Sunday, 27 March 2011

Bending Old Corners

Sunshine after a cold, wet Autumnering (or whatever the long, gloomy season is called). A new, exciting discovery. A half-forgotten memory (complete with smells, butterflies and an automatically recreated smile). Many good things can happen out of the blue. Often, these revelations come in little bursts when you do not really expect them; sometimes they do not present themselves at all, for months on end. But this past week, a switch flipped and a multitude of wondrous, frantic, curious, dizzyingly bizarre things happened.

The theme of the past few days is hard to describe without sounding cheesy (as much as I like cheese, particularly from Mellis) or yawnworthy. Let's just say that people who have lived a long life and the exercise of thinking about life as a little old lady cheered me up no end. And if that sounds odd, some of the following may explain things a little.
Image from

Mid-August Lunch
I love my local FOPP (record/DVD shop): there's nothing like walking along the shelves and picking up a DVD you would never have stumbled across while browsing online. FOPP was once at danger of being closed altogether -the fate that its saviour, HMV, is now suffering on the big scale and book chains like Borders (not around in the UK any more) and Waterstones (gone soon if we don't do anything) know all too well. Save your local shoppery - even if it's a quid more than online. Please?

The film that caught my rheumy, post-work eye on the way home (ingredients for a delicious dinner on my back, brain in need of entertainment, preferably food-related) was Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di ferragosto (2008)): an Italian low-budget affair starring no less than four ladies in their 90s! The story (based on the film maker's life) is too simple to be summarised here - it might put you off. Let's just say that a man, his mother and three elderly ladies are spending two days together in slightly unusual circumstances: five strong personalities who are skeptical about each other, but soon find common ground in their zest for the good things in life. And how could they not? Rome, wine, food (lots of pasta), summer, and a feast day conspire to set the atmosphere.

The most wonderful aspect are the four elderly ladies: they are full of life and authentic spirit - none of them is a professional actress, and much of the script is improvised. In the Special Features they talk about how the unexpected invitation to make the movie was a gift to these advanced years of their lives. A gift, indeed. To be enjoyed with a glass of wine and a large portion of baked pasta (the star of the film).
Recipes (and this image) can be found at the Living Room Theaters' blog

End-of-March Surprise
An almost obsessive fan of Frasier, I have a funny fascination with The Radio - not the thing that has little men and women inside them who read out the news, but rather the technology and the practicalities of producing radio shows. Before this week, I had never seen a radio studio from the inside, when a rather unlikely incarnation of fate knocked on my door: desperation.

The desperation was on the part of the radio producer who needed an expert for a light-hearted chat show on BBC Radio Scotland. Since term just ended and everyone's flown out of the nest, someone suggested me as the next likely candidate - never mind that the show segment theme ('The therapeutic value of keeping a diary') is only very vaguely related to, er, alchemy... The angle into the theme was the question whether blogging kills the diary (like video killed the radio star, I suppose), and what ho, I am a blogger. Overall, the opportunity was too curious to pass up, and so I went.

Although I'd been warned I was surprised to find the show host veer from the script after just a few seconds. His questions went down a path which did not need me, an expert (who sniggered?), to tread down it. But when I'd prepared my bit the day before, I'd noticed the connections between diaries and letters (something I do know a little bit about now, mid-exhibition preparation). So, for good measure, I threw that into the discussion and found that the idea was received with enthusiasm, especially when I mentioned an elderly friend's letters.
Image from Ed O'Keeffe Photography

Was it worth spending 11 of my 15 minutes of fame? In many ways it was: I saw the gorgeous building and a studio from the inside (those microphones brought out the dork in me); I mentioned to squeeze in some history; and I was reminded of how good it is to have friends of different generations. And on that note, I'll now sit down now with pen and paper, and write a long letter.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Room for Thought

...that'd be the kitchen. And this post is The Antidote to Information Overload - your invitation to trot into the kitchen (away from screen, news and noise) to whip up something delicious. I just found this recipe for Apple Dutch Baby Pancakes which, for some reason, seems seasonal and the kind of inspiration that makes you want to put on a pinny and whisk a whisk around - with an image like this, who needs a recipe to get going?
Image from eat make read

(The recipe does look good, though).

Talking about fabulous food and yummy pictures - Dorie Greenspan takes things to yet another level in her tantalising, New York-Parisian blog - her latest images, she informs us, were "taken by David Prince. Brett Kurzweil did the food styling and Robyn Glaser did the prop styling". Well, given that she writes for the Wall Street Journal, publishes books and generally leads a life that makes me turn as green as a fresh artichoke, this professional attention to detail does not come as a surprise.

Surprises of the pleasant, mouthwatering kind aplenty are assembled in her blog, though. So, once you have your Apple Dutch Baby Pancake ready, and a cup of coffee with it, I suggest you trot to and check it out.

So much goodness. It might as well be spring.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Sneak Peeks & Treats

Exhibition preparations continue...                                 ...and here's your first sneak peek...

                                            ssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!                     (There will also be
...and you will get your hands on more information in the next 5 weeks.
Portrait photos courtesy of Dr Nigel Wright, not to be reproduced without permission;
all the abovespotted portraits live at Hardwick Hall
and may be viewed in all their splendour during its opening hours.

Suffice to say: Unsealed - The Letters of Bess of Hardwick opens at Hardwick Hall on 8 April. Featuring the ladies and gentlemen above, life sized!

* * * * *

On a different note: Lent is waiting to pounce upon us next week. This time rather late in the calendar year, it does not carry the additional sting of February and all its greyness, but still: who is not in need of some cheering up these days? So, without further ado, here are a few treats which will make you stand on your hind legs and clap in rapture.

Leek and Lemon Soup
(courtesy of The Kitchn)
  • 2 large leeks
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested (not necessarily in that order)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup white wine 
Sliced leeks and crushed garlic hit hot melted butter to be softened up for about 10 minutes. Add all the other ingredients and simmer until everything's nice and juicy (the recipe says an hour - I'd reckon 30 minutes would also do, but don't take my word). Puree, then season to your very own personal taste and gobble down with some crusty bread and white wine on the side.

No, this is not a typo - think chocolate and far-away islands (sweet escapes - what more could a girl want just before Lent snatches away all illicit pleasures?) and read more about it over at One Peppercorn.
Image from
Corduroy Mansions
The latest (I lose track, but I hadn't seen this before so let's say it is the latest and newest) series in Alexander McCall Smith's oeuvre is the perfect bedtime/teatime/oh God please beam me to a tropical island now-time reading: Corduroy Mansions brings stories from a London we'd all move to in a snip. And don't tell me it does not exist like that. I'm not listening. I'm reading.