Friday, December 26, 2008

It's official...

Dear reader, I confess that last night I fell in love... with a dog! Darling Gromit! How adorable is he! The strong and silent type, a dog of action and good deed. Are you familiar with him? Did you see the fabulous Wallace and Gromit:a Matter of Loaf and Death on BBC1? (In case you didn't, I highly recommend you catch-up with it on the iPlayer).

Nick Park, his creator, is a genius and well-deserved of the top industry awards he has been repeatedly nominated for and endowed with. Last night's half-hour story was clever, fast-paced, intriguing and highly entertaining (brilliantly voiced by Peter Sallis and Sally Lindsay). A definite Christmas highlight, not to be missed...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings

Happy December 25th to you all, wherever and however you may be celebrating!
Have a peaceful, relaxing day filled with contentment...

Pic shows Umbrian rooftops at dusk in December

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Beluga alla Milanese

If the credit crunch is a concern(hmmm!) perhaps you (we) should consider moving to Milan... At least, if you fancy a festive gift of caviar, courtesy of your local council. Poorer members of Milanese society are about to be treated to a jar of the black stuff to enrich their seasonal menu. Along with lentils and pasta - a curious threesome...

40,000€ worth of illegally imported Beluga were seized in the Italian capital recently, so instead of destroying them, authorities decided that less privileged locals deserved a treat. So it seems Bruschette Milanese will feature caviar rather than tomatoes; an élite appetiser to the lentils and pasta that will follow. Imagine that happening in our capital, given a similar set of circumstances... Penso che non! Buon appetito festivo!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Frankincense & Myrrh

One of my preferred ways to celebrate the season is with the Kings of Orient... I'm a huge fan of essential oils and one of my favourites is frankincense (also known as olibanum). Open-up a small dropper bottle and you'll be instantly transported to calmer times. Indeed, that's one of the beneficial properties of the gum-resin oil - it is truly grounding and calming. If you want to infuse some of those qualities into your ambience, you can make your own room spray. (Use a pretty glass bottle or add a decorative label to a plain one if you want to offer it as gift...)

To prepare:
Boil some water, allow to cool (or use bottled or distilled)
Pour into a sterilised (clean!) spray bottle
Add 2 teaspoons of vodka (optional but it acts as a preservative and emulsifier)
Add approximately 20 drops (total) of essential oil (per 100ml spray bottle)
Frankincense works beautifully in combination with your choice from the following essential oils: lavender, sandalwood, black pepper and cinnamon.

Don't just use your essential oil for room fragrance, it also has favourable skin-care properties, for both mature skin and blemishes. You can buy ready prepared frankincense beauty products, or simply tailor-make your own, by adding just one drop of the essential oil to your moisturiser. Simply add to your daily 'dose' of chosen cream (or fluid) in the palm of your hand, blend with the middle finger of the other hand, massage into your face, inhale and enjoy the benefits.

Myrrh is also a gum-resin oil (although with a stickier consistency than frankincense). You might recollect hearing that the Egyptians used it for preserving (embalming) mummies in their pyramid tombs - I'm not suggesting you go that far(!) but one of its starring rôles, in the bathroom cabinet, is for healing mouth ulcers. Worth keeping on-hand (or stored away) for that purpose. The next time you're in the unfortunate situation of needing some help in that area, gently apply just one drop, using the tip of a cotton bud. You'll find it works better and faster than any over-the-counter remedy.

Disclaimer: Essential oils are powerfully concentrated. Care needs to be taken using them. My tips here work well for me but are for adults only. Use common sense and enjoy at your own risk! I also recommend using oils from a trusted, quality source such as Neals Yard Remedies or Eve Taylor.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kate does Christmas (at BHS)

The front page of tonight's Evening Standard entertained me, earlier. Icon of all that is glam and aspirational, the lovely Kate Moss, was spotted shopping (by the trolley-full). Where, might you ask, was the tantalising site of her spending spree? None other than the half-price gift shelves at BHS!

Was it a PR exercise on behalf of her Topshop chum Sir Philip Green, or a genuine shopping jaunt? I know not... but what really amused me was the sneery look of superiority (or was that boredom) written all over her face. I wonder which of her lucky friends will be the contented recipients of her generosity and good taste? Happy Christmas, Kate!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cocktails - at last!

If you're tempted to celebrate the season in a less traditional way, I can recommend recreating one (or both) of the wonderful Whitley Neill concoctions, from The Lobby Bar at One Aldwych.

Bar star, Roberto de Vivo, takes the inspiration for his Lost Cherry from fellow Italian, Alessandro Parllazzi, at Dukes Hotel.
To prepare this fragrant 'dirty' Martini, you'll need:
40ml of Whitley Neill
15ml Noilly Prat vermouth
10ml Rose liqueur
15ml Maraschino infused with fresh cherries

Pour all the ingredients into a shaker, shake enthusiastically; double strain. Garnish with a large maraschino cherry (which will sink appropriately to the bottom of the glass).

Roberto uses La Poutroie rose liqueur but it may not be so easy to track down (although Gerry's in Soho is worth searching). I've located a delicious-sounding example by Briottet, at £13.99. Although, I haven't tasted the Briottet exponent, personally, I'm sure it would be a brilliantly unusual adjunct to the cocktail enthusiast's repertoire and also fab poured over a good vanilla ice-cream...

Caroline Weise's deeply spicy Africa is richly warming and perfectly seasonal. You'll need:
1 star anis
15ml lime juice
50ml Whitley Neill Gin
25ml Amaretto
15ml sugar syrup
a cinnamon stick

Prepare by 'muddling' the star anis with the sugar syrup and lime juice; add the other ingredients. Shake and double strain. Garnish with a 'curl' of orange peel and a cinnamon stick.

If you can't find star anise in the herb & spice section of your local supermarket, you'll be able to buy it (loose, by weight) from your nearest branch of Neals Yard Remedies.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Epitaph for Woolies

Most of us hold fond memories of childhood visits to our local Woolworths for our weekly sweet treats. Alas, poor Woolies we knew you well and then you fell out of favour...What was your pick 'n' mix gem?

Has it featured as regularly on your agenda as a grown-up? I can't say it was close to the top of my essentials list; most recently (a few months ago) I bought some cute and colourful, practical, little storage containers but it still seems a little sad for a familiar high street stalwart to fall out of favour and disappear from the horizon. Ironic too, that once the demise was officially confirmed, the following day's closing-down event should see the stores overflowing with keen customers and the best trading day in their long history.

I ventured into my local branch, yesterday, partly out of curiosity, partly to bid farewell... It was far from a pleasurable experience - one could barely move for the enthusiastic bargain-hunting crowds. The shelves (unsurprisingly) were poorly stocked and appallingly displayed (bizarrely the china and crockery stock was all coffee-splattered!). However, after making the effort to go in, I had to do my bit and make one last purchase, so I came away with a prettily practical stationery storage folder. Reductions were nothing to write home about (mostly 10-20%) with little to tantalise or tempt... Adieu, sweet memories!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Out of Africa (aka Gin-novations)

What's your tipple of choice? If you rarely stray far from your familiar glass filler, there's a worthy cause that might nudge you into a detour, out of your comfort zone. The spirit of adventure took me, a couple of nights ago, when I went out to explore the new world of gin with a merry band of celebrated bloggers.

Whitley Neill is an award-winning boutique gin - voted drink brand of 2008 by UK Vogue. It's a spirit with a warm heart - authentic - but with a sun-infused difference. Influenced by his wife's African roots, creator Johnny Neill was inspired to add a touch of the exotic. The signature botanical is the fruit of the versatile Baobab tree. A percentage of each bottle sale is donated to Tree Aid (a charity born out of Live Aid, whose brilliantly practical purpose is to empower indigenous African people - young and old - to find happy long-term solutions to drought-induced crop depletion).

