29 Oct 2010

A Working Week of Spook (Day 5)

Congratulations for having come that far! Good news too, as this is our last day, Friday, and there is light at the end of the tunnel of darkness. But don't fret because Friday doesn't normally bode well... Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but do you remember Jason?

As we reach our final destination, rest assured that we'll end this project on a high note. If you're a metal fan then this truly is your lucky day as we're gonna rock the house down!

Has a metal part just snapped? The Stepford Wives (1975)
But before coming to the surface, there is still, alas, more to explore down the bumpy roads of twisted phantasmagorical fantasy with:

Silent Hill: Down the remote outbacks, clues are there to be seen that not all is what it seems. There is such a thing as Dead Calm, but don't take our word for it... Go see for yourself! This one comes with health warnings: rusty machinery, allegedly leaked substances and cutting instruments... Whatever happens, don't trust anyone's word!

In our revisit, rest assured, no severed limbs, meat hooks or chainsaw-wielding masked American Psycho! The victims are from the man-made order and there is not one pretty sight either! If man is inherently good, how come does he allow himself to be corrupted by his inability to cope with his creations once they take over his life?

Here is, my friend, where casualties of life end up, literally littering the place. It's a tale about the unwanted, the unloved, the deranged, the dispossessed, the battered, the decayed, the socially unfit that eventually find their way down this way: Hell.

Without scaring the living daylights out of you, I am pretty sure some of these will take their revenge one day and end up reincarnated as either Freddy or Sweeney Todd!

But for now our hearfelt congratulations and we may even send you a Valentine's card and Gift if we remember! You have survived our Working Week of Spook. Happy Halloween everyone!

P.S: La Baguette Magique doesn't claim to have seen - nor does it wish to see - every single film listed in the Working Week of Spook. Having said that, its personal 3 favourites are: What Lies Beneath, The Others, and Dolores Claiborne, with a special mention to The Fog, and Fatal Desire.

Further resources:
All photography except The Stepford Wives © La Baguette Magique 2010

28 Oct 2010

A Working Week of Spook (Day 4)

Can you feel the chill? Atmosphere sets the tone in spooky films, with good old-fashioned suspense, half-spoken or unspoken truths playing wonders on the human psyche, leading your Sixth Sense astray. Imagination is given free rein, courtesy of the film-maker's Craft, and concluding epilogues are rarely products of logic...

Boo! Ethereal and eerie: The Others (2001)
Actually in the horror and psychological thriller genres at large, Stigmata attached to any form of rational logic should be dispelled. There is a Duel of words and actions between good and evil, with deceptive appearances, misleading characters, unforeseen developments and twisted consequences.

So clear all that White Noise from your head because your working week of spook continues right now, with our somewhat oppressing and atmostpheric outdoor location photo montages...

The Blair Witch Project: Not as damp but certainly just as claustrophobic as yesterday's bayous, featuring untamed, unkempt forests, dense scratchy thorny woods, narrow paths that suddenly disappear out of sight, a sensation of déjà-vu and no sense of direction...Soon enough tempers flare in the party and High Tension rises as the seemingly Sleepy Hollow turns Alien.

Going round in circles already, yet we've only been a few hours into our mission, so who are you kidding, man? It's getting dark, so we'll set up bivouac, safe in the knowledge that there is no going back to that cosy city life! But you should see your face though: looks like you've just spotted Hannibal Lecter!

One more thought: is it my imagination or are you being followed? (to be continued)

All photography except The Others © La Baguette Magique 2010

27 Oct 2010

A Working Week of Spook (Day 3)

Don't you give in just yet, because as if this was not enough already, we have more in store until Friday... Now where were we up to? So you want countryside, the great outdoors, wilderness, right? We can't quite promise you the big wide open spaces but here's an offer you can't refuse.

Did we mention mutants? The Fly (1958)
Candyman: The wetland fringed with tangled cane featured here resembles the bayous of deep Louisiana or backwaters of Northern Kalifornia, and for all we know it might as well be...

