Thursday, 5 March 2015

Recipe Rifle goes shopping: Spring Fashion

The problem with all fashion, no matter who you are or what you do, is trying to make it work for you - for who you are and what your life is like.

There are also levels of fashionability. I simply do not have the kind of personality that goes well with high fashion. I'm just too much of an awful piss-taker to go about in a neon scuba top and a hat. But I also think it is important to change the way that you look, to modernise. You know all this. I've written about it before.

My particular problem with any kind of fashion, any year, wherever I am is that is has to be practical. It just does. I cannot wear slithery dry-clean only fabrics because they will attract butter and Marmite stains out of thin air. I cannot wear heels because there is enough discomfort in my life without adding sore feet to it. (And often I will need to break into a run - or at least a fast trot - at short notice.)

I also cannot wear mini - or even shortish - skirts because I do a lot of bending and sitting on the floor and I do not want to show everyone my knickers. But I also cannot wear maxi skirts because I will trip over them or get them caught in buggy wheels or they will just generally get tangled up in my legs and drive me fucking nuts.

So what oh what is the solution? Last summer I spent the whole thing in shorts, boyfriend jeans and Birkenstocks. It worked fine, it was all extremely practical and washable and I was pleased with how it went. It wasn't a very "pretty" look but I wasn't feeling especially pretty, what with my husband out of the country for weeks on end and Sam a) not walking and b) crying all the time.

Anyway I've been spending some time thinking about this because when I think about World Debt it doesn't get me anywhere. These are the results of my thoughts about spring fashion.

For my feet I have invested in a pair of clogs by Lotta from Stockholm, recommended to me by @emfrid, a friend of this blog, whom many of you know and admire. I got the pair with the lowest possible heel with a closed toe so that groomed feet are not essential. I say "invest" - they are only £56.60. Apologies for hilariously small picture ripped off their website.... for a closer look see lottafromstockholm.co.uk.

I know what you are thinking... you are thinking "clogs... clunky... unflattering... noisy... actually in fact not that comfortable?" All this is wrong. They are perfectly flattering - in as far as "ugly shoes" can be flattering - no more or less flattering than a pair of Birkies, they are light, not heavy, have a ridged rubberised sole - perfectly okay for breaking out into a light trot but possibly not an emergency dash. And they go with everything - with jeans, with skirts, with shorts - everything. They would even go with a tight leather skirt. I recommend them to you! Plus, their customer service is absolutely outstanding.



I also got a pair of white trainers by Superga, £45. Converse are over. Give yours to a charity shop.



In terms of jeans, I will still be wearing my Acne boyfriends from last year because they are just so freaking comfy but I have also got a pair of ripped-at-the-knee Leigh jeans from TopShop (£40) because I like the fact that because of the rip, there is no straining at the knee and they don't go baggy. I can't abide a baggy knee.



Absolutely everyone takes the piss out of me for these, even Humphrey, who is 4 years old, and a friend of Kitty's from nursery: "WHY HAVE YOU GOT HOLES IN YOUR TROUSERS?" he said the other day. "IT'S FASHION, HUMPHREY," I barked back. He seemed satisfied with that answer. My dad took the living piss, too, but then I lectured him about modernism and he looked amused and then subdued. Anyway I will be having the last laugh come Spring when everyone is scrambling for a pair and they've sold out - even in my dad's size.

I also freaked out the other day in Hennes and bought a pair of low-waisted bootcut jeans. YES I KNOW!!!!!!!! They're so out of fashion that they're back in again. I don't want to do flares because see above in terms of practicality but if you think back to 1996, boot cuts are basically in between straightleg and flares. It's a nod to the flare without the full-on commitment, which is the story of my life. I don't really suit skinny jeans - it's not that my legs are fat, it's that my calves are too skinny and without the balancing-out effect of a slight flare towards my foot my legs look horribly sausagey. I've been walking around with these sausagey legs for years now thanks to the hateful skinny obsession. So I am happy as a clam that bootcuts might be on the way back in. These are on sale for £15.



I have been wearing the same white knee-length cotton summer dress for 6 years now and I love it and will still be wearing it this summer (with clogs or white Supergas, do you see what I am getting at here?). You have a similar dress skanking about in the back of your wardrobe right now, I'll bet. Dig it out. But I could do with another summer dress, so I got this thing off Asos for £22. Crucially it is machine-washable, patterned (so's to hide all that marmite) and long enough so that I can sit cross-legged at a picnic without anyone having to have memory-replacement therapy.



