Food, Family, Friends – Life, Love, Laughter

The Manger Workshop or…my (not quite) week with The Thorissons Part 2

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Errrr…this Manger workshop post is a LONG one! I’d suggest grabbing a cuppa, or a glass of wine before tackling it.

Oh boy, turns out my “Manger Diaries” have been super hard to put together but, a year ago today was the last day of the wonderful workshop chez Mimi and Oddur and, by way of a reminiscent celebration, by hook or by crook this post WILL be up today*.

I think one of the reasons that it has been so hard for me to finish this post (is NOT because I’m a lazy arse) is that the workshop turned out to be incredibly important for me and had such a restorative effect on me. I mean, I knew that I would love it and that the food would be glorious and everything would be beautiful but I had also hoped that a little of Mimi’s wonderful elegance – in character as well as asthetically, would rub off on me and it did, but I couldn’t have realised what an impact those few days would have on me. When I headed out to France, my ex and I had gotten ourselves into really quite a bad place and were close to being unable to communicate with each other, I’m not sure how we let that happen but that’s where we were. Whilst sitting around the dinner table one evening with the group of people I’d only just met yet still feeling surrounded by love and friendship, I had an “aha” moment, I absolutely did not want to be enemies with my ex, one of the most important and most loved people in my life. I hastened home (finishing the workshop first, bien sur) and determined that this was one friendship I could and would not lose. My ex was the first person I called when I got back and…, we’ve never looked back! Haha…No. That’s not quite how it’s gone and, therein lies my problem with finishing off this post. I wanted to write about how the workshop “cured me”, which is what I used to say, of my anger and sadness and all that goes with a breakup of this magnitude but, the truth is, it didn’t. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the last few months and realistically that’s to be expected after such a long time and for some reason that has stopped me from saying goodbye to Manger. But, I often tap back into that feeling I had when I KNEW that the way we were behaving was not the way we wanted to go and that helps me right myself when things go awry now – so, in a way…the workshop DID cure me!

Anyway, it was fine food and wine, lots of cooking, excursions, fun and laughter and, above all else exquisite company. It was also a year ago so…..in no particular order (and with slight misrememberings probably)…

Tales of why we were the worst group EVER!

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These endive tartlets were made on the first workshop Mimi ran and when I saw them I knew I had to try making them straight away, the only problem being that I didn’t seem able to find any endives and in fact, the first time I made them was in Paris right before the workshop. I highly recommend them as they’re so simple to prepare and cook, they’re absolutely delicious and they really do have the wow factor.

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I remember seeing somewhere (maybe on Manger) that this was one of Mimi’s favourite recipes from her cookery book “A Kitchen in France” and I remember being disappointed (it must have been before the book came out – a little teaser, if you will) as it just didn’t appeal to me all..bits of meat/mince wrapped up in a blinkin cabbage! So when I heard we were cooking this I wasn’t jumping for joy and full of anticipation but the other two seemed to be. I was wrong. It was fun to make and really is quite a beautiful dish and, my goodness it’s tasty! It’s so much more than meat and cabbage, it’s a mixture of meats, vegetables and spices – it’s buttery, juicy, succulent and the pork and carrots lend a subtle sweetness to it. I have to say, I’ll definitely make it again. Before the chou farci we had a little pot of parmesan soup which was one of my favourite dishes from the workshop and is something that I’ve made a few times since – you really do only want a small serving though, believe me!

Sweet-Joy-measuring-sugar

I’ve no idea what Sweet Joy is making here, she could have been measuring sugar for the canelés or the chocolate meringue mixture that flopped (the first time Oddur had ever known Mimi’s meringues not to work and “she has made hundreds, maybe thousands of the things”) and had to be turned into a pavlova or one of the delicious cakes we made, perhaps it’s the lusciouslly sumptuous Far Breton or prune cake (along the lines of a clafoutis or the flognarde in Mimi’s book) or maybe it was the DELICIOUS walnut cake that also stuck to it’s beautiful bundt tin (carefully greased by none other than moi – oops!). Or maybe Sweet Joy is measuring out the sugar for a batch of Mimi’s no churn lemon ice-cream, something Mimi had perfected for her column in Elle Magazine days before we arrived and was so excited to share with us.

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These were destined to be stuffed with bacon and sautéd in butter and served alongside some smashed potatoes and were followed by the chocolate pavlova aka Meringue Mishap.

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“Cou cou” “Anne, where are you?” This brocante and Anne, the woman who owns it, are a real feature on Manger so we were all eager to pay it a visit. But when we arrived Anne was nowhere to be seen and we thought that we might have to set off back to the house without getting a look inside. Happily Anne turned up after not too long and we all went inside for a little mooch around and, we ALL bought something. I must say, Anne has curated a great collection of bits and pieces. I was mostly interested in crockery and bought a cake stand and three plates (one of which got broken about two days after being unpacked!). I managed to resist buying the twelve plates that matched the cake stand (and do still sometimes wish that I hadn’t). I normally feel a little like a white elephant when I’m in shops like these – nobody wants to mention it but everyone is thinking that it might be safer for all the contents of the shop were I to just step outside. But I felt completely comfortable at Anne’s.

Here I am above “doing an Anne” and below is Anne doing a real “Anne” – I reckon she does it better.

Anne-and-her-Brocante

Mimi organised a special treat for us one afternoon – we were visited by the incredibly charming Gilles de Marcellus who runs the nearby guesthouse Château Ormes de Pez. Gilles is a keen cook and had come to teach us how to make the Bordeaux speciality of canelés. Because the mixture really needs to be made ahead Gilles had brought some with him but we did make up a fresh batch of the batter too which I think got used for the children the next day. Sweet Joy was staying at Ormes de Pez so already knew Gilles but Kathleen and I warmed to him immediately. We spent a lovely couple of hours chatting away and whisking up our slightly boozy batter, we greased the gorgeous copper moulds and each had a go at filling them with the special contraption Gilles had brought along with him for the job. We popped them in the oven, waited and then…”Ta dah” they had stuck! Shock horror, this wasn’t supposed to happen and in fact, rarely does happen (not to Gilles, anyway)! You can almost see Gilles in the photo below thinking to himself “this has to be the worst group ever”. Anyway, we managed to salvage enough canelés for us each to have one and saved a couple for Johanna. Mimi thought that she’d seen some of the copper moulds in a local supermarket and we all agreed that we’d like to do a mini trip to get some.

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Caneles-collage-2

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We were all just minding our business, Oddur watering the plants, Johanna erm..leaning out of a window, me hanging about on street corners when a great group of cyclist sped by – I managed to catch this one as he’d slowed down to say hello.

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I just found the area beautiful and so peaceful. Everywhere that you look is like a painting or a backdrop. There was a house right by Mimi’s that was for sale and believe you me.., if I’d have been able to release some of the equity from my current house, I’d have bought it like a shot!

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Here’s Anne doing all the work (for a change – haha) removing the breasts from the pigeons to make the squab pie.

One evening, we got to talking about our exercise regimes, I explained how I did a lot of strength training, and it transpired that I actually did the most exercise!? The following day our exercise routines were put to the test when the family car wouldn’t start and, because of where it was parked it had to be pushed out onto the road before we were able to jump start it. I threw myself in alongside the men, huffing and puffing and pushing with all my might and strength while the other women looked on. Finally, to choruses of “Hey! We could do with some help here” Sweet Joy skipped up (literally, she was wearing little sandals and a cute white sundress) and oh so daintily laid just her fingertips on the bonnet. And just like the straw that broke the camel’s back, that seemed to do the trick and we were off heaving the car up the alleyway and onto the road where a cavalry of locals came to our rescue. I’m not quite sure why but that really was a brilliant moment, it was so unplanned and such good fun and we really were part of the action.

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Once the car was sorted out we headed out in convoy to check out the indoor market at Soulac-sur-Mer which reminded me of the covered markets we have in the UK. We also planned (if it hasn’t all gone by the time we got there) to buy some bread from an Oddur and Mimi favourite, ‘Le fournil de J & J’. This expedition allowed Oddur to really display his boy racer tendancies and a dice with death (this IS an exaggaration) proved to be too much for Kathleen who rode home with Tim and so missed out on an impromptu scenic drive home which included a little stop at the candy pink Château Loudenne.

