Friday, 26 February 2010

Through the keyhole: Rachael's studio

Today I have a special treat for you on Paper Flowers: a peek through the keyhole of the studio of super-talented artist Rachael Plummer.

Rachael has the rare ability of creating a distinctive atmosphere wherever she lays her hat (and some very nice hats she has too - appropriately enough for the granddaughter of a miliner). This comes in very handy when fitting out a studio on a budget:

Click below for more gorgeous photos.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

10 Peggy Mitchells

These are my valentine's day roses from the beautiful Egyptian, still going strong over a week later. 

I am still in the process of getting to grips with my new camera. I took these under artificial light, but think I must have had it on the wrong setting, so when I tried to adjust the colours, they suddenly took on that powdery-primitive look of 1950s greetings cards. And, you know what? I actually rather like it:

The vase is a genuine 1950s survivor. I found it on the £1 stall outside my local antiques shop - quel amazing bargain?

So much for modern technology eh? My camera has 10 mega-pixels (or 10 Peggy Mitchells, as Mrs H calls them, after a fabulous spoonerism by her brother); in the end though, it's the human error that adds the element of charm.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Easy homemade pitta

Here, as promised, is a recipe for homemade pitta bread. It's actually my mum's recipe, and is super easy and quick to make.

Like my mum, I'm not a great one for measurements when cooking, so I must apologise if I'm not terribly precise with this one. Fortunately, this doesn't matter in the slightest here, as these seem to work perfectly whether I am heavy handed with the yeast, or have to use the last few grains left in the packet.

You don't even have to let the dough rise if you don't have time - they really are almost as nice. Alternatively, you can leave it to rise overnight in the fridge and use after a day or even two.

Easy homemade pitta
strong white bread flour ( I find the extra-strong 'bakers' grade' ones work best)
instant action dried yeast

Of course it's always a bonus if you have a willing assistant:


This is the six-year-old fruit of Madame la Moue's loins, Danny (or Spoddy, Spodule, Monsieur la Piche or Mr Moomoo. Poor lamb).

Click below for the full recipe after the jump. 

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Sudanese aubergine dip

This recipe was given to me by my lovely Sudanese friend EB. It is called aswada: aswad means black in Arabic, and is the Sudanese word for aubergine* because of its black skin. This dip is a cousin to babaghanoush, but with peanut and lime in place of tahina and lemon. It should be sharp and zingy and very garlicky.

On Friday I had some of my absolute favourite ladies over for supper: Madame la Moue, Mrs Madeira, Mrs H, Madame Pantalon and me Julie. This went down very nicely with a glass of wine as a pre-dinner snack.

1 medium aubergine
1 dessert spoon smooth peanut butter
juice of 1 lime
1 clove garlic
1 tsp ground cumin

Cut the aubergine lengthways into 1-2cm-thick slices. Fry them in sunflower oil until buttery soft, trying not to brown too much. You will probably need to do this in a couple of batches.

Cut the skin off the edges and roughly chop the flesh. Meanwhile crush the garlic with salt in a pestle and mortar.

Add the cumin, lime juice and peanut butter and a little water to the garlic to make a loose paste.

Mix peanut dressing with the chopped aubergine and mash with a fork to make a chunky dip, adding more water to loosen if necessary. Season to taste.

Maybe it's not the prettiest appetiser in the world, but it might just be the most delicious... Serve with warm bread - I served mine with homemade pitta (recipe for which I will post tomorrow), olives and hummous. And plenty of vino, obvs.

Julie and Mrs H sample my aswada (just seen in bottom LH corner. Apols for drying washing in background...).

Variation: to serve this as a salad, slice the fried aubergine into ribbons and dress with the sauce. Do not mash.

*or eggplant, if you are in North America.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Marc Jacobs skirt

This is a Marc Jacobs skirt in orange floral silk chiffon with mink velvet bows that I snaffled at the Brighton swish on Saturday:

Question: precisely how delightful is this skirt? Answer: heart-stoppingly delightful.

