28 Nov 2009

Sails Out!

If you like surprises, here’s one that I have kept hidden from you for a little while, yet feel that now is the right time to reveal… My partner, our little dog Tickle and I are about to embark on the next leg of our journey in life, which will uproot us from the relative familiarity of our base in the North West of England for a road less travelled, slightly off the beaten track, two seas and hundreds of miles away.

We are excited about the adventure and understandably slightly daunted too. You will certainly agree that moving house is an upheaval in itself, but when this also involves the proverbial change of direction – encompassing change of jobs, lifestyle, scenery and surroundings, the prospect takes a new dimension.

The decision to move was not taken lightly, however we had been contemplating the idea of novelty, of starting a new chapter rather than follow a slightly worn script. We wanted to feel excitement and anticipation again rather than keep stuck in a rut that we were begrudging.

Undoubtedly, and without falling into the old cliché mode, we will miss some aspects of our current lives, some of the comforts and assurances they provide. On the other hand, if you seek change you have to welcome its challenges too!

In the next few days, I will be revealing little clues as to our destination. For now, I’ll just mention that it’s not Sedona, Arizona (a long story)… Anyhow, how could this be as I mentioned ‘two seas’ earlier, didn’t I?

As for our recently freshened-up house whose photos I have posted on the blog, it will be rented out through a property agency. The sentimental side of I hopes that the tenant(s) who will succumb to its charms will take care of it like it’s their own little nest.

22 Nov 2009

Winter Comforts

For those of us who live in the northern hemisphere, in places that are not blessed with the mild climate of California or North Africa, Summer is slowly turning into a distant memory, making way for the long Winter months ahead, spearheaded by the sparkle of the Christmas season that will fleetingly cast its glow over those long sultry nights to come…

Despite this, Winter is generally a drab affair between the bad weather and the shorter days, cutting short one’s enjoyment of the garden and most outdoor pursuits, and intensifying SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Nature goes into hibernation and so do we, in a way, seduced by nights in rather than nights out, and gorging our way through carbohydrates and a number of forbidden treats, the foods that comfort body and soul!

Bakewell, Derbyshire

In north-western England, Winter 2008-09 was a drag, in particular Jan/ Feb 09, when we suffered weeks of frost and black ice in a way I had never experienced in my 15 years’ residency in the country! I remember vividly slipping down the pavement in a spectacular manner, while walking from my car to workplace. As it happened, one of the local residents had had the not ingenuous idea of pouring hot water onto their car to defrost it and the water had quickly set into lethal ice!

Some of those early mornings were spent battling with the car door that was closed shut by the ice, then having to negotiate those deadly bendy roads around the estate that the City Council seems to overlook whenever road gritting is required… The climate situation inevitably put a strain on the major road infrastructures too, with traffic delays, accidents and car batteries giving up the ghost! Let’s just say that the start to the working day was a tad frayed for the unfortunate commuter!

Bail House Tea Rooms in Lincoln

However one would ‘miss the point’ if they only chose to remember Winter for its predicaments, for there are enjoyments to be had, providing of course that you are fortunate enough to afford the basics of comfort, like a warm home and a balanced diet. In my book, Winter is a state of mind:

  • Winter is a time to clear the dead wood, quite literally, from the garden and your life. It is a time for introspection, it makes you take stock, and gives you time to think, about the physical and emotional clutter in your life, about things that need doing around the home and garden, and about the more metaphysical matters, if you are so inclined.
  • Winter also makes you appreciate what you have and may be taking for granted, like the comfort of your home.
  • Winter is an excuse for rallying the family around the fireplace and play a board game, join in a discussion, or light-heartedly share food, drinks, memories or good old gossip, cosied up on the sofa.
  • Winter is an excuse for self-indulgence that goes beyond chocolates: candles, a warm bubble bath, your favourite book or film, something that will lift your spirits and make you appreciate your own surroundings, your own company and that of your closest and dearest.
  • You need to experience the cold in order to appreciate the warmth! Brace yourself and go for a long countryside walk with your partner/ children/ dog. Then reward your bravery by going down to one of those cosy country pubs/ cafés and enjoy your favourite beverage, and – why not, a slice of cake or pack of nuts – comfortably sat by the fireplace if possible. Reminisce the moments of the walk when you were cold/ fed up/ tired: satisfaction guaranteed!
Bail House Tea Rooms in Lincoln