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There was a little sign right before this patio area that said something along the lines of No Entry or…Do Not Trespass (in French, of course) and to me, the intrepid explorer that I am not, that means turn around and get outta here! I’m glad that we didn’t though as this place is a delight.

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So this is what all the fuss is about!? These vines produce some of the best wine in Bordeaux. Don’t look like much, do they?

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On our last day Kathleen and Sweet Joy went back to Anne’s Brocante to have another little nose but I’d spent my allowance and only had money left for wine and, in any case, I fancied going for a little walk and taking some photos. Unfortunately I seemed to walk straight back to my room where I fell straight to sleep waking up a good couple of hours later. I thought that I’d agreed with Mimi that I’d come back down to the house and then head in to St Estephe with Johanna to pick up the meat from the butcher for our final meal and to go and buy some wine (we had already been to the Village of Bages** where I’d picked up a few bottles of white wine but I was after a particular wine, Lynch Moussas, that I’d tried and fallen in love with).

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As I headed back down to Mimi’s, Johanna pulled up next to me – I thought she’d come to pick me up but it turns out that she was off on her meat mission, completely oblivious to the fact that I was requiring her taxi services. I hopped in and joined her and Hudson (Mimi’s son) on a sweet little trip into town. I’m happy to say that I my wine expedition was successful and we did pick up the meat. We did not, however, pick up the rest of the bounty we had been despatched to get as we’d not quite realised that there was more to the shopping list. Oops.

Dotty-and-Tim

Dotty-standing

I’d never even heard of smooth fox terriors before I came across the Thorissons and whilst I had more or less quashed the dog person in me, I always knew that were I ever to get a dog it would be a big ‘proper’ dog, something like a labrador or an alsatian. I’ve no interest in small dogs and yet, here I am drooling over this little cutie. Dotty belongs to Anne and Tim and she’s actually in a bit of trouble here because she’d been back with her litter whilst Anne and Tim were away for a few days and she’d, apparently, been screaming blue murder and causing a right royal commotion. She was super excited to be reunited with her owners – Oddur was Not Impressed with her behaviour. So now I find myself lusting after a Thorisson smooth fox terrior!

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Taking a final look at Rue de Loudenne as the sun set before our last supper.

Tornedos

And so, our final meal…was one of my favourites. I’d dressed for dinner, wanting to make a bit of an occassion of it and I’m glad that I did – it felt right. The mood was extra special and so too was the food. The starter of spinach and gorgonzola balls was sublime, honestly…it’s a must try – so few ingredients and such a simple dish (and so unexpected) turn into something just magical on the palete all rich, smooth, velvety and deep flavours. YUM. We followed this with the exquisite Tournedos à la Russe, tender as anything beef tenderloin fillets wrapped in a pancake (which seemed like an odd idea to me but, I’ve made this dish a fair few times since so I was obviously won over) topped with a red pepper ‘rose’ and a flavour packed red wine sauce. Wow, wow, wow. Dessert was a chocolate chestnut cake and those elusive chocolate meringues (Mimi actually made them on the sly, not quite trusting us with her beloved meringues and wanting to make sure that she hadn’t lost her touch!). And we washed this all down with gallons of champagne and excellent wine. Johanna and Sweet Joy couldn’t resist getting up at one point and dancing along to a little bit of Ella Fitzgerald and after we’d finally finished, and it was way past midnight, Oddur couldn’t resist jumping up on the ktichen table to photobomb our last group shot (sadly that one wasn’t on my phone so I can’t share it with you all).

Mimi asked if I minded that Audrey be in this shot…absolutely not! That sweet little girl had been with us for almost all of the workshop (I think we went on one excursion without her) and she’d charmed us all and impressed us with her appetite for pretty much any food.

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And so it came to be time to leave. I had the absolute pleasure of being chauffeured one more time by Johanna. We were to drop Mia (Mimi’s daughter) off at Bordeaux airport and Hudson came along for the ride. Now, I thought the agreed pick up time seemed slightly on the late side but, as I’m so bad with time I just went with the flow. When Johanna pulled up outside La Hourquere, I said my fond goodbyes to Corine and Kathleen, threw my bags in the back, jumped in the car and away we went. It seemed to take forever to get to the airport and time seemed to be marching by, Johanna didn’t seem to be that bothered and certainly didn’t appear to be in any great hurry. I worried that we weren’t going to make it in time but I also worried that I didn’t want to freak Johanna out as I’m not sure that she is the most confident of drivers. As it turned out, Johanna hadn’t at all realised how cutting it fine we were and when she did, which was just as we approached the airport, she stepped on it and drove like a mad woman, skidding into a parking spot right outside the airport and leaving me to negotiate ( in French) with ther person in the next parking space who was rather peeved at how close we’d parked to them. At the check in desk we were told that we were too late and Mia wouldn’t be able to fly!!!…AAAAAARGH…What followed was a little (lot) of negotiating and finally they relented and allowed Mia to join the other unaccompanied travellers on her flight. PHEW. Hearts pounding, and in our mouths, we said goodbye to Mia and sauntered out to the car.

The drive from the airport to the train station was pretty uneventful, Hudson quizzed me on pretty much everything, what I did, what I thought about this and that, what was the most gory thing I’d seen, why had my husband and I split up (at which point Johanna admonished him, but I didn’t mind…he’s such a little darling) and on and on. Johanna wanted to drive me down to the port but, true to the WWE, every road seemed to be blocked off and every other road seemed to be on diversion. In the end we gave up and pootled off to the station. I said goodbye to both and felt genuine sadness to be waving them off.***

Looking out to fields and fields of blazing yellow, speeding back to Paris and wondering when I’ll next be able to visit this beautiful area and this incredibly special family.

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Ways in which we were the Worst Workshop Ever (WWE)

  • We ALMOST jinxed Mimi’s meringue making skills
  • We ALMOST jinxed Gilles’ canelé making skills
  • We made half of the walnut cake get stuck to the tin (that was actually sort of me)
  • We broke a cork in a very good and pretty expensive bottle of wine (that one was me really)
  • **We got caught stuffing our faces with truffle crisps (still inside the deli at The Village of Bages) by Jean-Michel Cazes himself (it was slightly embarassing) because we (Sweet Joy) were so hungover that we had to eat something NOW.
  • We failed to buy spinach for the spinach and gorgonzola balls (luckily Mimi did have a little so we all had to have a slightly smaller than planned starter on the final night)
  • We took turns in being hungover (Sweet Joy and me) which in such a small group did have an impact on the vibe
  • We broke the family car
  • We were there (me) when Mia almost missed her flight
  • Pretty sure I’m missing something out so, insert something plausible sounding for yourselves.

The workshop is very expensive, let’s not kid ourselves…it just is. I’m not saying that the Thorissons have overcharged for what they delivered because I don’t think that they have – the days are very long and filled with excursions, and cooking and eating and wine. Forget the preparation time (that must also be costed in when you are thinking about how much to charge for something like this) but, just the actual workshop days with us there ran from 9.30am to midnight (more or less). For most people though, that is a large chunk of money to come out of one’s pocket for a four day trip, as one of my friends pointed out to me “You could have gone on a ‘proper’ holiday for a week or two for that amount” and yes, that’s true..and this year that’s exactly what I’ll be doing (but I’m sad that I can’t do both). But last year, that was the BEST holiday I could have hoped for, I honestly couldn’t have spent my money more wisely if I’d tried. So, is it worth it? I think it depends what you’re after – I think if you really want to learn how to cook, and are not so interested in the experience, this might not be the best for you. I thought this workshop was more like getting together with friends and all cooking together rather than cookery classes, and Mimi’s recipes are so well written that if you follow them you’ll soon have an arsenal of dishes you can depend on. But if you’ve ever dreamt about upping sticks and moving to the country to live a ‘better’ life, or you want to learn about taking wonderful photographs (afterall Oddur doesn’t have a tome where he tells you how to do it, or any classes on Skillshare, or anywhere – so far as I know), or you just want to learn about how to eat, or even – dare I say it – how to live (that’s a bit over the top but I know what I mean) then yes, it’s almost certainly worth it if you can afford it. Mimi is so calm and her style of cooking is relaxed where mine is frantic (and I’ve definitely incorporated a more chilled out approach to cooking since taking part in the workshop), Oddur is so energetic. Both are incredibly generous, hospitable, and kind and their household just feels alive, there is always something going on, there is always an idea or a new project on the go, there is vibrancy and I absolutely loved that. I came away feeling so utterly rejuvenated and excited about my life, my brain whirring with possibilities and my self feeling a new contentment and peace. If I could go back every year I absolutely would.