Last summer, Johnny pursued the theme, launching the Top of the Tree Cocktail Challenge. The competition encouraged creative bar professionals to produce the ultimate Whitley Neill concoction, encompassing at least one tree-based ingredient (with a donation made to Tree Aid for each example sold). So, we festive bloggers (Timinator, Tikichris, Foodstories, Chris, Lizzie, Niamh, Melanie, and I) merrily sipped and savoured our way through an élite selection, as we gin-cruised (relatively soberly) through four venues.

The Lobby Bar, at One Aldwych, prepared my two tree-topping stars of the night. Carolin Weise's Africa is perfectly seasonally apt, suffused with warm spicy flavours. Bar Manager, Roberto de Vivo's cheekily titled Lost Cherry is a female take on the Martini - ideal for injecting a sunny influence into long dark winter's nights - redolent with fragrant summer elements of cherry and rose. The recipes will follow shortly...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Poetic Inspiration in South Molton Street

For me, one of the real pleasures of walking in London (when I'm not in a rush) is in making little unexpected historical or cultural discoveries. I've known South Molton Street since I was a teenager but last week, ambling down there en route to Piccadilly, I happened to look upwards (a good thing to do in London, if you're interested in architectural detail). Outside number 17, I noticed an impressive blue plaque that I hadn't seen before and was surprised to discover that Georgian poet, lyricist and illustrator, William Blake had lived there.

The discovery led to me to investigate further and I learnt that he was born in London - in what is now Broadwick Street (off Oxford Street, towards Tottenham Court Road). For some reason I had always imagined him as more of a Counties boy. To discover more about the man and his works, or to revive school-day memories, it's worth exploring his society's website.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Early Christmas - Part One

Christmas season started early for me this year - inadvertently! Just over a week ago (sorry I'm a bit late in telling you...) I was invited to a celebration of Christmas, in London's sedately elegant Jermyn Street. Happily, it was closed-off to traffic so - even though it's not the most traffic-driven street in the vicinity - it enhanced the pleasurable evening's experience. All the local shops participated, some holding invitation-only events and others making it open-house, generously offering all- comers enticing festive tasters including Champagne, mince pies, port and Stilton. There was a happy atmosphere amongst the bustling crowds, on this traditional street of sartorial elegance, with enthusiasm moderated by mature well-mannered restraint, tolerance and friendly conversation.

One of the highlights for me (even though I'm not renowned as a major car enthusiast) was the impressive display of (stationary) classic cars. The MGs were especially alluring - I completely fell for a rare, pale bluebell-hued, early model. The shops that particularly impressed me were Czech & Speake and Paxton & Whitfield. If you're not already familiar with the street, treat yourself to a little wander there - when you're next in the area - it's a great antidote to the mayhem and predictability of the surrounding high streets.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Beware Welsh road signs

Did you hear (or see) the recent one about the Welsh road sign? In English it informed drivers: No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only. Beneath was the Welsh 'translation': I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated. Hilariously 'PC'... why wasn't the out-of-office email auto reply sent in both languages, one wonders? The sign has now been removed... What an efficient use of taxpayers money!

Monday, November 10, 2008

New Etiquette

I'm sure I'm not alone in wondering where politeness, awareness or consideration have vanished to, sometimes... As you do, I was out-and-about running errands, when I wandered into Primark, to discover the 'wonders' of their latest economically viable offering. As I was trying on a coat, a woman passing-by (completely oblivious with no spatial awareness, whatsoever) banged right into me with her large bags.

"Excuse me", I muttered (perhaps stupidly). "What happened?" she said, astonished. "You knocked into my legs, with your bags" I replied, in a calm, matter-of-fact tone of voice. "It was only a box!" she countered "I didn't break your leg did I, so it doesn't matter!" OK, so am I supposed to gather that the new 'etiquette' is that unless you break a limb there's no need to say anything or consider a teeny word of apology? Feel free to barge away on the dodgem car ride of life? Strange, but in my world, a simple "sorry", or just a little awareness, would have sufficed - it did slightly amuse me, at the same time though... (especially as my leg wasn't broken!)

By the way - obstacle course, or not - Primark's pretty black lacy jacket, skirt and coat (for the party season) are impressively stylish and deceptively 'designer' in appearance...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Rum and Chocolate

Another rain-soaked day in London, so I'm drawn back to the wonderful time I had - a couple of weeks ago - at the sun-influenced event that was The Rum Experience. First-off, I have to confess that I'm no rum aficionado (although I know a whole lot more now than I did before I attended the fiesta). The real draw for me (and I was certainly proven right) was cocoa plantation owner, Duane Dove, who conducted a truly memorable tasting seminar on rum and chocolate pairing.

We, lucky attendees, had the deliciously educational opportunity to learn about the finer details involved in the process of chocolate production at the Swedish-trained sommelier's plantation, based on Tobago. Attention to detail and quality is paramount, with all harvesting carried-out by hand, to ensure no machinery taint or damage is incurred.

The first rum we tasted (after sniffing out the finer notes of its nose) was the 8-year-old Angostura 1919 from Trinidad. Vanilla notes dominated the nose; the taste was rich and mellow. Accompanied with a square of spicy, smoky Trinidad Pralus chocolate, it was the perfect match. Next, we sampled a 23-year-old Guatemalan rum from Ron Zacapa, a more expensive, sweeter example, paired with Michel Cluizel's fabulous single estate chocolate square, Los Ancones, from Haiti. Then onto the third rum of the day, 8-year-old Trois Rivieres from Martinique; higher in alcohol, this had a more sophisticated taste - comparable with grappa or brandy - perfect as a post-prandial digestif and stunningly paired with Valrhona's Madagascan, orange-peel suffused, Manjari - an amazingly effective duo! The ultimate rum was 10-year-old Guyanese XM Royal; richly flavorsome with fig and marmalade notes, optimally matched with Tuscan Amedei's super-smooth Chuao.

Duane recently introduced his exquisite Cane Tulip glasses in conjunction with Giarimi Design, to enhance the taste and enjoyment experience for rum lovers. His first commercially marketed chocolate will be launched, in collaboration with a renowned French artisan producer, in September 2009.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Bard is back in Kingston

Love's Labour's Lost, at the Rose; photo credit Nobby Clark

I recently went to see the Rose Theatre's first 'home-grown' production, since their long-awaited opening at the start of the year. Love's Labour's Lost is far from one of Shakespeare's best known works but it's dear to the heart of Director Emeritus, Sir Peter Hall, as it was the first of the Bard's works he directed, at the outset of his career.

Shakespeare had a lot of fun with this work - revelling in wordplay - with many moments of lightness and mirth, in the midst of the more serious message about responsibility and being ready (sufficiently mature) for a relationship. The cast were impressive - the set minimalist (replicating Shakespearean authenticity) - but the fairly complex wordiness of the work requires great concentration from the audience. Unless you're prepared for that, you're unlikely to find it as effortlessly engrossing, as you might anticipate, from the early humour of the piece.

If you're on a budget (who isn't these days?) you can enhance the authenticity of the experience by opting for a pit 'seat', at just £7; all you need to do is arrive in good time and take along a comfortable cushion to sit on. The production runs, at the Rose, until November 15th.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Appearances can be deceptive...

You probably know by now that I'm keen on healthy eating (with a little naughtiness on the side every now and then)... So, yesterday I discovered a curiosity especially for Hallowe'en: golden raspberries! In spite of the fact that it's November (already, so soon) they're locally (almost) grown by Nick Evans in Sussex and they're the real deal. Raspberries yes, but a little plumper than their more familiar red-dy cousins, the variety is Driscoll Estrella (in case you want to track them down for yourself).