Note that it can get foggy in here at night too, oh and don't put a foot wrong. You never know What Lies Beneath once you are knee-deep... A snake would be your lucky day, Candyman however a living nightmare! But remember before you embark on your adventure, these backwaters are a beacon for hostility: deep, dense, tense, hypnotic, claustrophobic and generally detrimental to your rationale.

The cane is so tight that you need to Saw your way through it. Never a good Omen though when you are not equipped. And you can Scream all you like, it is doubtful you will get heard! You might as well be stuck in The Hole for this one! You see, this really is a dog-eat-dog situation.

If the bayous aren't bad enough, take a deep breath. If these are supposed to be a piece of cake, then it's best you keep them for afters because you'll certainly need all the energy you can muster to get you over this working week ordeal. Get set! But how ready are you? (to be continued)

All photography except The Fly © La Baguette Magique 2010

26 Oct 2010

A Working Week of Spook (Day 2)

You have survived Day 1 and we are impressed. Needless to say that there's more from our bag of tricks. Trick or Treat - I beg your pardon? Stick to your bravery, you'll need it soon enough!

On the second day came a pure classic of the horror genre. Need we say more? We'll show you the sights first, then we'll explain. After you...

Psycho (1960): Approach the shower with caution!
House on Haunted Hill: Picture the scene. You are driving alone far from home, you are tired, it's almost dark and you decide to pull over at the next hotel. Or tough luck, your car breaks down on the way, down that isolated stretch of the country. It might not be good news on the weather front either with The Fog suddenly making an appearance, but as long as you keep to the road map and don't go for shortcuts or a Wrong Turn, you are bound to stay safe...

As one bad thing never happens on its own, your mobile phone has given up the ghost too and you - yes you - instead of staying put inside your car with your thinking cap on, decide that it will be safer to investigate that derelict place that you've spotted by the roadside, for the night. What on earth possessed you?

Your saving grace is that it looks inhabited, but what do you make of The Hitcher you drove past five minutes ago? And what if The Hills Have Eyes? This road trip was never meant to turn into a Roadkill. It's your call. (to be continued)

All photography except Psycho © La Baguette Magique 2010

25 Oct 2010

A Working Week of Spook (Day 1)

As the long month of October slowly drags to its end, there is a chill in the air, so palpable, an indication of that particular time of year surely... And we are not simply talking about Autumn.

Even it seems a Poltergeist has reshuffled our TV channels to celebrate the psychological thriller and horror genres, in muted tones or full-out gore. You see folks, in the run-up to Halloween things can get somewhat creepy and creaky for the so-inclined. Imagination being limitless, its powers can only be unleashed to trick us into believing in the less plausible.

A classic of the genre: Nosferatu (1922). Source: Photobucket
No stones will be left unturned, no Shallow Grave will lay undisturbed and no skeletons will be kept in cupboards, while we take you along for a Working Week of Spook! Under the compelling spell of Spook, La Baguette Magique will feature until Friday a daily photographic disturbance comprising clever montages captured on location (just not on the original film locations), with two rock-solid guarantees: not one pumpkin in sight, and all cobwebs featured here are real.

Our fear and loathing season kick-starts right away with the appropriately named: Paranormal Activity. Things that go bump in the night, things that are not quite what they seem, things that get animated, like a rocking chair, a crystal chandelier or a doll with rolling eyes... The departed's presence and the absence of life... How prepared are you about facing irrational truths and in the same breath your own primal fears?

Would it not be easier to pretend it's only one of those disturbingly vivid dreams? Yet after all, you've seen it all before on the silver screen and experienced unease from The Mothman Prophecies to Hide and Seek. So if life really is a film, is there any point in us spoiling the fun by telling you the end? Unless of course conspiracy rules of the untold are written to be bent... Meanwhile don't we know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy?

Back to the subject of primal fears, we'll take a tamed approach by daring you to look at those walls closely. Between those stones, in the gaps and the holes, in the dim spaces and over the shadows lurk the Eight-Legged Freaks of your nightmares: poisonous black widows, exotic varieties of spiders, God knows. Lately one of those tarantulas, bizarely oversized, was spotted scuttling across the garden path just before dusk, not the kind you would happily pick up in a glass to release elsewhere! (to be continued)

P.S: Nosferatu is available to watch as a full-length feature film from here. Don't miss out on the chance!

