Monday, December 20, 2010

Walk this Way

Ah! yes, the snow continues to fall - on top of the snow that has already fallen - in the deep, frozen south of London town.  Not the most sensible thing to attempt to walk my normal quota of 30+ miles per week - I'm *really* missing it, btw... So, today - experiencing extreme exercise deprivation - I uncovered an alternative route to maintain some semblance of fitness.

Leslie Sansone's enthusiastic and creative walk-at-home routine (below, from had me feeling sceptical, before I tried it, but I soon realised that it's fun and gets the energy circulating...  It may not be the same as my brisk, scenic Richmond Park or riverside wanderings but it is warming and energising, on a cold day; a good way to counter couch-potato-syndrome and to detract from cabin fever. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Home Sweet Igloo...

Imagine my surprise (or perhaps not, given the weather) when I returned, last night, to discover an igloo had appeared, opposite my house...

Friday, December 17, 2010

More of the same...

It's true, it is enough - already - with the big freeze and repeated snowfall.  Scuppers plans and puts some aspects of life on hold.  Couldn't believe it earlier, when - sitting typing by a window - I blinked and missed the micro sleet baubles that fell and carpeted the ground... in front of me.  Never seen anything quite like it - as if someone had spilt polystyrene packaging-protection, all over the ground.

Then, an hour ago, the snow started to fall - again! It's as thick as you see, above, in that short space of time.  Just hearing - on local radio - that 10cm are forecast for tomorrow (20 cm on higher ground) with Mayor, Boris, saying there is enough grit to cover it.  But... they NEVER grit here - grrr!

There is a bonus, currently, (even if I have had to put plans on hold) - the light is just beautiful!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Walk in the Park

It was such a joy, yesterday, to get back to Richmond Park for a long nature-walk and some much missed hill-climbing.  The weather was a relatively balmy 7 degrees, so I did a double-take - and couldn't resist snapping a pic' - when I saw this slightly poignant scene, at Ham Gate pond.

Still mostly frozen over (your eyes are not deceiving you) there is a child's red, plastic car - calmly parked - in the centre of the iced water.  It goes a small way to show how great the impact of our extended deep freeze has been, in London's outskirts...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not so PC, BBC...

Oops, did you catch Today with James Naughtie, this morning? You missed a 'beauty'; introducing Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, his words became er, shall we say entangled... with Jeremy's surname taking on a very different (far less BBC) meaning.  Some hilarity (not to say embarrassment) ensued, then to exacerbate (or is that enhance) the situation, the very same error was repeated on Start the Week, when host Andrew Marr -  in conversation with his guests - expressly said that the word must not be mentioned...before proceeding to do so, himself.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Health News of the Week

Yes, I've succumbed and become a twitterer, or is that a tweeter...?  As a side-effect, I've uncovered two notable health stories - over the past few days - and had to pass them on.

For anyone who is considering a Brazilian Blow Dry, you can read my write-up/review for details of the procedure, but you should also take on board an aspect of potential concern, as featured by Dr Weil, before deciding whether to go-ahead with the treatment.

If you're one of the growing number of supplement aficionados, who has been enticed by the research into the wonders of (higher dosage)Vitamin D, consider Harvard Health's learned perspective before you increase your dose...too far.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Weather Moans and a Winter Warmer

Have you ever seen sunny mediterranean natives, jasmine and the olive tree, in the snow?  Here you are: welcome, to my white-blanketed garden!  My poor warm-weather beauties are feeling a little sorry for themselves.  It's still snowing now (third day) and, along with my garden buddies, my energies are depleted as I can't walk my daily 8 miles...  I heard radio reports that all the roads, in my resplendent Richmond Park, are closed today.  I can see no signs of grit on roads in my vicinity - so happy I pay such high Council Tax (ahem...)

Still, last night, I enjoyed my healthy winter warmer of quorn mince, celery, carrot, butternut squash, garlic-infused olive oil, tomato purée, red wine, vecon stock, butter beans and cannellini beans.  Hearty and delicious!  Super- simple and speedy to prepare.  For a generous individual serving use half a pack of quorn mince with - for speed and simplicity - a pack of Marks and Spencer casserole-ready fresh root vegetables with beans.  Place in a deep pan, with 2 teaspoons garlic-infused olive oil, a tablespoon of tomato purée, half a glass of decent red wine, a couple of sprigs fresh thyme, half a cup of soya milk, 2 teaspoons of vecon vegetable concentrate and a large cup of boiling water.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for around 12 minutes, until vegetables are tender.  Serve, as I did, on top of four large (cooked!) pasta shells and accompany with a glass of red, to drink.  A tasty anti-dote to the intemperate weather...