Let me tell you – that’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

Thank you so so much Mimi, Oddur, and family (with a special mention for Johanna). Thank you too to the cast of characters you shared with us in particular Anne and Tim, Allegra, Corine, Esmerelda and, of course, the lovely dogs.

Thanks too to the lovely Kathleen, who I’m so happy to have met, for helping me with the details.

xx

*Today being yesterday. Yes, my hooking and crooking wasn’t quite enough to get this post up on the anniversary of the end of the workshop (a small matter of an epic Hen Weekend scuppered my last minute plans rather – more of that in another post). But this time last year, I was on the journey from St Yzans to Bordeaux with Johanna, Mia, and Hudson. And by Jove, I think that’s a perfect point to mark as the deadline for this anniversary (ahem) post.

** See the bullet points above about Sweet Joy munching crisps

*** I think I may have a bit of a woman crush on Johanna

 

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The perfect grown-up party dress

I spent ages umming and aahhing about whether or not to celebrate my birthday with friends this year. I normally love birthdays but, since splitting from my husband I’ve been finding them (especially mine) quite hard and this year there were a couple of other things going on that left me not quite in the partying mood. In the end I decided to pull my socks up and have a little bit of a do. Our house always used to be the social house and I’m quite keen to get back to being more hospitable so, I got to planning a rather last minute get together.

I spent a good while planning the food and drink (though ended up not making half of what I’d planned to make, tut. I’m ashamed to say there wasn’t even one cocktail in evidence!). But I didn’t put that much thought into an outfit. I’m quite a jeans and t-shirt person for nights out, putting on a bit of make up and some jewels but not much more than that – I guess it’s a hark back to my music industry days, but I’m increasingly pushing the boat out and dressing up my body as well as my face. With less than a week until my little do I turned to my trusty ASOS and lo and behold, it had THE perfect dress for a grown-up party.

The perfect grown-up party dress modelled on Sosusie in the City

This dress is both full on and in your face with a deep and revealing neckline, and demure and sophisticated with the long sleeves and pleated mid-length skirt. It really does feel very grown-up and wears so well. I’m not sure I’d wear it to the offfice or to anything where I had to look very right and proper (as I’m not a massive fan of modesty tops) but I would definitely whip this out for dinner or a cocktail party or…a trip to the theatre/opera etc. Partly because I’ve hurt my foot, but mainly because I felt like I didn’t want to dress this up too too much, I teamed the dress up with a lovely pair of animal print flats (I designed them myself) from the Australian company Shoes of Prey. I’ve included a link to them at the end of this post because I do think that the concept is great and their shoes are quite good but, if you’ve got really wide feet, as I have, I wouldn’t recommend them. I think that they use the same width sole for all of their shoes and I think, when you’re getting into EEE fittings, they probably need to use a wider sole. I’ve had problems with another pair that I bought from them and I wouldn’t buy from them again. If I had a standard size foot though, I would.

Plunging neckline and pleated skirt, the perfect grown-up party dress from ASOS Curve

 

 

Modelling the perfect grown-up party dress from ASOS Curve

ASOS Curve grown-up party dress on Sosusie in the City
Doing an impression of the dad in Strictly Ballroom doing his experimental dancing – this cracks me up.

 

Always a test for clothes that I wear – how well do they stand up to, and support, air guitaring – this dress gets a big fat 10 out of 10.

Proving that this ASOS Curve dress is party worthy by playing a bit of air guitar over on Sosusie in the City

Now I know not everyone can have a bottom as brilliant as mine…I mean, people pay good money for similar, but this dress does a lot to help in that department with clever seams fitting the bodice completely to the torso and the pleated skirt falling gently over the behind.

Modelling the perfect grown-up party dress from ASOS Curve on Sosusie in the City

The dress even behaves well in a sudden gust of wind, turning me into a Marilyn Monreo-esq screen icon! (This fashion blogging is really going to my head).

Another impression of Marilyn Monroe over on Sosusie in the City, wearing the perfect grown-up party dress

Doing an impression of Marilyn Monroe in my ASOS Curve party dress

 

Here am I, doing my best to get a close-up of my beautiful Jacey Withers necklace, and unbeknownst to me Horatio is busy photo bombing EVERY shot. Haha. Blinkin children.

Close up of Jacey Withers necklace

Close up of Jacey Withers necklace

Dress – ASOS Curve (unfortunately there aren’t many sizes left), Shoes – Shoes of Prey, Necklace – Jacey Withers

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Tulle galore or…stepping up the fabulosity for a night on the tiles

I wore this outfit to a friend’s fiftieth birthday party recently. It didn’t say it on the invite but…I knew that fabulosity was the order of the day and when I saw this gorgeous tulle skirt by Martine McCutcheon for SimplyBe I knew that it was THE piece to turn me into the belle of the ball (one of them, at least).

Against my better judgement, I mean “C’mon…tulle skirts aren’t the most obvious choice for the more fuller figured bod you know”, I’d tried making a big fluffy tulle skirt a while ago and it was absolutely awful – so bad that all I could do was laugh and..scrap that idea. So I was mightly pleased when I came across this skirt and, as I’m trying to be more Devil-may-care about the way I dress* I thought that I’d give tulle another go.

Detail of Martine McCutcheon tulle for SimplyBe tulle skirt

The skirt got so many compliments…I got a few too so I can’t complain. It’s an item of clothing that makes you smile when you wear it, it’s so easy to wear and swishes and bounces about and makes you feel light and playful. It was an instant hit and seemed to be almost like a honey pot to Pooh Bear. Even the entertainment (Patsy and Edina-alikies) couldn’t keep their hands off the skirt and it was great fun twirling about the room until, that is, the heel snapped off of my boot – at which point I changed into my trusty Converse and continued jumping about (more moshing than ballet) and twirling and playing my faithful old air guitar.

Full outfit including Martine McCutcheon tulle skirt for SimplyBe

I dressed the skirt up with a sequin jacket from ASOS but that came off almost as soon as I arrived. That’s sold out now but I’ve linked to a lovely looking sequinned cape from SimplyBe which I’m thinking about getting because..who doesn’t need a little sequin cape in their wardrobe right? I wanted everything else to be simple and understated, letting the skirt do the talking, so teamed it with a gorgeous t-shirt from COS (I’m sure the t-shirt is meant to be all loose and drapey and kinda boy/girlish but I like the way it fits me – don’t be scared to try shops that you think won’t have things to fit you coz often they will). The boots are from Evans and the bag is vintage. Oh, and my necklace which you’ll see in lots of posts that I’m in is one of my all time favourites and is from a wonderful jewellery designer called Jacey Withers – this is from the Sylvan collection which I’m not sure he still produces but, he’s always got interesting stuff.

Playing with Martine McCutcheon tulle skirt for SimplyBe

Playing with Martin McCutcheon for SimplyBe tulle skirt

Now for some twirling. I had such good fun setting the timer and running back and forth to pose. I had loads of shots that I wanted to include but, for those of you that are keen eyed, you’ll notice that the cat flap etc are no longer there – I’ve attempted some rudimentary photoshopping to make the background more attractive but, I’m not very good at it so thought it best to call it a day while the blinkin skirt is still on sale! It is actually on sale so if you fancy it you’d better look sharp as I’m sure it’ll sell out quickly.

