Thursday, 28 April 2011

Bunting, Baby?

Contrary to what the media would have you believe, it is still possible to make your way around our nation's capital without being garrotted by a string of bunting or having your eye poked out by an over-enthusiastically waved flag. Huge swathes of the city are no more flag-bedecked than usual.

Not Westminster though. And, just to leap on the bandwagon with both feet, I went for a wander at lunch time yesterday to see how much flapping, fluttering patriotism I could spot.

The answer was 'quite a lot'. I think they might even have invested in new flags on The Mall; the white bits are certainly much brighter than usual...

There are also some brave souls who have been camping, on the cobble stones, to ensure they get the best possible view of the back of people's heads.

Grinchily, we're actually heading out of London tomorrow so will only catch a bit of the Blessed Event on the television. 

I'm only really interested in the frocks anyway...

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition

I've already confessed to a slightly unusual level of interest in the Titanic (again though, the boat not the film), so it's probably no surprise that I was quite keen to visit the exhibition currently showing at the 02. And it was a beautiful sunny day on Friday, so off we went to skulk in the dark...

Titanic: The Artefact Exhibition is exactly what it claims to be: an exhibition of over 300 things reclaimed from the wreck site, ranging from personal items that belonged to passengers and crew, to parts of the ship and fittings from the rooms. It's nicely set out, taking you through the building of the ship in an Irish dockyard, to the launch, the luxury of the first class staterooms and then a step-by-step account of the collision with the iceberg. There's also information on the discovery of the wreck and the practicalities of diving to such immense depths.

I enjoyed the exhibition, even though there wasn't a lot of new information. It did feel a little... clinical, though. I suspect this is partly a result of having designed it to make sure the venue and layout could cope with lots of people of different ages and abilities, and to make sure it would easily translate to whichever part of the globe they ship it to next. It must be a constant challenge for anyone putting on an exhibition; how do you make sure things in glass boxes retain some sort of context and story? It worked well when, for example, they had photos of the artefacts on the bottom of the sea, with the same item in the case next to it, but less well when it was just cases of crockery with name labels.

One very successful aspect is the boarding card you are given on entry with the name and details of a passenger who was on the ship. As you work your way through the exhibits, you've immediately got more of a personal connection -you can work what sort of room 'your' passenger would have slept in, which crockery they ate off. At the end, of course, you also get to find out whether or not you survived.

I'm pleased to announce that I did. (Being a woman with children probably helped... boyfriend was a third class Dutchman and, not surprisingly, didn't make it.)

The exhibition's on at the 02 Bubble until the 31st July, and tickets cost (a slightly eye-watering) £15 for adults at the weekend. There's a free cloakroom though!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Folksy Friday: Chocolate

I should probably have done an Easter-themed collection. 

But I'm not very godly. I like to refer to Easter as The Festival of Sex and Chocolate and I also discovered that chocolate gets far more hits on Folksy than sex (draw your own conclusions, boys and girls...). So I've gone for a chocolate theme.

Mixed chocolate chip cookies by Woolly Duck

Surprisingly (for me, maybe not for you seasoned Folksy-ers) there is an awful lot of fake food available for sale over there. What do people do with it? I was quite baffled. Then it began to weave a strange charm over me... I found myself rather wanting a row of knitted cupcakes sitting along my mantlepiece, or a woolly swiss roll to use as a pin cushion.

I guess the appeal must lie in the fact that you can have the aesthetic of the Cupcake Cult without the calories or the stickiness!

My favourite maker of fluffy food soon turned out to be Woolly Duck, whose felted cakes, fruit, sweets and doughnuts really are adorable. To fit with my chocolate theme, though, I've chosen to feature her felt cookies. 

Not quite calorie free though, as they're making me hungry...

Chocolate Teacake Card by Red Road Design

Tunnock's teacakes always remind me of church suppers when I was a child. They're also the sort of thing I always associate with my dad. Thinking about it now, they're like fat Wagon Wheels for grown-ups, aren't they?

