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Thursday, 30 December 2010

play time

NOW I never thought I'd say this but... I would love for my friends and I to go back to school for a break.

I know. Not your typical idea of fun.

Though I suppose school's the wrong word. I’d like to go to class (excuse the American twang). Not just any class. But Le Classe. A wonderfully restored old village school in Belgium.

La Classe is one of two converted properties by Anne and Jean-Luc Laloux (the other being Les Duves, an open-plan gite not far from Brussels). They are architectural photographers who have travelled the world seeking exceptional homes designed by the best contemporary architects. The outcome of this has been a desire to "create beautifully appointed holiday accommodation which combines both the conviviality of group living with the aesthetic pleasure of great design."

With a home cinema, giant-games playroom, basketball court, Wendy house, table football and Wurlitzer jukebox you have the freedom to play like a kid again. Or even try your hand at playing 'grown-ups' in the underground bar, fantastic entertaining space upstairs and outdoor dining area complete with BBQ.  

Although its suggested use is one of work retreats and seminars, I propose an escape  with a group of friends - in the height of summer - to this idyllic getaway. A capacity of 21 ensuring that there would be more than enough room for everyone. 

With stocks of all the local wine, beer and edible delicacies that could possibly be acquired, a long weekend could indulgently be whiled away: lounging in the large garden, cooling off indoors, moving on from an evening BBQ to late night sounds of the jukebox in the basement bar, and finally flopping onto the crisp white sheets of a bed in one of the  immaculately finished en-suite bedrooms. 

And all this within a surrounding of sophisticated design that does not impose upon the rustic charms of the property - if anything effortlessly complementing them.

My one complaint would be a lack of pool. Though perhaps that would look a tad out of place when the property is in use for seminars and courses. 

Monday, 27 December 2010

and the winner of most bizarre Christmas present goes to...

mleczna : milk (chocolate)

...THIS curiously designed bar of chocolate, from relatives in Poland. Apparently the image is by a well known Polish painter. That is no excuse. I question the mind of a) the person who deemed it a suitable idea to put a woman breastfeeding on the front of a bar of milk chocolate, and b) those who were responsible for bringing the idea to fruition.

Of course I cannot simply judge those who produced this packaging. I am also very much alarmed by the fact that I am related to a person who was clearly oblivious to its disturbing nature. This is one edible gift that I will not be breaking into anytime soon. If ever.

Monday, 20 December 2010

on my plate: butter bean tomatoes

GREAT big fat beefy tomatoes, overstuffed with creamy butter beans. That's what was on my plate today. Well one of them was, I'd have to be a truly greedy bugger to manage two.

I planned ahead with this dish and made the tomato sauce base the night before. Not only was this a time saving plan but also (I thought) a great way to boost the flavours, as in my experience any sauce/soup consumed a day after it was made always bursts with flavour.

Somehow this did not happen. I didn't skimp on the ingredients - even adding extra bay leaves and garlic - yet my tomatoes were not the garlicky dream that Nigel Slater had implied. Take note: when it says 'season generously', season GENEROUSLY. I thought I had. 

It's not that the meal wasn't a success, just that it felt slightly lacking. (As an after thought I would recommend perhaps adding a crumbled beef stock cube to the sauce.) What did make the dish though was it's accompaniment: purple sprouting broccoli with buffalo mozzarella and a chilli, garlic and anchovy hot oil dressing. The saltiness and heat from the topping bringing to the palate a much needed oomph of flavour.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

so what to do on a snow day...?

BUILD a snowman? Sledging? Snowball fight? Frosty midnight walk through deserted silent streets? Or...

Have a barbecue!!

Yes that's right. A barbecue. What the Aussies are currently spending their days doing on a beach; but in a snowed covered back garden. 

