Saturday, 31 December 2011

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

                                                             She moves under the mistletoe, slowly, begging to be kissed.

She wears sequins, a New Year's prerequisite, bringing her own disco ball to the party. 

A faux fur coat ensures that she won't be too cold.

The turquoise tassle earrings ensure that in case the sequin skirt, sparkly fishnets, showgirl hat, the white chiffon top contrasting with the dark bottom, or smile aren't noticed, the earrings might be.

What do you feel is necessary attire for New Year's Eve? Sparkles? A tuxedo? A bright lip?

What are You doing New Year's Eve?

Wishing you a fabulous 2012, with much love and success.

Outfit: Hat, from Grenwich Market seller; turquoise tassle earrings, Tallulah Tu; white peasant top, Forever 21; sequin skirt, Marks and Spencer girls' section.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Wrapping Idea

                       As much as I like to think Jay-Z and Eminem would go down against me in a battle, in their battling days, circa 1994, I might have some competition.

I'm not a natural rapper. I'm not a natural wrapper either.

Then I met someone who wrapped everything beautifully and saw it as integral to the present itself. I had to raise my game.

I going to give away the game. Can you handle it?

Get yourself a trademark. This year, mine is the tags. Sparkly pen on waxy leaves- it's natural, it's festive, what's not to love. I haven't only used brown paper but I do think it highlights the colour and shape of the leaves and the ribbons better. It's true that there isn't as much room to write a note, but I prefer the quick clue approach to tags.

Do you have any wrapping tips or ideas? Are you a wrapping lover or wrapping hater?


You can flavour vodka with pretty much whatever you want. My Mum does an amazing raspberry vodka. I enjoyed peach vodka through autumn (recipe below I've heard of chili vodka, butterscotch vodka (put some Werther's in the vodka, shake and let infuse for a week and then strain), and Christmas pudding vodka. I think the latter is a step too far.

Last year, I discovered the gold standard of flavoured vodkas. Limoncello. Limoncello is basically just lemons and a sugar syrup added to alcohol. It's intense, refreshing, evocative of summer and thus amazing in the winter.

Limoncello Recipe

The zest of 5 lemons
1 litre of vodka
750g of white sugar
700mL of boiling water

1. Zest 5 lemons (you don't need the juice from the lemons as the juice makes the taste more bitter, the zest just allows the lemon oil to infuse the alcohol).

2. Add 1 litre of vodka and put into bottle.
3. Shake to release the oils from the zest and shake once a day, or when you can remember, for a week.
4. Make the sugar syrup by pouring 700mL of water over 750g of sugar. Stir until completely dissolved. Empty vodka and lemon mix into sugar syrup. Stir. This year I used golden caster sugar instead of white, thinking the colour would be, well, more golden. It's purer and more lemon looking with white sugar.
5. Pour mixture into bottles and shake. Continue to shake once a day for a week. Strain lemon zest from the liquid.

Although this may be a bit late to start as a Christmas present, it would be ready for New Year's Eve. It would also make a sweet birthday present or thank you to someone who really, really deserves something lovely.

Drink limoncello as a liqueur-- it is sweet-- on ice or from the freezer for maximum lemon freshness.

I made lemon curd at the same time as the limoncello (it's easy to zest and juice a few more lemons) and have been loving it with a little vanilla ice cream. Yogurt would be even more refreshing, I'm sure.  I used this recipe
and will happily again. I used the zest of a clementine and a lime, as I ran out of lemons. The photo of the zest above is actually from the lemon curd mission, hence the small orange ribbons.

What do you think? What's a sweet homemade present, given or received? 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Anna Karenina meets Boris Yeltsin

Sometimes you have a business meeting in Russia with Boris Yeltsin. I know, it happens regularly. Don't worry-- the dress code is simple. A faux fur hat, wool, a surfeit of pearls and big blonde Russian oligarch's daughter's hair. Apologies that I haven't achieved the latter.

I heard Kiera Knightley is set to play Anna Karenina. I'm ready for lots of romantic windswept scenes in the Russian snow. I do hope they give her the ubiquitous symbol of Russians: the fur hat. In the image below, the hat looks like I've swiped a part off a bear. I like to think of this as giving a sense of rugged individualism.