And if there is just one point to remember from this essay, this is it: like the Yin that only exists through its Yang opposite, Winter makes you appreciate Summer. If it were forever Summer, you probably wouldn’t be appreciating its glories as much!

21 Nov 2009

A Taste for Design

Dear friends and followers, I am delighted to reveal that I will be releasing my second blog in early 2010. This new venture will concentrate purely on design, involving visuals gleaned from the ambient world.

As a teasing taster, I thought I would include these two very Warhol-esque photo compositions from Agatha’s latest catalogue (AW 09). The French jewellery brand is celebrating 35 years at the cutting edge of high street fashion and recreating popular styles from the last 3 decades as homage to its own success. There is however a dominant edgy late 70s - early 80s feel to the retrospective, in an East Coast kind of way, with a neat British influence (Roxy Music, David Bowie). The mood is clubby, sleek and sophisticated, heralding the next step up from the dust of disco into an era of New Wave, with a sharp palette of black, red, white and silver.

Photography: Thierry Le Goues

20 Nov 2009

Piccolino Salad

This is a salad favourite which I re-created after dining at Est Piccolino, a Knutsford (Cheshire) restaurant, over 8 years ago. As I couldn’t remember the exact name of the dish, I named it after the restaurant where I had it that very first time, as a tribute.

The quality of the ingredients will influence the taste of the salad, therefore the best you can afford, the more rewarding it will be for the palate!

Serves 2 as a main course/ 4 as a side dish
Preparation: 10 mins
Cooking: 8 mins

  • 3 slices of French baguette, slightly stale
  • 100g of good quality organic pancetta, cubed, or 4 rashers of good quality organic streaky bacon
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Half a ripe medium avocado
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 100g of mixed salad leaves (baby spinach, lettuce, rocket etc.), rinsed and drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped chives to garnish (optional)
Toast the bread slices on a medium setting to obtain a golden colour and a crunchy finish. Then with a bread knife, cut the slices in small strips. Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the diced garlic cloves and then the strips of bread, coating them evenly in the oil and garlic mixture. Stir frequently for a good couple of minutes until the bread has turned into croûtons (but not burnt!). Set aside with the garlic mix.

Meanwhile using the same frying pan, quickly fry the pancetta (or bacon cut in strips) until cooked and slightly crunchy to the bite. Set aside.

Peel the avocado, cut it in half and remove the stone. Then cube the flesh and sprinkle it with the lemon juice in order to prevent oxidisation.

In a serving bowl, arrange the mixed salad leaves, add the avocado cubes and lemon juice, the cooled pancetta and cooled croûtons (with garlic). Drizzle with olive oil and season before carefully combining all the ingredients together. Finally sprinkle with chives.

Time to tuck in, safe in the knowledge that this colourful salad will help you replenish your vitamin levels, and brighten up an otherwise dull November day!

19 Nov 2009

Choc-a-Block! (Part 2)

Yet you will find pure cocoa and traditional drinking chocolate safely tucked away in my kitchen cupboard. I mix them together in order to obtain the perfect balance between sweetness and bitterness, before adding to organic semi-skimmed hot milk for breakfast. Indeed, I have hot chocolate in the morning - not the evening - mixed with some unsweetened Swiss muesli to add sustenance to breakfast. This seemingly peculiar gruel sets me off for the day and wards off any food cravings until lunchtime (unlike popular brands of sugary cornflakes or the toast-and-butter/ jam combo which neither seems to fill you up for long!).