I thought my friend ever so slightly insane too. But on an all too familiar Sunday hangover - having just braved the pre-Christmas supermarket crush - a flamed grilled burger with chunks of mature cheddar was calling. And I was assured that the outdoor grill (I'll admit, it's fuel was gas not coals) was the best way to achieve this delectable lunch. So, in quick trips outside we prepared our meal. The barbecue providing heat as well as ice cold drops of melted snow from the trees above. 

And it was worth it. Adding to the mix buns toasted on the grill too, it made for the perfect Sunday lunch. Enjoyed from the comforts of a cosy sitting room of course.

Monday, 13 December 2010

word of the day:

DUPPY noun

plural duppies

- (Caribbean) a ghost or spirit

NEW job, new word. Has your printer ever been possessed by a duppy? The one at my new place of work has. Or at least so suggested the IT guy, which is how I learnt of the word. I think my mum would swear that her computer is frequented by duppies on a regular basis.

How strange that a word which at first may sound benevolent - comical even - in reality holds much more sinister connotations. Originating from West Africa, it is a Jamaican Patois word, and features heavily in Caribbean folklore. Far from a Casper-like manifestation of an other worldly being, a duppy is in fact a malevolent spirit or soul, said to come out haunting at night in a variety of forms, often as a howling or barking dog.

Monday, 6 December 2010

on my plate: aubergine involtini

nd a

OK so my food photography skills haven't exactly improved much, but these tasty little morsels just had to be talked about. Served as part of a picky dinner prepared for friends - alongside butter bean hummous, aubergine turnover pastries and spicy roasted chickpeas - for me these were the success story of the night.

After brushing the aubergine with olive oil and cooking on a griddle pan to achieve those gorgeous blackened stripes, I chose to fill my involtini with feta, toasted hazelnuts, sultanas and fresh mint. I then heated them in the oven to soften the feta slightly, resulting in a dish of incredibly moreish plump little parcels, with wonderful flavours reminiscent of those that my friends and I had sampled in Greece over the summer.

My one word of advice would be don't be afraid of adding lots of mint, as it is essential in balancing the flavours.

Oh, and make lots.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

birds of paradise

male and female : cecil b demille 1919

BIRDS of Paradise is the 3rd Fashion in Film Festival, which started yesterday and is on until 12th December. Screening rare and unseen films from the 1920s through to the 1970s (often with live piano accompaniment) it aims to provide "an intoxicating exploration of costume as a form of cinematic spectacle throughout European and American cinema."

Learning about the previous festivals too late, I'm excited about having the opportunity to go to some of the events this time round. And what a theme. Clips of footage to be exhibited show mesmerising scenes of opulent costumes flitting across the screen, frequently enhanced by painted-in accents of colour. The inclusion of live music will surely only heighten the experience, drawing you in to a world of sumptuous glamour.

I am slightly disappointed that the festival is on for such a limited time as it means an inevitable clash in programming of must-see events. Adding to this that many of these are occurring on Friday and Saturday nights - 'great' planning on behalf of the organisers considering it's currently the party season - means that I have resigned myself to the fact that I will be missing some of the good bits.

However, seeking the best in purely magnificent visuals means that one film I won't be missing is La Revue des Revues, being screened at the BFI Southbank. Not only will it be a non-stop whirl of 1920s dancing, including routines from Folies-Bergere and Moulin Rouge, but it also promises "an audacious and colourful parade" of sets and costumes. According to the blurb "pure spectatorial pleasure" awaits...

male and female : cecil b demille 1919

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

most wanted: to live closer to Dotori

SUNDAY night I was subject to a real treat. They're never great (Sunday nights, not treats) and so to receive a belated birthday present of dinner at Dotori in Finsbury Park was a welcome distraction from the Monday morning looming ahead.

For my diner and I it used to be Monday nights that, whenever possible, were our guilty pleasure: splashing our limited student budget on half price sushi at Brighton's Moshi Moshi. It never failed to amaze us how indulgently we could dine on sushi for only £10 a head. 

Now in London though, I think we may have found our substitute. And it is most definitely an upgrade.