All photography except Nosferatu © La Baguette Magique 2010

21 Oct 2010

Beauty Review - Crème Fraîche de Nuxe

From time to time, La Baguette Magique will impart its love for a brand/ product into a review. Instead of getting caught into some lengthy introduction we'll start off right away with Nuxe, a French brand with an international following which has featured in a number of glossy women's magazines.

The first time I ever came across the Nuxe brand was while visiting Space NK at the Trafford Centre (England) in the early noughties. In terms of cosmetics and skincare, Space NK epitomised innovation and cool as it took the public out of their beauty brand comfort zone down a new direction to discover the less commercial and lesser-known - yet promising - emerging brands, with the whole innovative high-end formula packaged up and delivered within pared-down pale surroundings as a strong echo to the minimalist mood back then. Amongst the brands featured at the time, I remember the likes of Chantecaille, Kiehl's, Laura Mercier, Nars, T. LeClerc and Nuxe...

In 2002 I crossed the Nuxe path again, this time at Pure Beauty, King Street, Manchester, an upmarket service-focused standalone beauty concept store (sadly with a brief lifespan and early demise) developed by Boots and rolled out to half a dozen carefully-selected prime city centre UK-wide locations including London's Covent Garden (which I visited in March 2002), to preserve the exclusivity of high-end beauty haven experience. Across its two floor levels, Pure Beauty combined staple fragrance heavyweights (Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, etc.) with the lesser-known skincare/ make-up specialists (E'spa, Stila, Nuxe, etc.). I remember that Nuxe's gold-infused Huile Prodigieuse was gathering much press coverage at the time and still does (a firm favourite with beauty blogs!).

Available from Space NK

Across the decade, Nuxe remained in my subconscious although strangely I never finalised that first-ever purchase. This was about to change in March of this year when I went down to a French chemist (or shall I say pharmacy) looking for a day-cream as I'd run out of my regular American cosmeceutical. And this trip down the pharmacy sealed the deal indeed as it presented me with the opportunity to step out of my own beauty comfort zone routine, faced by new purchasing habits and a somewhat return to simplicity compounded by my shop-bare countryside lifestyle.

Here was the brief: I needed a no-fuss moisturiser with no long list of unpronounceable chemistry-laden concoctions, no promises of revolutionary age-defying results, simply a product that would convincingly deliver moisture and kindness to my elements-exposed skin without breaking the bank, an undemanding cream I could slap on and go, without guilt or feelings of preciousness.

Crème Fraîche (no, not the one that Jamie Oliver spoons onto his puds!) just does that: a little goes a long way but even if you apply a bit more, it gets absorbed in quick without that greasy shiny feel. The freshly-scented crème is light, melting and feels sumptuous on the skin. It is infused with botanicals aplenty (lupin, pea, green tea, acacia, almond, coconut, oat and non-GMO soy). My skin is left supple and well hydrated. After applying the crème, all I need to face the day is finish off with an SPF and I am then ready for the not-so-kind elements: sea breeze, strong 100+ mph winds, Summer heat, ambient winter humidity, etc.

Since its creation in 1999, Crème Fraîche has become one of Nuxe's success stories, reaping beauty awards in its wake and - more importantly - making happy women in the bathroom.

The + sides: Botanical content, texture, finish, feelgood factor, price, eye-candy for the bathroom shelf!
The - sides: Parabens

Crème Fraîche de Beauté, by Nuxe, is available for normal skin (Suractivée), dry skin (Concentrée Suractivée) and combination skin (Formule Light), in either a 60ml glass jar or 15ml tube format.

In France I paid Euros 27.70 for the jar. (U.K. RRP: £28.00 and U.S. RRP: $43.00).

18 Oct 2010

Bitter Orange Marmalade

For 8 jam jars x 500ml each
Preparation: Approx. 40 mins + 2 x 24 hour soaking
Cooking: Bring to the boil + 45 mins

Just like a roaring fire in a fireplace, jam making defines homeliness and cosiness. And like the process of carefully selecting and gathering the wood leading to lighting a fire, jam making should be considered one of those little pleasures one needs to experience in life. Like I did at first, you may feel daunted by the task but will soon realise that as long as you break it down into easy simple steps and enjoy taking time without the guilt, the experience will probably end up being a very relaxing moment indeed!