Today, however, I am all about the comfort factor, so am wearing a softer-than-a-baby-rabbit's-tummy grey cashmere v-neck, which came from yesterday's swish, thanks to Madame la Moue's mum. Little Harry gave this the seal of approval earlier this afternoon when he fell asleep on me while Mrs H ate her lunch. *Cue low drone of aching ovaries.*

Elsewhere, you can see another of my glamourous desks over on Desk Diaries. Madame la Moue has posted a new one too.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Today's loot

Today's clothes swap at uni saw a throng of happy swishistas going home delighted with completely free new outfits. Madame la Moue and I decided to do a little photoshoot to show you some of our loot:

I wear: skirt, Et Vous, from Saturday's Brighton swish; silk and cotton mix blouse, Gap, also from Saturday's swish; cardigan, Miss Selfridge (bought for actual money); vintage belt from today's swish (thanks to Mrs L-P); bootees, Clarks, from today's swish (thanks to Therese la Tease); tights M&S (also actually paid for).


Madame la Moue wears: silk blouse, Warehouse, from today's swish; tulip pinstripe skirt, Rene Derhy, from a previous swish (thanks to Mrs H); shoes, Clarks, from Mrs Fitzpatrick's swish.


Madame la Moue's outfit as above, with the addition of vintage jacket, Bobbi by Selectus, from previous swish (thanks to Rachel); bangle, Accessorize, from previous swish (thanks to yours truly).


Just HOW chic are we? And all for free! Can you believe it?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Little swish of horrors

Oh my goodness, on Saturday I went to the most hideous swish in Brighton. I got there to find that there was a points system in operation: 5 points for 'high street small', 10 for 'high street large', thirty for vintage and SIXTY for designer. I had only brought *three* things, all of which were judged by the narrow-eyed swish-mistress on the desk as 'high street small' (despite my protests: 'but they're vintage!' 'Well if you're not happy you can always take them back.' 'Oh, right, because then I won't be able to take anything.').

I nearly cried. All the best stuff was out of my reach. An invisible barrier had been set up between those who had brought designer (and could therefore leave with designer), who clutched their green raffle tickets as if they bore the winning Euromillions numbers, and those who had brought high street, ashamedly hiding our pink tickets in our Primark-bought pockets. If only they'd told us in advance. I could at least have brought more.

To make matters worse, the whole thing was quite clearly a vehicle for the organisers to promote their businesses. I'm afraid I left for a consoling soya latte during the 'which colour season are you' session. It may have been excellent, but having been told off twice for merely looking at the clothes rails, by this point I had lost the will to carry on breathing.

During the half-hour of looking (after which everything had to be put back), all remaining goodwill in the room ebbed away, to be replaced by downright rebelliousness. Several swishers asked if they could take things that they didn't have enough points for if no one else wanted them at the end. 'No, we're taking everything that's left to the charity shop', came the stern reply. Now hang on one clothes-swapping minute, charity shops are great, but we brought this stuff out of the goodness of our hearts, to be shared with other swishers, not to be claimed and confiscated by the uncompromising swish-mistresses.

Then came the talk from the nutritionist. Tip: never trust an overweight nutritionist. Especially when she tells you that the equinox is the best time to detox and spouts pseudo-scientific nonsense about not eating too much fruit because it makes the body too acidic (huh?). Glances were exchanged, eyes were rolled and a low muttering broke out; the nutritionist, sensing impending mutiny, cut her spiel short.

There followed the kind of frenzy usually seen at feeding time in the piranha tank. Women who had been made to wait two and a half hours for free clothes descended in search of items that six other people also had their eyes on, and predictable chaos ensued.

Before my very eyes, a fascinating phenomenon began to emerge. As clothes were claimed and pink tickets cashed in, I noticed that the designer items, with their green tickets, were being left behind as unaffordable. It seemed such a shame that they should all be left to the swish-mistresses.