Anyway, this card would be perfect for the teacake lover in your life. Or would look sweet framed on a wall.

I saved you my last cupcake print by Fox Bunting

I'm going to imagine this last cupcake is chocolate-y. It would be if it was being saved for me, anyway. I like that it's a bit wonky and looks like it might lose it's cherry at any moment... far more realistic than picture-perfect confections.

Mini collectable cake by Planet Aye

When I was a little girl I desperately wanted a great big dolls' house. And not one to play with, I wanted one of those 'ornamental' ones that people collect and fill with miniature versions of antiques. There was a dolls' house shop in the town where I grew up and I used to beg to be taken there to look at all the tiny tiny things. 

My parents, being sensible folk, never indulged me in this and I'd forgotten all about it until I stumbled upon this article on The Guardian website a while back.

If I ever get my dolls' house, this is what's going to be eternally served up on my tiny kitchen table for tiny afternoon tea.

Lucky dolls.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Chocolate Fail Cake

I think I mentioned, back here, that I gave chocolate up for lent. 

Really big fail. 

Primarily because I forgot. A lot. I'd be halfway through a brownie and then remember. Or I'd eat something, a few hours would pass and I'd suddenly gasp 'lent!', the chocolate ice cream long since finished.

It's hard to give things up for a religious festival when you don't believe in any of it. Who knew?

So, never one to try and fail lightly, I made a chocolate mousse cake for a little supper party the other day.

I don't think it could have been more chocolatey. To the extent that there was far too much icing on top which set surprisingly hard and meant that slicing it almost required a chisel and hammer. Getting through the chocolate-concrete was a real commitment to eating chocolate.

Thankfully, everyone I fed it to was wholeheartedly committed and it's all gone. 

But it was beautiful while it lasted.

The recipe came from Delicious Magazine, but I'll pop my version here as it wasn't the most helpful of recipes... Be warned: lots of chocolate and a lot of whisking.

Cake Ingredients
225 plain chocolate
5 eggs, seperated
150g golden caster sugar
125 butter, softened
50g almonds

Mousse Ingredients
142ml pot of double cream
225 dark chocolate
4 more eggs, also seperated

Icing Ingredients
200g plain chocolate
50g butter
2tbsp icing sugar

Heat the oven to 180C and hunt out a 20cm springform cake tin. They suggest you line the bottom with  baking paper, but do not suggest how to get the thing off said paper again once it's cooked (hence my cake staying put on the bottom of the springform tin for serving...) I think paper=optional. It didn't seem to want to stick anyway.

Melt the 225g chocolate in a bain-marie or (if you're me) in the microwave until it's smooth. Pop to one side for a while.

Beat the egg yolks and sugar with an electric whisk, then add the butter a little at a time. I found it best to mash the butter with a fork first, then add a forkful at at time. Once it's all combined, pour in the melted chocolate (make sure it hasn't cooled too much and formed one massive lump again) and keep whisking. Then mix in the ground almonds. They don't need whisking.

Put that bowl of chocolatey goodness to one side and find a clean one. Whisk (again) the egg whites in this one 'til they're making soft peaks. Dollop a big spoonful into the chocolate mixture, apparently to 'loosen' it, then add the rest. The recipe says to 'fold' which I always thought was fairly gentle stirring, but you need to be quite firm with it to persuade the egg whites to combine with the chocolate. It will.

Pour into your prepared tin and bake in your prepared oven for about 50 minutes. It'll rise, firm up and crack on the top but will still be a bit gooey in the middle when you poke it with a skewer. Allow to cool in the tin. Mine collapsed a bit when I took it out of the oven but it didn't ruin the general effect. Possibly a result of my being 'firm' earlier...

Once it's cool, cut it in half horizontally. This is hard as it's quite soft in the middle. I found a large knife and the bottom of another sponge tin to slide it on to were the answer. Put the bottom back in the springform tin.

