Friday 29 October 2010

Of Cabbages and Kings market, Stoke Newington

As you know I have a new neighbourhood and I've been having a grand time exploring- and not getting too lost luckily.

I took a bus ride to Stoke Newington for provisions a few weekends ago and I happened upon one of the nicest indoor markets I have been too for as long as I can remember.

Curated by Of cabbages and Kings the market is about half way up Newington Church Street and is filled with clothes, jewellery, art works and toiletries that you will want to bring home.

I finally bought this print I had wanted for months (although I actually didn't buy it on the day on account of having 2 bags full of baking supplies to carry- I had it sent to me).

The next market is on the 13th and 14th of November and I think it would be a great place to start thinking about Christmas shopping.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Pretty as a penny

I was quite enchanted by this necklace from Laura Lee Jewellery on Monmouth street.

It is made from a beautiful old British penny dated 1907 and has my initial engraved into the tail side.

Laura Lee's website is currently under reconstruction but you can still scroll through and look at the other items in her collection. There are earrings and bracelets made from old money, lockets and rings engraved with lines from Serge Gainsbourg and many other prescious treasures.

Better still visit the shop because it is quite lovely- I got carried away and had to bring the nekclace home- and it's been on my neck ever since.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Lipstick rose- the cocktail

So far my meet ups with the lovely Metropolitan Mum have been very glamorous and FUN!

Firstly we went for the fashionistas and foodies favourite afternoon tea Pret a Portea at the Berkeley Hotel- you can read all about what we got up to on Metropolitan Mum's blog here.

Then last week we decided to head out after dark for some sophisticated cocktailing at the very hip, very award winning, 69 Colebrooke Row in Angel.

They take their drinks seriously at Colebrooke Row, employing a similarly scientific and fastidious but fun approach to Heston Blumenthal's with food. The menu is just right- there is a good amount of choice without it becoming overwhelming or in anyway cocktails by numbers. The full menu is here- and if you ask nicely they will make you the occasional off the list treat.

I don't think you will be surprised to know that I ordered the Lipstick Rose cocktail as soon as I arrived (I had pre perused the menu that afternoon when I was particularly needing cocktail hour to come quickly). A lipstick rose is apparently made of Raspberry & Violet Syrup with Rose Vodka topped with Champagne. You will notice there is lipstick on my glass in this picture- that isn't mine, it is edible lipstick that comes on the glass, nice touch isn't it?

The Lipstick Rose is very nice- I am a serious lover of cocktails but champagne ones do need to be good because messing around with the sacred nectar that is bubbly can be a travesty. This one isn't- it is a thoroughly lovely tipple for girls. It is also unnervingly like the perfume it shares a name with- Lipstick Rose from Frederic Malle. Obviously drinking perfume would actually be disgusting because it's mostly neat alcohol but you know what I mean.

I liked to see this trend though- and I wonder if we might see more cocktails like perfumes? You could make a grand, super deluxe Bellini inspired by the complexity of the peach in Mitsouko, with some brandy and perhaps some vanilla vodka. Some people might feel it is sacrilege to use perfume to inspire cocktails but I think they go together rather well- and the skills of a master taster and a master perfumer are really not unrelated.

Sunday 24 October 2010

Hix Oyster and Chop House- the book

Having bought and loved Mark Hix's book on British Seasonal Food and being a fairly recent adopter of oysters I was very excited when his new book Hix Oyster and Chop House arrived.

Oysters to me were always a sophisticated dish I felt I 'should' like but wasn't actually sure of. Having avoided them on menus, partly because I was worried I didn't like them and partly because of the anxiety of not being quite sure of how to eat them 'properly', I decided to just go for it and try one at Borough market on a sunny Saturday.

The good news is that like mushrooms and gherkins before them the oysters I had hated as a child I absolutely loved as a grown up- and so a new obsession was born.

This book is brilliant because it explains all about oysters in great detail: all the different British and Irish varieties are described by the characteristics, there is a good guide to how to prepare oysters and then several interesting recipes for them.

This book is in many ways far more educational than lots of the modern food coffee table books available. It explains in depth about the different cuts of all the kinds of meat served at the restaurant. My Mother and Grandmother probably know all about meat cuts and what to order at the butcher for what recipe but I'm afraid beyond a Sunday roast, a steak or a chicken breast I'm sadly lacking in knowledge of what to buy and how best to cook what I do get. This book is helpful in that regard without ever stopping being a good, glamorous read like lots of the food books which are lighter on the detail.

That isn't to say there aren't lots of beautiful recipes to get all worked up about too. The book opens just as any good meal should, with some information about the drinks served at Hix Oyster House- including the famously delectable Hix Fix.