So how did Cockatrice manage to leave with a Marc Jacobs skirt, Jaeger top, Nicoli handbag (picture below - more to come, I promise) and numerous other gorgeous bits? I couldn't possibly say, except to point out that if you decide to make green tickets your highest currency denomination, it might be best not to go pinning that currency all over the things you want people to exchange it for...

I submit myself to your judgement, merciful readers: shameless dishonesty, or ingenious lateral thinking? The verdict is on your hands.

p.s. For an alternative view of this event, check out the excellent Words on the Topic, who actually liked the rules! Ah well, horses for courses I suppose...

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Ebay addiction

My ebay addiction continues unabated and now I have got Madame la Moue hooked as well. Here, to give you an idea of the scale of the problem, is yesterday's conversation between MLM and me over email (rearranged so not in backwards order and with Cockatrice and Madame la Moue indicated so as not to confuse you):

[Edit: have just realised that these might seem not to make sense at one point because the emails crossed in cyberspace.]

(N.B. all purchases shown in these emails were 99p)

From: Sarah Maddox
Sent: Wed, February 10, 2010 11:53:27 AM
Subject: Clothes swap  

MLM: Good morning Madame. Can you email me the poster please so we can advertise. 

C: Okay Mrs, what do you think of this? Can change colours if you want. 

MLM: OMG I LOVE it so much I can hardly breathe. I ADORE IT.

Who left that message on your blog re Peach cobbler? Also that bag I got from Ebay is tiny.  It like the bag I thought I wanted but in miniature.  Am not happy.


On 10 February 2010 04:44 -0800 Leila McKellar wrote:  


Womens Shoes Size 4uk 37eur  

MLM: OMG you are an addict.  And also WHAT A BARGAIN. 

C: Ya - we have crossed messages. I have a fab strategy - only search for things under £2, then am not tempted to spend too much money. Good no?

Leila McKellar
To: Sarah Maddox
Sent: Wed, February 10, 2010 1:32:05 PM
Subject: Re: Clothes swap

C: No idea who wrote that comment - some psychopath, looks like. It wasn't you, was it?

How funny about your bag (in a disappointing way, obvs). What do you think of my shoes? They are Monsoon.  

MLM: ya ya ya. Shoes are lovely. 99p thing is a fab idea. I must do that.  My miniature bag is a bit twee for my use I think but will probably use as now £25 or whatever it was sounds like A LOT for something I don't really want.

I was the mystery cobbler person - made myself laugh out loud as I was doing it actually.

I have a very clever comment to make about the African prints actually. Do you know those type of prints were originally exported from Europe and the African people liked them and now everyone thinks of them as African? 

C: You mad psycho - I should have known really.

Yes I did know that! Have you been reading Views of Difference Mrs... Yes, do leave that as a comment - will make whole blog seem more erudite. 

MLM: Ah yes that is where I must have read it.  Thanks for reminding me. Did you think the comment re Peach cobbler was funny? What about Danny's comment about the Cheese making industry? 

C: Yes, you and Spoddy are both insaniacs. Did you find out what cheese he was making?


On 10 February 2010 06:16 -0800 Leila McKellar wrote: 

C: Have just won a gap jumper for 99p. MUST STOP NOW. 

MLM: AND you are doing Ebay speak i.e WON.  As you keep reminding me you have not WON it you have PAID FOR IT. Photo of jumper please. Elaine has some nice things for the swap you will want.


Gap grey lambswool ladies jumper small  

MLM: I am going 99p shopping now. What do you put in to search? 

C: I don't put anything in the search box - just choose women's clothing and put £0-£2 in the price boxes and tick my sizes, then order by time left. Don't do it Mrs, you will end up with loads of stuff you didn't mean to buy. I put in a load of 99p bids last night and keep getting emails today saying I have won them all...


From: Leila McKellar
To: Sarah Maddox
Sent: Wed, February 10, 2010 2:57:17 PM
Subject: You've won this eBay item: Vila Print Dress Size Small


MLM: weird.  You will carry it off though am sure. Actually it will cost you £3.99 of course. 