The bitter oranges I used for the recipe had a great pedigree from the get go: Corsican, from an old tree and heritage, and supplied expertly by Philippe, our family friend, although late in season (early March) when I processed them into jam but still at their peak. Although the best ingredients bring a distinct advantage in jam making, I admit that the produce is not always readily available, especially if you do not live in a citrus-producing country, so please do not let this put you off from the experience!
  • 3 kilos bitter oranges (approx.)
  • 3 kilos preserving sugar (refined or unrefined, or - like I did - a mix of both)
  • 8 glass jars approx. (500 ml each)
  • Cellophane sheets and elastic bands
Rinse the oranges. With a fork, prick each one all over, making sure the skin gets perforated. Then put the fruit in a big bowl and cover in fresh water (I used filtered water, as a personal preference over straight tap water). Leave to soak 24 hours. The following day, replace the water in the bowl with a fresh supply of water, and again leave the oranges to soak, for a further 24 hours. This important process will allow the oranges to soften and rid of some of their natural bitterness.

On the third day, making sure you keep hold of the water the oranges have sat in, slice each orange very thinly, keeping the skin on but removing the pips. My bitter oranges being from an old traditional crop meant that they were saturated in pips. Put all the shreds of orange in a bowl, arranging with a fork so they are evenly spread out. Cover in the water the oranges sat in until the water line is visible but not covering completely the shredded fruit.

Then weigh the bowl with all its contents on kitchen scales to re-gauge the quantity of sugar you will require, bearing in mind that the fruit/ sugar ratio should be 50/50. If you feel thrift with the sugar, do remember though that sugar holds an important purpose: it helps preserve the marmalade for longer... Empty the contents of the bowl into a tall heavy-based pan or, better still, use the pan from a traditional pressure cooker (minus the lid!).

In order to calculate accurately the sugar quantity required, you will now need to weigh the empty bowl to get the tare and substract its weight from the full bowl weight. This will give you the quantity of sugar required. Add the sugar to the pan and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolution. Bring to the boil. As soon as the marmalade starts boiling, put the timer on 45 minutes. Make sure the pan is never covered with a lid whatsoever throughout.

For the next 45 minutes do keep an eye on the boiling marmalade, making sure it keeps boiling and doesn't stick. With a skimmer, skim along the surface of the marmalade, removing any foam (that you can eat later at your leisure!). The foam is a crystallised cloudy solution which - according to my mum - contains all the impurities. Some people leave it in but it will cloud the jam, affecting its appearance.

When the 45 minutes are up, carefully pour the very hot marmalade with a laddle into individual glass jam jars that are perfectly clean. I managed to fill up 8 jam jars (of 500ml each). If you wish to keep your jam for longer than a few weeks, you might want to consider sterilising the jars in boiling water first. Once the jars are filled up to the top with marmalade, leave to cool overnight. For an added precaution, once they have cooled down completely and started to set a few hours after pouring, put a sheet of foil across to protect the exposed jams from dust.

The next day, carefully clean the rim of each of the jars to remove stickiness, before covering with a purpose-made cellophane sheet, and secure with the elastic bands provided. You are now all set to enjoy the richness of orange marmalade with an undertone kick of bitterness that will delight your breakfast, elevenses, tea times and tastebuds! Shop-bought, high sugar content, low fruit content marmalade will quickly pale into insignificance and the jam-making bug that took you by surprise will soon encourage you to go back to the stove for another session!

15 Oct 2010

The Fall of the House of Summer (Part 3)

In Northeastern France (and some Northern/ Eastern European countries) and as part of the pre-Christmas/ Advent calendar (starting on 4th Sunday before Christmas), we celebrate St-Nicolas (St-Nicholas Day, 6th December), a Saint also reputed as a gift-giver. On that day in Northern France, young children (or in certain regions like Picardie, young boys) are traditionally given a present by their parents (some may argue that the tradition is now on the wane).

