Monday, August 31, 2009

Planes Trains, Automobiles, Circuses and Garish Colours - for a little boy

I mentioned last week my desperate need to fix my son's lilac room.

The starting point is wall colour and curtain fabric. Wall colour will be either white, to increase size of room, or some shade of blue to make it like a little cozy lion's den.

The window coverings have to be curtains, so the light doesn't get in. There is quite a lot of children's fabric available but most of it I think is a bit kitsch or the colours aren't right. I have narrowed the choices down to the following themes.

Vintage boats, planes or bubble cars, like this:

Modern transport in blinding colours like this:

Very plain gingham, like this:

More Designers Guild, like this:

Retro animal, like this:

Quirky circus like this:

These are my conclusions: vintage - looks dated. Modern transport - too bright. Gingham - the check is too small and cannot find anything bigger. Designers Guild - too obvious. Circus - very cute but circuses are scary.

Following my research I was feeling a bit despondent with these choices. It was the same despondency that drove me to choose an adult fabric for my daughter's room. Then I came across some fabrics by Alexander Henry:

Aren't they divine? I just LOVE them.

Alexander Henry also does normal adult fabric, which might also work for a boy's room - for example:

And look at this - the pattern reminds me of cut gemstones:

Alexander Henry has also reissued this fabric which was apparently a very popular print.

But - Important Philosophical Question - should I just impose my taste on my son? Is that wrong? Or should I ask him what he thinks? Or is that just a ridiculous question to ask a 2 1/2 year old boy? Won't he just point at the brightest (and probably ugliest) fabric?

Further philosophical question - am I being sexist by imposing transport in fabric form on my son? He really really loves cars. 'Wheel' was one of his first words, and I haven't foisted that on him.

By the way, my favourite is the first Alexander Henry bird one and the third with squiggly cars. The website which sells it tells me the first can be 'rare and hard to find' but that they have it in stock.

Does any one have a view?

Images: (1)-(2) Warm Biscuit (3) - (4) Kelani (5) Marimekko (6) (7) Designers Guild (8) Funky Fabrix (9) Kelani (10) - (13) Funky Fabrix (14) -(15) Alexander Henry

Friday, August 28, 2009

Food Memories - Toast by Nigel Slater

I have just finished Toast by English chef and writer Nigel Slater (subtitled - the Story of a Boy's Hunger). This book is about his childhood and adolescence seen through the sometimes frightening, frequently sad and often funny prism of the food he ate. How he remembers is one thing of itself but the taste of the memory he manages to evoke by his food descriptions is quite something else. Remember, this is an era of trifles, salad cream, jam tarts, tinned salmon, mushroom ketchup, tinned ham, rice pudding and steak diane. His father wouldn't have Heinz sauces in the house because he thought they were 'common'.

Nigel Slater did not have the happiest childhood. His mother (who couldn't cook) died when he was young and his father remarried. He spent a lot of his childhood feeling unwanted.
And yet he is not bitter, and this makes the book completely addictive. Here is his description of one of the many tinned products they eat:

We lived in a world of tinned fruit. There were tinned peaches for high days and holidays, fruit cocktail for every-day and tinned pears for my father who said they were better than fresh. On one occassion we tried mango but my father said it tasted fishy. I wasn't allowed to try. 'You wouldn't like it'.

And here he is in the kitchen with his stepmother :

'You can call me Auntie Joanie if you want to' said Mrs Potter. I walked straight past her and round to the kitchen door. 'I told you' she snapped at my father. 'Just give him time, he'll be all right' said Dad. There was a cake on the spotless kitchen table. A home made cake, with a thin line of raspberry jam in the middle, the top dusted with caster sugar. A perfect cake, three inches high and as light as a feather, the criss-cross of the wire cooling rack etched into its top. The kitchen smelled of baking and Dreft. Two pairs of my underpants and my school pullover hung on a wooden airer with some tea towels still warm from the iron. Mrs Potter rushed in behind me. 'Come on I'll put the kettle on. Why don't we make some toast?'.