Chocolate bars are a fairly inexpensive and convenient way to treat yourself, either on the go or at home. My own taste in chocolate meets certain requirements: the cheaper brands that dilute the taste in no uncertain quantities of hydrogenated fats and sugar are snubbed. I generally prefer the ‘continental’ taste, described as being less sweet than your average confectionery brands and popular chocolate snack bars (although I will make allowances for those wafer-based favourites like KitKat and Blue Riband). The continental taste bars are mostly represented by Lindt, Milka, Green & Black’s, Divine Chocolate, and selected ranges by Thorntons and Hotel Chocolat.

By the way, sorry to disappoint (or pleased to reassure you!), but I am no chocolate purist (in the chocolate purity sense of the word), as I am not a fan of those 85% dark chocolate bars (although this is chocolate at its less adulterated form and therefore at its truest taste!). Ironically it may be because it tastes too much like real chocolate, an acquired taste after all!

On the subject of chocolate variants, a special mention however to pralines/ giandujas (found in Ferrero Rochers and Nutella!)... Again, did I mention anywhere in this article that I was a chocolate purist…

Onto the next level, I dispense with special occasions in order to justify my enjoyment of the more sophisticated side of chocolates, the ones displayed in presentation boxes, in their shiny foil or veiled in a cocoa, icing sugar or mocha dusting, teasing your eye with their lashings of packaging, secretive layers and evocative descriptions from the menu card… I will try to pace myself if I am in company but if, for instance, my partner randomly orders a surprise box that is ‘just for me’, I am afraid those treats will have signed their own death warrant the moment the box is deposited in my hands…

If chocolate is your weakness too, then resistance is futile! Give in to it because it is, after all, one of life’s little pleasures!

Find out more - brush up your chemistry: Neuroscience for Kids.

18 Nov 2009

Choc-a-Block! (Part 1)

I have a confession to make. There is a love in my life that has burnt a fire in my heart for as long as I can remember. This love is nothing to do with a quick burn-out affair, a fleeting passion that comes and goes with the seasons, or a reasoned affection. This love is more like a single-sided devotion on my part that will forever stay with me, leaving me appeased soon enough until satisfied again...

This is not Lord Byron enthusing about a lover, only humble I waxing lyrical over one of life’s little luxuries: chocolate, in rather hedonistic terms - I must concede (where’s my head at!) - but the word is as potent as it tastes, stirring emotions in me and bringing pleasure to my tastebuds and respite to my sanity!

Chocolate is synonym with food comforts, and one of those treats described as péché mignon (the cute sin) in French, the bon vivant’s allegorical excuse for indulgence bordering on the deadly sin of greed!

Clockwise from top left:  Thorntons, Van Houten, After Eight, Hotel Chocolat

According to ancient Aztec/ Mayan beliefs, chocolate used to be the drink of the Gods, certainly of society’s privileged few, bestowing powers. Chocolate was also used as a trading currency. The moment Conquistadores got acquainted to this treasured commodity was pivotal in defining and refining a new chapter in Western civilisations’ gastronomy.

A complex chemical reaction happens in the brain when the latter is stimulated by chocolate consumption. Chocolate compounds encourage the increase in serotonin and dopamine levels, therefore triggering the well-publicised mood-boosting effect one experiences on consumption. Chocolate as a mind-altering drug – I hear you gush – is the truth in principle, with the added advantage that the effects are mild, safe and legal!

However chocolate is also addictive, and I am probably a good example of this dependence. Although Choc and I go back a long time (early childhood), for the last 10 years, I have probably had it one way or another as part of my daily diet and, as such, we could safely deduct that this is one of my staple kitchen ingredients, although the bar form tends to be found in close proximity to the sofa – for a very brief period only – before disappearing! (to be continued)

15 Nov 2009

Sweet Nothings?

Trendy cookery and lifestyle books and blogs, the press, TV programmes, celebrity/ pastry chefs, bakers, culinary gurus and food photographers, down to greeting cards and the baking aisles of supermarkets and department stores have one hot golden favourite in common, an embodiment of sweetness and all things nice! Devotees have fallen under the spell of ‘her’ cute appearance, whose contained sexiness they extol as if describing an aspiring starlet with an evocative pout, Nabokov’s Lolita or a promising teen idol that will never grow up!

