Friday 23 July 2010

Why thank- you

Whenever you're feeling down or a bit lethergic try the random compliment generator- it's fun! My t- shirt smells fresh apparently.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Eating Perfume

You might love to smell perfumes but do you love to eat scents?

I can't get enough of floral cooking- rose water on rice pudding, violet ice cream, lavender iced cakes or in lemonade, orange blossom macaroons.

Eating ingredients you find in perfume is usually about florals though and they are certainly not for everyone. This weekend I had the 'luck' to try something completely different from the perfume world: Ambergris.

For those who perhaps aren't as interested in scent as cooking Ambergris is a legendary ingredient in the perfume world- apparently a beautiful, earthy musky smell that was loved and revered for it's medicinal qualities for hundreds of years.

Ambergris is a delicate sounding word but beauty in this case masks if not a secret then a surprise. For Ambergris quite literally describes a grey rock type substance found on beaches (named to be like grey amber) which is actually whale vomit. There are more details about what Ambergris is and it's journey in life it in this BBC article.

Ambergris is generally rare in perfume nowadays because of cost and increasing restrictions- which in the case of ambergris being taken or developed from slaughtered whales is clearly absolutely the right thing in my opinion. The question of naturally found Ambergris being used in perfume seems to me more difficult- I would have thought that as long as no creature is harmed this shouldn't be a problem- but I do understand that where demand outweighs supply people will bend rules and I consider harm to any creature to be too greater cost for any perfume or beauty product.

Ever well read and knowledgeable Helg who writes Perfume Shrine suggest some modern scents that are meant to have natural, as opposed to synthetic, ambergris in them here. If Eau De Merveilles does contain Ambergris and that salty cosy skin like scent derives from that ingredient then I can completely understand why ambergris has been treasured for so long- that perfume is quite beautiful and unlike anything else I have smelled for wanting to make you nuzzle the wearer or any clothes it's been on (gentleman take note, I think it could work very well on you- although I believe Terre De Hermes is meant to be the men's equivalent).

Now we come to the point of the post (finally I here you say)- how did I come to eat ambergris and how was it?

Well I came to eat it at Bompas and Parr's brilliant dinner/ art installation The Complete History of Food on Sunday (you can read a full review by food bloggers and London secret supper club dinner hosts Fernandez and Leluu here).

I had heard via reviews that there was an unusual ingredient in one of the courses and found out on the day it was whale vomit. During the meal though I couldn't work out what we had eaten which could contain in it and at no point were we told about it. Then we got to the dessert section of the meal: a delicious candied orange and iris flower jelly with an ambergris posset- I, knowing what ambergris was, knew this was the moment to be brave but my fellow diners wouldn't believe me and said that the delicious, extremely sweet creme brulee type custard couldn't possibly be the whale vomit we had heard the rumour about. No no they said it must have been a hoax, this is far too lovely and doesn't look like that would look.

Well I checked and it was ambergris and it's true that it doesn't look anything like you would imagine- it looks just like custard but on the spoon is slightly clearer and of a less runny consistency. In the mouth it tastes like an extremely rich burnt custard as I said and the texture is again like custard but perhaps firmer and slightly gelatinous. It was delicious I must say, although I'm not sure for either the cost or effort of finding it it was really that much better than a really good creme brulee and I could never quite get what I was eating out of my head for long enough to really enjoy it. It is fantastic to have tasted such a treasured ingredient though, even if it was a bit weird!

Monday 19 July 2010

Quintessentially Perfume

Quintessentially Perfume is a new beautifully bound book about scent. It discusses many of the great fragrance houses, their history and therefore the history of modern scent, it looks at perfume bottles and the people who have made fragrance in the past, who are making it now and what the future holds for perfume.

Books about perfume are rare and I treasure them so opening the envelope containing this was like Christmas morning in July for me. This really is a book to covet, it's beautifully presented and has a handsome list of contributors from the creators like Linda Pilkington of Ormonde Jayne to Bertrand_Duchaufour who has lately been working with Penhaligon's and L'Artisan Parfumeur to the connoisseurs of fragrance like Roja Dove (who of course now has his own house as well as a collection of scent that makes me weep with wanting) to some of the established scribes of scent.