I tested them both on their own and with yogurt - they were full of taste - just a little anaemic in appearance, when compared with what we're used to. I found them at Sainsbury's, where they're known as 'Ghost' raspberries (for Hallowe'en, even though it's now past...) If you want a touch of indulgence, I think they could also work well dropped into a glass of fizz (Champagne, Prosecco or Cava) so that both the golden hue and the taste are enhanced, with an element of surprise thrown in...

Monday, November 3, 2008

On the edge of a smile or grumpy chic...

A funny thing happened to me today...and transformed my mood! The day hadn't started well: all sorts of boringly irritating problems where nothing went smoothly and everything took ten times as long as it should have done. By late afternoon, I eventually dragged myself out of the front door on a gloomy, drizzly day, feeling far from my best...

En route to running some (yawn) errands, I was dashing through the Bentall Centre, when two women came running after me, asking if they could take my photo. I was stunned when they told me it was because I looked "so stylish" as I was feeling seriously scuzzy and more than a touch frazzled. (My 'stylish' outfit consisted of chocolate brown silky combats, a sleeveless brown puffa jacket, mid-pink cardigan and violet-blue velvet scarf). After expressing some doubts and disbelief, I succumbed and let them talk me into being snapped for a weekly magazine (I'll tell you more, if I'm feeling 'brave' enough about revealing the publication, nearer the time)...

My experience illustrates how we (girls) can be our own worst enemy sometimes; confidence is often all-in-the-mind, when we're having a 'bad' day it can really pay to take the time - even just five minutes - to re-adjust our attitude, put things in perspective and replace a scowl with a smile.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tea and philosophy

I love a nice cup of good green tea (I've never been a traditional milky black tea fan). My latest discovery is organic Good Earth Tea (on offer at Waitrose at the mo', if you want to try it for yourself...). It's a slightly curious variant with mango, peach, pineapple, lemongrass, rose petals and chamomile... Not the best I've ever tasted (possibly too many flavours going-on) but each bag comes with a little saying attached. I loved the one I encountered earlier: "Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you..." (Ralph Waldo Emerson).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Yes, you've spotted the theme of the moment... another gorgeous tree from Wisley's autumnal display, infused with the season's colours. Look closely at the fruits and flowers and you'd be forgiven for thinking them fake; they resemble mini bonbons, or man-made decorations, more than real berries. Captivating and alluring; to be admired but not for eating purposes...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Tree of Inspiration

Autumn sunshine dappled through this beautiful tree, in Wisley's glorious gardens, on a happy Sunday afternoon...

A Visit to Wisley

Vast, beautiful and diverse, RHS Wisley is a natural haven of beauty - moments from the traffic-laden A3. Although the crowds are likely to stay with you, when you visit at weekends, it remains a garden of delights with space for tranquillity, contemplation and inspiration.

Find your favourite tree and relish the glory of its changing colours through all its seasonal guises. Explore and track down plants and varieties - new and old - to transform your house and garden.

If it’s convenient enough for you to get to on a regular basis, you’re likely to make new discoveries with each visit. Frequent visitors should take advantage of the Royal Horticultural Society membership scheme; if you join-up you’ll save the £8 adult entry price and can bring along a friend for free.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Taste of Autumn

It was sunny and windy, by turn, earlier today when I went to check-out Wisley's Autumnal delights. The tasting marquee was the packed focus of this seasonal festival and although verging on chronically overcrowded, it was well worth the effort.

The highlight of the tent's offerings - for me - was the wonderful table laden with plates of sliced apple varieties, for sampling and comparison. An amazing array, although sadly most will never have any presence on our supermarket shelves and truly put mainstream offerings to shame. The range of tastes, colours and flavours was impressive and deeply delicious. It was wonderful to see so many children relishing the crunchy samples.

In the gardens, outside the tent, autumn was on display in all her glorious colours. Sunshine dappled leaves, in all their rich, warm hues, made a beautifully memorable impression...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Autumn smells...

...wonderful! Who can fail to have enjoyed the glorious sunny, blissfully temperate weather we've been treated to in London over the past week (in spite of all the doom and gloom abundant in every news bulletin)...

I know I'm predictable (where the 'w'(eather) word is concerned) but the fabulous sunshine and warmth really do elevate my mood and energy levels - I can't pretend otherwise! So, I've been spending a lot of time out-and-about, revelling-in the beauty of nature, in the park and by the river.

As soon as I arrived through the gates of Richmond Park, mid-afternoon last week, the wonderful autumnal aromas enveloped me, enticing my senses. Deliciously warm, richly inviting scents palpably announced the change in seasons and made me want to inhale deeply, and powerfully, to better take-in and fully embrace the setting.

Interspersing walking with running, I relished the warm-hued, broad, beautiful perspective and alluring natural light caressing the verdant hills and bronze, golds, russets and sparkling browns of the leaves and trees. A truly autumnal treasure trove, a joy to behold and to reflect upon...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Brilliant Biba

original Biba Logo © Barbara Hulanicki

Ah, sweet memories... I watched British Style Genius, on BBC2, earlier this evening and it transported me, happily. Much as I don't believe in living in the past, it was wonderful to be taken back there, in vivid technicolour.

How I miss wonderful Biba; at school, a weekend highlight was to trek over there for a brilliant adventure. The huge store on the former Derry & Toms/Barkers site, on Kensington High Street, was unlike any other. It had a unique atmosphere; darkly-lit, you could wander in for an accessory (feather boa, anyone?); Sarah Moon poster; glorious, dusky, make-up; reels of haberdashery should you want (or feel inspired) to create, or customise, your own design classic.

As a young teenager, I was enamoured and recollect one of my favourite items being a floaty, empire line, russian-red jersey dress that had pointy-ended sleeves with a finger loop. Along with a pair of fabulous, plum, 40s-influenced, platform shoes - that I wore to death - with my fabulously-faded drain-pipe Levis. I still have one of my favourites: a plum jersey, short, stream-lined zip-up jacket, with a deep, soft fake fur collar. It still fits but seems too precious (or risky) to wear (just in case it might fall apart, if I did...) Bless Barbara Hulanicki! High Street Kensington has never felt the same since...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Vodka, again...

No, I haven't been corrupted (yet) or turned into a lush but my recent brush with the Russian favourite has reminded me of further uses... If you're a fan of aromatherapy and fancy blending your own products (it's easier than you might think) vodka can play a subtle but starring rôle.

Triple distilled is perfect - it must be unflavoured - (for fairly obvious reasons); you simply add around a level teaspoonful (5ml) to your finished preparation. The reason it works so well is because it is so pure and unscented; it acts as the perfect (natural) preservative, protecting your product and prolonging its shelf-life.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bloggers drink-up aka smoothie update...

Luckily, I don't spend all my time seated at my desk - even writers have to get out-and-about, sometimes... The cocktail theme, that featured in Born in the Gardens was also significant, earlier in the week, when I was invited to Diageo's headquarters, in London's Henrietta Place.

Unsurprisingly, for eminent drinks producers, there was a truly stunning bar (for staff, or by invitation only). Expert mixologists were kept busy, creating variants on the renowned Moscow Mule, inspired by invited London bloggers individual preferences. Using the requisite triple-distilled Smirnoff Red vodka, ginger ale and lime - as a base - their creativity flowed, along with the cocktails...

My love for a berry smoothie didn't go unnoticed: an amethyst-tinged, alcohol-infused long drink appeared; the mule ingredients complemented by fresh 'muddled' blueberries, mint, coconut cream and cardomom syrup. Unusual, refreshing, quite delicious and many degrees more alcoholic than my usual fruity blend. Thank goodness for the inclusion of plenty of ice cubes...

