Monday, 28 June 2010
In two hours I’ll be in the MG hurtling down to Kent, then Calais, then Lyon and finally the Provence for a seven glorious days of laziness. My pre-holiday preening has had little effect. The extra gym visits might have made me a millimetre more perky, my spray tan left me a little more glowing and my vacation wardrobe given me a touch more élan, but truthfully, I'm now on the final and most essential aspect of the pre-vacation ritual: acceptance and adoration.
So on Wednesday, when I finally peel down to a bikini to bask alongside a handful of svelte lovelies, I will still be proud of my body regardless- for being strong, curvy, womanly and mine.
I’m sorry to say that despite all my retro ramblings, I seem to spend my daily commute glued to my iPhone (but I’m usually playing cyber Scrabble with Kit, which is still slightly old school, no?). Anyway I am so delighted that the week ahead of me promises a mammoth reading session. I love nothing more than a sun lounger, dappled shade, a long cool drink and an absorbing novel. I can’t bear chick lit, so I’ll be whiling away the hours with something a few millimetres more highbrow. Here are some of my most tried and tested holiday reads – in case there’s a sun lounger somewhere with your name on it too…
The House of Mirth
My current read, the turn of the century classic is the ultimate tale of an It girl who cannot sustain her means and her glittering lifestyle. A moral, yet stylish take on wanting more than one can afford – sounds familiar!
Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This epic, beautiful love story spans time, many miles and cultures, yet it’s enduring image of love is simply unforgettable. This novel has a permanent home in my bookcase.
Lisa & Co
Highbrow? Okay, I stand corrected, but no modern author writes a hilariously posh, naughty, delicious romp like Jilly. Her chunky novels like Riders and Rivals are good but my faves are these stories about 20-something (ahem!) spinsters who find love with big bruising hunks. Joy!
I’m just a little obsessed with the acerbic, brilliantly bitchy, elegantly executed prose, poetry, reviews and social commentary from this one-time New York socialite. This book is packed in my suitcase as we speak.
Possibly my favourite book of all time, this pre-Mad Men novel exquisitely illustrates the dystopia of mid-century suburban America and the acutely painful crumbling of a ‘perfect’ marriage. Flawlessly, discreetly vivid.
Friday, 25 June 2010
This weekend I will mostly be packing. We start our drive down to the Provence on Monday night, right after work, so my case needs to be waiting by the front door. I pride myself on my packing skills. I once won a bottle of rum during a press trip to Jamaica, because the PR didn't believe my tiny suitcase could possibly hold a different ensemble for every day of our trip. And for years my friends have referred to my suitcase as the laptop bag because it's small enough to transport technology instead of clothes! There aren't too many secrets to my talent (stubborn smugness means I refuse to take a bigger case!), but here are my tips...
I lay everything on the bed first to ensure it will all mix and match. Anything that doesn't work with the other stuff instantly gets edited out.
I pack a variety of small statement things, like patterned bikinis or tank tops, then take neutral cover-ups or shorts that work with everything.
Accessories are key, so I'll take sun hats, a few pairs of shades and vintage head scarves to add further flair.
My actual packing is rigid: shoes (wedges, running shoes, flat sandals, Havianas) go in the bottom of the case- I tuck underwear in between them.
Then I roll my clothes - from socks to sun dresses. These are then packed in two layers.
On top I place anything that I can't crinkle i.e. a blazer.
I take mini versions of toiletries (always swiped from posh hotels) in a shoulder bag- which will double as a beach bag when we arrive.
As if we needed any more excuses to ditch the bikini diet, we have homemade cakes in the GLAMOUR office on the last Friday of every month. It’s partly because there are so many great cooks among us, but also because we’re women so we love sugar and we’ll find any excuse to eat it! Today our fashion bookings editor Eleanor made this Blueberry cake, from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. It is incredible – light, tart, sweet and creamy. An insanely good summer treat. She says to tell you that the recipe below makes more than enough mixture, so only fill your cake tin 2/3 full and use the rest to make cupcakes!
Hummingbird’s Blueberry cake
350 g unsalted butter
350 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
450 g plain flour
2 tbsp + 2 tsp baking powder
280 ml soured cream
250 g fresh blueberries, plus extra to decorate
300 g icing sugar, sifted
50 g unsalted butter
125 g cream cheese, cold
Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F). Grease and dust a 25 cm ring mould.
Mix sugar and butter and cream until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time while mixing well, be sure to scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl.
Beat in the vanilla extract, flour and baking powder until well mixed.
Add the soured cream and mix well until everything is combined and the mixture is light and fluffy.
Gently stir in the blueberries by hand until evenly dispersed.
Pour the mixture into the ring mould (about 2⁄3 full) and smooth over with a palette knife or a spatula.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, until golden brown.
Leave the cake to cool slightly in the mould before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting, beat the icing sugar and butter on medium- slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed.
Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated.
Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. It can become runny, so do not overbeat.
When the cake is cold, cover the top and sides with Cream Cheese Frosting and decorate with more blueberries.