The book is not meant to be a history of all scents and it doesn't cover all the houses you may know in depth- but it isn't pretending to an encyclopedia perfumica so I think that is absolutely fine- and it does include some very niche brands which it is nice to see getting space alongside the greats like Dior and Guerlain.

I suppose it is a guide to perfume for those with taste and style. It is also a book that encourages and nurtures the idea of perfume as a very fine craft or even art form which is ever evolving. It offers us the chance to hear from modern perfumers first hand, perhaps for the first time in book form and I can imagine it having good cross over appeal because where some books on perfume have perhaps only been for the already initiated this can be approached on many knowledge levels. This is a fantastic read for anyone who is interested in perfume or luxury- and anyone who enjoys a sumptuous book.

Friday 16 July 2010

On bodies in the town and the country

I went to the proper countryside last weekend. I mean the no phone signal for several days and definitely no Wifi, papershop only open in the morning on Sundays, beep round corners countryside- not the organised, national trust planned with handy loos and maps of pretty walks countryside (though that is very nice too- especially when there are scones).

I had a lovely time, it was a bit like a holiday in the early 1980s, not like Ashes to Ashes though, maybe Bergerac without the nice car.

I couldn't fail to notice that the real country cousins (not the cousins who live in the Peaks or the Cotswolds but who dress like they live in Notting Hill) continue to dress and behave more like women of another time- and have the bodies of another time. Frankly those bodies, which are rounder, less taught, not brown-orange but either a nice milky-white or a proper golden brown, those bodies seem just as popular with the local men folk as the sometimes starved, over gymed bodies of the city.

Clearly not all country girls are fleshy maidens ripe for painting by Botticelli and not all city girls are as slim at Kate Moss and/or as toned as Paula Radcliffe. What is certain though is that far more girls in the towns and cities will feel concerned they don't conform to Kate or Paula look, or if they do they will sometimes go to bizarre lengths in my eyes to achieve that figure (if you don't see your friends because you need to go to the gym every day, if you only eat vegetables ever, limit your calories to 500 to 1000 a day, if you are scared of semi- skimmed when it's just for tea- I mean you).

The girls in the country seemed more comfortable in their skins to me- far, far more relaxed- and actually the men seemed more demonstratively attracted to them- though perhaps you will get more squishing, hugging and the like at a wedding than you would every day.

I guess my real point is that we all either strive very hard to conform to a certain look or feel bad that we don't perhaps and the truth is there are other ways of doing things. If you look back at pictures of the celebrities from the 1980s they aren't as exceptionally waif like as the current crop. Julia Roberts says in Pretty Women she is a US 6- that's a UK size 10. That's slim certainly especially for someone of her height, but it's not emaciated; it's achievable for people who need to eat to get through the day and who don't have all day to devout to regimes of cardio, stretching and toning.

Of course for every Sigourney Weaver you will have an Audrey Hepburn type figure- but when Audrey was playing roles not all actresses looked like her- because films showed women of different sizes- admittedly never anyone plus size as such but of different sizes- but they showed different bodies presumably acknowledging that difference could be beautiful. Now we see a uniform example of how we should look and I think men start to think that is what they should aspire to find.

Sometimes I wish the country would come to the town- and that instead of wearing clothes from the 80s fashion could decide bodies from the 80s (or earlier) were back.

Monday 12 July 2010

Love your ears

Rose earrings (which I own and love) from Pip N Stuff at All Things Original here.

Silver cassette drop earrings from Bianca Jones who also makes the very cool playing card earrings below

Or if you prefer gold I am as in love with the new Alex Monroe collection the Peacock and the Crow as I am with all his work. The Peacock hoops would make me ears feel extra special.

Also taking inspiration from nature are these Japanese Maple seed earrings from Patrick Irla's Jewellery shop on etsy. All of his jewellery is stunning and well worth a look.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Everything I love that lives in my heart

This brooch encapsulates everything I feel about life, love and appreciating it all- and reaffirms my belief that jewellery is about more than just adornment, especially when worn close to the heart.