It made me think about how I would describe my life (if I had to) by reference to, say, my top 10 food memories. And once I started thinking I couldn't stop. This is what I came up with, divided into three sections of my life:

Ages 0 to 17

1. Egg Sandwiches - okay, I know these repulse many people. And I am not so keen on them myself these days. But when I was a bookworm 9 year old my very favourite activity involved lying on the floor of my bedroom in the sunshine, reading the latest Enid Blyton book and munching on my egg sandwich. In fact, I recently found a list of every book Miss Blyton had ever written and I can honestly say I have read them all!

2. Spaghetti Bolognese. I may have previously mentioned what a great cook my mother is. And trust me, spaghetti bolognese was about as exotic as it got in my childhood. And even that would have been considered to be 'on the edge' by many. She made the sauce correctly with veal and pork, simmering slowly for hours but the cheese we sprinkled was that grainy powdery 'Parmesan'. Nothing like the big wedges we hand grate these days.

3. Snails in garlic butter. My father owned a restaurant for parts of my childhood. We ate out quite a bit. And this was my favourite dish (still is a favourite). It brings back memories of stained glass, bluestone and indoor plants and other 1970's decor features.

4. Paradise pudding . Sounds better than it is. Our school had a health food tuckshop. Pretty advanced for the 1970s. So whilst my brothers were eating Sunnyboys* and Twisties for a living I was eating health food. Paradise Pudding was a paper cup filled with layers of granola and natural yoghurt.

Ages 17 to 30

A reasonable amount of this period of my life was taken up by studying, travelling or having lowly paid jobs. It follows that my food choices were more constrained.

5. Chicken parmagiana and lukewarm tea. This is what I lived on in college at university. And it is no exaggeration to say I have not touched a chicken 'parma' since I was 24.

6. Baileys Irish Cream. Okay this is not a food. But it provided me with a lot of sustenance at university. And it does have carbohydrate, right? And I know you don't need to see a picture.

7. Singapore noodles. I worked for 2 years as a public or civil servant. Theo's cafe was in the basement of the building and every day almost without fail, I would have singapore noodles from the bain marie with lots of chilli sauce. My mouth waters just thinking about these!

Age 30 onwards

8. Venice. In 2001 we spent an amazing 2 weeks in an apartment in Venice. We drank ombras in the bars, had lunch at the Cipriani, and trawled the Rialto market for creatures from the lagoon to cook in our ill equipped kitchen. I still remember grilling some unnamed crustacean and trying to prise it out of an unforgiving shell.

9. Degustation. I admit it I am sometimes a gourmand. I have been lucky enough to have some lovely meals in various places. Most memorable perhaps was a meal at the Grande Vefour in Paris, 12 courses (including white dove, I know its shocking isn't it). We framed the bill.

10. Chilli-world. Since 2000 I have been obsessed with Asian food of all kinds, but particularly Chinese, Thai and Indian. I can't go more than two days without a chilli hit.

* Sunnyboys were in the same family as Razzes and Glug. They were basically frozen ice pyramids in lurid lime or raspberry. I think but I am not certain that they are an Australian food item? Does anyone know?

Images (1) Luis Melendez 1772 NGA (3) (4) Flickr (5) The (6) Upstate Harvest (7) BBC Good Food (8) Travels with a Gourmet (9) Channel 4 (10) Sunnyboy

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Spot It! Beautiful patterns with hidden objects

I wrote about Mouk the French bear here. The second French children's book I love at the moment is Spot it! by Delphine Chedru.

This simple book contains a wonderful repetitive pattern on each page which hides a little animal of some sort.

There are two sea urchins hiding here.

This one hides a snail.

This one hides a peacock.

This one hides a fox.

This one a stick insect (current favourite insect in our household. We also get them occasionally in the garden).

This one is - actually I don't know - I can't remember and I can't see by looking at it. Maybe a butterfly.

This one hides an owl who is looking for his glasses.