Twirling in Martine McCutcheon for SimplyBe tulle skirt

More twirling in Martin McCutcheon for SimplyBe tulle skirt

All that twirling was a bit tiring so I needed to lean on a wall to have a rest!

Leaning against wall in Martine McCutcheon for SimplyBe tulle skirt

Skirt – Martine McCutcheon for SimplyBe, Jacket – ASOS/similar, T-shirt – COS/similar, Boots – Evans/similar, Necklace – Jacey Withers, Bag – vintage

*On having a Devil-may-care attitude – as talked about in my first style post, I just wanted to make clear that what I’m trying to do is be happy with who I am, both in terms of WHO I am and what I look like, and I think that having a little fun with clothes and makeup and being less of a shrinking violet can only be for the good. If you have lots of weight to lose before you can even be termed overweight, as do I, or your knees hurt more times than they don’t, or you’ve lost your sense of how to eat or….you can’t run for a bus because you get out of breath or your movement is restricted (not all of these apply to me but some definitely do) then you almost certainly need to make some changes and one of these changes is probably to lose some weight (however you choose to do it but I’d suggest giving up dieting might be a good start) – simple as. But, there’s no harm in feeling great about yourself while you do so and that’s what I’m advocating.

Goddit?

PS – thanks to my daughter Alex for being my photographer for part of this shoot.

 

 

 

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My first style post and a big fat thumbs up to ASOS Curve

No..this isn't a maternity piece - think that's a food belly you spy there.
No..this isn’t a maternity piece – think that’s a food belly you spy there.

 

I’ve decided that I’m going to feature myself in my blog more, I was just starting to do that a little in my old blog and I found that it was helping me gain confidence in myself. So yeh, I’m going to step that up a bit now..which means that I have to learn how to take photos of myself aka learn to use the timer or a remote control and learn to use a tripod. Bear with me please, it might be a slightly rocky road. For this shoot I forced my son, Horatio*, to take the photos and he really wasn’t up for it this time so…well, you’ll see. Tee hee. Here’s my little homage to ASOS Curve.

I also want to make more of an effort with the way that I look, have more attitude, take more risks. I studied Fashion Design for goodness sake, and at The London College of Fashion no less. It’s time to stop being a shrinking violet, trying constantly to take up less room and be more invisible. Sod that I say. I’magonna take up some space from now on! Hell yeh.

And honestly…there’s really no excuse now if you’re big for not looking good. I mean, if you’re not interested in fashion and clothes that’s a good enough reason but if you are, then the great clothes are out there. It’s not as good as in the US, I’m constantly seeing stuff I like the look of and then finding that it’s a US label but, it’s pretty damn good. Once I get my sewing machine fixed I’ll be knocking up a few things for myself again too…can’t wait.

Having said all of that…my first outfit is not particularly out there, actually..I doubt that any of mine will be especially, but it’s an outfit that I feel so comfortable in and I feel like I look bloody cool. I’m top to toe (not quite as I’m wearing Converse) ASOS Curve. This brand has reignited my interest in clothes and fashion – it’s ruddy marvellous.

Full-length-Camden-stance
Horatio and I think this looks like I’ve got “I’m in a Camden band” attitude.

Full-body-in-coat

I absolutely LOVE this coat, fraid I bought it ages ago so it’s no longer available, it’s an Army style coat and is made of a very heavy, quite itchy/scratchy fabric but it just feels so…Strong. It’s what I wear when I want to feel fierce.

Full-length-in-coat-side

The scarf my sister gave to me a couple of Christmases ago and I’m not sure where she got it – which is a shame because it’s an absolute favourite and I’m sure they’d have others that I’d love. The trousers are no longer flattering but man are they comfy and also, I don’t care – I feel good when I wear them.

Head-and-shoulders-2

I bought the long sleeve top in black and the same grey as the t-shirt and they’ve been in almost constant rotation in my wardrobe. I meant to go back and buy more but I think I’m a bit late. The fabric is a really fine jersey, it’s almost see through and it’s got such a lovely drape, it feels super good on too. It’s got a raw edge at the hem and the seamlines are sewn (very obviously) on the outside. You can see the ridges in the photo above on the dropped shoulder line. Both the long sleeve top and the t-shirt are absolutely gorgeous products, can’t recommend them highly enough (if that’s your style).

Full-length-tshirt

My mum gave me the Converse for Christmas – I’d been without a pair for ages and I’m so happy to be reunited with them again.

Susie-First-style-head-and-shoulders

Well, I rather enjoyed this first style post – I’m off to Charlotte Tilbury for a makeup lesson in a couple of days (coz I thought I looked rather tired in these photos, and puffy, which is probably because I don’t get enough sleep so AM tired and puffy) so expect me to be looking “A Okay” in future posts (well, I’m planning on shooting a couple over the weekend, before the products sell out so I’ll not have picked up any hints and tips in time for the next few posts actually).

  • Oh, by the way, his name is not really Horatio.

Coat – ASOS Curve, Top – ASOS Curve, T-shirt – ASOS Curve, Trousers – ASOS Curve/similar, Shoes – the mighty Converse

 

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A wonderful few hours lost in a flower shop or…the A Quiet Style styling workshop

Last Monday I was lucky enough to be able to take part in one of A Quiet Style’s styling and composition for visual media workshops. I follow Emma (A Quiet Style) on Instagram and had started really noticing her stuff when she posted a Back to School photo and commented on how sad she felt that it was the end of the holidays. I remember always feeling like that and not being able to understand parents who couldn’t wait to get their children from under their feet (course, I realise that I had the luxury of not having to worry about finding childcare for the holidays – I imagine that does make a fair bit of difference) and so when I saw that, I just felt drawn to Emma. Her photos have such a gentleness and calmness about them and at the moment, I’m very much attracted to all that is peaceful and tranquil.

Because the workshop was being held in Brighton and I’m having a few issues with getting up in the morning (ahem), I decided to go down on Sunday night and thought I’d make a little mini break out of it. Unfortunately, the combination of me trying to cram too much into a day and engineering works on the London to Brighton line resulted in my arriving in Brighton quite late (9.20pm to be exact). Throw in an injured foot, a half hour walk to my accommodation (should have taken me ten) and the mini break was fast slipping through my fingers. “Still” I thought, “I’ll get up early, wander down to the seafront and find somewhere to sit and have a lovely breakfast and coffee whilst pondering the world”.

Fast forward to Monday morning and I’m hobbling up away from the seafront, having just caught a precious sideways glimpse of the sea as I left my accommodation, walking as fast as one can walk when able only to stand on the outer edge of one’s foot. I’d been feeling a little too cozy wrapped up in my duvet and got up (significantly) later than I’d intended to. Not wanting to be late I’d had to forego my breakfast, not even managing a slurp of tea or coffee.

Even so, I couldn’t resist taking a quick snap of this pair of phone boxes (making sure to place them in the centre of the frame – something, I was about to learn, that does not make for the most visually pleasing of images!!..Hhmpf).

Two red phoneboxes side by side

I might have been on time had I not walked straight past number 84, on past the roundabout, then back again, and then stood in total puzzlement at an empty number 84 which very clearly wasn’t the venue I was looking for. Noticing there was another 84 next to 84, I breathed a sigh of relief, rang the bell, waited and then prepared my most impressive smile for the person who opened the door. We stood in silence, me now holding a horizontal grimace type smile, them looking scared. I was, apparently, not at the right 84!? Eventually, I found the correct 84, which was next to the 84 that was next to the 84 (and in all honesty, I think there may have been another 84 in there somewhere..) and was greeted by a lovely smiling woman. She invited me in and welcomed me to her shop, the rather lovely Kate Langdale Interiors & Floral Design, which turned out to be an absolute treasure trove of photographable objects and flowers with just right light. My hostess explained that Emma was downstairs making cups of tea and I told her how her post keeps ending up a couple of doors down at one of the other 84s (to which I got a slightly confused look). It wasn’t until Emma came back upstairs and we’d begun the workshop that I realised that my hostess was in fact not the owner of this glorious shop but another of the participants. Caroline (the faux hostess) was really sweet, pulling up a stool for me to sit next to her, and I’m now booked onto a workshop that she’s hosting at her place, Cherfold Cottage Flowers! Caroline also went on to take one of the loveliest photos of me that I can remember seeing.

