Monday, 31 October 2011

Blitz: London's vintage department store

Popping over to Brick Lane for the Experimental Food Exhibition last weekend also meant we were within hopping distance of somewhere I'd wanted to visit for a little while... London's new vintage department store, Blitz.

It does actually feel like a department shop, as opposed to the jumble sale vibe you get in lots of vintage shops (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course), with home-wares, books, bikes, furniture and all the usual clothes and accessories. It's also got a little cafe which definitely looked more impressive than the usual weak-lemon-squash department store affair.

Books and quilts. Perfect.

Hats! Unidentifiable wooden things!

Lovely bikes, not sure why they were guarded by
slightly unnerving naked armless children...

As you'd expect, it's not cheap. You're paying extra for the pretty styling and the whole experience. But prices weren't as steep as I'd feared and the quality seemed very consistent. Which meant I bought a frock. Justified by the fact that it cost about the same as you could pay for a new dress on the high street, and there was no way anyone else would be wearing it!

Blitz can be found at 55-59 Hanbury Street, E1 5JP and

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Double-Decker+ Mud Cake

This year*, some mysterious how, all my school friends and I are thirty. 

Thirty. Actual. Years. Old.

Thankfully, this does mean we've had at least twelve years to practise partying (read: drinking) and dancing like loons.

And all these parties justify cake.

So, for one of the parties this weekend I attempted this double-decker mud cake from an Australian Women's Weekly book. (I love these books, and have lots. Why isn't the UK Women's Weekly anywhere near as good at recipes, I wonder?)

As there were going to lots of people celebrating this birthday I decided to double the recipe. The vague aim was therefore to end up with a quadruple-decker mud cake.

My oven disagreed. Despite putting four tins of identical cake mix in the oven, only one of them rose enough to be sliced in half. I have a feeling this might have been due to something of an inaccurate eye when dividing the cake mix into four, and an equally slapdash approach to knowing what size my cake tins are... This theory is backed up by the fact that all the layers were the same consistency and ready at about the same time.

Undaunted, I powered though and the final cake had five layers. It also required a little bit of trimming to get all the layers the same diameter, but I consider this a vital part of baking: you get to test the trimmed bits and check it's not horrible. I've not yet made a horrible cake, but I always think it's wise to check.

Yes, it is a bit wonky. But I decided that added to its charm and, anyway, I was serving it to drunk people. There was no way they'd notice.

Because of its remarkably height, it looked a bit... boring just covered in icing. So I stuck some grated white chocolate to the sides. If you do this you will have to tell every single person you offer it to that it's not coconut. But just consider that a useful icebreaker.

(Also: sticking grated white chocolate to the sides is nowhere near as easy as it sounds, gets a lots of mess in a lot of places, and may result in having to eat the left-over chocolate and icing from a saucer with a spoon to unstress afterwards.)

Due to the aforementioned drunkenness of all parties at the, um, party I didn't manage a decent picture of the inside of the cake. But I'm so proud of my achievement I want it recorded for posterity and am going to post rubbish ones anyway.

(Oh yes, there wasn't a big enough knife so I had to cut it with a butter one. Which was pretty much consumed by the cake.)

This cake was possibly one of the best-received I have ever made. This may be almost entirely due to the quantity of alcohol all the receivers had consumed, but I'm pretty sure all the bits I tested (when sober) were also delicious. Consequently, I think this may be a new favourite recipe; it's clearly impossible to screw up regardless of how slapdash or inaccurate you're feeling.

*Academic year, of course. Hence the thirty-parties only starting now. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Dodos, eagles and meal worms.

This Sunday saw the Experimental Food Society's annual exhibition, at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane.

I think pictures will do a better job of explaining than I will...

Curly-Wurly Eiffel Tower

Not-gingerbread cottage

Dodo. His feathers looked strokeable but were entirely sugar!

Equally sugary eagle.

Sugar flowers

Levitating table (look closely...)

I did a fantastically bad job at making a note of who made each thing, but a full list society members can be found here.

My favourite bit, though, was The Gastronaut, Stefan Gates. (I'd not heard of him before, but apparently he does stuff for the BBC.) He was offering an Extraordinary Snack Box (for a very reasonable £6.95) and then did a fifteen minute talk on what it contained.

Extraordinary Snack Box

And what was in it? Well...

- A bum sandwich. Yes. You had to sit on it. It demonstrated that food generally tastes better at body temperature. And meant there could be lots of references to bumming your sandwich.

- Noodle salad with jellyfish. Really delicious, although that was mainly due to the dressing... Jellyfish doesn't have much flavour, but is low calorie and full of protein and fibre. And manages to be both crunchy and squishy at the same time.

- Pan-fried lambs' testicles. Served on couscous and tasting just like little meatballs. Not surprisingly, the girls found these easier to eat than the boys... 

- Sweeties with a packet of cochineal bugs, to show where the pink colour comes from. 

- Gold and silver wrapped sausages and a packet of Space Dust... just for fun, and to remind us that food should be exciting!

