#JanuaryJoy: Read something new

This morning Gemma is taking the reins with one of my favourite posts of the month, sharing her recent reads and reviewing them for your pleasure. Don’t forget to tell us if you agree with her appraisals or if you can recommend something she has missed…

The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

Tightly plotted, laugh out loud funny at times and with some of the most tightly written characters I’ve ever come across in detective fiction, The Cuckoo’s Calling is a treat of a book.  Especially good for those who are familiar with London, who’ll recognise places and people loosely yet distinctly referenced in her fictional locations.  About a private detective with the flat-out-fabulous name of Cormorant Strike who is hired by the brother of a famous model who’s just committed suicide (or has she?) The Cuckoo’s Calling has all the elements of a classic gumshoe detective story, but is somehow still incredibly fresh and engaging.  One of my favourites of 2013.

The Girl With All The Gifts – M R Carey

Now firstly, I have to declare my bias about this book.  I have recently changed jobs and now work in PR for Little, Brown, the publishers of The Girl With All The Gifts.  HOWEVER.  I didn’t have the job when I read this book, and I would still recommend every last thrilling page of this unique, moving novel.  Despite a strong sci-fi element which might put some FFers off, please take my word as an incurable book worm and give this book a go, if only for the strong female characters and moments of bleak but beautiful prose along with big questions about what makes us human.  (I could go on and on and ON about this but am erring on the side of ‘least said’, because there are a couple of big twists in this tale and I really don’t want to give them away.  But please leave a comment if you’d like to know more or if you’ve read it!)

The Last Letter from your Lover – JoJo Moyes

Me before you – an earlier Jojo Moyes title, had me in absolute floods. We’re talking ‘oh god where are the chocolate biscuits and oh my wasn’t mascara a mistake today’ floods, so I was looking forward to The Last Letter from your Lover.  Added to Moyes’ genuiune ability to make you feel for her characters was the fact that The Last Letter From Your Lover was set in two different time periods and I couldn’t stop reading it, especially when it became clear how the two different stories overlapped.  Did I love it as much as Me Before You?   Not quite.  But it’s still worth a read.  Here’s the online description:

When journalist Ellie looks through her newspaper’s archives for a story, she doesn’t think she’ll find anything of interest. Instead she discovers a letter from 1960, written by a man asking his lover to leave her husband – and Ellie is caught up in the intrigue of a past love affair. Despite, or perhaps because of her own romantic entanglements with a married man.

In 1960, Jennifer wakes up in hospital after a car accident. She can’t remember anything – her husband, her friends, who she used to be. And then, when she returns home, she uncovers a hidden letter, and begins to remember the lover she was willing to risk everything for.

The Emergence of Judy Taylor Angela Jackson

In a first for my reviews here at FF towers, I have a confession to make.  Despite the review in Grazia saying ‘The Emergence of Judy Taylor is a heart-wrenching yet dryly funny tale of relationships and second chances’, despite reading and hearing great things about this book, it, well, left me totally cold.  I found Angela Taylor’s prose hard to get into and I didn’t really like any of the characters.  The eponymous Judy Taylor has become dissatisfied with her life married to Oliver, living near her parents and brother, in the same English town she grew up in, and the novel charts her decision to leave it all behind to go and live in ‘vibrant Edinburgh’.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Edinburgh isn’t vibrant, (as I’m sure I’ve said many times, I flipping LOVE Scotland and Edinburgh is one of my favourite places.)  it’s just that for me, moving from a village to Edinburgh isn’t all that out of the ordinary, and there I think is the crux of my problem with this book.  At its core, it’s about a woman thinking ‘there’s got to be more to life’ but I think most people could imagine for themselves the situations Judy finds herself in in her new life, and I also found the storyline with Oliver afterwards quite unrealistic.

Mad About The Boy – Helen Fielding
In contrast to the review above – I wasn’t expecting to like the latest Bridget Jones outing as much as I did. The book has certainly had some less than positive feedback about, for example, its opening (Mark Darcy has been killed off) Bridget’s lifestyle (she’s now closer to fifty than thirty and a mum of two) and its plot arc (I’d heard: a bit cobbled together, rushed at the end, and predictable.) with the above in mind (some I agree with to an extent) I still found Mad About the Boy funny and sharp on the social commentary. I wasn’t the right generation for the first two Bridget books, and have found more in them in later re-reads now that I’m close to thirty, so in that respect I’m not qualified to say whether Mad About The Boy is an accurate portrayal of mid-life motherhood or not. If you’re expecting a literary, thought provoking read, I doubt Bridget Jones would be your first pick anyway. But for flashes of brilliance, like the pitfalls of making friends on Twitter, Helen Fielding is on form. My only gripe is, what happened to Shazza??