Please let me stop you in your tracks before you aim for Le Grand Larousse Gastronomique or Julia Child’s recipe books, for my friends I am not talking about a feast of ‘haute’ cuisine, but a pâtisserie phenomenon that has taken sexy back to the baking tray, in a riot of delectable and covetable creamy and dreamy textures, frosted colours, all packaged up in innovative designs and all-round feminity and girly fluffiness that make this pretty young thing hot property in our principally visual world. It is a bite-size wonder of pure hedonism that pleases the senses: so easy on the eye, eyes devour it, yet so easy on the palate, one never suffices, easy on the fingers, no clumsiness involved, all-round easy with a touch of deluxe… To put it simply, beauty has turned into an edible art form!

These delicate wonders that sparkle and shimmer and unfold are like precious jewels, little phials of perfume, allegorical dressed-up Barbie dolls of the pastry world distilling their attraction and asking for abandonment and complete devotion in return… This little treat is loved across generations, a social, age and gender leveller, powerful yet seemingly fragile!

This is also the humble combination of butter, sugar, eggs, flour into sponge, revisited, sexed-up, nipped and tucked, adorned to the limits of imagination to represent a miniature (doll-like) version of what a ‘normal-sized’ cake would look like. Its girliness and abundance of (mostly) snow white, baby pink, lemon/ primrose yellow, almond/ mint green and silver take us back to childhood idealised, a world of safety and nostalgia, like candyfloss and the candy store….

Its visual appeal makes it a delight to film and photograph, a darling of the home designer and trend-follower. Its convenient self-contained format makes it perfect in our on-the-move, on-the-run world, and a perfect occasion piece as it stands on its own, stands out and can be customised and disguised to match anything, from the delicate ribbon in the bridesmaids’ hair, to the prom night theme…

Its popularity transcends the world, and its many combinations and associations in looks, flavours and textures make it a versatile act to follow! This little one may be easy to describe and easy to eat, and – to the detractor - full of hot air – all style and no substance! - compared to established pâtisserie classics, but the chance is we’ll never sample all of its varieties/ coating and filling variants, thanks to the limitless human imagination, and this trendy cake will soon enough become a pillar of bakery establishment and rewrite the rules of pâtisserie, to make it more fun and colourful!

As you can see, there is definitely more to the cupcake/ fairy cake than cute! And let’s thank the girls from SATC for putting Magnolia Bakery on our radar.

Photographic credits in this article:

Additional resources:

13 Nov 2009

Nifty Thrifty (Part 2)

While exploring ways to shop savvily, I realised that I was paying over the odds for pet food at the supermarket or pet chain stores, and soon enough found a local pet food supplier who sells a wide variety of produce in bulk, and with a smile!

As a student, I was a hairdressing model for a few months and would get a free haircut from top salons, cultivating that neat straightened bob I favoured at the time. Recently, I asked my usual salon if I could be their model (terms including a great haircut for a fraction of the price, i.e. 5 times cheaper than the normal rate!). I have to say I had to swallow my pride for a moment (being their client turned model, and not exactly an 18-year-old) but the financial gain is not to be frowned upon, and in return you are doing a trainee hairdresser a favour, so this is definitely a win-win situation!

Further in my quest to be economically smart, I also started to plan my car journeys more carefully, making sure they would involve more than one errand! For example, if I drive down to the bank, I will also get some petrol on the way and walk a few blocks from the bank to the charity shop with items to donate. Making the trip more economically viable, with a thought for the environment: priceless!

On the subject of charity shops, on a couple of occasions I surprised my good intentions by sparing a few items from donation (sorry charity!), having decided that although I hadn’t worn them for years, maybe now was the time to give them a second chance, as there was no way I could justify a fashion expense (no matter how necessary the expense was!). Well, do I regret rediscovering those once-beleaguered UK-made straight-cut indigo denim (in pristine condition)? Nope, they definitely are my favourite jeans right now! Ha, the fickleness of the fashion follower!

