Thursday, December 31, 2009
Poor Posetta. Having such a low undercarriage means a dunk in the Bristol sink after every walk. That low slung tum picks up mud, twigs, and all manner of grime which I then get to wash off.
Emily & I had a wonderful walk on the 27th. The light mid-afternoon was extraordinary. We headed off with all three dogs up the cart track to the pines by the disused railway bridge:
And then down past the frozen fishing lakes:
The dogs started to concentrate on the business of getting as muddy as possible:
There are still sloes on the blackthorns:
As we crossed the disused railway line, the sun came out over the hill towards Canons Ashby House and Priory in one direction,
Amd towards Eydon in the other.
I am going to miss this countryside. We've lived here for nearly twenty-five years, but I think the house will be sold in 2010, and so we will move away, probably never to return. It's been a very bittersweet Christmas for that reason.
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I found this print, dating from the mid-1960s, in a box of my papers up in the attic yesterday. I guess it's no surprise I ended up working in fashion. More about my shoe designer aunt here.
I adore having my hair 'done'. It's not that I have an aversion to doing it myself but long hair takes time to style, and at the moment it's inadvertently grown so long that it's a right pain having to blow-dry it myself, let alone having to wield the curling tongs of death. So when I got an email about UK salon chain Headmasters' special festive blow dry collection, I tapped out a yes, please reply to their publicist quicker than Posetta Baddog can steal a sausage.
It just so happens that I'm a big fan of the Headmasters approach: every year they launch a new Blow Dry Collection, consisting of various looks for a customer to point at in the hope of exiting the salon looking just like the model.
Where Headmasters differs from most hairdressers is that the looks in their collections aren't those tortured, completely unachievable & directional styles, best left to Hairdressers Journal & The British Hairdressers Awards, but fantastic going out dos that won't leave you looking like you stuck your fingers in a socket.
Booked in for The Social Butterfly, as illustrated above, I was promised, "half up / half down hair...running in two textures - the undone tousled look and the blown-out soft wave - enabling you to choose the finish to match the occasion. The fringe is left out, a little height is created at the top and the hair is pinned at the sides. It's sexy, gorgeous, Bardot-esque hair that looks like you haven't tried too hard."
Creative director Jonathan (who I love for not picking up a strand of my fried split ends and blanching in horror), went for undone tousled (not that he had much choice given the condition of my hair) and created this silk purse out of my poker straight hair, backcombing the crown which I adore - so flattering, & inducing my hair into Mills & Boon-esque tumbling waves:
I was thrilled. Not least because I was tottering off afterwards for a rip-roaringly festive meal with choice members of the internets at blissful Scotts, and it's always nice for a girl not to look like she's been dragged through a hedge backwards whilst getting tipsy on vintage Champagne at lunchtime.
Truly, he is a miracle worker. And the shocker? The Social Butterfly blow dry is available at Headmasters salons nationwide from just £22. You don't get bargains like that in New York, I can tell you.
All I can add is: take an umbrella. I shrieked extremely unlady-like swear words that were decidedly not in keeping with my glamorous new hairstyle as I exited into the pouring rain.
www.hmhair.co.uk Call 08700 841 400 for your nearest salon
Each year my mother helps to decorate the village church for the Christmas services. St.Mary the Virgin in the village of Moreton Pinkney dates from the late 12th century and, in the winter late afternoon light, the country churchyard transports one to a different, earlier world in a flash.
Even after a degree in theology, I remain firmly in the no-idea-what-I-believe category, but I do think that community, village tradition & remembrance is important, and the thought of Christmas without carols & church is anathema to me.
The village war memorial (with whippet footprints)
Of course, we couldn't decorate without the dogs, who adore exploring the churchyard, with its flock of attendant Jacob's sheep.
Inside the church, which dates in most part from the late 12th Century, the re-built Victorian chancel is particularly beautiful, and unusual for its simplicity in an era known for its stained glass.
My mother likes her flowers in this church to reflect both its simplicity and the rural location, so no hothouse flowers, spiky gladioli and droopy carnations here, but leaves and berries collected from the lanes around the village:
And then home, skating across the thickly iced paths, for tea & buttery toasted crumpets.
