Tuesday 19 April 2011

Books: The Penguin Great Food Series

If you like books or bookshops you are very likely to know the The Penguin Great Ideas series, a collection of short but beautiful books by a vast array of authors, writers and thinkers from many ages. You may not have known they were a series but you will have picked up one of these small treasures and flicked through it I'm sure.

Now Penguin have produced The Penguin Great Food Series; a similar collection that celebrates food and culinary writing from the last four hundred years.

Like the Ideas Collection the Food books are beautifully presented (with covers by the ever brilliant Coralie Bickford- Smith) and keenly priced so you can indulge in a book shaped treat without feeling like you've over- indulged monetarily.

I am personally particularly excited about the Alexandre Dumas book 'From Absinthe to Zest: An Alphabet for Food Lovers'. I have loved Dumas without question from Dogtanion to D'Artagnan) and beyond.

Featured books covers above:
The Elegant Economist

The Campaign for Domestic Happiness

From Absinthe to Zest: An Alphabet for Food Lovers (by Alexandre Dumas

Further reading:

The Great Food Club blog on Tumblr is written by Pen Vogler from Penguin who is cooking her way through some of the recipes and discussing the books generally. It's a great blog and I think she is using the medium in exactly the way it should be, to create new, interesting content that will enhance people's enjoyment of the books.

You can follow Pen on twitter too @PenfromPenguin

Monday 18 April 2011


Margot was part of a collection of films made for BBC4 about notable British twentieth century women in 2009. At the time I remember a great deal of press about Enid, starring Helena Bonham- Carter as Enid Blyton. The remaining two films, about the perhaps less universally famous but actually perhaps more recognisable Gracie Fields (Gracie!) and Margot Fontayn (Margot) were just as fascinating- and I had particularly enjoyed Margot because if you love ballet you just cherish this I think.

That is not to say it's an easy or satisfying story, because it's the story of Margot Fontayn's life and her narrative was at once stranger and more tragic and in some ways more wonderful than any fiction could be.

Post Black Swan ballet seems to be everywhere. People who haven't been near the Coliseum or the Opera House were asking me about The Agony and the Ecstasy the BBC documentaries following the English National Ballet for a year and trying to get tickets for Swan Lake. Well if you liked that film and the documentaries but perhaps want a little bit more reality and a little less horror then I think Margot is worth looking for. The film, which stars the ever excellent Anne- Marie Duff, is available at all the usual online places or can be rented on love film. Margot Fontayn and Rudolph Nuryev are two of the most charismatic dancers ever to have lived and they really did live their lives on and off the stage.

If you would like 'further reading' on ballet at the moment I've recently enjoyed listening to Darcy Bussell's Desert Islands Discs (as part of the archive podcasts). She is very honest about having a family and dancing. She seems to have learnt from Margot's sacrifices and found a way to have a happy family life and continue to dance which must be very inspiring for ballerinas. She was an incredibly strong ballerina physically and the interview shows her mind to be just as powerful in the sense of determination.

Personally I recently went to a short programme matinee at the Royal Opera House, the ballets were: Rhapsody, Sensorium and Still Life at the Penguin Cafe. All were wonderful for what they were. For me Sensorium, which is like a sensual ballet version of a yoga class set to Debussy, was the weakest- in no way for the dancing but because I like a story or a moment to follow. Still Life at the Penguin Cafe is really more dance than ballet most of the time but is a great mixture of lightness and poignancy and it is wonderful to see dancers mimicking animals with so much wit and respect. Rhapsody though truly was wonderful- I was thrilled and enthralled. It is a beautiful ballet, extremely challenging for the leads, set to Rachmaninov and staged in a kind of sunset in the sky it was truly a Rhapsody- I could have gone back the next day.

Friday 15 April 2011

First thoughts on Fitzrovia by Penhaligon's

Last week I received an unusual but delightful invitation to attend an evening with Penhaligon's at Callooh Calley in Shoreditch (which if you haven't been is a cocktail and Alice in Wonderland lovers destination bar).

With my special key (which was the unusual part) I was able to walk through the wardrobe and into the Penhaligon's room where we were treated to drinks inspired by their fragrances; I think the hit of the evening was the Blenheim Bouquet but they were all very worth trying!

We were able to try three upcoming Penhaligon's scents; two further additions to their Anthology collection- which is made up of scents from their archives re-imagined or refreshed for modern noses- of which more news soon.

Of course all new perfumes are exciting to me but I had been waiting to try Penhaligon's major new scent for the year since I first heard that it was to be inspired by gin and so I wanted to write some first thoughts about it now.

Firstly because I love gin (although I do not love tonic at all) and think juniper is a wonderful and very British ingredient. Secondly I'm obviously very interested in the relationship between food and scent and a new gourmand that doesn't begin with sugar or chocolate is only a good thing in my eyes.

On first sniff I can report Fitzrovia is indeed gourmand and there isn't just juniper but pepper, black cherry and brown sugar in the notes. The scent will be unisex which is obviously very trendy at the moment but in this case I think is correct. I will write far more about the fragrance when it is available(in the Summer) but until then I think I will be getting more interested in smelling different varieties of gin to keep me occupied.

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Interview: Odette Toilette from Scratch+Sniff events

Scratch+Sniff events are "Purveyors of Olfactory Adventures". Odette Toilette (Lizzie Ostrom) is their founder and arranges their meetings once a month at The Book Club in London's Shoreditch. The events are designed as a place to celebrate our sense of smell and explore scent, whether you are a novice or an aficionado.

I've loved the evenings I've attended so far and asked Odette to answer some questions about Scratch+Sniff and her love of scent more widely:

1) Have you always been a scent lover?

