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"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
New year, new plans
15 January 2016


I fly south to Olhao and the glorious vegetable colours and textures of the Saturday market. Beans pods flecked with pink like a painter`s abstract  are a joy to look at let alone eat .

 More building is in progress at the house to open up the living/ eating space. I am moving a bathroom to what I call the monk`s cell, a poky inner room with a glass brick in the ceiling as the only light source; a not altogether unreasonable Olhao detail, as it is the coolest room in summer and warmest in winter. The new L shaped space has an open hatch to the kitchen. We couldn`t knock all the way through because the giant chimney on the roof above  would have no support, and I didn`t want to lose this traditional and  distinctive Algarve feature. I am looking forward to the delivery of blue and white  floor  tiles, in a simple checked pattern that are being made in the traditional way by Artevida  near Lisbon.















Tags: winter, olhao, simple, interiors. decoration, pink, tiles


Pure Colour Olhao
19 November 2015


London`s autumn streets swarm with black ant-like  crowds  dodging and diving from shop to shop as if buying has become as serious as life itself  Of course my well over 50  perspective is skewed but no way is my city as rough and exciting around the edges as it was in the 80s` when my dodgy Molton Brown bob and frilly white New Romantic shirt were cool. No Boris bikes to take me to our broken down Georgian wreck in rather grubby Spitalfields . Our youthful optimism and passion for rescuing beautiful architecture also unwittingly  prepared the scene for  the influx of the current hipster generation; you can hardly move between the foodie pop ups and designer handbag displays.  Thankfully Olhao, remains a  source of  solace and visual inspiration and the Saturday market with its life,  understatement,  colour and fabulous fresh produce beats any West End/East End foray. 


Glossy olives


Figs from the flat capped  owner`s garden - all shapes and sizes none of which would pass the supermarket test for shape and uniformity



Bees wax from a stall with honey, and honeycombs


Piri piri chillies, hot red and firey.



Sweet potatoes


Garlic in light and shade

Tags: autumn, Olhao, market, simple, colour


Coffee cake and saving Olhao
13 November 2014


My mother’s coffee cake was as much a part of childhood as the roast on Sunday.   She died fifteen years ago   and I haven’t been able to pin down the coffee-flavoured memories and textures  until last weekend when I downloaded   Felicity Cloake’s Perfect coffee and walnut cake. Apart from my mum`s touch,  I think the light brown sugar element is what was missing in my  previous attempts.    Here is the recipe with a few tweaks, and sans walnuts because I prefer my coffee cake without . It  was the  pudding queen at a family get-together  in my `secret shed` glowing with candlelight at the bottom of the garden.  Basically I dressed up  the garden shed with candles and tea lights in jam jars,  spread the table with  a white cloth  and  unwound a cable from the house for a heater.  It was snug and good to  be semi-outsde on a dark autumn evening.




The cake

Heat oven to 180C and grease and line the bases of 2x20cm cake tins

Mix the coffee with ltbsp boiling water and leave to cool.  

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg mixture. Once incorporated  sift in the flour , baking powder and salt and fold in with a large metal spoon, adding the coffee, too.

Divide the batter between the tins, if very stiff add a little mili. Bake for 25minutes . Cool for 10 minutes in the tins and put on a wire rack to finish cooling.

 The Icing

Mix 2tbsp coffee with ltbsp boiling water and leave to cool.

Beat the butter until soft, sift in the sugar, salt and add the coffee and cream. Stir until fluffy and smooth.   Spread one cake with   just under  half of the icing, and place the other cake on top. Spread the remaining icing on top.




Save Olhao
Olhao council has some grim proposals for  `modernisation`  including the removal of calcada cobbles, see below, in  favour of shopping mall style smooth grey  slabs and  seafront lighting all football floodlight bright. It is easy to destroy centuries worth of beautiful  detailing when there`re millions in the bank combined with inappropriate architectural  plans and ill-informed Council types.  I have sent my objections together with everyone in the Olhao community who  wishes to keep it`s visual spirit  which is what  makes this little town so  human and special.