To make the mousse, whip that double cream and melt the next lot of chocolate. Beat the egg yolks into the chocolate and then add the cream. Whisk (more whisking!) the egg whites to (more!) soft peaks and then fold into the rest. It's mousse! Spread it over the bottom of the cake and put the other half back on top. Chill in the fridge over night.

The chocolate icing just needs everything melting together and then pouring over the top of the cake. Like I said, though, I ended up with far too much so possibly don't be so gung-ho with just pouring it on if slicing your cake prettily is important to you.

Enjoy! Boyfriend insisted on serving with MORE CREAM, but most people might find that excessive...

(Oh, and one of my raspberry and elderflower cupcakes was featured on The Cupcake Blog yesterday - how exciting!)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Tooting Popular Front*

When I started dating my boyfriend, I promised to take him to Tooting Lido. This is not quite as odd as it seems as it's probably the only notable place in Tooting, and I was clearly trying to impress. Time Out claims it's the best lido in London and, whilst I can't claim to have visited any of the others, I'm sure they're right.

He must have been more impressed by something else though, because we only got around to going last weekend.

I don't really swim often (afraid of eels... long story), and it's not open to the public 'til May anyway, but it's surprisingly huge and really very pretty.

A little bit of charm, even in deepest, darkest Tooting.

And sunny enough for shorts in April!

*The Tooting Popular Front is from Citizen Smith, possibly the only other famous thing about Tooting. And the name of a bar, inappropriately in Putney.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

London Road at the National Theatre

A lovely sunny Saturday afternoon so, of course, I must have been in the theatre... At least I cycled there and back so did get a little burst of vitamin D.

London Road is a new play by Alecky Blythe and Adam Cork about the effect the murder of five prostitutes had on the residents of London Road in Ipswich, where the crimes took place and the murderer was eventually found to have briefly lived.

Unusually, though, the play is a musical and all the songs are based on interviews with the residents of the area themselves. As far as I can understand it, rather than writing a tune and fitting words to it (or however song writing works?!), Cork listened to the natural rhythm and pitch in the speaking voices of the residents and then emphasised what was already there until it was a melody. But still leaving in the ums and errs, repetitions and pauses to keep the sound true to the original recording.

It's very effective. The songs and the dialogue merge almost perfectly, and often sound like both speech and music. You know how if you're listening to a crowd and you can't make out any individual words, it can still sound musical? Like that. It also emphasises single phrases, as they're repeated over and over, that take on layers of meaning that aren't always possible with a single line of dialogue.

It could have been a very depressing afternoon - murder's not usually the lightest subject. But overall I found the play uplifting. Partly through witnessing the residents' determination to drag their town out of the shadow of the murders (through a gardening competition) and partly because it just felt very human, which is also why it's very funny in places. 

A little slice of life, perhaps: quite often depressing, human and a bit funny all in one afternoon.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Folksy Friday: Bicycles

I've decided to jump on the Folksy Friday bandwagon, and what better theme to choose for my first than bicycles?! Obviously, I'm a cycling fan and now we're properly into spring I feel like I can encourage other people onto their bikes without anyone claiming it's too chilly.

I do also like the aesthetic of a nice bicycle; I think it can be a really elegant shape. My own bike's an old (really old, 70s) Peugeot that I converted to single speed and have changed pretty much everything but the frame! I think it's a very beautiful thing, but I'll concede that  I'm biased. 

I'm always tempted by the beautiful retro styles you can get from places like Pashley or the newly launched Beg Bicycles. I love the idea of swanning round the streets on a sunny morning, pausing just to pick up a bunch of dewy tulips and a fresh, crusty loaf...

It's not likely to happen though, apart from the fact they're a bit 'spensive, I just like going really fast too much. 

I'd lose my tulips.

Anyway, enough of my bicycle-obsessing. Here are some lovely bike-themed items I've found on Folksy:

Blue Bicycle Mug by Julia Smith Ceramics

I'm very fussy about mugs; I like them to be just the right shape and to fit nicely into my hands. I love the little drips of glaze on this and the tiny bicycle making its way around the bottom!