It is also FLORAL and FLORAL is big this summer. At least so says Dolce & Gabbana in their hateful La Mamma Mia show or whatever it was called where the models all bounced around with toddlers and babies. I don't know why this show made me angry but it did. I think it was something to do with the propagation of the "sexy mama" myth. Italian mothers have a million black-clad fat Nonnas in the kitchen who do all the heavy-lifting with the kids so that their "sexy mamas" can go back to sipping espresso and dancing across palazzos in their stupid mini floral dresses and impractical sandals!!!! We do not live like that in this country and I am furious about it!

Another completely easy-wear item that will drag you instantly into SS15 is a denim shirt. Just get one. Do not worry that it is boring or that you will look like everyone else - it's a lifesaver. You can wear it on its own or worn open like a very thin jacket over a t-shirt or a dress or something. The best ones are from J Crew (Keeper Chambray shirt below, £78). On warm days you must roll the sleeves right up above the elbow in the American style, not below the elbow in the British way. It's all about detail, friends.



Last of all - the spring jacket! I resisted the pink/yellow/bright coat trend because I just thought I'd look a dickhead, but I fell in love with this jacket from Zara, £59.99. I didn't mean to! It wasn't anyone's fault! It just happened. This is great if you, like me, have got broad shoulders. Jackets don't do terribly well on me as a rule because I look like I've got this tiny pin head on massive shoulders - like tennis ball in the middle of a scaffolding plank - but this is a kind of unstructured style that doesn't emphasise them. It also looks that impossible thing: smart-casual. You can wear it with a t-shirt and jeans and a jazzy necklace, (shoot me, someone take me outside and shoot me), and look really very smart.



The only problem is that when I bought it I somehow managed to get it out of the shop with the stupid security tag still attached, so now I have to traipse all the way back to get it taken off. (Thank God I kept the receipt.) Why does shit like this always happen to me.







Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Profiteroles



I was in an absolutely foul mood the other weekend - pretty much all weekend. My husband would say "how could you tell?" because he thinks I am always in a foul mood, even if I am smiling, wearing a yellow top and handing him a plate of food. I suppose as far as he's concerned even though I might look alright and normal I could suddenly turn at any given moment - I can switch in an instant, like a pirate captain, driven insane from the heat and the rum. He is not entirely wrong.

Anyway I really was in a bad mood. I have, recently, genuinely been counting my blessings in a really excellent and mindful way and finding very little to complain or be annoyed about: the children are okay - (not ill, both walking and talking, sort of sleeping on and off), I have written and published two books, Spring is round the corner and so on. But the other weekend I just lost it. The children were both driving me insane with their constant bloody falling over and wailing and breaking things and spilling things. Just fucking pull yourself together you stupid clumsy ninnies!!!!

I am not proud of myself. But the fact is that small children are often very annoying, especially if you are trying to get them to do anything other than eat Nutella toast in front of Bing Bunny. If you are trying, for example, to get them both dressed for a cold trip out to the zoo you have to find patience in a really Zen place not to lightly chuck both of them out of the window before you've even located their trousers.

Just to illustrate, often when I am dressing Kitty, reaching round her from behind to make it easier to push little wiry legs through leggings, or do up a bright green zip, Kitty will give a little jump and headbutt me in the nose or elsewhere in the face. Occasionally in the throat.

Why she does this insane little hop at the most critical and dangerous part of my getting her dressed I do not know - I have asked her, but she just looks at me with her massive eyes and says nothing. (Huge-eyed silent staring is Kitty's absolute number 1 tactical move. There's nothing you can do about it). Anyway all I know is that if I don't say firmly "Do not jump," as I am getting her dressed, then she will.

There are a million things like this that the kids do - if you give them a cup of water - any water, anywhere, any time, they will fumble it and spill it (which is why they are only allowed 2cm of water). If there is something on the floor within 10 yards of Sam, he will fall over it and land on the floor on his chin and cry until Tuesday.

Unless you respond to something she has said Kitty will say it over and over again: "But then the octopus has the green one one. The octopus has the green one on. The octopus has the green one on. Mum. The octopus. Has the green one on. The octopus has the green one on. Mum. The octopus has the green one on..." Doesn't matter if you're trying to talk to your husband, or you're reading Sam a story or having a quiet moment in the WC. If you do not acknowledge that the octopus has the green one on, that's all Kitty will say for the rest of the weekend.