Photo courtesy of Chris Osburn

Born in The Gardens

I had the good fortune to return to Kingston's Rose Theatre, last night, to see Artistic Director Stephen Unwin's latest production, Born in the Gardens. It was a celebrity-packed (d'un certain âge) event with Michael Aspel, David Jacobs and Director Emeritus, Sir Peter Hall, all keen to view playwright Peter Nichols revived four-hander.

In spite of the fact that the piece was written and set in 1979, it's very much alive-and-kicking, today. From the outset, the humour hits home as mother, Maud, talking with middle-aged son, Maurice, pats her curly 'do, telling us about her "aphrodisiac" hair.

Maud chats away, endlessly, with the silent characters (volume turned-off) on her tiny black-and-white TV; sharing the minutiae of her life with everyone who appears on- screen. All the while, her dead husband lies in his coffin - in the mock-Tudor sitting room they share - while Maurice (Mo) disappears to prepare the latest liquid concoction from their vast alcoholic archive. As they await the arrival of siblings Hedley and Queenie, for the funeral, we learn of Maud's penchant for 'last-minute' bulk-buying and the Tampax she stock-piles, in the freezer...

When the siblings join them, the depth of their dysfunction continues to unfold. Maud refuses to comprehend that Hedley is a Labour backbencher, firmly believing that it's a television subtitling error and that he's really a Tory. Queenie can't keep her hands, or lips, off her twin brother as she tries to lure him back to California with her. Hilarity ensues when Mo fixes Queenie's - vodka and consommé-based, Bullshot - post-funeral cocktail of choice. Maud is rapidly converted as she relishes her first taste and regales us with her enjoyment of the "Bullshit"!

Further punning gems lighten the darker undertones, as Hedley attempts to persuade Maud to move-into a new duplex, or a condo - according to Queenie. Unsurprisingly, we learn from Maud that she has no intention of moving-into "an abandoned condom" or an "empty, used durex"...

Stephanie Cole excels as mite-fixated Maud, Simon Shepherd embodies misunderstood Hedley; Allan Corduner and Miranda Foster perfectly portray painful, middle-aged twins, Maurice and Queenie. Powerful, hilarious and thought-provoking.

Stephen Unwin joined the cast, on-stage, after their first bows, to pay homage to Peter Nichols (seated in the front row) and to inspire, and implore, the enraptured (and captive!) audience to continue to support the nine-month old Rose - which receives no public funding. The production continues until the 11th October; I recommend you catch - and enjoy - it, while you can.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You're having a laugh...

If you're anything like me, then you'll have been a happy bunny over the past few days - enjoying the gorgeous late (very) summer weather, in London.  I was beginning to think that the s(ummer) word no longer had a place in our vocabulary.

Well,  September was also back-to-school time.  Even if that no longer features significantly in your life, think again... It can prove great fun and a brilliant source of autumnal/winter inspiration, to take a step back and consider (that old cliché) evening classes.  There's so much to choose from... 

An option I can heartily recommend, is to go for a stand-up comedy course.  I signed-up for classes, a few years back, at Richmond's Parkshot with excellent tutor, Tony Kirwood.  We were a very diverse bunch of students, ranging in age from 17-70(!); every class was a great laugh (combined with some high anxiety levels...).  It was a brilliant way to inject some sunshine into the grey winter months. 

Although I never had any intention of going on the circuit (oh no - not for me - I'm far too much of a 'corpser') I wanted to try my hand at topical comedy writing and I loved it...  The class put on a very well-received end-of-term show and one of the group - Jude Mahon - made it to the finals of that year's Funny Women competition.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Berried Treasure...

Normally, I’m quite a purist and prefer to blend my own smoothies tailoring them to my taste, mood and ingredients. But, there are times when practicality takes precedence… The other day, out-and-about, late afternoon and all I’d eaten was a piece of fruit. So, thirsty and a little hungry, at the same time, I searched for a snack.

At the supermarket, an intriguing variant caught my eye.  Innocent’s breakfast thickie wasn’t a guaranteed winner but I gave it a try and was happy I did! Lusciously berried, not-too-sweet; the raspberries and blueberries married perfectly with probiotic yogurt and oats.

I’ve been familiar with Innocent since their inception; I love their fun, no-nonsense, practical, healthy approach, quirky sense-of-humour (and tasty products). I admire their quite unique and innovative business model, how they haven't been spoilt by success or strayed from their orignal ethos and how they give back to deserving projects.  A delicious inspiration!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Moorish meanderings

Anyone wandering through the Market Place in Kingston upon Thames yesterday, could have been forgiven for rubbing their eyes and thinking they had been magically transported to the streets of North Africa. Enticing spicy aromas assailed the nostrils, rhythmic beats accompanied the scents, groovy handmade leather goods beckoned, as did prettily embellished bowls and impressive, brightly coloured, earthenware tagines.

Pleasurable, whether you wanted to relieve your hunger pangs with a portion of meat or vegetable tagine (the food looked and smelt tantalising) or simply felt inspired to pick-up a packet of authentic ras el hanout spice mix, to create your own Moroccan-influenced delights - at home...  

Beautiful, sunny weather enhanced the Moorish experience.  It was a fittingly memorable ending to the Kingston Food Festival's annual three-week run.  I'll miss it!  If you're in the area, this time next year, prepare to have your appetite whetted...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Market Driven - part two...

My market-themed weekend continued on Sunday with another one-off event, also held in celebration of the Kingston Food Festival. This time it was Fairtrade-focused: a joy - on many levels - highlighting some local foodie stars including Riverside Vegetaria (who produced the most delicious aubergine dip, as an introductory taste experience of their restaurant delights…); Montezuma's also did a roaring trade with white and dark chocolate samples to tantalise the sweet-toothed visitor. Neighbourhood allotment growers were on hand to inform, inspire and offer tastes of their freshly-picked produce.

I spent a very happy time exploring (and sniffing-out) the wonderful fresh herb stall, with myriad varieties (rare and mainstream) for cooking and medicinal purposes. The chocolate mint and lemon balm were especially fragrant… I left with some wonderful oregano, and a pretty chilli plant, to enhance my autumn dishes and add to my herb garden repertoire.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Market Driven - part one...

On Saturday, as part of the Kingston Food Festival (which runs until 20th September) I had the happy experience of discovering a wonderful, one-off, Farmers' Market in the pretty Ancient Market Square. It seemed to be a great success; a real pleasure to see, and taste, seasonal produce, from artisan producers and growers located within 100 miles of the M25.

I was thrilled to find my favourite russet apples on sale (first of the season and totally scrumptious, with a very crisp texture and slightly 'nutty’ taste). I also relished some wonderful fresh Buffalo cheese - amongst the best I have ever bought or savoured - expensive but well worth it.

Other appealing stalls included the chilli stand with pretty plants and a range of fresh varieties; fabulous goats cheese from petite crottin to larger examples - plain, herbed, ash-coated and peppered.

Note to organisers: please, make it a regular event here!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Men in make-up

There's plenty to ponder when it comes to equalities between the sexes.  An almost endless debate...and now there's something new(-ish).

I guess there are two ways of looking at whether it's an advantage (or not) to be a make-up wearing woman. Yes, it's fun and creative to change your look, enhance your features and to experiment but it can also feel like a chore...and for some become expensive and time-consuming. I enjoy make-up but prefer an understated yet chic look.  Then again, I'm a girl...

How do I feel about a man in make-up? I have a roundabout way of answering: for starters, I think it's a touch unfair that (many) men improve as they age - with ruggedness and grey hair no handicap to their appeal.  Although it's not entirely alien to the male of the species to wake showing the effects of an onerous schedule, hard night or lack of sleep.   So, should they be 'allowed' to disguise the signs with an artful hint of concealer?  Yves Saint Laurent certainly think so and have adapted their top-selling Touche Eclat (light-diffusing concealer in a gold pen format) into a fragrance-free version, to add man-appeal.