As always, let us know in the comments what you’re reading.  Anything that should be on my radar?

Love, Gemma C-S.

Thrifty Thursdays: The wear-everywhere shoe.

Morning readers, today it’s me bringing you a thrifty tip-off from my own wardrobe… Now don’t shout at me, this one does require a small monetary outlay but I’m confident it’s worth it and Gemma will approve. Can you muster up £19? Well, for £19 you can buy the shoes your wardrobe has always needed. Wear them for work, drinks, shopping, a wedding or even a funeral. Marks and Spencer black patent pumps.

I’ve said before, I’m not a huge fan of black. I actually already own a pair of black patent heels with a gorgeous bow detail on the front. They are very high and very pretty but not quite does-it-all stuff. They were also (although not whoppingly expensive,) not going to get you any change from a £20 note. So despite me not loving black shoes, I needed some. I needed a pair of work heels that I didn’t feel soul-less in. I needed some heels I could sling on for dinner or meeting friends that would look good but still be reasonably comfy. I needed something with a heel height that I didn’t consider frumpy (I do love a heel,) but wasn’t sky-scraping either. And because all I could find didn’t tick any of those boxes, I wanted something cheap, because lets face it, this wasn’t going to be my dream shoe.

It turns out said dream shoe was residing in Marks and Spencer for some time before I paid it any attention and I know this because both my sister and Jess own a pair – and have done for ages! (Hands up in the comments box if you already own these shoes?) They’re the perfect heel height, I love patent for it’s slightly sassy feel, they’re wide enough to be comfortable and do you know what? Despite my reservations, I’ve not had them off. No fear of getting wet because they are good old fashioned plastic. They go with jeans, pretty dresses, shorts, ankle skimming tailored work pants, everything I tell you.

So in case you’re on a bit of a mission to find the perfect shoe and coming up against a blank wall, give this pair a second look. At £19, you can’t really go wrong I’d say.

Thrifty Love,
Rebecca
xo

Thrifty Thursdays – Time to travel.

As you read this, Mr C-S and I are on our way to Spain.  We will be staying in a luxurious 3 bedroom city apartment, walking distance from the beach and the city centre of Valencia.  But wait, isn’t this Thrifty Thursday? Well yes it is.  And the aforementioned pad is costing us less than per night than two beds in a youth hostel, because we booked it through a home-sharing website called housetrip.com.

With many of us tightening our belts the better to weather the recession, holidays are often the first luxury to go, which is where house swapping and home sharing sites come in. With housetrip.com anyone can sign up and advertise their home as available so not only does renting someone else’s place abroad guarantee you a holiday at a good price, you can even be extra thrifty and earn some cash from your empty house while you’re away!

Many people may not like the idea of having strangers staying in their place, which is something I totally understand (my own brother and his impossibly glamorous girlfriend are staying round ours while we’re away and I’ve already bombarded them with useless information including how I normally hang out our washing and which way round the cup handles should face) but whilst organising our stay in Valencia we’ve been emailing the flat’s owner who seems a lovely person, and (because loveliness will only take you so far) we’re paying upfront with a sizeable cash deposit on arrival.  We know we will leave her house in immaculate condition (mugs lined up and everything) but she has the extra safety of a lump of our cash.

So readers, has anyone used house trip.com? Rented out their place to Cameron Diaz  or Kate Winslet a la The Holiday?

Do drop us a note in the comment box and let’s talk holidays!
Love, Gemma C-S

PS.  Holiday bargain alerts!