Oh god I'm being so mean, I must stop it. Don't encourage me! No I really must stop now or I never will. It's not their fault that they are so small and annoying. My own mother has made it plain that I was exactly the same.

It was probably me, anyway - not them. I was extra tired because last week I went completely mad and had TWO dinner parties. We have not had a single one for at least a year and then two. Mental. I say "dinner party", we had people round for dinner, twice. And the thing about my life is that it is totally survivable - even enjoyable - as long as I am asleep, sober by 10.30pm absolute latest. If I am up twatting about with friends and then fussing with the dish washer and clearing up and then in bed at midnight I am an absolute monster for days afterwards.

So the solution is: no more dinners - only lunches or brunches. And I can't say I'm especially sad about that. I'm sure my kids will be delighted.

It does mean though that you don't get as much of an excuse to cook mad and unneccessary things, like these profiteroles, from Jane Hornby's absolutely terrific, brilliant and essential baking text: What to Bake and How To Bake It. If you are starting out baking, or want to give someone as really, really useful baking book, give them this. It's a really properly friendly, lovely thing. Jane loves you, she cares about you, she wants you to make nice cakes. It's just great. Buy it!

These profiteroles are definitely a faff to make, but they work, if you feel like making them.

As usual, this is not Jane Hornby's exact recipe

Chocolate profiteroles
Makes enough for 6

For the pastry

125g plain flour
1 tsp sugar
pinch salt
85g butter
240ml water
3 eggs

For the chocolate sauce

200g dark chocolate (personally I thought this was a bit bitter, next time I will use 100g dark and 100g milk) cut into small bits
150ml double cream
100ml milk
1 tsp vanilla paste or extract
pinch salt

For the filling

300ml whipping cream

1 Sift the flour, sugar and salt together on a piece of baking parchment (you need to whoosh the flour into hot butter later all in one go, using the parchment as a funnel)

2 Put the butter and water in a pan and heat it gently until it has melted. Once the butter has gone, turn up the heat until it is at a rolling boil. Get a wooden spoon ready and then whoosh your flour into this as soon as you reckon it's boiling and start mixing hard, off the heat. It will go lumpy and then smooth out. Stop beating when the dough comes away from the sides of the pan.

3 Let this cool however you like - on a windowsill or whatever. But wait for it to cool.

4 Beat the eggs together in a measuring jug. Put the dough in a bowl then add the egg a bit at a time and beat it in - you can use an electric hand whisk for this (I do) or a bowl mixer or whatever if you are Nigella.

5 Preheat the oven to 220C (fan 200C) and then line a baking tray with baking parchment. You can either spoon or pipe the dough onto the tray. The blobs ought to be about walnut-sized. If you get any big sticky-up bits, you can smooth them down with a wet finger like they do on Bake-Off.

6 Bake for 10 mins, then turn the heat down to 200C (fan 180C) and cook for 20 mins or until golden brown and crisp. Once cooked, cut each 'role lengthways but not all the way through. Leave to cool. You can leave these for 24 hours if you like. Fan oven owners are at a rare advantage here as fan ovens dry absolutely everything to a desiccated husk, which is in fact the effect one is after with these.

7 You can fill these shells with the whipped cream up to 2 hours before you want to serve them - any longer and you run the risk of them going soggy.

8 To make the chocolate sauce bring the cream and milk to a simmer in a pan, add the chocolate, vanilla and salt, then take off the heat and stir until smooth.

I tried to assemble these in a beautiful pyramid (see pic) but it was a dreadful, nervatious faff to do, so my advice is to fill them with cream, put three or four in six individual bowls ahead of time and then on serving, dribble over the chocolate sauce.






Thursday, 26 February 2015

Laotian fried pork

My photos will all be crap iPhone photos from now on because we were burgled and my camera was stolen. SAD FACE



I fell to talking the other day to someone about Sam's sleeping. Specifically, about how he still wakes up once in the night at 21.5 months (i.e. NEARLY TWO YEARS OLD). He wants a bottle and also needs his nappy changed as otherwise it leaks all over the bed.

They were shocked. Their mouth hung open. "You're up once a night. EVERY night?" They knew how well Kitty has always slept, how ferocious I was about it, about her. They were genuinely stunned that I was up once a night. It was as if Gina Ford herself was standing there shrugging her shoulders going "Yeah, it's not the end of the world."