Running into action

The workshop was only four hours long but boy, did my styling skills develop in those four hours! We began by going over some composition ‘rules’, I think I must be an awful student because even though I tend to be well behaved and very much a rule follower, my instinct is always to challenge rules and to ask why they exist (I tried not to do too much of that). After a short ‘teaching’ session we were let loose on the shop and all the beautiful flowers and props, our only instruction being to take overhead shots bearing in mind what Emma had gone through with us. We each picked a spot and then gathered the items that caught our fancy. I’d brought along a plate I’d bought while at the Manger workshop and chose to style it with some fruit, rather than any of the gorgeous flowers that were available.

Apples and oranges

Not quite my first attempt but the fruity plate was in my first set of shots. This one has been tweaked slightly to take in some of the rules Emma had spoken about, but there are definitely some broken rules there.

Caroline doing an overhead shot

Emma keeps the workshops small so that she’s able to spend a proper amount of time with each participant and I think this really paid off. Certainly with me Emma was quite hands on, moving bits of my composition here and there, taking a photo to see what difference it made, looking at my photos, comparing the befores and afters (both hers and mine) and it was really easy to see what a big difference just moving a piece here or creating a space there made.

Emma rearranging Holly's composition

Oranges

We spent a couple of hours working on different compositions and then reconvened for another bit of teaching – before a tea break (we weren’t allowed to eat our cake until we’d styled and photographed it) and then a final session on visual media, etiquette, hashtags, groups etc. After the class Emma emailed us over the class notes and we’re encouraged to send her photos we take for her to critique – that’s one helluvan afterservice (for the price of the course).

Tea and cake

I learnt that I mustn’t be so afraid of doing the wrong thing (hello Oddur Thorrison – this is what he also said about photography) and that whilst my instinct questions all these rules, I do actually like the results. Although..I’ve been paying more attention to the feeds I follow on Instagram and I realise that a lot of them absolutely don’t follow the rules.

Emma demonstrating creating depth

I don’t really want to do mostly still lifes and I don’t necessarily want my photos to all look as though I have styled them so for me, I think it’s more about working out an overarching style, perhaps in the edits (that’s a whole nother kettle of fish, editing, and one that I need to tackle pronto!). But I do think that by bringing in some of these rules I can improve my pictures, make each of them tell more of a story, make sure that every picture is, of itself, pleasing visually. That’s what I hoped to gain out of the workshop and I think that I got that. I was also, for a few hourse, immersed in an incredibly creative and supportive atmosphere – I love workshops like these because you tend to find that the people there are quite serious about what they’re doing but also very friendly and ready to share whatever knowledge they have that might be of use to you. We were actually quite a talkative bunch, perhaps even a little unruly at times!

Moody garden roses

I completely zoned out and forgot about the myriad issues that I’ve got going on at the moment. I came away feeling refreshed and revitalised and inspired. I actually started work on sorting the photos for Part 2 of my Manger post which is only (almost) a year out of date, when I got home. I’ll definitely be looking out for other workshops of Emma’s and hope that I’ll be able to attend some more.

A study in brown

Exterior of Kate Langdale

I was quite glad that I’d not known who was going to be doing the workshop with me when I booked as I might have felt a little intimidated – all of the other three participants, Caroline, Justine, and Holly, have great images on their Instagrams and really beautiful looking blogs/websites. It’s fair to say that I haven’t got this visual side of things sorted out yet (and possibly not the writing either..haha) and I might have been tempted to think that the workshop would be pitched above my skills level.

PS I was really touched my Emma’s post written after she had delivered this workshop. From where I stood there was no sense at all that anything was amiss, I could not have told (though I did wonder about the cake with all of the decadence removed) that Emma was under the weather and I would like to thank her for spending those precious few hours with me where I was able to clear my head and just, enjoy myself – I greatly appreciated it. Thank you Emma. xx

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Orange and lime curd or..ways to brighten up a bleak winter’s day

Orange-curd-collage-final

I absolutely love Christmas, I love all that time spent with family (and in particular my children) and I usually get carried away with making small knitted and/or edible gifts but this year the run up to Christmas was so frantic, the house was SO chaotic (yes that’s what having half of the house carpeted a few days before Christmas Day will do to a house) and I was exhausted. Of course I made a cake but, I didn’t make my signature pudding (it wasn’t my turn this year) and I didn’t do much cooking at all. Just before Christmas I’d met up with my lovely friend Beccie to go and see the annual Christmas Past exhibition at The Geffrye Museum of the Home and a couple of the Christmas Pasts really hit home with me. One of the things I was reminded of was that Christmas continues for 12 days after Christmas Day and it was customary to go visiting friends, family, and neighbours to play games, listen to music, and have a little sip to drink and a bite to eat.

So..all was not lost, there was still time. My first post Christmas visits saw me bearing gifts I’d bought from The Italian Farmers – the rather brilliant deli on Stroud Green Road. But what could I make for my next round of visits that would be quick and easy and, more to the point, delicious? I always used to make jars and jars of lemon curd at Christmas time (not sure why I stopped) but I fancied ringing the changes slightly so came up with this orange and lime version which fills the kitchen with a beautiful citrusy warmth – it’s sunshine in a jar, really.

Orange and lime curd

Makes 2 medium jars (but it’s always worth sterilising more jars than you think you’ll need, just in case)

Ingredients

Juice and zest of 2 medium oranges

Juice of 2 limes

100g butter – cut into small cubes

200g granulated sugar (I use golden granulated sugar which has been infused with vanilla pods)

4 medium eggs – well beaten

Citrus-close-up-whole

Vanilla-and-eggs-close

Zest the oranges (wash and dry first). It’s standard practice to make a smooth curd, so use something that will create a very fine zest or strain the curd after cooking, but I quite like it with a bit of a bite so I often leave strands of zest in. Having said that, I decided this time to finely chop my zest as my strands were rather chunky.

Juice the oranges and the limes. You’re aiming for around 300mls of juice, no more.

Citrus-close-up

 

Citrus-close-up-squeezed-2

Put the zest, juice, sugar, and cubed butter into a bowl set over a pan of simmering water making sure that the water never touches the bottom of the bowl. Using a balloon whisk stir the mixture vigorously, continue to stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted.

Add the eggs, which should already be well beaten and combined – so no big globules of white floating around, and whisk until completely combined.

Continue to cook over a low to medium heat* for 10 to 15 minutes until the curd thickens but note this – citrus curd is reasonably easy to make but there is a danger of ending up with citrusy scrambled eggs so don’t be tempted to turn the heat up too far and, make sure that you do…stir, stir, and stir. You don’t have to stir constantly but I err on the side of caution and stir often. And do not turn the flame up too high.

You can test whether the curd is ready by sticking a spoon into the mixture; if the mixture clings to the spoon the curd is ready. To double make sure, you can run a finger down the back of the spoon, through the curd, if this leaves a line the curd is definitely ready.

Pour the mixture into your sterilised jars whilst still hot. Cover with a wax disc and seal.

Curd-from-above

I keep my curd in the fridge but I believe that’s not essential so long as it’s stored in a cool place. Certainly if kept in the fridge it will be good for a couple of months.

I ended up making quite a lot of curd as my first batch wasn’t quite right…boo – so I had to go back to the drawing board. But the first batch is completely edible, I’ve used a jar to make syllabub** and I think I may make orange and lime curd ripple ice cream with another. But, the batch as per this recipe is perfect – just right for eating straight from the teaspoon!

Curd-main-photo

*I’m using my smallest ring so if you’re cooking on a stove where all the rings are the same heat you’ll want to turn it down to the lowest heat.

**Whisk a carton of double cream until it forms stiff peaks and then spoon in a jar of the curd – stir through thoroughly or just ripple through.