Firstly: a very big thank you to all the LLG readers who have emailed or Tweeted me to check that I hadn't fallen down a rabbit hole. These six days have been the longest break that I have had from blogging since I started this blog back in 2006 - bar the year I took off when my magazine world job meant blogging conflicted with an in-house ethics policy.
I've been enjoying a family Christmas - unexpected, but mandated by the weather and lovely for its spontaneity, where even Posetta Baddog got caught up in the spirit of the season.
If one counts stealing & refusing to drop Santa's hat, before chewing it up, as festive spirit?
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
I do apologise for the slight hiatus in blogging anything of interest. I finally arrived in London a full 36hrs after my intended departure from home, (curse you Clerk of the Weather), and spent yesterday evening slumped on the sofa at Tara's, blissfully full of delicious homemade Thai curry, and watching my beloved David Tennant kick Martian alien ass in Doctor Who, before skidding back to lil'sis' on snow and black ice at 15mph (I sense a theme developing here) through an eerily deserted Highgate village. I then stayed up till 4am writing a report.
After a blow dry at Headmasters (more of this later), & a long, ahem, festive lunch at Scott's in Mayfair today, I crawled to Queen's Crescent, planning on an evening spent in the company of Gossip Girl, Posetta Baddog and my sister.
Unfortunately, we then worked out that if we spent the evening pootling we would have to get up at 5am in order to leave for the country by 9am, So, galvanised, we have been scooting around the house sorting it all. It is now nearly 1am and I have:
Scrabbled around on stepladders and under beds hauling out stashed gifts, suitcases and holiday stuff
Gone through my sister's numerous closets to put together her holiday wardrobe for Florida next week
Packed all our stuff for our various Christmas experiences, & assembled a leaning tower of stuff in the hallway
Pulled together a festive wardrobe for Posetta Baddog (muzzle, leash, Bad to the Bone sweater)
Wrapped a mountain of presents & developed Sellotape thumb
This has taken a staggeringly inefficient six hours. It is now 1am & I am going to sleep the sleep of the just.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
I am becoming progressively less enchanted with the snow. Yesterday I had to cancel a day at the Coco Shambhala spa at The Met in London, when my little two seater was defeated by the snow & ice covered steep hill from our house to civilisation. (The other way out is over a frozen ford and a cart track. Not especially feasible unless one has a 4WD or a handy Tardis.)
So, instead of luxuriating in lovely spa treatments, I wrapped godchild presents to catch the last guaranteed First Class post before Christmas as there was no way I was going to be able to deliver them in person, as planned.
Late afternoon, I managed to get up the hill, and onto the main road. Unfortunately, the side turning to Woodford Halse and its tiny post office is not much frequented. So, no lovely council gritting lorry had made its way down those lanes.
The entire journey crawled by at a steady 20mph, hands clamped on the wheel, soothing Radio Four in the background, as my wheels slipped across the ice. At eighteen and a few months after passing my driving test, I wrote off my first car on the way back from a funeral by braking on black ice on the long, curving bend around Rockingham Castle. (In my defence, no-one had ever taught me to look for black ice or what to do with it). Ever since I have been like a cat on hot bricks in icy conditions.
I made it there & back in one piece, but was seriously shaken & in need of restorative Earl Grey. Bloody well hope those infants appreciate their presents!
Monday, December 21, 2009
Time has rather run away with me, but I finally had time to pick three winners from the giveaway on this post earlier this month, (using numbers generated by random.org) for the lovely Abahna Foam blending sets which retail for £40.00 each. Please can you all contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for details on how to claim yr presents!
Oh... what do I need to take a bath? Well, there are two sorts of bath. There is bath-with-baby and bath-with-nobody. Fun as the former is, I think I prefer the latter (if that isn't too disloyal to said baby!). And my needs are simple - peace and quiet. Maybe a book (but not a magazine - too heavy to hold out of the water). Maybe a box of Charbonnel et Walker pink champagne truffles. Maybe even a glass of... but no. All I really *need* is the luxury of some peace.
