed so much that I would actually seek out exercise in England that didn’t involve more than a gentle stroll & spot of advanced ball throwing (with plastic ball thrower)on the Heath with Posetta Baddog?

After last year’s mental & physical insanity launching & running the style & fashion department on a huge American magazine, I spent the first three months of this year feeling rather bathetic & directionless. And then I decided to hop it to Los Angeles for a change of scenery. In turn making that decision has set in train a new direction for me, and crystallised my plans for the future.

I’ve become more focused, with a sense of purpose that has been sadly lacking up until now. (I’ve always gone with the wind, taking jobs that have been offered to me, rather than seeking out opportunities.) This time, I know what I want to do, without anyone else prodding me and I am extremely excited. Everything seems to be falling into place, and I have meetings coming out of my ears over the next three weeks in England.

It would seem that just 46 days in California has effected more of a change in me than just working out that I like to run around mountains.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The post where I am made bereft by giving up my car

It's hard to compute that today is my last full day in California. I fly tomorrow to London for three weeks, then head back back home to Manhattan. I've been away for 48 days now.

Apart from all the obvious things (climate, people, environment), I'm going to miss my rental car. After two years of car-free living in New York, it's been odd relying on a car to get me around. And, because I've been on the road continually, I've pretty much been living out the back of it too.

Although I've been trying to clean it out for the past week, it's still full of junk. SPF50 in the driver door for those searing traffic jams when you feel as though your arms might fry, emergency snacks, endless bottles of water, tangled cables & their gadgets to make long distance driving bearable (iPod, GPS), guidebooks & flyers, spare high heels (I'm a fashion editor, after all), sunhats, hiking gear, swimming stuff, lots of sand, and just endless crud.

After my first rental disaster - the car engine blew up, stranding me in the middle of nowhere - this Toyota Corolla arrived to replace the lesser Chevy Aveo I had booked. Apart from losing a day's work and having to spend a night in in San Simeon, I figure the upgrade was worthwhile. I've now driven over 3500miles since I arrived at LAX on 31st March and it's been a pleasure.
>Toyota Corolla whiteThis was taken on the mountain pass between Big Sur and Hunter Liggett Army Base. (Terrifying.)

Of course, with all this relentless driving through terrain ranging from desert (Coachella & Palm Springs) to muddy hills (Marin Headlands), the car was staggeringly filthy, with little handprints all over it. I really could care less, but I was starting to get dirty from it, and LA with its bizarre plethora of carwashes (ever heard of the drought people?) makes you feel pretty self conscious in a dirty vehicle.Toyota Corolla white So, when I spotted this carwash in Cambria on my way back down south from San Francisco, I couldn't resist.

 Cambria CarwashOf course, how could I predict that I would get stuck in the bloody thing and have to be rescued by the guffawing manager?

My first Los Angeles earthquake

Of all the things that might happen to me out here in California, I figured an earthquake was the least likely. It seems I was wrong. Lying on my bed, updating my blog, I suddenly realised that the trembling I could feel wasn’t the band practicing below, but the start of a proper earthquake.

The house rocked to its foundations, and the blinds and furniture rattled away. Nothing broke or fell, and it was over before I had time to realise I had no idea what I should do in an earthquake if caught on the second floor of a huge old wooden house.

If I had been in London, my first thought would have been ‘bomb’, having lived through the IRA reign of terror, and been caught up in both the Camden & the more recent July 7th bombings, but here an earthquake seemed the obvious cause. Twitter soon informed me, through my friends here in LA, and The LA Times’ excellent news feed, that it registered 4.7 on the Richter Scale.

Lucy Jones, seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, has just been quoted in The LA Times Online as saying, “Nothing about the quake or its aftershocks looked unusual, she said.”It's a real garden-variety California earthquake so far."

That’s put me in my place.

San Francisco: Ferry Building Farmers Market

After exploring the interior of the Ferry Building, and drooling over the independent producers' stores, I couldn't resist staying on another day so that I could visit the Saturday Farmer's Market. I loved the Santa Monica Farmers' Market, but this was in a different league. Such a breadth of amazing - cheap - fruit & veg from local suppliers, much of it organic. Below are yellow chard & fennel, white peaches, artichokes, scallions and organic heirloom tomatoes. I bought a bag of the perfect white peaches which dribbled sweet juice down my chin as I bit into them.

yellow chard; fennel
white peaches

heirloom tomatoes

Sunday, May 17, 2009

May I STRONGLY suggest that you never EVER use UPS?

I ordered an expedited overnight delivery from my efficient long term contact lens supplier. Somewhere along the way the address was garbled. Maybe my fault. I’m not sure. But that's not the issue here.