  • Travel sized Charles Worthington Takeaways sun protection range has been reduced to a mere 29 pence in Asda stores.  Not available online – snap them up if you see them!  (the leave-in conditioning spray is particularly good in my thin, frizz-prone hair)
  • Florence and Fred at Tesco have launched a new swimwear range, as well as putting a number of other items into the sale, with bikini bottoms on their website starting at 2 pounds.
  • Every year without fail (ok, so the last 3 summers that I’ve been there, but still) fashion magazines in Spain (the likes of Cosmo and Elle) have given away free Haviana flip-flops with their July issues.  That’s twenty pounds + footwear for peanuts,  (and ok, maybe you won’t be able to read the articles, but you can look at the pictures!)
  • And thrifty clothes item of the week is this dress from H and M.  Perfect to pull on over swimmers at the beach but also great for wearing on the plane with jeans and a blazer, whatever the weather!

*all images are of the actual apartment we’re staying in via housetrip.com.  And yes, that’s our private deck you can see peeking through the window of the shot of the lounge. 🙂

 

Thrifty Thursdays – An introduction

Hi everyone!

After Rebecca’s big announcement yesterday about the supremely exciting and gorgeously geometric Dream. Find. Do., I have a wee bit of news to report too.  Namely, that we will be unveiling a few new types of post here on Florence Finds over the coming weeks, and one of them will my baby…

Thrifty Thursdays.

See, much as I absolutely ADORE this blog, and I boy, do I hanker after pretty much everything Rebecca features be it for her home or her wardrobe, a lot of the content is, shall we say, a bit more aspirational than available for me.  At C-S towers we’re on something of an austerity drive, which has been intensified by me not having had regular income over the last few months. Pottering around behind the scenes of Florence Finds can sometimes make me feel like I’ve got my nose pressed up against the glass of a beautiful store that I’m afraid to go into, and that’s a bit silly, because it’s definitely not the vibe we’re aiming to create here.  I know that a few of you are in the same boat, too, be it saving for house deposits, planning weddings or simply trying to put pennies away for a rainy day, not all of us have a lot of cash to splash.  On the other hand, when you are trying to live frugally, it’s really frustrating not to be able to indulge yourself from time to time, or to feel like you’re depriving yourself in every area of your life and for the love of Mike can’t you just have one new thing to wear on a night out.  Which is where Thrifty Thursdays comes in.


Image credit: Hennie Haworth

Once a fortnight I’ll be featuring DIYs, craft ideas, bargain cosmetics, recipes and more all of which can be done on little or no budget.  We’ll be looking at the usual Florence Finds areas of interest, like fashion, travel and interiors but from a slightly different, thrifty viewpoint.  I’ll be doing my best to round up lower pricepoint alternatives to Rebecca’s Fash Flash and what to wear posts and it will also be a place for us to share any discount offers or deals that come our way, and of course we hope you guys will send us submissions with your hints for living a fabulous life without breaking the bank! (Fire away to hello@florencefinds.com)

What’s your best tip for brilliance on a budget?

Love, Gemma C-S

Friday Food: Earl Grey Tea Bread and Butter Pudding [or Dos and Don’ts of Earl Grey Tea]

Hi guys, Gemma C-S here with the 2nd in our Friday Food 3 parter of recipes by Simon Rimmer for Onebrand. If you’re not quite sure what I’m talking about, check out my bloggers’ day out of cooking with Simon Rimmer and last week’s Scotch Egg recipe.

So when I went along to aforementioned cooking day, I had the pleasure of meeting a bunch of lovely bloggers, all of whom seemed super-organised and quite refined in their individual ways, and wouldn’t have made the mistake that I did with Earl Grey Tea this morning – namely, making a cup full of the stuff (after ruining the last cup of coffee in the pot by tipping curdled soya milk into it) and then because I was running late/moving at slow speed (see the coffee situation) carrying it into the bedroom with me to blow dry my hair, and as I lifted the cup to my lips with the hairdryer running, blew tea all down my front. When actually, what I should have done is taken the day off altogether, and made this:

EARL GREY TEA BREAD AND BUTTER PUDD WITH TOFFEE SAUCE
Created by Simon Rimmer especially for the One Brand.

