29 Nov 2010

Little Treasures (Part 1)

What I am about to show you here are a few examples of what I call 'little treasures'. Now I will be straight from the outset and, in doing so, I might disappoint a few romantic expectations. The little treasures in question are no hypothetical family jewels, precious stones, gold coins, antique figurines, Ming Dynasty ware, muskets, coveted paintings or other items associated with mythical pirate booties, royal collections, museum displays or inheritance gains. My little treasures have no monetary value (I am pretty much sure of that) despite the fact that most pottery pieces exceed 100 years old.

So how did pottery (crockery) - as that's what it's about - end up the way it did, in smithereens? Your guess is as good as mine. In the context of yesteryear, maybe because the pottery was already chipped, cracked, unusable as such, or unwanted (a minor house clearance of sorts that could include some monstruous-looking vase inherited from an in-law or a departed grandmother's unwanted chamber pot, who knows...).

I wouldn't dare to add that some items ended up downhill and down the pits solely because they had gone out of fashion. In those days and up until post-WWII, only the affluent could justify any form of consumerism translating into the regular purchase of 'replacement' items, as often households would make do and hang on to their belongings, make them last, not replace them on a whim because they had gone out of fashion.

So apart from the unfortunate accident, those final broken pieces would result (doh!) from intentionally throwing out/ smashing a breakable object down the back yard, the side alley, across the path, just outside the house even, wherever. In the old days, waste per se was limited, compared to our modern rubbish-generating throwaway culture: no wasteful plastic packagings, styrofoam cups and the ever-so ecologically-unconscious individual unit format.

Meanwhile country folks were virtually self-sufficient, living off their land, cultures and farm animals. The only waste they actually generated apart from organic waste was those chips of pottery and glass. Everything else was recycled, reused, repurposed, from strings to bits of metal or wood. Mémé's grandma had patched up her old everyday skirt so many times that she was unable to recall the original material! This gives a whole new dimension to patchwork activity, doesn't it?

Having said that, I wouldn't want to rule out the possibility of some of these pieces resulting from house lootings, especially throughout the second part of the 20th century, when Corsican villages suffered from further human exodus, with local populations moving to town or to the French continent for work (if not much further afield), and  reluctantly leaving those old family homes 'to meet their own fate' (shut in effect for 11 months of the year, or just slowly falling into neglect and oblivion as maintenance costs proved too much to bear). I will have the opportunity to discuss this thorny issue in more detail on La Baguette Magique in the coming weeks.

We're all familiar with the saying 'Someone's junk is someone else's treasure', and these little fragments of junk are my unlikely and unassuming treasures. Starting as a child I came across these sometimes beautifully-colourful, delicately-adorned, or rather plain - depending on the catch of the day - scattered fragments of pottery, without even looking for them, plainly visible or just about visible, found while gardening or shifting some stones, in our tiny garden, on the hamlet grounds or just walking down a mountain path.

Everytime I would try to imagine what those pieces would make up if assembled together, that is if a strike of good fortune would enable me to trace all the fragments in the first place, which has never happened. Clues gave me a little insight as the motif on some pieces was the exact replica of an existing crockery collection that we owned, helping me to ascertain that the piece in question related to tableware or even sanitaryware (washbasin, washpot), for instance.

The more rustic glazed plain pieces (brown-coloured on at least one side, see above) are kitchen earthenware: coffee pot, stew pot, bowl etc. Some of those unassuming pieces fetch hundreds of years in age (sadly not hundreds of £ in value, maybe one day!). (to be continued)

27 Nov 2010

A Week-End Wonderweb 27-11 (Fashion)

The fickleness of fashion, here today, gone... in 20 seconds - wallflower or no wallflower: in full bloom only to fade away later, fashion is instant visionary genius, it is of the moment for the moment, a fast fad.

Sources (top page down):
Addicted to fashion? Get your fix from: The Sartorialist, Garance Doré, Fifi Lapin, Fashion Foie Gras, Liberty London Girl, Hostess with the Mostess, Domestic Sluttery and so many more!

