Monday, 30 November 2009

Winter soups 2: creamy mushroom

My need for deeply warming comfort-food continues unabated, to the point where I am dreaming about mushroom soup. I now know that I must dream in tastes, because this one was so delicious that I positively *had* to make it the very next day.

Soups are a boon to the thrifty cook. If you have an onion and some stock, you've got yourself a delicious meal for a few pence in the form of a sweet, golden onion soup. Pretty much anything else you have to hand can go in: pulses, pearl barley, some pasta and every imaginable vegetable. The possibilities are endless and will be instantly doubled if you have a liquidiser or blender.

Surgically attached to your handheld blender? Come and sit by me. Haven't got one? There's really no excuse now that you can get one for under a fiver in Argos. Considering that this would buy you approximately 1.73 cartons of that upmarket, 'fresh' soup from the supermarket, you'll practically be in profit by the end of the week.

Creamy mushroom soup:

250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
Olive or sunflower oil
A handful of flat leaf parsley
Vegetable stock
Cream or soya cream
Salt and pepper

Fry the onions until transparent. Add the mushrooms and garlic and fry until lightly browned. Add the parsley and stock and blend thoroughly until very smooth. Stir in a splurge of cream and season to taste. 

The secret to the deliciousness of this one is the browning of the mushrooms. Somehow this changes their flavour and really brings out the umami taste - that savouriness that is sometimes hard to get in veggie cooking, but which mushrooms have in abundance.

If you haven't seen the new Paper Flowers facebook page, do have a look - I've designed a new logo and everything.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

My fifteen minutes

So I made my tv debut on Friday. And what a mountain I made out of that little molehill: a select few came up to watch the world premiere: Mr and Mrs H from downstairs, Madame la Moue and little Spoddy, and Nancy and Julie. We had snackettes and pink fizz and appropriate screams were heard when my little cameo came along.

All agreed that I had suddenly developed a new, posh telly-voice. To my bottomless mortification. In fact, having just watched Emilia Fox on Channel 4, I  fear that I was just a scintilla of a constricted vowel sound away from Lilibet circa 1955. The horror.

ER as interviewed by Jonathan Maitland

I'm trying to work out how to put a clip of it on here, but in the meantime you can watch it for 28 days on ITV player here.

The other excitement of the weekend is that Paper Flowers now has an all-new facebook page. Go on, clicky clicky through and join me there. I am off to practise dropping my aitches before I am mistaken for Brian Sewell in a frock.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Crafty business

Now I know that some people still associate crafts with old ladies making hideous macrame objects with all the aesthetic appeal of lumpy porridge. So, just in case you have been living in a hole for the past few years, here is a quick newsflash: CRAFTS ARE NOW COOL.

Seriously, Madonna, SJP and Sienna have all joined the celebrity knitting craze, Kirstie Allsopp's Homemade Christmas is coming soon on Channel 4 (bated breath does not begin to cover it) and Jordan has taken up crochet.*

If any more proof were needed, the Kirstie Allsopp of East Sussex (aka my impeccably stylish friend and downstairs neighbour, Anna), hosted a craft night on Wednesday. She provided mince pies, mulled wine, paper, glue and sparkly things and we stuck and stitched and bitched to our hearts' contents.

Anna made this marvellous wreath, which now takes pride of place on our front door:

I cut out bits of fabric and stuck shiny bits on them to make some Christmas cards... well as this, um, *interesting* objet: the love child of a wreath and a mobile, to decorate the door to my flat:

But all pale into insignificance beside the exquisite cards made by Anna's mum, Lark.** Will you just look at the loveliness of these things? If I were sent one I would, without a doubt, frame it and put it on the wall:

The big news of the day is that I am going to be on telly tonight, talking about my humble freecycled flat. It's called Throwaway Future and is on ITV1 at 8pm. I will be watching from behind the (freecycled) sofa, as I fear I may sound a little flustered and silly...

* actually, I made that last one up, but she must do something to while away those hours in the jungle.
** Yes that is her real name. How great is that?