NB If you prefer not to take the 'lazy' route, (or you can't get to an M&S), simply use two good handfuls of the chunked vegetables, listed above, with one handful of pre-cooked beans of your choice, instead.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Richmond Palace - an Evocative Experience

Have you been listening to the wonderful serialisation of Giles Tremlett's biography of Catherine of Aragon, on Radio 4?  It has had me enthralled, for fifteen minutes, each morning - this week.  Deeply evocative - it moves me to think of how I feel, whenever I walk close to the remaining walls of Richmond Palace, where Catherine lived when she first came to these shores, from her native Spain.

If you fancy investigating, for yourself, when you're walking along the riverside, in beautiful Richmond, continue along until you come to Old Palace Lane. Turn-in, stay alert (as many people miss-out on the experience) and, after a few paces - on the right-hand side - you’ll notice an understated pale plaque, on the centuries-old brick wall.  In pale lettering, it informs that this is the site of the former Richmond Palace, where Queen Elizabeth I spent many of her days and, where she died, in 1603.

Sadly, most of the Palace was demolished after Charles I was executed; plans for its later rebuilding - designed by Sir William Chambers - never came to fruition. Further on, though, if you wander up to the top of the very pretty lane, you’ll see some additional remaining walls - together with a smaller, light-blue plaque commemorating the site.

I often stop here when I’m walking close-by and have a few moments spare for contemplation. It never fails to move me and to transport my imagination to how people lived then; to envisage late Tudor times and the experiences - sad and joyous - of the 'Virgin Queen’.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Willie's Tartufo - La Ricetta

I know, I wickedly tantalised you with my references to Willie's delicious cacao dessert - previously.  Now, I'm back with the goodies - well, almost... Here, courtesy of Bentalls and Willie's World Class Cacao, are your directions to decadent deliciousness:

(Serves 12)
180g Willie's cacao, roughly grated (must be 100% cocoa solids for the authentic, richly indulgent taste)
150g caster sugar
4 tablespoons water
300ml double cream

Equipment: 15cm spring-form cake tin or small loaf tin

. Line your chosen tin with greaseproof paper, or cling film.

. Melt the cacao by placing it in a large heatproof bowl, set over a pan of simmering water, ensuring that the base of the bowl is not in contact with the water.  Set aside to cool slightly.

. Place the caster sugar and water in a saucepan, over a low heat, - stir until the sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.

. Beat the cream until it forms soft peaks, then, gradually beat into the sugar syrup.  Add a tablespoon of the cream mixture to the melted cacao and stir until just combined.  Gently fold in the remainder of the cream mixture.

. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.  Smooth the top and place in the fridge until firm.

. To serve: turn-out of the tin onto a serving plate, peel away the greaseproof paper, or cling film, and slice.  Serve with berries for a delicious contrast.

Willie's tip: Leave the melted cacao to cool slightly before adding to the cream - for smooth results (so that the cream won't 'collapse').

Buon Appetito! 

 NB Recipe published with kind permission of Bentalls and Willie Harcourt Cooze

Sky Blue (very) Pink...


Another gorgeous sunset, viewed a short distance from the Thames, in Kingston.  The alluring hue perfectly recalls my favourite childhood nail-varnish (from Mary Quant)...Sky Blue Pink, of course!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Straight from Brazil - a true story and review...

Once upon a time there was a girl whose head was endowed with dramatic dark curls.  She nurtured her locks, grew them long and let them flow.  Sometimes they behaved like good little curls but, on other occasions, they were hard to control  - appearing to have a thought process and rebelliously wild intention, all their own.

Then, when she grew-up and had stylish, image-conscious teenage nieces, our ringlet-ted protagonist was persuaded that it was time to go straight.  This led to an addiction to hair straighteners and a decline in the condition of the previously lustrous locks.  Then - suddenly, last summer - she heard about an exotic remedial treatment, originating from Brazil.  Fortuitously, an invitation popped through the ether - from UR Beautiful in Kingston-upon-Thames - and our happy heroine skipped into the salon for an un-winding experience. 

Red-headed Jade started the treatment by washing the aforementioned locks, in a special shampoo - devoid of nasty sodium-suffused chemicals, before drying the hair seriously straight.  Next, a thick paste of red and white clay, blended with coconut oil, was applied, coating every wanton strand. To ensure that it did its job, the keratin-powered paste was dried into the hair, on a top-heat setting. After twenty minutes or so, it was shampooed-off and the  hair styled poker-straight.  The 'heroine' was issued strict instructions to keep her newly sleek (but rather oily) hair dry for three days (no washing or extreme exertion, no tying it back or resting sunglasses on top of her head). As she learned, hair has a memory - so must be firmly guided into good behaviour.

