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"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
Green tomatoes
13 November 2012

  Digging and musing,  I think about a man I know and his mid life delusion: leaving home for an  ex-council bedsit,  smoking, the Affair.  They say that  clinging to the death throes of youth is a temporary fix - like Botox.  What if the  energy could be channeled into something really productive .......like gardening?   Clubs  even where you can ` Dig for  a new lease of life`  Nurturing a pumpkin patch  could be so much more rewarding than  lusting over Janet in Accounts.  And  pumpkins make good soup. I stab the bramble roots  at the thought of the colossal parking fine I paid after yesterday`s visit from the bailiffs. How so I didn`t see the previous warning letters?   It`s not unusual for  stylists on shoots to help themselves to my stuff for props in a shoot  scene. Parking tickets lost in a Day in the life of  British Gas or Moshi Monsters Christmas. Or is it just a case of me throwing  them in the bin by mistake?
 Fresh air, light, space. ... suburbia is the place to be.  Screened-out I can tour the  last  rose buds, pick a green tomato, (see above)  and fennel (see below) for fish, or   check  on the sweet pea seedlings in the shed to revive me.   How I used to pace from room to room in our last flat high above the City where one fragile weed on the roof top opposite  was the only spot of green. It`s only a bus and a tube ride away from the bright lights.  Recent highlights: more al fresco swimming at the Oasis in Covent Garden followed by clams and razor clams  at Barrafina as fresh and garlicky as they could be outside of  an Andalucian beach bar; Tim Wright`s figurative paintings  in Shoreditch  and  last night`s treat  a groovy basement bar The Social with  readings   by Faber Man Booker  authors, Adam Foulds, Deborah Levy and Sarah Hall .  



Wouldn`t it be fun to create paint colours for each season.  Autumn  references of  golden yellow, ,orange, earth brown  are here, leaf confetti at my feet.  And all in a morning`s dog walking across the dew grass in Brockwell Park.  



Tags: colour, flower power, garden, scent, Simple, spring, white rooms


Sorry, more tulips
02 May 2012





  I can`t stop clicking away at my tulip beauties.  At least this is a wholesome  no-strings infatuation . Nip outside. A break in the Tulse hill monsoon.  It feels heavy, cool. Grey, a monotone sort of day. But the tulips are swaying and fluttering like floral clubbers in a riot of pinks, whites, and purples. I crouch at their level, and aim at my favourites: beetroot and raspberry rippled `Triumph` and `Rems`  look almost good enough to eat. Keep the camera steady- with  right elbow resting on my leg.  It`s good to be down here at bee level and close enough to count the beads of rain drops  on waxy  curled and feathered  petal cups.  Some of the  white Parrots are  flopping,  on the road to petal decay and an even  more langorous laid back beauty. It`s May and, bother, way past my season for thick black wool tights. Something must be done because I`m a bare legged sort - and like the feel of sun and air on skin.  But maybe I`m going to have to wait a little longer until the barometer rises and  the rains of  the  ` wettest drought ` subside. There was everything from fuzzy  black and white film of  prim couples dancing at the festival of  Britain in 1952  to  the first Habitat catalogue,  and spriggy Laura Ashley wallpaper  at the  V&A`s British Design 1948-2012. (Where was the iconic Ercol windsor chair or Robert Welch`s cutlery? ) This was an inspiring and informative show.  ` Ooh I`ve never heard of him ` before exclaimed the  young architectural student behind who was  admiring carpet designs from the legendary Sixties` interior  decorator  David Hicks.  







 



 



Tags: flower power, spring


Petals and buns
23 April 2012





  I know there were  head shots two or three posts ago,  but can`t  resist showing you more frilly  and voluptuous tulips from the  garden . They give me the kind of visual and visceral  pleasure  I was yearning for after the clinical,  blokeish  spots, pickled animals, and pharmacy displays at the Damien Hirst show, Tate Modern.  It`s funny to think that  Hirst`s  £50million diamond  skull and £30,500 plastic version in the gift shop are as hyper inflated, as the humble tulip was  during  the period of Tulip Fever in Holland.  One  `Semper Augustus` bulb could be exchanged for several acres of land  until  1637 when the bubble burst and prices plummeted.   Art,  bulbs, anything,  can be engendered with hyped up value when rich and gullible go together.    







    Now for the technical stuff.  I  spotted a mistake in  the Hot Cross bun recipe  in my book.   It should not be  1  tablespoon  milk,  but  170 ml tepid milk. Sometimes we just miss these typos.   And , like the red faced  filler of the over flowing  bath at home last week (a mini  Niagara descended upon the room below)  I offer my apology.. Here`s the recipe: 450 g plain flour 55g caster sugar pinch mixed spice l and half tsp dried yeast 75g raisins 55 g candied peel 1 egg 170ml tepid milk 55g unsalted butter melted for the cross 80g plain flour 2 tbsp caster sugar 100ml water for the glaze 2 tbsp soft brown sugar 2 tbsp milk l tbsp marmalade Sift the flour into a bowl and add the sugar, mixed spice, dried yeast, raisins, candied peel and grated orange rind. Beat the egg with the milk and add the melted butter. Tip the mixture into the flour and stir. Turn out and knead on a floured surface for 5 minutes. Divide into 12 buns and  place on floured baking sheets. Cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm place for about 90 minutes until almost doubled in size. To make the cross: Mix the flour, sugar and water until smooth. Put the mixture in a piping bag and pipe a cross on each bun. Place in a preheated oven , 180C for 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. To make the glaze: Simmer the sugar, milk and marmalade in a pan for a few minutes until syrupy, stirring all the time. Sieve the syrup to remove any pieces of orange rind and  pour  over the cooked buns.    



    Mixing everything in, above,   and,  below, risen dough buns decorated with crosses    



    Hot cross buns for tea - doesn`t have to be Easter to make them. I split them in half and eat  toasted with butter and jam.    



Tags: flower power, home cooking, spring


Visual bliss
02 April 2012

 



  Raspberry ripple, ice cream and raddichio leaves, that`s what my  fuschia pink and white  streaked  `Triumph` tulip petals look  like.   And how that pink would look so good as lipstick - Talking of which , I`m aiming for the gorgeous violet blue  Lancome shade that might just usurp the old faithful Barry M  colour 52.  I will let you know.  



  Post dog walk I  couldn`t resist  two pots of muscari -  grape hyacinths  , another  floral thing that looks like something else. With their lime green leaves and blue blue  bobbly flowers a crowd of these little bulbs so sum up spring.  



  Don`t you just love the look of white eggs ? I don`t hunt them out especially but when I do have a box or two (these are ducks`) its pleasing to put them in a dish on the table-  a simple study in edible and  natural decoration.  



  Nameless kitten latterly known as Chanel, is now plain Coco.   It sounds like  chocolate  and after all she does look like  a rather deliciously dressed  truffle .  

Tags: flower power, spring


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


Things I like this week ...
28 September 2011

  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 ‘Madison Gold’ from Melin Tregwynt.  



  With 20% off from 1st October Scottish fabric designer Donna Wilson’s Eadie armchairs at SCP are potentially more than just a textile-dream.  



  Just launched at the London Design Festival is Studioilse’s 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 it’s brilliant for making mayonnaise.



  I’ve had my Le Creuset cast iron casserole pans for over 20 years - but wouldn’t 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.  



  It’s time for dealing with the fading roses. Great for pruning are Swiss made Felco secateurs.

Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, garden, interiors, Simple


Local paradise
16 May 2011





  Suffused in pools of light and shade this May afternoon the garden seems to take on an air of secrecy and serenity. It is my place of shelter and repose from the roaring traffic and sirens on the South Circular, just two streets away. I turn on the hose and give everything a good drink (drought conditions continue, and gardeners are being asked to create mud pools so the house martins and swifts can build their clay like nests). The arc of water plays like a silver stream over the last tulips, rosemary, alliums and clumps of purple chives. It leads my thoughts to a piece I have read about Islamic gardens, and how we owe a huge debt in the West to the Muslim ideal of paradise. This is encapsulated in the design of the Persian `chahar bah . This enclosed garden has a central fountain which flows into water rills which represent the four rivers of Paradise. Famous examples include the Taj Mahal garden in India and the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, Granada. In his book` Gardens, An Essay on the Human Condition`- the academic Robert Pogue Harrison argues that it also provides a key to understanding Islam in the modern world. He suggests that where paradise is imagined as a garden of perfect tranquility our incurable Western agitation takes on a diabolical quality. It would be wonderful to have world peace and understanding through gardening.  



