As I write the rain spatters on the glassy pavements and the main view from my desk is monotone grey. The horse chestnut across the road is drooping with ever yellowing leaves and the grass on the front lawn is lush iridescent green from late summer downpours. Autumn is here and it is time to unfold the blankets from the cupboard on the landing.
My motherís coffee cake was as much a part of childhood as the roast on Sunday. She died fifteen years ago and I havenít been able to pin down the coffee-flavoured memories and textures until last weekend when I downloaded Felicity Cloakeís 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.
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.
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.
Taking my maths O level three time was as painful as getting the new website up. I have to say that if I were one of the sweet and patient boys at www.ph9.com I would be hairless after nursing me through a hundred panicked calls in learning how to use the website manager. But Hooray! Iím in business.
Do have a look at the new Pure Style shop, and the delicious colour bands. (I noticed that White Company shooting here this week, used them as props!)
Escape route? The garden. The place where I can have some control when the uploads donít, the links go nowhere and paste text paste text is like severe aerobics for hands and fingers.
Iíve planted 8 of the 16 beds with about 125 tulip and alium bulbs Ė Got them this year from Rosecottage plants, who have rather good deals, and an amazing array of both aliums and tulips
Iíve got a bit behind with posting this- so a week ago when I shot these pictures it was warm and sunny enough to down tools for half an hour and cook up sausages on the bbq. The end of the garden by the shed catches the afternoon rays in autumn and is a brilliant spot for the purpose.
More brilliant ideas from the Pure Style design files.
Mellow yellow: simple Daisy pattern wallpaper from The art of wallpaper. Also comes in a good sludgy blue, brick red, and charcoal.
The clocks will be going back soon and there will be a great excuse for investing in a really good desk lamp - I love this one from Anglepoise.
Blue and white striped Cornishware mugs feature in all the kitchens that I have lived in over the years. I love their utilitarian cheerful feel. From recently rescued TG Green Ė and also in red.
Indian summerís over Ė itís time for tea and toast. This smart glass jar comes with spiced fig jam, from Toast. Recycle it for your own jam making efforts.
More autumn leaf yellows (THE colour this season) in wool knit by Danish company Kvadrat cover this 50ís Scandinavian style easy char in oak, from Healís. It also comes in leather, but Iím not so sure that works so well.
Yes I know linen sheets almost need a mortgage, but treat them like investment dressing and save up for a set from Volga Linen to last and last.
I love the way denim fades when you wash it. Get the look with this squashy bean bag made in the UK and covered with indigo denim woven in Lancashire, from Ian Mankin.
This is my new weekly post where I share inspiring pictures and ideas from the Pure Style design files.
Retro look for keeping warm this winter: wool blanket ĎMadison Goldí from Melin Tregwynt.
With 20% off from 1st October Scottish fabric designer Donna Wilsonís Eadie armchairs at SCP are potentially more than just a textile-dream.
Just launched at the London Design Festival is Studioilseís Companions bedside table in oiled chestnut and cork for De La Espada.
This olive oil crushed from Arbequina olives, by Spanish food specialist Brindisa is really mellow and nutty - I think itís brilliant for making mayonnaise.
Iíve had my Le Creuset cast iron casserole pans for over 20 years - but wouldnít mind adding a cream coloured one to my kitchen kit.
Feathery white parrot tulips are essential in my spring garden. Definitely putting in another order this season from Crocus.
Itís time for dealing with the fading roses. Great for pruning are Swiss made Felco secateurs.
It has been a glorious Indian summer of an autumn: crisp golden leaves catching in my hair and tumbling across the grass as I walk in the park. But now the clouds have burst to soak the leaf fall which pastes the streets like papier mache. London is good at this time of year quieter, more mellow. In the deepening shadows the city squares and churchyards seem more secret, invitations into the past.