    24 Nov 2010

    La Saison des Champignons (Part 2)

    I am neither a mushroom specialist nor an enthusiast and probably wouldn't give them a second thought if it weren't for the level of exposure they do get in the local press at this time of year, and my personal encounter with them on my current daily walks. Foraging for mushrooms is an important past-time activity for countryside Corsicans, on a par with game-hunting, fishing, wild asparagus and wild strawberry-plant fruit picking, and les oursinades (sea-urchin season).

    Having said that, the only wild mushroom variety I have ever felt confident to pick and consume is the Coprin Chevelu (Shaggy Ink Cap, a.k.a. Coprinus comatus, pictured below). Its distinctive features (white in colour, oblong, narrow and contained in shape, turning ink-black as it ages, found in grass clearings (dappled light), in proximity to birch trees mainly), combined to the fact that it doesn't resemble any toxic or semi-toxic mushroom variety, make it a much safer option than other edible mushrooms that dangerously resemble deadly ones. However mycologists advise to only pick young coprinus (i.e. those white in colour) and that any coprinus-alcohol association should be avoided.

    Coprinus used to grow in my parents' garden in St-Quentin and I happily picked them, scraped them lightly before thinly slicing and sautéing them in a non-stick pan, without any add-ons, simply au naturel. Wild mushrooms are more aromatic than the supermarket's cultivated white caps, and not as water-filled. It is likely that those who claim not to like mushrooms will have only ever tasted the cultivated varieties as opposed to the wild specimens.

    I have read that once picked, mushrooms should be carefully laid in wicker baskets to allow them to breathe (no plastic bags, trays or buckets that encourage bruising and sweating). Also be sure to keep mushroom varieties separate from one other as a precaution, in order to prevent flavours from combining, and to avoid risks of potential cross-toxicity (that is if you are no mushroom expert, planning to take your findings to a specialist).

    Now why not end this post with a practical (aren't I mean...)? Pictured in this 2-part article are some of the Corsican specimens I have stumbled across in my recent walks. Those of you expert mycologists who could shed some light as to the mushrooms' identity and edibility, are most welcome. Then I might nip back later for that mushroom omelette, that's of course if I get the all-clear from you guys!

    Meanwhile let's delight our tastebuds with this small selection of mushroom-based recipes from four of our celebrated British TV chefs (I have made Delia's recipe as a dinner party starter):
      Find out more about mushrooms:

        23 Nov 2010

        La Saison des Champignons (Part 1)

        When I recently praised Autumn's cornucopia as the bumper harvest time of the year that will (allegorically) see us through Winter, I meant to include this next element to the list of fruit, vegetables and grains, and then decided to dedicate a whole post just to its pleasures that encompass the delights of a treasure hunt of sorts followed by the satisfaction of a tasty dinner.

        But before I end up sounding like the bloke out of River Cottage, just allow me to praise nature's resourcefulness in rewarding us with a produce it nurtures all by itself, without man's intervention: the simple - yet complex - wild mushrooms.

        Mushrooms like ceps (porcini), morels, chanterelles, trompettes de la mort (horns of plenty), girolles, puffballs, etc. reward the vegetarians amongst us with a substitute to meat (high protein content), and also satisfy carnivorous appetites by admirably complimenting meat in a white sauce or a rich wine-based jus.

        Mushrooms might not pop to the mind of the urbanite (myself included) whose encounter with fungi will rarely err beyond the supermarket's fresh produce aisle, where the cultivated variety (often 'limited' to the widespread white button mushroom or their brown caps counterpart, and produced in huge quantities in Ireland to cater for the UK market) will be neatly presented, packaged up in plastic trays enclosed in cling-film, after a rigorous selection and calibration process.

        One piece of advice in passing: once home after purchase, be sure to store them in a paper bag at the bottom of the fridge, rather than keep them in their plastic packaging. Failing that, at least remove the cling film to help the mushrooms breathe.

        Now back to our subject matter, mushrooms of the wild order: they come in an array of calibres, shapes, colours, patterns and... toxicity levels. Hence the fact that amateur mycologists are strongly advised to only forage under the safety umbrella of a mycological society who are experts and conoisseurs. If not, the least you can do safety-wise is to take your pickings to a pharmacist who should be able to help you identify the safe edible specimens from the rogues! I cannot emphasise enough that the toxicity risk needs to be assessed very seriously indeed as a matter of life and death.