   



  On a personal level, working in my garden takes me away from just about every mental annoyance that happens to be swirling around. I enter a calm non judging head space when having to concentrate on the delicate and precise task of lifting fragile radish and bean seedlings into position for the next stage of development. My senses are energised: bad or dull feelings float away with the smells of damp earth as the hose plays across the beds, and I feel more in touch with the elements as my legs are lightly tickled by lavender that has spilled voluputously over the brick path.  



  The Constance Sprys, are in themselves a vision of petally paradise, tumbling luscious pink blooms over on both garden fences. Not only visual balm, but with a scent that is so light and sweetly fragrant that I feel I want to drink it .  



  Then there are the equally fabulous frilled and frothy pink peonies, (below) the ones I lifted and divided from my childhood suburban garden after my mum died. It is reassuring that she lives on, in a way, through this yearly renewal in the garden.  



  I`m always coming up with ideas for Pure Style this and that - one dream is a heavenly little hotel with a walled garden and bright white bedrooms. If there was to be a Pure Style scent, of course `rose` would get a first look in, but I have to say that if anyone could help me bottle the delicate vanilla fragrance of my wallflowers this spring( see below) I am sure we could be on to a winner, too.



   

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, scent, Simple, spring, white rooms


Falling petals
09 May 2011





The party`s coming to a close with the tulips. Like beautiful young things  who`ve been up all night their  petals are languid and flopping.  Somehow the  curling and dessicating parts aren`t cause for gloom,  but give the flowers  an extraordinary wild and anarchic look.  The tulip`s  decline is an elegant one.  I must remember to pick off the seed pods and later in the summer  I will lift the bulbs and dry for planting out again in the winter. There`s so much more about to happen in the garden, and I am being kept on my toes with planting out vegetable seedlings, mowing the grass (only roughly  I have to say, just to make it look refreshed rather than obsessionally neat and titivated) and weeding, weeding, weeding.   My gorgeous Constance Spry rose are on the point of bursting forth, so in next week`s post  I can show you these and the other   summery beginnings which are so  very early this year.



 







Tags: colour, flower power, garden


Blossom days
27 April 2011





I wake  early with the encouraging limpid blue of an English Spring  sky.  Since  I`ve been away in Olhao  the apple tree has blossomed in a candy floss of  fluffy  pale pink petals.  



  The morning  sun warms the  worn red  brick paving  tiles and spills across the newly opened array of tulips. I can`t remember planting quite so many gorgeous varieties.  (Not that surprising  because when I did so, the garden was coated in a thick white icy coat of snow and it was all I could do to force the bulbs randomly into snow rimmed earth holes before it all became too cold and unpleasant and I had to scurry inside, toes and fingers numb.)  It is so exciting to watch this blast of petally colour unfold.  



See above  from left to right:  Spring Green;  Black Parrot ( a straggler  from  bulbs  that I planted three years ago ); Lilac Perfection.  



The purple and white striped `Triumph` tulip reminds me of the purple and white colourings of red onions; it has to be the most stylish  of my tulip flock.



  Hardly have the bags been unpacked and the weeds attended to,  then our spring jaunt continues with a large family  get together in Suffolk. By now the air feels midsummer balmy and the weather people are in high excitement  about the early heatwave that is hitting northern Europe. Whilst  I am ambling along dewy lanes,  alive with cuckoo song , lilac,  and wild asparagus (see above), a subdued  text from our tenant in Olhao describes great winds and rains  and a request for wet day  activities  in the area.  Wow, we had a narrow climatic escape.  



We visit Walberswick, rather like an  English east coat version of  the Hamptons, on Long Island,  all beautiful picturebook, wisteria-clad houses and cottages with immaculate picket fences. There is a village  green with swings, well behaved  children and a horizon with simple beach huts. We crunch along the pebbly beach and some  of the party, plus the dog, embrace the unseasonal warmth and swim. Of course, the sea is still winter cold and we drive home with the heater full on to keep hypothermia at bay. I negociate a detour to Wootton`s  nursery which has everything from agapanthus to old fashioned cottage garden plants, and the most amazing selection of auriculas (see above) all massed together in a light white greenhouse.  I come away with a box of cat mint and  lavender for the potager beds,  blue geraniums for  ground cover,  and an exquisite lemon secented old perlagonium  called  Mabel Grey which  I shall keep in a pot to sit  on my desk through the winter.  



Sufffolk (and going over into Norfolk) is also very blissful with its  wide flat watermeadows  around  Harleston and Beccles,  where cows swish their tails in the shade of  ancient  willows and the river Waveney is cool and meandering. We  bike past hawthorn hedges frothing with white blossom and look over to into fields where  hares leap across the furrows.  The county`s vast field aspect can be overwhelming, as are the electric  yellow swathes of rapeseed.  Sometimes I catch the whiff of a  more industrial and stinky smell than anything with more rural connections.  There are clues in the  anonymous green lorries thundering past gnarled  greening  oaks to what is probably  hidden away landfill. We eat well on Suffolk honey, the new season`s asparagus,  cod landed at  Lowestoft and rhubarb for pudding.  The  Ship inn at Dunwich  serves the best fish and chips  of the week, and is also a only a few minutes walk to the beach , where it is said  that  divers can  hear  the ghostly clang of    church bells that succumbed to the sea.



Arriving back in London through steamy streets where the thermometer is hitting 27C,  I am almost bowled over by the riot of colour  (see above and below)  that that has taken over the garden.  All  the tulips are now full and voluptuous on leggy stems.  I watch their cups open up lazily  in the sunshine and   close  in the shade as as if  to keep warm.  



  New this year to my bulb order  are   `Silver ` parrot tulips (see below right)  which when they first came out weren`t in the least bit silver, more  bright raspberry ripple.  Now that they`ve matured, the pink has faded a little and is rather fabulous.  



 

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, holiday, scent, Simple, spring


Natural beauty
09 April 2011





The garden is growing growing growing. The warmth and sun of the past week has kick started the spring juices and the little beds in the parterre/potager are greening and filling out fast. The tulips that started as a flop of leaves have developed slender stems with tight buds. The first to flower is the variety Lilac Perfection (see above) in fabulous bowls of fuschia pink petals.



This natural beauty in my backyard is a kind of antidote to all that’s commercial and mass market: ads that make us want more even though we don’t need whatever is being pushed, or the TV mush of American teen soaps and celebrity dining shows. This, and my desire to live more simply and without so much fuss is also where I am at with my Pure Style philosophy. I think I must be on the right track when I read that my design hero Terence Conran has a buff label on his desk with the words ‘Plain, simple, useful` and says that we should apply this attitude to everything we own and use. I am also a fan of John Lane’s Timeless Simplicity - in which he explains how to live more creatively in a consumer society.



It quite a revelation, to see that it’s not the first time there has been a reaction to the consumerism in society. Go and see the V&A`s exhibition Escape into Style, `The cult of beauty: The aesthetic movement 1860-1900’ which is about the late nineteenth century revolt against Victorian industrialism by artists and architects who wished to create a new ideal of beauty in wallpaper, painting, architecture, textiles and poetry. NB: Although it`s really all about middle class family angst - and a rather too close to home portrait of it too, I recommend the film, Archipelago, to see some truly mesmerising visuals of the natural beauty on the wild and windswept island of Tresco in the Isles of Scilly.



Tags: books, colour, flower power, garden, Simple, spring


Spring greens
18 March 2011





The new greens are in season. Whatever else might be thwarting my daily progress, young bean green shoots and fresh bright spring green grass are reassuringly sprouting and budding outside the kitchen window. I can’t resist bunches of  ‘muscari ‘ grape hyacinths (see above) delicate blue flowers on equally delicate lime green stems. They are packed fresh from the fields in a box propped up outside the florist with the logo, Cornish flowers on its base. At £1.25 a bunch I am surprised that by lunchtime the sales woman says that I am the first to buy some of these vibrant and colourful pieces of spring.



With its potent link to nature, green is one of my favourite colours to have about the home. (Have a look at the exciting greens for faux suede by Designers Guild). Its presence as a decoration tool can be as minimal, as a flash of a lime green painted flower pot to brighten up the bedroom, or as all encompassing, as our lime green painted loo. The latter idea is a very good way for me to incorporate a rich green colour in a house that needs to make its living being painted white almost all over!  And I have also managed to make way for some muted greens in the tv room and garden shed as the shoots are very keen to use them for backdrops to simple and natural still lives. As soon as there’s a day with the faint burn of spring sunshine my thoughts turn to picnics. I like to head for that south facing spot on the tussocky slopes that frame our walks along the Somerset valley on visits to my father. Feta cheese, basil and cucumber is one of our favourite fillings in hunks of sourdough bread that come freshly baked via our local corner shop.