Dotori is a Korean/Japanese restaurant, whose one small room I discovered full to the brim  with diners and overflowing with take-away custom too. Considering that it was a Sunday night I took this as a very good sign. Hurrying in to this haven of warmth on a bitterly cold night I was relieved to find that my friend - having been there before - had had the foresight to book. 

The aroma of Asian spices that hit the senses upon entry wrought havoc on my already rumbling stomach. And the steaming earthenware dishes that were being served up all around me were almost too much to handle. 

We opted for a couple of our sushi favourites to begin with. The crunch roll - tempura prawns and avocado - was amazing value for money and delicious too, with an unusual crunchy coating alongside the usual envelopment of sesame seeds. Following this we ordered a spicy seafood broth and kimchi pork stew. 

But it was the crispy salmon skin maki that stole the show. Upon ordering the waiter warned us that this dish may take a short while to arrive; yet another very good sign. And it was worth the wait. For £2.80 - yes, that's all - 8 pieces of the crispiest skin wrapped in rice and seaweed arrived at our table. The value was unbelievable. And the taste divine.

So, the food was a winner. And the price a steal, especially considering we were filled to bursting point with the freshest of dishes. It's not claiming to be a 5 star destination, simply great homemade food in a relaxed environment. And I already know what I will be ordering on my next visit: the couple next to us were served a mouthwatering plate of beef to be eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves, and the sushi platters looked generous to say the least. 

I only wish I lived closer to Dotori. I envy the locals. Though perhaps that would be dangerous as I can see myself thinking of any excuse to pop in, even just for a quick take-away...

Sunday, 28 November 2010

oh my, what a lovely package you have...

TrueCoffee hot dog : design by subconcious co

LOVELY PACKAGE is a site dedicated to showcasing the best that package design has to offer. Recognisable brands sit alongside small businesses and student work. And besides sourcing the examples themselves, you are invited to submit your own. 

My favourite category is Student Work. The ingenuity is fantastic, displaying some of the quirkiest yet functional ideas. Here are a few of my favourites:

jean-maxime landry : tofu

neal fletcher : spaghetti

yeongkeun : disposable butter

Lovely Package's appeal is broad, whether you are doing research for your own design work or on package design in general, you may also choose to browse for gift inspiration or simply for some entertaining pieces that will put a smile on your face. 

Thursday, 18 November 2010

on my plate: lentil and pumkin stew-soup

IT'S been a hectic few days so cooking hasn't featured high on the agenda, which means this week's dish was very much a simple one-pot wonder. And, despite the possibly over-zealous addition of vegetables on my part (though even now, after reading the recipe, I have no idea how I managed to make my casserole dish overflow with so few 'bulky' ingredients) it turned out to be a very satisfying stew-soup.

The method was simple. The flavours were rich. And the aromas along the way were tantalising. The addition of fresh rosemary and garlic to the already softened onions stealing the prize of most delectable aroma of the evening.

Ignoring it's sludge-like appearance - I must improve my food presentation / photography skills - this meal was actually delicious. It's a perfect way to use up a pumpkin once it's fleeting moment in Britain's conscious has passed. A hearty autumnal assembly of flavours; none of which over-power, but all of which create a truly satisfying supper.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

fashion space gallery

THE Fashion Space Gallery at the London College of Fashion is where I came across the work of Axel Hoedt. In a large, bright and airy room his photographs silently diffuse an oddly ominous tone. Depicting the costumes worn by those celebrating an annual carnival held in Germany called 'fastnacht', their bizarre and often grotesque appearance is designed to chase off the spirits of winter. Hence the images' unsettling energy. Isolated figures are presented on both large and small scales (my favourite being the postcard sized pictures resting in a row along the left hand wall as you enter) and are interspersed with equally bleak landscapes.

