Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Cake of Dreams

Cake of Dreams

Cake - everything from cupcakes to meringuey amazingness -  has been uppermost on my mind recently.  It's the children's party on Saturday - note the plural - so I need to produce two cakes this week.  And for a cake to be successful, it really does need both to look and taste good; sadly, I only ever manage one out of two, and it's usually taste (and that's only because there's basically nothing Nutella can't fix.)  Clearly, it's time to up my game, find a new source (everybody recognises a Hummingbird from about a hundred metres) or find an actual recipe instead of relying on Betty Crocker.

Fortunately my husband has offered to make Sholto's, I think as much to save our son from embarrassment as anything else (he has started noticing how good his friends' cakes look.) Andrew is determined to surprise him with an Abney and Teal cake, Abney and Teal being Sholto's biggest obsession right now.  (Which is fine by me:  a teddy bear and a rag doll live in the park on an island, surviving entirely on porridge, and accompanied by a bouncing, hole-digging parsnip called Neep, some wooden things called Poc-Pocs, a guitar-playing dog called Toby, and an obese, bubble-blowing and tea-drinking seal called Bop. What's not to like?)  Andrew has been google imaging for inspiration, and has just shown me this:

Not Cake of Dreams.  Very fiddly looking Abney and Teal cake obviously made by someone very patient.

My husband is seriously ambitious.  He also has a tendency to become a teeny bit stressed when a culinary idea doesn't do as it's told. And as far as I know, he's never iced a cake before in his life.  So I've suggested that he make it on Thursday, when I'll be at Wimbledon all day.

But that still leaves me with Esmeralda's.  For her, I'm thinking a Rainbow Cake.  And the reason I'm thinking this is because a.) her middle name is Rainbow and b.) my go-to food writer Esther Walker - who is hilarious and brilliant and you can click through to her blog Recipe Rifle on the side of this page - trialled Pippa Middleton's Rainbow Cake, and found it rather good.  And I've got a thing about Pippa Middleton.  I own a copy of Celebrate, and find it way more helpful than is fashionable to admit. I've also got this feeling that it's going to become cult.  And, in, say, seventy years time, when Esmeralda tells everyone that her first birthday party cake came by way of the sister of the Queen, everyone will nod knowingly, and proudly state that their mother too had a secret copy of the Sloane Ranger Guide to Entertaining, hidden between Jamie and Nigella in the celebrity chef section of their kitchen library.

Recipe Rifle's Rainbow Cake, made to Pippa Middleton's recipe

But then my friend Francesca, who actually makes cakes for a living, sent me this picture:

Cake of Dreams Rainbow Cake

And now I know that I have got to make Esmeralda something like that.  I've got to spend days making little layers of sponge in variegated shades of pink (and maybe green), so that when you cut into the cake, it really is a rainbow. 

And then I started looking at some of Francesca's other cakes, and wondering why I'm even bothering to try to make a cake myself, when Francesca is not only way more talented in the baking department than me, but creates exquisite confections that truly are deserving of the title Cake of Dreams.  For that is what her cake-making company is called.

Cake of Dreams

Cake of Dreams

Cake of Dreams

Cake of Dreams

Can we please just take a moment to look at these cherries?  I mean, sparkly maraschino cherries.  Did you ever see anything that you want more, ever?  They look like they ought to be on a Christmas tree.  I bet they're edible, too, and not just rolled in glue and then glitter as they would be if I had attempted anything like this.  I love maraschino cherries.  I used to order Amaretto Sours in cocktail dives just because I knew that they'd come with one.  Or more, in my case, as I always requested extra.

So, I could just order from Francesca, and part of me - the logical part - is muttering "Do it, do it, do it."  She and her children are coming to the party anyway so I wouldn't even have to think about the cake for another minute, and would instead be able to concentrate entirely on making heart and star shaped sandwiches, sourcing sacks for a sack race, and hardboiling eggs for the egg and spoon race. (All requested by Sholto incidentally.  Abney and Teal is charmingly retro.)

However my perfectionist tendencies are such that I really want to make my children's birthday cakes myself.  I want everyone to look at the cake, take a sharp intake of breath, and think "wow. Fiona obviously eats her fair share, but look at what she has created!" In my head, I equate successful cake making to a life of domestic bliss, as opposed to a life of juggling work and childcare.  Like, if I produce a good cake, people will also think that my house is clean and my children are always perfectly behaved.  Obviously my reasoning doesn't entirely make (any) sense, but nonetheless I'm going to try.

Lucky for me I have Francesca on speed dial for when I get it totally wrong.