The former curly-haired heroine felt a touch embarrassed at the state of her dead-straight and oily locks but was obedient and did as she was told until the instructed days had passed.  With a great sigh of relief, she washed her oil-suffused locks. Wow, it dried - naturally - into a well-kempt super-sleek style and remained frizz-free, all of its own accord - even following all-too-generous London rain showers and high humidity.

Three months on, in London's delightfully cold November (brrr! - rarely far from the threat of rain) an element of frizz has begun to creep-back into our heroine's locks.  Time to own-up and reveal (in case you hadn't guessed!) that the 'heroine' is me - so that I can sensibly sum-up the virtues of the treatment...

It's been great having to do very little styling and being able to cast-aside the straighteners - for the past few months, on all but a couple of occasions.  Although it initially appears quite a pricey endeavour - starting at £130 for short hair - if you divide the cost, by the time it lasts, it makes sounder economical sense.  Not only does it save styling time (and stress), but, for someone who visits a hair-stylist often, the savings could be considerable.  It's particularly worthwhile for hair with a medium-to-thick texture that's hard-work, unruly, exasperatingly frizz-prone or time-consuming to style, but it could be a little too flattening on finer hair. When you're going on a sunshine holiday (ah!, if only...) and want to look effortlessly sleek, it could be just what you need for an effort-free vacation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

German Market - Sicilian Coffee!

It's the season for German markets and Kingston-upon-Thames is blessed with a lively 'visitation', in its attractive and evocative ancient market square.  I admit that I'm not tempted by the giant bratwurst - or massive beer steins - but I was uplifted to discover the enticing and inviting coffee-and-cake stall.  Run by the charismatic Jenny, we chatted before I experienced the most delicious espresso I had sipped in a long while.

I couldn't resist finding out more from the stallholder.  Jenny explained her frustration at bland coffee - all too abundant in mainstream high street outlets - revealing that she had sought the advice of a Sicilian insider, to arrive at the perfect blend...  This resulted in her creating the divinely rich, rounded Roma Forte, with its luscious chocolate notes.  It made for the tastiest and best value £1.30 lungo - perfectly boosting my waning energy levels, this lunchtime.  I also nibbled a small oblong of her homemade Stollen, which  - as a purist and perfectionist - Jenny insists on baking, to a long-treasured family recipe, in a clay oven - using authentic German flour. Make sure you stop-by for some refreshment, and a friendly chat, if you're in the area before Christmas... Guten appetit!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Willie's Tartufo

Saturday morning visitors to Bentalls basement food hall, in Kingston-upon-Thames, were in for an indulgent treat, yesterday.  Charming chocolate hero, Willie Harcourt-Cooze, popped-in to sign his latest tome. Before the signing, he enticingly created a surprisingly simple but deliciously rich and  impressive dessert (in the space of ten brief minutes).  Using his Columbian Black Santander Superior 100% cacao block - along with water, sugar and lashings of cream - he speedily produced an elegant 'loaf' of divinely silken tartufo.

Even though I'm not a fan of cream, I was fortunate to taste a generous tartufo sliver and found it to be absolutely gorgeous - if a curious item for Saturday morning brunch-time! I also experienced a few shavings of Willie's brilliant Javan Light Breaking 70% cacao bar - with its discernible caramel notes - mmm-mmm - highly recommended...

Photo credit: - Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Views from the Bridge

It's been a blissfully bright weekend in London (most of the time), although with a very chill wind, today.  That didn't stop me from getting out and enjoying the river.  Waterloo Bridge has a new place in my affections - the views are magnificent - it's become my bridge of choice, when venturing out of Waterloo (instead of my old favourite - Hungerford).  The views are breathtakingly bewitching.  Can you spot the dome of St Paul's, top left?  That was on Saturday afternoon...
Today, was closer to home, towards Kingston Bridge.  I was intrigued by the pristine white, cute cloud shape, poking-out, (top centre) and by the beautiful light.  You probably had to be there to appreciate its curious 'teddy-bear-head' formation...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Gambon in Krapp's Last Tape

Covent Garden's diminutive Duchess Theatre is currently home to the Gate Theatre (Dublin) production of Beckett's 1958 one-man piece.  Written as a vehicle for Patrick Macnee, the 50-minute performance opens in protracted silence - with Krapp seated, head-in-hands, bent over his desk, in the dark.  Minutes ensue, until eventually, he stirs and we begin to learn a little about him, by way of his penchant for bananas - with some hilarity. 

Appetite satisfied, Krapp starts to reflect on his life - largely via his recorded voice - on tapes he made thirty years back, as a 39-year-old.  Poignancy predominates, suffused with humour, as he toys, not just with bananas, but with the resonance of words: spoooool...