Ingredients
1 x One Clever Loaf (white bread)
75g butter
6 One Good Egg yolks
2 whole One Good Egg
150g sugar
Vanilla pod
250ml full fat milk
250ml double cream
100ml strong earl grey tea
25g each sultanas and raisins
100g prunes, soaked in brandy
demarera sugar for layers
100ml double cream
100g soft dark brown sugar
100g butter

Method

  • Whisk the eggs and sugar. Bring the tea, milk and cream to a simmer with the vanilla, sieve onto the eggs and whisk
  • Butter the bread and layer up in a 9” x 4” x 2” ovenproof dish, with the fruit and sugar. Don’t put any fruit on the top layer
  • Pour on the custard. If poss leave for 20 mins, sprinkle with lots of sugar then cook at 180c, 30 m ins
  • For the sauce – simply bring the sugar, butter and cream to boil, then remove
  • To serve – dollop a big load of pudd, drizzle some sauce round and top with a quenelle of mascarpone
Comfort food anyone? Thank goodness it’s Friday!
Love, Gemma C-S

Spotted: OneBrand

Florence Finds twitter followers may remember a flurry of excitement just over a week ago, when we received an email asking us to spend the day cooking with Simon Rimmer, the celebrity chef you may well know from Something for the Weekend. I couldn’t make it, but it was poetic fate that saw Gemma attending on behalf of Florence Finds, given that it wasn’t just about fancy cooking, but a genius idea that makes it easy for you to make a difference to people in developing countries, just by doing your weekly shop…

Hi guys, Gemma C-S here. Now, today’s spotted is a slight departure from the norm with this category, in that it isn’t something particularly pretty (although the packaging is nice!) but rather something useful.

Some of you know that my husband and I spent much of 2010 travelling and during this period we did aid work in Asia and also lived in Cuba for a time where food is strictly rationed – and we came home with a completely different perspective on the way that we here in the developed world consume resources.  Now it’s all well and good for me to get up on a soapbox and talk about how nothing goes to waste in Havana, that women soak their pineapple scraps and skins in water so that no part of the fruit goes to waste, that when your monthly allotment of coffee runs out you simply can. not. get. any. more. (unless you try the black market.) Nor does it really achieve anything for me to say that for a Burmese man we met, a ‘good week’ was one where he was able to give his family meat one night out of seven, and that they shared a piece of chicken between them that to us seemed minuscule.  Yes, we’re very lucky to live where we do, to have access to an abundance of clean water and fresh food, but it’s human nature that other wants and needs get layered over that and in our busy, built-up lives it can be very hard to ‘give back’ – or to make any tangible difference to people living on the other side of the world in a place you’ve never been to.

Which is why Onebrand is my new favourite thing. What is it all about? Well, in their own words:

we have a really simple idea. We create brilliant, quality products, and every time you buy one, we donate 100% of the profit to life-changing projects in developing countries.”

So, in essence, every time you buy a Onebrand product (and they do a range, everything from fizzy water to toilet paper to the world’s best eggs) they fund a like-for-like equivalent. So, for example, buying Onebrand toilet tissue funds hygiene and sanitation projects in Africa. Onebrand bandaids fund ambulance bikes and first aid kits. Onebrand fruit juices fund vegetable farming.  And they’re stocked in a huge number of stores, including Tesco, ASDA, Waitrose as well as online, and they’re also popping up randomly wherever I turn recently (like in the vending machines in my office, where a bottle of Onebrand sparkling water is 10p cheaper than its competitor…result!)

Here at Florence Finds, obviously, we love luxury products, high fashion and indulgent food, as well as with picking up bargains where we can. But we also are prone to that horrible feeling you sometimes get when holding an item before you buy it, that thought of ‘if it costs me so little – yet there’s so much work in it – the people who made it must be paid next to nothing’. We have families, we have budgets to stick to, houses to save up for, cars to put petrol in.  It would be great to always live and buy sustainably, but it’s not always practical or easy.  It’s not often that something comes along where we can make a difference in the developing world by doing so little. Team C-S has completely switched to Onebrand and Duncan Goose, its founder, is a new household hero – because after he came back from travelling, much as we did, he didn’t sit around yapping, (erm, as we also did, and do,) but put his money where his mouth was and became the change he wanted to see in the world.

Sentimental, do-goody words by yours truly? Perhaps. But in purely practical terms – if the choice is between two packets of bread which cost the same, and one is giving profit to a multinational corporation while the other is supporting a developing community, why would I buy the first?


Do let us know if you’ve already come across Onebrand in stores, or if you have another ethical find to share with us, and don’t forget that the next Friday Food is another Simon Rimmer for Onebrand recipe.