C: Have just discovered even better way of 99p shopping: do everything and then tick only the brands you like.  

MLM: Oh God why did you tell me about it?  Is addictive.  Have bid on 2 things but have closed it down now.  

C: SO addictive. 


From: Leila McKellar 
Sarah Maddox
Sent: Wed, February 10, 2010 6:15:06 PM
Subject: Fw: You've won this eBay item: Vila summer dress - size 8


OMG. Can you tie my hands together please? 

MLM: OH God make it stop Mrs.  I actually like this dress a lot though.  What is this make Vila that was what your last purchase was too. I am going to look for 99p purses...  

C: I CAN'T make it stop Mrs. I wish I could... I love Vila things. They are usually sold in independent boutiquey type shops. 

MLM: I can't stop now either. Have just bid £5.19 on a purse....Oh God..what shall we do Mrs?  At least I have to go out in a min to a PTA meeting.


Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear oh dear. That is all I have to say.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Dos and don'ts of successful swishing

Next week is diversity week at Sussex Uni, and we're having a swish to celebrate the marvellous diversity of women in all our varied forms. Hoorah.

This has prompted me to think about some of the things that have worked and not worked at recent swishes I've been to. Here are a few dos and don'ts to help your next swish go with a swing:

Do: display clothes so that they are easy to see and look their best. This means clothes rails, hangers and different areas for accessories, shoes, etc.

Don't: just plonk everything on one table if you can help it, as this gives the impression of a jumble sale.

Do: make sure everyone feels welcome to come, whatever their size or age, and whether they shop at Primark or Prada (I've had some excellent Primark items from swishes, and one Prada dress that ended up going straight back into the next one. Go figure).

Don't: charge people for entry or per item if you can POSSIBLY help it. I've been to a couple that have done this, and you would be amazed how much it puts people off. Guests are already being generous by donating their own good quality clothes. What's more, charging really does give proceedings the feel of a jumble sale, when it should feel like a glamourous party.

Do: take virtually everything to the charity shop or clothing bank afterwards. Only hang onto pieces for the next swish if they are undisputably 100% gorgeous.

Don't: recycle the same clothes, swish after swish. You only end up with the cumulative total of everything that's been rejected. This usually amounts to worn t-shirts in eight shades of sludge that you wouldn't touch with a long stick. No better way to make everyone feel depressed before the party's even started.

Do: encourage your more reticent guests to get stuck in.

Don't: let people leave empty handed because of shyness or worries that they're too big/small/old to find anything.

Do: make sure to grab something for yourself. An underhand (but effective) strategy is to greet newcomers and get first pick of their goodies as you help to arrange them...

Don't: spend all your time dealing with practicalities and miss out on the good stuff.

Have you been to any successful or unsuccessful swishes lately? Would you add anything else to this list? If you're in the neighbourhood, do come along to next week's swish (see poster above - designed by moi - for details). If not, why not put these tips into practice and throw your own?

In other news, I have finally discovered ebay. I know. I cannot BELIEVE I have been missing out all these years. Kind of wish I hadn't though as am now winning - ridiculous lie: buying - shedloads of clothes for 99p a pop. Back away from the internet, Cockatrice...

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

ASOS Africa

Online retailer ASOS is launching a new ethical range on 21st February. Called ASOS Africa, it's produced in Kenya by SOKO, a small workshop that provides sustainable, fair employment, as well as training and skills to some of the country's poorest people.

Here are a few sneak preview pics of my favourite pieces. This striking ikat jumpsuit is definitely my number 1. (Question: how old is too old when it comes to jumpsuits?)

Also massively loving this dress:

The fabrics are just stunning...

...and eminently wearable:

'Ethnic' fashion is all too often a case of the vacuous appropriation of motifs from places that rich westerners regard as 'exotic'. Something to be played at for a season without thinking about how our consumption habits actually affect people in poor countries. All credit to a big name like ASOS for making that link and for bringing fairtrade into the fashion mainstream.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of internetville, I have given Desk Diaries a rather stylish makeover (why am I not an incredibly successful graphic designer? No, I don't know either), and new posts are up from Tom Roper, Madame la Moue and Vir Beatum for your delectation.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Peach cobbler

Am working from bed today, having decided that this is the most welcoming place to be after receiving my third rejection letter in two days. Come on people, someone out there must want to give me a job. No? Really? No one?