Tags: autumn, homecooking, shed, olhao,


Pure Style out and about
20 June 2014


Head down and chasing ideas and making pictures for my new book about colour.  We have a publisher , hooray, and it will be on the shelves next spring. In between, sensual respite for a few days in Olhao.  Soaking up the sun and splashing in first swim of the year sea . So cool and invigorating and then   to eat and feast on fish. Vegetables come home in Olhao where the market is spilling over with plump tomatoes and greens. A plate of roast tomatoes, onions, peppers and courgettes is my offering for  supper with friends. 

 It is `quinta-feira da espiga` (ear of wheat Thursday or Ascension day) and there are bundles of olive, wheat ,poppies, and daisies piled outside the corner shop. It is is good to see the survival of simple country rituals.

Same but different: the beach at Camber sands the day after  friends daughter`s 21st. England is as beautiful as any Algarve coastal retreat. But, and this is a big one I`m not  enthused about   murky English channel  shallows.




View from my room, below.   I am booked on late rooms.com  at Pontin`s `holiday park` fulfilling a childhood curiosity  of what`s  behind the wire of a holiday camp. It`s housing estate on sea:  slot machines, chips, flimsy walls, and family bbqs. Could offer more quality for the price.  And don`t punish your guests  Mr Pontins:  clean the windows, shoot the seagulls and put in bedside lights.



  Sunday morning Long island style at Camber sands, below.




Travelling  mentally to more watery paradise with Clare Lloyd`s My Greek Island Home.   Australian  artist, designer and photographer, Claire left the stresses of  city life in London to set up home in a small village on Lesbos.  The book is a visual feast  in which Claire eloquently describes  the simple pleasures of reconnecting with nature and community. I love the feline details.






 To  Colefax and Fowler on a fabric hunt and to see the new collection.  I want to order  the linen stripes by the hundred metre rollful but am content with a sweet carrier bag lined with `Bowood` my favourite Colefax print



There`s no place like home and  my back garden on a hot day in June.






Tags: summer, Olhao, coast, blue, garden,


New colour new year
06 January 2014

 Today I will squeeze into trainers and have a quick jog to the seafront and back.   New year, new promises and fabulous colour in Christmas earrings and new green cotton t shirt.   Small splashes of colour can be as dramatic as an all out colour assault whether it`s in the wardrobe or for decorating a room.



  A trip along the coast. Down cobbled steps fringed by tumbling purple convovulus  and  cactus plants with paddle  shaped limbs  green succulent, and deadly spiked.  Eating springy bread  buns with hunks of sweet  tomato and  goats`s cheese on the  grey  wind and rain  spattered  beach is more  Bognor regis than the Eastern Algarve, but  we are  also feeling  the whirling effects of the UK`s fierce winter storm.

  I am glad to be off major cooking duties for a few days. But it was hugely satsifying over Christmas to produce  Elizabeth David`s, Carbonade Nimoise and La Daube de Boeuf Provencale from  French Provinical Cooking.  Both essentially hearty stews cooked long and slow, the former involves  lamb  and potatoes with a typical southern taste and smell , and the latter  beef with more  rich  southern  juices  flavoured with orange peel and herbs .







At the Saturday market  there are mounds of cabbages and greens -  rich in winter nutrients and fibre for little more than a few centimos. Wish I could carry back furry quinces for membrillo,  but would be at expense of reading matter . No I don`t have a Kindle, but maybe I should for  the
quince`s  sake.













Sunday, and it`s Fuzeta  fleamarket.  No I don`t want a bucket of golf balls or a  bobbled polyester dressing gown,  but I do have my eye on a couple of retro aluminium jugs for olive oil. Five euros each. Not bad I think, but do I really need them?  But do we really need most of the stuff we have.  Buy them,  says the daughter  and dedicated shopper of her generation in my head   I go back and have a another shifty  look. No. I`ll save my money.  In  the car on the way home. Regret. I  should have bought them. So useful and such great shapes.