Then there are a wealth of recipes to either try or fantasise about arranged as you might order them in the restaurant. The recipes include soups (I particularly like the sound of the crayfish and cider brandy soup); salads (including some fabulous dressings like mimosa and bramble); toasts (asparagus with Dorset drum cheddar for me please); fish of course (griddled squid with broad bean relish sounds especially good; there is meat too with a range of traditional and not so traditional sauces; also happily the side dishes at the restaurant are included- for me sides and starters are the best bits about any meal and these would make me order bowls and bowls of extras. Finally of course there is pudding- heaty rhubarb crumble and elegant strawberry sparling wine jelly among them. For all that I love sweet things I don't always want them at the end of a meal- so I was pleased to find a discussion of the many kinds of cheeses you might like to try.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Bathing in the new

I've moved house again recently. Sometimes I feel like the littlest hobo- and that until tomorrow I'll just keep moving on.

I enjoy new neighbourhoods so much though; finding the idiosyncrasies of a new place and finding the local beat, learning to step with it properly. In a new area a trip to the shop for milk becomes a little adventure. Roman Road market was as exciting to me on Saturday as a souk in Morocco, watching the traders, the customers, finding muffin trays in the least likely shop, realising toffee apple cider existed- all of this being within 200 yards of my new home- how nice! I have become like a much nicer vampire, sucking up novelty to feed my curiosity. There is something to not being a tourist in a place but not quite being local yet- I find that limbo time thrilling. I haven't found out where the recycling goes yet though; this seems to be a total mystery.

Moving itself is quite another matter. I lived in the same place all my life until I was eighteen and went to University. My University halls were Brideshead shabby chic- utterly lovely and quite grand but extremely frayed around the edges. The setting meant out of term that the conference roadshow came to town and we had to move in and out of our rooms every three months- and so an intense dislike of moving, or more accurately moving day, was born.

I don't like materialism but at the end of the day when you acquire books, music and films and even clothes they are precious to you in as much as they are the ones you chose over other options. I fret that books especially will be ruffled and scarred by being packed up and into little cases or boxes and try to be as careful with them as I can without becoming completely absurd about it. There is also the problem of things, especially clothes, seeming to expand as soon as you need to contain them and always having one box too many for the car. The moments between homes are strange too- when you have left one place but are not quite at the other- for a moment you are homeless and only then can you realise just how terribly lost those without their only little corner of the world might feel.

I had been living, excitingly but unusually, in central London for several months. I loved everything about it- I wasn't sure if I would. I have always and continue to love the city most of all early in the morning when it hasn't woken yet. On Sunday mornings especially when the heart of London wasn't booming and a strange quiet used to fall I would sometimes wake- I'd open the big sash window and just gaze out and listen for the quiet- then I'd go back to my slumber and that sleep would be intensely peaceful.

So I will always have very happy memories of those months in London proper- the only thing I missed when I lived there was not having a bath in my flat. I really didn't realise quite how much I love the bath. It is just such a simple pleasure and so relaxing. People write endlessly about baths, liking them or not, busy people like to say they don't have time for baths and others will tell you all about their bath routine.

No one ever really talks about how wonderful it is to be able to just lie in hot water for a little time, breath in the steam and just be. I always love the bath scenes in period dramas for this reason- in old films or books from another time the bath is a luxury for most and treated with respect.

My new home has a very nice bath in it. On the dreaded moving day after lifting many many boxes in and out of buildings quite literally the first thing I did after throwing everything at my new room was to have a bath.

Now that I am settled in I have taken the time to enjoy some beautiful rose bath truffles I was given by Simply Roses.

It is quite clear that I love roses but really the scent of these truffles was sublime as it wafted around my flat. Lavender is always thought of as the archetypal relaxing scent but rose oil is extremely nurturing and re balancing and in many ways is as good for stress as its lilac cousin, especially for women.I loved watching the petals unfold and dash around as the water ran so I took some photos to share with you below.

The rose truffles, which do look and smell good enough to eat but should probably be kept just for the bath are available online here.

Tuesday 12 October 2010

In need of a cocktail?

Of course you are.

As part of London cocktail week the lovely people at Courvoisier are running a pop-up Punch bar 'The Courvoisier Speakeasy' tonight at The Future Gallery.

Courvoisier have invited 'pioneering' Oxford cocktail bar, Raoul’s, to help them with the evening and The Sunshine Kings New Orleans Jazz group to entertain you.