At weekends it`s hat, scarf and ribbed tights weather. Dark sunday afternoons are for eating cake and idling at an exhibition. I really really recommend the visual magic at The Museum of Everything, showing unseen artists, who create their work outside the eyes and ears of the art world. Take Judith Scott, who made sculpture from household objects entirely hidden by being wound-about over and over by wool and yarn. Scott had Down`s syndrome, and only communicated through these things. They`re very convincing, together with the spirit drawings of medium Madge Gill, and the ceramic recycled kingdom of Indian roads worker Nek Chand. The works are unintentional, delicate and profound. What a contrast at Tate Modern where Pop Life: Art in a Material World is billed as a foray into the world of the celebrity artist. It includes Andy Warhol wallpaper, Damien Hirst`s golden spot paintings, a reconstruction of Keith Harings`s Pop Shop and some unappealing top shelf stuff in the over 18s` room. The artist as commercial brand continues to flow into the shop where Tracey Emin white mugs are a whopping ¨®¨£15.00. It all left me feeling rather flat and anxious to go home and do something nourishing like collect the bean and nicotiana seeds from the pods I`ve been drying by the boiler.
I wake up to the door bell and a postman (something of a rarity during the recent post strikes) bearing a cardboard box with perforated holes from Crocus. It`s the tulip bulbs: Lilac Perfection, Tulipa White Parrot and Tulipa Violet Beauty. All to be planted asap. Six inches isn`t too deep too keep out the the foxes and squirrels who enjoy a crunchy bulb or two..or three....or more. By the way, bulbs are poisonous if eaten by humans and can be irritating to the skin.
A couple of weeks ago I planted up of bowls with specially forced bulbs of hyacinths, paper whites, and crocuses so we will hopefully be surrounded by gorgeous scent and colour over christmas.The secret is to keep them cool and in the dark to let them develop good roots before bringing them into the warmth and light.
Now for some trumpet blowing: Remodelista editor, Sarah Lonsdale has voted my blog as one of her top ten eclectic design blogs. And I`m `Queen of Simple`, no less, in Grazia magazine where there`s a piece on the house in Olhao. Speaking of which, hooray! hooray! almost a year to the day, we have the licence to start work on The Room on Top. Who knows what will be in store, once Mr Martinho`s gang arrive and start the heavy work? I will keep you posted.
A room isn`t a room without Farrow and Ball`s `Teresa`s Green`, it`s my current passion, having just re-painted the tv room. A room isn`t a room without a dog, but unlike paint which can be painted over if you get fed up with it, a dog is for life. Should be, but round here `weapon` dogs roam the streets with hoodied youths who can`t look after themselves, let along something on four legs. We found a sad, abandoned and emaciated staffie with sores and trailing claws who clambered wearily into the back of the car and let me take her to Battersea Dogs Home. If you want to rescue her she is Brindle/White SBTX
What with all the leaves pouring off the trees it seems a little unseasonal to be to picking remnants of a summer flower garden: a few rose heads, nasturtiums and so on. I hope it`s not because of climate change. But then Pepys describes roses blooming in his London garden in the middle of December, and that was hundreds of years ago before we`d begun to stifle the planet. Anyway, it`s good to press the petals between the pages of the telephone directory for simple decorations that you can stick on your christmas cards.
The warm conditions followed by wet this autumn have been a fungi foragers dream. My family really got into searching for porcini, (penny buns) field mushrooms, chanterelles, blewitts and parasols when we lived in Spain. These are edible mushrooms that are quite easy to identify. The locals there were crafty so and sos and thought nothing of raiding their neighbours` fields before daylight.
On a stroll through Berkshire parkland we found parasols (actually umbrella shaped) poking up beneath gnarled trunked oak trees. They`re very tasty fried in a little butter with parsley, but as with all edible mushrooms you shouldn`t eat them in large quantities because they`re hard to digest.
I am on a no waste campaign after listening to Tristram Stuart at a Studioilse Kitchen Table Talk, about the shocking way in which we waste food. His book Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal reveals how much food gets chucked away right across the food supply system. Consider just this one fact: from the bread and other grain-based products that British households throw away each year, Stuart estimates it would be possible to alleviate the hunger of 30 million people. That sounds at first like an improbably large number āńŲ?—?® until one considers that British households chuck away 2.6bn slices of bread each year. I was brought up with the concept of not wasting food because both my parents were world war 11 children, but my daughter sees little harm in binning a perfectly good but one day out of date yoghurt, "Mum, you`ll give us all food poisoning" she protests, sinking her teeth into a Big Mac. Tristram would give the thumbs up, though, to my apple gathering in the garden. We have had three apple puddings and as many crumbles in the last fortnight. Not only have copious sheets of the Guardian been recycled, but the trays of newspaper wrapped apples in the cellar will last weeks.I`m planning to send a specimen - fruit and leaves - to the National Fruit Collection who for a tenner, will attempt to identify it. The tree`s pretty old so I`m hoping its some long lost variety.
