Monday, 29 November 2010

Breakfast of Champions

As any mother or sponsored sporting champion will tell you, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. To say I agree with this is an almighty understatement. I worship at the altar of breakfast. For me, there’s nothing better than getting the ball rolling with some porridge, made with soya milk and sprinkled with linseed and a pinch or three of salt. And even if that makes me sound like a Gillian McKeith crazy, it really is very delicious – although when pressed, I’d probably prefer a bowl of Coco Shreddies, shoved in the microwave until steaming hot and slurpable.

The rise and shine of breakfast is buoyant with promise: a new day, a clean slate of calories to consume. Start with fruit and huzzah, how healthy you are! And also, double huzzah, that means you can have a KitKat later too. Accidentally inhale six rounds of buttered toast and jam? Ah well, you can make amends at lunch with a stick of celery or something - anything is forgivable in the first light of morning.

Just as you can judge a person by their choice of breakfast (cereal bar eaters, that's aimed at you), so is it an excellent litmus test for when you're travelling. The easiest way to get a feel for a place is to take a look at what it eats first thing. In L.A. it’s an egg-white omelette. In Florida, a four-egg omelette with a side order of pancakes. Go to Japan and you’ll wake up to grilled eel and miso soup. And Britain? A schizophrenic split between a polite saucer of cornflakes and a Full English fry-up. 

Happily, I’ve recently discovered someone who shares my obsession with morning meals. Simply Breakfast, a photo blog by Jennifer Causey, is pure bliss to browse through. Every dish is beautifully composed on warped wood tables in an unashamedly kitsch manner, all printed tea towels and mismatched farmers' market crockery. Perfect for a little mid-morning eye candy, although beware of second-breakfast cravings. Hey ho, there’s always elevenses...

A few of my favourites:






http://simplybreakfast.blogspot.com/

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Perfumery


Our sense of smell is the most evocative power we possess. A familiar fragrance can conjure up memories in ways that merely seeing or hearing can’t - it's got that je ne sais quoi quality that brings you instantly to the scene of the crime. The smell of Horlicks is for me, oddly, inextricably linked to The Hobbit, thanks to the fact my father used to read it to me as a child over a hot mug of that malty bedtime drink. When I lift the lid of a tin of Horlicks powder, I am immediately transported to old Bilbo Baggins and his band of dwarves. Seriously, Horlicks just is The Hobbit.
And so it is with a person’s perfume. As you get to know someone their scent becomes slowly entwined with the very essence of their being. We’ve all had that uncanny experience of walking past a stranger who uses the same fragrance as your best friend or grandma - a sudden flash of familiarity is just as quickly replaced with a disarming sense of mistaken identity. A person and their perfume are bound together as one in the mind: the perfume becomes the wearer and the wearer the perfume. 
The Internet informs me that the word perfume is derived from the Latin per fumus, ‘through smoke’, relating to its ritualistic origins of burning incense and herbs. Of course I read that and thought jackpot! How beautifully poetic! But on second thoughts, that’s the exact opposite of what it should stand for. Perfume isn’t a smoke screen, disguising the wearer - I think of it more as a distillation of self. And you need to make sure to bottle yourself correctly, if you see what I mean. 
With this in mind, when I fancied a change and chose not to restock my old faithful Etra by Etro eau de toilette when it ran out, I knew it would be an Extremely Important Task finding a new signature scent that I could stand side by side with for the next few years. 
Charged with such a personal quest, sometimes it’s good to stick with what you know - there’s an alarmingly wide array of fragrances out there to choose from (case in point: the new Justin Bieber offering). Returning home to the familial bosom, I raided my mother’s dressing table and quickly made her room smell like a hot-boxed bordello spraying and sniffing all the scents she had collected over the years. Just when I thought I was going to pass out from the fumes I picked up Shaal Nur by Etro (what can I say, we’re an Etro family). Smoky and spicy, like an intense, exotic incense with undertones of vanilla and rosemary– that is how I want to smell on wintery nights spent sheltering from the cold. And, of course, it reminds me of my Mum, which gives it a particularly comforting potency.


But what about for day? Shaal Nur’s slow-burning spiciness is strictly an evening affair. After being urged by a colleague to try Diptyque’s Philosykos, a fig-based perfume that she swears by, I skipped off to Liberty’s perfume hall to give it a sniff. And ten minutes later, I skipped out again, fifty quid poorer and one new signature scent richer. It is so very lovely. The first few minutes smell smooth and sweet on the skin, and then the fig notes mellow into what I can only describe as a damp forest, all leafy and luscious. Inhaling it fully, there’s a sudden pang in my stomach that makes me think of home. Not in a warm and nostalgic way like Shaal Nur, but more a feeling of deep solidity and stableness. I know – who would have thought a perfume could give you all that? I’m sold.
P.S. If you’re thinking of buying a new perfume, then I can heartily recommend the ever-enjoyable fragrance review blog Now Smell This to help you along the way.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Black Holes and Handbags

A theory: my handbag exists outside of the laws of physics. Forget those Large Hadron Collider glory hunters with their ‘beginning of the Universe’ and ‘God particle’ chat, this is truly groundbreaking stuff.