- Mealworms with yoghurt and honey. (Except we had to call the honey 'bee vomit'.) This was the hardest thing for me to eat... my mum used to feed her birds meal worms! But they didn't have any particular flavour so once they were in your mouth if felt mostly like eating yoghurt and muesli. Insect protein is much, much cheaper to produce than animal so it might be something we all find ourselves eating more of. 

Oh, and a carrot trombone.  Mostly just to make a stupid noise...

Friday, 21 October 2011

Week. End.

Hurrah for Fridays. Today I have mostly:

finally finished my thistles design and created something I'm happy with...

been thinking about keys...

and celebrated the start of the weekend in all its glory with a little Friday Treat...

Happy Weekend, one and all!

Monday, 17 October 2011

No eggs required.

In need of chocolate mousse?

Can't be bothered separating and whisking and faffing with eggs, to doubtless be left with  a sad bowl of yolks you'll forget to use and which will then turn into strange orange cement in a tub in the fridge?

Thankfully, the ever-goddess-like Nigella has the answer in her instant chocolate mousse which uses melted marshmallow instead of eggs and takes about ten minutes to make.

And if you feel like you've been overindulging a little recently and that a bowl consisting entirely of cream and chocolate may not be the wisest choice, I can happily confirm you can replace the double cream with Greek yoghurt (I used Total 2% - the 0% fat stuff might be a step too far - it is chocolate mousse after all) and still end up with a delightful result.

Perfect. Save the eggs for baking. Or French toast. Or something.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Forgotten paradises of the reborn sun.

'Soon it would be too hot. Looking out from the hotel balcony shortly after eight o'clock, Kerans watched the sun rise behind the dense groves of giant gymnosperms crowding over the roofs of the abandoned department stores four hundred yards away on the east side of the lagoon. Even through the massive olive-green fronds the relentless power of the sun was plainly tangible.'

The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard

I was over in Bloomsbury today and stopped to sit for a while in the courtyard of the British Museum. This is their Australian Garden, but from my perspective it all looked rather Ballard...

Monday, 10 October 2011

Renegade Crafters

The Renegade Craft Fair was indeed a very pleasant way to pass an afternoon. Although there was no tea or cake available; possibly a bit of an oversight. Everyone likes tea with their craft.

However, the Truman Brewery is sufficiently ginormous that the very friendly security men let me take my bike up the stairs and chain it to a pipe in a corner. Brick Lane is not the best place to leave bikes if you're hoping to ride them home again.

There's a full list of all the artists and crafters here, with links to their websites, so you can go and have a mini craft fair from the comfort of your desk should the fancy take you. I would encourage anyone's eyes towards...

Night Ride, by  John Vogl

Really beautiful, intricate prints and illustrations. Obviously, I liked the bike one best but there were some other very strong contenders. His website is The Bungaloo.

Badges by Magic Industrie

Badges (or buttons, as they're American) made from vintage books. The best thing about these was the big tray of different badges to sift through and see what you could find - I can't explain how tactile they were! Magic Industrie also make wallets out of old books.

And also Lucy Panes Illustration; perfectly delicate drawings that I was very tempted by. My favourite illustrates G.R. Chesterton's quote 'The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese' and I think you'll be able to find it here...

Friday, 7 October 2011

This is (nearly) Hallowe'en...

I like October. It's still warm and light enough to do the occasional outside thing, the falling leaves look pretty, you can legitimately start thinking about woolly socks and hats and it includes Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night.

I love Hallowe'en. I know the current incarnation is a bit of an American import and there's a very good argument that it's all pretty much invented... but I like the excuse to dress up, have a party and drink strange coloured drinks without having to think about buying presents and visiting distant aunts.

Plus, The Nightmare before Christmas is one of my favourite films, and any excuse to recreate it in my sitting room is very welcome.

Which also means I spent far too long drawing a pretty Hallowe'en party invitation...

Some details from the original...

This weekend I'm off to the Renegade Craft Fair, on in London for the first time. There are going to be so many interesting arty/crafty people there, I'm really looking forward to it... and it's free!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

In these stones...

Another weekend away, and another one in Wales. Cardiff this time though, which was a bit of a nostalgia trip for me as it's where I went to uni. It's changed a wee bit since then...

We stayed in a hotel with lots of windows. I have low hotel-expectations, but this one (the Mercure Holland House) I would actually recommend. Primarily for the windows.

We wandered around the arcades...

We took advantage of the freakishly lovely weather down by the Bay...

And found really lovely places to eat and drink that certainly weren't there in my day... 

Milgi, on City Road
A coconut martini and me

We even managed to find the most perfect bar in the middle of central Cardiff on Saturday night. Now, bear in mind that Queen Street after about 9pm at the weekend looks a wee bit like a scene from the Land of the Dead, and you'll realise what an achievement this was. It was all bunting, battered sofas and cocktails. Nick thought I'd perhaps conjured it into existence with the mere force of my will.... It was called the Bunk House (because it's also a youth hostel), but don't look at the website because I think they've made it a lot prettier since they took the pictures on there.

I've also updated my last post with the promised final picture. Have a look?