I received a darling thank you card today made by Elena Deshmukh. Her exquisite, handmade offerings often have a bird theme (alongside florals, hearts and hot air ballons), and all are embroidered with gold thread. They are too too pretty. Few things bring me as much pleasure as a beautiful card.
Thursday, 24 June 2010
It’s not like me to look ahead – I like to eek every moment out of the summer as I live for sundresses and skin-baring. But since seeing J.Crew’s fall collection, I am managing to deal a bit more with the certain fact that in two month’s time I’ll be back in sweaters. The clothes are of course, adorable (and now available in the UK on Net A Porter) but what strikes me even more is the witty, vintagey styling. Part girl scout, part country gent, I’m already inspired by the layering of shorts, camisoles and tweedy cardigans, the slouchy socks, statement belts and of course, charming hats. This kitschy combo will help me dread Autumn just a little less…
How beautiful is this striped tower of jelly and blamange? I saw it last week in the Telegraph and have been obsessing about it ever since. It was created by talented duo Bompas & Parr and is apparently know as ribband jelly (guessing is the ribbons of colour). As it’s another pudding with no eggs or nuts, it will be perfect for my French holiday, and that nostalgic wobble will be just as delightful for us adults as the two year-old we have in tow. There was also a recipe for summer berries in champagne jelly in the Telegraph piece – which I plan to make using a cheap bottle of French fizz and blackberries from the bushes. I hope I have room for my bikinis in amongst the vintage jelly moulds and sachets of gelatine!
Wednesday, 23 June 2010
To me, 3:1 Phillip Lim’s gorgeous lingerie marries modern chic and old school glamour. The hues, which are so Liz Taylor in Butterfield 8 have been worked into simple fuss-free shapes. Sheer and uncomplicated, no nonsense. But with curves poured inside, the gauzy fabric transforms into something far more wanton. Lace and frou frou is not my style, so underwear that lets your body do the talking will be top of my wish list every day.
As you know I spend a lot of time wistfully imagining I am richer than my pay cheque allows and today is no exception. This is another of my secret locations, where I go for inspiration and ‘maybe one day…” window shopping. It’s Paul Smith’s vintage furniture store on 9 Albermarle St in Mayfair. It’s a cornucopia of beautiful things, from mid-century Italian lighting (like the hip Arredoluce standard lamps with multicoloured shades) to elegant rosewood dining chairs recovered in Paul Smith floral fabric or signature stripes to quirky objet d’art like porcelain cats and fanciful paintings. Of course it’s all wildly out of my price range, but an hour of perusing sends me straight to ebay in the hope I’ll find something identical for a fraction of the price.
Tuesday, 22 June 2010
One of my fellow French adventurers Dilly, can’t eat eggs or nuts. It means she’s has the dream figure (could her bottom be any perkier?!), but it’s not easy to find treats for her to indulge in. So at the weekend I whipped up a batch of honeycomb, which is now in an airtight jar ready to join us on our trip to the Provence next week to satisfy her sweet tooth. To make this you’ll need a sugar thermometer, which you can buy at a bake shop or order online. The rest is a doddle. The most time consuming bit is hacking the hardened honeycomb out of it’s tin, but I kept any wayward shards in a separate bowl and stirred these into softened clotted cream ice cream, along with a drizzle of lavender honey, which I’ll serve tonight with raspberries at a dinner for friends. I bought a bag of this – elegantly named Cinder Toffee – at Fortnum & Mason the other day for a hostess gift. It cost a small fortune but tasted divinely old school (like a very posh Crunchie). We devoured the lot with a bottle of Sauterne. This version is an eighth of the price but just as delicious, so make a double quantity to share amongst your eternally grateful pals.
300g caster sugar
200g golden syrup
2 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 bar of organic chocolate, milk or dark
Heat the sugar syrup, water and vinegar in a largeish pan on a low heat until the sugar dissolves.
Cover pan for two minutes to ensure all the sugar on the sides of the pan has dissolved too.
Turn up the heat and let the mixture bubble furiously. Wait until the temperature measures 150 degrees (hard crack) on your sugar thermometer.
Take the pan off the heat and add the bicarb of soda (I sieve it in for an even distribution). The mixture will instantly bubble up like a volcano erupting.
As the wild bubbling slows down, give it a quick stir to ensure all the liquid has turned to a sugary froth.
Pour into a pre-greased tin and leave to cool. When it’s partially cool, score it with a greased knife to make it easier to crack apart later.
Once you have broken the honeycomb into wedges, heat the chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of water, then drop each hunk into the melted chocolate. Make sure they are covered in choc, then leave to cool and harden on greaseproof paper.
Okay, I’m a writer, so it’s no surprise that I have a bit of a book obsession, but when I stumbled on Persephone Books a few years ago, I became borderline maniacal about the sheer gorgeousness of their tomes.
Why? Let me explain:
1. They reprint neglected classics from the 20th Century, mostly by female authors.
2. The collection includes novels, short stories, diaries and cookery books – perfect present material.
3. The choices are neither chick lit, nor too mind-numbingly high-brow, they’re usually sweet, thought-provoking and timeless.