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Winter soups 1: lentil with caramelised onion, cumin and lemon

Today I am writing a lecture on Charles Saatchi, but thought I would just take a little breakie to give you a thrifty and cheering winter soup recipe. Yes, it's that classic veggie-on-a-budget standby: lentil. Wait! don't go away! This is lentil with added chic and deliciousness! Or rather with added caramelised onion, cumin and lemon. Tastes amazing; costs pennies. Trust me.

The secret of this soup is that it contains everything that turns lentils from frugal to fabulous. Lentils love garlic and they love cumin. There is something about this combination that equals utter ber-liss. Add lemon and salt, and the balance between sweet, earthy, sour and salty reaches every tastebud on your tongue. (Don't under-salt, by the way. And yes, I do know it's not the healthiest, but lentils really do need seasoning generously.) The other thing that lentils really love is a serious drink of oil. This is what transforms them from healthy-but-dull, to decadently silky and creamy comfort-food. I don't know how it works, but can only conclude that it is some form of magical alchemy.

Lentil soup with caramelised onion, cumin and lemon:*

5oz red lentils
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Sunflower oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Juice of half a lemon

Cover the lentils with water and boil till soft, skimming off any icky scum that forms on the top. Add more water if they get too thick.

Get 2cm oil very hot in a wide frying pan, separate the onion slices and add to the oil. Stir and remove when golden (you will probably have to do this in two batches). Fry the garlic slices till light-tan in colour. When the lentils are cooked to a smooth soup, add the garlic, most of the onion and some of the oil (keeping back some onion for garnishing).

Add the cumin, a pinch of salt and some of the lemon juice to the soup and adjust flavours to taste (this is the most important bit). Serve topped with the rest of the caramelised onions. Some chopped coriander is pretty yum, too.

Right, back to Mr Saatchi, Mr Hirst, and their lovely furry friends. Ah, the trials of being a vegan art historian...

* This is my own recipe, but owes much in inspiration to the wonderful Moro Cookbook. I cannot recommend the Moro restaurant, or their books highly enough if you like Spanish and Middle-Eastern food, and frankly, who doesn't?

Monday, 23 November 2009

Dum dum de dum

One last item for you from the V&A swish: it's... well it's a wedding dress.

Now, let's just get this straight from the get-go: I am more than overjoyed for all my lovely married friends, and I must admit that I do love a good wedding (such as Alex's last month, which I blubbed all the way through - it was the poems that did it. OMG the poems). HOWEVER - and this is an entirely personal feeling - I'm not at all ready to buy into an institution with more baggage than Victoria Beckham on a round-the-world trip just yet.

The wonderful India Knight describes white-dress-syndrome with devastating succinctness: 'here is my virgin daughter, she is yours now.'*

Oh no she isn't. 

So. I refuse to go weak at the knees at the first glimpse of beaded silk georgette... really I do... even if it does have the most exquisite pintuck-seamed panels... and just *happens* to fit me perfectly...

Cynical old spinster that I am, my original plan was to dye it. I was thinking grey. But I *might* just keep it for dressing up. At least for a while... Oh, come on: show me a girl who can resist playing dress-up in white chiffon and I'll show you a better feminist than I am, Gunga Din.

*I paraphrase for want of my own copy of her genius book, The Shops. Go and read it. Or even better read The Thrift Book, also by IK, also genius.

Friday, 20 November 2009


I must apologise for the abject hideousness of these photos. In my defence, they were taken at night, using the webcam on my Macbook (how could you betray me so cruelly, my precious?). I may have the face of a ninety-year-old jaundice-sufferer, but I don't care because I have the hair of Keira Knightley crossed with Kate Moss:

And yes, I *am* aware that I look less delighted with my new hairstyle and more like I am about to walk into the River Ouse with stones in my pockets, but these pics were the best of a bad bunch. And anyway I AM a depressive. Suicidal musing is my default look.

What is your verdict, dear readers, triumph or travesty?

