Friday, 30 November 2012


Want to hear something ridiculous? In my imagination, I'm something of a domestic goddess.

Why is that ridiculous, you might ask?

Well, for one thing, a worrying proportion of my diet is made up of instant quinoa, avocado, stir-in pasta sauce and peanut butter cups. I work strange hours, okay? They're not conducive to cooking.

For another, I'm not the tidiest person in the world. If I have guests over there's usually some frantic rearranging of the piles of crap accumulated on every available surface.

I'm a bit of an anxious hostess, hovering and fidgeting and fretting that people aren't having enough fun.

I let my laundry pile build up to the extent that you could bury a medium-sized child in it.

You get the picture. But there's something about Christmas that makes me think I'm Nigella. That I need to be ready for an influx of surprise photogenic guests expecting home-made goodies and festive cheer.

Please ignore the burnt sleigh cookie at the back. Thanks.

I invested in some Christmas cookie cutters on a recent trip to Ikea. And a muffin tin on a recent trip to Target. Basically I seem to be buying one present for myself for each one I buy someone else...

Roll on Christmas, people. I am doing it right this year!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Dear Etsy

Dear Etsy,

I love you. I like buying gifts for people that are home-made, and individual, and quirky. I like supporting small businesses, especially at this time of year.

But can you explain to me why exactly it is that cats seem to have joined reindeer, holly and nativity scenes as the stars of the Etsy Christmas card?

You can buy this here!

I mean, I get the logic, really I do. You look around your home, you see the cat draped elegantly along the arm of the armchair. You love that ball of fluff. You want the world, or at the very least the people on your Christmas card list, to know how much you love that ball of fluff.

So you take a photo of it in a Santa hat and sell it on Etsy.

And this here

A niche market, you might think. One for the hardcore cat fan?

The 1700 cat-based Etsy cards on offer seem to prove otherwise.

Some inspired sellers have merely added feline iconography to the traditional stars/pine trees/baubles.

And from here

Others have opted to use their cat as model as well as inspiration.

And, of course, here

Personally, I think this collage is my current number one.

You're welcome!

But I still have at least 1500 more options to browse through - that could change...

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Baking spree

I love to get my bake on, but it usually takes the incentive of people to actually eat what I've produced to get me into the kitchen these days.

A Thanksgiving meal for 15 (at an incredible house with a huge terrace tucked away in Laurel Canyon) seemed like pretty much the perfect opportunity. Plus pumpkin pie is an atrocity I will never willingly eat, so I thought it might be nice to whip up a couple of alternative options.

I know I already posted pictures. But whatever. Humour, me, ok? I'm proud of my (semi-successful) efforts.

Pie number one: Razzleberry

Simples. I found a recipe here, halved it because I was only planning on making one pie, and accidentally misread the recipe/got a bit stressed out in the supermarket and bought frozen pie crusts instead of chilled. Which meant my little lattice strips kinda broke apart because, well, duh. Frozen pastry is friable.

It didn't seem to make much difference in the end, though. The razzleberry filling was a winner - the sweetness of blueberries vs the tartness of raspberries (oh, and I added some lemon juice to the mix because I love sharp-tasting fillings) worked pretty damn well.

The pastry, on the other hand, was fine, but, well, only fine. As ready-made pastry usually is.

But I was saving my pastry-making efforts for...

Pie number 2: Maple Pecan

I found a recipe on Smitten Kitchen for an unshrinkable sweet tart shell which promised no baking weights would be required. Which pretty much had me sold, because: a) I don't have baking beads, and b) once you've used dried beans or rice for the pointless purpose of weighing your pastry down, they're useless.

I don't have a food processor, so I went rogue and made the pastry by hand, and it all went pretty well until it was time to transfer the rolled pastry to the tart tin. That took at least five attempts, and all of my (very small) reserves of patience.

I made the filling using this recipe, which was all well and good until I poured it into the tart shell. At which point it leaked out of the bottom. Copiously. All over the hob, all over the oven and all over the baking tray I hastily shoved underneath the tin.

I guess my pastry wasn't tough enough/intact enough to handle such a liquid-y filling? But there wasn't much I could do except hope there'd be enough filling left to render the pie edible.

And, actually, despite the fact that there should have been at least a third more maple-ness than there was, it was fine. The pastry was really great - crumbly but not too crumbly, sweet but not too sweet. And part of me thinks the pie might have been overwhelmingly sugary if there'd been much more filling.

Oh - and I think it actually tasted even better eaten with a cup of tea on Friday, two days after I made it, than on Thanksgiving itself.