Love, Gemma C-S (who yes, is a little bit socialist around the edges.)

Friday Food: CHORIZO SCOTCH EGGS WITH PEPPER CHUTNEY

Hi guys, Gemma here, with another installment of thank-god-it’s-Friday food. And actually, I can’t really take personal credit for these recipes and I wouldn’t even want to, seeing as they’re the product of Simon Rimmer (yes, from the tele Simon Rimmer) using super exciting Onebrand ingredients.


Simon Rimmer, all images courtesy of OneBrand

I was lucky enough to be able to head along to a Onebrand bloggers event a couple of weeks ago on behalf of Florence Finds and learn the upcoming recipes from the master himself, and I have to say there’s a reason I’m laughing in each and every photo – I had a ball. Pop back on Monday for a more indepth look at Onebrand, a company who are supporting communities in the developing world through their products, which are available here in the UK and make it ridiculously easy to consume ethically and ‘give back’ as a part of your routine trip to the supermarket. Not only that, once you crack a Onebrand egg, you’ll never switch. Honestly, they have such an intense, glossy yellow yolk and if you whisk one up in a cup with a pinch of salt, pepper and fresh basil and then toss it, with a knob of butter, through steaming fresh tagliatele…. ahem. Sorry about that.


Chorizo Scotch Eggs with pepper chutney, by Simon Rimmer for OneBrand

But speaking of phenomenally delicious things you can do with eggs, here is Simon Rimmer’s twist on the Scotch Egg, accompanied by a chutney that is so zesty and rich it’s like a sock to the head. Except, you know, awesome and not at all painful.

CHORIZO SCOTCH EGGS WITH PEPPER CHUTNEY
Created by Simon Rimmer especially for the One Brand

Ingredients

6 hard boiled One Good Eggs – cooked 6 mins max
175g sausage meat
75g finely diced/blended chorizo
tbs chopped parsley
tbs finely chopped chives
Plenty of salt and white pepper

75g breadcrumbs
75g polenta

Vegetable oil to deep fry


Another blogger and his giant scotch egg

Pepper chutney – 1 red onion, sliced
4 red peppers, finely sliced
Clove sliced garlic
8 gherkins, chopped
tbs capers
100g demarera
100ml red wine vinegar
1 finely chopped birds eye chilli


Gemma enjoying the class 🙂

Method

  • Mix the sausage meat, chorizo, herb, chives and plenty of seasoning
  • Divide into 16, press flat, then flour each egg, then egg wash and wrap the meat around.
  • Deep fry at 180c for 4 mins, turning regularly
  • CHUTNEY – fry onion, garlic, chilli for 3-4 mins to soften
  • Add peppers, cook 2 mins
  • Add sugar and vinegar, boil 10mins, take off heat, add capers, gherkins, season and cool. Serve with scotch eggs and a little pretty salad garnish

So findettes, who’s tempted? Has anyone eaten at a Simon Rimmer restaurant (Greens, Didsbury & Earle, Altrincham) or already discovered the Onebrand range?

As always we love to hear your comments,
Love Gemma C-S

Ps. The reason we’re laughing in the photo? Weeeeell, I may have been a little over-enthusiastic in coating my egg with the sausage mix. To the point, actually, where it looked like a dinosaur egg about to hatch. And where it looked like picking it up would have snapped my wrist. But in the interests of honest reporting I have to admit I scoffed the lot 😉

Festive Food: Antipodean Icecream Christmas Cake

Yuletidings FF-ers!
It’s a slightly harried Gemma here who will no doubt be spending the season waist-high in un-assembled IKEA furniture as we battle ever onwards trying to make our flat habitable.  For those of you who can actually access your kitchens without having to climb over a chair, a christmas tree, a box of records (which you broke the handles of and thus can’t move) 70 million computer cables and a racing bike, here’s a festive food post for those who fancy something slightly different for dessert come C-day.