Below, I'm set for the business meeting, politicians' wife style.

Friday, 2 December 2011

London Lights

                People rave about how glorious New York City, Paris or wherever is at Christmas time. Christmas lights are anything but subtle and discreet- that's not the point. Yet London seems to be doing its tasteful, discreet, elegant best this year. I love that there aren't Frosty the Snowmen or Santa Claus' dominating the light landscape. London opts for umbrellas and blues.

Most Londoners don't believe the Underground is a pretty star bathed in gold. Seeing this in person had me converted.

If you're a Londoner, forget the Oxford Street crowds that you'd normally complain about- it's Christmas time, what do you expect? Just enjoy some city lights. Look up and you'll remember that London's architecture is just as pretty as any other city.

Alternatively, be the other archetypical Londoner: Scrooge, and scoff at the Christmas insanity.

I liked how this star looks like a spider's web. It's perhaps an easy metaphor to not get too caught up in Christmas or just get caught up in Christmas. Which do you prefer?

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Prettiest Pub in the World

               London, 1888. Not an inviting vision, is it. Jack the Ripper roams at night, rather irritated by the women and children falling on the streets, drunk on 90 proof gin. The London 'pea soupers' cough when they exit their dim factories, further irritated by the whistlers. The middle classes cover every inch of their wallpaer with pictures, irritated that they haven't been invited to any parties for the upcoming Season. Londoners deserved a respite. It was known as The Pub. If they discovered the Princess Louise in Holborn, life was much, much prettier.

Inside, golden light dances off of the etched glass gilt mirrors that are everywhere, the marble, the shiny mahogany, the electric lights, the mosaic floors and the leather.

(Note the Cockney hilarity.)

Its trademark is that it still has the Victorian rooms preserved, small areas to close the door on people you don't like.

If you're in London, go to the Princess Louise to understand how even Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, became a flirt. You'll find Sam Smith's pub prices wonderfully un-London (i.e. cheap). If you're a man, the toilets are rather legendary for being craved marble sculptures.

The image below is a corridor. Victorians, fortunately, didn't quite get minimalism.

Friday, 18 November 2011

How to Be a Woman

        To clarify, How To Be a Woman is not about applying red lipstick, putting on some killer heels, icing some perfectly cute cupcakes and attracting men with your feminine mystique. This is a guide to laughing at the absurdity of our culture and embracing feminine strength. And it's really, really worth reading.

You may have noticed how this book is categorised as 'HUMOUR/FEMINISM.' Although this may seem a contradiction to some people, in the eyes of the gifted comic writer Caitlin Moran, she manages to make you laugh and open your mouth in shock as you think to yourself, 'Did she really just write that?'

How To be a Woman follows Moran's experiences in 'becoming' a woman, from her 13th birthday, when she's chased and teased for being fat, to the present, where she is a successful columnist hanging out with Lady Gaga and having to do fashion shoots for her columns. Tough life, I know.

Feminism is still as much of a dirty word as it ever has been. It still suffers from the stereotype that feminists are annoying women who can't stop complaining. Moran demonstrates that a feminist can be your cooler friend with a wicked sense of humour and life experience. She's had time to articulate how a lot of women feel: that the social expectations for women are ridiculous, so just laugh at them and get on with your life, as you probably do.

The book generally has the feel of overhearing her conversations with her best girlfriends after a few drinks and then reading her diary afterwards. But it's not a groaning emotional journey that you'll tire of, as she uses her life to explore formative experiences in any woman's life. For example, she writes about getting through the awkward stage when women want men to notice them, marriage, fashion, and having children or not having children.

I'd really recommend this book for yourself and as a present for your best female friends. It might be slightly graphic for your Mum though.

Please let me know if you have any book recommendations for me. I'm typically at least a year behind in reading anything that other people might have read. And I like rockstar biographies.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Playing Autumn

At least once a year, you need to get into a leaf fight. I call it playing autumn. The days are running out, the leaves are becoming damp, and the time is nigh. Play it in the next couple weeks and you'll feel like you're 5 years old, in a brown boots ad or an American university photo shoot.

A couple of classic spins as leaves were being thrown up in the air...