In other excitements, tonight I went out swishing with Madame la Moue and returned with a bulging bag of swag. Ooh, I do love getting free clothes without having to risk a night in the cells for them. Photos coming soon.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Fringe festival

Do you ever become obsessed with one element of peoples' appearance, to the point where you can't look at anyone in the street without noticing it? I do this ALL THE TIME - with anything I have just bought/done or am thinking of buying/doing - jeans, handbags, shoes... and now fringes.

I have been toying with the idea of a long, heavy, blunt fringe, with the rest left long and wavyish, for  a while now. But now that it has become a full-blown fixation, I notice that with-fringe looks very young and now, while without-fringe SUDDENLY looks like the definition of 90s-hair. (So odd how it takes about a decade to be able to actually see the recognisable features of an era.) Nowhere is this more dumbfoundingly obvious than in these pics of Kate Moss:

There is something, dare I say it, sensuous *ahem* about the way luxuriant, glossy fringes fall around the eyes...

The clincher for me was this piccie of Keira Knightley's fringe as seen at the Chanel couture show. I mean, who would not want to look like this?

There is, however, one slight problema: according to Grazia (that infallible barometer of modern feminine mores), women the world over are flocking to their hairdressers, torn magazine pages in hand, asking for The Keira Fringe. This is *not* good news. Having lived through (and assiduously avoided) the Jennifer Aniston 'Rachel', the Victoria Beckham 'pob', the Agyness Deyn crop, and too many others to mention, I have no desire to start doing 'it' hair now.

And then it hit me: I got there first. Having always had an uncanny fashion-sixth-sense, it should come as no surprise that I was totally working this look as a six-year-old living on top of a hill in Wales circa 1983:

So tomorrow I am going for the chop. Stay tuned to see whether this is a style disaster (as predicted by, let's see, oh yes, EVERYONE I have asked), or a triumph (as predicted by yours truly).

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

More loot

Okay, I promised to show you some more of the loot I bagged at the V&A swish, so here goes. How about my outfit for today, these navy Anne Klein slouchy pinstripe trousers and this Soft Grey blue cotton wrapover shirt (worn here avec red suedette ballet pumps)?

Pas mal for a completely free outfit, non? I also picked up a couple of useful camisoles, two summer skirts and a Dee-vine-with-a-capital-Dee silk halterneck top (picture coming soon). Oh, and one other thing, but I'll keep you in suspense on that one for just a little while longer...

Edit: Good grief I look miserable in this one. Actually, I wasn't at all - I think that must be my concentrating face. Also, apologies if my photography is making you feel seasick. Note to self: must add new camera angles to repertoire asap.

Monday, 16 November 2009


Well, I made it to the mega-swish at the V&A on Saturday (eventually, but that's another story). Here is a little sample of the loot I walked away with: a handbag from Kew, which I love. L.O.V.E.  To the extent that I actually, no word of a lie, slept with it on my pillow on Saturday night. This reminds me of being a child, when I always used to sleep with new shoes next to the bed, so they would be the first thing I saw when I woke in the morning. Who am I kidding, I still do this. A lot.

Isn't it just the perfect shade of conker-brown? It is divinely soft, perfectly worn in and its zips and rivets and pockets make it feel beautifully authentic in a practical-yet-stylish way. Love it.

More loot coming soon, but now I must recover from my first day in my new job. It's tough out there being an eco-spy...

Friday, 13 November 2009

Font Squirrel

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that Paper Flowers has a spectabulous new header.* What do you think, dear readers: an improvement? I designed it using the simpleton-proof Pages programme for Mac (not a day goes by when I do not thank the universe for my beloved Macbook). Even with Apple, however, the standard fonts tend to be rather ho-hum, so I was overjoyed to stumble across Font Squirrel, a marvellous site with hundreds of fonts that you can download for free. I have to admit that I have gone a bit mad over them and used three in the new header and no fewer than four to make this poster for my friend Madame la Moue:

You could use them to zhuzh up your blogs, websites, posters, anything you might possibly want to design, really. They are helpfully categorised into handdrawn, retro, typewriter and many more and would be fab for wedding or party invitations or even Christmas cards.

Right, I am going to batten down the hatches now and settle in for the big storm that I can already hear brewing. There is only one place to be on a stormy night in England in November: in bed with a cup of tea, a hot-water bottle and Miss Marple. Nighty night...