The 19C architect and designer William Morris`s belief `Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful` is a resourceful, and anti-waste idea to embrace now. That doesn`t mean you have to buy exquisite and expensive: think of the humble pudding basin, it looks good and serves its function for very little money. Similarly, a useful junk piece with intrinsically good bones, can be given a facelifit with a lick of paint. See my latest Youtube where I perk up a rather gloomy looking side table, rescued from a local skip. This is a good way, too, of using up paint that you might have left over- another way of reducing waste. Don`t worry if all you have is emulsion. I know that paint purists wouldn`t approve but I use it all the time to paint bits of furniture. A water based primer, and two top coats of colour is all that you need. Here I`ve used Little Greene`s Salix which is a pale greeny blue colour. When I do get around to mending things, the relief and sense of purpose, and happy thoughts of money saving are so huge that I don`t know why I didn`t do it long before. For the last year or so, the dog has been regularly falling through the Salvation Army Ercol sofa because the webbing has worn through in the middle. Being lightweight, the cat doesn`t have this problem, and humans know how to avoid the caved in bit. So I am so excited to have come across the Upholstery Supply Man who is sending me replacements.All I have to do is fit them......
My last swim at the lido was two weeks ago: the day golden and still with maturing shadows; the air warm but with a chill; the water sparkling and fresh. Wistful, now that there won`t be any swims until spring. But to look on the bright side of things there are the dahlias: old English teatime flouncy petals that make me think of Erdem`s digital floral printed dresses, one of which to waft about in, top of my current wish list.
I have had an action packed summer: six teens and me, in Olhao. ( No time to paint my nails, let alone get a new blog post out) The heat, beach and three meals a day keep them out of trouble. There are a few ups and downs: livid red grazes from a failed mission to rescue a smartphone, another you-learn-by-your-mistakes- episode with drinks in pretty colours, bags with keys and money left at shops, and spectacles washed away whilst frolicking in crashing waves.
The food side of things is more of a challenge Not that the gang are fussy, in fact they lap up everything from crab to clams but the sheer weight of daily supplies is in danger of destroying the Rolly Rolser shopping bag on wheels. This trusty accessory joins the fleet that Olhaons trundle over cobbles to the daily fish and vegetable market. Saturday is best when local farmers bring their own produce and I come home with exquisite olives, sprigs of mint, garlic strings and brilliant zinnias, one euro a bunch. I am keen to get to grips with grilling sardines, and hang around peeling white washed alleys where old ladies and fishermen expertly fuss over their door step bbqs. The story: gray charocoal, not too much of it and a cup of water for damping unruly flames. This ensures light crispy skins, rather than the oily black charred offerings if the charcoal is red hot. As for preparation, the daily catch is so gleaming and rigid with freshness there`s not need to gut them. Salad to go with sardines includes our take on Italian panzanella made with stale bread, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion , parsley and a dressing with oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. Then there are lemon quarters to squeeze over the fish and bring out its flavour.
The teen gang leave with the exuberance with which they arrived, in a whirlwind of Kate Moss scent, suntans, tangled salt hair and flip flops. The house settles back into itself again, with the air of post party relief that comes from from sending everyone home in one piece. I have a few delicious mornings in bed with Alan Bennett`s witty and self deprecating memoir Untold Stories . Then it is planning the Room on Top project for which, 8 months on, I finally have planning permission. The very last little bureaucratic hurdle is the 3 month licence, which should be through next week. More finger crossing.
As I pack away t-shirts and cool dresses, I muse that that it`s one thing to have visual records of Olhao`s unmanicured charm, but another to convey the pot pourri of smells: overworked drains, rotting fish, the waft of a honeysuckle in a hidden courtyard; beery fisherman, lingering herb cologne, home cooked stews, the ozone and saltness of the sea air. They`re so evocative, so of the place, it`s hard to conjure them up mentally but London suburbaban street air seems so bland in comparison, even when the foxes have been having a party by the dustbins.