 

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A post Christmas walk in Greenwich Park

Greenwich-walk-collage

Following on from Christmas number two (number one having been spent at my ex’s parents) -the ex, my mum, and I went for a little walk in Greenwich Park. Whenever I go into the park I mean to take a look at the flower gardens and the deer but for some reason never do, so this time I suggested we make our way there especially as it’s a nice little loop and all on a flat from where we enter the Park. My mum spent the summer in hospital and was, at varying points, seriously ill, and she’s still very much convalescing, so a gentle stroll was  the order of the day.

Mummy taking a moment to pose.
Mummy taking a moment to pose.

It’s not really the best time of year for the flower gardens, there wasn’t much in bloom but.., there are some phenomenal trees in there – absolutely gorgeous and impressive specimens with trunks the size of a small sitting room (no really, I’m telling the truth), branches sweeping the ground and soaring into the sky, and barks so pretty they look like wonderful oil paintings (see the collage above).

And one thing there most definitely was were deer, and lots of them. Beautiful beautiful Fallow and Red deer and there were a few youngsters too. The deer are kept in a large enclosure and sometimes you’re not lucky enough to see them but today I think we probably saw almost all of them. It’s a lovely little detour to take if you’re out with the children (actually, I reckon most people like to take a cheeky little peek at the deer if they’ve time and they remember). Once upon a time the deer had free run of the park but over time, as the park got busier, the deer’s manor has been reduced to this little (still quite large) section which is also home to other (less interesting, in my opinion) wildlife. This area, called The Wilderness Park, is a lovely charming little oasis and I thoroughly recommend taking a peek.

Three-deer-close

This buck was very well behaved and posed for the camera like a professional.
This buck was very well behaved and posed for the camera like a professional.

After all that gentle wandering, I needed a little rest and, eschewing the more traditional park benches (some of which have stunning views over the City) I opted for an old tree trunk and couldn’t resist copying the little toddler who’d spied the trunk before me and had had a jolly old time clambering over it.

I'm definitely the King of the Castle.
I’m definitely the King of the Castle.

It's tiring work being king, you know.
It’s tiring work being king, you know.

Afterwards we made our way home to a late breakfast of salmon on leftover soda bread toast (the soda bread was leftover..not the toast) with a nice glass of bubbly to wash it down.

This particular bench has the most glorious views over London - especially beautiful after dusk.
This particular bench has the most glorious views over London – especially beautiful after dusk.

Oh…and here’s a shot of the soda bread before it was leftover. If you’ve never made soda bread before..do! It’s delicious and so so easy and quick to make.

Soda-bread

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The Manger Workshop or…my (not quite) week with The Thorissons Part 1

Arriving in St Yzans and first day nerves.

Manger day one collage

Oooooo…this post has been eluding me, not least because I’ve been fabulously and horrendously busy since getting back from Médoc but also because it’s been a LONG while since I blogged and, since I moved to this blog nothing has felt as easy and as natural as it did on the old blog. But the main reason is that I want my Médoc posts to be perfect, they’re inspired by Mimi and Oddur Thorisson and their (Mimi’s) blog Manger.

I fear I may be a little evangelical about the Thorissons but seriously, they are bloody, outrageously, and seriously, lovely. Reading Manger has, over the past couple of years that I’ve been reading it, soothed and comforted me, making me feel joyful and optimistic, at times when I’ve really needed it. As my little family fell apart and I felt too sad to make any effort with friends I drew comfort from reading about this young family, living an interesting and amazing life in the countryside in the South West of France. Whilst the blog is ostensibly about food it is so very much more than that – it is about family, love, warmth, celebration, friendship, generosity, beauty, togetherness and on, and on.

Mimi and Oddur have inspired me and given me a kick up the backside, reminding me that I am still young and that it’s time to start living this life as well as I possibly can. As the band Wild Beasts say in their song Palace “You remind me, of the person I wanted to be, before I forgot” (actually, have a listen to the whole of that song – it’s very applicable in the wake of Mr Robertsgate – only fans of Manger will know what that means, soz). Tee hee *nervous laugh* that really is a bit emo, but it’s also true so…

When Mimi announced on the blog that she would be running cooking ateliers in her home and that Oddur would be throwing in a photography session, I didn’t know how I was going to scratch the pennies together to make it out there but, I knew that there was no way on earth that I was not going to be attending (unless Mimi couldn’t accommodate my allium intolerance, that is).

As I set off for France, my daughter sent me the sweetest text saying, in part, that she was really proud of me for going for it and doing new exciting things and I thought YES! That is exactly it, I’m back to doing and, it is a bit exciting – heading off on holiday on my own. And so set in the nerves…

A-study-in-browns-140415-resize

I had agreed with Mimi that I would be collected from Bordeaux train station but the evening before I set off (I was already in France having taken the opportunity to catch up with my friends in Paris) I received an email from her saying that there was a clash and would I be okay to catch a train from Bordeaux to Lesparre where Oddur would pick me up?…Waaaaaatt…I have to get a little local train on my own and, more than that, I’m going to be picked up by Oddur, on my own, and…you know.., going to have to talk to him, on my own. (I haven’t yet said that I felt a little bit scared of Oddur, have I?* honestly, what an ass I can be). I dutifully replied that that wasn’t a problem at all and proceeded to panic mildly!

*Oddur was actually incredibly hospitable, funny and, I think, made a big effort to make sure that we all felt comfortable during the workshop, sure he took the piss out of us but, only in jest (pretty sure it was jest..)

Bordeaux-station-exterior-resize

The train out of Bordeaux was delayed by quite a bit. For some reason everybody waited at the end of the platform, rather than walking down it, so I thought I’d best do the same. When the train arrived I was super glad I’d paid the extra few euros for a first class seat because most of the other passengers hadn’t and, as it was pretty damn hot, it was nice not to have to sit next to anybody. I get quite car sick and as it’s a reasonable distance to St Yzans from Bordeaux (I had no idea as I hadn’t even looked it up – oops) the train, though delayed further by breaking down (think it had overheated too), turned out to be the perfect option.

Bordeaux platform
Congregating at the end of the platform

When I finally arrived at Lesparre there was no sign of Oddur. What the hello!? Relief and panic at the same time. But, I was recognised by somebody (Oddur’s mum Johanna) who came and greeted me warmly, apologising for being the chauffeur – oh but the joy (sorry Oddur)…which quickly faded as.., the first thing Johanna did was to point out a big dent in the front passenger door which had happened when she had a small crash out doing a similar pick up (of Mimi and Oddur, not a workshop attendee). She hoped I didn’t mind, tee hee – she’s so sweet. I wanted to say err….actually, if it’s all the same with you I’ll catch a cab but of course, quite rightly, that’s not how it went. In any case we drove to St Yzans without incident and Johanna proved (not for the last time) to be the most charming chauffeur, pointing out where the children go to school and telling me about her annual trips to the UK and her love of the British Royal Family well…, royal families in general.

Johanna dropped me at my gorgeous accommodation, La Hourqueyre, otherwise known as the ‘Three Sisters’. I’d exchanged a few emails with Corine who runs the B&B and already knew that I was going to feel very comfortable there. Kathleen one of the other workshop attendees was also staying there and Mimi had asked Corine to prepare a small supper for us. It was so nice to meet Kathleen before the workshop started as I’m actually quite shy and reserved (I can hear my friends guffawing at that). We sat down to a lovely meal of vegetable soup, followed by a scrumptious vegetable quiche – so simple but also tasty, washed down of course, with a pichet of wine. Kathleen and I chatted away and found out a bit about each other and I thought….ooo yeh, think I’m going to be okay.

I can’t recommend La Hourqueyre highly enough, honestly, if you’re going to one of the workshops yes, it would be tempting to stay somewhere a little more ‘fancy pants’ but Corine’s place is charm personified, it’s within walking distance of Mimi’s (well, Corine gave us a lift each morning..ahem) and really, you’re going to spend so very little time there that it’s just not worth staying anywhere else. And I was quite happy, when overwhelmed somewhat one afternoon* – yes, it can get quite emotional there if you let it – I was able to head back to my room for a little snooze which did mean that I ALMOST missed my lift to Lesparre to buy wine but more of that in part deux.