I found myself in a metaphorical corner, on the back foot, stuttering, making excuses of the sort that I used to not be able to stand in other parents - about how it was cute when their kids came into bed with them so they couldn't say no, or about how they couldn't drop this breastfeed or that breastfeed because it was their special time with them or whatever. I would dismiss them as weak minded -in Victorian times they'd have been sent to a loony bin with a diagnosis of water on the brain.

But here I am, now, defending my continued co-dependency on this once-a-night thing I've got with Sam. Wake up, totter up to his room, new bottle, nappy change, a pat on the head and then back down to sleep.

I have tried to stop it. On five separate occasions I've let him scream his head off for hour in the night for about two or three nights, when I had failed to appear for this bottle-nappy tryst. It does work, for about a week, and he goes quiet all night and I feel sad but also victorious. And then it starts all over again, he wakes up and cries in the night and I, surprised and unsuspecting, give him the thing I know that will make him go back to sleep. Five times I've done this horrible ritual of letting him cry. And although it's said to be the thing that absolutely, definitively works - which offsets the horribleness of it, it doesn't actually seem to work, not long-term. Advocates of it say "it's just three nights - three bad night and then you'll all be sleeping all night and it will be worth it". Sam disagrees.

And the thing is, I'm not tired. I mean, of course I'm tired, we're all tired. We're all dying here,  but I'm just not tired enough to be driven to extended sessions of letting Sam scream his head off at night. I just don't want to listen to it any more. I don't want to have to grit my teeth through it any more. I'm done, finished. I can't be arsed. I feel, with Sam now walking and talking and suddenly being - just between you and me, very charming and easy -  like I've just finished my A Levels. So to ask me to sort out this once-a-night thing is a bit like now asking me to fill out a long tax return or sit an S Level when what I really want is to sit under a tree with a pint of cloudy lemonade and a bag of Hula Hoops, reading Riders.

There's more. I have always felt mildly fraudulent as a parent when all I had was one child who slept like a log. There was a real lack of authenticity about me. Don't get me wrong, I was grateful - and also absolutely and entirely terrified of sleep-deprivation, but still... there was something so real, so tough and so admirable about those women who had non-sleepers or bad sleepers, who just fucking did it and got through it. The fact that Sam wakes up once in the night and I can just cope with it - specifically because, I think, of my former crippling sleep-deprivation fears - is a perverse mark of pride.

This person made me feel bad and judged and a bit ashamed at first but then I looked at the true fear in their eyes of being woken up at night and I thought back to how I used to be - so, so scared of losing even 15 minutes' of sleep. I saw that same look, I recognised it for what it was and I thought: "Oh, grow up."

In my quest for everything to taste a bit like takeaway, here is a delightful fried pork thing, which is mostly aubergine and courgette, very easy to make and particularly good with Esther's Takeout Broccoli (q.v.)

Laotian fried pork
For 2 with leftovers

150g minced pork
1 aubergine
1 courgette
2 cloves garlic
4 tbsp oyster sauce
3 spring onions
1 red chilli
pinch sugar
pinch salt

1 Chop the aubergine and courgette up into cubes and fry in some groundnut oil until collapsed - about 10-15 minutes. Remove to a bowl

2 Crush or grate or slice the garlic and add it to the empty pan and cook gently until it has coloured. Then add the pork mince and cook over a reasonably high heat until the pork is rubbly and dry

3 Chop the spring onions and the chilli and add these and cook for a few minutes, then throw over the sugar, salt and oyster sauce. If you're using a decent oyster sauce it won't itself have an awful lot of sugar and salt in it so you can be fairly generous with your "pinches" of these.

4 Add the aubergine and courgette back to the pan, stir for a bit, maybe add some water from the kettle if you'd like it with a bit of a sauce.

Eat and think to yourself "he'll grow out of it eventually".

Where's Sammy's foot?





Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Esther's takeout broccoli

You're supposed to be looking at the broccoli here

I once went to a talk by Irma Kurtz - where and why now escapes me - about getting old. She said that as you get older it's important to change your mind about things. "I try to address one of my prejudices each year," she said, "and try to change my own mind." Otherwise you get stuck churning out the same old boring opinions year after year and you start to be the person no-one wants to sit next to.