Back at the ranch in Tulse Hill, the house has been earning its keep and host to shoots, including one for SMA baby milk of feature film proportions (apologies to my neighbours) with baby models, back-up baby models, and crates of plastic flowers; the latter draped all over the garden to make it look more colourful. My son says why can`t it always look like that. I give him the look reserved for similar utterances about things not meeting his exacting standards. Actually, the house is looking a bit bashed up after all the babies, cables, and cameras. So I am planning to do a bit of tidy up: repaint floorboards, and renew floor coverings with simple tactile rush matting, the sort we had at home in the sixties`. I am also debating one of Atlanta Bartlett`s white country tables from her new online store Pale and Interesting. The vegetable garden has survived a month of sporadic watering and nurturing from family members who remained to look after the shoots. The lettuces didn`t stand a chance, but the potatoes (Pink Fir Apple) and (International Kidney) are plump; we eat the first earthy diggings, boiled in mint and tossed in butter.
Cherry tomatoes, yellow courgettes, garlic and shallots have all performed far better than I`d dared hope, and I shall plait together a bundle of garlic for my friend`s birthday. Thanks, in part, to Lambeth council: it is their free compost bin that is the receptacle for the nicely rotted contents from the kitchen peelings.
Despite the jolly hard work of nurturing and tending to the nursery of delicate seedlings that started life next my desk, it is pure pleasure to see last year`s bean seeds curling and climbing up the wigwams, heavy with slender green pods.
Even the temperamental basil, that threatened to expire when I brought it outside too early is keeping us in supplies for pesto. The magical notion of producing so much from so little is exquisitely shown by a border of leggy nicotiana plants, whose delicate white flowers release intoxicating scent at nightfall. Weeks of sensual and visual pleasure from a packet of seeds is truly gratifying.
London might not have the laid back charms of a Portuguese fishing town, but there are more than enough autumn shows and exhibitions to divert post holiday blues. I am looking forward to the new ceramics gallery at the V&A , settles and benches by Studioilse on show at Leila`s Cafe, part of the London Design Festival , or booking a table at local home dining room the Salad Club. Don`t miss life on planet fashion in the endearing and irreverent documentary, The September issue which chronicles Vogue editor Anna Wintour`s preparations for the September 07 issue. I am agog because I once worked in an office below the Vogue fashion floor, and was terrified by the svelte things that tended the sample rails upstairs.
It`s the time of year, too, to think about hunkering down with warm blankets and cushions by the fire. I use a mix of calico and cuttings from Liberty floral cottons to make simple patch work covers. See my trusty sewing machine in action on my latest Youtube video which shows you how to make a simple bobbly trimmed tray cloth: an idea that could easily be put in the pipeline for diy christmas presents. And if all you do is go for a walk, take a bag, the trees are heavy with fruit: crab apples, plums, sloes and so on, for a spot of autumnal jam making.
I was allowed out last Saturday night and went to a party at newly revamped Soho restaurant Kettners , where designer Ilse Crawford has waved her magic wand. Pretty, white Thonet chairs, twinkly candles and pale grey walls are delicious as the steaming French onion soup. To sleep late, but not too late to bounce out in the morning and get on with garden tidying. High winds and heavy rain have denuded the trees, which look like bristle brushes. Autumn is making way for winter. My brother-in-law is cooking Sunday lunch, a good incentive to work hard if there`s a reward of Jonny`s chocolate tart for pudding. Putting the garden to bed for winter is satisfying: trimming, and sweeping and generally neatening up the withered remnants of summer`s wild growth. My garden is allowed to meander more than is good gardening practice, but then I`m no wannabee Martha Stewart. I snip the lavenders so that they are more rounded and bushy, but I`m not going to bust a gut about making them look topiary perfect. I should have collected the dried flower heads in summer when they were at their most pungent but there are enough aromatic handfuls to rescue from the flower stalks to make lavender bags for Christmas presents. A whiff of lavender is almost as good as ginger and lemon tea for getting me off to sleep.
There`s an Ercol love seat with a simple spindle back for sale at the Midcentury Modern show, where young couples with babies trussed up in hand knits barter for retro fabrics and furniture. The price tag is too high for me, my goodness I didn`t realise quite how collectable Fifties` Ercol has become, but feel that I spend money well on the latest issue of Selvedge, a beautifully illustrated and informative magazine for the textile addict. On the other hand, many discounts are appearing from every which way now that recession is as official as Madonna`s divorce from Guy Ritchie. I welcome the special deal on a load of logs which, I suppose, helps to even out the cuts appearing in some of our location fees. I really don`t mind the general slowing down, and drawing back, it`s a chance to reassess priorities, to spend more prudently, on what we need rather than what we want.