You can contact Francesca at hello@cakeofdreams.co.uk, and you can gaze at her heavenly-looking life of domestic bliss on her blog, The Squids, which also has a recipe for Rainbow Cake on it, somewhere.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Why We're Going to Wales

Last year, shortly before Esmeralda was born, my parents very kindly took us - Andrew, Sholto, me + bump - to Cornwall.  Specifically, to Trebetherick, which is my favourite place in the world.  Even seven months pregnant I had a great time, playing on the beach with Sholto (who was in heaven - from paddling at Polzeath and Daymer Bay to collecting stones on Greenaway) and making Andrew come on a sort of pilgrimage with me to all the places I frequented when younger: the tiny church of St. Enedoc where John Betjeman is buried, Port Quin where I recounted the tragic story of everyone drowning, Port Isaac where we bought lobster, Port Gaverne where the pub does the best chocolate cake ever - you get the picture.

We also went to St. Ives, to visit the Barbara Hepworth Museum (she had four children.  Four.  And still she managed to accomplish so much.  Although I have heard it said that she practiced a somewhat absent form of parenting) and the Leach Pottery, which has the most amazing shop:

Unfortunately my husband, as previously mentioned, was with me, so I couldn't actually buy all of it.  However, it did lead me to the decision that this year's holiday very much had to be booked with retail opportunities in mind.

And then I read an article in World of Interiors about a tiny little company called Blodwen that makes traditional Welsh blankets - actually, it specialises in Welsh rural craft - and oh, I love Welsh blankets.  We had them on our beds at school:

I've poached this image from the Hanford prospectus - it shows the glorious yellow Welsh blankets on the beds in one of the dormitories - Stuart, to be exact - we used to climb up that fireplace in the mornings when we were awake early, and bored . . .  (I don't know who was responsible for the not quite matching yellow curtains.  There is a chance it was my mother, who was once upon a time - but after my time - headmistress, alongside my father the headmaster and Sarah C, the other headmistress and chatelaine of Hanford, who was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the most recent of Tatler's Good Schools Guide.  Let's gloss over the curtains. And let it not stand in anyone's way of sending their daughter(s) to Hanford, for it is an amazing amazing school.)

Anyway, Welsh blankets, and Blodwen:

I so love the variety of colour ways, and the fact that there is even a plain black and white for all those fans of monochrome:

It turns out that Liberty stock them, which is is within three miles of my house, but I'm not going to even consider buying them there.  We're going to Wales, in three weeks time, so that I can justify buying them on holiday as 'local' craft.

Of course, Andrew has no idea that this is the reason I suggested that we go to Wales.  He thinks that we're going because we have to holiday in this country (due to the fact that the children don't have passports because even the idea of flying with them is too exhausting), by the sea - preferably with surf - but also by an estuary for sailing and windsurfing, somewhere neither of us has ever been so that we can discover the perfect summer holiday destination together and then go back there year and year after year.  And it can't be Cornwall because that is mine, and it can't be South West Scotland, because that is his.  Fortunately, it turns out that Wales fits every single one of the pre-requisites, and if that isn't a sign, then I don't know what is.  And when we've eventually gone back so many times that we decide it would make sense to buy a house, or at least a hut, there, I intend all our beds to be covered in Welsh blankets.  Because when in Rome . . .

(I might skip the socks.)


POSTSCRIPT - 19TH JULY 2013 - DON'T MAKE YOUR HUSBAND DRIVE THREE HOURS ACROSS WALES TO VISIT A SHOP THAT IS ONLY ONLINE. Seriously.  We drove from Barmouth to Cardigan - MILES - to find an office on a trading estate.  Blodwen is not a real shop.  My husband was very nice about it.  I did have to buy him chilli and chips for lunch in some faintly basic cafe in Cardigan, and couldn't invest in any vintage Portmerrion china, all in an effort to make it up to him though.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Daphne Guinness's Fatal Flaw

Daphne Guinness has released a music video, directed by SHOWStudio's Nick Knight: Fatal Flaw.  She told me back in October (I was interviewing her for Tatler Russia) that she had started recording an album, describing it as 'Punkadellic', so I've been excited for a while.  This is the first single.

As expected, it is visually stunning and fabulously chic:

And what is certain is that she can sing.  Guinness orginally trained as an opera singer.  Here's the link to the video itself:

Watch it.  Listen to it.  Download it (from the 20th.)