Tags: colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, interiors, Simple, spring, thrifty decoration, white rooms


Colour love
18 February 2011





Ha Ha! I am right on trend in my several-seasons-old canary yellow buttoned J Crew cardigan,  as the March issue of Vogue proclaims ‘fashion’s new love for colour’. Of course we all know it’s not really new, as fashion is all about an ongoing passion with colour in some form or other. But there is something particularly resonant about the  newness and vibrancy that Spring brings to everything. A sense, too, of optimism and possibilities - from the leggy amaryllis by my kitchen window (see above) about to unfurl in a whirl of striped pink and white petals, to the Spring pages of fashion mags  washed in bright shades of tangerine, raspberry and quince. (I look forward to the first swim of the season at the lido and have my eye on a hyacinth blue retro spot halterneck swimsuit in the Boden catalogue that plopped through my letter box last week.) When I haven’t seen my children for a while and we meet   after a fortnight  away or longer,   there’s a sense of seeing them as new people, almost like getting to know them all over again. That’s how I feel, in a way, when I hold the neatly bound sections of the new book, all ready to be sent off to the printers in China. Is it really three months since I turned in the final acknowledgements? I am excited, because I now see the book with a fresh eye. It’s not tiring to scan the spreads that I checked over and over  during the editing process. I hope it doesn’t sound puffed up to say it’s looking good!



  Feeling buoyant I am inspired to revisit a piece of half finished patchwork that has been lying in my large turquoise canvas remnants bag for the last year or so. It’s made up of blue and white pieces cut from various sources:  pairs of worn out children’s pyjamas and tattered jeans. There’s also a bit of floral Liberty print from a dress that I cut up because I grew tired of its shape. (Although quite expensive, I also like the idea of pre cut Liberty patchwork squares sold by the bundle.) Foot on the accelerator I motor along on the rather battered Elna Lotus SP that my parents gave me for my 21st birthday. The process of pinning and stitching, trying to  steer not only a straight path but  also fingers away from the dagger effects of the speeding needle,  are all good for freeing the mind of muddle. As good as digging the garden, or beating egg whites to frothy peaks. Once everything is sewn together I hem the edges of what is to become a kind of patchwork loose cover for the seat of the chesterfield. I say, loose, because the dog, and the cat, are very fond of this surface, and it would soon look very sad, very quickly if I couldn’t whip it off to be washed and revived. NB Must catch the British photographer E.O. Hoppe’s modernistic portraits (Vita Sackville West, John Masefield) at The National Portrait Gallery. NNB I made pheasant and pea  (frozen petit pois are delicious) risotto  last night, with the leftovers and  home made stock  from  a brace of pheasants  from the Farmer’s market. It’s good not to have to be a hunting shooting fishing type in order to enjoy the mildly gamey flavour, and lean texture of these  inexpensive birds.  



Tags: books, colour, flower power, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, interiors, scent, Simple, spring, thrifty decoration


Spring and eggs
11 February 2011





  This feels like spring. A brilliant sunlight filled day and a plate of Daisy’s eau de nil and chalk white eggs fresh from her hens. I check outside and even the bare flower beds have little patches of brilliant green where the chives, and tulips are having a go at bursting forth. I know that the doom mongers say there’s plenty more foul wintry weather to come, but you can’t ignore the fact that it stays light until teatime. And as it turns dusky velvet blue, the sky has the luminous feel associated with softer, warmer and longer days ahead.      



  I like to bring the spring feeling inside even if it hasn’t quite got going outside. There are inexpensive bundles of daffodils, or pots of delicate grape hyacinths at Jayne Copperthwaite’s fragrant flower shop which she recently opened in Balham, south London. It’s my daughter’s 17th birthday weekend and so there’s every excuse to come away laden with bunches of blue hyacinths and sweetly scented white narcissi.          



  I prefer my flowers to sit in containers that don’t shout: simple glass vases, pint beer gasses even, or the white enamel bowls that I fill with bulbs and layer with moss.



  I lay the table with a suitably spring green cotton cloth made out of a furnishing fabric remnant from my store cupboard on the landing. Later at the birthday dinner, there are candles, pink fizz and large slices of chocolate cake. (I feel very short amongst the beautiful gazelles in high heels.) NB: Before I push Publish, I must say how really cross I am that the Government wants to close hundreds of libraries (481 libraries, 422 buildings and 59 mobile libraries are under threat according to Public Libraries News). As an 8 year old, it was a first taste of independence, wheeling my bike back from Earlsfield library with an Everlasting Toffee strip and a  bagful of books dangling from the handlebars. The shiny parquet floors and hushed atmosphere made the library seem all at once very grow up but somehow calm and comforting. Choosing books from packed shelves, rows and rows, was like being in a kind of sweet shop of words and ideas, and all the better because you could take them home for free. My current local library at West Norwood is a brilliant source of everything from thrillers, to the latest Booker Prize winner in a pristine dust jacket. There are mothers with young children getting their first taste of reading books, old people who come to read the newspapers, seek some companionship. Even the disruptive teenagers calm down in this airy, peaceful environment.  And in common with other libraries around the county, it is also a lifeline for the one in five people who do not have the internet at home and need their local library to look for jobs. The libraries must stay open.

Tags: books, colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, homemade, spring, thrifty decoration


Winter figs
14 January 2011





I squelch around the soggy garden mentally choosing new planting ideas for spring.  Smooth red rosehips and little purple figs, relics of last summer, on the tree in a frost-cracked pot are just about the only other colours in a palette of greens and earth browns. In the long, low illuminating rays of a sunny winter`s  afternoon it is clear that the house is in need of a good scrub. My tools are thick gloves, bucket of hot water, mild detergent, a good wooden scrubbing brush and elbow grease. With the Radio 4 play for company it’s not too long before the white floorboards look less dingy and the bare pine boards in the kitchen feel smoother, and cleaner underfoot.



I would not describe myself as house-proud - always fussing and tweaking the cushions in a Stepford Wives kind of way. But I do feel  a certain self-consciousness on behalf of my home in its role as a location house - like the protective mother of a willowy model daughter at the mercy of fickle art directors. The other day, it was turned down because our beds were too ‘European’. I would be the wrong person for the job if I took this as a personal insult. All it means is that the space isn’t right for that particular job. Getting the detail up to scratch is all-important. I overhear a comment about a client’s visit to a location, that was so shabby chic, the door handles were stuck on with sellotape. Feeling slightly like a child about to be caught in the act, I make a note to remedy our interior malfunctions. Preparation for photography means an enormous session with the washing machine. I love the dog and cat but not their muddy paws that decorate the white cotton sheets and covers as soon as I’ve made up fresh beds. So I am very strict and un-dog-and-cat-lover-like and banish them from the bedrooms until a shoot is over. All of the folding, ironing, and hot water and bucket work is not in vain, when the first client of the year announces that they would like to come and live here.



When the thigh-high reflective waders are pulled out I know the ongoing water leak situation is not so rosy. Soon the front garden is looking like a floodlit crime scene from a Henning Menkell thriller as Carl the plumber digs down in search of an elusive and broken water pipe.  Neighbours pass by and look pityingly at our muddy excavations.  Several more holes and mounds of earth later, the verdict is a whole run of replacement tubing and great expense. At least larder supplies are stable as the older two have returned to university. And I am no longer burning my fortune away in gas after discovering that the house was unbearably hot not because of the wonderful capabilities of the new boiler, which of course are undeniable, but because the thermostat had been turned up to 75C in order to quick dry a load of washing over radiators before the return to penniless student life. In between everything domestic, I am back at my desk writing Christmas thank yous with beautiful black and white cards – photographs of long gone North Devon rural life by James Ravilious from the Beaford Archive. (I must also tell you about the inspiring pictures on show at the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery.) With many more evenings, and afternoons, of electric light before the clocks change, I am thinking of trying out what must be the first, and only stylish looking low energy light bulb: the Plumen bulb uses 80% less energy and lasts 8 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Meanwhile, it is good to see spring is advancing with my indoor pots of sprouting amaryllis and hyacinth bulbs.