PANCAKES Pancakes are a tasty recession proof idea: flour, milk, eggs, butter that`s all you need. Great for stuffing with fridge leftovers - chopped chicken, spring onions, fromage frais and a squeeze of lemon - pancakes are a quick lunch option. We like the sweet version in our household: 100g plain flour; l beaten egg; 250 ml milk;30g melted butter Put the flour and salt in a bowl. Make a well and pour in the egg and the milk. Stir well with a wooden spoon until the batter is smooth. Add a little more milk if necessary.Leave to stand for half an hour. Heat the butter in a small non stick frying pan. When it is very hot add about 30 ml batter or enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Tilt so that it spreads evenly. Cook for about a minute until bubbles appear and the bottom is gold brown. Turn or toss the pancake and cook the other side. Sprinkle it with caster sugar and juice squeezed from an orange or lemon wedge. Roll up and eat immediately.
Autumn`s performance continues to spellbind. The park is decorated like a natural film set, dressed in toning themes of yellow, golden brown and berry pink. Wading through layers of papery leaves is sensual, like eating a Bendicks Bittermint or lazing on hot sand.
It was good to get out in the fresh air as my kitchen was steamy and busy, booked for a team photographing food by Australian chef,
Bill Granger. I watched the refreshingly ego-and-expletive-free, maestro conjure up gorgeous baking one minute, then exotic oriental fish flavours the next. The dog had a field day escaping to lick up whatever tasty crumbs might fall. Bill`s take on chicken curry, with aromatic coconut and chilli, was among the divine leftovers that upped the ante on our everyday grub after the shoot departed in the evening.
The house has been working hard for its living. As soon as the cooking gang left, knitting heroine Debbie Bliss arrived to take pictures for the second issue of her smart new knitting magazine. My knitting skills are restricted to never-ending scarves in purl and plain, but I`m feeling inspired after drooling over Debbie`s fabulous ideas: I fancy the apricot coloured long cardigan, a groovy alternative to a dressing gown.
I`m laying down the dust sheets for the next job, a recycling ad that stars a dustbin, plus all the clobber and fuss that accompanies film making. Hey ho, all in a day`s work.
The fifties` were not all about kitsch. It was an era of high quality design classics that were meant to last. I have a passion for the simple elm stick back chairs and tables that Lucian Ercolani designed for his company Ercol . I grew up eating my mum`s sphag bol around an Ercol table. I must admit that Ercol didn`t make it into my first home; I was trying out new ideas and anything associated with parents was uncool. I re-discovered the simple shapes a few years ago in forays to junk shops (see an example above, with one of the paparazzi seated) and intensive searches on Ebay, one of which led me a garage in Bedfordshire and a set of Windsor table and chairs in fabulous condition. Even the flat tyre on the way home didn`t dim my excitement. For more fifties` ideas visit the exhibition, Designer Style: Home Decorating in the 1950s at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture. MORE JOBS
On gardening matters, I really must get out to finish the weeding, rose pruning, (remember: clean secateurs and slanted cuts to let rain run off and prevent infection) and bulb planting. The most important thing about bulbs is to make sure you plant them the right way up: the hairy root bit at the bottom, and the pointy shoot at the top. If in doubt plant them sideways as the shoot will find it`s way to the light. The next most important thing is keep the squirrels out and plant the bulbs at a depth of 10cm. I`m looking forward to seeing what these white and green flamed tulips bulbs from the local garden centre will look like next spring. On `the room on top` in Olhao, we`ve submitted the planning application to the camara. Now all I have to do is wait, and send out positive vibes so that the word from on high will be positive and in the not too distant distant future. I know that I`m supposed to be on the slow road to less instant gratification, but I can`t wait to get out the roller and finish the walls in pig fat and lime a tried and tested traditional recipe, would you believe, for lime wash. I sense, though, there will be one or two hurdles to leap before that day arrives. During my visit there a couple of weeks ago, the chestnut vendors had arrived with rickety metal wagons to sell paper twists of roast nuts from the smoking coals. Everyone from old men to young children are customers. We roast chestnuts over an open fire at home in winter by slitting them first and then tossing amongst the embers for a few minutes. One year a friend gave me a chestnut roaster, a pan with slotted holes that was much less messy, and more suitable if a novice.