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The Power of Pink and Green

Lilly Pulitzer Chin Chin

I'm having a pink and green moment, and I attribute it entirely to having just spent nearly a week in a suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel.  I was there for work, but at the invitation of Dior, so it was seriously fabulous and utter bliss.  The whole hotel made me think of the late Lilly Pulitzer, the Palm Beach based queen of prep; I love the above wallpaper - it looks like paisley, but look closer:  elephants! I'm almost considering wall papering bits of my bedroom in in, or perhaps making a headboard out of it - I think it's actually a fabric. (I'd do the bathroom as my first choice, but I've just redone it in shades of white, cream and grey - with the odd pink spot - and my husband will have a fit if I tell him that I think we should start again.  Even if we haven't actually yet finished the chic grey look.)

So, the hotel:

The entrance, opposite a little park on Sunset Boulevard where George Michael got booked for soliciting.  'Gotta have faith' is still scrawled on the wall of the public loos.

The amazing, amazing pool, where the uber chic attendants wear tennis whites.

The wallpaper that lines every corridor.

The Polo Lounge where I had breakfast everyday - French toast made with Challah bread and vanilla butter, accompanied by pecan nuts and banana - literally one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.  The first day Hedi Slimane was at the adjacent table; I now totally understand why he moved the Saint Laurent design studio from Paris to LA.

After months of a seemingly eternal winter, days in sun-soaked California were a very welcome change, and I spent much of the time fantasising about moving our family to Malibu: living life on the beach, hiking in the Santa Monica hills, eating at Nobu every night and running around in Lilly shift dresses during the day.  I pictured a house similar to one of the ones featured in Ed Ruscha's contact sheets for South Pacific Highway, which are currently being exhibited at the Getty:

You can kind of see what I mean.  Maybe.

But now I'm back, and even before scattering little Beverly Hills sourced knick knacks (the hotel had a gift shop, disaster) l have realised that there is actually a fair bit of pink and green already in evidence.  But of course there is: peonies are my favourite flowers, and my favourite Laduree macarons are rose petal and jasmine.  But there's another important influence too:  my friend Elizabeth, who, between graduation and marriage, lived in the most perfect single girl flat on East 78th Street, in an apartment that was built in 1908 as tenements for TB victims, and which she decorated predominantly in those shades.  She did it all on a shoe string, and yet it was literally the prettiest flat ever, thus proving that one doesn't necessarily need a vast budget for interior decoration, and that you can make a shoebox look like home, just so long as you've got imagination (trust me, I've seen the before pictures . . . ):

The paint colour is Benjamin Moor 2029-60 Pale Vista (the pink, which you can't see but which she painted her bedroom with was also Benjamin Moore, 2003-70 Pleasing Pink) - you can't get Benjamin Moore paints in the UK but Zoffany's Half Ice Floes is a perfect Laduree green, and Farrow & Ball's Middleton Pink is confectionary heaven.  The sofa is from Crate & Barrel, the demi-lune table was made by Elizabeth's father, and the lamp was from Anthropologie; Elizabeth made the shade herself.  The chandelier was rescued from the Vogue US fashion cupboard, where it was languishing, lost among the shoes and other accessories.

Elizabeth found the chair in a yard sale and had it reupholstered, the rug, which you can just see, is from the souk in Damascus (which, sadly, is not the safest of destination shopping locations at the moment.)

Elizabeth always, always has flowers in her house.

And then Elizabeth got married, and left the perfect single girl flat.  She met her husband online which is a story I recount endlessly to anyone and everyone who'll listen:  "You can find love on the internet.  It truly truly works.  To quote from George Michael: You gotta have faith!" (Elizabeth is one of a kind though - just as only she could have made a nothing flat that special, so she has always had the kind of faith - or at least hope - that can move mountains.) And they each supported each other through career changes, taking the kind of chances that many people never dare to, and they were the right chances, for now they live in near palatial splendour in Washington, in the kind of house that is basically the American dream, and then some:

But the spare bedroom is painted in the same green that her little New York flat was, and the bedlinen, by Yves Delorme, is a perfect match.

So, thinking of Elizabeth, and Lilly Pulitzer and the Beverly Hills Hotel, I've pulled my pink and green St. Tropez market-bought baskets out of the cupboard, and put them in the grey and white bathroom, filling them with magazines and other such essentials (hmm, nappies.  Not so glam, but Esmeralda's still a bit young to be potty trained.)  There, accompanied by the pink Beverly Hills Hotel rubber duck that I bought the children, and the pink and green bath crystals in a jar, they make me feel happy and sunny and full of faith and hope every time I look at them.  


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Rakewell's Progress

I've been a fan of Grayson Perry, and his wife, ever since they spent nearly half an hour talking to me at the Serpentine Summer Party one year, while I waited for someone - anyone - I knew to turn up.  I was young, and nervous, and covering it for the social pages, so had to be there from the very beginning.  And it was raining, and cold, and I had just got back from some festival and, well, I really wasn't feeling it that night.  Covering parties always terrified me.  Grayson and his wife saved that one.  They were so kind.  