I must admit it has occasionally brought a smile to my face when I've spotted a guy laboriously (or surreptitiously) applying lip balm at traffic lights, in a café, or on a bus.   I can't say I'd encourage my favourite hunk to share my cosmetics, experiment with full-on application or push his vanity too far but a little light concealer shouldn't over-step the mark - unless it leads to extremes or becomes an addiction... What do you think?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Wine, friends and fun...

If you fancy a new twist on meeting friends at the pub why not arrange a wine tasting?  It's great fun - very social - a way to discover new wines and make new friends...

I had a couple of reasons to arrange a wine tasting last week... First, my love for all (most) things Italian inspired me to set-up a group on Qype called La Dolce Vita.  Then one of the delightful members started a discussion on favourite wines; so, as 'administrator', I took the initiative and organised a wine-tasting.  It was fun to do...I approached a few reputable companies and we ended-up collectively opting for Wined Up Here, run by the lovely Charlotte.  

Last week, friends (old and new) met-up in SW London and enjoyed comparing the relative merits of eight Italian wines, culminating in a grappa.  Charlotte and I got together (soberly!) beforehand to decide on the line-up.  We aimed for (some) regional variation, contrast and balance between taste and cost.  

On the night, I confess that the stars of the show (for me and for many others) proved to be the most expensive examples.  The Masi Amarone, at £22.50, was stunningly good - super-rich and unctuously velvety - unusual in its reliance on both fresh and semi-dried grapes, a special occasion wine to be relished and savoured.  The climaxing brown-hued Grappa di Amarone, by Allegrini - at £25 for 50cl - took me by surprise, initially, with its slight medicinal edge but after a few sips I was converted; when budget (and occasion) permits, I'll return to treat myself, or a friend...

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Shoe story

Yes, I admit - in typical girly fashion - I'm a bit of a shoe addict. When I'm not wearing them or collecting them, I'm admiring them.  I started young and being of diminutive stature, heels always had an allure.

I still recall many of my early favourites, even though they've long been buried in the shoe cemetry.  Turquoise snakeskin courts; hot pink-and-black two-tone; burgundy platforms were all amongst my earliest heroes.  Sadly, I have a (small-ish) bunion on my right foot in testament to their memory but my worst and most recent damage has been caused by high wooden wedges...

Did you see Balmain designer, Pierre Hardy's peep-toe fabric wedges, created for Gap this year?  Cute and a great bargain in the sales. I succumbed and yesterday saw my downfall... In typical fashion (for me) on one of my regular long(-ish) walks I almost toppled on an uneven paving slab, twisting my right foot.  

Typically stubborn, I continued on my way and walked  and walked for almost four hours (I know!)... By the time I was close to home yesterday evening, I could barely move.  When I removed the culprit wedge, it was painful to put my right foot down, at all.  I iced the painful area, applied soothing gels and then remembered my stash of 30c arnica.  Throughout the night I took several doses and wow! today my foot works and no more swelling!  Although I experienced a strong tingling and itchy reaction to the pilules  - kept me awake for most of the night...

Lesson learnt?  Until the next time, perhaps, although I have thrown the shoes out.  I considered  donating them to charity but decided it wouldn't be the kindest move to subject someone else to the same potential downfall...

Friday, August 29, 2008

More fun by the river...

One of the great joys in living on the edge of London is the easy access to Thames-side pleasures. Especially when the weather is decent (ok, when it isn't too horrid...) I love spending time walking, wandering, spectating, participating and making new discoveries.

If you fancy a walk by the river, it doesn’t have to involve an exhausting stint when you opt for the stretch from just past Charter Quay in Kingston heading towards Surbiton.  Created for Queen Victoria's pleasure, the pretty Queens Promenade is a delight to wander down, whether you're in the mood for a power walk or just a leisurely amble.

Along the way, you’ll see all kinds of boating activity from yachting to cruisers; dogs and their companions, roller-bladers, shoppers seeking respite in nature, cyclists and runners (although the distance isn’t really far enough to keep a dedicated runner stretched). Plenty of benches are available, if you want a seat to better take-in the scene. There’s also a little café, pretty floral displays and public loos. Bustling on weekends; more like your own private space during the week.

Post-walk, it makes sense to extend the pleasure and relish a waterside drink nearby.  I was thrilled at the transformation I discovered here. It’s been some time since I was last at Hart’s Boatyard on the Portsmouth Road; I’ve pretty much avoided it because my previous experience was so lacklustre and unappealing. Then, it was a rather 'blah’ local that was far from making the best of its great location.

Now, it’s a different story entirely, so much so, that I feel sorry I’ve been missing out! Enter and the pale slate floors and sludgy leather sofas - in shades of beige, pale brown and smokey grey - give a clean, modern, inviting welcome. The bar is attractive; the staff efficient, smiling, attentive, helpful and patient. Outside seating is plentiful (and popular) providing a great view, right on the water’s edge.

The drinks menu is impressive and might cause you to pause before deciding, such is the choice. Summer-time (what’s that?, I hear you ask…) offers a selection of four Pimms cocktails, including an elderflower variant and a pomegranate version. Eclectic beers are available from The Meantime Brewery (chocolate, raspberry, pale ale and union). Along with the more usual suspects and additional creative options. The dining menu is modern and appealing: from 'sharing plates’ through to a full three courses, by way of 'fired pizzas’, grills, risotto and organic salmon with wasabi mash. I didn’t eat-in, on my visit, a few days ago but as Arnie would say “I’ll be back”...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Supplement shocker

I recently discovered that I have osteoporosis in my spine. It's in the early stages and although I've had a couple of risk factors (anorexia and prescribed steroids when I was a teenager) it was something I hoped to avoid through good lifestyle factors and diet.

I'm definitely far from keen to take bisphosphonates so I've been sticking to my prescribed Calcichew Forte (calcium and vitamin D) supplement.   That was until the other day when I learned that they contained hydrogenated soy oil (the packs merely stated vegetable fat).  I've always done all I can to avoid this highly undesirable processed and altered ingredient, so to say it displeased me is an understatement.  

I feel angry - not just for myself - that a supposed health product has a 'hidden' component that could potentially do more harm than good. Supermarkets and food manufacturers are increasingly removing this unnecessary nasty from their product lines. I guess a healthy conscience is far from given when it comes to pharmaceutical companies.  My quest continues...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Beauty Find of the Week...

If you enjoy the pursuit for the perfect mascara, your search might be at an end.  I acquired a generous sample of Chanel's latest Exceptionnel, a few days ago and feel obliged to pass on the's a pleasure to use, with impressive results. The brush is fat and multi-faceted, the distribution efficient - just enough and not too much. It's easy to apply: one coat gives you effective curl and attractively voluminous, upswept lashes.  If you hurry, your local beauty counter might still have a sample for you to experiment with. Try it for yourself, I doubt you'll be disappointed!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Arise, Sir Nils

Most of us are only too aware of bad news stories, on a daily basis. However, last week ended on a smilier note with the very cute, if slightly incredible story of the new Norwegian Knight, Sir Nils Olav. No aristocratic Scandinavian blond he - oh no! - rather a sleek black, white and yellow, long-billed male penguin, residing at Edinburgh Zoo.