I am in black-out darkness and a bell clangs somewhere. Relief. It`s not some stress induced nightmare. I`m in Olhao to finalise details and submit plans for the `room on top`. It`s half-term. Already? it seems only like yesterday that school started. As morning confusion clears I swing out of bed onto cool stone and pad upstairs to the roof and watch a man tending his birds and a luminous sun rising against a skyline of tv aerials and cubist terraces. We`re following the Olhao tradition of making more space by building vertically. There are now height restrictions in the historic part where the house is but the white cube is within the permitted ceiling. I have decided to apply for a building licence and avoid blotting my copybook with the town hall. Planning permission takes much longer than in the UK, and I should be prepared to wait up to six months, maybe longer, but hopefully less. I feel very confident with the team: the architect understands how to build something new but in the spirit of the old; the builder is like a gracious old uncle, and knows traditional techniques like the back of his hand. Although we`re using energy saving materials, such as reclaimed tiles, and natural paint, I have backtracked on the solar panel and opted for electricity to power a small water heater and a couple of sockets. I reckon that for the amount of hot water needed it is not worth the expense of a solar panel, and although I would be content in a candlelit retreat, or reading by solar powered lamp , guests might prefer the normal way of illumination. Portuguese is testing, and I go everywhere clutching a dog eared pocket dictionary. I left it behind this morning and instead of locating the `Conservatoria` to buy a copy of the ` Registo Predial` title deeds, strayed into the `Pal?¨?cio Justi??Ła` humming with knots of rather fierce and serious dark eyed fishermen, waiting for the results of a trial. As well as getting to grips with the planning related lingo, I must work on my strangled hybrid of Portuguese/ English/Spanish with other important locals, like man of all trades, Luis. This involves much gesticulating on both parts, with Luis , knowing that he has the upper hand on the verbals, typically declaring that the job is going to take longer and he needs more euros, etc. etc. In mitigation, he often stops by on his bike, with dog Picant in tow, and a bucket of sardines for us, so fresh they`re almost swimming. After all the linguistic brain stretching it`s time to go around the corner for a bica, espresso coffee and a pastel de nata, egg custard tart. A boxful is an essential luggage item on the return trip.
ARTICHOKE SOUP I am in soup mode, back home in London, having swapped hot sun for night frosts. Knobbly Jerusalem artichokes are in season and their creamy fresh-from-the earth-flavour is what makes this soup so moreish: Wash, roughly peel and chop lkg Jerusalem artichokes. Put in a large pan and saute in l00g butter until quite soft Add 2 litres water Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes Liquidise the mixture and serve with dollops of creme fraiche.
SEWING The clocks have gone back and we have to learn to appreciate the violet qualities of twilight, that seems to begin not long after lunch. Is it possible that only three weeks ago I was enjoying the last bracing swims of the season at the lido? Now the park shuts at 4.30pm. Time though to catch up on all those sewing repairs which are lying in a large heap. I`ll also get down to giving one or two or my more tired blankets a new lease of life , After gentle laundering with a wool friendly eco detergent, I hide any ragged edges with satin binding and add strips of bright velvet ribbon, pink and green is a great combination, in rows or criss cross patterns. (See below, from my book Sew Easy.) The effect, is very bo-ho, very laid back, and of course, a brilliant way to wrap up and keep warm.