Leaves have just been picked up at this moment, ready to fall aloft onto the photographer.

Top (I'm crazy about the scalloping and and Johnny Cash style ribbon), New Look. The sweetly feminine Zoella definitely inspired this one:
Leather skirt, local charity shop. The skirt's long enough to feel preppy and grown-up, as opposed to a black leather skirt that's perfect for meeting Axl Rose on the Sunset Strip, circa 1986.
Cute and wonderfully ridiculous spats, Asos. With these sorts of two-tone brogues, you'll either have the urge to become a fat 1930s gangster who is really just a sax player, or inherit a poodle skirt and become an extra on Happy Days. Both options are rather great.  

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Apples Begone

You know when you have a inexplicable influx of a certain thing and you feel the need to get rid of them. Right now I'm in the middle of this cull with apples. I realise they look innocent, pretty and even decorative in the photo. Romantic sensibilities get thrust aside when they start to ferment, deteriorate and generally take up space that you don't have. This is exacerbated by the fact that my husband suffers from rubbish guilt-- he really hates throwing food out. But even if you weren't facing an unwanted apple invasion, this pie is beautiful. Apple and pecan pie. It's healed my bruised relationship with apples. 

Steve's Apple and Pecan Pie:

3 large apples, chopped into small pieces
2-3 generous handfuls of sultanas
4 tablespoons syrup or honey (Steve used rosehip syrup that I'd made but any I'm sure will have the sweet effect)
pastry case or make your own pastry if you're more noble or skilled than I sometimes have the patience for
1 tbsp of brown sugar to sprinkle over the top
3-4 handfuls whole pecans or however much you want to decorate the pie

1. Stew apples, sultanas, sugar and spices over low heat for about 10-15 minutes so they're softened. Add water so they don't burn as you're cooking them.
2. Spoon mixture into pastry crust. Sprinkle brown sugar to give it some dazzle.
3. Decorate with pecans.
4. Bake for about 25 minutes at 360/180 C/gas mark 5.
5. Eat and feel righteous.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Woolen Warmth

Part of Coco Chanel's clothing philosophy was less is more. I rarely ascribe to this admirable dictat. In the film Coco Avant Chanel (2009), Coco is at a ball. All the women are wearing elaborate Edwardian dresses. She opts to design herself a simple black dress and we're supposed to think she's the chic belle of the ball for it. The director should have had my sympathies. I like the modern sensibility Coco Chanel and her designs were supposed to embody. But the problem was, I really like the embellished, frou-frou, fabric laden gowns that represented the status quo she was reacting against. I would be delighted if these fashions were part of my society (outside of wedding gowns).   
Image from

Coco Chanel allegedly said that 'before you leave the house, take one thing off." It was in this spirit of letting the clothes and the fabric speak for itself that I chose not to add a necklace, some fanciful earrings, a scarf, or a belt (I almost wish I did later) to my outfit. Helpfully, you can also use her idea when you're low on time. What would Coco Chanel do? That's right, stop getting ready and just go.

I was actually weaing three different kinds of wool on this day. Gasp. I love the poppy red of the blazer and its channeling of English Edwardian fox hunting heritage. Fortunately or unfortunately, a blazer on its own doesn't make one part of Downton Abbey. Fortunately, it also doesn't have any of the more brutal foxhunting connotations and class divide that accompanied Edwardian times.

There's a wondrous quality to nobbly knits that makes me wam. Coco Chanel would probably think the combining of cables, diagonal knits and checks was far too much. But then she didn't know much about blustery, damp England in 2011. Vive la difference. Winter, bring it on. The wools been broughten.

Outfit: Poppy blazer and pleated check trousers, Marks and Spencer. Black short sleeved cable jumper, Forever 21, acrylic sadly.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Naval Officer's Sister, Fisherman's Adopted Wife

Horatio Nelson, hero of the battle of Trafalgar, was the sixth of twelve children. One of his sisters was called Susannah. What happened to her, you ask? Being from Norfolk, I imagine her marrying a fisherman, settling in a fisherman's cottage by the sea. On cold days, she tended the fire and was warmed by an Aran, fisherman's sweater. Every couple years, Horatio would stop by. One year he came home with a Norfolk sailor, wanting Susannah to clean him up. He left behind the sailor trousers. The dot print on the navy trousers arrived circa 1963 to Susannah's descendent. They needed to be worn by the sea.