This current exhibition is only on until the weekend, but even if you can't get to it I would recommend visiting this compact venue at some point as it offers a great little culture fix, allowing for a guilt-free interlude from the shopping frenzy on the streets outside (Oxford Circus is just metres away). I will be keeping an eye out for forthcoming events as the gallery's website is promising me shows of 'innovation and excellence'...  And all for free!

profile: Ryan McGinley

PHOTOGRAPHS. Of pretty young things. Where nudity is the norm: whether in solitude with nature or amongst friends of a similar disposition. Voyeuristic connotations may be provoked. And he has come up against much criticism.  

But there is something strangely compelling about viewing Ryan McGinley's photographs. They offer us a window; through which one gazes, fascinated. Emotions are stirred: admiration, disgust; jealousy, lust. Questions may be asked. Would we do what they have done? What kind of person likes or dislikes these images? 

I for one am in a slight quandary. On the one hand I am drawn in by the world that McGinley presents to me, perhaps due to the fact that (as Caroline Stanley writes) the photographs 'can be nostalgic, innocent, and sexual all at once because it’s not about capturing youth, but some shared fantasy version of it.' I am caught in a reverie of carefree frolicking. 

But on the other hand, these images seem just a little bit too contrived, too 'cool'. The colour saturated yet weathered feel, and flares of light entering the frame from all angles emphasising or obscuring certain aspects, are reminiscent of days before the digital camera. An effect that many today are trying to recreate. 

And at times the apparent spontaneity of an image is doubtful. Though this may be intentional if one is to interpret McGinley's images as simply presenting fanciful notions of what it is to be young, rather than a reality.

Yet he has clearly got something right. McGinley is the youngest artist to have had a solo show at the Whitney Museum in New York. And his black and white photography is not only sensitively shot but shows a true admiration for the human form. 

I think that what I like most about McGinley's work is the juxtapositions it often presents, involving a subject matter that can be both beautiful and awkward. And the nude is not always explicitly present, at times simply alluded to - a reliable presence that can be located if sought (most notably in his Moonmilk series). This is what makes me believe that he is not using the body in a exploitative manner but simply as a tool. I am as yet undecided as for what though. 

Friday, 5 November 2010

most wanted: colour

FOR those of us living in towns and cities a colourful Autumn may not be the first thing that springs to mind. If you're lucky enough to encounter trees then hopefully you have been treated to a marvellous display of fiery reds, burnt ambers, vivid yellows and all that's in between. But if -  especially in the ever fleeting daylight - you are not one of the lucky ones, here are some potential injections of colour to your everday life. 

diem chau - carved craoyola crayons

yunyeen yong - jooze

rainbow lunch

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

on my plate: tomato tarte tatin and hedgehog potatoes

THIS tomato tarte tatin recipe has been sitting in my kitchen for ages, but not sure of what to serve it with other than a salad garnish meant that I hadn't attempted to make it for fear of not providing a 'substantial' dinner for the meat eater of the household. Then I came across a recipe on the Salad Club blog for hedgehog potatoes and my dish was almost complete. To tie it all together I went for a rocket cream.

When it came to the making of the tarte I had a slight glitch. Not enough red onions. And not enough time to buy more. I substituted with white ones and then proceeded to add slightly more sugar at the frying stage than the recipe stated in an attempt to balance the flavour. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was that I hadn't noticed that a caramel needed to be made, and having never done one before I think I may have overcompensated in the sugar department yet again. The result was a tarte tatin that was too sweet for my liking, though one of my diners disagreed. Of course the topping of tangy goats cheese helped to an extent, as did the peppery watercress garnish with added toasted pumkin seeds for a nutty finish.

The hedgehog potatoes were a great novelty, though one of my favourite parts of a roast potato is making a mountain so that I can also munch on them later and these were not so great cold. The rocket cream was a welcome addition, however I don't think I got the balance of flavours quite right.