Vintage St-Nicolas card from Delcampe

The St-Nicholas I am personally aware of has always been pictured as closely resembling Santa Klaus (a.k.a. Sinterklass, a 19th century folklore figure whose origins derive from St-Nicholas). As a result, the popular secular representation of Christmas has blurred St-Nicholas, Santa Klaus and Father Christmas into the the jolly bearded effigy we are familiar with.

In Reform times (16th/ 17th century) the symbol of gift-giving was 'taken' from St-Nicholas and attributed to the Nativity of Christ, more precisely to its assumed birthday, Christmas, 25th December. Yet to children's delight, St-Nicholas' gift-giving tradition has carried on!

Ste-Catherine card by S.A.G.E., printed in Italy, approx. 1986

In Northern France, Ste-Catherine's Day (25th November) celebrates unmarried girls until their 25th birthday. As a 'Catherinette' I used to receive a Ste-Catherine card from my parents and grandma (the one pictured above is one of them, in all its 1980s glory), and (usually) an item of clothing or some cash. The pre-Christmas buzz it generated would keep me going until Christmas Day!

Meanwhile the harvesting theme which we developed earlier in Part 1 is echoed by Thanksgiving Day (4th Thursday in November (US) and 2nd Monday in October (Canada), a secular pre-Christmas gratitude and present-bestowing tradition, whose origins date back to North America's pilgrim days.

We'll end our celebrations with Hannukah, the 8-night long Jewish Festival of Dedication, which falls between late November and late December.

French Seasons Greetings card, by MD Paris (made in France), approx. 1989

Phew, what a busy season Autumn is! Before you know it, you are half-way through the Advent calendar chocolates, then Winter closely followed by the glitter of Christmas descend upon you like invited guests who arrive way too early... You won't even have seen Christmas that the year packs up and a new one lands on you! Did we ever question the fact that Autumn was no cause for celebration?

P.S: The above Seasons Greetings and Ste-Catherine cards are from my personal collection.

Further Browsing:
  • More about Advent (in French)

More Homely Musings:

13 Oct 2010

The Fall of the House of Summer (Part 2)

Back to Autumn as a busy time of year, we have many celebratory reasons to justify it. Although it would be easy to get carried away and dedicate a thousand words per celebration, La Baguette Magique has chosen to stay short and sweet for the purpose of the exposé, hence condense the facts. But if I have missed out on important dates that you are aware of, please do bring them to my attention.

Interestingly our research has unveiled some overlapping in dates and symbolic figures, with a strong activity centered around 6th December.

Chronologically speaking, I would venture that the first event in the Autumn diary begins on the Eve of All Saints' Day, i.e. 31st October with Halloween. Already many bloggers (especially American) are gearing up for it big time with a multitude of creative ideas in the pipeline, and I cannot help but include this slightly tongue-in-cheek yet incredibly grown-up revisit of the iconic pumpkin, pimped up and tight up in black lace by lifestyle blog Daisy Pink Cupcake. Just forget about spooky carvings and drippy candle wax, this was so last Halloween! 

The following day, All Saints' Day, is when Catholics remember their dead. Usually in France families pay a visit to their graves and tidy/ flower them, typically with heather, chrysanthemum or cyclamen. It is a (subdued) time for remembrance and nostalgia, not the gleeful Autumn vibe that I am promoting elsewhere in this article.  

Remembrance Day a.k.a. Poppy Day (11th November) is also a time for that reflective, solemn mood. This year, for the first time in 15 years, I will not be able to physically purchase my poppy from one of the street poppy collectors and wear it with pride. Instead I might consider an online donation to the Royal British Legion, but still I will miss this very British symbolic way of commemorating Armistice Day.

Prior to that, another date I will miss out from the British calendar this year is Bonfire Night (5th November), based around the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when conspiracist Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament, and has been immortalised by popular culture ever since, probably as a deterrent to any would-be traitor to the nation. The night is an excuse for a good old bonfire (either held privately or by local councils - the latter deemed a safer option) where Guy's effigy is burnt. In the week leading to Bonfire Night, kids will take to the streets with their Guy effigy and ask adults for 'a penny for the guy'.