Since then I have always sought to change my prejudices about things, to change my mind, to move on, to modernise.

Only the other day, for example, I discovered that a really serious prejudice in my hair care routine was majorly holding me back.

I've grown my hair really long. Like, very nearly crazy cat lady long: it's down to my bra strap now and I'm wondering how much further it can go. I've only got so much time left to have really long hair, you see, and there are no more babies coming along to yank on it, so I've really gone for it. I've gone full mane. It's absolutely the anti-"mum" haircut, it's totally time-consuming, totally impractical.  It's my declaration of independence. It's my Braveheart scream of freedom.

I have historically been shy of hair product as my hair is so horrible and greasy - I've been frightened that I will make it go sticky and lank with too much "stuff" on it. So I've applied a tiny blob in terror and then wondered why my hair doesn't end up like it does at the hair dresser's.

And I've always dried my hair on a "medium" heat because I read in J17 once that a very hot hairdryer will cause you to have split ends. Split ends! Whatever happened to them? They seemed to be the scourge of the world in my teens - now never mentioned anywhere. Anyway so I always dried my hair on the "med" hot setting with a tiny slick of hair product and gone about looking pretty ordinary.

Then I noticed that my hairdresser, who is called Nadia and works at John Frieda in Mayfair, goes completely loony with the product and dries my hair so hot that I sometimes worry that my ears are going to frazz off. And my hair always comes out a cross between Gisele and Liono from Thundercats. (Although being similarly covered in spots, I will always be a dead ringer for Cheetarah. HA! Whatever.)

So I have started using three - yes three - pumps of Keratase Serum Oreo-Relax to my hair and drying it super-fast, super-hot and it looks phenomenal. Every. Time.

And all rules that apply to life in general also apply to cooking. So do this thing with broccoli, which takes normal broccoli and turns it into something you'd find in a really decent high street Chinese or Thai restaurant - and change your mind about it forever.

Esther's Takeout Broccoli

3 florets of broccoli per person
1 tsp runny honey
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil

1 Take a wok or a large frying pan and get it really hot then douse it with some groundnut oil, wait 30 seconds and then tip in the broccoli.

2 Stir this about until the edges of the veg are turning brown and black, then turn the heat down to a medium (in this instance, it is necessary) and add your honey and soy. Muddle all this around for another minute and then serve.

TA FUCKING DAH. You're welcome. 

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Tuna melt muffins (for Claudia)

Doesn't look much here but STAGGERINGLY tasty

I am always a bit shaken up by Christmas and New Year. It's something to do with the weight of expectation vs the result, which is worse times a million when you have little kids. When you are childless you can just laze about watching Christmas specials, which will make you feel Christmassy as hell, but as a parent of very little kids, it's not so simple. They still don't really get it - and you're still changing an awful lot of nappies, which at times can get in the way of conjuring up that Christmas feeling.

My main issue was the fact that I ought to have been lazing about watching Frozen. But Kitty is the only four year old IN THE WORLD who doesn't want to watch Frozen on repeat. I just adore Frozen. Adore it. I'd marry that reindeer in a heartbeat. And everyone loves Let It Go, surely?! (Except some hardcore refusniks who get upset about Elsa's sexy new ice dress.) I know, I know. I am a lamentable cliche.

I watched the other day Idina Menzel singing Let It Go on some Christmas special country channel on YouTube and she was nattering on about how the song is about having a special power and then letting everyone see that special power and I was like "Whut? No, Idina, Let It Go is about being weird." The ice shooting from the fingertips thing is a metaphor for freakishness. We're not mutants! You're not living an instalment of the X-Men franchise!!

I don't flatter myself into thinking that I'm such a bloody weirdo, so unique and special. I'm probably just a drudgy pedestrian normalton. But, still, everyone has probably felt pressure at some point, or even now, to be a thing that they are not. Or to construct some kind of socially-acceptable patina. And the fact is that at the long drawn-out end to a "best" friendship a few years ago, I got an email from her telling me that her friends all thought that I was "weird" (but she was friends with me anyway - why wasn't I more grateful?).

I was a bit shocked at the candour of the statement, but it's not like I didn't vaguely know. It wasn't a surprise, it was a bit like unexpectedly catching sight of yourself in a mirror - you feel a bit taken aback, but not terminally so. Though that's not to say that it didn't hurt my feelings. So although I don't think I'm some kind of magical being, I suppose it has been objectively observed that I'm not quite mainstream.