The story originates in 1972 when a Lieutenant in the Norwegian King's Guard adopted a penguin as a mascot for the regiment, naming him Nils Olav.  When the original Nils died, an heir was found; the tradition and name continued.  Events culminated in the current descendant, 6-year-old Nils, being endowed with the high-ranking honour.   One, two, three: aaaah!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Coming-up roses

If you're a fan of glorious, full-blown traditional English roses and a natural beauty advocate too, it's possible to combine your two loves.  Once your favoured blooms are past their best, don't mourn them or throw them out, instead take action to extend their blessing.   Why not make your own rosewater?  (You're best to use pink or dark-hued blooms that come from your own or a friend's garden, that you know have been grown without extensive use of pesticide). It's easier than you might think...

Peel-off the petals and place them in a clean bowl.  Leave them to dry-out in natural sunlight. Once dry, transfer them to a steel saucepan, add water to cover (plus one to two inches).  Bring to the boil, then reduce to a slow simmer for 15 minutes.  Allow to cool, then strain through a sieve, into a funnel that you have placed over a sterile bottle (dark glass, preferably).  To use as a refreshing spritz for your skin, choose a bottle with a spray top.

For a lighter version, simply half-fill the bottle and top-up with distilled, or fresh, bottled water.  Unless you plan on using your floral water within a week or ten days, it's advisable to extend its life by adding one or two (no more) drops of essential oil, such as lavender (or even rose) which will help to preserve it.  Keep it in the fridge (and always out of direct sunlight); enjoy using it to refresh your complexion in the mornings,  as a soothing toner at night, after cleansing.  Brilliant for dry, mature or slightly sensitive skin types.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A modern dilemma

I had a curious experience yesterday evening that left me baffled. Walking along by the local library, I was approached  by a twenty-something man who launched into a rapid-fire conversation, in an eastern European language I didn't recognise. 

At first, I thought he was speaking to his female companion, until I became aware that his words were directed at me.  I looked at him and he continued to talk-away - rapidly - in his local tongue with his friend standing to the side, observing.  They were a reasonably well-dressed couple, with shopping bags, they didn't appear in distress.  I could only respond to the guy, in English, that I had no idea what he was talking about.

The incident kept me thinking.  Today, there are so many scams around, we often hear that the perpetrators are from Eastern Europe, so I feel obliged to keep my wits about me and have a wariness.  It's a sad reflection on modern society.  I like to think that I'm a kind, open-minded person but I've had to adjust my attitude lately and react more cautiously, or as life today would suggest - sensibly. I remain baffled though, curious to know what their situation was and what they wanted...

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Not-so-sweet shopping aka candy-calling...

Have you ever woken in the middle-of-the-night with a food craving you just had to satisfy?  You're not alone... I read a story in The Times (London), yesterday, that almost defies belief.

Three-year-old, Max McGrath, woke from his slumbers, at his home near Preston, in Lancashire. It was 3am and he just had to have some sweets (candy). So, he decided it was time to shop.  Dressed in his pyjamas, he put on his older brother's (too large) shoes, took some money and the front door keys.  Off he went, walking for a mile and a half, until he arrived at the family's local supermarket. Sadly, it was shut so his craving had to go unfulfilled... Happily, a kind and alert newspaper delivery driver spotted him peering through the windows (he must have been rubbing his eyes in disbelief!) and was able to find out, from Max, where he lived.

James Brown, the delivery man, took him straight back home.  Unable to wake his parents, the police were called and little Max was returned safely to his bed.  What an extraordinary insight into the mind and abilities of a determined three-year-old! How many parents will have been set wondering and worrying about exactly what goes on in the minds of their little offspring? 

Friday, August 8, 2008

Going for Gold?

How do you feel about the Beijing Olympics?  I have to admit to an ambivalence and that I'm uneasy, hampering the enthusiasm I've had for previous Games.  For those of us with a conscience, it's hard to ignore the backdrop to this year's event.

Shocking stories of people who have been turfed out of their homes, to make way for the 'essential' building work - without proper recompense for having their ancient relic status property demolished - have been featured in the news, along with the phrase: "protest at your peril".  Human rights abuses abound.  Hardly a cause for celebration, however remarkable the opening ceremony.  The more serious impact on the lives of many of the country's residents detracts not only from the ethos and focus of the event but also from the humorous undertones in the recently published dress and behaviour codes for the Games. 

I'm still excited and thrilled for the UK's inspiringly delightful teenage sensation, 14 year-old diver, Tom Daley.  I'll be looking-out for Antonis Aresti in the Paralympic Games, as I recently met and interviewed his charming young coach, Efthymios Kyprianou but my enjoyment has been tarnished.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Dying Breed

The other evening, walking through the sedate streets of London's upmarket Belgravia, I thought my eyes were deceiving me.  It was warm and sultry but I felt fresh and summery in my turquoise Pucca and Garu short-sleeved T, paired with navy linen pants.  In contrast, advancing towards me, I spotted a man swinging his brolly, formally suited and wearing a bowler hat.  I was tempted to rub my eyes and to look around for the accompanying film crew but this was no mirage or contrived set-up...  

The slender man, of advanced middle-age, appeared to take in his stride the glances he was attracting and nonchalantly went on his way; a throwback to Steed in The original Avengers, although here - quirkily - more reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin.  It was a rare sighting of what used to be commonplace, a typical London icon, probably as far back as the 1960s - on the streets of the capital's City Square Mile.  A strange one for the noughties, on a humid late July evening in Pont Street.

The original Bowler Hat was created in 1850 by hatters to the gentry, James Lock.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Squid Ahoy!

Thought it was time for another in my occasional series of recipes - this one works perfectly for a super-speedy, protein-rich, Mediterranean flavour-infused treat...

How do you choose what you're going to eat today?  If you're like me, then perhaps you take your inspiration from the market or supermarket, as you shop.  Perhaps you sometimes also need to give yourself a bit of a nudge to veer out of your 'comfort' zone.  So it was for me, a couple of nights ago, as I tried to decide what to make for dinner, while I shopped. At the fish counter, in my friendly local Waitrose, I noticed the squid was on offer and I realised that the last time I had prepared it, myself, was when I was living in Paris, shortly after I graduated.  Dis donc!  

After a reassuring chat with the girls behind the counter, I purchased my two squid tubes (pre-cleaned) and wandered home pondering my concoction of squid in red wine and tomato sauce, as I walked. En route, I thought back to when I was in Paris -  very young, adventurous and a touch naïve - and how I had prepared them totally from scratch, cleaning and all.  The result, as I recall, was a delicious success.

(Per main course portion)
2 cleaned squid tubes, (approx 7oz/200g)
olive oil or stir fry oil blend
1 small fresh, or dried, red chili, chopped
1 dash/glug of full-bodied red wine
1 small can (1/2 a regular can) chopped plum tomatoes or 1/2 sachet Ella's Organic The Italian One sauce (your favourite healthy tomato sauce would work just as well)
1 tablespoon soya milk

Rinse the squid under cold water, pat dry with kitchen paper; cut - length-wise - into 1" (5 cm) strips.  Pre-heat your pan.  Pour-in approx 10ml olive or stir-fry oil.  Place the squid slices in the pan, spreading around, (not on top of each other), so that they cook evenly.  After 30 seconds, add the chili, wine, tomatoes (or sauce) and soy milk.  Cook for a further 2-3 minutes, until sauce thickens and squid is tender.  Remove from heat, pour onto a plate or bowl and sprinkle with chopped fresh flat leaf parsley.  Enjoy as it is or to top your favourite pasta or rice.  Buon appetito!

NB  Whatever you do, don't over-cook the squid or it will be rubbery and chewy rather than tender and delicious!

It was too late to add the photo after I'd tasted my 'experiment' - I'll rectify that next time I make it...

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Birthday Boy and Universal Hero...

Happy, happy 90th Birthday to one of the greatest heroes of our time: Nelson Mandela. What a magnificent example to mankind he is. If there were more of his ilk, in our world, it would truly be a better place to live.