The brooch of my dreams is a collaboration between Rob Ryan (artist, keeper of Ryantown on Colombia Road and the man who makes the prints my future beloved will hopefully give me) and Tatty Devine (jewellers to the cool and witty).

It is available from the Tatty Devine online boutique here, but please leave one for me!

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Chocolate Guinness cake

Nigella's chocolate Guinness cake is all I can think about. Just look at that glorious cream cheese frosting and the blackness of the cake, the dark, rich, velvet density.

Monday 5 July 2010

A good day

BBC6music is saved. Glory be. I can love the BBC all over again. Proof that good things do happen and that protest can work.

I celebrated with a Snog. The frozen yoghurt kind, although BBC executives, I could maybe be persuaded.

Fresh from reading this happy news and during what was honestly rather a mediocre Greek salad lunch I found Bill Nighy's five things I know about style on the Guardian website. Obviously what this man doesn't know about style isn't worth knowing ladies- and especially gentleman. 'I'd kill myself before wearing a pair of tracksuit bottoms'. Well quite.

I really enjoyed the first episode of Rev and I'm looking forward to episode 2 either this evening or on the blessed i-player (without which I think I would see basically no television at all, ever). It was at that BBC pace of old, not overly challenging but touching and true- also about a group of people who don't really get characterised these days- the not cool but not eccentric or specific- the normal really, it made me smile anyway. I may be biased though, I like Tom Hollander in pretty much everything he does.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Living Architecture

Last night I went to a talk about Living Architecture; which is a new, not for profit, business set up to challenge our ideas about modern architecture through giving the opportunity to try living and sleeping in modern spaces as holiday homes.

Living Architecture's Creative Director is the Writer and Philosopher Alain De Botton whose work I find really interested- and he spoke about the inspiration for the project yesterday. He and the organisation want to challenge the idea that houses built post World War Two are somehow second rate and that modern architecture is just for public spaces. He made the very good point that while we might admire buildings like the Gherkin or the hall at the British Museum we never get to sleep in innovative buildings like this and therefore to understand what a positive effect they can have on us.

The project seems to be an extension in part of his book The Architecture of Happiness which is how I first found his work. I actually saw his BBC2 programme based on the book before knowing his writing and remembered being extremely interested in the idea that psychologically houses with lots of light, glass and proximity to nature tend to encourage a happier outlook and more productivity in most people (and the most not all is import I would think).

I am fascinated by architecture and as a little girl I wanted to be architect, to design spaces where people lived and made and did and that had a creative life of their own almost, nurturing and loving generations, seemed fascinating to me. I loved the permanence of buildings. I don't think I could express all that very well but I knew I loved going to different rooms and places (I hate the word space, it's pretentious but that's really what I mean).

Clearly as a British person I am destined to cherish older architecture and I do- I really do. The happiness it gives me to walk around the Royal Crescent in Bath or to see a tiny Queen Anne cottage is quite silly because they are just buildings of course- but I do think they are more than just bricks. Even the rows of Victorian terraces in London, I love every single one. However this doesn't mean I don't like modern buildings. I particularly seek out and follow Art Deco buildings and think it's a really great shame that we don't have more and also that they weren't better preserved. Thankfully those that are left are now being lovingly cared for and if they cannot continue life as a cinema or factory being converted to housing.

Caring about older styles of building doesn't mean I don't have enthusiasm for modern architecture though and I think the two styles can work well together. I think the problem, as Alain De Botton said last night, is that when people build housing now especially at the cheaper end of the scale we do not ask for anything more challenging or interesting than a box. We are all so desperate to get our own space that we will buy whatever beige hutch they will sell us and just be glad and grateful- which is tragic really but where the modern world and economy has left us.

The equivalent of modern blocks of flats was once railway cottages or those rows of houses I referred to before. They weren't homes for the rich, often they weren't even homes to own, they were homes to rent from the Council or a trust- but they had a soul and a desire to make lives comfortable in small ways.

So I very much look forward to following the Living Architecture Project and hopefully trying spending a night in some of these really amazing buildings. You can read more about all the houses (not all are pictured here) and book here.

You can also read more about the project in the FT here.


The Secular Retreat

The Dune House

The Shingle House