Note the sailor's trousers' buttons at the side. They're a little bit 1940s, minus the print. 

If you want to find some English seaside mythology, head to the Devon village of Budleigh Salterton, on the 'Jurassic' coast, where these photos were taken. On a sunny day, everything will be more sun-bleached; when it's overcast you'll have incredible saturated colour. The red sandstone is moulded and coloured like Petra or the Grand Canyon, and it's a perfect place to find an interesting looking rock for a door stop.

The images below are some of the flowers that also seem to love the wind blasted sandstone hills. Susannah would have sketched them. 

Outfit: Cream cable knit turtleneck, Marks and Spencer (from a Budleigh Salterton charity shop), sailor style flared trousers, Primark (charity shop), red ballet flats (Marks and Spencer). Loose red t-shirt, Topshop. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Bad Moon Rising

What are you doing for Halloween? Is the black make-up and fake blood at the ready? Are the pumpkin seeds itching to be roasted and the pumpkin massacred?

To help your preparations and general Halloweening, I have a set list. Watch it as you're eating the trick or treaters treats, or hating Halloween. Things will improve.

1. It has begin with his Royal Gothness, the Prince of Melancholic Angst, Robert Smith. This song, 'Just Like Heaven,' is particularly dedicated to the girls who dress up as a fairies, angels, vampires, zombies, pirates, Alice in Wonderland, or any traditional costume that has a bit of the fantasy about it. I do feel Robert Smith's Heaven is a dark Tim Burton wonderland.   

2. 'Werewolves of London' by Warren Zevon. A song to howl to. Watch the video below for some amazing/terrible werewolf illustrations. And if you see a werewolf enjoying a Pina Colada, or looking at a Chinese menu, don't say you weren't warned by Warren Zevon, the prophet of Halloween mirth.

3. 'The Monster Mash.' The video features creaky doors, clanking chains, thunder, and extensive monster B movie clips. Halloween Job done?

4.' C'est l'Halloween.' A rhyming sing-along in French. Some might think I'm not taking Halloween seriously enough, opting instead for the kitsch. I say, only the truly devilish will enjoy this.


5.' Thriller.' An obvious choice for a reason. Opt for the 13 minute version if you want to practise the dance. 

P.S. If you're more into clothes, Forever 21 has a cropped studded red leather-esque Thriller style jacket. Somebody tell the model that she need to wear the rocker look harder.

What are you doing for Halloween? What songs need to be added to the soundtrack? I'd love to hear your choices.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tale of the Pretty in Pink Print

I come from deepest Japanese ceramics, having flirted with chinoiserie, and later dubbed a STATEMENT PRINT. My smooth leaves belied the story of the battle and scramble for light in the forest. At times, the foliage on the print was depicted as an artfully tangled mess and at other times an intense graffitti spray. Regardless of how I was described, I longed for attention. I was initially jealous of the black judo belt; its blackness a symbol of power and authority, but then decided it couldn't compete with the off the shoulder cut and wide, wide sleeves. Some people call them batwing sleeves, but I prefer them to be called ninja angel sleeves. They hide all manner of things (arms notably) and bring movement.

The colours were intense and demanding enough on their own. My owner chose the obvious contrast of dark versus light, the innocent sweetness provided by the white sandals. A heel, especially a hot pink or black heel, would want to compete with the dress, and it would lose. It also might destroy the soft femininity of the fabric which is trying hard to drape like silk, in all its fluid glory. Added jewellery would have a similar sense of tacky excess. Thus, altogether we have a pretty in pink print, suitable for a wedding, date, girls night or walk in the park. Either the birds and bees will be attracted to you, mistaking you for a bright flower, or they'll fly away, fast, as if the Increduble Hulk were being unleashed on their quiet parish.

Outfit: Pink print dress, Zara (not real silk unfortunately but reasonably priced). The most Un-Gladiator gladiator sandals, Clarks.  