Tags: books, colour, flower power, homemade, interiors, Simple, thrifty decoration, white rooms, winter


A thriller and the garden
30 December 2010





From almost-hysterical queues to silhouettes of trees and church towers against white fields: this contrast from urban shopping frenzy to rural peace has been one of the best things about our Christmas, spent in the depths of Somerset. Charades, a melee of dogs plopped in front of the fire, and Blackadder on the TV are pretty good festive ingredients, too.



There’s a feeling of relief that all the present searching and sorting is over. I am using the post Christmas calm to get stuck in to Before I Go To Sleep With a bizarre form of memory loss as its key theme, the story is a gripping psychological thriller which kept me up all night, because it was too tantalising to close the pages and not get to the clever ending. But enough of the adrenaline. I am thrilled with my copy of Second Nature: A Gardener`s Education by Michael Pollen who brilliantly promotes the garden rather than the wild as the most appropriate place for rethinking our relationship with nature. He says that a garden is the place for being in, rather than looking at. Lawns, for example are not part of Pollen’s landscape: “The more serious about gardening I became, the more dubious lawns seemed” he writes and goes on to say “For however democratic a lawn may be with respect to one’s neighbours, with respect to nature it is authoritarian”. I know what he means, but you do have to tough it with nature too - I’m thinking of the groundelder and lemon balm that engulfs my summer garden, of which I have no qualms at hacking down to maintain order.



With more musing on my unseasonal train of thought I do so miss the summer herby lavender scents of my garden which is looking so spare and flattened now that there is a bit of a thaw in progress. The closest I can seem to get to a summer sensory experience at the moment is the gorgeous Primrose Facial Hydrating Cream with lavender, sage and rosemary from Aesop. I don’t usually find huge words of praise for beauty treatments (having worked as a beauty editor some years ago and tried out products that came with extraordinary claims, even more extraordinary prices and yet didn’t seem to be any better than E45 cream from the chemist) but this cream is delicious in fragrance and good to my frazzled winter skin. Whilst I’m on the subject of beautifying I shall keep you posted with the effects, if any, (who me, sounding a touch cynical?) of my Yuroll which bills itself as a jade facial massager – not unlike a small rolling pin on a long handle – and is supposed to ensure a “lean re-contoured wonderfully unlined face: thoroughly toned and with improved elasticity”. I can’t see anything, apart from a very large dose of Botox improving my ‘laughter’ lines and general wear and tear, much of which occurred when I sunbathed furiously in my teens. But, hey I’m going to give it a go!



We’re all nursing extremely full stomachs, and yearning for something lighter and more fragrant than Christmas turkey fare. My sister in law gave me a jar of her preserved lemons, which I can’t wait to add to a spicy tagine with some fluffy hot couscous. I must also pay a visit to Persepolis our local taste of Persia in Peckham, where there are many aromatic middle eastern delights. After an extremely bracing walk across Hampstead Heath, it won’t be over indulgent in this season of indulgency, to enjoy some ice cream at Marine Ices in Camden, a family tradition that goes back to when my children were small and seemed to disappear behind their two huge scoops of chocolate tottering on wafer cones.

Tags: books, Christmas, colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, homemade, scent, Simple, winter


Christmas roses
16 December 2010





The snow comes and the last roses are topped with fairy queen ice bonnets. I embrace the way the snow, the hoar frost, the cold, slows everything down: idling in front of a blazing fire to thaw out, or the ridiculously slow driving speeds needed to avoid the neighbour’s brand new Fiat are all rather welcome. I crunch around the garden in Wellingtons and think it timely to invest in a pair of the recycled cashmere gloves that I spied on the nydesign room site. The dog loves the new white world and takes up goal post positions saving the snow balls we chuck in the air. “Look at that dog jumping” squeals a boy in the park and I feel the sort of maternal pride normally reserved for my children when they were young and doing some sort of athletic trick.  I think she deserves a Liberty print collar even if it’s not quite the butch streetwise look that most dogs sport around here.



The extreme weather conditions have encouraged the squirrels to excel at survival tactics.  They line up on the garden fence, tails juddering, twitching and eyes greedily fixed as I attempt to plant the bulbs that didn’t get dug in before the blizzard. I am not taking chances and put down barricades of wire netting to stop their mining efforts.



The shoots are tramping in slush and so I rush round laying down covers hoping it doesn’t seem too unfriendly. It is not a little disorientating to be watching TV on Monday in the sitting room painted in Dulux’s aubergine vision for winter 2011, and then by Wednesday, it’s spring again and all pale walls, tulips, and hyacinths for a magazine feature that includes a gorgeous arm chair upholstered in olive green from Laura Ashley. Another theme on all things British, includes very simple white jugs from Burleigh that are ideal for a Pure Style kitchen, and simple block printed fabrics from Tobias and the Angel.



This Christmas I am stocking up on Spanish fig and almond slices from Brindisa and more membrillo as book writing meant that I didn’t get round to making it this autumn. For more Iberian pleasures such as simple woven Portuguese shopping baskets try Feitoria. For a present of simple everyday drinking glasses you can’t beat the dumpy French Duralex ones from Labour and Wait. And any lover of English food history will have their head happily buried all over the festive period in a copy of Dorothy Hartley’s classic Food in England: A Complete Guide to the Food That Makes Us Who We are

I might think the moment for scented room candles could come and go forever if it weren’t for Diptyque who make ones with authentic smells. My favourite is Oranger, and almost as aromatic as the real thing. The Christmas tree is going up tomorrow and with it woolly pom poms that are very satisfying to make with children because the effect is very quick to achieve. I also make rag balls with fabric strips from my remnants bag that are pinned to floral oasis.  The look is simple and homespun.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, scent, Simple, thrifty decoration, winter


Summer scents and sweetpeas
15 August 2010





Packing up for the hols’ may be palpitation inducing: thundering down the motorway to take the dog for her summer billet with my sister, racing through a month’s paperwork in the early hours, and making the house ship shape for a magazine Christmas shoot . But boy it’s worth it! Exchanging city shorts for beaten up espadrilles and t-shirts is as good for the soul as  the summer diet  based around   grilled sardines and hunks of watermelon.  Just scraping under the 20kg limit as usual, my suitcase is stuffed  with books  for long spells of reading under the beach umbrella.  Favourites include   The Surprising Life of Constance Spry  by Sue Shephard; Outliers ‘the story of success’ by Malcolm Gladwell,  and  The Algarve Fish Book by Nic Boer and Andrea Sieber.  I’m also inspired by  Reinventing  Letter Press by Charlotte Rivers,   a stylish   little book with fabulous printing ideas.



Along with the reading matter, there’s just enough room  to slot in  a few bars of Green and Blacks chocolate bars.   It will head straight to the fridge as soon as possible after we meet the sauna temperatures of Olhao in August.



I’ve also tucked in the  dolls house sized  Indian terracotta pots that the  returning  traveller produced from her mighty backpack. Perfect for salt, pepper, and chopped herbs, they are also  a tangible reminder of just how far my middle born has spread her wings  in the last six months.,   



1’m  counting on the Spanish lodgers to  nurture the courgettes and tomatoes all swelling nicely in the warmth and damp. One of them is a specialist ham carver, so I hope his talents for precision extend to the vegetable patch.  They’re  already under instructions to feed and water Miss Bea, the cat   who will lord it over the  sofas,  spreading her black fluff,  with the dog safely out of the way.. One last look around the flowerbeds, to enjoy the sweetly scented  white nicotiana- another unexpected  success from last year’s seeds, which in turn were produced from the previous year’s blooms that i collected. And even the agapanthus managed to defy the winter’s ravages and has just put out some glorious blooms. I’ll miss the sweetpeas, too, their delicate soapy fragrance is so much part of an English summer garden. .



 Before I snap the case shut   I  must tell you about  three new finds: Feitoria.com.pt sells a cleverly edited collection of   Portuguese accessories, such as  leather slippers, donkey milk soap,(yes, honestly)  and cork ice buckets -  so much more inspiring than the usual souvenir stuff. Closer to home ther`re  simple  Welsh blankets and other  celtic  home ideas from Blodwen   And molly-meg.co.uk   sells stylish  child sized chairs: a good idea for anyone want ing a nice  bit of  scaled down Ercol in the nursery.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, scent, Simple, summer


Seaweed Prints and Sourdough
28 March 2010



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Only a few piles of dog eared admin remain before we can escape to Olhao and the new room on top. On the way to the post office, mimosa and forsythia are fizzing with yellow. It seems a little wasteful to be leaving behind the first budding and greening signs of spring but the draw of sand between toes and sardines are tantalizing too. And after more technology malfunctions (I won`t even go there) parking ticket angst, missed train connections, and near hospitalisation involving clogs on a down escalator, I`m ready to walk there, let alone fly .