* Spectabulous is too a word.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Zara coat

Right, I am back after a few days away from the interwebnet while les parents were staying (incidentally, is my mum the only woman who would use the 'Holiday Skin' body lotion sitting by the bathroom sink as hand cream for a week before noticing that her palms had developed what the bottle calls 'a beautiful, even tan'? I think so).

On Saturday, I came back from London with this divine new Zara coat (seen here avec white poppy, naturellement):

Things I love about this coat:

1. The understated-yet-luxe oyster colour
2. The 60s-style swing cut
3. The concealed pockets
4. The Nehru collar
5. The sleeves (which are sort of raglan, but with a seam down, if you see what I mean)
6. The open-weave, boucle wool

Things I am not yet convinced about: the unusual cuffs. What would you call these I wonder? Bell? Ruffled? What do you think?

New coat on outing to National Trust property: don't you just love having parents to stay?

At £79.99, I would call this coat positively bargainous. Okay, so it wasn't swished or recycled, but it *will* keep me stylishly toasty for years, so price-per-wear will work out at about 0.001p, which makes it practically free, surely?

In other developments, I was relieved to discover yesterday that I am still, in fact, a genius, as evidenced by my shiny new MA with distinction in Environment, Development and Policy. To heap thrillingness upon thrillingness, on Monday I will be starting an internship as an eco-spy with undercover investigative research agency Ecostorm (yes, this job title *was* my own invention). It's only temporary, though, so if you know anyone who needs an environmental researcher/stylist/spy/genius, let me know.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Wearing white

Today I will be wearing a white poppy as a symbol of remembrance and of hope for a more peaceful future. White poppies have been worn since 1933, when they were first produced by the Co operative Women's Guild with the intention of decoupling remembrance from its military culture.

An article in yesterday's Guardian suggests that the mainstream interpretation of remembrance has moved away from its original aim of preventing the horrors of war from ever being allowed to happen again, and has recast the dead as soldiers in just conflicts. Today, the politicians who led us into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will lay wreaths at the Cenotaph, while to question the pervasive pressure to wear the red poppy is seen as perversely offensive.

This is not a political blog and I have nothing against those who make a considered choice to wear the red poppy, in fact I have often worn red and white together myself. This Remembrance Sunday, however, falls during a disastrous period for British troops in Afghanistan, with seven soldiers killed in the past week alone. For me, therefore, it is important to stand up and wear my white poppy for all those who have been affected by war: military and civilian, British and non-British, families and children, soldiers and conscientious objectors.

I thought I would leave you with this painting by Georgia O'Keefe: Poppies, 1950, to brighten up a grey Remembrance Sunday.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Bonfire night biscuits

Bonfire night in Lewes is bigger than Christmas. Like several gazillion times bigger. My fabby Rough Guide to the World (subtitle: make the most of your time on Earth - how very galvanising) has it down as one of the 1000 ultimate travel experiences, and calls it 'one of the eccentric English's most irresponsible, unruly and downright dangerous festivals'. Yesterday, 50, 000 people were expected to fill the streets of a town which is usually home to just 16, 000 souls.

I am fantastically fortunate in that the bonfire societies, carrying flaming torches, throwing bangers and running with burning barrels, go right past my sitting room windows (fortunate, that is, in the loose sense of having hundreds of over-excited pyromaniacs let loose with as many explosives and inflammable substances as they can carry in the immediate vicinity of my home).

So last night I fired up the mulling pan and announced an open house. My mum, who has been staying over the festivities, invented these biscuits, which were so delicious that they literally prompted offers of marriage from friends male and female alike. So I thought I would give you the recipe as a special bonfire weekend treat:

Honeycomb-topped ginger biscuits:

4 oz butter or margarine
2 oz sugar
5 oz self-raising flour
2 tsp golden syrup
2 tsp ground ginger
A few pieces of cinder toffee (the honeycomb stuff in the middle of Crunchie bars. We got ours from Julian Graves).