Anyway, in happier news, on Wednesday night I made a delicious peach cobbler, so today I thought I'd give you a fully illustrated step by step guide. The recipe for the topping is dead easy, being exactly the same as the one for the scones I posted the other day.

Rub 3 oz butter or margarine into 6 oz self-raising flour...

...until it resembles breadcrumbs (actually looks more like couscous to me, but still). Then add 1 1/2 oz sugar:

Gradually add milk or soya milk to make a dough:

Meanwhile, take a punnet of peaches that you have found in the bargain bin at the supermarket (49p!), peel and chop into chunks. If they're underripe soften them in a pan on the hob with some sugar.

Now roll out your dough into a slab 2-3cm thick and cut out rounds using a cutter (or a Martini glass...):

Place the peaches, which you have sprinkled with sugar to your own taste, into a dish and top with the cobbles. Add a final sprinkling of sugar:

Bake in a medium oven (175/gas mark 4) until light golden on top (approx 10 mins):


Thursday, 4 February 2010

Desk Diaries

Mrs L-P has just started a new blog that will document the uncensored progress (or degeneration?) of the desks of various contributors. I have just uploaded a picture of a big pile of clutter. Under which is my sitting room table (which is, in fact, a desk). This is what it SHOULD look like:

Needless to say, it doesn't look like that vastly often...

I am too fed up after TWO job rejections in the same day to write any more, so why not clicky here to visit Desk Diaries and see how it's looking today?

Update: Madame la Moue has just put her desk on Desk Diaries. It is the absolute height of glamour.

Tea and scones

It was recently suggested to me* that Paper Flowers has an air of 'Englishness' about it. I'm afraid I was slightly horrified... It seemed far too close to patriotism (ack), or worse, the kind of jingoism that shades into witless BNP-style nationalism. Which I am not prone to.

Having said which, there are probably few things more typically English than deprecating Englishness...  Except perhaps that most English of ceremonies: afternoon tea - one of the few traditions I do try to uphold.

I love afternoon tea and will seize any excuse to have it. Here is one I had the other week with lovelies Rachael and Marisa (apols for the photo quality - this was before the new camera arrived). If you look closely, you can just make out the toasted English muffins and cucumber sandwiches. Oh, and that other national delicacy: Marmite.

This week, my mum came to stay and we celebrated the ritual again (it being, of course, sacred to mums, grandmas and matriarchs everywhere). Mum made scones, which we ate with strawberry jam while they were still hot:


Click 'read more' for the recipe after the jump.

* by Vir Beatum of Being Manly

Monday, 1 February 2010

Advice to young journal keepers

I have just started reading Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann and am luxuriating in it in the manner of a warm bubble bath or long summer afternoon. Set in 1920, it is the story of Olivia Curtis as she turns 17 and is invited to her first dance, the source of exquisite agonies of anticipation.

The writing is utterly charming: packed with the kind of delicious detail that makes you feel you have escaped into a whole different world and are seeing it through the eyes of a frustrated adolescent, who is at once naive and astonishingly perceptive.

I am a third of the way through and Olivia has just started a diary. Here is her advice to young journal keepers. I was going to crop this, but decided I'd give you the whole page to convey the full glorious comfortingness of it:


Ovaltine in literary form, no?

Question: would the blogosphere be the poorer if we all took Olivia's advice to leave out our most shameful thoughts, actions and temptations? This would reduce half the blogs I read to a few bare bones rattling around an empty corner of the internet. Too much information is the modern bloggess's mantra...

... Like the idea of giving self all the good and interesting qualities one hasn't got, though. May try this to see if I can acquire them via some sort of mysterious osmosis...