        Oh and I won't even mention magic mushrooms, that some members of society seem to pride themselves in identifying as experts in their field, yet of course not for the same enjoyment purposes as our average mushroom gourmet here... (to be continued)

        20 Nov 2010

        A Week-End Wonderweb 20-11 (Typography)

        When words put their glad rags on, sprinkle the glitz (glyph) and the punctuation, they roll out of the foundry and letterpress onto the streets to become calligraphy, typography, typefaces, fonts, sans-serifs (avec-serifs), visually colourful, impactful, artistic, trendy, jolly, a recognisable brand, a roadside billboard, a neon sign, a landmark, a lightbulb moment in history, a fashion statement.

        Photographic Sources (from top page down):

        17 Nov 2010

        Ode to the City

        Rock solid
        With a heart of glass and limbs of steel
        A mosaic of human complexities
        A promised land, a magical kingdom
        A hive of activity, a network of new horizons
        The mother of all inventions,
        A vacuum, a pool of destitution
        A road to nowhere, a dead-end destination

        Your heartbeat - unmissable
        Your pace of life - quick and fast
        Your attraction - magnetic
        You are everyone, everything
        You make dizzy, you are risqué
        You weave dreams right from the edge
        Make the impossible feasible
        You create fashion trends,
        Dollar signs all around
        Inhabit the rise and fall of celebs
        Launch fads by the conveyor-belt
        Turn them into fast-moving consumer goods
        You manufacture beauty and happiness
        You are capitalism personified, you decide
        Free trade, free will, free spirit, freemason
        You enthuse, you inspire, you move, you consume
        You fathom your own rules, you lead, you plead

        You control, you happen, you are at the heart
        Of where things happen - good and bad
        You are an art form, a social movement
        Grace and reason, a lifestyle, a prayer
        Ever-changing, ever-marvelling
        Never asleep, never doubting
        You press on, push on, move forward
        You are life and turn lives upside-down
        You are the nerve centre, the focus, the obsession
        Hope, faith, past, present and future
        All rolled into one big human reason

        To surpass oneself, to vanquish fears
        Aim for tomorrow today and never mourn yesterday
        To grow bigger, stronger, to rise higher
        To elevate your spirit and your soul
        Scrape the sky with your intentions and your goals

        You are ambitious and a success story
        Demanding of yourself and never content
        You are proud, you are rich and a pauper too
        You run, you jump and boogie
        Whizz down to the sound of time and money
        You have fun, kid yourself, you kid us
        Take the long way home, break hearts, go bust
        You are one last call, one last-ditch attempt

        For you are one big illusion too
        And a lesson to those ready to question you.

        by © Nathalie Hachet 2010

        Photographic references (from top page down):
        • Robert Doisneau, Issy-les-Moulineaux, La Ceinture Verte (Parisian green belt), 1949
        • Rockefeller Center under construction, New York City, 1932, by Hamilton M. Wright for Aerial Explorations, Inc., N.Y., 1932, from the New York World-Telegram Collection at the U.S. Library of Congress, via Wikipedia and Flickr 
        • L.S. Lowry, Great Ancoats Street, Manchester, 1930

        15 Nov 2010

        Chocolate Délice

        For approx. 8 slices
        Preparation: 10 mins
        Refrigeration: 12 hours

        This strong Christmas party contender is the 'tall dark stranger' of chocolate desserts: intriguing, naughty, passionate and intoxicating with flavours and high cocoa content!

        This incredibly sleek and easy-to-make dessert recipe was given to my mum by a family friend over 20 years ago, and is still a dinner-table winner to this day. Here's our golden rules: don't skip on the refrigeration time, and make sure you serve the délice with orange or kumquat slices lightly caramelised in sugar for that divine 'chocorangelicious' combination! Or why not serve with a couple of scoops of our tasty Bitter Orange Marmalade? Alternatively you may go without the fruit by simply substituting brandy with Cointreau.
        • 250g butter
        • 400g good quality dark chocolate (with at least 70% cocoa content)
        • 1 whole organic egg + 5 organic egg yolks
        • 1/4 wine glass-measure brandy
        • 1 cup strong black coffee (espresso), lukewarm
        Break up the chocolate into chunks and place in a heatproof bowl with the strong coffee. Put the heatproof bowl on top of a pan half-filled with simmering water, on the stove, and leave the chocolate to melt. When the chocolate is thoroughly melted, turn off the stove (while still leaving the bowl on the pan of hot water), and stir.