Christmas trees and decorations do not go up in many European countries until Christmas Eve. If you are one of those families who have yet to deck their halls, then you may be interested in these fab vintage Christmas tree baubles from Shikasuki in Primrose Hill, London.
They have sourced their baubles from all over the world, from Moscow to the USA. Most of them date from the 1940s to the 1960s. The pine cones above came from Ukraine, and they also have 1940s feather angels with porcelain heads.
Shikasuk, 67 Gloucester Avenue, Primrose Hill, London, NW1 8LD
The prospect of snow is one thing. Dealing with it upon arrival is quite another. I took one step outdoors on Friday and my skin dried up like a raisin. It isn’t the snow so much as the wind that whips across it, turning my Clarins plumped cheeks into dehydrated pouches.
With the joyful synchronicity that often happens in my job, a parcel arrived containing Dr Organic Manuka Honey Rescue Cream.
I slathered it on, & ventured outdoors. An hour later, after dog walking, sheep feeding and general falling about in the snow I came indoors, defrosted and prodded my face. Still moisturised, still plump, no flakiness or wind burn. Impressive. I was glowing too, but I'll put that down the effect of unaccustomed exercise.
I usually test a product for a good few weeks before writing it up but, given that this is not an daily face cream, that I have used it for three days in below freezing conditions, and that my extremely sensitive skin hasn't broken out, (which happens almost instantaneously with the wrong product), I'd say this was a winner.
Unlike many heavy creams, which are dependent on mineral oil & petroleum (Creme de la Mer springs to mind), this relies on organic Manuka honey, known for its restorative & healing properties, hyaluronic acid which aids skin water retention, giving a plumped up look, soothing aloe vera, mosqueta rose oil also known for reducing scarring, sweet almond oil which is a lubricant, borage oils which restore moisture and reduce flakiness, and shea butter & cocoa butter instead of mineral oil.
Best news of all? It's just £7.99, and the range is produced by British health food store Holland & Barrett. It's hypo-allergenic, free from parabens, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), perfumes or artificial fragrances, GM ingredients or mineral oil.
Now I just need to find something similar for my wind ravaged hair. I suspect the hairdresser's scissors may be the best answer, as no product on earth can glue my split ends together.
Organic Manuka Honey Rescue Cream 50ml
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Potage aux champignons a la bressane
If asked to come up with the menu for my final meal, this soup would be a strong contender for the first course. It’s intensely mushroomy, and is a pleasing proper mushroom grey colour, flecked with black mushroom gills. When left overnight it thickens considerably and makes a rather good sauce for chicken.
What separates it from other mushroom soups is its secret ingredient: a thick slice of bread. Jane Grigson tells us that sauces in the Middle Ages used breadcrumbs for thickening (as opposed to flour or a final enriching addition of egg yolks & cream).
Apparently this culinary habit persisted into Tudor times, and has a final echo today in the Christmas bread sauce. The most extraordinary thing is that there is no trace whatsoever of the taste or texture of the bread upon eating.
I’ve had great success in cooking this soup for avowed mushroom avoiders. And so I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of our friend Sean Donovan, who was killed in the summer of our second year at university, who hated mushrooms and loved this soup.
The recipe below comes from Jane Grigson’s seminal 1975 cookbook The Mushroom Feast, which I naughtily bought on the book bursary I was awarded for my theology degree. Grigson found it first in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, but I’ve chosen Grigson’s version to run here as it is slightly clearer.
I make this from memory, by sight now, but I did actually cook it according to the exact recipe for these photographs.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Mmm butter.
Chop mushrooms roughly
Cast mushrooms into saucepan to cook gently in the butter. As the juices run, add half the parsley, garlic, salt & nutmeg to taste.
Realise you have forgotten to pick the parsley, put on unspeakable gardening clogs and venture out into the night to forage for parsley.
Add the chopped parsley to saucepan
Take heel of stale bread from bread bin. Remove crusts
Tear the slice of bread into pieces and soak in a cup of the stock.
Transfer everything into the saucepan and add the remaining stock. Cook for fifteen minutes
and then blend in the pan with a stick blender (or use a liquidizer)
Heat the cream to a boil, add to soup with the rest of the parsley. Adjust seasoning
The soup is named from Bresse, an area of France famous for its food, and for being the home country of Brillat-Savarin. Grigson tells us that recipes from the area have ‘a fine simplicity of flavour which can only be created by using ingredients of the finest quality, without skimping’.