Aren't the patterns exquisite? They could be used for fabric curtains or cushion covers. I especially like the red and white peacock one.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Brussels Sprouts - not that bad after all

Soon it will be spring (yay!) and I won't be so interested in all these wintery vegetables. Before spring comes I want to share one of my favourite vegetables, which gets such a lot of bad press. And what is with that name? According to Wikiepedia:

Forerunners to modern Brussels sprouts were likely cultivated in ancient Rome. Brussels sprouts as we now know them were grown possibly as early as the 1200s in what is now Belgium. The first written reference dates to 1587. During the sixteenth century they enjoyed a popularity in the southern Netherlands that eventually spread throughout the cooler parts of Northern Europe.

If I had paused to think I would have assumed that a brussels sprout is plucked from the soil like a potato. But in fact they grow on a stalk.

Kind of bizarre isn't it?

Most of us have had a Bad Brussel Sprout Experience. Overcooking them turns them murky pond green (and chemically makes them release a kind of suphury chemical), and noone wants to eat that.

I think one of the problems is their creepy mini cabbage shape. The two recipes below bring out a slight bitter sweetness (if such a thing is possible). And also involve changing the shape of the sprout.

Sauteed Brussels sprouts

This is from Karen Martini's book Where the Heart is. It is the best way to eat brussels sprouts I am yet to discover.

Enough brussels sprouts for two (about 8 or 10)
One clove of garlic, sliced.
Three tbs olive oil
1/2 cup thickened cream
3 tbs butter
some chopped chervil
Salt and pepper

Trim the sprouts and slice vertically (about 2 or 3 mm thin). Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and saute the sprouts, garlic and some sea salt for about three minutes. You may need longer. They should become shiny but retain their bright green colour. Add the cream, butter and chervil and cook for about 4 more minutes. The dish should be creamy and not dry.

Lovely with a roast.

Potage bruxellois

This is my mother's recipe, originally from Vivienne De Stoop a Melbourne cook from the 1960s.

3/4 kilo (about 1 pd) brussel sprouts
1 brown onion
50 g butter
1/2 litre chicken stock
1/2 litre water
salt and pepper
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
grated gruyere cheese
2 slices of ham
1/2 cup thickened cream

Melt butter in large pot, dice onion and toss in the butter until opaque. Add prepared sprouts to pot (by which she means trimmed and cut in half or quarters) and keep tossing. Put in water, salt and peper and cover and cook for 40 minutes. Puree (I use a stick vitamiser). Check seasoning then add cream and warm gently. Just before serving add lemon juice, ham and sprinkle with cheese.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pourpre (or purple) bedrooms

Guess what. I have found probably the only word which sounds better in English than French!!

Pourpre (purple)

Did anyone see From the Right Bank's lovely post on purple clothes? It's here. And I love purple. And in the manner of great minds think alike I have been thinking about pourpre chambres because my own chambre is very white and very furniture free and has a dark navy carpet (good for confusing burglars but bad for showing up dirt) and navy taffeta curtains and of course a chest of drawers but I want something rather like this:

With a purple wardrobe like this:

And a little dressing table like this:

And a section of wallpaper like this:

And curtains like this:

And a sitting corner like this:

Or this:

Or even this:

And here I am whining about the lack of purple bedrooms in my house when I remember that someone has one. My son. Poor little thing. He inherited the nursery we painted pale lilac when we didn't know our first child would be a girl. It's this colour:

It also has taffeta vertical stripe curtains in lilac and cream. And ridiculously impractical cream no tuft carpet which is now very very stained.

Now I am most definitely not a blue for boys pink for girls kind of person. But I am thinking his bedroom needs to change with the times. At 2.5 years I think he will start to feel out purpled. He needs a redecorated room. I have a plan. It's all in my head, and it will have something in common with all of these little bedrooms:

That's right. A built in bed. More to come once I work out how. And when. And what.

Images (1) Living Etc (2) Cote Maison (3) (4) (5) (6) Homes and Gardens (7) - (8) Marie Claire Maison (10)-(13) Living Etc

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