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!