Finally, if you are watching your money and calling yourself eco-conscious, then leaving electrical appliances (computer, TV set, hi-fi, game consoles) on standby when not used will be wasteful. According to Act on CO2, ‘if everyone in the UK switched off unused appliances it would save £800 million a year’. So there's another smart move for you and you will be quids in!

12 Nov 2009

Nifty Thrifty (Part 1)

The recession will have taught a number of us to exercise more caution towards our finances, prompting us to make clever savings, and for our money to work harder. Without getting into the nitty-gritty of it (being no financial adviser!) but by simply using a healthy dose of common sense, I embarked on a journey to streamline my outgoings, made a few savings in the process, and I thought I would share those simple tips with you! Handy all-year round, not just in the run-up to Christmas…

It has to start somewhere so it might as well start with your monthly bank statement. Take a critical look and take action! It may sound obvious but, if you haven’t yet looked into your mortgage repayment terms, now would be a good time to start, by scheduling a meeting with your mortgage provider. It could also be worthwhile to consult an independent financial adviser who would be able to submit interesting mortgage plans to you, and then transfer over.

The same tactic applies to all your other outgoings, from home insurance to life assurance, through to telephone and utility bills. Tell yourself that you have nothing to lose and potentially a lot to gain! Here are 2 juicy examples:

  • For the last 11 years, I was tied up to an expensive yet inflexible mobile phone contract that simply didn’t work for me. But out of habit, complacency, or fear of the unknown, I stuck to it. Then I took a leap of faith in March and decided to switch providers and move to the pay-as-you-go formula. Now I am just wondering why I didn’t switch earlier, as I am saving between £10 and £20 a month!
  • I felt discontented with our telephone/ broadband/ digital TV package. We had been long-time customers and felt taken for granted, whereas new customers were being incentivised. We gave the company a ring (actually quite a few persistent calls!) and eventually they agreed to review our account and offer a discount (once we threatened to leave them!).
The fact that you are a long-term customer, a good payer and/ or in receipt of a bundle of services (ex: gas and electricity) from one provider, will go in your favour and add clout to your claim. As companies will not reward your loyalty outright, you will have to be the one making that call.

Bills aside, I started to look at my purchasing patterns and identify areas for improvement, for instance paying more attention to those shopping coupons and store loyalty cards that may be underused or overlooked. In-store, I started to pay more attention to offers, and limit impulse buys.

Although supermarkets deliver the convenience of shopping, you need to realise that they also have a negative impact on local communities, draining livelihood out of them, with local shops struggling for survival. Also bear in mind that although our 4 main supermarket chains may compete with one another on price, they may not be necessarily cheaper or offer higher quality of produce than the local competition. Think about the fishmonger or the butcher for instance. (to be continued)

11 Nov 2009

Domesticity without the Nasties (Part 2)

When a ‘power’ clean beckons or that blitz clean mood has possessed me, I will use a cleaning cream (the successor to the scouring powders of my childhood, with the added promise of not scratching surfaces although its use on shiny acrylic sanitaryware is not recommended – if you want the sheen to remain vibrant). You will also find a bottle of Dettol lurking under my sink (always used in diluted form), handy for the pet owner in their battle against germs, odours and little accidents over laminate/ tiled floors. And once a fortnight I soak scouring pads, washing-up brushes and sponges in diluted Dettol overnight.

Laundry-wise, things are a tad more complicated, with 3 different purpose washing products: Ecover (either in powder or liquid form) for all whites, a leading supermarket brand for coloured items and a delicates gel specifically designed for hand-washing and machine-washable delicates. I also have a box of Ecover Chlorine-Free Laundry Bleach (100% percarbonate, i.e. salt + limestone + oxygenated water) that I occasionally use, for  linen and net curtains in need of a boost of brightness.