Yes since a very young age. The Avon lady coming by was a highlight of the week for my sister and I when we were about 7! I remember being obsessed with those fairy fragrances which probably smelled of very fake peach, but which to me were the height of exoticism. My mother used to say: "I can go without new clothes, as long as I have perfume and lipstick, that's all that matters."

It kind of grew from there, but I'd say the interest really started growing about 7 or 8 years ago, and a huge part of that I think is the internet - discovering a whole world of cultured and fascinating fragrance discussion. I remember the day I found makeupalley and spending far too long in general reading perfume reviews.

2) What gave you the idea for the Scratch and Sniff events?

Well, professionally my background is in events and communications, and I started Scratch+Sniff because the gatherings I wanted to go to didn't exist. I had seen from the sidelines all the great perfume safaris and tours being organised though boards and online communities, but was (stupidly) too intimidated to join in. In a separate incident, I discovered that a friend who I'd known for years was also obsessed with perfume, yet we'd never talked about it. I find with friends, we'd all say 'oh you smell nice', but never going further in the conversation.

And I would definitely call myself adventurous in the kinds of cultural pursuits I attend - I love experimentalists in the UK like Bompas and Parr, Coney, Shunt or The Last Tuesday Society, who push what an event can be, or the subjects it might explore, so really it all came together in a serendipitous moment. An opportunity was presented to trial a quirky evening shindig, I jumped at it, and the rest came from there.

3) I like the fact that Scratch+Sniff is a mixture of different medias, some speaking by experts and audience participation; was it hard to devise the events?

No I wouldn't say it's hard and I think that's because I play to my strengths. I'm not a perfumer (nor do I think I'd be a very good one, though if anyone would like to fund a course I would be happy to oblige), but what I do know how to do is engage people imaginatively, and I love an unusual format. Scratch+Sniff to me is a bit like a sandpit - so far people have come along for the ride, which is what makes this so rewarding.

4) I think the internet has really opened up people's eyes to scent. Events like yours, the publications of more scent based books and the increasing interest in individual perfumers have all been effects of the internet I've found. Do you find the people who attend the events are not necessarily hardcore scentaholics?

Completely. Though I'm delighted when perfume addicts come to the events (and I love meeting bloggers in person), what really excites me is that Scratch+Sniff attracts those new to this whole world. They read about the event as an alternative night out, think it sounds intriguing and don't really know what to expect! That they leave with their eyes opened to olfaction is the best thing ever. I really do think perfume is entering a very exciting time, and the old ways of doing things are going to get rather left behind.

4) You have looked at scent and the movies, scent and travel and men's scent to name a few so far. What upcoming themes have you got planned for Scratch+Sniff?

Oh there are loads, I've probably got 3 years worth of events up my sleeves. We've got scent and music coming up which will be fun, and in general there's lots of potential in events that explore crossover with other art forms. Visual arts is one I'd like to do, ideally in collaboration with a gallery. Often an event run on a more general theme, like A Scented Journey Around the World, brings up a plethora of new ideas where we can drill down a bit more into a topic. So I'm currently looking at a Moroccan Special. Grant Osborne at Basenotes has also suggested a Scents of Childhood event as a riff on the teen night we're running, which I'm very keen to do. So many ideas, so little time etc etc.

5) Do you have a favourite perfume?

Errr do I have to pick one? Currently the scent I'm wearing nearly every day is Frederic Malle's Une Rose, after years of being blasee about florals, on which note I'm also loving Carnal Flower. For sentimental reasons I'm going to go with Premier Figuer from L'Artisan, because I have very strong memories of turning up at their shop in Chelsea at a ridiculously young age, and having a cheeky spray. When I finally got a bottle I was ecstatic, only to find the coconutty edge gnawing away at my love of it one week later. Oh well. And I shall always love the old Diors especially Diorella - a favourite of my mum too!

6) And (or if the above is too hard... which it certainly is for me) is there a scent you wish more people were aware of- and why?

I'm a big fan of Tauer perfumes in general, and the way he shares his whole creative process. His perfumes really tell an imaginative story and they always challenge. I think that's important - there should always be something not quite right in a scent, in the best possible way, otherwise it gets BORING.

7) Is there a historical figure in perfume who you would like to have met- or had a sniffing session with and why?

Oh yes - to continue my Dioraptures (can that be their new perfume??!), Edmond Roudnitska. I would have loved to sit with him quietly while he took in the scent of Lily of the Valley. I'd have also liked to have a cup of tea with Marie Thérèse de Laire who quite possibly concocted Caron's famously outrageous house base, Mousse de Saxe. Though I know very little about her, I've the feeling she'd be a laugh. And finally and perhaps most of all, a fictional character - Sugar from Michel Faber's novel The Crimson Petal and the White, whose marketing savvy turned around the fortunes of her lover's perfume empire, Rackham's.

You can find out everything you need to know about Scratch+Sniff here, including information on upcoming events and booking tickets. You can follow the lovely Odette on twitter and read the Scratch+Sniff blog here. If you can't make the events you can follow basenotes who live blog/ tweet them.

Further reading:

The BBC have made an adaptation of the Crimson Petal and the White; I confess I have recorded the first episode but not watched any as yet so I cannot recommend it or not- but it's definitely worth trying.

The Wellcome Collection are currently showing an exhibition about Dirt which should appeal to anyone who interested in smells- the good and the bad.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Desert Island Discs archive podcasts

I have been rather absent but I have lots of exciting posts coming up about perfume (of course), books, ballet and more.

In my absence I have been particularly enjoying listening to the Desert Island Discs archive podcasts; there are so many fascinating people to listen to- particularly I found the people I didn't know so well- the scientists, war veterans and so on that are featured on the show alongside the very famous.

You can find them all here or on i- tunes.

Have a lovely weekend.

(The picture isn't a desert island, but it's a kind of peaceful paradise on the Gower in south Wales).