Shortly, Krapp dips into his baser cravings; despite saying that he wouldn't want those years back, he returns - repeatedly - to a significant encounter: "my face in her breasts, my hands on her" and dwells on "the beauty of her eyes".  Although, as an audience, we don't uncover the finer detail as to why it didn't endure, we understand that his dalliances took on a less than wholesome and happy turn when he refers to his later entanglements with "Fanny, bony old ghost of a whore".

Sir Michael Gambon is completely captivating, totally involving as sadly reflective, limping Krapp in his lonely birthday reflections.  The piece remained with me, and my companion, for many thought-provoking moments and hours.  Brilliant Beckett, stellar Gambon, great production.

It runs at the Duchess Theatre, Catherine Street, WC2, until November 20th.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Colours of Autumn

Back from my brief(-ish) absence - yay - to celebrate some of the glorious autumnal colours, in spite of the fact that I'm a fan of an extended summer!  The first pic shows the beautiful amelanchier, displaying its warm seasonal hues, at the back of my garden.
I relished a glorious ten-mile - mostly blue-skied - walk to Richmond (and back), today, delighting-in the entrancing, almost-impressionistic, early sunset - from the river bank.
As I set-out - close-to-home - I couldn't resist capturing (photographically) this mesmerisingly lovely tree, in all her seasonal glory.

What are your autumnal highlights?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Somewhere over the Rainbow...

Way up high...

A stone's throw from Oxford Circus and Portland Place - in the heart of London's major shopping artery - was a curiously incongruous setting and juxtaposition (with the huge crane) for such a remarkably beautiful and vivid aspect of nature.

This was the scene early on Wednesday evening, following a very heavy afternoon shower.  The colours were remarkable, in contrast with the greyness of the sky; the photo doesn't do it justice but, happily, it brightened many a Londoner's journey home.

Monday, September 6, 2010

One of my favourite things...

...about living on the edge of London, is the enjoyment I gain from an evening stroll by the river.

If I time it right, I'm in for a treat with one of Surbiton's glorious sunsets, enhanced by the serenity of the swans sailing by.

Even if the day has seen its stressful moments, my walk - and the scenery - work as an antidote, setting me back on track towards relaxation.

Room on the Broom - live!

I went back to the Rose Theatre in Kingston, a couple of days ago, in the company of an adorable three-year-old chum, and his Mum, for an afternoon treat - to see Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's Room on the Broom.  

As we arrived, the theatre was already dark-ish, so we were mildly reprimanded for being a minute late and warned to keep quiet by a slightly inappropriately dour jobsworth usher. We behaved, and did as we were told, but, in reality, a little noise would barely have made an impact on the rather vociferous audience that ran the gamut of tenative, wary and loudly enthusiastic tiny tots, toddlers, their parents and grandparents...

The action opened with the Tall Stories ensemble 'asleep' on stage; loudly comical snoring ensued - disturbing the verdant setting.  Soon the hunt was on for the witch and her broomstick.  The cast of four were brilliantly versatile in their myriad roles; the story and lively performances kept most of the young audience enrapt. Although, throughout, several amusingly shrieky comments could be heard: "Don't like it, Want to go home NOW", for instance, was the repeated utterance from one two-year-old theatre novice, in the back row of the stalls.  The cast, unperturbed and undistracted, continued energetically on their adventures through the wood. 

The cat, the witch, the dog, the frog, the parrot and the dragon ensured there was rarely a dull moment, during the 60 minutes on-stage action.  Admittedly, I often found it even more entertaining to watch the audience reactions. I'm sure many of us could put the final scene's snoring spell to good use, one night...

If you want to bring the book to life, for your favourite tot and treat them to a live performance, you'll find the ensemble across the UK, until January 2011.

image credit

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hidden Treasure

Well, almost...

There I was wandering along - getting my outdoor exercise, while the weather was kind - in sunny Richmond.  And looking down, as you do, I spied this gorgeous,purple pansy peeking out of an old stone step, in splendid isolation.  What a happy accident and a lovely surprise...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Funniest Thing I Heard This Week

...was on Radio Four's Desert Island Discs, earlier today.  Wonderfully open, earthily self-deprecating actress and comedienne, Kathy Burke revealed her choice of luxury item, should she find herself washed-up, in isolation, on the imaginary setting.

Kathy's desired indulgence is a full-sized, laminated photograph of BBC 2's Dragons' Den star, James Caan.  Not, as you might imagine, in order that she might rely on his entrepreneurial inspiration (ahem...) but so that she might pass her leisure-time happily "body-surfing" upon it!

Photo Credits
Kathy Burke photo courtesy of
James Caan photo courtesy of

Friday, August 6, 2010

On the Nail

Like all decently groomed girls, I enjoy sporting a pretty pedicure, especially in summer, when my toes are on daily display.  Chanel often receive accolades, as superstars, in the varnish stakes - their colours are spot-on and regular trend-setters - triggering a waiting list for their small-run, limited edition releases.