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Just have to get in a session of dough making for pizza (artichoke hearts, green olives and parmesan, is my current favourite) and other homemade creations (see here my sister in law`s divine rye sourdough bread) to illustrate my new book. The four legged paparazzo is enjoying the cooking sessions too, hanging around the worktop for crumbs, and helping herself to the subject matter of a flapjack shot when no one`s looking. It`s all go putting together the pages, and the deadline is no tiny speck in the distance anymore. But that`s good, too, because it means the weeks are slipping away until the backpacker daughter returns.

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When I`m back first stop will be gorgeous fabrics at the V&A exhibition, Quilts 1700-2010. Might even get round to a spot of quiltmaking with pretty seaweed prints from the museum`s collection of archive printed cotton. Check out more print ideas from Printand pattern.blogspot.com and Liberty prints at knockdown prices in the new range for American chain store Target .

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Spring garden notes: Divide agapanthus: I have an extended family of agapanthus plants that came stashed in a suitcase from Spain and are now packed tightly in a pot like chocolate fish in a tin, which is how they like it. This year, though, division is necessary to keep the plants vigorous and I cut them down the middle with a fork and plant the new half in a fresh container. Feed shrubs and climbers: I started with the standard roses, and have now worked in more compost and bonemeal around the shrub and climbing roses, and gorgeous pale lilac wisteria at the front of the house. Sow seedlings half hardy under cover: Nicotiana and zinnia seeds saved from last year are germinating in a tray on the windowsill. Sow less than think as a pinch of seed goes a long way. Prepare trenches for beans and `chitted` potatoes and dig in muck or compost (on another sea salty note, I remember my grandmother lined her bean trenches with seaweed and newspaper to conserve moisture).

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, Simple, spring, thrifty decoration


Sweet and utilitarian
01 March 2010



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Bother! I`d hoped to get my post out before the end of February. I am diverted from my laptop to equip the eldest daughter with `wedding ring`, door wedge, extending washing line and all the other stuff for the gap year female traveller. It is like losing a limb when she walks through Terminal 5 departures, but I can get in the bathroom now. And in the way that life sometimes seems to synchronise itself, my new book contract is signed and the deadline is just about the date she returns. Publication is next spring, but I`ll give you some sneak previews along the way. Some design notes:I won`t ever tire of gingham, it`s a really inexpensive way to add a spot of spring colour to the home: a simple pull on chair cover ,say . My temple is MacCulloch & Wallis who sell online as well as from a shop crowded with young fashion students in central London. Look out, too for enamel alphabet letters and numbers from Hyperkit, more timeless simple design. RIP Lucienne Day one of our great designers, known for her painterly and simple Fifties` fabrics. I also have a passion for the stacking Polyprop chairs that her husband Robin Day designed, and can still be picked up from secondhand shops and markets.

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There are walking babies, crawling babies, sicky babies and back-up babies modelling shoes in the house, and so I escape to the garden. It`s looking spare (an understatement) but crocuses like bright fruit drops are pushing through. I prune the roses with vigour giving the 4 standards the equivalent of a military short back and sides. But they will flower well and spread without looking wild and untidy. They have a good feed with shovels of rich earthy compost from the bottom of the bin. It`s so cold I can`t be bothered to dig it in, but it`s raining so the nutrients will wash down to where the roots need it . The room on top in Olhao is nearing completion after the builders have ducked and dived the thrashing winds and rains of the Algarve`s worst weather in 30 years. It`s a whole new vista up here. In the distance, a band of cobalt sea beneath a grey blue sky, tv aerials, flapping laundry, a silver winding mesh of homing pigeons, the fizzing pink of an almond tree. And all with the Olhao soundtrack of dogs barking, bells, and the strains of a fado song on next door`s radio. NB The dearth of photographic evidence is due to further gadget malfunction, this time, my newly acquired i-phone, a marvellous invention, when it works The blues and greens of the seaside are exhilarating but no less than the rolling hills and valleys on the drive to see my Dad in Somerset: a mossy palette as if from a Farrow and Ball paint chart. And then there is more heavenly natural colour at the Van Gogh exhibition, where my rushhour Friday stress melts before the artist`s drawings and paintings of French gardens and vegetable patches

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What with all the backpacking details I almost leave the marmalade making too late, but am saved by the last boxful of Sevilles at the local greengrocer. Soon the kitchen is a bittersweet aromatic fug and the mind only focused on the job. No wonder DH Lawrence said "I got the blues thinking of the future so I left off and made some marmalade." I read though that 80% of marmalade eaters are over 45. Don`t you think we should champion the young to get boiling and stirring? It`s such a pity that marmalade has that fusty old major at the breakfast table image.

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I pot the marmalade in recycled jars that I save and store under the sink. Holding one`s golden efforts in a simple glass jar topped with a cellophane lid and decorated with a homemade label is pure pleasure; so, too, is a slice of bread topped with marmalade and a spoonful of creme fraiche.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, home cooking, spring, thrifty decoration


Porridge and blankets
13 January 2010



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The snow woman is limbo dancing in the garden (her structure undermined in a temporary thaw) and the skiers have returned from the Brockwell Park slopes. Welcome to 2010 and the weird world of weather. For the last two weeks we Londoners, together with the rest of the country have been grappling with the biggest freeze-up for years. This one is maybe not as punishing as the winter of 1947 when people were using pneumatic drills to dig up frozen parsnips and 20 foot snowdrifts cut off thousands, but it is bad enough to inflict an itchy collection of chilblains upon my 15 year old‚Äö?Ñ?¥s toes. The red and swollen effects have been hastened by her unenthusiasm for sensible (ie uncool) walking boots. I explain (the without judgement style of explaining) that Top Shop pumps are probably not the best option for negociating ankle height slush, grit and skating rink pavements.

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Even if the footwear advice is not exactly welcomed at least the suggestion that everyone keeps warm with hot bowls of porridge at breakfast is met with approval; not only comforting but the ideal vehicle for large amounts of dark muscovado sugar or golden syrup. I make it with roughly one cup of oats to three cups of water. Bring the ingredients to the boil in a saucepan and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until creamy. Honey, butter, cream, creme fraiche or chopped dates are other delights to eat with porridge.

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The hyacinth bulbs I potted some weeks ago are throwing delicious scent around the room, and this, combined with the wood smoke from the fire gives the house the feeling of a rural oasis........ I can almost hear the sheep bleating. Reading in bed at night, swathed in an array of colourful wraps and blankets to keep warm, I`m told I look like an eccentric aunt. How romantic. One of my favourites is a cotton cellular example that I dyed lilac to pep up its hospital look. I`d like to add one of Donna Wilson`s takes on traditional Scottish blankets to the pile. And if I was to introduce some colour to my bedding themes, then Dorma`s new duck egg blue cotton sheets would be perfect.

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I`m the first to bang on about the false economy of buying cheap gadgets. But when my iron was lost on one of the shoots a few months ago, as a stop gap I nipped down to the electrical shop and bought the cheapest one I could find. In short, a mistake highlighted when I swished, rather than sweated, through the creases with the new Phillips model that has replaced the bad buy. With the windows steamy, a cup of Earl Grey, and the afternoon play going in the background, I soon got through the stack of pre-washed tea towels to be made up into linen tablecloths, orders for which are flying out of my online shop.

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Tags: colour, flower power, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, thrifty decoration, winter


Linen sheets and peppermint creams
17 December 2009



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8.00am: a fairy tale encounter with iced petals and snow flakes when I venture into the garden this morning to prod a blocked drain. A mucky distraction from the business of Christmas shopping which is something that I always intend to get done without getting stressed over, but never quite manage to pull off. It would be wise not read all those Christmas gift guides which swamp the reader with choices and possibilities that make decision making even more problematic. At least they`re not all about solid gold teapots these days, and hey, the Rolser (shopping on wheels vehicle of choice in Olhao) was even in the Eco Gift part of the Observer magazine. The shop floors of the Nation, though, continue to be choked with over packaged Starbucks gift boxes and pile `em high towers of celebrity memoirs. And talking of books, real ones, I have just ordered several copies of the Little Stranger by Sarah Waters . It`s supposed to be a good eerie read - perfect for a snug holiday afternoon. I know that all the mags are telling us to make our own presents, but it`s not quite as simple as that. You need time to create a handsewn bag for Aunt Olive or a knitted mohair scarf for your nearest and dearest. I know it`s all about the thought but setting yourself the task of homemade gifts for everyone can induce similar palpitating stress to battling through Oxford Street department stores. The way I do it is to do a bit of shop bought and a bit of homemade, and try to give appropriately. I can`t see my 20 year old wowing over a box of peppermint creams but know that if they`re prettily wrapped in tissue, will really please a girl friend or grandparent.