It is always damp/ rainy on Bonfire Night (especially in North West England), not ideal conditions for the many crackers, bangers and firework displays that accompany the event (and the run-up to it) to mimic the gunpowder explosions. Either private or public fireworks illuminate the skies of Britain throughout most of the night, adding to the ambient dampness to create a light temporary smog. In true party mood, many Brits will take advantage of Bonfire Night to hold a barbecue (their last of the year for most!) in their back-garden. You won't have truly experienced the spirit of Bonfire Night until you have sampled treacle toffees, toffee apple or parkin cake (a North of England treacle gingerbread speciality).

The official bonfires which I've attended previously always came with a funfair to prolong the fun into the night. Getting spooked on one of those old-fashioned ghost trains was my cherry on the cake! (to be continued)

11 Oct 2010

The Fall of the House of Summer (Part 1)

Nights are drawing in, leaves are waltzing down from trees and that unmistakable nip in the air catches you in the nick of time, almost unawares, making you yearn for home where, wrapped in cosiness over the 'hug-in-a-mug' allegory of your favourite hot beverage, you take stock of Summer gone and anticipate its transitory mood before Winter takes hold to enthuse us briefly with Christmas merryness before dragging us down through the low ebbs of January to March.

My beautiful bespoke patterned duck-egg curtains, from John Lewis

Right now the blogroll is getting homely too and some of my fellow editors have gone to great lengths to welcome Autumn. Indeed there is no time for mourning the demise of Summer as much as there is to rejoice about Autumn, and I will gladly join in the celebration.

Autumn is a busy time of year. It's harvest time for the fruit (and veg) of one's labour around the garden or field. Traditionally in the farming world, Autumn is when all the fruit, veg, grains and seeds that will be consumed throughout the long Winter months by humans and cattle alike, have been harvested, processed if applicable, and safely stored away from the elements and predators. Allegorically for those of us lucky enough to have a roof above our heads, the larders are now full as a result, and we are ready to embrace the rest of the year and beginning of the next while agriculture slows down into an apparent hibernation state.

Here in Corsica, Autumn delivers an earthly cornucopia of figs, apples, grapes, Sharon fruit, citrus fruit, pumpkins, walnuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, olives and more! Meanwhile in Britain, local cabbages, Brussel sprouts, root vegetables (those beloved parsnips that I had never heard of until I came to Britain!), pumpkins and apples etc. grace market stalls. Coming in all shapes and sizes, those enticing pumpkins (above) feature in Julia Parsons' celebrated foodblog, A Slice of Cherry Pie. Take this opportunity to browse her site for more deliciously homely recipes.

So all in all, it's goodbye light-hearted salads, itsy-bitsy red berries, delicate Summer fruit granitas (and Pimm's cocktails!). And it's hello to the more stodgy substantial fibrous hearty fruit and veg, those that will deliver our increased energy requirements as outside temperatures start gliding down. A warm colour palette of oranges, greens and creams has replaced the more vibrant colours associated with carefree Summer.

As months progress into Winter we start craving more calorific food and carbohydrates are creeping back up into our diet. Sugary treats become an irresistible option, with stodgier cakes, and waffles, pancakes and doughnuts suddenly (even) more tempting than in Summer! In my hometown of St-Quentin (Northern France), the traditional funfair which kicks off on St Denis's Day (9th October) heralds the official start of Autumn to the local population. Hence to me the fact that Autumn wouldn't taste so without croustillons (round bite-size fritters), cotton candy and toffee apples!

Meanwhile and as part of its Autumn Colours Week photo theme which I invite you to explore, Canadian design blog Poppytalk has encapsulated the warm caramel shades of the season into this inspirational clever collage, which is bound to stimulate creativity... (to be continued)

7 Oct 2010

Hundred Reasons

La Baguette Magique has just about got over its first birthday celebration, that a second landmark has crept up on us (not that we weren't prepared for it...). This very stepstone is also a very symbolic number - one hundred. Indeed this is our 100th post and I cannot help but smile while I am lolling back in my chair with some feeling of contentment.