For almost as long as I can remember, he has held a special place in my affections and been a great hero and inspiration of mine.  Who can fail to admire his extraordinary strength, determination and incredible forgiveness towards those who held him prisoner and the people who perpetrated such inhumane deeds in his homeland.  The benevolence of the man remains apparent today in his beautiful countenance.  

I was pleased that he recently spoke out - at last! - about evil M in Zimbabwe (I won't even credit the monster by mentioning his name in full) but I don't yet feel reassured - sadly - that it will be enough to radically change the horrendous situation that has gone from bad to beyond mentionable there.  I hope Mandela's universal words, actions and dignity will continue to inspire people positively for generations to come.

Pic credit:

Monday, July 14, 2008

fox news...

Yes, indeed, t'was a cheeky fox who decided my decking was the perfect setting for his middle-of-the-night snack. Apparently he thinks the bamboo 'bush' at the back of my garden is the perfect place to rest/reside.  It doesn't make me a very happy bunny - but what can I do?  Any ideas for how I can encourage him to move-on will be greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The one about the egg in the night...

There I was last night, sound asleep, until a noisy group of near neighbours - a couple of roads away - awoke me from my sweet slumbers.  I got out of bed and glanced out of the bedroom window, into my garden, where I spotted an odd looking sprinkling of what appeared to be leaves or petals on the decking.  So I wandered downstairs and went out for a closer look...

On the decking I found the 'sprinkling' to be a semi-smashed boiled egg.  My house is mid-terrace and there's only one set of neighbours around at the moment, not their style to throw an egg into the garden... I'm mystified!  It wasn't there when I went out into the garden earlier that evening... Any ideas to help me solve the mystery?  Could it have been a fox who was startled and then left his snack there?

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wimbledon - Wow!

Yesterday's marathon men's singles final will remain in the memory for a long time to come. Definitely the highlight of this year's tournament (not always the case) it was almost heart-stopping by moments; in parts almost unbearable to watch (especially the 4th set)...

What magnificent play, spirit, endurance and true champions.  Much as I admire Federer, I have to confess I was rooting for feisty, powerhouse Nadal - he had the edge yesterday (such determination and grippingly watchable talent) and is a deserved winner!  Wow! I can feel a tingle just thinking about it.  What great sportsmen they both are - in every sense.  A shining example of the power of a supportive and dedicated family, too.

Wimbledon - I'll miss you!  Go Rafa!

Saturday, July 5, 2008



London's University College was all a-quiver tonight as a wobbly display of famous buildings was showcased out of jelly (jello).  I wish I'd been there to see St Paul's recreated in a moving orange hue, along with other architectural highlights made in trembling party-treat form. Sadly I heard about it too late to shake-on down...

It was a special event, part of The London Festival of Architecture, where the precarious exhibits were accompanied by the strains of a gelatinous symphony, composed by scientists. See what you (we) missed out on in this fab photo - by Greta Ilieva - of St Paul's in all her vibrant, jiggling glory! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Honeycomb, berries and yogurt...

Are you a fan of the F-word?  I'm not talking swearing here, (although there's plenty of that on the programme) rather Gordon Ramsay's Channel4 series. It's a good 'watch' but not always easy for the faint-hearted or vegetarians - I confess, I sometimes have to turn-away from the intensely graphic nose-to-tail 'road-kill' moments...

In case you didn't catch it tonight, or if you're not a UK viewer, I must share the starring dessert from the show (courtesy of Gordon and Channel 4) with you.  Picture this: Greek yogurt with Berry Coulis, Honeycomb and fragrant Lavender- mmm! It looked amazing, relatively easy-to-prepare; an intriguing combination of textures and flavours - mouthwateringly delicious for a summer's day treat.  Take a look at the website for more on the series, if you've missed-out.

Happy Days...

There I was this afternoon, minding my own business (sort-of), wandering through Kingston- upon-Thames, doing some chores and enjoying the gorgeous July weather... Who should I spot at the local WH Smith's (a large-ish branch of popular UK newsagent and bookstore chain) but the Fonz himself! 

I was intrigued (although I knew he was in London from several news stories floating-about, today and yesterday) so I followed the crowd  - not my usual style - and discovered Henry Winkler aka Fonzie looking well and happy, signing his Hank Zipzer collection of children's books.  They're based upon his experience with dyslexia - at school - the poor way he was treated and how he overcame the lowly forecasts for his future.  His books look appealing, eye-catching and well-written, entertaining for his new young audience and reassuring for their parents.  

There was quite a queue to see elegant, grey-haired Fonzie, as he sat with an iced coffee, to cool and revive him - surrounded by his books, photographers and store staff.  He appeared to be enjoying the whole thing as much as those keenly waiting to see him.  He was adorable with all the children, totally natural with no  airs-and-graces; equally as charming with their adult companions - who were more likely to be his fans from when his TV career was at its height.  It was heart-warming - Happy Days, indeed!

Friday, June 27, 2008

The truth about fruit...?

Did you see the news reports yesterday about fruit (potentially) causing a pot belly?  Good excuse for a tantalising headline and (for those that need it) to revert to, or continue on, their junk food diet!  Think again! Peter Havel, the Californian scientist who led  the study, commented that further research needs to be conducted as to why fructose (fruit sugar) might cause this undesirable side-effect.  

As part of a healthy diet, fruit is good - wonderful indeed for the vitamins, minerals and enzymes it contains -  but it does need to be balanced with other food groups.  For some people it works best eaten on an empty stomach -  away from other food - because largely it is a high(ish) water content food and the body can best absorb its nutrients when it's eaten alone. It can also be best digested, in this way, for some people.  Those who believe in a food-combining ethos suggest that it can sit in the stomach too long when eaten with other foods.  Try it for yourself and see what works best for you!

It's true that we shouldn't eat too much sugar but wholefoods - i.e. in this case, fruits in their natural form - are wonderfully nutritious and, for most of us, shouldn't be avoided.  Anything eaten (or drunk) to excess isn't so great!  Balance is the key - variety is good - also eating seasonally is desirable and sensible.  Additionally and especially, it makes sense to avoid too much fruit in the concentrated fruit-juice form.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

SATC - The girls are back!

Took me a few weeks to get around to seeing the film and although I had been looking forward to it I wasn't sooo desperate that I had to see it on the opening night.  A downside was that it was hard to completely avoid all 'spoilers' so if you don't want any inklings or revelations - look away now...

When the film first started it seemed unreal, weird, strange to see the girls so large - on the BIG screen - I soon got used to it though.  What really jarred for me a little way in, was how Carrie reacted on the Big Day when she ran into Big after he had let her down, hugely.  He apologised, attempted to explain and said he was ready to go-ahead now but all she could do was to hit him and the car - repeatedly - with her bouquet of white roses, until they were ruined... then to run-off crying, with her life in ruins.   Hmmm, great imagery and for dramatic effect, perhaps, but NO, sorry, Carrie would not have behaved like that (although as my friend said there wouldn't have been a story or the film without that)...  So, from then on one had to slightly suspend belief and go with it...  Not so sure Miranda would have behaved so radically with Steve either...

Of course, the clothes, along with the famous four, were the stars of the show.  Vivienne Westwood's wedding gown was magnificent and looked great on SJP (not so sure about the make-up and dead bird head-dress) but she was picture perfect in her ultimate, simple, vintage- chic wedding finery.  Carrie's assistant was adorable, charming and a usefully semi-pivotal new character. The super-starring vibrant blue Blahnik's were truly magnificent; took me back to my days in Paris and my treasured pair of electric blue Tokio Kumagai's... Those were the days! Amazing and impressive product placement for Pret a Manger towards the end of the film with Carrie and Miranda munching on lunch in the park...

