Collecting art on a budget

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“Have nothing in your houses which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”
– Willam Morris

Surrounding oneself with beautiful things is one of life’s great pleasures. Collecting art isn’t just for millionaires – the Vogel art collection is proof of that at least! No matter if you have £5 a week to spend on art or £5,000, it is possible to build a collection of original art that makes you happy. Admittedly, more ample finances do make it easier, but a dash of guile can more that make up for that… Continue reading

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Vintage Sunday

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Last Sunday I was invited to a rather fabulous event on the Royal Crescent lawns – Vintage Sundays from Vintage to Vogue. It was a lovely event – everyone dressed up and it was all rather glamorous – so I thought I’d share a few snaps of the fashion.

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Doesn’t she look fabulous in that hat? Continue reading

Homemade rose essential oil by any other name would smell as sweet

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I’m in the process of annotating a new edition of a wonderful old book on beauty and food from the early 1600’s. It was written by Sir Hugh Platt in 1602, and rejoices in the title “Delightes for Ladies to Adorne their Persons, Tables, Closets and Distillatories with Beauties, Banquets, Perfumes and Waters. Reade, Practice and Censure.” Absurd title or not, it was one of the most highly regarded manuals for the still room at the time. Some of the recipes sound lovely, others…well…. Best not to put sulphuric acid on your hair at home I think!

I looked at the price of rose essential oil recently and nearly had an apoplexy, so I thought I’d share a recipe for rose essential oil and rosewater from those illustrious pages – and a modern equivalent or two.

To drawe both good Roſewater, and oyle of Roſes together.

After you have digeſted your Roſe leaues by the ſpace of 3. months, ſicut ante, nam. 13 eyther in bottyls or hookers, then diſtill thē whith faire water in a limbeck, and ſo long as you finde anie excellent ſmell of the Roſe, then diuide the fatty oile that fleeteth on the top of the Roſewater, and ſo you haue both excellent oile of Roſes, and alſo good Roſewater togither, and you ſhall alſo haue more water then by the ordinarie waie, and this Roſewater extendeth farther in phyſicall compoſitions, and the other ſerueth beſt for perfumes and caſting bottles. You may alſo diſtill the oyle of Lignum Rhodium this way, ſauing that you ſhall not neede to macerate the ſame aboue 24 houres in your water or menſtruum before you diſtill: this oyle hath a moſt pleaſing ſmell in a manner equall with the oyle of Roſes.

In more modern English:

To draw both good Rosewater and oil of Roses together.

After you have digested your Rose petals for the space of three months, as before, for 13 (he is referring to a previous recipe here, which calls for the best rose petals to be dried of any dew and packed into stone jars – hookers – with small mouths and sealed with wax) either in bottles or hookers, then distill them with fair water in an alembic, and so long as you find any excellent smell of the Rose, then divide the fatty oil that floats on the top of the Rosewater, and so you have both excellent oil of Roses, and also good Rosewater together, and you shall also have more water than by the ordinary way, and this Rosewater extends further in physical compositions, and the other serves best for perfumes and casting bottles. You may also distill the oil of Lignum Rhodum this way, excepting that you shall not need to macerate the same above 24 hours in your water or menstruum before your distill; this oil has a most pleasing smell in a manner equal with the oil of Roses.

The essential oil that you obtain through this method is attar of roses – the process of heating it up changes the nature of the smell somewhat. To get an essential oil that smells as much like the original rose as possible, try the following:

Rose absolut essential oil

Fill a sterilised jar with rose petals and cover with vodka, and leave in a dark place for 3 weeks. Strain through a cheesecloth into another sterilised container, pressing the cheesecloth well. Freeze overnight, and when you come back to it the rose oil should have frozen, but the vodka will still be liquid.