        Slice up the butter and add to the warm chocolate, making sure it melts. Add the brandy. Then take the bowl off the pan of hot water. Whisk the egg yolks and add them to the chocolate mix, and finally add the whisked egg white.

        Line a rectangular cake tin with greased parchment paper. Pour in the chocolate mix and make sure it has cooled off before placing in the fridge for ideally 12 hours.

        Serve with freshly-made orange or kumquat compote: wash and slice up a couple of organic oranges/ 500g kumquats, place in a small pan with 4 tablespoons caster sugar and 1 tablespoon water over a moderate flame for a few minutes, until glazed and softened.

        13 Nov 2010

        A Week-End Wonderweb 13-11 (Maps)

        Geographical, historical, political, sociological, ethnographical and more, on parchment, paper, card, online, spot on, plotted and mapped out for all to locate, view, figure out, analyse, dissect, compare with, save, hide, remember, discuss, dispute and distribute!

        Sources (from top page down):
        >> Click on the maps for a higher-resolution view of the maps.

        9 Nov 2010

        Life in the Slow Lane

        A few weeks ago, reading Tea's post from Tea & Cookies made me look at my own reality, face on. She chose to share her doubts and feelings publicly and I found her revelation strangely reassuring in itself at it echoes my own current state of limbo, where I too am stuck in a temporary situation that is at risk of dragging onto the permanent. Sharing one's state of mind is to acknowledge the issues at stake and a positive step towards a solution.

        Transpose Tea's torn feelings between two vibrant West Coast cities (San Francisco and Seattle) to my place of thinking where I am torn between two opposite lifestyle situations, i.e. my former fast-pace city life back in England and an off-the-beaten-track regressive village slumber on the small island of Corsica...

        My partner has had to go back to England while I remain on French soil with Tickle, our cheeky little dog, both of us still trying to figure out what our mission in Corsica actually is. Meanwhile all our belongings are still stuck in storage and I have to quietly put up with my parents' furniture and home décor style while my own tastes are relegated to a couple of containers tightly locked away. Tickle and I live at my parents and I am back to being 17 all over again (minus the tight leggings, clunky jewellery, shocking lipstick and oversized tops!), made to feel like that naughty teenager who has never grown up to lead her own life out there in the wide wild world...

        This crazy situation was never meant to last beyond a couple of months in the first place, never mind nine months! Nine months of teetering around the parental nest is a hell of a long time, a full pregnancy term, over a whole school year, many life-changing events happen in the space of nine months, but apart from a lot of time to think, go through masses of red tape, and try out business ideas, it seems projects and grand ideas haven't quite materialised in the way they were planned out from the comfort of my English sofa...

        I do need to get a grip, focus on one project only, and generally come unstuck. Start by making up my mind over which of the two countries I should spend my life, moving forward. Here's the dilemma: my heart might be in Corsica by default but my head is in England. When you are torn between two places, Tea has the solution: 'But if I want what is new, I am going to have to let go of the old.' The other way around applies too.

        Meanwhile I do miss the randomest moments from England, aside from my freedom as an independent, resourceful young professional. Back in 2002 a new life chapter dawned as I embarked on a marketing career, freshly single, with a new shiny car to boot, a new job, new friendships. I was fuelled with a will to succeed equalled by a need to flaunt it. I was with it, out there, yet under tremendous pressure at the same time, nearly 3 hours' daily commute to work, marketing evening classes that stretched my working day past 9pm twice a week etc. Yet I was vivacious, bubbly, lean, keen, trendy, slightly selfish and open to opportunities... Life in the fast lane.

        Rewind 8 years and I feel I have lost my bearings, my moorings. Life goes one way and then it goes another. In the process, you lose dear ones through death. Then the recessionary markets sweeping through the marketplace, combined with the market-sensitive nature of the marketing industry, make you redundant in a flash. You encounter personal setbacks that stretch you and test you at your weakest hour, when you're down and out. 