*Hungover more like.

When we arrived at the house the next morning my nerves set in in a BIG way. It was really odd to see the kitchen, the famous Table, the little recess that’s always shot overflowing with fresh produce, the stove, and to get a sense of scale. The Table (enough…it shall from now on be known as the table) was laid with croissants and brioche and patisserie galore. Overwhelmedness began to set in AGAIN and I felt a little like I’d quite like to run away and then…in burst Sweet Joy (real name), oh what a character she is, so lively, so enthusiastic, so…sweet. Sweet Joy and I had started following each other on Instagram so were already a little ‘acquainted’.

Oddur made us coffees and the children flitted in and out breaking through any potentially awkward moments. We discussed how the workshop would run and specifically what we would make and do on that day (a pattern that was repeated each morning) and we were given a grand tour of the house which included the restaurant to be (too exciting). Oh the shame of it – at the time of FINALLY finishing this post (when I REALLY can’t remember the details – thank goodness for Kathleen who has been helping me out)  Mimi and Oddur have not only run several more workshops, they’ve also completed the restaurant AND had a season of running it and NOW.., they’ve just announced the workshop dates for 2016!! Tut. Oddur met us part way through the tour carrying a tray of espressos in delicate little china cups and saucers. At one point I lost the group as I’d stayed behind to referee a little spat that had broken out between Louise and Gaia. Luckily I bumped into Oddur and he took me off to catch up with them – good job as I’d never have thought to head off in the direction that we found them.

Somehow, in the process of all getting to know each other, the morning flew past and before we knew it we were in danger of missing the market if we didn’t get going NOW.

St-vivien

And all of a sudden we found ourselves all bundling into the family car and zooming out of St Yzans in the direction of the Gironde Estuary and the (will be closed if we don’t step on it) market at St-Vivien-de-Médoc. Oooo…our first outing, and to a market – there are so many shots on the blog of Mimi and the children out buying produce at markets so it was fun to be tagging along and to one of Mimi’s favourite markets no less.

I sat in the front alongside Oddur and we chatted away quite merrily, Oddur proving to be a great tour guide and boy racer at the same time. After a fair old drive which left Kathleen and I a little green around the gills, we pulled into the little square that hosts the Wednesday morning market. Because we were a little bit on the late side, and possibly because we hadn’t quite found our feet yet, we didn’t really go off on our own but all trailed along behind Mimi instead. Oddur kept going off and returning with big bundles of fresh produce, I had my first attempt at being Oddur, taking a shot of the market, a stall holder and one of Mimi doing a bit of shopping. I was a very timid photographer on that first day and one thing I learnt from Oddur is…there’s no room for timidity – one has to be bold and brave (oooer.., I’m working on that one still, I’m improving but definitely not there yet). We did pop in to the General Store which was full of all sorts of great stuff including excellent fruit and veg seeds – I have no idea why (probably not to be left out) I bought a packet of seeds for some carrots – not holding out much hope of those getting planted, certainly not this year as the garden has been rather taken over by builders.

St-Vivien-2White-asparagus-man-150415-camera

Buying some white asparagus which was to be used in one of our starters the following day. Apparently white asparagus is all the rage in the South West.

Pretending-to-be-Oddur-150415-camera

What a first day – this was also Allegra’s (in the foreground of the photo) who had come to work as one of Mimi’s assistants in the kitchen. Allegra had literally just arrived back in St Yzans and we’d picked her up from her digs en route to the market and that was that…straight to work.

Kitchen-pre-lunch

Bottles of the sparkly stuff (Perrier) were opened to settle tummies and see that loaf tin..?..that’s the exact spot where I, a few days later, spectacularly break a cork whilst trying to remove it from a carefully selected (by me) and rather expensive bottle of wine. Teehee. Oops. That was quite embarrassing.

If you flick through Mimi’s cookbook or scroll through the blog you’ll see that aprons feature heavily, I had taken one with me just in case but I needn’t have as one of the first things we did was choose our aprons! Everywhere you go in this house is picture ready, it’s fantastic.

Aprons-and-asparagus-side

Fava-bean-podding-3

I’m not sure at what time but, we did finally get down to do some cooking! And I learnt something straight away – once you’ve got the little broad beans out of their shell, you’re still not done! You still need to take the outer skin off of them (which renders them about half the size so you really do need to do a lot if you’re going to eat anything worth eating) which should take away that bitter taste that they can sometimes have and that is often what people that say they don’t like them are objecting to. I think, even though I’ll go the extra mile and a half, and then another mile again, I can be quite a lazy cook – coz I’ve cooked fresh broad beans before but I’ve never taken off that inner/outer skin – that’s something else that I learnt. It’s not necessary to be ridiculously over the top, simple is just as good, but it is necessary to do things well.

Fava-bean-podding-2

The sum of about a table full of shells. These went into making an absolutely scrumptious, yet criminally simple, broad bean (fava bean) soup which was garnished (Mimi style with the garnishes put in the soup bowl first and then the soup ladled on top of them) with crouton bits, crispy bacon, shallots (not me, I didn’t have shallots).

Chard-and-egg-pie

Kathleen and my Chard and egg pie. This is the kind of thing that I would never do, cutting out leaves and decorating so sweetly, for an ‘everyday’ lunch but is just the type of thing I expected to do on this workshop (I hadn’t thought this through exactly but I hoped to pick up a bit of that attention to creating and appreciating beauty that Mimi and Oddur have in spades).

Making-the-oysters-and-fois-gras

I’d been talking to a lovely woman who had attended one of the earlier workshops as a part of her honeymoon (think her husband just took the opportunity to eat incredibly well for a few days) on Instagram and we’d been discussing what might be brought to the table that might (to my palate) be a bit unattractive…and…ta daaaaa…here is what I’d realised I wouldn’t be able to avoid. But, for their first outing they were served flash baked with a cube of fois gras and a splash of Sauternes and..Oh. My. God…simply stunning. I could not get enough of them.

oyster-close-up-cooked

oysters-close-up-cooked-2

Each meal followed roughly the same format: cook whilst chatting loads, cook whilst having a drink of wine, drink more wine whilst Mimi finishes off the cooking..haha (actually, Sweet Joy was always a very eager cook – so too was Kathleen, to be fair. I was a bit of a lazy arse though – well, I got caught up with wanting to take photos), drink more wine whilst having some sort of salty nibbles (the oysters, or charcuterie etc), move from the kitchen table to the dining table which was always beautifully set, eat our way through a wonderful three course meal accompanied by more wine and lots of chatter. It really was rather lovely and very special.

Dinner on night one was, quite frankly, a bit of a showstopper – duck breasts cooked over a sarment open fire (sarments are vine branches – the majority of which are cut from the vines early in the year and then dried and used for cooking, lending a particular smokey taste to whatever is being cooked. It’s very Bordeaux.) in the kitchen. We were sent to table before the breasts were done to have our starter of broad bean soup and Oddur was left alone in the kitchen finishing off the cooking.

Firing-up-the-sarments

duck-on-sarments

Day one ended late, as did all the days, and we all went back to our hotels feeling full, happy, and excited for the days ahead.

In part two, which will be in about another five months at the rate my life is currently going, you’ll learn the many ways in which our little trio proved to be the Worst Workshop Yet. Pah ha.

 

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Salted, caremelised pear and cinnamon porridge.

Pear slices collage 

Oats are odd. If I eat cooked oats, in other words – if I eat porridge, I’m hungry again within about an hour but, if I eat them raw with yoghurt and fruit, for example, I stay full for ages. Somebody suggested to me once that it was probably the addition of the fruit that was making the difference so, in the interests of experimentation, I ditched my usual porridge with coconut flakes and chestnut jam (it’s not really jam, not as we know it at least) and tried a much more souped up brekkie.

Salted, caremelised pear and cinnamon porridge

This recipe is perfect for a weekend breakfast or brunch, where time is rich and you’re in the mood for indulgence. But, it really does only take 10 minutes or so, so it’s perfectly easy to throw together before heading out to work (and I do know that some of you will be heading out to work at the weekend, or such like, and during the week might be the time when you can be more relaxed). The time that it takes to cook the pear does depend on how ripe the pear is in the first place. I like to go with one that’s quite hard so that it keeps its shape and doesn’t just turn into a pear mush.