It’s my cousin Eliza’s Antipodean-weather-and-child-friendly icecream Christmas cake, we think the recipe originally came out of an Australian Women’s Weekly cooking supplement but we’re not 100% sure, and I’ve adapted it slightly to add more of a Christmas flavour.  We’ve always found that picky kids tend to want to eat this more than a traditional fruitcake, but if you’re aiming it at an under-18 audience perhaps leave out the brandy.  Or, indeed, leave it in, if you want the nippers zonked on the couch while you attack the cheese course 😉


BBC Good Food

Ingredients
200gms softened butter
1½ cups icing sugar
5 eggs
400gms good quality dark chocolate (chopped), or mix of dark and milk chocolate if preferred.
3 litres plain vanilla ice-cream (make sure it’s a good quality one as it needs to be re-frozen, and some go ‘grainy’)
pinch of nutmeg and pinch of cinnamon
300gm frozen raspberries
400gm Maltesers
100gm white chocolate
a couple of handfuls of crumbled store-bought sponge cake (or left-overs if you’ve been baking – I find that 2 fairy cakes work well for this) which you can soak in brandy if you so desire
and any/all of these bits to make it more Christmassy – candied peel, glace cherries, dried apricots, nuts, figs, etc etc.

1. Allow the icecream to soften in a mixing bowl
2. Crush the maltesers and white chocolate with a rolling pin (don’t smash into oblivion, just into smallish chunks)
3. Still armed with the rolling pin, attack the raspberries with a lighter hand so that they’re in pieces of differing sizes, then put them in a bowl in the freezer so they don’t melt too much. (All this smashing and rolling-pin-ing is a great way to alleviate the Christmas ‘I stood in this queue for half an hour to buy  these two phone covers for my nieces which I had to track down from opposite ends of the store while your disinterested staff looked on and now you’re telling me that it’s closing for lunch what the WHAT?’ stress, if you have it)
4. Cream your butter and icing sugar and then add eggs one at a time.
5. Melt the chocolate slowly, stirring as you go, either in a bowl of warm water (that’s a bowl inside a bowl, btw) or in the microwave on a very low setting, and then add it to the butter/sugar/eggs mix.
6. Line a deep sided cake tin or lasagna dish or the like with baking parchment. 
7. Spread about half of the crushed malteser/white chocolate mix onto the bottom of the dish, then pour on half the chocolate/butter/sugar/egg mix over the top and pop in the freezer for about 10 minutes to set it.
8. Add the rasperries, cinnamon and nutmeg, sponge cake and any other bits like candied peel that you’re using  to the icecream which should be nicely soft by now, and fold through. Then add the icrecream/raspberry mix to your dish.
10. layer over the remaining chocolate mix and then the rest of the malteser mix.  Stud the top with left over whole maltesers, cover the lot with tin foil and keep in the freezer.  Take out 5-10 minutes before serving et voila!

Ps. You could also layer this up in a domed bowl instead of a flat dish, and then it would be more pudding-shaped, a la Jamie Oliver’s Christmas Bombe

Merry Christmas!
Love,
Gemma C-S

L’italiano guida regalo di Natale – Florence’s gift guide #6

Ciao Bellas! Gemma here, with a little bit of Christmas chat inspired by my love of travel.

Ever since I visited Italy for the first time at 15, I’ve wanted to go back there for Christmas. I feel like the yuletide season in Italy would be like Christmas to the power of 3 – I mean, even the Italian flag is in Christmas colours! I’d love to go to a Christmas service in one of the beautiful ancient churches for hymns and carols sung in Italian and mass in Latin. To gorge myself on Italian Christmas delicacies like il torrone (Italian nougat) and Panettone, (Italian Christmas fruitcake, baked in a tall mould with light buttery dough and filled with candied fruit, raisins, ginger, honey, almonds and hazelnuts) and to wander the winding, snow-covered streets cradling a caffe corretto (that’s coffee ‘corrected’ with a shot of cognac or another spirit 😉 hand in hand with a handsome man.
However. This year the handsome man and I are staying at home for Christmas in our new rental flat in London, so instead, I’ve come up with an Italian-inspired gift guide which hopefully includes something for everyone.

First up, for the tree (considering we had the Christmas tree up in our house before we had plates or cutlery it’s safe to say I prioritise ‘decking my halls’!) this stunning decoration from Versace. I know that the price of it is a little bit ridiculous, but that’s what makes it so fabulous and it would definitely become a family heirloom.