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Get Pierced

The Pierces are some Alabama sisters that have nothing to do with the Tea Party or any of the other nasty connotations the American South may hold. But they do embrace the slightly darker Americana side of music. If you think Caro Emerald is too kitsch or just generally positive sounding music, then explore my other favourite album for the car, The Pierces. Their album 'You and I' explores how love pricks you, its betrayals, jealousies and its devotion.

The Pierces are Alison and Catherine Pierce and their harmonies blend magically, sometimes eerily, the way that family members voices collide, understand each other and contrast against each other. They've been compared to The Mamas and the Papas for these harmonies. Occasionally there is something of the 'California Dreamin on such a winter's day' spirit, in the sense that there is disturbance among the lyrics, mood and seemingly innocent melodies. Similarly, there is a bit of Stevie Nicks' seething edge and oblique desire within their songwriting. The lyrics to the opening song begin sweetly enough in a pastoral scene as the woman envisions a picnic with her partner: 'We can bring a blanket for the grass..We could watch the blackbirds cross the skies.' Soon enough she is also declaring 'prick your finger on the spinning wheel/But don't make a sound.' This idea of the need for secrecy in love and the darkness ever present is carried throughout the album.

This is music for twilight (the time of after dusk, not the teenage angst series, though it would probably suit an intense kiss scene between Edward and Bella). 'The Good Samaritan' sounds like a dark lullabye June Carter Cash might have had in her head in her very dark period. The lyrics admit that it was 'A sorry thing...that fell out of your hands.' Although The Pierces like a bit of folk preaching, there's a dark dance feel to their records. I know it sounds wrong or like some awful Florence and the Machine wailing, but it's not. The women can sing and they can control their voices and emotions. You're left wanting to know the story and read into the mystery, rather than run away from it.   

Keeping It Real

How much do you hate C.G.I.? How much do you hate that the film industry has replaced writing, acting and storyline with special effects? A lot, I hope. I love escapism and fantasy but I also like to have a sense of mood and emotion. Somehow special effects rob filmmakers of the knowledge that people have imagination, creativity and sensory perception. I think of 70s horror films with their intense use of music, lighting and sometimes real graphic disturbances as particularly intense. Would special effects or some flat animated creatures make them any better? Of course not.

In the spirit of keeping it real I wish to present to you the genius of sound effects; a human sound board, the Right Honourable Mr Michael Winslow. He's the guy who created the sound effects for Police Academy. Here he performs an incredible version of the seemingly inimitable Led Zeppelin beauty, Whole Lotta Love. The clip is from a Norweigian show that looks like a Norweigian style Conan O'Brien, called Senkveld. Norweigian and Conan O'Brien don't naturally go together. If you know anything about Senkveld or Norweigian comedy, or even how or why they ended up with Micheal Winslow as a guest, let me know. Did he marry a Norweigian model perhaps?


Monday, 17 October 2011

Dinner Party Music

The idea of Dinner Party Music is that it should help create a warm, sparkling, heightened atmosphere and at the same time, be accessible. It should be there to inspire smiles and laughter, but only occasionally noticed. Invariably, Dinner Party Music also reeks of being inoffensive, spiritless dross. Imagine a terribly dull contemporary Margot from The Good Life not wanting to raise any eyebrows. Outside of Come Dine With Me, I don’t know anyone who really has a Dinner Party, which is completely different from our supposedly low-key versions of so and so’s coming for dinner. Yet I think I’ve found some perfect Dinner Party Music and almost want to host a Proper Dinner Party. If the idea of the Dinner Party also intimidates you, I’d also like to emphasise that this is great driving on the motorway music. Or getting ready music. Or just good music.
You’ve probably already heard Caro Emerald. Her album is called Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor.

Inside the album sleeve is a short story to explain each fantastical scene for the audience. It’s really worth buying the cd, rather than a download, to read the tantalising tales. There’s a smoky night at the Copacabana, tension in occupied French Saigon, and a light drive in a 1956 Sunbeam in Riviera Life. Riviera Life recalls this sweet afternoon drive in a hot convertible. The narrator explains how: ‘You clear my face so I can feel the breeze.’
If Audrey Hepburn’s Sabrina never went back to the Larrabee’s in Connecticut, but instead found a Frenchman to drive her down to the Med, this would be the moment she would share with him. 
Caro Emerald is Dutch and sings jazzy, dance-y numbers (and doesn’t sing with a Dutch accent). If you like a pencil skirt, red lip or smoky eye, this is music for you. That’s not to say it’s only for the Mad Men or Philip Marlowe loving types. It has a retro lounge feel to it but it’s mixed with modern beats.