Friday, 23 November 2012

It's beginning to look at lot like Christmas - part 3

Finally. Part the Third.

For the dudes (and specifically the dads):

This is where it gets tricky. My father is not the easiest to shop for. One Christmas he specifically requested CD cleaning wipes and refused to countenance the idea that I might want to buy him something less, well, cleaning product-y.*

So, with a distinct lack of originality, I've bought my dad the latest Terry Pratchett novel most years. I'd buy it in December, he'd usually read it some time around August, and that would be that.

After 20 years that idea has staled a little. But my dad is a busy man, hence only managing to finish his Christmas reading on his summer holidays - he doesn't have the time for books.

So what does he like? Well, beer, for starters. Good beer. Fancypants beer.

Image from here

I can't recommend St Peter's Brewery enough. It has every kind of beer a discerning ale drinker could ever want, from grapefruit to Christmas to Suffolk Gold. Sadly, my dad already knows this. He knows it so well that after knocking off work on Christmas Eve he usually drives over to their (beautiful, medieval) brewery and buys a case for himself, to enjoy at leisure over the festive season. So that's out.

So my brain runs thus: My dad likes music. I can buy concert/theatre tickets. I'll get him an experience, rather than a thing! Genius!

Except. The last cultural events of this type my parents attended were, in no particular order: Mumford & Sons, the Glyndebourne Touring Opera, the Foo Fighters and The Imagined Village. Their tastes are nothing if not diverse.

If you happen to have a parent with operatic leanings, Glyndebourne will be performing The Marriage of Figaro (which my parents declared excellent) again next summer at the 2013 Festival. 

Ooh - I know! Scandi-crime! All middle-aged, middle-class Brits like a bit of gloomy Scandinavian noir, right?

Image via the BBC

Season 1 of The Bridge is on dvd now, as is the film adaptation of Jo Nesbo's Headhunters. I can't comment on either of these, because I haven't actually seen them. I haven't even watched the Danish version of The Killing. *Hangs head in shame*. But judging by my parents' reluctance to speak to me on Skype when The Bridge was on, I think they liked it.

Which means they've seen it. Which means they do not strictly need a box-set.

Which means I GIVE UP. Guys, what are you buying your dad for Christmas?

*In case you get really, really, really desperate. You're welcome!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Happy thanksgiving!

May your day be full of pie...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

All I want for Christmas is...

... this:

Image from here

A super wide-angle lens for my beautiful camera, to be exact, so that I can take uber-awesome photos of Bolivian salt flats and Chilean deserts. Sadly they're a leeeetle out of my price range to buy new. And also to buy second-hand.

So I'm saving my pennies, scouring t'interwebz for bargains and spending far too much time looking at incredible photos of the Salar de Uyuni.

In the meantime, I'd settle for a cute journal like one of these.

Both images from Paper Source

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - part 2

Now on to my favourite (and most researched) section of the Christmas list:

Little people:

One amazing additional bonus to my friends starting to become parents? I get to buy kids stuff! Right now they're all pretty much babies, still, so a few of my favourite children's purchases might have to wait a few years.

But I can't say that's limited me too much - there are so many cool things out there! Starting with books. I'm pretty old school when it comes to children's stories, I tend to stick to the classics, and to the authors that my brother and sister and I loved...

Like Janet and Alan Ahlberg.

All of these images from Penguin

Or Meg, Mog and Owl.

Although I'm also a sucker for any kind of stories about feminist princesses...

And when it comes to toys, I get paranoid about plastic bits breaking off and getting swallowed, or just generally not being very durable - so I'm leaning towards wooden toys that the babies of my acquaintance can play with, smash around, suck on and generally use as weapons to their heart's content.

Cute helicopter from John Lewis

How cute? From here

For the nesters:

This would totally include me, if I didn't keep on moving and clogging up my parents' garage with all my possessions.

Current contenders include these beautiful Roald Dahl mugs - you can get everything from James and the Giant Peach to the BFG, to my personal favourite, Matilda.


Or how about some Anthropologie offerings? A seriously fancypants rolling pin?

Both images from Anthropologie
Or some rather gorgeous measuring cups?

Monday, 19 November 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas - part 1

Yeah, yeah. It's still November. Thanksgiving hasn't even happened yet. Whatever.

It's raining here. I am wrapped in a blanket, listening to Sufjan Stevens singing festive songs, and eating dark chocolate-covered almonds. If that isn't Christmassy, I don't know what is.

So I thought I might show you a few highlights I unearthed while browsing for potential gifts. That's ok, right? Blatant hypothetical consumerism? They are really pretty presents, I promise!