Furniture-wise, I have a good quality nourishing balm that I apply on my few leather items. First of all, I remove any traces of dirt with a slightly damp clean cloth, then pat dry, before nourishing the leather in circular movements.

Finally, a standard window-cleaning spray is my little extra chemical luxury (I do wash and pat dry the windows first, obtaining a great clean as it is, but finish off with the spray, although I could do without!)

Essentially these afore-mentioned products are the main chemical staples I use around the home. I keep it simple, because experience has taught me that having many products will not encourage you to use them all religiously. So why waste your money and that precious space in the utility room?

My beautiful bespoke patterned curtains, from John Lewis
However, as mentioned in my previous post, I do have a few simple tricks up my sleeve that help me justify my minimised use of chemicals:
  • Washing up: I take it easy on the washing-up liquid (only a few drops) but change the water as soon as it gets cloudy: more hygienic and effective than loads of foam that masks the dirty dish water and bathes your dishes in it!
  • Dusting: my dusters are no state-of-the-art coated cloths, but plain rags made from old kitchen towels and old hand towels that have been cut up. I slightly dampen a clean cloth before dusting the furniture, carefully yet in a light manner. This is more effective than any of the sprays out there that have the nasty habit of clogging up the wood and leaving a glaze that will end up tarnishing it.
  • Air freshening: it is no rocket science, I simply open the windows! Ask the smokers in your household to smoke outside (or burn a candle as those will absorb odours). Yet if you are keen on a fragrance, use a few drops of essential oils in a burner, this beats chemicals anytime!
  • Scouring/ de-staining: ask Kim and Aggie (but this was already a favourite of mine before they mentioned it on TV!), there is no better way than the soda bicarbonate way! I mix it into a paste with water and use it around the home: to remove tea/ coffee stains from cups and teaspoons, to clean inside vases, to freshen grout around bathroom wall tiles, and (a long time ago, before the glass shower panel was installed) to clean mould traces off the shower curtain. It is also a great deodoriser/ disinfectant, as I found out in the early stages of dog ownership, when Tickle stained the bottom of the dry-clean-only patio door curtain and the fabric sofa (what a little devil he was!). Patience, a damp clean rag and soda bicarbonate helped me to remedy the potentially disastrous mishaps, leaving no trace and no smell afterwards!
  • Hard-to-reach surfaces: scrubbing with a little help from an old toothbrush! I never throw them away and give them a second lease of life: great for grout, around taps, in nooks and crannies overlooked by a sponge or a standard-size brush, they are definitely those under-rated allies that will help you achieve that attention to detail.
  • Disinfectant: another evident, overlooked, truth in the form of boiling hot water (i.e. straight out of the kettle). A good kettle-ful of it down the sink will banish lingering smells and prevent clog-ups. Soak sponges, scourers and washing-up brushes in them to help eliminate germs and odours.
All in all, this is about domesticity without the nasties!

8 Nov 2009

Domesticity without the Nasties (Part 1)

Advertising has the power to create need and influence consumer decision. Household product advertising, in particular, will never fall short of a miracle, featuring a formula that has passed the test of time (decades of it, to be precise!): problem vs. solution (evil vs. good), transposed into a scarily dirty household situation quickly remedied by a miracle cure resulting in gleaming surfaces and a happy and grateful housewife. A few simple yet powerful words (clean, fresh, brilliant, dazzling, sparkling, amazing, fantastic, quick, easy, trust, love) convey a message of hope and reassurance against a background of promises.

It is far too tempting to fall under the spell of advertising and purchase all the products available on the market: a gel to remove stubborn stains, a cleaner specifically designed for mouldy grout, another for the kitchen oven, an air purifier, a stain-removal spray, a loo disinfectant… It is easy to get carried away with problem-specific products, and soon enough turn the shelves of one’s utility room into a personal hardware shop… However there is no mention of the chemical ingredients that help achieve those results. Because, of course, in case we had forgotten, those kinds of miracles are far from being holy manifestations!