This summer, I succumbed and let myself be lured-in by their tantalising seasonal shades of Particuliere and Nouvelle Vague.  I especially love the warm-hued elegance of no. 505 (particuliere) which perfectly partners my bronze Electra Fit-flops.  Sadly, its duration has been short-lived, as the staying power of the lacquer is a let-down.  Their Nouvelle Vague (527) also behaved in the same disappointing manner, once applied.  None of this prevents these sought-after limited-run beauty icons from changing hands, on auction websites, for vastly elevated sums.

So, my mini indulgences have been usurped by a bolder bargain - from Marks & Spencer... Their Electric Purple (centre of pic) is super-shiny, statement-chic and, so far, has refrained from disappearing before I want it to.  I guess there's a lesson and a moral in there, somehwere...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lunch at the Bingham

A warm, late-July Sunday, in London, and the chance for a leisurely wander  - followed by lunch, on the banks of the Thames.  What better spot to choose than ravishing Richmond.  After an hour's serene - but brisk - walk through the park, I arrived at the pretty gardens of the Bingham Hotel - right on the towpath.  The place was abuzz - with a lively wedding reception, enjoying their pre-meal drinks - as I made my way up to the cooly elegant silver and grey themed bar.

I relaxed, with a refreshingly chilled glass of water and the Sunday papers, before my companion arrived for our late lunch (tables can be booked until 4pm).  As we'd pre-requested, we were able to get a table on the narrow terrace - with lovely views onto the gardens and the Thames.

We made our choice from the set menu, at £38 for 3 courses, devised and prepared by Michelin-starred chef, Shay Cooper.  The gustatory delights commenced with slices of deliciously fresh, home-made seed bread accompanied by their own square marble slab - featuring a generous pat of butter.

I chose the organic salmon appetiser, marinated in orange juice and coriander, lightly cooked - so it was optimally moist, served with grated fresh ginger, raw courgette micro-cubes and fabulous shredded squid.  It tasted at least a good as the presentation promised.  The restrained portion size didn't ruin my appetite for the main course.

My companion opted for the intriguing cauliflower risotto with a lobster jelly crown, decorated with slender, fried cauliflower shavings.  Also pronounced as good as it looked.
For my main, I continued down the fishy path with lemon sole - succulent and as light as I had hoped. The highlight was the delicious razor clam - slivered - served with a miniature tomato-and-herb salad.

We concluded - on a sweet note - with perfect black coffee and rich petits fours - presented on a bed of crushed cocoa nibs. The truffles, on the far right, ultra-high in cocoa solids, encompassed a surprisingly herbaceous interior of fresh mint.
The experience was understatedly professional throughout. Recommended as a fabulous (mildly indulgent) treat!

Monday, July 19, 2010

La Bete is a Beauty

If you're looking for a couple of hours of hilarity and clever wordplay - with an excellent cast - then Panton Street's petite Comedy Theatre is the place to be.

David Hirson's two act piece - inspired by 17th century French playwright Moliere's time spent with his troupe in Pezenas - opens with David Hyde Pierce's Elomire (get it?) eloquently bemoaning the company he has been subjected to at dinner.  Enter the troubador in question. Valere loves the sound of his own voice - and relishes the airing of his every thought process - to such a degree, that there is no breathing space for anyone else to get a word in edge-ways (or via any other means).

Mark Rylance is an unkempt powerhouse of mischief and mayhem. Belching and spitting his way (best not sit in the front row) - seamlessly - through a lengthy (but completely entertaining and engrossing) ramble of flowing, rhyming couplets.  His Valere finds the term 'words' so "boring" that he has coined his own expression: 'verbobos', instead.  And redolently verbose indeed he is. Extraordinarily so.  One can't help but marvel at how he maintains his explosive energy level.  Just as well (for him) that the piece has a short run (until September 4th) before moving to Broadway.

Joanna Lumley's Princess-patronne has long red hair and the temperament to accompany it.  Greta Lee's housemaid Dorine is amusingly curious and quirky.  Fans of Frasier won't be disappointed at the clipped, self-righteous irritation displayed by Hyde Pierce.

The interval-free performance must be a joy for the cast, as they - along with the audience - are free to continue their evening from 9.20pm.  I can't help wondering if outrageously versatile, and ridiculously talented, Mark Rylance needs to crumple into a heap, after his exertions, or whether he has to find an outlet to continue burning-off his giddy exuberance.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Night on the Tiles

On a recent evening visit to Hampton Court Palace, I couldn't help but admire the dusky hues of the gracefully-ageing paving tiles, in a courtyard leading to the Privy Gardens.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Blue Sky Thinking

You won't hear many complaints, from me, about the beauteous weather we've been enjoying in sunny London town.  I love a warm day, with a sunny blue-hued sky, and even enjoy gazing at the occasional cuddly cloud or two.  So, I've been relishing lots of long riverside walks and hilly rambles in the park - bliss!