I watched every episode of the hilarious and fascinating programme that he made researching the British class system - it was like The Sloane Ranger Handbook crossed with Victoria Mather's Social Stereotype columns that used to be in the Telegraph Magazine, crossed with Martin Amis's London Fields - ahead of starting these tapestries, which are a contemporary re-working of Hogarth's A Rake's Progress (those paintings, by the way, are in the Sir John Soane Museum, which is one of my absolute favourite museums in London and bizarrely nearly always empty, which confuses me.  Does no one know they're there?  They're one of the greatest stories ever, in paint - social history at its most fascinating - they're the paintings that made me do History of Art for A Level - seriously, anyone, go and see them if you haven't already.)  But back to Perry:  I was utterly delighted to discover that the final room of this year's Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy is hung solely with The Vanity of Small Differences, which is what these works are called.  They detail the rise and fall of 'Rakewell.'

I'm not necessarily suggesting that they're as good as Hogarth's.  But they're certainly comparable.  And who knows?  Maybe, 200 year hence, people really will see them as social history.  Perhaps they'll look at them and ask themselves what 'cage fighting' was, and why on earth we did it in a supposedly civilised age, and, even more puzzling, why the people doing it became famous? You have to go and see them in real life.  The detail is amazing.

And I love art like this - the kind that makes me think that I could perhaps do it myself, at home, while watching episode after episode of The Good Wife, or anything else in English. (I wouldn't be able to combine it with my current obsession, Arne Dahl, sadly - I don't think I can sew and read subtitles, though there are many people who would argue that my sewing looks exactly like I was reading subtitles at the same time.  Incidentally, if you haven't discovered Arne Dahl, I have one word for you:  iplayer.)

Incidentally, the whole Summer Exhibition was great this year.  There were several works that I would have bought, in a parallel world in which I have more wall space, floor space (there were some great sculptures - look out for the Inebriate Owl) and limitless funds.   And I'm definitely going back for another look at the Grayson Perrys.

The Summer Exhibition opens this weekend at the Royal Academy.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Daisy, Daisy . . .

This idyllic image was taken not in some sun dappled meadow but in our communal garden, in Notting Hill, rather early on Sunday morning.  Sholto was picking daisies to make a necklace for Esmeralda.  He's not, at two and a half, quite dextrous enough just yet - it's hard, splitting the stem just so, threading the head through - but I have no doubt that we'll get there soon, especially if the grass never gets mown, which I very much hope that it won't.  And then Esmeralda will be able to wear something like this:

They're so fleeting in their beauty though; I remember the disappointment, as a child, of a daisy chain that one had concentrated so hard on, wilting and becoming quite limp after what seemed like only moments.  Fortunately, there are some jewellers who have taken the daisy and made a more permanent decoration out of it:

Alex Monroe daisy stud earrings - there are also rings and pendants but I love these simple studs, they're so sweet.  (Also, I can't wear necklaces for now.  The children throttle me with them.)

Annoushka Granulation Daisy Ring - this is one of the 'stacking' rings, but it occurs to me that it would also make a very pretty wedding ring for anybody having a lawn wedding in the right months.

Christopher Thompson Royds pressed flower collar - this is probably my favourite, and not only because the artist is a great friend of mine and made my wedding ring and the tiara I wore to get married in; it's my favourite because it remains truest to the original idea of a daisy chain, even if, as you can see, there are buttercups and other wild flowers mixed in.  The flowers were gathered in the lanes of West Sussex and carried home under Sholto's buggy (for it was when he was a baby that Christopher first started making these) pressed, and then, after the appropriate amount of time, taken out and arranged before being backed on silver.

Here's another one by Christopher.  I remember trying the necklaces on as they were being made - I felt like Titania in A Midsummer's Night Dream:  

Obviously the hateful fantasies and snake skin aren't so much what I was thinking of, but Oberon was rather cross when he said this; the point is where Titania was sleeping.  And I know A Midsummer Night's Dream was set in Athens, but sometimes the descriptions sound so very like England in the early summer.

And finally here is an edgier version by Christopher - he's done the flower necklaces as cut-outs, in oxidised silver.

Sholto doesn't get much (any) pocket money yet, so can't buy any of these for his sister sadly; he's simply going to have to practice making the real thing.  But for anybody else who wants a way to capture the spirit of the daisy, I'd recommend one of Christopher's collars and booking tickets for A Midsummer's Night Dream which is playing at the Globe over the summer.  For appropriating and paraphrasing another of Shakespeare's plays, they are 'such stuff as dreams are made on.' And the prettiest way yet of eternalising the ephemeral.