Yet the chance (the irony!) is you will end up using the same 3 or 4 core products (your tried, trusted and tested ones!), actually a bit like your capsule clothing wardrobe (those favourite garments: that comfy jumper, that beloved dress, that no-fuss jacket…).

I am not ashamed to admit that in the past I have fallen for some of those ‘high-tech’ household products, TV-advertised or not, succumbed to their convincing spiel and before-and-after photos, but never actually used them once purchased... In parallel to this, I have to admit that I have never been a fan of ‘hardcore’ cleaners that deliver the clean at a hefty cost to the environment and your health! In my quest for less chemicals, I have used alternative cleaning agents and methods. First though I will reveal my core (chemical) products. Who said I was perfect?

Over the years I have experienced with a variety of washing-up liquid brands, but my one favourite remains Ecover. Its ecological stance over the minimal impact of its chemical ingredients on aquatic life has probably played a major role in my mind, while the power of natural ingredients (ex: chamomile) has been harnessed to conjure up a ‘chemistry’ with the chemicals. Furthermore the washing-up liquid is not harsh on your hands, with no unnecessary extra foaming, colourings, or man-made aromas. Also where facilities exist, bottles may be refilled, minimising waste by allowing packaging to be re-used.

I use a general household cleaner whose versatile applications (in diluted form) cover a variety of surfaces and materials, indoor and outdoor, from kitchen to bathroom, from laminate flooring to ceramic tiles via the painted staircase, enamelled cooker top, acrylic sink, ceramic handbasin, PVC window frames and glass, windowsills, bins, iron gates etc. (to be continued)

7 Nov 2009

Five Minute Coconut Cake

Approx 8 slices
Preparation: 5 mins
Cooking: 40 mins

When time is of the essence and kitchen ingredients are sparse, this no-fuss creation delivers its promise of simplicity and time efficiency, with a rough-textured crumbly mix brought to life by a touch of the exotic. A perfect accompaniment to elevenses, high tea and the late-night hot cocoa mug, or simply to soothe a sweet-tooth craving!

  • 120 g of desiccated coconut
  • 6 heaped tablespoons of self-raising flour
  • 1 whole egg
  • Pint of semi-skimmed milk
  • 3 heaped tablespoons of Demerara sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of nut-flavoured oil (walnut, hazelnut)
Pre-heat the oven (180°C). Combine all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Stir together with a spoon until you obtain a smooth mixture.

Oil a cake mould, then add the mixture. Place in the oven for 40 mins. Finally leave to cool for at least 5 mins before succumbing to temptation!

6 Nov 2009

Pretty Lovely!

Hello and pleased to be back! My 8-day break from La Baguette Magique wasn’t a result of writer’s block or blogosphere desertion… I was away last week-end, and then on Monday the decorators took over my house for the week, for a long-overdue refresh. I am delighted with the results and would like to casually share a few pictures with you, like old friends do!

I do decorate my own home and put a lot of attention to detail in the process, however the lounge is a tricky space as it incorporates the open staircase and I find the walls of the latter daunting in terms of decorating, so prefer to leave them to the experts… I also currently have a variety of other projects on the go and, with time being a precious commodity and with my propensity to flutter from project to the next like a butterfly, I thought it wiser to offload the decorating to professionals who would stand a better chance at sticking to their 5-day timeframe promise than if I did undertake the task!

My partner and I chose Mellow Mocha by Dulux for the walls. The name conjures up an idea of gourmandise (very suited to me!): think white coffee, very diluted to the point where the traditional café latte colour almost fades away. At this very moment is its encounter with a light-hearted touch of milky hot chocolate, creating a tone of mauve that subtly balances between warmth and cold, a welcome diversion from the previous scheme of Suede (an off-white with a hint of grey/ green) set against a feature wall of light ochre (very trendy back in 2001!).

Woodwork, including the actual wooden staircase, has been recoated, this time in a silk finish, making the surface less slippery underfoot than traditional gloss. Babushka seems to agree with me on this!