As well as punch some of the cocktails available will be:

1. Cognac Cider Collins
Courvoisier / Calvados / pressed Apple juice / lemon juice / sugar syrup / soda / dash of peychauds bitters
Served in a Collins glass and dressed with apple fans

2. Honey and fig Julep
Mint leaves / honey syrup / Courvoisier / fig liqueur / angostura bitters
Served in a small Boston glass of crushed ice and garnished with a huge tuft of mint mint sprigs

3. Cognac Sherbert Mule
Vanilla sugar / lemon juice / Courvoisier/ Limoncello / apple juice
Served in glass, topped with ginger beer and garnished with a lemon wedge

More information here

If you mention A Rose Beyond the Thames on the door you should be able to get a free cocktail- which should help the evening go with a swing.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Book review: Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Mr Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt is a book I expect you will be hearing a great deal about in the coming months.

I am lucky enough to have read the book before it is released as a result of attending a talk with the author at Foyle's on Charing Cross Road.

The reason you will hear so much about this book, aside from it being a thoroughly engaging debut, is that it's title character, Mr. Chartwell, is a speaking dog. A speaking black dog.

This canine isn't the friend of children's tales you might be thinking of at all though, he is something else. Chartwell, or Black Pat as he later prefers to be known, is such a clever idea, for he is what Winston Churchwell famously referred to as his 'black dog'; Mr Chartwell is depression. This anthropomorphism is such an engaging way of writing about the malady, the strange mixture of darkness, stress and apathy that depression seems to be that it is worth reading for the idea alone.

Happily though the narrative is strong enough to warrant attention for more than this speaking dog. I enjoyed the characterisation of Churchill very much, he is a man whose life we know so much about- and whose inner life we think we understand- but who remains something of an enigmatic mystery despite all that. Hunt's characterisation of this twentieth century giant is detailed, warm and touching without straying into any saccharine sentimentally.

Just as interesting a portrait is drawn of Esther; the other main protagonist of Hunt's story. Esther is a presumably entirely fictional character. She is intelligent and holds an interesting job. She is modern woman but a lady who is resolutely refusing to enjoy living in the early 1960s when the book is set- instead living in a kind of limbo after a bereavement while the seeds of cultural revolution are sprouting around her. She is a very real character because of course most people in the early 1960s, or at any time when great changes are happening, are not part of that change- they take time to process what is happening- or their life gets in the way of seeing what is occurring and what that means for them.

Then there is Black Pat himself. Apart from being a very clever idea Black Pat is perhaps the most fascinating character of all- and that is nothing to do with him being a large, rather unkempt talking dog as we have encountered speaking animals before. He is written in such a way that you constantly want him to be in the scene, you constantly want to know more- were he a man he would actually be just as intriguing and hypnotic. He has his own purpose in life- and is surprisingly perhaps not an unsympathetic personality.

When she spoke about how she came to write Hunt explained that she hadn't spent excessive time learning her craft as such, she had just got on and written. She wrote short stories and is an artist so obviously understands translating creative ideas into lasting pieces. There is something particularly fresh about this novel and I am sure that is a combination of her raw talent, her artistic nature, the obvious care her agents and publisher have taken to nurture her book and more- but I think it is also that clear desire she seemed to have to get on and write her story.

I enjoyed that story very much on many levels. I learnt something more about depression and struggling, about other people's internal lives, about how busy and consuming all our internal worlds can be and the struggle we can have to live our external ones too; I laughed, felt great affection for all the characters and wished I could visit post war Britain.

There is an interesting interview with the author Rebecca Hunt here.

Mr Chartwell is published by Penguin in hardback tomorrow, the 7th of October 2010.

Book cover image from Penguin books.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Colouring books for grown ups

I like colouring in. I don't care that it is meant to be for children because I find it relaxing and satisfying (being artistic but not actually able to draw I like that there are lines to keep within). There is nothing so nice as sharpening pencils and then sitting down to colour while you listen to the radio or even if you are having a picnic in the park (not very likely in London this week I know). Go on, try it, it's pretty fun.

Some lovely colouring books for adults and children are:

The architecture colouring book from the Southbank centre shop.

Also the Arthur Rackham colouring book (I actually did a little dance when I found this), from Amazon and the book depository and others I'm sure.

Monday 4 October 2010

The innocent cafe

The Innocent cafe is open until Friday. Located just off Old Street the cafes concept is that you can eat your five portions of fruit and vegetables in just 2 courses from their menu. I was a piggy and had 3 courses: beetroot and horseradish Pierogi (dumplings), Korean kimchi (some kind of pickled cabbage, very tasty!) and mushroom pancakes and rice pudding brulee with autumnal fruit compote.