For the bookworm:

Image from Penguin

Let's face it, if you're going to buy someone you love a book, you might as well make it the most beautiful book you can find. And it probably doesn't hurt if it's generally considered a masterpiece. I think Penguin Clothbound Classics fulfil that brief. Personally, if someone was to buy me that gorgeous copy of Northanger Abbey, I wouldn't be devastated. And I'm eyeing up The Hound of the Baskervilles for a certain someone else...

Read all of those already? Don't feel the need to update your old copy of A Tale of Two Cities with something a little jazzier? Similarly ornamental to the Penguin Classics, but rather more obscure, are Persephone Books. 100 neglected books from the early and mid-20th century, mainly by women writers. Each with a gorgeous endpaper chosen from a vintage fabric design.

I already own The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (which is being adapted for TV), Saplings, by Noel Streatfield, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

I know a certain horror fan who I think would love ghost story The Victorian Chaise-longue, and for newlyweds (of whom I know many) Persephone recommends 'homage to married life' Greenery Street.

For the beauty junkie

You know who I mean (hello sister mine! And mother mine! Oh. And hi me!). People who like nothing more than opening a Christmas stocking to find a perfume they've been spritzing themselves with at every airport duty-free and beauty counter for the past year.

For years now I've worn the same perfume, and finally, this summer, I decided it was time for a slight revamp. So I ambled over to Sephora, told the scary overly made-up lady I liked fresh, citrussy but a tiny bit sophisticated scents (I have a way with words, right?) and lo and behold:

Image from here

The catchily titled Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Mandarine-Basilic. I love it. And when I mentioned it to my mother the other day, she got quite over-excited about its sister perfume, Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune - which apparently smells of grapefruit, blackcurrant, patchouli and vanilla.

As for my little sister, there are few things that make her as happy as unwrapping a ton of Benefit goodies.

You can never go wrong with Benetint

I'm canvassing opinions on this highlighter and this cute little travel set.

And in the meantime, I'm lusting after a few more shades of Essie nail polish. Because. Hello. Navy nails for winter? Navy nails in a shade called Bobbing for Baubles?

Or, indeed, Midnight Cami?

Images from Essie

That's what I call festive.

Next up: Presents for little people, presents for home-owning nesting people. And, if I can ever, ever overcome this hurdle, presents for my dad.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The big kahuna

You might have noticed my recent preoccupation with all things travel? There's a very good reason for that.

I've lived abroad. I've been on some pretty amazing holidays. I've been all over the place with my job. But I've never actually been travelling for longer than a few weeks at a time.* I went straight from school to university, spent a year doing work experience and saving money for my post-grad course, and since graduating from that I've been working solidly.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
Ljubljiana, Slovenia
Monkey, Bali

Now I've been at my job long enough to take a little sabbatical, which coincides very nicely with the dates I'd already planned to go on a mega-holiday with my friend A, and with the round-the-world trip my married friends B and T are going on in 2013.

The list of places I've never visited, but really want to, is long. Like looooooooong. Tanzania? Rwanda and Uganda? I'm kind of obsessed with travelling in Africa. Croatia and Montenegro, New Zealand, China, Nepal and Laos are also high on the list.

But my current location makes one continent an obvious winner for this trip - South America here I come! The only country I've previously been to in Latin America is Costa Rica, way back in 2007, so it's a whole new continent for me. And for as long as I can remember I've been strangely fixated on seeing Bolivia.

So. The (for me) big trip is being planned for next summer. Six weeks, five countries.

Two weeks travelling around and chilling out in Colombia with A, my oldest friend (this trip will mark 20 years of her putting up with my general absurdity).

Then ten days solo travel in Bolivia...

... Before meeting up with B and T in Argentina and travelling back northwards, through Argentina, Chile and Peru, finishing up in Machu Picchu and flying back to Los Angeles, leaving them to make their way across to Brazil, which is where they'll wrap up their eight-month adventure.

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. That, in case you were wondering, is the irritating, high-pitched sound of me being insanely over-the-top excited about this whole shebang!

* I read this back and realised that statement is not 100% true. I spent six weeks in Australia when I was 16, but much of that time was spent sitting at my friend's house watching The Craft, Dirty Dancing and a six-hour Shirley MacLaine biopic (it outlines her belief in aliens. I highly recommend it). So I don't feel like that counts...

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Round here

Mocha from Espresso Profeta in Westwood

Cake pop! Style over cakey substance...

My favourite studio lot.

Are you noticing a trend here?

Caffeine has been my friend over the past few weeks while work has been crazy. Also cake. Running, not so much. Time to try and wean myself off the coffee/tea/diet coke/sugar a little and get some semblance of balance back before Christmas, methinks.