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HOME MADE PEPPERMINT CREAMS: 1 egg white 450g icing sugar, juice of half a lemon, 5 or 6 drops of peppermint flavouring, the mere driplet of green colouring (or they`ll look gruesome and lurid). Beat the egg white until fluffy, and add all the other ingredients to make a ball of green paste. Roll out to half an inch thick and cut out shapes. I like mine round, but stars and hearts would be good for christmas too. Decorate with silver balls and leave the creams to dry on greaseproof paper overnight Christmas biscuits are also a winner, and can be thrown together in half an hour, left to cool and either eaten for tea or wrapped up as a gift. Watch me making a batch on my latest YouTube I have in mind, a `present to myself` set of Volga linen sheets. But the car needs to be fixed and what sort of parent lets their children drive off in a dodgy vehicle? This business of feeling responsible for your offspring, doesn`t diminish as they get older, quite honestly you feel even more protective towards them as they hurl themselves around the world on gap year travels and hit party nights in drink sodden University cities.

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Another way of giving beautiful presents without spending a fortune is to have a rummage around charity shops for someone elses old glass. I set myself a visual style guide: no crystal glass, nothing coloured and always simple in shape. In this way it makes the hunt easier and defines the `look`.

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Seagulls patterned like Fairisle jumpers swoop over the house in Olhao, where the ` room on top` is emerging from piles of rubble and bricks. I`m not going to post the `works in progress` pictures because they don`t look much fun, only to me. I will wait for a `before` and `after` show. Dare I say it, but it might take less time than we thought because Mr Martinho got off to a roaring start when a violent storm was forecast. It didn`t appear but, because there were more hands on the job in anticipation, the men were able to take down the old roof, and construct the building`s cement platform in just a few days. I like the way they have put all the old tiles to one side for reuse. I`ll leave you at the end of the year, with a plate of plump aromatic lemons, as typical an element of winter, as the rickety wagons of roasting chestnuts in the twinkly Olhao cobbled streets.

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Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, winter


Bulbs in the shed
26 November 2009



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, Simple


Beautiful and Useful
18 October 2009



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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 ‚Äö?Ñ?¨ 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.

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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......

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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.

Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, garden, get crafty


The September issue
20 September 2009



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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, home cooking, homemade, summer


Brixton beach
03 June 2009



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Gracie says the air smells like a greenhouse after the cloud burst today. The garden steams and drips, soaked in earth, grass, and sweet petal scents. Heads bowed and blousey, in a riot of pinks , the roses are heavenly. The Constance Sprys are doing the best ever: huge pink fluffy musky scented flowers, named after the Fifties` kitchen goddess, whose resourcefulness brought the nation `Coronation chicken` and the mantra that you can be `a millionaire for a few pence` with a packet of seeds. A spirit after my own heart, but thankfully eating habits have come a long way from the curried mainstay of buffets and wedding breakfasts. Talking of resourcefulness, have a look at the latest You Tube video where I have a go at revamping a junk shop dress. Ever since I double rolled the waist of a sensible school skirt to make it look more Mary Quant mini, I have been lopping off hems to give my wardrobe a new lease of life.

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I don`t know about you, but I feel an attachment to the flowers and plants in the garden, not as strong as that for my children, or the dog, or the cat even, but an attachment nevertheless. Don`t send for the white coats yet (Prince Charles talks to his plants). I heard a PHD student on radio 4 discussing a series of case studies which examine the emotional bonds that people have with plants. It makes sense to connect with a living thing that you`ve nurtured and laboured over. Then there is the sense of continuity that growing can bring. When my mum died, I dug up some of her peonies, and planted them here in the garden. Each summer the plants are bigger and put out an even more gorgeous show. Increasing natural beauty with nothing but a spade is one of the most satisfying things in life. The frilly drooping lipstick pink blooms remind me of a hot day at home and `ninety nine ` flake cornets from the ding dong ice cream van.

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Notes from the vegetable patch: I have resorted to pellets to protect the courgettes from snails` fangs. The rocket is taking off and even the little basil plants are filling well - in pots. The basil planted in the ground was a dead loss. It is a such a tender little thing and I put the seedlings in too early. Shallots, garlic, potatoes, and chard all doing nicely. And I`m just about to plant out the seedlings from last year`s beans - a success rate of maybe 30%. Not so bad, but I will need a few more plants to top up. Pulled some radishes, which looked as if they`d been dipped in a wash of deep water colour - so pretty, but maybe a bit woody. Should have eaten when younger, but delicious enough with sea salt and pepper. Next to be potted is the tray of white nicotiana plants, grown from seed, which promise heady scent later in the summer.

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I set myself a deadline of midday to write this, because the sun is now blazing and the glorious Brockwell Park lido beckons, where even the most sensitive creature will want to do a bit of swimming and frolicking in the shimmering blue cool water. How wonderful to be at the `Brixton Beach` where only in February, there were 3metre high snow balls, tobogganists on For Sale signs, and an artist painting in a blizzard!

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, homemade, summer


Tulips and wild garlic
07 May 2009



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Horrors. Some beastly person took a chance in our side passage and nicked my bike. Simple. I had neglected to lock it. I take a walk outside and let the beauty of the curled and furled parrot tulips take the edge off my frustration. The feathered buds seem to have been dipped in blueberry juice, clasped together like the furled wings of some exotic bird. In fact, more birdlike, than the the parrots` beaks they`re named after. Soon they will unfold in a riot of undulating and frilly petals. Some will be white, others blue (actually a fuschia pink) and black ( not black, black, but more a deep burgundy black). I`ve got to get replacement wheels, immediately. Not a pretty sentiment for someone who`s always banging on about the evils of self gratification, but the cycle bug has bitten and I`m fretting that I can`t hook the dog`s lead over the handlebars and let her take me at a cracking pace to the park, or nip to the Turkish shop for a bundle of early mint. Justification swims around in my head for quietly siphoning off the family`s holiday money to fund the purchase, from petrol saving, to the health benefits that will stave off some horrendously expensive operation in my old age. I will make it up to them, I think , feeling like a wife who plays bingo with the housekeeping, on my way to Recycling at Elephant and Castle . And thank goodness, that in the third bike crammed aisle is a reconditioned classic sit up and beg, Raleigh, with my name on it. After a short test cycle under the grimy railway arches of one of London`s most gruesome interchanges (although developers have grand plans for it) the deal is done. Not the bargain rate I got in the wilds of Norfolk, but not a bad one either. I"m back in business,and doing more making up to the family, by tearing up leaves of Jonny`s father`s wild garlic to strew in a gorgeous soup made with leek and potato. This is the season for wild garlic, `Allium ursinum` or ransoms, and you can find it in any damp, shady woodland, or even a suburban garden, which is where mine came from. The flowers taste delicious, like garlic, too, and you can toss them in salads along with the leaves.

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Living with all this white, is great because the location shoots that come to the house want a space that is light and airy, which is just the kind of feeling exuded by a white painted room. It doesn`t have to be a very specially mixed kind of white either, just a qood quality paint, in white. Dulux brilliant white matt emulsion is always reliable. I can`t resist new colour though, and have taken the opportunity to spruce up the wood panelled attic, now my son is at university, with Paw Print` a lovely muted stone shade from the environmentally friendly paint range by Earthborn.

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Tags: colour, flower power, garden, get crafty, spring


Petals for pudding
15 April 2009



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Pedalling past marzipan scented broom and blazing white magnolias in Battersea Park each morning put my head in the right place, for 4 days hard study at the botannical painting course I attended last week. The freesia is not my first choice to put in water on the table (maybe because the modern hybrids are too uniform in shape) but I began to appreciate its structure and complexity as our teacher Elaine Searle calmly guided the group of aspiring plant painters to observe, sketch, and watercolour the specimens. The final painting now stuck up on my noticeboard, is far from brilliant but I`m pleased with my efforts. What`s best is that I`ve been given the tools to be more confident at painting herbs from the garden, the best escape from a dismal tasks like appealing against parking tickets. NB I must return the magnifying glass,needed for the course, and on loan from the local newsagent whose heavenly home cooked lunch time curries waft comfortingly around his shop. I`m so enthused by my nascent painterly skills I shall go out and buy my own lens even if it does make you look slightly odd peering intently at a lone tomato.