Cream together the butter and sugar and slowly mix in the other ingredients. Put in the fridge for 10 minutes, then form into walnut sized balls and place on a greased baking sheet, pressing them down gently with the prongs of a fork to create ridges. Bake in a moderate oven until golden brown (approx. 5-10 mins). Place on a wire rack to cool.

Crush cinder toffee and sprinkle over the top.

Sit back and wait for the proposals to roll in.

The only part of the Lewes bonfire celebrations I can't say I care for is the residual yet pervasive anti-Catholic sloganising. What with the Cockatrice household being so ecumenical, multicultural and politically correct and all. Here is a taster of what I mean: this banner, proclaiming 'No Popery', is put up just outside my house (in fact you can *just* see a tiny corner of my window at the very bottom of the photo).

So, in the spirit of tolerance, woolly liberals and hearts and flowers all round, I propose a teensy revision of the slogan. The elegance of my plan (which revealed itself to me in a flash of inspiration) is that it encapsulates a credo of contemporary design every bit as catchy as 'chuck out your chintz', while leaving the original phonetics nigh-on untouched...

So come on internet, let this be our mantra as we strive to make the world a less prejudiced, more stylish place. Say it loud, and say it proud: 'no potpourri'.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

V&A Swish

I am ludicrously excited about the Restyling and Refashioning clothes swap at the V&A on 14th November, which promises to be a swish of the very highest class.

It will be part of a whole day of fabulousness themed around sustainability: ethical wardrobe consultant Elizabeth Laskar will be refashioning women's wardrobes using vintage, and for the chaps there will be talks on men's vintage and a workshop on how to tailor suit pieces to your fit.

But the bit that makes me faint with anticipation just to think about it is the swap. While my swish was an alcohol-fuelled, glorified jumble sale, this one will have stylists on hand to advise and refashion your loot and even a whole separate vintage section. Imagine! And best of all, the whole thing is FREE. I cannot wait.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Freecycle faux pas

Last week I popped over to see a house being made-over for a tv programme using furniture from freecycle. Co ordinating this transformation is eco-designer Oliver Heath (now stay calm, girls). I was dropping off some bits and bobs that I had sourced for them and was shown round by Oliver himself. And then, well... then I turned into a drivelling idiot.

Why is it that when I'm nervous I find it impossible to stop myself saying the first thing that comes into my head, however ill-considered, inappropriate or just plain rude it is? Is there a little homunculus sitting in my brain who just lets any old rubbish through the quality control department at the first sign of stress? Cast aspersions on your friend's parking skills? Why not? Question the taste of a respected tv-star-interior-designer? Go right ahead, eat your heart out. In fact, why not drive home your point by expressing disbelief at his poor judgement? Oh yes I did.

Heath was particularly pleased with a white leather sofa, which is dangerous territory at the best of times. When it has been, um, 'pre-loved', shall we say, the white leather sofa is the design equivalent of Marmite: you either love it, or, like me, the first thing that comes out of your mouth is, 'It's vile.'


He assured me that it would be cleaned and covered with cushions and yet... I wasn't convinced. Now, what I wanted to convey was an offer to help him find something slightly, well, nicer. What came out was the rather more confrontational: 'Are you happy with this?' And then in response to a surprised nod, 'Really?'

Somebody shoot me. Please.

So, just to show that I know Oliver Heath has impeccable design-sense, really I do, I thought I'd give you a taste of the aesthetic he calls 'urban eco chic', from the book and blog of the same name. It's characterised by the use of natural textures, as seen in this luxurious contemporary bathroom...

...and in the reclaimed wood (something of a signature) used in this bedroom:

Along with the natural, Heath sees the introduction of vintage elements and the use of cleaner technologies as the key elements of this aesthetic. I do admire the way this philosophy strives to make design meaningful though connections with the past and with nature.

See the urban eco chic blog for some great tips and extracts from the book (and for photos of him windsurfing. Yes, you did read that right) and visit Heath's online store, ecocentric, for sustainable homewares, many of which are designed by him.

When I got home, I realised that I'd stepped in one of the many trays of white paint that were lying around the site (in my new boots, dammit). I guess I'm just good at putting my foot in it.