Although not until I've satisfied my need for autumnal stodge of the kind that tastes pretty amazing, but is, perhaps, not the most photogenic...

Baked apple. Custard.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Holiday dreams...

I have some pretty exciting travel plans in place for the next year or so. Remember this? I might just be doing something about it at last. Plus there are less than two months to go until my next trip back to England for Christmas, which I'm crazy excited about. I mean, who wouldn't be? Christmas trees, cold weather, seeing my friend A's house in person at last, rather than through the letter-box, drinking mulled everything - I'm already getting worryingly into the Christmas spirit.

And I just booked my flights to Amsterdam for New Year's festivities with the wonderful S and her husband, who I haven't seen since I moved stateside. I have big dreams of a sophisticated, Euro-awesome start to 2013. (These may be overly ambitious. I'm not renowned for my sophistication.)

Throw in my determination to see some more of the US next year and I've pretty much pre-planned the next 10 months or so of holiday allowance already. Which is cool.

But I'm still on the mailing list for various holiday letting agencies, thanks to my family trip to Cornwall earlier in the year. This morning I was lured in by an email advertising quirky holiday destinations, and, fickle as I am, I fell head-over-heels in love with the idea of a mini-break in a Scottish watermill...

Mill House in Caithness

Or a trullo surrounded by olive groves in Puglia.

 Trulli sant'oronzo in Monopoli

Or (my personal favourite) a 1920's beach hut on the north coast of Cornwall.

The Beach Hut

A girl can dream, right?


Monday, 5 November 2012

Gunpowder, treason and plot

Image from the murky depths of Pinterest

Did I ever mention that November 5th is my absolute favourite night of the year? OK, that's a slight exaggeration. I'm also a big fan of Christmas Eve and my birthday, but Bonfire Night is right up there.

I think it's because I still remember a party I was invited to when I was maybe seven, where we played with sparklers and set off fireworks in the back garden of someone's house, and ate oven-baked potatoes with melty cheese and crispy bacon bits. And there were woolly gloves and itchy, stripey scarves. And hot chocolate with marshmallows. It sticks out in my memory as one of those perfect childhood evenings.

The fact that pretty much every Bonfire Night since adulthood has involved either a failed attempt to rally reluctant friends, a lame communal firework display or a bunch of late shifts, with me watching fireworks from the office window, has totally failed to destroy that enthusiasm.

Image from via Pinterest

Sadly, whilst America is most excellent at providing holidays (Thanksgiving! Independence Day! Martin Luther King Day!) an evening of festivities commemorating the hanging, drawing and quartering of a Papist revolutionary is not on the list.

But neither that, or the minor issue of it being about a million degrees outside will prevent me celebrating in style this year.

And as I'm not sure anyone would appreciate me lighting a bonfire on my balcony, or setting off fireworks from the roof for that matter, my contribution to the anti-17th-century-treason partaay will involve food.

More to come once I've decided what to cook, gone on a stodge-and-sugar shopping spree and finally accepted that a candy thermometer, while awesome, is probably not an entirely essential purchase...

Friday, 2 November 2012

Luke vs food

One absolutely amazing thing about Cayman is how adorably tiny it is. Within 10 minutes of being picked up from the airport, we were parking at a beach-side bar and I was rummaging around for my bikini.

Within 20 minutes I'd shed my flight ensemble (leggings. Always leggings) for something more tropics-appropriate, and had a Dark and Stormy in hand. Nothing shouts 'Welcome to the Caribbean, Celia!' louder than rum, if you ask me.

Less than an hour after my delayed landing (actually that's a whole other subject. American Airlines, I HATE YOU) I was enjoying a late-night dip in the sea.

So by the time my first morning in Cayman rolled around, I was already in full holiday mode. And you know what's a really strong indicator of holiday mode? Morning drinking...

And some serious eating too, to be accurate.

The Westin Hotel, on Seven Mile Beach, offers a weekly all you can eat champagne brunch which is, or so I'm told, a staple of the island's social scene.

And all of us, but particularly my friend Luke, see the magic words 'All you can eat' as a challenge of sorts.

This is Luke:

This is Luke's first course:

I'll add a spoiler at this point, and mention that there were six more courses, one of which was a (very unseasonable) full roast dinner.

By the time we reached dessert and cheese, even Luke was flagging.

And all any of us were good for was an afternoon of beach-side lounging, some very lazy floating around in the sea and, for some of us (OK, fine - me) a little afternoon nap in the sand, before settling down to watch the sun set.