Overall it was an enjoyable meal. And I was extremely proud when the tarte turned out leaving not a single tomato in the dish. In future though I would definitely use much less sugar and probably add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Or I may even try out this version with anchovies, as I'm a sucker for anything involving salty sweet flavour combinations.

Sunday, 31 October 2010


I ABSOLUTELY love these images from the COS autumn/winter '10 collection campaign. The styling is fantastic, bringing to the fore what COS does best: great tailoring with a twist.

Clean and crisp, with a splash of ingenuity and bags of character, if I wasn't already pledging my allegiance to this brand then these images have certainly secured my admiration.

Browse the website for not only more campaign photos but key looks, an online magazine and 'things' that they like. (And you may just discover where I came across Soojin Kang's chairs...)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

profile: Soojin Kang

SOOJIN Kang views today's culture of mass production and disposable fashion as deeply problematic. Her suggestion is that we consider our basic needs against our possessions and use the materials already within our means wisely and beautifully. One of her outcomes has been a collection of 'dressed furniture'.

Kang's sensitive approach has resulted in pieces that - through the use of traditional crafts - have been rejuvenated, yet still retain their original identity. These suede covered chairs are particular favourites of mine. And her jewellery is pretty interesting too. Take the bracelet below: antique chain and plastic is combined to create, in Kang's words, designs that are both 'unique and meaningful'. Visit her site for more information and images.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

on my plate: Crab and Sweetcorn Chowder

WHEN I find myself at a loose end at work I am free to browse the vast realms of the Internet to  my heart's content. What I have discovered is that my heart is consistently drawn to doing nothing more than reading about food. Reviews, blogs, recipes; all of these I can peruse for hours, vicariously living the life of both food critic and chef.

Most worrying is possibly the amount of time I can spend simply reading recipes, making note of those in particular that - if I could spend my days endlessly pottering in the kitchen - I would certainly try out. And so, after book marking yet another mouthwatering dish I decided that enough is enough, I have to actually start making something from the tome of ideas I'm acquiring. The result: 'on my plate', a weekly post on my exploits in the kitchen testing out potential gastronomical delights. (With no doubt some disasters along the way.)

This week: Crab and Sweetcorn Chowder, recipe courtesy of Rosie Lovell. I'd come across it just as the weather was turning down the ice-cold road to winter and some warming comfort food was in order. Minimal adjustments were made to the ingredient list: a decrease in the amount of coconut milk, an increase in the amount of corn and crab, and one addition in the form of lime juice squeezed over the top to serve.

The result was incredibly pleasing. Rarely for me does a new recipe come together first time as I will always find niggling faults that could be improved upon. But in this instance there was nothing that  I would change. The crunch of the corn and green beans ensured that the chowder's potato and crab did not simply result in a mouthful of mush. The shredded ginger and chilli gave a pleasant heat, complimenting the smoothness of the coconut perfectly. And the tang of the lime balanced well with the sweetness of the corn. Finally, the toasted sesame oil turned out to be an imperitive element in creating real depth to the overall flavour of the soup. I have a feeling that this may become a staple in my diet over the coming months - I already can't wait to eat it again!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

the temptation of st tony

SUNDAY I went to the cinema. As part of the BFI London Film Festival I saw Estonian writer/director Veiko Ounpuu's second feature film, The Temptation of St Tony. Having booked the tickets long enough ago for me to have forgotten about them, my friend and I went in clueless as to any details regarding the film. At most I could inform her that according to the BFI this was the type of film 'from which cults are born'.

And so, all possible preconceptions aside we observed the opening scene unfurl in grainy black & white, to the accompaniment of a shaky band. We laughed out load at the dead pan reaction of the characters to the startling incident that ensued. And then puzzled as to which country the film was set in upon hearing the alien language that sporadically escaped their lips. On reflection perhaps this was the best way in which to encounter the film, as inevitably it would catch you off guard at each turn anyway. 