The Darkest, Dampest, Deadliest Chocolate Brownies of All Time

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I’m going to tell you a secret. The kind of secret that your friends will plead for, one that will make grown men fall in love with you and your enemies turn green with envy. This is hands down the best recipe for chocolate brownies that I have ever found. Milkshakes bring all the boys to the yard? Pshaw! These chocolate brownies work much better. Three thoughts that might help:

1. You must – absolutely must – use real butter and dark brown sugar. Not golden caster sugar, you want the most flavourful dark brown sugar you can find. Billington’s molasses sugar is the best, but Sainsburys’ dark brown soft sugar is surprisingly good.

2. You can replace part or all of the flour with cocoa powder for an even more chocolatey (and less sweet) result – and the more cocoa you add the softer the brownie will be. It will take longer to cook, and you will lose the crumbly, friable crust you get on brownies, but instead you will create something closer to a chocolate brownie fondant. It’s lovely either way – experiment and see what you prefer.

3. I tend to leave out the vanilla essence, and scatter in a handful of raspberries or morello cherries…

Favourite Things

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It seems to me that one of the really important things in life is making the most of the small things. It shouldn’t have to be a special occasion to enjoy life – living well is what happens between the big moments. Lighting candles for a weeknight kitchen supper, or making spiced syrup to perk up my morning coffee is part of what makes life worth living. Now I spend a lot of time in my kitchen, and it’s important to me that it’s a lovely place to spend that time – so I thought I’d share a few of my favourite things…

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I like to write my shopping list on something pretty – and it’s a good way to help Les Petites improve their French…. I got mine c/o here

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These imposing candlesticks are another recently acquired favourite, again c/o not on the high street

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I also really like these coasters – they’re made to imitate Victorian fireside tiles, and since no-one seems to be throwing away any beautiful Victorian tiles near me these seem like the next best thing! You can get them here

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I got this gorgeous gothic fruit bowl from Past Times back in my university days – sadly they don’t sell them any more…

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I have a pair of these lovely cake stands – they’re brilliant for making almost anything look special. Here they are full of meringues at one of my Christmas parties last year…

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They’re by Riviera Maison, and I got them from a sweet little shop in Bath called Redwood Bay.

Fluffy slices of cardamom cloud

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The rain is lashing the windows and the wind is howling round our little cottage here in Somerset, so – clearly – the only thing to do is to fill the house with warm and cozy baking smells. There’s a traditional Scandinavian bread called pulla, which I’ve always wanted to try making – it’s a standard bread dough enriched with butter and eggs and a little extra sugar and infused with cardamom, my favourite spice. Continue reading

Who says only nannys knit?

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I thought I’d share my latest creation – this sweet little cabled shrug I’ve been knitting. It was made to this pattern in Vogue Knitting out of cream Debbie Bliss cashmerino. It was a lovely pattern to work up – complicated enough to keep me interested, but not the kind of nightmare pattern where I keep making mistakes! Only one warning If you’re tempted to try it – the pattern comes up really big. I made the XS, and took the needles down to 4.5mm, and the wool down to dk weight, and it is still pretty generously sized. if I was making it again, I’d go for 4mm needles and dk to get more textural cables. I also made the buttonhole a little bigger, to accomodate the old wooden button that I pilfered from a rather shabby cushion!
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Curds of Prey

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I woke up last week and realised that I had a gaping hole in my life – cheese is one of my favourite foods, but I had never made cheese before! So this weekend I set about rectifying the problem. A simple curd cheese turned out to be surprisingly easy…
Put 2 litres of whole milk in a big saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring constantly to avoid any sticking or burning.

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Take it off the heat, and add the juice of two lemons

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Give it a gentle stir, and it should start to split into curds and whey. If it remains obstinately whole, add a little more lemon juice or heat the milk a little more. Leave it alone for ten minutes (off the heat) to split completely – afterwards it should look something like this:

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Pour the mixture through cheese cloth to separate the solid curds from the whey (reserve the whey for baking…), tie the cheesecloth up and leave to drain. The longer you let it drain, the firmer the resulting cheese. I find hanging the cheese from the taps makes life easier…

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And you’re done! Use it in cheesecakes, or mix with salt and pepper and chopped wild garlic to make your own version of Boursin, flavour with rose water and sugar and eat with strawberries… Have fun!

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As for the whey, well that’s another story…

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