Let It Go makes me recall the acute relief of not having to be in that friendship any more, not having to present myself to those friends despite knowing, somewhere in the back of my mind that they said baffled things about me behind my back about what I said and did (if they deigned to discuss me at all).

Let It Go also makes me recall the relief of not being at university anymore, where everyone was so nice. Currency was niceness. Everyone was so lovely. Except me. And although I quickly after my first year tried to be nice all the time rather than horrible and snippy and mean the damage was done. My reputation as a Not Nice person was pretty much sealed. I spent the next two years trying to be nice all the time and it felt like constantly wearing clothes that were ever so slightly the wrong shape. After I left I could relax into my actual self, not a horrible person trying to be nice all the time, or a genuinely nice person, but something in-between.

Let It Go makes me recall the relief of getting married to someone who has never wanted me to change a thing about myself, the way I dress or what I say or the way I do my hair. He doesn't make me go out when I don't feel like it or see people I hate, or have a lot of dinner parties. He doesn't want me to go bloody ski-ing. He rants and raves about how bad I am at paperwork, how sloppy and lazy I am at my tax and at invoicing for work - but that's a genuine practical issue, he's not trying to get me to change myself in a way that others have.

More prosaically, Let It Go makes me recall the relief of taking off a pair of uncomfortable high heels after a party, or taking off a tight party dress, or of the feeling I get after I've dropped Kitty off at nursery after both children have behaved like complete monsters all morning, or of jumping into a swimming pool in a hot place having not been on holiday for an entire calendar year. It's just a great song, is what I'm saying and I wish Kitty would watch the fucking film.

Anyway, look, this is a perfectly mad thing to blog about, but I need you to know about these tuna muffins. I made them a few months ago for Sam's lunch, because toddler lunches are a bit of a pain - one doesn't want to do loads of cooking, but he's not really old enough for a sandwich yet - so I turned to Annabel Karmel for ideas and found these.

Sam wasn't really that bothered by them - he sort of ate them but was also happy with a bit of rice and butter and some carrot sticks.

I, however, fell on them like a starving wolf. They were the closest thing I have ever made in my kitchen to a McDonald's cheeseburger in terms of tang and moreishness. I have them for my lunch at least once a week. It's pretty much the one day a week I do actually eat lunch as there's this sort of shimmery dress with a kind of cloak thing I bought online that I'm hoping to squeeze into by next Christmas.

Annbel Karmel's tuna melt muffins
Serves 1

1 english muffin
1 tin tuna, the smallest tin you can find in the shop
1 handful finely grated cheddar
1/4 small spring onion, chopped
1 tablespoon sweetcorn - defrosted frozen is fine
3 heaped tsp ketchup
1 tbsp mayonnaise
pepper

1 Cut the muffin in half and lightly toast under the grill. I said lightly.

2 Mix together the tuna, mayo, ketchup, spring onion, sweetcorn and about 3 turns of the pepper grinder then spread it on the inner face of the muffin. Top with cheese and put under the grill until the cheese is bubbling and the edges of the muffin are dark brown

3 Eat, while sending plates and chairs and pot plants spinning around the kitchen using your special powers. No singing allowed. 

Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas decorating



I often read a blog called "Cupcakes and Cashmere", which is written by a gloriously Californian control freak and tells you how to do your nails, how to "braid" your hair, how to make teeny tiny sweeties or lovely brunches or "style" your coffee table. Style my coffee table!? A problem I never knew I had! Whoop!

The blog has taken quite a ribbing online, most notably from The Huffington Post (those killjoys, unless you are Sarah Koenig you're dead meat), who declared that blogs like Cupcakes are "bad for women". I see where that sentiment comes from, but do you know what's bad for women? WOMEN ARE BAD FOR WOMEN. As in, we seek this stuff out. We like pretty things. We are competitive. We fucking love it. Sorry but it's just a fact.

For my part I am really relieved that Cupcakes and Cashmere exists. I am visually inarticulate and inept. Given a choice I dress as if I have fallen out of a bin and my home decoration would extend to my best clippings from the paper plastered on the wall with wallpaper gum, interspersed with "Torso of the Week" shots from Heat. And Garfield cartoons.