No matter what I'm looking for, be it my phone or some eyeliner, as soon as my hand delves into my bag it instantly disappears into a hidden black hole, leaving in its wake some raggedy receipts and rogue pellets of gum. Only after a prerequisite panic period of five minutes spent scrabbling on my knees does the offending item very suddenly and nonchalantly reappear in a dusty corner, entangled in my iPod earphones and unsettlingly sticky.

It also produces objects in exact accordance to how little I am in need of them at that current moment in time:

‘I'd like a lip balm please handbag.’
‘Here, have three lighters and a conker.’ 

‘Shit! Where's my Oyster card?’ 
‘Who knows! But how about an Istanbul travel guide instead?’

Seriously, what are the chances? My current bag is so small in dimensions that I have purposefully put off buying the latest David Mitchell novel because there’s no way I can carry that bible of a book around until it’s released in paperback form. Yet still! Still I find it’s a lucky dip of discovery. Surely I can't be alone in this physical phenomenon? I'm reminded of a particularly excellent passage from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where a young student theorises that somewhere, somehow, there must be an entire planet given over to lost biros that have quietly slipped away from their inattentive owners through wormholes in space. If any unemployed scientist would like to look into the similar problem of black holes in handbags and come up with a solution then a very popular geek I'm sure they’d be.

Spot the difference:

Céline Classic black box bag (I wish)


All-consuming black hole


Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Kitchen Confidential

Watching Nigella Lawson’s new BBC series is like foreplay for your inner fatty. Who doesn't enjoy seeing her tiptoe down to the fridge in the middle of the night, chow down a slice of peanut-butter cheesecake and then slink back upstairs to sleep, all whilst alluringly wrapped in a silk dressing gown and looking like a 1950s screen siren? Her ability to be at once both greedy and glamorous is undeniably engaging. 
What appeals about Nigella is not her food, although it always does look very delicious, but the delight she takes in cooking and eating it. The orgasmic eye rolls, the button-bursting voluptuousness of those cashmere twinsets and her fondness for tasting sauces with a saucily dipped finger are all so satisfying to behold. And beyond this wonderful watchability it’s her language, the pre-prandial pillow talk, which really seals the deal.
Tune into an episode of Nigella Kitchen and listen, just LISTEN to how she wallows in words! Such smut! Every utterance is rolled rapturously around the tongue, sounding as plentiful as her plate. Not for Nigella the straight and narrow of the metric system: she measures in dollops, drops, handfuls and heaped spoonfuls, conjures up golden, glistening and silky sauces and feasts gleefully upon self-named recipes such as “Slut’s Spaghetti” (yes, really).

Such prose aims deeper than Jamie Oliver’s pukka proclamations – Nigella really seems to feel the flavours, and rather poetically too. Her black squid ink risotto for example, a recipe taken from a favourite Oscar Wilde novel, reminds her of a “primeval soup” that “smells of the sea, like some deep experience long ago”. Half of the pleasure she finds in food is through describing it, and it’s this delayed gratification, the lingering love letter she writes to each dish before devouring it that makes living - well, eating - vicariously through her so effortlessly enjoyable. 

How was it for you?


Monday, 22 November 2010

Secret Handshakes


This season’s love affair with all things classic and clean-cut shows no sign of waning, so it’s no wonder the world of fashion has created what I like to call, in very important capitals, ‘The Secret Handshake of Style’ (SHS for short).

It goes a little something like this: amongst a sea of seasonless camel coats, simple cashmere knits and discreet leather handbags, where’s the elbow room to stand out and be counted? How do you so much as whisper “I’m not actually just untrendy and vanilla, this is FASHION yeah?” without stepping outside of the minimalist mindset altogether?

The answer lies in the SHS. Fashionista turned Freemason, a series of subtle, mutually recognisable signs of sartorial flair have emerged over the past few seasons to flag up a classic yet still fashion-conscious wardrobe. A top knot here, a Chanel-polished fingernail there, the glinting gold ‘Y’ of a YSL black leather belt - they all signal insider trading. This sounds terribly cliquey and Heathers-esque, but really it’s one of the most democratic trends to date. Gone are the practical difficulties of harem pants, jumpsuits and ugh, clogs - autumn’s simplified styles make looking stylish equally as simple: just roll up a cuff, or a sleeve (just roll up anything to be honest), add a skinny belt and hey presto, you’re basically Alexa Chung.

And my new favourite of these twiddly-thumb secret handshakes? A flash of bright orange. If this season’s colour combination of choice is camel and red, then for spring/summer 2011 it has to be white and orange.