Emerald’s voice has a classic big band jazz singer sound to it: it’s pure, playful and slips over melodies, sometimes softly, sometimes with a strong slap. The opening song, ‘That Man’ definitely conforms to the “Let's Get This Party Started” album philosophy. Emerald quickly and sharply sings of how ‘Ooh that man is like a flame/And ooh that man plays me like a game.’ The theme of the danger, game and mystery of love is developed throughout the album. You’ll find yourself singing along and bopping to the easy lyrics, melodies and fat bass sounds. The songs are accented with brass instruments that add bounce.
The only naff moment on the album occurs when there is some DJ scratching. Somewhere between 1992 and 1997, songs had a moment when there would be scratching or a rap out section, which we were supposed to think was amazing. There’s one of those moments (thankfully there isn’t a rap) but it’s really the only moment to make you groan, and it’s at the end of a song.
Back It Up sounds like a song that the Brand New Heavies would have liked to have written, if they had have been better. The liner notes set the scene in New Orleans in 1951. There’s some scatting, horns, funk and general hijinks.
Overall, I think this cd makes a great gift for a woman. It has taste, personality and takes you to scenes where you’d like to be. 8/10 (a 9 would have to be life-changing).

Monday, 10 October 2011

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen’s become a bit of an international man of mystery. He used to write love letters to New York. Now he’ll write a love letter to Barcelona, London, and most recently, Paris. Most Woody Allen fans harp back to the supposed Golden Age of Woody Allen- think Annie Hall, Manhattan, Husbands and Wives... The Golden Age usually ends with Manhattan Murder Mystery. I never subscribed to the thesis that he used to be so much more witty, well-observed, literary, genius, absurd, or whatever adjectives you associate with Allen. If you do look back on his Golden Age though, Midnight in Paris would be a useful film for you to see. Indeed, I want you and anyone else to see this film and understand why people love Woody Allen.
Midnight in Paris follows Gil, a Hollywood hack (played by Owen Wilson) and his vapid fiancĂ©, Inez (played by Rachael McAdams), as they visit Paris with her comically rich parents. Gil feels he’s never given writing a serious shot and dreams of becoming a real writer in Paris, walking in the rain. Like any tourist and foreigner the Paris he dreams of is the romantic world of the imagination. His particular nostalgia is for Paris in the 1920s, what he feels was its Golden Age.
Following a night of wine tasting and avoiding Inez, her parents, and her friends, he begins to wander the streets of Paris. At the stroke of midnight he is picked up by a 1920s car and arrives at a party to meet Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Over the next few nights, he meets Ernest Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, the entire literary scene and a perfectly French art groupie, Adriana (played by Marion Cottillard). He falls in love with her and the artistic world of Paris.
Adrianna and Gil strolling by the Seine, as the city works its magic.

The alternative reality and its glorious cast of characters inspires his writing, as he becomes increasingly detached from his fiancé. Unfortunately, Gil has to endure the artifice of his dead relationship during the day before he can return to the glee of 1920s Paris at midnight.
Wilson is a great protagonist as he’s likeable, modest and a romantic. Pleasingly, he's also conscious of the absurdity that he gets to live his fantasy. McAdams plays the superficial Inez perfectly, rarely giving Gil much eye contact, not letting him touch her, speaking in short, sharp sentences and comparing him unfavourably to a rival. Allen’s direction and writing seem to have created his vision of the marriage that shouldn't be very well.

Can you see their mutual exasperation and irritation with each other?
 Allen opens the film with loving, still images of Paris, and we too are ensnared by its beauty.
Midnight in Paris is a perfect date film, and a cute romantic comedy that men will be happy to see. Paris will do a rigorous tourist trade on the back of this film. Go out for something to eat or a drink and you’ll feel like you’ve had a romantic weekend away there too.