Admittedly, it's not too conducive to spending much time slaving over a hot stove.   Light(ish) food is the order of the day and I'd been keenly waiting to try the new product (below) when I learned that it was about to appear on British shelves.  Although I'm not the greatest egg fan, I do enjoy a hard-boiled example, in a Salade Nicoise, and - for something a little more indulgent - an occasional frittata can be a delight.  Two Chicks is a carton of 15 pasteurised egg whites - now available in the chill-section of many UK supermarkets.  At £2.89, it offers decent value.

Nutritionally-sound, it's high in protein, low-calorie, fat and cholesterol-free - the ideal post work-out, muscle replenishing, re-fuel.  The carton keeps in the fridge for up to seven days, once opened; it provides ample supplies for several generous omelettes or light, hot-weather frittatas.  I created mine in a non-stick pan (lubricated with a little olive oil), adding some pre-cooked leaf spinach, enhanced with fresh grated nutmeg, salt and pepper, and a touch of tomato purée, on the side.  Adapt the idea to include your preferred vegetables such as peppers, mushrooms or tomatoes; lovely with your favourite salad leaves and a (slightly) indulgent chilled glass of refreshing sauvignon blanc.

I remained within savoury realms, while trying the product, but you can let your imagination run-riot and create meringues, pavlovas and soufflés, if you're that way inclined...

I indulged my sweeter side with another product I'd been looking forward to tasting.   The vogue for sea salt caramel, in the chocolatier world, has led to Lindt producing a dark chocolate tantalisingly embellished with a sprinkling of sea salt.  The 100g bar contains 47% cocoa solids (not as high as I normally like); with the salty 'kick' more pronounced than I had anticipated.  It makes for a successful marriage, enhancing the richness of the cocoa and offering a taste of the unexpected.  At 510 calories per bar, a couple of pieces make a perfect post-meal sweet treat or mini snack boost.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Blooming Olives: my Ode to the Olive Tree

I had such a treat, when I went into the garden, this morning... my cherished olive tree - which I have nurtured since (her) babyhood - is flourishing and currently adorned with the prettiest, most delicate blossoms.  I love the olive tree for its myriad bounties: leaves, blossoms, fruit... and the wondrous gnarly beauty of its bark and trunk as it embraces old age.  

I also love the silvery green of the elegant, long, narrow leaves - gaining awareness as a natural remedy - with reported benefits for the immune system, strong anti-oxidant properties, healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

I relish the savoury delights of her fruits - black and green, small and large - ranging in succulence, bitterness and piquancy, according to how they are treated once harvested, the variety of tree and country - or region - of origin.  Then, there's the oil - wholeheartedly and bountifully celebrated and enjoyed on a daily basis, in countless ways; now revered in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Praise be to the Olea europaea!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Going to Seed

You might know by now that I'm a fan of healthy eating (with the odd bit of naughtiness thrown-in, for good measure).  So, I was keen to taste test the latest version of Munchy Seeds that came my way recently. I've long been a fan of the company's delicious nibbles and found these at least as good as I had anticipated.
Comprising apricot kernels, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds; dressed in a tasty savoury combination of koji, seasalt and soy - they sell at £3.50, for 200g.  They're a brilliant munch, all on their own, but also wonderful for sprinkling on salads and stir fries.  The only downside, for me, is that it's a challenge to stop dipping-in, once I've opened the pack...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Unexpected Enchantment on a Faraway island

It's rare for me to feel that I have been truly captivated, and enchanted, by a television programme but the current BBC2 series of Tribal Wives is a treat and a revelation.  Each of the six, one-hour programmes, sees a female Brit being transported (in every sense) to a remote setting, to live her adoptive life, as part of the local tribe, for one month.

Tonight was the turn of 31-year-old Londoner, Becky Camilleri, to spend her four-week escape on the Papua New Guinea island of Kativa.   Instantly, she was accepted as one of the family; she called the parents 'Mummy' and 'Daddy' and was reprimanded when she turned-up for breakfast in a pair of shorts, instead of the locally-accepted female attire of a skirt.  

It was a perfect match - not only were the family warm, giving and nurturing, but so was Becky. There were many endearingly moving moments - from the home-made leaf 'plaster', infused with a herbal antiseptic - made for, and applied to, Becky's infected mosquito bite - to the confessional, deep, sisterly chats with the lovely daughter (and mother-of-three) who shared her room with Becky.