Sunday, June 15, 2008

What's in a weekend?

I don't know if you're like me but my weekends seem to vary quite a lot.  Last weekend was a social whirl, catching-up with friends old and new, trying new places and going back to old haunts... this weekend was a quieter, closer-to-home affair.

On Friday evening, the urge took me(way overdue!) and I got stuck-in to attacking the pesky weeds that were threatening to completely overtake my lavender and mint (meant to have pride of place) in my small patch of  front garden. It took me an hour to come close to getting to grips with the bad invaders; it wasn't that solitary, as I caught-up with neighbours while I worked...

On Saturday, I was determined to make more of an effort at getting back into my super fitness regime (that took a severe tumble when my back was injured) so, after seeing to all my chores locally, I went for a twelve-mile brisk-walk through Richmond Park, then along the towpath, into the town and back.  The views were gorgeous, the weather very pleasant - aside from a brisk heavy shower into the evening -  but the pollen count was high, so I paid for it by the time I returned home; note to self: must stock up on more local honey next year

Today was another catch-up day, on the 'phone, and at home, then a tennis highlight... I watched the magnificent Stella Artois final (had to make do with the TV this time) between Nadal and Djokovic.  Wow - a mesmerising match!  So close at points...!  I was happy that gorgeous Rafa Nadal won - he's such a pleasure to watch ;-)  I have to admit that Djokovic played so well too and was an incredibly gracious loser.   They should also both be admired for their impressive foreign language skills!  Today whetted the appetite for Wimbledon - just 8 days away...

Friday, June 13, 2008

Anyone for tennis?

You'll see from my review, below, how lucky I was to attend the Stella Artois yesterday and how much I enjoyed it...  Worth visiting if you get the chance!  (It's the last year of the vibrant red Artois sponsorship...)

Aside from the tennis itself, I bumped into lovely, amazonian M&S superstar model, Erin O'Connor, in the ladies loos.  The creamy-complexioned, gaelic beauty looked cool and composed in an elegant navy and cream tea dress (doubt if it was Marks and Spencer's finest) and flat ballet pumps, as she pouted at her reflection in the mirror.

While I waited for my companion - in the corridor - I spotted Scottish doubles hero, Jamie Murray catching-up with his mates.  Spectating Nadal and Nishikori - three balconies along - I saw elegantly-suited Michael Parkinson and his chic wife, Mary, enjoying the proceedings. On my next visit to the loo(!), in-between matches, I was right behind delectably muscled - number one seed - Nadal and his minder...

If you want to give yourself a London tennis treat, the Stella Artois at Queen's Club is a one minute stroll from Baron's Court tube or around eight minutes walk from Hammersmith.

Tennis Season in London

Number one seed Nadal, in colourful gear, on centre court at Queen's Club, June 2008 © amethyst

I was lucky enough to be invited to the tennis, by a Queen's Club member, yesterday and it was a real treat. The seat was comfortable, the view was great and the tennis - especially the Nadal-Nishikori match - was riveting.

The Stella Artois is a great prelude to Wimbledon - good for spotting future stars (18 year old Nishikori is definitely one to watch, as is young Latvian, Nilgis). The venue is more intimate and welcoming than Wimbledon; if you can get into the Clubhouse - with its vibrant buzzing and friendly atmosphere - it's easy to bump into the players and celebs.

Ticket prices vary according to the day you attend, although they're not cheap, you get decent value for your money and they're easier to come-by than their Wimbledon counterparts. If you fancy popping-along late in the day there's a possibility of buying returns for just £5 and you'll have the opportunity to still see a match or two.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008!

You don't have to go to Italy if you want to enjoy wonderful ice-cream or sorbet in good weather or a beautiful setting.   Glorious Richmond upon Thames is a treat to visit on many levels and an additional reason in the summer...

Authentically-run, Gelateria Danieli is definitely a contender for the best icecream in London. Helped (or hindered, on the weekend) by the fact that it is located in a pretty lane just behind beautiful, traditionally English - cricket and all - Richmond Green.

For me, the sorbet is the star turn, especially the luscious super-rich flavour-packed chocolate variant. Passion fruit is exquisite too. One scoop goes a long way, fortunately! The only downsides are the weekend queues and the fact that you can't rely on them having your favourite flavour available on every visit.

Monday, June 9, 2008

sunny sunday afternoon...

Hooray!  It's been blissfully sunny here for the past few days - didn't take long for the cricketers to come-out... or for me to visit the garden centre... (top pic shows the scenic view - from their car park!)

Friday, June 6, 2008

all the fun of the river(side)

The weather may not be perfect but apparently summer is here - in all its forms - so an ideal opportunity for a leisurely wander, or power-walk, by the river. Should you get the chance to visit Kingston-upon-Thames, take the time to enjoy life on the towpath.  To get there, walk to the end of Clarence Street, cross over Kingston Bridge, (admiring the view as you go), turn left and you're in Barge Walk.

You'll understand the name as you take-in the many house boats and transient visitors moored-up at the scenic riverside setting. There's always a happy - usually serene - line-up of swans here too, often in a row, grooming themselves, debating their next move.

From this side of the river bank you'll find no restaurants or cafés to distract or delay you - only from the distant perspective of the other side - but it can be interesting to watch the contrasting hive of activity over there from this, more tranquil, perspective.

As you move on up, you'll encounter training rowers, happy boaters, leisurely and speeding cyclists, fledgling and earnest runners, picnic-ers and romping dogs with their owners. It's a great antidote to city life.

If you fancy exploring the full-stretch of the towpath, it's about two-and-a half/three miles up towards Hampton Court with more to enjoy as you go. The trees are glorious, the houses attractive, the riverside nooks and crannies varied - with a feeling that they remain part of another era.

As you reach the end of the towpath, you'll come across the stunningly regal, ornate golden gates protecting Hampton Court Palace's Privy Gardens. Why not check-out the surrounding recommendations on Qype to make your day complete?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

lunch in provence

Set in a typical Provençal village, with its own authentically sleepy charm (at least on the Sunday we visited, when almost everything was closed) is Aups' Auberge de la Tour. Fortunately, during our exploration, we chanced upon this pretty hotel with its sheltered terrace restaurant.

We enjoyed the village and people-watching as we sat and savoured our leisurely lunch. I started with a local drink which might sound strange: violet-scented local white wine. It was fragrant and deliciously refreshing, like a lighter, more summery version of a kir. I moved-on to a tasty and filling goats cheese salad, served in a superfine pastry basket (akin to the finest filo pastry). I'm not renowned for having a huge lunch appetite but I relished each mouthful and cleared my plate (aside from the couple of tastes speared by my companion). We then shared a bowl filled with a couple of flavours of sumptuously smooth and unctuous ice-cream, followed by a restorative coffee.

The small hotel on-site has a surprisingly modest two stars; although I can't vouch for whether the rooms surpass this rating, as we only indulged ourselves by spending time on the terrace. If you are visiting this lovely spot, don't miss-out on a wander through the village square and surroundings combined with a drive to take-in and admire the breathtaking beauty and serenity of the nearby Lac de Sainte Croix.

Monday, May 26, 2008

little things...

How often do you stop to think about the little things that brighten your day?  Not necessarily the most important things in life like good health, great friends etc., but little things that give you joy when you stop to look at them, or to savour them.

Yes, today is another very wet and gloomy Bank Holiday Monday in the UK, so two of my little joys have been glancing over at my fresh white jug of  Sweet William flowers - every time I pass-by - as they sit on my little mosaic table, that was a great bargain find 10 years ago. And relishing my afternoon cup of hot green pomegranate tea in my favourite new mug...  

How about you?  What are yours and how often do you stop to enjoy them?