As if in a trance, one is confronted with the increasingly surreal incidents that are encountered by Tony, a middle-aged man who has reached a crisis point, the result of which is the loss of his job, his family, and a grasp of reality itself.

Visually the film excites. Beautifully shot in black and white this format serves not only to reflect how grey and desolate Tony's surroundings can at times be, but also impressively heightens the viewer's perception of the events themselves. Variety was the key. At times the camera would pan calmly over a scene allowing you to absorb every minute detail, and at others one was bombarded with the abstract or the bizarre.

However most memorable for me was the use of sound. Speech was not of utmost importance within this film. ( NB. At this point I must criticise the subtitles, for I am sure that due to the infrequency of them what words were spoken were of significance, yet many of them were lost on us due to their disappearance against pale backgrounds. ) Instead, The Temptation of St Tony masterfully enveloped you in an intensely emotional experience. Through the use of music, 'white noise' and ambiguous sound it exquisitely influenced the way in which one interacted with that which was on screen.

When watching this film I believe you should simply empty your mind and let the film be your guide; for just when you think you have successfully grappled with that which has gone before you, yet more absurd and disturbing events will unfold. Not one to see for the 'story' as such, this is more of an adventure, certainly leaving an imprint on the consciousness that made exiting the cinema and entering the world of reality a slightly uncanny experience in itself.  

The Temptation of St Tony skillfully takes the viewer on a journey from the mundane to the alluring to the repulsive. The contrasts render you transfixed and, in a way, exhausted. A great balancing act of the comical and the unsettling. I am now intrigued to see what Ounpuu will conjure up next; though first off I plan to watch his previous offering 'Autumn Ball'.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

morning entertainment

 New Jersey viewed from Manhattan - 2004

SO the world of 9 to 5 living has finally encroached upon my life. Fortunately, it is yet to become the mundane nightmare I was in fear of. However early mornings are still impossibly hard, and although the daily walk to the bus stop does much for pulling me out of my slumber, I recently found myself reminiscing over the morning walks I used to have when working in Manhattan. They worked wonders for awakening the brain, and even threw in a bit of entertainment along the way...

First off there was the news-stand lady on the corner of 8th and 33rd, with possibly the loudest voice in existence proclaiming the day's headlines. Then the scrum at the local deli for a bagel, followed by the friendliest vendor in town who without fail delivered your iced-coffee with a chat and a smile. And to top off proceedings there were the hello's and good morning's from those I passed on the street, which despite their possible ulterior motives were always administered with sincerity and good grace.

Then there were the slightly more trying situations, that were both disturbing and absurdly amusing. For example:  passing by a homeless guy who had left all modesty aside and chosen to  idly urinate upon Broadway's bustling pavement, whilst lying on his side, and sipping on a bottle of beer. Or, encountering a gentleman strolling down the street talking on his mobile - as  of course many do - whose 'normality' was interspersed with extreme swearing at the top of his voice whilst knocking over trash cans, only to sweetly return to a conversation of "so anyway, how are you...?"

Snap back to reality.

My current walk to the bus stop if far from entertaining. Highlight of the morning: a friendly bus driver; but only if I'm lucky.

Monday, 11 October 2010

hembakat är bäst

'HOMEMADE is best' according to Ikea. Well it would be for them wouldn't it. But despite the various possible gripes one may have against this Swedish giant - crowds, canteen-style food, the need for that illusive allen key - it can't be denied that they have triumphed with their new cook book. 

The above images are not examples of rationing, nor are they minimalist compositions by a contemporary artist. Instead they are the beautifully styled images of the ingredients required for making traditional Swedish cakes and biscuits from Ikea's 'Hembakat ar Bast'. Each geometric deconstruction of the ingredients is then followed by an image of the finished product. The book was created by Forsman & Bodenfors, and according to them it is 'the perfect way to ensure a connection between IKEAS kitchen appliances and one of the best things you can do in a kitchen: baking.' The good news is that it is free. The bad news is that you can only pick it up in Sweden.