I checked the tracking number this am. Apparently UPS tried to deliver on Friday (although I was told it wldn't arrive on Monday & no one was here) and cldn’t find the address. Fair enough. This happens. But no one got in touch with me from UPS, although they have my cell phone. And, hilariously, the tracking info reads “we will try to contact you/send a postcard’. What? A postcard to the wrong address?

I called UPS. It’s midday on a Sunday. Oh no we can’t get it out to you until Tuesday now. (Even tho they got it overnight from Canada last week. AND it's supposed to be an Expedited Overnight Delivery). Okay: I fly to London on Tuesday so I’ll just swing by the collection office to get it on Monday.

NOT SO FAST LLG. In the interim, the F&&KING morons at UPS have sent my parcel FROM LA to a collection office in Havasu City. For those of you who don’t live in ARIZONA, that’s five hours from LA.

I find this hard to believe. I do my best to talk some sense to the robot on the other end. But he's not having any of it. Exasperated beyond measure, I lose patience in the end. There may be some 'phone slamming.

Apparently, they can get a parcel from Canada to LA in under 24 hrs, but it appears to be beyond their capabilities to get it a five hour journey in under 48hrs.

I don’t know what is more ludicrous: the environmental waste or the sheer inefficiency of their system.

ADDENDUM: A charming customer services rep from the contacts company gets on the phone to UPS for me whilst I hold. Within five minutes she manages to apply telephonic truth serum to the morons at UPS and discovers that my contacts are not in Havasu City. They are, as logic wld dictate, in LA. I can pick them up tomorrow.

Which makes their 'no delivery until Tuesday' statement even more risible. Apparently UPS are incapable of sending a .6lb parcel a 9 mile & 14minute journey in under 48 hrs.

Dear readers: Please may I recommend FEDEX or DHL for your future shipping needs?

California eating & drinking

In my parallel life eating in fabulous restaurants is part and parcel of what I do but, on the road on my own for most of my time in California, eating in the kind of places you read about in glossy mags really hasn’t been part of my game plan.

Whilst I haven’t been screeching in on two wheels to the IHOP parking lot, lining up at the Jack in the Box drive-thru or jonesing for a Denny’s breakfast, I have eaten a lot of fabulous sandwiches (hello Sebastian’s), eaten lip smacking burritos in way too many Mexican hole in the walls, and scarfed up burgers & fries and waffles & ice cream at the counter in far more diners than I can count.

There’s just something immensely comfortingly and addictively delicious about everyday American food and I can’t get enough of it. (Neither, it would seem, can a lot of America’s generously proportioned population.)

That’s not to say I’ve completely ignored the over-hyped realm of expense account restaurants. I’ve had supper at Koi (excellent food, suburban crowd), lunch at The Ivy (chopped salad that resembled grass clippings) and excellent wine with okay food at The Polo Lounge, (if one ignored the stale bread on the table).

But the two loveliest meals I’ve eaten here in Los Angeles have been at opposite ends of the culinary realm, the first in a private home, the second at a hotel, with each pairing ingredients in wonderful ways. The first was at my friend Miss Whistle’s home high up in Laurel Canyon.

Between her & her husband they cooked up a stunning plateful of food with two particular dishes that had me wondering if anyone would notice if I surreptitiously wiped my plate with a grubby finger: a salad with frisée, pine nuts and little cubes of partly caramelised bright orange squash which looked alluring and tasted better, and a texturally brilliant creamy gratin of cauliflower and fennel, with classic gratineed crunchy cheese above, and fennel fronds lurking below.

The second was the wine & cheese pairing prelude to an excellent tasting menu eaten at the Hotel Bel-Air. Executive Chef Dan Olsen has an immaculate palate and, whilst the grande bouffe at the Chef’s table with its view of the busy kitchen was scrumptious, it was his small plates that we ate on the pretty flower bedecked terrace, before waddling wine-dazed into the private dining room that have remained firmly stuck in my mind.

The Hotel Bel-Air's charming and enthusiastic wine director Emmanuel Faure really pulled out the stops for us and, as this is a blog and not a newspaper, I'm indulging myself by reproducing the menu below:

Bermuda Triangle (Cypress Grove, CA. Ash covered goat, soft)
Morel mushroom & pickled onion salad
Peter Michael L’Apres Midi Sauvignon Blanc 2003

Brillat Savarin (Normandy. Triple crème, cow)
Black mission fig sandwich
Moraga Vineyard 2002

San Andreas (Bellwether Farms, CA. Raw sheep’s milk, hard)
Marcona almond brittle & black olive tapenade
Tyler Vineyard ‘Dierberg Vineyard’ Santa Maria Valley 2006

Crater Lake Blue (Rogue Creamery, Oregon. Cow)
Fruit & nut crisp and port gelee
Ojai Vineyard Botrytis Chardonnay 2006

The indulgent smooth creaminess of the Brillat Savarin against crispy, buttery toast, the sweet stickiness of the reduced figs and the hit of the complex but smooth red was absolutely the most inspired combination I’ve swallowed this year. It actually stopped me talking for a full minute. And, even tho I knew a gargantuan supper was coming, I cldn’t stop shooting lustful glances at everyone else’s plates. I could have eaten this for breakfast, lunch & supper.