        Everytime I get on the melancholic side of introspection, nothing is more fitted to my mood than the chorus line from a 1990s rap duet that my brother used to listen to and that has strangely etched my mind into some sort of doomed black-and-white limerick that goes: 'Life's a bitch and then you die, voilà!'. This leads me to a quiet place where I question my choices in life, my complexities, errors of judgement, foibles, mistakes, flaws and contradictions as - simply - a human being has them.

        Before I finally reach a decision like Tea, many more weeks or months may yet elapse. I guess that when I am ready to move on, things will start clicking into place. In the meantime I have all the time for the thinking while I live life in the slow lane...

        7 Nov 2010

        A Week-End Wonderweb 07-11 (Tea Time)

        Welcome to La Baguette Magique's brand-new and exciting week-end feature, a taster celebration of online inspiration that will complement our forthcoming blog adventure, Mirabelle, where the mostly visual homely, lifestyle and interior design scheme will be developed at leisure, mainly capitalising upon existing online resources.

        Meanwhile please rest assured that La Baguette Magique will carry on as normal, with however a number of exciting additions including product reviews and another passion of mine, ephemera (already given pride of place here and there).

        A Week-End Wonderweb will consist of a small number of carefully-chosen web-published lifestyle photographs (with sources provided at the end of the article), strung together by one simple sentence. Nothing more, nothing less. Just see for yourself now.

        P.S: Wonderweb was originally scheduled for yesterday morning, unfortunately 'technoflops' decided otherwise (in this instance an extremely erratic internet connection). Apologies.

        Riches of gold enhanced by aqua or duck-egg greens, like in this splendid reception room, an invitation to temptation, to pause for a while, succumb to a selection of delicacies served with a cup of your favourite Earl Grey for that perfect afternoon tea amongst friends...

        Sources (from top page down):

        5 Nov 2010

        Your Own Personal Jesus (Part 2)

        Likewise the All Saints' Day tradition is particularly followed by Corsican families, with strong visual displays of colourful potted chrysanthemum sprouting across cemeteries. Subject to debate, this may reflect the historically-extravagant, almost ostentatious, side of latino spirit, showing others how much you care for your dead by lavishly decorating graves with flowers, in other words, a case of 'showmanship' over religious/ private introspection and remembrance. I do personally know some villagers who make sure they are seen walking down the cemetery with the biggest floral arrangements on All Saints' Day, in some unspoken competition with other locals.

        Sobriety in design for this beautiful Amsterdam church
        This is the 'look-at-me' side of religion I have a problem with. Likewise I am somewhat irked by those who go to mass purely to score elusive points with the local Joneses, while being deaf to the church's call to behave as a good - altruistic - christian who carries out acts of goodness within that very community. I have been outraged while attending mass to overhear some individuals overtly putting down other parishioners and then go for communion. This sort of hypocritical behaviour has negatively impacted on any religious inclination I might have felt at the time.

        The commercialisation of religion is another bone of contention for me, and Christmas is a fitting example. Banking on what is a religious day to turn it into a shameless shopping extravaganza, there again exacerbated by peer and media pressure and that all-consuming consumerist aspiration to keep up with the Joneses is short of hypocritical in my book. The attiude is just as pointlessly beside the point as those Christmas cards you get by the dozen from people who don't even manage to mumble a hello to you the rest of the year!

        A touch of gold for Manchester cathedral
        On wedding days, religion is once again shaken to the core, taken for a ride even, by those couples who choose to get married in church (a specifically pretty sought-after country church for some!), not so much for the religious blessing than for the aesthetic qualities the church setting will deliver on photo. You and I have countless examples of the sort, where religion takes a back seat and is only used as a setting - a backdrop - for a party. I attended a communion once where the priest had to interrupt mass to tell off parents who were disrespectfully talking, laughing, greeting relatives, moving about and snapping away from all sorts of angles like this was some fashion shoot, without much consideration for the religious ceremony.

        I think religion is serious stuff and if someone is going to treat it casually, as an obligatory pre-party prelude, maybe they should for once give it some thought and decide whether atheism might not be a more appropriate option in keeping with their aspirations. Just a thought.