Outside of fashion, what is orange other than fluorescent cycling jackets and Tango? Behind closet doors however, that ripe shade of tangerine heralds Hermès. Seen at Jil Sander, Antonio Berardi, J.Mendel and even offered at the altar of Céline, a slice of citrus orange is the freshest way to make an outfit look ‘fashion’. And, more importantly, and particularly when worn against white, it looks beautiful to boot. So invest in a calypso-coloured belt, shoe or scarf, pair with a matching peaches and cream complexion (a tan should be avoided to shake off all WAG-like connotations), and therein lies spring/summer 2011, a Solero ice lolly of loveliness, just waiting to be unwrapped. 



Céline

J.Mendel

Antonio Berardi

Jil Sander


Friday, 19 November 2010

The DKNY Cozy

Now I know Donna Karan is meant to be The Creator of all things easy and elegant in womenswear, but having spent two months attempting to wear one of her DKNY Cozy cardigans, I beg to differ. They have a long, draped open front that you’re meant to be able to tie in all manners of different fashions, and in the process your life will be transformed forever etc with its AMAZING VERSATILITY. Except I can’t seem to master the initial effortless styling phase. I knot it like this and twist it like that and it just looks all lumpy and lost, or I let it hang loose and it flaps between my legs as I walk like an over-excited puppy.

But all is not lost. For I have discovered an even better use for the Cozy. Just imagine: you’re sitting on the sofa after a long hard day at work, it’s raining outside, the heating isn’t working and keeps on making haunted house noises and ohh don’t your arms feel cold reaching for the remote? Never fear. Go get your Cozy, slip it on back to front and wrap the indecipherable drapey bits around your person. Yes! It’s the fashionista’s Slanket! Mine is now an essential part of my soft furnishings. You’re right Donna, it truly is a versatile wardrobe piece. Thank you. 

Spot the difference:




L'Artisan du Chocolat

Following on from yesterday’s sweet versus savoury debate, here’s something that combines the best of both worlds: L’Artisan du Chocolat’s No9 Salted Caramels with lemongrass. Buy them for me (not that that’s a hint or anything) and most likely I'll give you a quick yet emotional hug of gratitude and then RUN AWAY and eat them all to myself, such is their power.



Originally created for Gordon Ramsay’s at Claridges, these mouth-watering little marbles have since been expanded into a range of gastro-friendly flavours like balsamic vinegar, spiced fig and pink pepper, and believe me, lemongrass is the best. A muffled dusting of dark-chocolate cocoa powder explodes as you bite into the oozing liquid caramel centre, sweet yet chastened with sea salt. And then! The lemongrass! That little zesty note adds just the right amount of fizz to an already amazing mini mouthful. I defy you not to eat at least three at once. Or ten. Just me?

And they’ve used my namesake No9 to label them – it was definitely meant to be.

P.S. I’ve just noticed a new ‘coming soon’ flavour on the L’Artisan du Chocolat website for Kinako, i.e. roasted ground soybean. Be still my beating heart.

Sweetness and Light

Don’t try and deny it: every girl likes sweet, pretty things in sweet, pretty boxes - especially if it involves macaroons. And yeah, I adore those darn delicious little confections too, mainly because you can get away with calling them ridiculous colours like ‘iced mint’ and ‘petal pink’ and oh I don’t know, ‘Bird's custard yellow’, which is a wonderfully indulgent exercise for any writer.


But what’s even better than sweet and pretty? SAVOURY and pretty! Nothing is more pleasing than eating something visually delightful that isn’t dessert. There’s none of that predictable sugariness you get with cakey creations where they taste exactly like what they look like, all pastel and perfect. With savoury, a plate of prettiness is balanced by unexpected, opposing flavours that are far more satisfying than a syrupy end. So I'd take a box of Gion sushi over macaroons any day of the week. 

Let me explain.

In Tokyo, the sushi is BIG: fat rolls of nigiri are served with surprise smears of wasabi hidden between the tongues of fish and just-warm rice. They are of course amazing, but unless you can master the native trick of biting them in half without the whole turning into a ricey rubble then the only way to eat them is all in one, down the hatch and hope for the best. So you stuff your face with this sushi and feel really, really greedy but also really, really happy because it is all so DELICIOUS. But by gahd, it’s so not pretty. 

In Kyoto however, sushi is an altogether more elegant affair. In order for geisha to remain the most delicate and lovely creatures ever created (god help them), sushi evolved in the geisha district of Gion to perfectly fit their tiny, painted mouths. Here you are presented with a wooden box, inside of which you discover 12 beautiful, bite-sized pieces of temari sushi, where soft slices of pearlescent bream and crimson tuna have been wrapped around little spheres of rice. Pop one in your mouth like an infinitely more wonderful Lindor truffle and you can relish it without the rice making a run for it down your chin. The fresh, fleshy fish and pretty-as-a-patisserie presentation come together perfectly as one, yin and yang. Bliss.

Temari sushi in Gion: they probably don't do takeout
So beat that, bonbons and biscuits and cupcakes and cookies. Go suck on some sushi instead.
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