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The sprouting seed nursery in the office is getting under my feet as the fledging plants make their break towards the light. I have transplanted the zinnias into peat pots, which can go straight into the ground later on, as I they don`t do well with too much handling of the roots. I have a passion for the riotous pinks and purples of this frilly late summer flower, which looks so colourful in the border and as decoration. The basil is brimming nicely and that will be next in line to pot on. I might even put the sweet peas outside next week, covering them with a bit of fleece to be on the safe side. CH Middleton an old school BBC garden expert from the thirties whose book An Outline of a Small Garden, I picked up for 3.00 from a junk shop suggests that the best way to get fine big flowers , is put them at least six inches apart in a deeply-dug and well manured soil, and give each one a good long cane or stick to support it; then as they grow, nip out all the the little side shoots as soon as they appear, leaving the one stem to each plant. In this way you will get very tall plants and extra fine flowers. I am also really hoping that the sprouting leaves of night scented stock will be successful. You hardly notice it during the day, but on a summer evening it entices you outside with its powerful scent. I shall grow it in pots near the garden table so we can enjoy its scent on one of those calm balmy nights which are possible in this country if the isobars on the weather map are wide enough apart. Out digging in more manure, and weeding last weekend, I noticed a garden regular, the blackbird with an albino patch, having a feast on unfortunate worms revealed by the earthworks. And sometime later the cat struck lucky with a mouse that she laid separated from its head at the bottom of the stairs...... to greet me first thing Monday morning. (Wild)life is tough on the flowerbeds in suburbia.

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Thinking about the most delicious things I`ve eaten in the last 48 hours, the lemon cake was good, after our trip to Tate Modern to see Roni Horn`s exhibition, but not as good as the fork biscuits, made by my friend, Fiona .The recipe involves little more than flour, butter, sugar, lemon zest, and a fork for making ridged patterns on each round biscuit shape. I think they`ll be good for tea on Easter Sunday, and less sickly than all the chocolate that will be scattered about. I like to decorate eggs, and am excited with the acrylic colours I found in Green & Stone , one of the most fabulous art shops in London. See how easy it is to do on my Youtube Make and Do series.

Tags: colour, flower power, get crafty, spring, thrifty decoration


Sowing seeds
24 March 2009



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It`s been snowing blossom. Our suburban streets have been turned into bridal avenues of trees laden with white and pink scented petals. Even the faceless housing estates look more inviting with clumps of daffodils and flowering cherries planted in the communal spaces. Yesterday I was up early and staggering outside with a weighty bag of seed compost to get on with sowing. I tend to pick up seed packets on a whim rather than on a preordained expedition. I know more or less what I want, but like to gather together elements of my summer garden bit by bit. It gives me breathing space to mull over ideas. It`s not that I`m a procrastinator, rather that I enjoy the adventure of coming across surprises, like the chilli seeds raised by Latin American chilli lovers at the local community allotments. When I was visiting my father in Somerset a couple of weeks ago, I wandered into a typical country high street hardware shop brimming with tools, and, inspired by the equally well stocked racks of seeds ,bought packets of zinnias the colours were so irresistible. And summer visions of salads tumbled with leaves aromatic basil, meant that there was no alternative but to ditch smelly cheese, for two varieties of basil from the artfully packed range of Italian Franchi seeds at the local deli cum cafe cum veg shop. So back to the garden, and a balmy Sunday morning filling plastic trays with handfuls of compost and various seeds from little black specks of nicotiana ( heavenly scent on a summer evening) to peppercorn sized sweet peas. I soaked the seven year old sunflower seeds in water, gathered from our garden in Andalucia , and prized open the tough striped casings to remove the seeds. They look healthy enough, but I`ll know in the next 10 days or so, whether there`s still potential in them. The trays are lined up, like cots in a nursery, in my office by the window on layers of newspaper and an old door so when I water them it will not soak the floor. I sit writing, glancing maternally at the potential garden offspring beside me.

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I like a bit of architecture in my garden. Not waterfalls, giant urns or grand gazebos, but wigwams. Wigams of willow sticks , that is, and I`m very excited to have discovered the English Hurdle company on the net, who swiftly dispatched two bundles of willow sticks which I have bashed into the earth with a mallet and tied together at the top with all purpose hairy garden string. These twiggy structures are placed at the four corners of the flower and vegetable patch (my informal version of a traditional potager) and will support the climbing beans and nasturtiums. Until this year I`ve used cane pea sticks for my wigwams, but the willow looks more earthy and organic, and although its more expensive, will last longer than the canes.

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My son is back for Easter and wants to know where to take his girl friend for lunch. Somewhere suave, mum, he says. How did I raise a boy with such expensive taste? Maybe he`s winding me up but then, he is a child of the boom time when expectations were high. Without extending his student overdraft even further , I think there may be a solution more in keeping with these straitened times. Ok, Brixton market, might not be the capital`s most romantic spot, but at franca manca wedged between stalls selling yams and Rastafarian bonnets, there`s the romance of eating the most heavenly sourdough pizzas baked in a special Naplese wood fired oven. And it won`t cost them more than £20.00 to eat sumptuously, in the word`s of one reviewer `the best place to eat pizza in the UK`

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Spring has sprung with many of the season`s new frocks decorated with pretty florals. I have always fallen for buds and blooms and they needn`t look girly if you mix them with blocks of colour. And just as you don`t want to look like a flower border so you should also use florals in moderation around the home - as accents rather than all over floralness. Sprigged prints on lampshades are a good starting point if you want to introduce some simple country style in a plainly decorated room.

Tags: colour, flower power, garden, spring


Iced gems
14 January 2009



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Just a few lines: I`ve been working on a presentation, tidying up after the teenage occupation over Christmas, and getting organised for a short trip to Olhao. In other words multi-tasking operations are in full swing. Not without rising levels of stress. I get so agitated when the server goes down or I can`t find my black felt tip. A stint in the garden always clears the head, even if there are piles of dead matter that I didn`t quite get rid off before the big freeze began. Iced sugar plums come to mind as I cut the very last rose buds to put on the table. For the last month I have been delaying, but I must not put off the pruning any longer even for the sight of these pink gems.

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It is grim to learn that Waterford Wedgwood has gone into administration - even though it looks as if there is a buyer for the 250 year old company. This isn`t just another casualty of the recession ( the long ailing Woolworths chain was hardly a great blow ) it is the erosion of a three hundred year old Potteries craft tradition. I have a great fondness for white Wedgwood porcelain plates, which not look beautiful but feel pleasing to handle. Let`s hope the new buyers can re-energise this great English name. In anticipation of some grilled Olhao fishes I think I shall make some smoked salmon on bread. I could live on the combination of smoked salmon (try to use wild) cream cheese and a proper bread like sourdough. What makes it complete though is black pepper and good squeezes of lemon juice. This my family`s default treat for parties, picnics and weekend feasts.

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Tags: flower power, home cooking, winter


Looking ahead
01 January 2009



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The new year feels like a fresh start as I walk through silvery streets in the early hours to meet daughter number two off the free New Year`s Eve night bus. The garden is preserved in ice like frozen aspic. And the late rose I snip before breakfast, in thermal socks and clogs, is a frosted powder puff of petals. The earth is hard, but I`m not unhappy the squirrels find it challenging to dig up the tulip bulbs. I will be generous though and put out nuts and seeds for the undeserving beasts. I don`t compile lists of new year`s resolutions because there are too many elements of my life that could do with fine tuning and better application. I am going to settle for just one: a bicycle. It will keep me fit and get me from A to B in a slow and carbon friendly way. The bike must be the sit up and beg variety, even though it`s more the maiden aunt going out for a sedate pedal-look, rather than the groovy young thing on fast and smart alloy wheels. I`m going the secondhand route, but if I had the funds, I`d be on a spanking new Pashley Princess, complete with gold lined mudguards, ding-dong bell, leather sprung saddle, skirt guards and a wicker basket.