As for the wine, both reds, (the Moraga Vineyard 2002 & the Tyler Vineyard ‘Dierberg Vineyard’ Santa Maria Valley 2006) were chock full of fruit & alcohol but didn’t punch out our taste buds as so many high alcohol Californian reds do these days.

The Tyler Vineyard is a single varietal – a pinot noir, with lots of raspberry and rich depth, but the standout was the house blend from the pocket sized Moraga estate in Bel-Air itself, making it truly local. They produce just one glorious red, a Bordeaux style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with a small amount of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The 02 has a long finish, and a wonderful balanced complexity with lots of lovely blackcurrant. It made properly excellent drinking.

I hadn’t realised that the Californian climate could produce botrytised wines, and the Ojai Chardonnay 06 was from a production of just two barrels. Sweet & syrupy with pineapple but with a balance of minerality, it was a revelation.

And now, after being head down in the Californian food & wine trough for forty-nine days, I am preparing to fly to England from LAX on Tuesday. I have a list of food to eat in London, from breakfast at The Wolseley and Vietnamese on Kingsland Road through to penne al'arrabiata at the Italian café on Hampstead Heath and an enormous Indian takeaway from, well, anywhere.

But I think what I really need is a large green salad.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A fashion post. Affordable elegance: Lace inspired necklaces

Lookity look look look! A fashion post! I am more than aware that I keep being given these wonderful fashion blogging & Twitter accolades in the national press but can’t remember the last time I actually posted something properly fashion. (And, no, I do not count my blog on The Met’s Costume Institute Gala as a fashion post. That’s anthropological).

Although the AW08/09 collections were full of darkly gothic lace (hello Prada), and some wld argue that that that moment is past, at my age I am firmly of the belief that personal style is what counts, not slavish adherence to trends posited by the likes of, well, me, in the fashion press.

So I present to you two necklaces that I rather fervently long to be wearing.

Batucada Baroco Collar Necklace black

Batucada's three Paris-based designers Otalia Noël, Caroline Homery and Emilie Doizy have come up with a collection of silky feeling, waterproof eco-plastic jewellery that doesn't just sit on the surface of the body, but actually adapts to its contours, remembering them for a perfect fit. You can even wash the pieces with mild soap and water. The stand out piece is The Baroco Collar Necklace (above). Best of all, it's just £20 from the fabulous ethical jewellery retailer Ella Georgia Jewellery (I shouldn't send you there in a recession - the site is packed with wonderful pieces).

Malin Collection's lace bib necklace

>Altho it does rather require a bra free chest, falling as it does just south of the breasts, this deep green, opera-length, silk cotton lace bib necklace (above) from designer Malin Nyman-Smallcombe, is utterly desirable. It's $130 from A+R in Los Angeles, who have an excellent online store here.

Saturday. San Francisco: Burnt chin

I stayed in San Francisco last week and, on Friday night, as I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge after a day road trip to Calistoga, realised I had forgotten to book anywhere to stay that night. (All this living out of the back of my car is addling my already sun atrophied brain.)

It was too late to call any of my friends to beg a bed, every motel, hostel and B&B was fully booked and I was starting to contemplate shaking my sleeping bag out on the back seat of the car when my last call hit pay dirt: the Green Tortoise Backpacker's Hostel in North Beach had one bed left in a mixed dorm.

Not exactly ideal: in my experience ALL men snore and late bookers always get a top bunk, which means having to wear leggings in bed to avoid knicker flashing the guys in the bottom bunks when climbing the ladder.

Added to which parking in SF is a bitch, and North Beach (where I lived fifteen years ago) parking is just about the worst of all at a weekend. But someone loves me, because I found a free space (as opposed to a $30 overnight garage one), and the Hostel had jigged things around and found me a female-only dorm.

Next morning, I was curling my hair at the dorm basin (just because I was staying in a backpackers hostel didn’t mean I had to look like I did when I backpacked aged 20) when a fellow guest started chatting about NYC. Soon I was enthusiastically recommending galleries & restaurants. When I talk I wave my hands. A lot. Obviously this is not ideal with a hot curling iron in hand.