Well, that’s us told.
¾ lb mushrooms chopped (I like to use a mixture of large flat, white, and brown/chestnut to get the best flavour)
2 ozs butter (Do not use margarine EVER)
2 tbsps chopped parsley
small piece of garlic, chopped
salt, freshly ground black pepper
nutmeg or mace
a thick slice of bread
1 ¾ pints good stock (I’m afraid poor Jane wld roll in her grave as I use Marigold bouillon)
3-4 ozs cream
Having had long hair for allof my adult life (apart from the two years at university where I inadvisedly cropped it), I'm always drawn in the manner of a greedy magpie to shiny, pretty things to wear on my head. At the moment I am rather fond of the be-feathered, be-netted and be-buttoned creations from Headmistress, a tiny independent label, set up by Jillian Wood, a Canadian in London, who has since returned to Toronto.
She uses all manner of feathers, vintage bits & pieces, lovely fabrics, including Liberty prints, and netting to create fascinators, hair bands & clips and teeny tiny cocktail hats to perch on the side of your head in the manner of a 1950s filmstar.
Cream band, brown veiling, natural french partridge feathers, ringneck pheasant almond feathers, chocolate brown satin picot bow, gold & black vintage glass button. $45.00
Black band, yellow french partridge feathers, burgundy-orange pheasant hair feathers, wine satin picot bow, gold & black vintage glass button. $45.00
Silver woven base, black veiling, netting, rooster feathers and satin bow, black & silver vintage glass button. $65.00
Wild turkey feather, natural french partridge feathers, ringneck pheasant almond feathers, taupe satin picot bow, gold button. $18.00
In England you can buy at Sunday Upmarket at 91 Brick Lane every Sunday. For Canadians, last orders for Christmas are tomorrow (Monday). She has lots of stockists in Candada,and some in Italy & in Australia too. Check out more at the Headmistress site.
When I first moved to London, I lived around the corner from Columbia Road in the East End, and I've been going to the Sunday flower market there ever since with my best friends and with my family.
Last Sunday I extracted Meriel from the grip of her adorable baby Lily. We braved the hectic centre aisle of flower stalls, contemplated the miseltoe & holly,
and then spent our afternoon browsing through the wonderful independent stores, restaurants & other businesses along both sides of Columbia Road & along Ezra Sreet, which normally only open on Sundays to coincide with the market.
I like Bahasa at number 114 for chic imported homewares & properly kitsch tree decorations:
All trips to Columbia Road require pit stops for nourishment. Fairy cakes from traditional English cake shop Treacle at number 112 are my choice:
Present shopping is simple, no matter for whom you are buying. Pantone mugs for creative types from amongst the design stuff at Supernice at number 106:
Beautiful tiles from brilliant illustrator Rob Ryan's shop Ryantown at number 126:
I am rather longing for a leather briefcase from Wawa (who also sell elegant chaise longues & sofas) around the corner at 3 Ezra Street.
Established in 1979, Idonia Van der Bijl was one of the first shops on Columbia Road, and is my absolute favourite place for interesting, not expensive presents. Meriel bought glass votive night lights for £1.50 here last weekend, and last year I bought lil'sis the dachsie mug and Muv the Jack Russell one as part of their Christmas presents:
There are actually shops that sell gardening supplies, it being a flower market an'all. I like Open House at 152, who sell vintage style hanging baskets, & The Garden Shop at number 120:
Where you can also buy jute bags to carry your shopping:
And don't forget some sweeties from Suck & Chew at number 130 for the way home:
I cannot describe the nostalgic bliss of being able to ask for 'a quarter of pear drops, please' instead of 100gms...
(Columbia Road flower market and shops are open on Sundays from 8am ’til 3'ish. Columbia Road is in the East End sitting on the edge of the City of London, with Shoreditch to the west and Brick Lane & Spitalfields nearby.)
Old Street, Liverpool Street, Bethnal Green Road.
Images above by LLG. More at Flickr here