Hard times make houses into homes. I`m hoping we`ll see less of city banker style: perfectly good houses extended and interior designed to death and then sold on to make big fat profits. Bring on the recession. Houses are reverting from assets to homes: they have skips outside because owners are staying put instead of making a fast buck and moving on. As money gets tighter we should automatically start asking ourselves "Do I need this, or do I just want it?" It`s thus for you to decide whether to invest in the new combined hardback edition of Pure Style Home & Garden. Ok, I`m on dodgy ground here, and certainly wouldn`t be so conceited as to think that it is a necessity, but if you don`t have the earlier Pure Style and Pure Style Outside titles, this has hundreds of thrifty and simple home ideas which help save money without forsaking looks and style. Let me know what you think. Home work
photo/vanessa courtier It`s important to hide the custard creams if you`re a easily distracted home worker like me. Go for some healthy oatcakes, which can be thrown together with out difficulty: Add 270g medium oatmeal, one quarter teaspoon baking soda, and a pinch of salt to a bowl. Make a well and pour in 2 dessert spoonfuls of melted butter and 164 ml water. Mix to a stiff paste with a wooden spoon. Knead with the hands and roll out thinly as possible. Cut into circles or triangles and bake in the oven at 200C 400f for 20 to thirty minutes. Makes about 20. Paris Hilton has paparazzi. So do I: the dog and the cat, who sit or lie with their eyes boring into my back willing me to their food bowls. The dog follows me upstairs, downstairs, to the washing machine, to the bin, back to my desk and so on. When I hit a dead end on the thoughts front I get out into the garden to plant or dig. (Psychologists say that continuous small achievement is the key to happiness). The dog and the cat come too. This morning I planted white wallflowers, hoping they will smell as scented as the mixed colours I usually choose. The dog hung around my spade hoping for a stone to be thrown. The cat watched, eerily balanced on the fence. The rose bushes are thinning with few blooms, like a frail and fragrant aunt. I wonder if enough heat can be squeezed out of the sun to ripen the rest of the tomatoes. I do know a good recipe for green tomato jam.
The park glittered in the still clearness during my early morning dog walk; the light as intense as the sweet liquorice smell from the dried fennel sprig I picked and crushed in my hand. The autumn fall of leaves this year is a breathtaking chemical wonder of nature, suspending belief that summer is over. So much colour. So many variations on yellow, burnt orange and brown. This visual tonic is more energising than herbal Floradix, the liquid plant food for humans, that my friend Bea swears by when she needs perking up.
I say `day-lee-a ` you say `dah-lee-uh`. Whatever the emphasis, dahlias are another last blast of gorgeous autumn colour before the dankness begins. This native Mexican flower imported two hundred years ago has always been a mainstay of the allotment garden, to pick for the table along with the cabbages and beans. I remember grandpa, fag in mouth, carefully tying his prize purple spiky blooms to stakes with green hairy string. In high-up garden circles though, the frilly dahlia was long considered rather vulgar. I`m glad the style bibles and garden columns have made them acceptable again in and outside the vegetable patch, and there are a wonderful array of varieties for any border or pot. On of my favourites is `Noreen` a flirty rich pink pompom shape. keeping warm
Got to think about keeping out all those beastly draughts this winter, as I don`t want a repeat of the heating bill we ran up last year, especially when energy costs are supposed to rise another whopping 40 percent. Something thick and sensible, but nonetheless good looking, like a curtain lined with a blanket,is going to be a good way to deal with the gale that blows in under the front and side doors. There is a very basic pattern for one, using some tough pink corduroy in my book Sew Easy. It`s based on the same lines as the old insulating curtains we found in the house when we first moved here. chocolate and chestnut cake I know I`ve posted this recipe before, but it is too, too delicious, and, because chestnuts are gluten-free, might inspire anyone who has an intolerance and is missing gooey cakes. I admit to being partisan but you must try the peeled organic chestnuts my husband produces at his little factory in Andalucia, South Western Spain Base:400g peeled chestnuts, 125g caster sugar, 125g chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids), 100g butter Icing: 15g butter, 125g chocolate, as above, 15ml fresh orange juice, 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind Process peeled chestnuts and sugar until smooth. Melt chocolate and butter in a large saucepan. Add chestnut/sugar paste and mix until smooth. Turn into a greased cake tin. Icing: melt the chocolate with butter, orange juice, rind, and stir until smooth. Spread over the mixture and chill in the fridge overnight.
Last week we waved teenage son off to university with the usual unwanted advice on how not to run up debts. I`m relieved he didn`t spy the card a friend sent me with Oscar Wilde`s quote `Anyone who lives within their means, suffers from a serious lack of imagination". Good for Oscar, but I think its more glamorous being an Einstein of resourcefulness in these credit crunch times.
Let`s take comfort for example. You absolutely don`t have to have the latest piece of designer luxury , but what really is important, is how your cushions are stuffed. With feathers of course. This was one of the first lessons from the white haired tartar of interior decoration I once shared a hallway with. The mere mention of of foam chips would send her into an apoplexy. Decent feather cushion pads don`t cost a fortune and make all the difference between a chair that envelopes you and one that is plain uncomfortable.