Bicycle in a French Barn print, by From the Rooftops

This dramatic photo really caught my eye, especially as the bike's at an unusual angle making you appreciate the shape all the more.

Bicycle ring by Teasemade

This seller makes beautiful, unique embroidered jewellery. I don't think I could wear this as I'd constantly be catching it on things and getting it grubby, but it'd be ideal for all you less-clumsy ladies who'd like to demonstrate your bicycle-love!

Not that I'm planning on getting wed any time soon, but this bicycle themed wedding invitation would be perfect for a non-traditional, cycling couple.

Anyone else done a Folksy Friday today?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Lazy Sunday Mornings

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm pretty inspired by breakfast. To be honest, I'm inspired by most meals and probably spend a large proportion of my day thinking about the next things I'm going to eat...

It's not too surprising, then, that the next series of pictures ended up being pretty much breakfast-and-tea themed. The idea started off with the Valentine's card I made for the boyfriend, and developed from there. He likes tea, too. Possibly even more than I do. You can see why we get on.

There's also not much that makes me happier than waking up on a weekend morning and knowing that I can spend as long as I want over breakfast! 

So, here they are. Prints available in my Folksy shop!





Friday, 8 April 2011


So, I think I'm finally just about happy enough with the first series of illustrations to risk releasing them into the wider world. I've grouped this lot together under the title VeloCity because, well, any excuse for a pun, my bike's French (a Peugeot) so tends to get referred to as Velo, and... um... I live in a city.

These were hand drawn with ink on lovely heavy paper and coloured a bit with watercolour pencils. (I love these, so much less mess!) I'm going to try and put some prints in my new, nearly launched Folksy shop later today but, gosh, doesn't it take an age to list things? 

Anyone else with a Folksy or Etsy shop out there? Pop a link in the comments!


Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Bicycling and breakfast.

As the eagle-eyed amongst you might have spotted, I've changed my banner and generally had a bit of a tidy up around the site. This is in vague anticipation of linking the blog to Etsy and Folksy shops where I might start trying to sell some prints of my illustrations/sketches/doodles (I'm never sure what they are...)

Obviously, entirely terrifying! It would also appear you can spend a very long time faffing with the admin for these things to put off the actual-listing-things-for-sale-part!

Here's a little montage (who doesn't like a montage!) of some of the things I've been working on recently which are hopefully going to end up in the shop. I'm still figuring out what sort of printing gets the best results but I think I'm getting there...

This clearly shows that I have recently been inspired by breakfast and bicycling. Scarily accurate summary of my life.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Healthy Cake, or Spring-y Perfection.

As mentioned, I baked up a cheesecake-storm for Grandad's birthday party. It ended up being a chocolate one, entirely because I had an open packet of dark chocolate digestives that I was in danger of eating in one go otherwise. It was yum, but there are no pictures as I ended up finishing it far too early in the morning and that's not a time in my day I like documented.

However! I also made some lovely elderflower and raspberry cupcakes which were possibly the springiest things in the world (the season, that is, they didn't bounce about the kitchen...) The recipe came from this book, which is one of my favourites as it's all about sneaking vegetables into cakes and leaving the fat out. It sounds odd, but I've not made anything from it yet that wasn't delicious.

(Little warning: The recipes are fantastic, and the pictures are lovely but it is very twee. Not for anyone who gets annoyed by cutesy.)

So, my beautiful cupcakes had courgette in. Everyone made the expected face (as I cried 'it's just like carrot cake!'), but tried them anyway and universally declared that you can't taste it or tell at all. 

Stealth Vegetable Win

I did also make this for supper on Saturday... home made pizza dough is a hundred times better for you than Domino's fried stuff, but I can't really pretend there was any other health involved! Um... there were some vegetables on it? Can you not see the mushrooms? 

Oh well, all things (including restraint) in moderation. And I had cycled about fifty miles that day!