4. Every book has a simple, elegant dove-grey jacket (classy on the book shelf), but inside comes alive with a beautiful vintage fabric print, each carefully chosen to reflect the content.
Monday, 21 June 2010
I just received an invite to the English Heritage Picnic Concerts at Kenwood House in London. It’s become a bit of an annual ritual for my beau and me to whip up there in our old MG with a picnic blanket and a Fortnum and Mason wicker hamper of treats. Last year we raided the Waitrose deli counter and arrived with tubs of marinated anchovies, stuffed olives, roasted peppers and prosciutto. We hacked wedges off a lump of extra mature cheddar, piled them on French bread and smothered with homemade pickle. While the orchestra played (and I got misty eyed during Jerusalem) we drank Prosecco and nibbled strawberries in our striped deck chairs. This year we’re off to see Diana Krall. I’m planning on making an Italian Stuffed Loaf for our hamper, bringing tiny tomatoes on the vine, hardboiled quails eggs and radishes with salt, elderflower fizz and Nigel Slater’s peach, blueberry and vanilla Midsummer Cake. Yum.
Photo: the Golden Afternoon Tea Room
No, not my belly (although that is undoubtedly still going to have a slight wobble in a bikini next week), but these cutesy Marc Jacobs mouse ballet flats. A sweet beachy alternative to flip flops, they’re perfect paired with itsy bitsy high-waisted shorts or flippy skirts. I snapped up a pair in the Liberty sale (French navy with a fuzzy felt finish) and am wearing them to celebrate today's sunshine with a silk floral mini dress and a big smile.
Friday, 18 June 2010
Who wouldn't fall in love with these very fancy tea bags, especially made to celebrate Prada's new scents? The infusions of floral and spice, in their little muslin pouches complement the Tubereuse and Vetiver fragrances and also happen to look mighty elegant atop a kitchen shelf. The only Prada bag to be seen with this season!
What world cup? I don't plan on squeezing myself into a cramped pub to be assaulted with footy chants and flying beer this evening. My friday will be spent gliding through the gilded hallows of Liberty, my spiritual and sartorial home - which just so happens to have started its summer sale and be boasting a not too shabby 50% off. I've already sneaked a pre-shop peek at their website and may well be heading home with any (or all) of the above...
I know I'm late to jump on the salted caramel bandwagon, but I've decided to dedicate a post to this confectionery phenomenon nevertheless. I think the combination is particularly pleasing to a sophisticated palate (i.e. hands off kids). It's like the saltiness not only counterbalances the sweet, but enhances it too. I've trawled the web for the most calorie-worthy recipes and here they are: Mini Salted Caramel Cakes, Salted Caramel Macarons, Salted Fudge Brownies and Ladurée's Le Caramel Au Beurre Salé(heavenly atop pancakes or waffles).. Guilt-laden but gorgeous.
Thursday, 17 June 2010
There's something about a hint of salt and pepper than makes a girl weak at the knees. I think it's the suggestion that along with a sprinkling of steel comes a worldliness and manliness that is quite irresistible. It's the unwavering confidence of Jose Mourinho, the knowing twinkle of George Clooney, the innate elegance of Cary Grant. You can be assured that this is a guy who has been around the block and knows exactly what he wants. He has honed his social skills, refined his business acumen and become a master between the sheets...
One of my friends has a philosophy that you shouldn't consider a future with a male until he hits 35, because only then does he upgrade from boy to man. I fancy that it's the scattering of silver that should be the true sign.
Tallulah and Hope boast that they bring the glamour back to holiday travel with their capsule collection of quietly luxurious and breathlessly covetable kaftans, scarves, pareos and ponchos. They’re not exaggerating one bit. Inspired by the effortless style of 1930s socialite Gloria Guinness, the silk georgette kaftans and dresses come in muted shades of rose, buttermilk, teal, navy and grey and can be cinched to show off your curves with their signature suede belts. Prints range from 70’s Liberty hits and Ascher classics to quirky limited edition designs from new artists. They’re the perfect daywear in a bohemian, Palm Beachy way and with a heel and a little eyeliner have your evening attire covered too. Colour me obsessed.
Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Weirdly I’m not much of an ice cream girl. When the heat is on, I usually prefer a sorbet or a sip of something long and cold, but even I could be tempted by Gelupo, a traditional Italian gelateria, which opens tomorrow in London’s Soho. The dolce vita-inspired parlour is set to sell gelato in fancy flavours like ricotta and coffee or rice grains with cinnamon and will be serving its hazelnuts espressos until 1am. The perfect plate to end a date and indulge in a little sweet talk.
I'm having a polka dot moment. Normally I'd consider this retro trend too kitsch for even my tastes, but scattered over silk lingerie these spots are in equal measures playful and pulse-quickening. This selection from Marni and Jean Yu are made for the bedroom but I'd totally wear the pink Marni number tucked into a slinky pencil skirt too. I like that the polka dots are not too uniform - Minnie Mouse, but a little more debauched.