When I started La Baguette Magique, I wisely had a couple of months' worth of written material already typed up. I was confident that I would be able to 'figure out' more stories to give this blog some due credit and lend it some mileage down the timeline, but I was secretly doubting whether I would be able to reach the 50th post without writer's block or some sort of disillusion. In truth I had fear: fear of the unknown, of not being up to the project and/ or getting bored with it, fear of not getting an audience and/ or disappointing them at some point... 

Things evolved from the original mindset, and this for a multitude of reasons that bloggers of the world will have experienced at some stage. First of all, I built up confidence with time and surprised myself at cultivating inspiration in the most improbable ways, be it while on errands, flicking through a magazine, chatting to a friend, taking photos, rummaging through a box of souvenirs...

Then there is no denying that life catches up with you - we're only human after all! - and takes your blog project off track for a while, be it with a new baby, redundancy or personal problems. In my case, I moved abroad and La Baguette Magique was forced to take a back seat for 4 months, despite me. Life emulates art and the journey of a personal blog is part and parcel of life's ups and downs...

If I were to give out some sort of advice borne out of my (modest) blogging experience, there it would be. In order for your blog to come out right, you need to realise that you have to be selfish (what a dreadful word!). As weird as it may sound, you need to write for you. Let me explain. A blog is a work-in-progress labour of love, and unless you are talking about topics/ things/ people that mean to you, you are kidding yourself and your audience will soon realise they are being duped, and then move on at a click of a mouse to the next best thing... In this respect I have always been honest with myself and my readership about what I talk about, and I have built in confidence my own approach and style. You see, why would I invent some sort of busy-PR-cool-cat-living-off-Portobello character when this is just not true. I believe that staying true to yourself and what you know, what you live, what you experience, gives you the distance and focus.

Blog standards out there are knee-shakingly high, some have reached cult status and showcase high levels of creative talent I am so admirative of. My blogroll is only a tiny sample of the talent out there and I invite you to browse through it at your leisure for further inspiration. Keeping abreast of the blogging community at large, and observing the trends emerging and gaining momentum, have helped me to benchmark my own narrative style and contents, identify areas for improvement, rebrand, perfect functionality and get down and dirty with HTML. Feeling part of the blogging community has certainly encouraged me to persevere when sometimes I felt like packing it in.

What I love about blogging is not just about writing, it is the whole package of starting a solo project from scratch and build on it at every single level: planning, researching, creative writing, editing, publishing, photography, SEO, networking, etc. [Eek easy Nat, your last name's not Wintour!] Hundreds of fun hours have been dedicated so far, and let me insist on the word 'fun'. I believe that the day you stop having fun on your blog is when you should call it a day and move on to something else. Believe in yourself and believe in your blog. If you don't believe in neither, how can you expect your public to believe? Remember that blogging is not a chore, it is about what you are passionate about, what makes you tick, what gets you out of bed in the morning, what gives you faith and fires you with positive energy.

I wouldn't go as far as saying that blogging has saved my life. However it has helped me ground my observations, look at things from different angles, and implement a thought process around other personal, more professionally-minded projects with a view to get them off the ground in the near future. Blogging has given me a digital identity, if you may, and a proactive part in social media.

Meanwhile thanks for reading, thanks for dropping by, thanks for your support. I am very interested to get the views of other fellow bloggers, so please feel free to leave your comments here.

Pict 1 Credit: Calling picture researchers... Sadly I am unable to authentify the above 'Imagine' illustration cut-out (part of my keepsake collection), so hopefully you might be able to help me. I've had it for the last 7 years or so, as a booklet cut-out believed to originate from either Manchester City Art Galleries or Cornerhouse Cinema... Any clues welcome!

5 Oct 2010

A Vintage Provençal Cookbook (Part 2)

The next chapters cover sauces, stuffings, pasta and risotto. Then meat is given pride of place, extensively and mostly presented as ragoûts (hotpots): beef (including 'beefteaks', pronounced 'beefteck'), mutton, veal and that appetising (not!) Soufflé de Cervelle (calf brain soufflé). More meat with lamb, pork, game, poultry and fowl, including an ominous Pigeon au Sang (pigeon in a blood jus).