The setting was exquisitely scenic, entirely back-to-nature, complemented by true family values.  Becky's adoptive island father said, as she was leaving to return to London, that her departure would be as if "there had been a death in the family".If you're after a heart-warming hour of thought-provoking viewing, don't miss the chance to see it on the BBC iPlayer.

Tribal Wives photo, shows Becky as she is made-ready to participate in an important tribal ceremony, credit

Strange Fruit

It's the perfect weather to enjoy a piece (or two) of deliciously refreshing fruit.  Why waste time and bore your palate by sticking with the run-of-the-mill?  I enjoyed this quirky little number, earlier - not as flavorsome as I'd hoped but light, super-refreshing and prettily different.
The dragon fruit (in this case) hails all the way from Vietnam (yes, I know, far from locally sourced but an occasional treat); it belongs to the cactus family.  The seeds are totally edible, it's thirst-quenching, has good fibre levels and isn't too high in natural sugars.

It reminds me of the delicious prickly pear I relished in Sicily, late last year.  It belongs to the same family, has many similar properties but is slightly less tasty than its Italian counterparts (pictured centre-back in the frutta dell'etna box).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Take It Easy...

Which is precisely what the audience did, last night - enrapt by the rare treat of Jackson Browne's presence, on stage, in the UK.  He opened the annual summer stunner, that is the Hampton Court Palace Festival, held in the regally splendid setting of the Historic Royal Palace's grounds.

In his genial, super-laid-back style, Jackson commented "Quite a spot...!" before launching into the opening lyric from Off of Wonderland: "It was so easy for me, Up so high in my tree..."
His fabulously warm, caressingly mellow voice was just as stunningly beautiful and clear as I remembered, when I first heard his wonderful Disco Apocalypse album, way back in the early '80s, in my bohemian Paris studio - every lyric distinctly discernible.

Browne went on to comment "What an inspiring place... he found the Palace marry a lot(!)"; peppering his whole set with good-humoured anecdotes about his (love) life and the inspiration behind each song.  Self-deprecatingly - when an audience member yelled-out a request for one of his best known tracks - he riposted "you just have to trust me" before enthralling us with an exquisite rendition of the evocatively moving "In the Shape of a Heart".

Throughout, his happy demeanour shone-out, as he congratulated the locals in having "the good sense to live in such a great area" and to enjoy concerts in such a special different, (as he explained), from many of the other so-called 'palaces/palais', he had played previously!  The performance, showcased in Hampton Court Palace's beauteous Base Court, was bathed in gloriously changing light.
As the evening drew to a close, continuous cheers rang out when - as one - we implored Jackson and his musical entourage - including long-term friend, conspirator and mentor, David Lindley - to come back.  Joyously, he returned, regaling us with much-requested Running on Empty before the show-stopping, standing-ovation finale of Take it Easy, (which, for a long time, he had ceased playing under the assumption that people would think he was doing an Eagles cover - in spite of having written it - before telling us that he was "over that now").

The 2010 Hampton Court Festival continues until Saturday, 19th June; featuring The Gipsy Kings, Michael Bolton, Simply Red, Jools Holland, Van Morrison and Michael Ball.  Catch it if you can!

Photo credits: Stephen Frak

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Festa della Repubblica

Today was a gloriously sunny summer's day in fair London town - so, instead of struggling to get onto a flight to Italy, I celebrated Italy Day, in convivial company, in the elegant setting of Belgrave Square's Italian Cultural Institute.  Piedmont-based, third generation family-run company, Sacla, organised a sparkling event to showcase the festivities and to toast the launch of their Wild Garlic Pesto, Wild Mushroom Risotto, Butternut Squash & Parmesan Risotto.  The lucky guests (including Andrew Neil, Peter York, Jan Leeming and Lawrence Dallaglio) were treated to a stunning (and seemingly endless) array of wondrously delicious canapés - encompassing Sacla's quality products, produced by virtuoso Italian chef, Valentina Harris.

The new risotto products were transformed into delightful (and totally non-greasy) arancini and mini risotti; the classical pesto shone through in tempura-battered sage leaves; the wild garlic pesto subtly enhanced daintily-rustic broad bean and pecorino crostini.  As if that weren't enough, we sipped on refreshingly summery Prosecco rosato and rounded-off the evening with magnificent award-winning Oddono icecream - the pistachio with caramelised figs, chocolate chips and walnuts is a joyously tantalising taste experience. Not to forget the chocolate finale, in the cute themed box, by Baruzzo (pictured above).  Complimenti ed Auguri! 