However, at the same time I think it's nice to have a presentable house and to deck your halls with some seasonal stuff. But I need to be told, or at least to be inspired. So I fall on Cupcakes and Cashmere like some sort of information-starved castaway. The author, Emily Schuman, may be a presentation and marketing genius, selling old rope and getting paid per item that she puffs but I don't care. I think her interiors advice is brilliant and she collects interesting things.

Anyway this year I am pleased with the way I've done my house - and when I say house I mean my ground floor, because who decorates upstairs? - though it is not how Emily Schuman would have done it because she lives in LA so her house is exclusively white and gold with colour "pops" (this is affectionate teasing, you understand).

I've gone more this year for a Germanic, Mittel-Europe Victorian thing in Kentish Town.



I always hesitate to buy Christmas decorations in the manner of huge glittery deer, 1ft high "Christmas trees", star-shaped wreaths etc because I feel like a fucking mug, so most years roll round and I look in our box of paltry Christmas decorations and think "God, is this it?" 

So from now on I will allow myself 1 (one) mid-sized Christmas decoration per year. This year it was that fellow, above, the Nutcracker, from the Nutcracker. If you've never read the Nutcracker (as I hadn't until this year) do have a skim through. Christmas decorations - mouse kings, candy canes, the nutcracker doll - will all suddenly make sense. 

Anyway I've noted a theme in my humble bag of decorations, which is a) red b) white c) green d) "old" e) "unbreakable". So that's what I'm sticking with. I think picking and sticking with a style is probably my biggest challenge in life, mostly because I've got no idea who I am, or who I want to be. Emily Schuman doesn't have this trouble. She likes these kids of clothes, this kind of sofa, this is her kind of style. 

I've also always wanted to put together a Christmas food table, crystallised and mythologised in Nigella's Christmas as "The Welcome Table". Again, I didn't want to have to spend 40 billion pounds on this (neither should you want to) and managed to put something together using old bits I had round the house and using mostly fresh food and foliage begged off the florist down the road. 

I remember reading a piece in a magazine about having different heights and levels to the table. I didn't quite manage that, but I did put some grapes on a cake stand, which I thought looked quite nice and was in the spirit of the advice. 

Some detail from my Christmas table:




Note how I have really embraced cliche here. I want eye triggers that say "Christmas" - hence the Stilton, the mince pies, the clementines, the walnuts, the holly, the candy canes. Really not subtle. But mega-festive which is all that matters. 






Friday, 12 December 2014

Gingerbread

Apologies for the unforgivably crappy piping here - I was listening to Serial at the same time and so was distracted 

Gingerbread is the most terrific stuff. It is easy to make, easy to handle and then takes and keeps a good, clear shape when cut and baked. Not all doughs are like this. It explains why gingerbread is used to make the men, the houses and so forth - you can cut and re-roll without too much heartache.

Anyway if you have a big tub of excellent Christmas-shaped cookie cutters lurking about somewhere and fancy it, this is a really good dough to get creative with.



Alas, I do not have any novelty biscuit cutters, only 1 single rather lame star-shape, but I do so resent giving over space in my kitchen to something that is only going to be used once a year. The star-shape gets a good year-round work-out.

This quantity of dough makes easily enough for an entire class or a healthy contribution to a bake-sale, even if you cut out your shapes reasonably thick.



This recipe is from the much-maligned and misunderstood Celebrate by Pippa Middleton. The thing is that Pippa Middleton did not write this book. Of course she didn't! How could she have done? And whoever did write this book is a fucking good cook and deserves to be recognised as such.

So here we go:

130g butter
100g dark brown sugar
6 tbs of golden syrup
350g plain flour
1 tsp bicarb of soda
2 heaped tsp ground ginger
large pinch of mixed spices

1 Melt the butter, sugar and syrup together in a medium pan over a low-ish flame until melted, about 5-10 mins, then take off the heat.

2 Sieve together the plain flour, the bicarbonate of soda and the spices and then add the dry ingredients to the wet about a third at a time and mix together. This will look frighteningly sloppy for a dough, do not fret! It will become dough-like upon chilling.

3 Remove the dough to a bowl and then chill for 30 min.

4 Roll out using a bit of flour to help you along. Cut and bake at 170C for about 10 mins, but do a few tester biscuits first. Regular readers of this blog will know that my oven is a monster and burns the shit out of everything so even though the instruction was to bake for 12-15 mins, my biscuits only needed about 8 mins.

Go NUTS with the icing when cool and do a better job than I did.