Within seconds I had managed to brand my chin. And curse EXTREMELY loudly. And explain that F**K wasn’t the name of a hot new NY bar. Christ, it hurt. A huge blister formed which wept and peeled all day. Attractive. And now I have a lovely burn mark right on my chin which I’m worried will get infected.

I have history in this arena, as lil’sis reminded me just this morning. (Parents: you can stop reading now.) A couple of years ago I got terrible stubble rash on my chin, and then went swimming next day in Hampstead Heath Ladies Pond. For the uninitiated, this is basically a duck pond masquerading as an open air swimming pool.

My chin was still very painful a week later when I lost my voice just before a live radio broadcast and rushed to my GP surgery in a panic for some prescription throat stuff. Elna our wonderful nurse looked at me in her lovely gentle way and remarked that I was obviously there to get antibiotics for the (huge weeping) sore on my chin. I hadn’t realised that I could get an infection from swimming. I am an idiot.

San Simeon pier
Me and my sore chin on the (very windy) pier at San Simeon harbour, Central Coast, California on Sunday

Picture of the day: Notice at Sebastian's, San Simeon


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The reason I've been a little distracted of late

I’m sorry I haven’t blogged for a few days. I had a writing project to finish which took up what was left on Saturday after I had driven from San Francisco to Cambria (about five hrs on the PCH,) via Monterey where I met up with MTFF and her adorable infants for a couple of hours of lovely chat and frolics on the sand. Sunday was basically a drive back to LA, yesterday I shopped & cooked all day for my hosts and today I have been sick (not related to my cooking, I hasten to add).

But, really, the main reason is that I am feeling emotionally drained & battle weary. My parents finally meet in the county court tomorrow for the opening salvos in their increasingly bitter divorce case.

It’s been nine months since my mother kicked my father out – on the day of their 40th wedding anniversary - after having finally been put in an untenable situation, partly engendered by his grasping slapper of a mistress who telephoned my father very early in the morning knowing he would be with my mother. (Whatever the rights & wrongs of their situation, lil’sis & I have no time for her appalling behavior, the very least of which includes going to the family home and raking through my mother’s possessions whilst she was out of the country.)

Lil’sis and I feel rather like Dr Doolitle’s Pushmepullyous. Each parent feels they have right on their side. Each has some valid points. There’s been some outrageous behavior on both sides. Each considers the other unstable. And so it continues. I wish I didn't know any of this, but we’ve never been a family who held back in its opinions, and therefore there is little in which lil’sis & I haven't been involved, but this blog isn’t the place to argue one side or the other.

We love both our parents very much. We want them to be happy. And that happiness, it seems quite clear, does not, has not & will not come from their remaining married to each other. Neither of them are easy; neither, I suspect, are we. Caught squarely in the middle of their battle, it feels as though our heads are swivelling on our necks just trying to maintain some sense of a status quo. Lil’sis isn’t well at all, I’m thousands of miles away. I miss all three of them. It’s far from ideal.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Ferry Market Building, San Francisco

Whenever I mentioned I was headed up to San Francisco, I'd receive a tweet or an email entreating me to please visit the Ferry Building. A spot of Googling revealed it to be SF's food mecca, a restored mercantile marine building which, until the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges were completed in the 30s, was the second busiest transit terminal in the world.

Ferry Building exterior

In 2004 it was restored & reopened with a new ferry terminal and an indoor arena for some extraordinary food stores. There's a bi-weekly Farmer's market too and SF's famous Vietnamese restaurant The Slanted Door. Probably most famous is the wonderful Cowgirl Creamery who, whilst they sell artisan & organic European cheeses, have made it their raison d'etre to stock local cheese, including their own stellar organic cheese made just up the coast at Point Reyes Station. There are also organic grocery stores selling everything from oranges,


to ravishing organic flowers.

Organic flowers

Tales Near the Runway begged via Twitter for a Fedex care package from:

Acme Bread

Whose bread had me drooling as I photographed it.

Artisan breads 2

I was also beguiled by:

Stonehouse Olive Oil

who use California olives to make their delicious oil blends.

Olive oil

Given that I would happily eat mushrooms for every meal, my absolute favourite store by a country mile was Far West Funghi.

Far West Funghi

I've never seen mushrooms that look like this:

Lions Mane mushroom

And I couldn't resist buying a small box of samphire (UK) or sea beans as it is apparently called in America.

samphire sea beans

Shitake & brown mushroom

But I suspect that both my father and my friends at We Are Dinosaurs would hotfoot it straight to:

For their justly famous hams, salami & charcuterie:

Boccalone hams

The Ferry Building Marketplace info can be found here