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Dodging the sales crowds, and ten deep queues outside Yves st Laurent, on a trip into town the other day, it seems that Londoners are heeding mayor Boris Johnson`s declaration that it is our patriotic duty to keep shopping throughout the recession. I`m not so sure if it means yet another designer handbag. Even if it`s 75% off, what`s the point when there are already three more clogging up the wardrobe? I think it`s the small luxuries, that cheer you up in hard times. Indeed, recent sales figures from the world`s big cosmetic companies, L`oreal, Beiersdof and Shiseido, confirm the so-called lipstick effect has returned with consumers increasing their spending on cosmetics even while economising on everything else. Barry M, No52, lip paint (shocking pink) and a good read are favourite pick-me-ups. I am gripped by Wendy Moore`s Wedlock an intricately researched tale about the terrible marriage made by the Countess of Strathmore. It lives up to the blurb on the jacket `how Georgian Britain`s worst husband met his match` with bloody duels, great hairstyles, abduction, deception and betrayal in every paragraph. The Maurice Sendak inspired drawing is fabulous in An Awesome Book by Dallas Clayton who encourages children and adults to follow their dreams of rocket powered unicorns, and magic watermelon boats rather than mobiles and matching sets of silverware.

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There is pear and ginger cake for pudding: CAKE 125g softened butter 125g caster sugar 125g self raising flour 2 large eggs 4 tbsps ginger syrup 4 knobs preserved ginger, chopped 9-16 inch cake tin SYRUP 90g butter 90g sugar 2 tbsps ginger syrup 4 large pears juice 1 lemon 1 Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the syrup and sugar. Beat until creamy and a pale toffee colour. Pour into the cake tin lined with grease proof paper. 2 Peel, core and slice the pears, turning them in the lemon juice. Arrange the slices around the base of the tin . 3 Pour all of the cake ingredients, except the ginger, into a mixer and whizz until smooth. Add the chopped ginger and spread the mixture over the pear slices. 4 Bake at 190C for 45 minutes (approximate, as this will depend upon your oven). If the top browns reduce the heat. A skewer plunged into the middle will emerge clean if the sponge is ready. Remove from the heat and cool on a rack. Serve with lashings of cream , creme fraiche, or ice cream.

Tags: flower power, garden, home cooking, winter


Frost and hot pies
01 December 2008



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An icing sugar layer of frost on the last roses looks fairy-like but, bother, the plunge in temperatures has sent the boiler into decline. A great unbeliever in the general obsession with insuring everything, I have to say that boiler insurance is probably the most worthwhile considering the machine has conked out at least 10 times, just as a shoot with mothers and babies or a frail relative arrives. It`s a relief then to sign the paper detailing the extremely expensive new part, knowing that because it`s covered we`re not going to be on soup rations. I can`t see the point though, of insuring every small appliance like an iron, or a kettle: sometimes you have to take the risk of things failing. It`s a question of working out what you can live without. I know I`d rather go around in creased attire than live without hot water. WINTER GREENS

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It`s time for some festive greenery, and I`ve been stocking up on white hyacinth bulbs, bedded down with moss from a friend`s lawn- she`s delighted I`m digging it up as she`s one of those picky gardeners who fret if the grass doesn`t look like the Centre Court at Wimbledon. CHRISTMAS SHOPPING What`s even more weird about the weird economic situation is that suddenly we`re being encouraged to spend, and knockdown offers for cameras, bicycles, and computers are plastered across the newspapers and the net. With three acquisitive teenagers breathing down my neck, I`m not sure I approve, but we`ve all got to do our bit to keep the economy moving. I`m aiming to find presents from young designers and craftsmen, like Katrin Moye`s Fifties-style jugs inspired by her dad`s blue and white striped shirt. THE HOME FIRE IS BURNING

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The logs were dumped in two vast cubic metre sacks in the middle of the garden path. It was urgent to clear the way for the day`s booking, but the only strong arms around to wheelbarrow 40 loads were my rather puny ones. It was quite fun, actually, like being a Tulse hill version of Laura from The Little House on the Prairie, as I stacked a vast pile outside the back door. No need to go off to the gym now. MINCE PIES

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l`ve made a batch of mince pies. They`re extremely useful to feed up visiting children and adults. I make sweet pastry and use my friend Emma`s mincemeat but when it`s all used up, make do with ready made pastry and mincemeat in jars from Waitrose, which is rather good.

Tags: flower power, home cooking, winter


A visual tonic
07 October 2008



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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.

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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

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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.

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Tags: autumn, colour, flower power, get crafty, home cooking, thrifty decoration


Good things
20 July 2008

We`re back home: back to our own beds, and garden with the beans now curling wildly up their wigwam supports. It`s odd to imagine that 10 days ago the house was heaving with 40 crew and cast, false doors and walls, towering light arrangements, and a forest of christmas trees in the front garden. Like the fair that came to town and left, all that remains are some faded patches on the grass and a signed mugshot of Jack Dee pinned to the fridge. The garden tasks have built up over five weeks of plunging downpours and bursts of heat. I`m deadheading roses (my favourite scented and blousy Gertrude Jekyll blooms), watering, and planting, rather late, several different varieties of tomatoes. I`d forgotten about the compost we`ve been making in our free Lambeth Council compost bin. It was a bit of a bonus, on top of the sunniness of the morning, to open up the hatch at the bottom and find an earthy smelling and glistening mush of fruit and vegetable matter to dig in for a hopefully bumper crop of Alicantes and Sweet Millions.

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The family`s linen is in need of some maintenance. I shall have to put off excuses and deal with it. I try to follow the example of my Grandma Phyllis, who emerged intact from her devastated cellar, after a Luftwafe bombing raid over Clapham Junction and became, by necessity as the family lost their home and most of their belongings, a devoted make-do-and-mender. She sucked on Murray Mints as she repaired worn sheets by folding and cutting away the thin part. The cut edges would then be hemmed on her rackerty Singer. The sheet ends up with a central seam, but that matters little when there will be a good deal more wear in it. Dyeing worn and grungy bedlinen is another good way to extend its servitude. I have found that the colours by Dylon last well; see the hot pink dyed sheet here, from Decorating easy. I know that dyeing with chemicals is not particularly eco-friendly, but on the other hand the amounts needed for this sort of home dyeing are small, and it`s more sustainable to eke out the usefulness of an item rather than chuck it.

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There`s always someone trying to spoil the fun, like the government study which showed that 90 percent of the fruit from national retailers and pick your own farms was covered in pesticides. It`s not going to stop me from buying punnets of juicy sweet English strawberries from my local high street stall. I`ll give them a good wash though, before piling them onto a meringue base with blueberries, and any other summer berries I can find. I am thinking though, that it`s time to invest in an organic boxed delivery from Riverford Organics, which sound brilliant because bundles of asparagus, rhubarb, or whatever arrive just hours after they`ve been cut.

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Tags: flower power, garden, home cooking


Flower power
20 July 2008

Florals are back, proclaim the catwalk shows for autumn and winter 2008. As far as I`m concerned though they`ve never been out. My childhood bedroom was papered in a groovy sixties` daisy print, and as teenagers my friends and I wafted around in sprigged Laura Ashley smocks with Pink Floyd`s `Dark side of the moon` as the soundtrack. I always have a dose of florals around the house: a fabulous flowery plastic cloth that looks good for teatime or faded floral print cushions to go with striped ticking on a sofa. You could take a tip from the society decorator Nancy Lancaster who let her chintzes weather in the sun and rain. Not so practical in the average back garden me thinks. I`d rather hunt for authentically aged florals in a secondhand shop. Oxfam might yield somebody`s cast-off Sanderson slip covers, or a pair of curtains,in a classic Colefax and Fowler motif. Some of my favourite prints are Liberty tana lawns. They`re expensive but I think it`s worth splashing out on a few beautiful things. As a student I worked at Liberty and stockpiled remnants that we were allowed to buy on discount. I`ve used them over the years to make pillowcases, dresses for dolls, or scarves for the beach. The Hille chair below, another junk shop find, has been given a revamp with just one and half metres of Liberty print. See how to make this really simple slip-on cover in my book Sew Easy.

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It may be early June but damp pavements and low skies don`t bode well for this week`s planned pool excursions. Never mind, I shall pretend that its like a hot morning in Spain and make toasted bread rubbed with garlic, oil and fresh tomato(scoop out and use the insides only). I use a really good nutty extra virgin olive oil which I keep in a little metal jug with a thin spout, a basic kitchen staple from any Spanish hardware shop. Photo by Vanessa Courtier.

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Tags: flower power, home cooking, Simple


 
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