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Bank Holiday Bounty

Next weekend sees the start of another Bank Holiday break in England. Where better to spend it than in the sunshine (we can all hope) on the banks of the River Thames, at beauteous Hampton Court Palace.  Arrive by boat from Kingston or Richmond (it's a serenely scenic journey), take an extended walk along the towpath or just do the one minute hop from Hampton Court station (on SouthWest Trains, from Waterloo).

You can choose to visit the Palace (see the magnificent artworks and learn fascinating facts about the court of Henry VIII); otherwise simply enjoy the splendours of the magnificent gardens - with a picnic of your own making - or opt for a convenient pitstop at one of the cafés.

If you enjoy exploring new ingredients, or upgrading your cookery skills, and you're a fan of renowned chefs (including Gary Lee from The Ivy, Giancarlo Caldesi, Paul Merrett and Jun Tanaka), treat yourself to a ticket to the Foodies Festival.  When you book online, or call 0871 230 5571, and quote foodies 241, you'll get two tickets for the price of one.  See you there!

Pic shows the glorious golden gates outside Hampton Court Palace's beautiful Privy Gardens. © amethyst

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Summer Thoughts from Abroad

The promise of sultry summer (yay!) temperatures, forecast for the next few days in London, brings to mind thoughts of delicious, crunchy fresh salads and tantalising, sweet berry treats.

Deep, dark radicchio, crunchy flavoursome fennel and treasured fraise des bois, photographed on a late summer's saturday morning, at Catania's vibrant and bustling street market.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mixed Blessings

How was your week?  Mine was one of mixed fortunes.  Busy, busy, but - fortunately - with time for three energetic sessions with my new love, at the gym, to keep me going.  After working on Saturday morning, I ventured off to the Old Town Hall in Kings Road, to investigate Irish designer Orla Kiely's wares at a warehouse sale.  I love her bright, bold, distinctively cheerful designs, with a modern-retro edge, but they come at a price.  The sale wasn't too crowded so, thankfully, it didn't have the feel of a jumble sale or bunfight.  In spite of decent stock levels, I didn't find the one bag that was yelling my name, at a price I was prepared to pay in these restrained times.  But...I was tempted by a pretty little silk summer dress and succumbed (priced at £75 rather than £295).

It was only after I had paid and was on my way out, that I realised I had left my sunglasses - on a ledge -in the makeshift changing room.  I went straight back but - you've guessed it - some charmer had already swiped them.  I was just happy that, although I liked them, (and they were good ones!) they weren't my all-time favourites.

I continued my wanderings down Kings Road, until I came to the Duke Of York's arcade, and was delighted to chance upon the European-influenced Farmers' Market, just about to close.  How did you guess that chocolate made its presence felt in my life, again? (No, really, I'm not a chocaholic).  I had a great time talking with the owner/producer of chocolate organiko who had come over, from his atelier in Madrid, to promote his 'babies'.  I liked the quirkiness, quality and passion of the brand and especially adored the very unusual anise-flavoured dark chocolate - stunningly good!

One my way out of the market, I encountered industrious David Arkin, working at his fresh and vibrant arancini stall.  His diminutive risotto balls were delicious, prepared to order and wonderfully un-greasy.  I was impressed by the healthy, energetic ethos of his company and the tell-it-like-it-is name: the arancini brothers.  He and his business partner took their inspiration from the strong Italian influence in their home town of Melbourne, Australia, and decided that it was an opportune time to unleash the savoury deliciousness on the residents of London.  They offer their goodies for sale at several Farmers' markets, in London, at exhibitions and have a private catering business where they tailor their rice-y goodness to clients palates.
Of course, the whole week was overshadowed by the looming presence of the UK Elections.  I didn't get to cast my vote until 7.30pm, on Thursday.  Although there was a small queue at the school, that was my polling station, all went smoothly and, to the best of my knowledge, everyone was able to vote in my locality.  I admit that the result was no shock to me - I had predicted the outcome for a while - but I was shocked and horrified to discover that many had not been able to vote in the UK, in spite of repeated attempts to get access to their ballot sheets and voting booths.  The set-up remains rather antiquated here, with stubby pencils - attached to string - used to mark one's cross, on a ballot paper. (And the count is manual, with Glenda Jackson (in Hampstead and Kilburn) having to endure a recount before discovering that she had won through by a mere 42 votes). It's no great wonder that we're in political limbo - with the combination of voting chaos,  those who abandon their voting privilege and tactical voting.  'Interesting' times...

The major dominant factor in my week has been waiting for the outcome of my father's third spinal surgery - in three years succession.  Although in his seventies, he's always been super-fit - playing tennis to a high standard throughout his life. Until recently, when he has struggled to walk further than a few yards at a time.  Fortunately, it seems that this op' went smoothly (although very early days, yet).  I just hope it will be third-time-lucky and that he'll be able to enjoy pain-free walking in the months to come.