You’ll see that I use two different types of salt and, honestly…., I think that I’m just being pretentious but, it’s what I did for this photoshoot so I wrote it down! Feel free to use whatever salt you want so long as it’s good salt with a good clean taste.

Serves 1 but, you’ll probably feel pretty stuffed if you eat every last mouthful.

Ingredients

1/2 cup jumbo oat flakes

1 cup milk

1 pinch rock salt

1 pinch sea salt (I use fleur de sel)

1/2 cinnamon stick (you could use vanilla instead but I wanted the sweet warmth that cinnamon offers)

Knob or two of butter

1 pear (I used a hard Conference pear for these photos)

1 generous tsp honey

1 tbsp almond butter – to serve

Dollop (that’s about a heaped tablespoon) natural yoghurt – to serve

Ingredients for caremelised pear porridge 

Cut the pear in half lenghtways and then in half again. Cut out the central core and then slice the pear thinly. Place a knob of butter and the cinnamon in a frying pan over a medium heat and once melted, add the pear slices. Cook the pear slices for 5 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until well softened – you may need to add a tiny slither more of butter if everything gets a bit too ‘dry’. The harder the pear the longer the cooking time. My super hard Conference pear took 15 minutes but I usually use a less hard pear and the cooking time is usually around 10 minutes, which is perfect as that’s exactly how long it takes to cook the porridge.

Pear halves

Cinnamon butter and pear

Once you have got the pears started, put the oats, milk and rock salt in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and then lower the heat to as low as your stovetop will go – ideally to a very gentle simmer. Cover the pan and simmer, without stirring, for 10 minutes. If your pears aren’t quite ready, don’t worry, just turn the porridge off and leave in the pan, covered, until you’re ready for it.

Once the pears are browned all over and have softened slightly, add a teaspoon of honey and stir for a minute. The pears will go limp when you add the honey. Throw in your pinch of fleur de sel, or plain old sea salt, and stir again.

Fleur de sel and pears

Stir a tablespoon of almond butter into the porridge and serve topped with the pears. Add a dollop of yoghurt (or cream, ooo..why not?) and throw in whatever else you fancy – a handful of blueberries perhaps, a sprinkling of toasted, flaked almonds or coconut flakes. Whatever tickles your boat or, just as is. I probably wouldn’t go with anything too sweet though as the pears are already on the sweet side and the almond butter adds a sweetness to the whole thing too.

Porridge with caremelised pears

Porridge with caremelised pears and yoghurt

All in all a really delicious and filling breakfast that’ll do the trick for a good few hours. I suspect it’s the almond butter that adds the sustained fuel factor and not the caremelised pear but, who cares!? It’s scrumptious, either way.

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Green thai prawn curry with courgette noodles or…coodles.

Green thai prawn coodle collage 

This post, as, if I’m brutally honest, is most of what I write at the moment, is tinged with sadness. For all my bravado in my about me section, getting over the end of a very long and significant relationship and one that has taken up my entire adulthood, is tough and I am not doing that well at it. But this past week has been good, I’d say I’ve taken two steps forward and only one back so…, for the moment, things are on the up and this post is getting finished! On the 1st March I decided, AGAIN, to get on with it, all I have to do is stop looking to the last 28 years with Dan and start enjoying and making the most of the next 28+ years. Sounds simple. Ha! I should have that many left in me, right!?

For quite some time now, I’ve been seeing dishes pop up on the internet (mainly via Deliciously Ella and The Londoner) featuring courgette or cucumber spaghetti or noodles (affectionately termed courghetti and coodles). And, the recipes always say that if you don’t have a spiraliser (the gadget used to noodle-ise your chosen fruit/veg) you can achieve a similiar effect with something like a potato peeler where, rather than noodles you would end up with ribbons. Now, I’m absolutely certain that ribbons of courgettes taste like…, ribbons of courgettes – what I had no idea about though, was whether eating something in a noodle shape would somehow trick the brain into thinking that it was eating noodles. There was nothing for it, I was going to have to acquire a spiraliser.

So, I put the word out and..BINGO, a spiraliser was given to me for my birthday by…Dan. This is significant because one of the things, apparently, that really wound Dan up about me was my constant food and diet obsessions, this fad here, that fad there and just..food, food, glorious FOOD (and drink) – ahhh…I love the stuff. I suppose now that he doesn’t have to live with me it’s safe to encourage my eating eccentricities. That or, it was just a sweet gift. (Or a little bit of both..mwah ha). Anyway, I was struck by this, it made me a little bit reflective and this post has taken a while to write.

Green thai prawn curry with courgette noodles

This recipe is reasonably simple and quick and would, I think, fall into the category of ‘clean’ eating. It does require you to have prepped everything in advance and to have all the ingredients ready as everything comes together at the same time. In this case I’ve made coodles, courgette noodles, but, were I to have made a bolognese type sauce, for example, the exact same coodles would then be courghetti. Genius.

Serves 1 hungry (or plain greedy) person or 2 (but up the coodles) not so hungry people

Ingredients

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 medium to large courgette – washed

1/2 lemongrass stalk – remove the outer leaf of a lemongrass stalk and then cut in half lenghtways, chop one half into chunks

1/2 red chilli – keep the seeds in and chop roughly

1/2 lime – juice and zest

2 tbsps cashew nuts

thumb size piece of root ginger – peeled and roughly chopped

small handful coriander – stalks and leaves

1/2 to 1 clove garlic (if desired, I don’t use it but it would work with this dish)

1/2 onion – finely sliced

1 pack (175g) raw peeled king prawns

1 cup coconut milk

Pinch of sea salt

Photo of ingredients 1

Photo of ingredients 2

Soak the cashew nuts in a little water for three minutes. While the nuts are soaking prepare the lemongrass, chilli, ginger. Chop the coriander stalks into chunks and add, along with a few leaves, to a blender. Add the lemongrass, chilli, ginger, garlice (if using), lime zest and cashew nuts, along with the water they have been soaking in, to the blender. Blend all the ingredients for a minute or so until all the ingredients are well blended and you have a smooth liquidy paste.

Place a large pan of water on to boil.

Place a wok or frying pan over a high heat and add the tablespoon of coconut oil. Throw in the sliced onions and cook, stirring regularly, for about five minutes until the onions have softened and are starting to brown. Keep an eye on the onions and turn the heat down if they are showing any signs of burning!

Once the onions have softened, add the paste and turn the heat down to medium. Fry, stirring continuously, for two minutes. If the paste starts to catch, turn the heat down a bit more. After a couple of minutes add the coconut milk, stir, bring to the boil and then turn down the heat and let simmer for two to three minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare your coodles according to your spiraliser instructions.

Photo of courgettes

Photo of courgette being spiralised

Your pan of water should have come to the boil by now. Turn it off and put the coodles in for two minutes. Lots of people don’t bother blanching and serve their coodles raw but I wanted to give mine the best chance of being more like a noodle.

Whilst your coodles are blanching add the prawns to the sauce and cook for two to three minutes, stirring regularly, until all of the prawns have turned pink and are cooked through. Add a pinch of sea salt.

Drain the coodles and serve with the sauce as well as a large sprinkling of coriander leaves and a sqeeze of lime.

Photo of green thai curry from above

Photo of green thai curry close up

If you don’t have a spiraliser, by all means try taking a vegetable peeler to your courgette to get long strips or…you know, serve with actual noodles, or…rice. (In joke at my house, apparently I’m going through a stage of suggesting that everything be served with rice).

I mean, I wasn’t fooled, I was eating courgettes BUT, I wasn’t not eating noodles!? I think I’ll experiment with raw cucumber in salads and maybe try out a few other veg too.

To change this sauce up you could use chicken instead of prawns, just make sure that it’s cooked through thoroughly, or beef would work well. Maybe add a few dashes of fish sauce and/or a tiny bit of sugar.

 

 

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