Mediterranean vegetables (tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, artichokes and beans) are dedicated a whole chapter. We also get a flavour of those now-forgotten veg (salsifies and Jerusalem artichokes). The savoury section ends with a small collection of egg dishes, before we enter the oh-so-brief sugar-coated realm of pâtisserie, with the merit of timeless desserts, still made to this day: brioche, baba, soufflé, custards and creams, biscuits, macaroons, nougat, ice creams, mousses and meringue.

The author suggests menu ideas for special occasions and today's average 4-course menu doesn't even begin to compare. This actually brings back to mind Sue Perkins's informative BBC TV documentary about banquets, picnics and feasts of the past, where you needed a solid appetite matched by a solid stomach to erm stomach it... You also needed the services of a good cook or have the competence yourself in order to master those ambitious culinary feats.

All in all, La Cuisinière Provençale is an invaluable tool in cuisine history, giving us truthful foundations to the great regional cooking of Provence, away from the fantasist recipe adaptations that we have been bombarded with in the last decades: simplified ragoûts, cheats cassoulets, quick stews, pretend marinades, tinned fish soups, that have snatched us away from the authentic taste of tradition. This book, and similar ones, are a back-to-basics must for those of us who are serious about traditional cooking and the truth in general. Happy cooking everyone!

P.S: A quick online search reveals that La Cuisinière Provençale was updated and republished by Editions Solar (France, 1998, 383 pages) and also by P. Tacussel (France, 2006, 526 pages). Meanwhile I found out that the book's first edition dates back to 1897.

3 Oct 2010

A Vintage Provençal Cookbook (Part 1)

Introducing La Cuisinière Provençale by J.-B. Reboul (P. Ruat publisher, 396 pages), more than a recipe book, it is a potted history of bygone culinary tradition that used to belong to mémé's auntie Claire. In other words, a family heirloom - an antique item in its own right - that is also a piece of gastronomical testimony evidencing a bygone way of life. Strangely enough, there is no date anywhere in the book, so by taking an educated (and conservative) guess, I reckon this is at least 100 years old.

This book is about Provençale cuisine and probably as close to the truth as you can get. Starting with a few general observations, bread seems to be a key-component to soups and accompaniement to other dishes, comparatively to today's bread-shy culture. The Provençale flavour pervades throughout, with Mediterranean fish, olive oil, garlic, capers and herbs living up to the Provençal stereotype. The game dishes demonstrate that hunting played an important part in society. While mutton, pork, etc. were more likely to originate from your own stock or that of the local farm than from the butcher's (unless of course you were a town-dweller).

The second section of the book deals with food preservation (key at the time, when refrigeration was no option): tinned food, pickles, desiccation, marmalades, jams, fruit and plant syrups (including mallow root and violet flowers), candied fruit and fruit spirit (including the old-fashioned Ratafia and the fennel seed-based Anisette).

The compilation of 811 recipes are short and to the point, yet clear enough for a cook to follow, without getting lost in an array of details and cookery jargon (although a lexicon is provided at the end). Let us pause for a second and put the book in its context: although I would be tempted to say that the book's audience was likely to be individuals who could read and manage a household, and possibly students in home economics, some of its recipes (the less common ones, shall we say) could also have been directed at cooks on the payroll who may have been told by their masters to follow a recipe that they had no prior knowledge of, referring them to the book.

The book structure, divided into chapters, is straightforward, starting with hearty - mostly meaty - stodgy soups, some of which erring on the unpalatable: Potage Purée de Navets au Lait (a milk-based turnip soup served on bread slices), Garbure aux Marrons (boiled chestnuts served in their stock, over bread slices and finished in the oven), Aigo Boulido (literally: boiled water, to which olive oil and an egg yolk are added, before the bread). Other surprises and oddities await the modern reader at every page.

Advice is also provided along, for instance on how to achieve the perfect Pot-au-Feu (hotpot), with patience and no strong flames. And we find out that a true Bouillabaisse (fish soup) commands at least 7 or 8 guests due to the fact it needs to contain as many different varieties of fish as possible, in order to achieve the required richness of taste. The book gives much importance to fish dishes (but not just to sea fish), braised, grilled, baked, stuffed, etc. Frogs and snails end the fish chapter (likely to reinforce the French reputation abroad as frog and snail eaters!). (to be continued)