Even if I had fifty something million smacker to spend I`m not sure whether a Damien Hirst diamond skull would be my first choice; a couple of Picassos, maybe, but then why can`t art be something that is unpretentious and as simple as leaves pressed in a frame? It`s important to have the confidence in furnishing your home with things that please you not what is fashionable or investment material.
Foodie heaven on a budget? I suggest a few quinces, the golden apples of mythology, made into quince paste or `membrillo` as it is known in Spain. Eat sweet but tart (I add lemon) slivers with a strong cheese like manchego. Not your usual supermarket stock, quinces require sleuth in tracking down. Now is the season. I have often loaded a suitcase with an arm load picked from the finca in Andalucia, where quince trees qrow prolifically. There are surprising number of English country gardens that possess the quince, so ask around. And they`re the kind of garden produce that turn up at a local farmers` market.
QUINCE PASTE: Cut up 3 kilos of quinces: peel, pips, core and all. Put in a deep heavy-based pan, cover with water and simmer until soft. Puree mixture with a handblender. Weigh, and add an equal amount of sugar, plus the juice of 2 lemons. Simmer, and stir constantly, until a rich red colour. Line shallow trays with greaseproof paper and spread the hot paste about 4cm deep. Leave to dry and harden in a cool place. Cut into slivers and serve with hard cheese, and a little glass of something sweet like moscatel wine.
It`s September. It`s swallows flying south. It`s sun tan washing off in the bath. It`s back to school. It`s polished shoes, timetables, and a brisk swim at the lido on a mellow Sunday morning. As my children get down to their books with the vigour only seen at the start of a new year I, too, am enthused with ideas for colours, new spaces, and what to plant in the garden. August under cloudless Algarve skies has filled me up with positive thoughts, like a well stocked fridge. Ballast against the coming grey afternoons that darken before six.
Not that I am tiring of white, but I am experimenting with more colour around the house. Last week, aided by the muscle of my 19 year old, I rollered and brushed away the pale retro green in the north facing room which until now has been used for the rowing machine and ironing. Now it has a new rich olive green look or `citrine` as described on the paint pot. It will go with white and is very seventies`, like one of the rich funky colours that society decorator David Hicks used. I think he was so clever at making stuffy grand houses look hip with the injection of something bright and outrageous like lemon yellow armchairs, or shocking pink and orange wallpaper.
My secret plan is to annex my new green room as a snug winter sitting room/study.
Olhao is an ongoing project near the top of my list of things to do. For the last two years we`ve been restoring an old townhouse, in this Portuguese coastal town with it`s specific aromatic tag of grilling fish, drains, and salty air. This where we come in the holidays to eat sardines so fresh they are rigid, swim in clear unpolluted sea reached by ferry boat, and live at a slower pace.
Using local builders we have repaired and renovated walls weeping with salt, and woodwork blistered and warped by sun and rain. I have sourced handmade terracotta floor tiles, still produced by an ancient factory up in the hills, and poked around in dusty warehouses to find the perfect sized white tiles for the kitchen and bathroom. The interior is plain, with tongue and groove detail, high ceilings and tall double doors. On the flat roof, typical of the town`s North African architectural feel we`re adding a room, a white cube, with a bedroom, wood burning stove and shower. This will be a cool retreat in summer without electricity, candles will do, and there`ll be a solar panel on top for hot water. This is where to watch storks glide and breathtaking sunsets. . As my grasp of Portuguese is at best, limited, my hands will held by a Portuguese architect friend. I hope we will not need to seek planning permission as the building will remain in the permitted height restrictions. Ho hum, I`m not counting on anything though. E-mails are being pinged back and forth refining the original layout, which I paced out one sizzling morning, eyed by a scraggy black cat. Fingers crossed, completion should be by next Spring. I`m off to seek more architectural inspiration over the Open House weekend when all kinds of extraordinary buildings, public and private are open to the public in London. Last year we stayed local and explored a windmill, an amazing eco house, and a fabulous but faded art deco housing estated called Pullman Court.
Apples, apples and more apples are waiting to be gathered in the grey metal bucket. If I am organised there will be crumbles and apple sponge for pudding. The garden has that overgrown and dying back look of autumn. The effect is monotone and washed out like the moody Vilhelm Hammershoi canvases of landscapes and interiors I managed to catch on the last day at the The Royal Academy of Arts.