        Haunted by a troubled past: St-Quentin basilica
        My mum once said that you should go to mass for yourself and not think of others around you. This confuses me too, when religion invites us to be selfless by welcoming/ helping others, and promote good. Maybe I am being too demanding of us, and we should just approach faith as best we can and be forgiving/ tolerant of those who 'haven't seen the light yet' and don't understand the consequences of their selfish/ hypocritical conduct when involved with religion.

        You see, I wasn't kidding when I let out yesterday that my relationship with faith was complicated. Everyone's perception and reaction to religion is their own (and in most cases, like here, without a clear-cut opinion on the matter). To close this post on religion, there is nothing more appropriate for me right now than refer you to the aptly-titled 'Personal Jesus' song. These two words together indicate what religion is down to: a personal relationship (or absence of it), be it human or of the sacred order, that resonates throughout our lives, or hits a high note at a certain point of it. Our cultural heritage, personal knowledge, level of awareness, our willingness or capacity to question our actions, all these elements shape up and shake up that concept of faith and the personal Jesus within, alter it, or simply disintegrate it.

        P.S: 'Personal Jesus' was originally written by Depeche Mode, then reinterpreted 15 years later by king of controversy Manson. Yet the song's dimension never came out more meaningful than when his predecessor, Johnny Cash, made it his own. The lyrics had come into their own like a rich mature wine, to deliver wisdom with a resonance.

        4 Nov 2010

        Your Own Personal Jesus (Part 1)

        I never once imagined as a blogger that I would one day contemplate to dedicate a post to All Saints' Day (celebration of the dead, 1st November), and then from there dig into the religious theme further... You see, life is full of surprises and it's amazing how you can surprise yourself sometimes!

        I am a christian by birth and family tradition, only not a practicing one and my faith has had its share of ups and downs in tune with the critical moments of life stages. My relationship with faith is complicated, and not one I understand enough to attempt to discuss openly here. My belief in God and what it encompasses, from our purpose on earth to redemption, good vs. evil, and the afterlife, is still a collision of contradicting ideas, and I have to confess on this that I am not passionate enough by the subject to spend time on it, question it, research it and forge an enduring opinion. I admit that my understanding of the christian faith is limited, but I have been to mass enough times to go through the basic prayers by heart, yet the évangiles, the apostles, and Jesus's detailed chronological life events still flirt with confusion and mystery in my head.

        However the one constant that I have remained loyal to since reaching adulthood is over the non-practicing christian's relationship with religious faith, from a sociological perspective: the (increasingly loose) interaction (interference?) of the religious element within personal obligations in the name of society tradition. Here I will attempt to shed some of my views on the subject.

        Our increasingly secular society still maintains a loose christian connection to life events, although some of the ceremony aspects may be masqueraded as a 'second-hand' approach to religious faith, with hypocritical undertones in the name of through-the-motions tradition. The major moments which punctuate the life of the modern day christian and, in the same breath the only times when they will be likely to step inside a church and engage remotely with their faith are 'traditionally' down to: christening day, communion day, wedding day, funerals, and possibly Christmas mass and Easter Sunday mass.

        Corsica, like other South European regions (namely Italy or Portugal), still displays a more pronounced religious ardour/ fervour than other parts of Europe, although parishioners and priests numbers alike continue to decline. In an interesting parallel, Corsica is also reputed for traditionally maintaining stronger family values and ties than elsewhere in France, although those values are now being put to the test by a more urban and individualistic lifestyle.

        Besides Corsica and its Southern counterparts have maintained the ceremonial/ visual aspect of catholicism through the traditional street processions. One not to miss is the Catenaciu, a Corsican re-enactment of a hooded 'Christ' carrying the cross down the village streets on Good Friday night, where the cross bearer is a local man in effect hiding his identity from the parishioners by wearing a hood, while seeking pardon from the church for a sin he has committed.

        Other processions punctuate the religious calendar to celebrate a particular saint usually associated with a local church and/ or trade (ex: the fishermen's patron saint). Those processions gel religion and community spirit together by coming down the streets into the community. (to be continued)