Anyone for a hammer?




Pots , pans , simple china and utilitarian junk like these mesh filing trays  are what make Fuzeta a rich source of pickings  on a sunny Sunday morning.





Tags: winter, colour, Olhao


Portugal natural
03 March 2012

 



  Mopping up a trail of the teenager`s  false tan splodges (the new floors really are tough) is my friday night  treat, this,  and finally  putting the house back together again after it`s  paint and brush up. There`s  time to post these shots from my short break to Olhao  a couple of weeks ago. Spring is springing here on the Algarve.  The fizz of candy floss almond blossom, flapping storks and grilled sardine smells are my kind of exotica.  The house is stone cold but a small discomfort  when you can  step out first thing into the street all sunny and blue. My thoughts are ferry and beach  and this is where we head  to sprawl on the sand and,  even swim.  I skip like a child in the shallows. It is bliss, like an icy  rinsing and sloughing-off of winter.  



  We eat one of our   typical Olhao beach picnics: crusty buns  filled with chicken and coriander. Handfuls of dried figs and almonds are also perfect picnic finger food.  



  Waiting by the pier for the ferry home I watch seagulls bob around looking for an opportunity,  and fisherman swill out their boats and grease engines. Their  ropes and nets are organised in artful heaps.  Old ways can  survive in the  age of plastic.  



  The Saturday market   is also a  stylist`s dream,  so vibrant and rich in its everydayness.  See below bunches of herbs tied with string, bundles of wild asparagus,  clementines, and thick wedges of pumpkin laid out like a Melendez still life.  This bustling outdoor visual and edible feast is so much a  part of  Olhao`s heart and soul.  



















   

Tags: flower power, holiday, Olhao, Simple, spring


Sweet mint and oranges
16 April 2011





  I wake to the mass twittering of sparrows and a distant bell. The  air is sea salty, the breeze warm and the sky is bright morning blue.  Olhao.  We’re here again for the spring holiday with a case full of books for revision and fabric to make cushions for summer. Breakfast is toast with  soft springy sourdough-like bread which they slice for you from the café on the corner. I have a jar of orange flower honey from which I spread a thick coating onto a slice  along with curls of  butter. We eat outside in the quintal and  squint at  the sun which is glowing with promise for the day ahead. Oranges are so good and fresh here; so much sweeter and  more intensely orange flavoured because they`re not long picked from a tree. We squeeze juice with the 13 euro  juicer - a definite qualifier for what I think is a `best buy`- and pour it into  small glass tumblers. So much more of an enjoyable experience than opening up a carton.  



  I throw  black jeans,  sweater and thick  socks to  the back of the wardrobe and  feeling expectant for a first of the season session at the beach pull out last summer`s  floaty cotton dress,  sandals in which to brave winter feet,  and straw hat.  I’ve been through quite a few hats here, one or two have blown into the sea whilst on a boat of some sort; one was washed away by a rogue wave, and another  met its end with an uncontrolled puppy. The fading terracottas,  yellows, and  greens  of Olhao’s crumbling façades  are balm to my tired city eyes. Most luminous are  the  pale cobalt blue  lime washed walls that give the buildings a mediterranean  seaside flavour. My friend Piers mixes blue pigment with white cal (lime) to create this timeless effect.  



  At the Saturday  market the senses are hit with the aromatic smell of mint and the fragant  childhood  summer smell of strawberries. Wrinkled men with flat caps look after stalls  groaning with oranges, pumpkins, broad beans, and peas. Cages with live rabbits and uncomfortable looking hens are clustered by the sea wall.  I  want to take to take it all home, all of this colour, and sensation. We settle for  eggs, a bag of plump  peas shelled by the vendor, a bunch of  radishes with pink roots slashed rather stylishly with white,  more sweet oranges  and a kg of plump and richly coloured  strawberries for the picnic.



Tags: colour, holiday, home cooking, Olhao, scent, spring


 
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