Cibi e Bevande (Food and Drink)

  • Toast the season with a traditionally Italian tipple – Prosecco. And if you’re after a gift for a wine buff, you could give them a bottle with some Riedel Prosecco glasses (I know Riedel is Austrian but they went to a LOT of trouble working with Italian Prosecco makers to design this glass which directs the drink to the right part of your palate so that it maximizes the sweetness and fullness of the wine while minimising bitterness… it would be scrooge-ish of me not to include them, no?) Panettone: this amazing cake, which is similar to brioche in texture, can be eaten on its own, smothered with nutella (what? It’s an example..) or used in any recipes that call for bread – once you’ve tried bread and butter pudding made with this you’ll never go back.
  • Italian coffee: this is self explanatory. I’m name-checking Lavazza here. They’ve been making the stuff since 1895, and am I the only one who loves the styling of their ads? Giving a pack of ‘posh coffee’ along with a stove-top Espresso maker like this beauty from Bialetti can be a truly life-changing present for people who’ve only ever had instant at home before.
  • Italian food cookbook – The Italian Diet, Gino Di Campo. For anyone who thinks Italian cooking is; a, too easy, b, too fatty and carby, or c, boring, this is the book. Lots of fresh ideas that are healthy, and lots of unusual dishes that go past the basics like lasagne. I picked up a friend’s copy and went to write a few dishes down, then I realised I liked the sound of so many I might as well get the book.

Per la casa (for the home)

  • Alessi Stovetop kettle: I have wanted one of these for a vairrrrrry long time, but as I’ve just bought an enamelled grey whistling kettle that was more ‘in-budget’ please let me know if any of you are getting this for Christmas or indeed already own one. I like the pale blue/burgundy colour combo best, and yes I’d like to see home photos.
  • MOR Italian Blood Orange candle
  • Venetian mirror – in my quest to make our rental flat homey and livable (at the moment it’s homely and laughable) I am after a statement mirror. I have bored many people, including Rebecca, with mirror-chat. So to shut me up, someone please direct my long-suffering husband to this Laura Ashley Valencia mirror.
  • Murano glass paperweight – yes, a paperweight, potentially the world’s most-given, least-thought-about gift. Except that if someone gave me this I would so totally put it on my desk, stat. (Well, if they gave me a desk to go with it)

Divertimento (entertainment)

  • Ok, so her mother is Icelandic but she obviously gets her name from her Italian father, and if you’ve never heard Emiliana Torrini you might want to keep one of her albums for yourself. My fav of her tracks? Jungle Drums, Heartstopper and her exquisite cover of Tom Wait’s I hope that I don’t fall in love with you. This Rarities
    vinyl is also frameable.
  • In my Christmas day schedule I’ve set aside time for film watching in my pjs. First up is Life is Beautiful, (which is not to be confused with A Beautiful Life) an Italian film that will make you laugh and cry, and then I’ll be sighing over polka dot dresses with La Dolce Vita.
  • Having learnt to speak Spanish in the last year and wishing with all my might that I’d payed attention to Italian lessons at school, I think the Rosetto Stone Italian lesson program is a fab gift. Rosetta Stone really works, too.

Vestiti (clothes)

  • Oh, Italian fashion, how I love thee. Maxmara reversible cape? I’m talking to you. Oh, hello there Missoni sweater – I do agree you’d be trans-seasonal and therefore a justifiable expense and Miu Miu calf leather boots and coat, why, it’d be a crime to buy one of you without the other. Sigh.
  • However, back here in the real world, I do like the look of this Italian Silk scarf for men which is very, um, stealable borrowable… I mean, only when he’s not wearing it…

I’d love to hear from anyone who has spent a Christmas in Italy – what have I missed? Do you have a dream Christmas destination?

Gemma x

Friday Food: Gemma’s Pumpkin-esque Pie

Happy Friday folks!

This morning we’re welcoming Gemma back and continuing the pumpkin theme (hope you’re not getting pumpkin-ed out!) with more squash recipes. Pop back later for your favourite… Friday Frock O’Clock

So readers, the days are getting shorter, the inclement weather is coming in (Glasgow rainstorm anyone?! I was nearly washed away in the deluge this morning and I’m by no means what anyone would describe as a ‘slip of a thing’) and two autumnal and pumpkin-related events are coming up: Halloween and Thanksgiving. Now, I’m Australian and ‘downunder’ we don’t really do either of these holidays which is a bit of a shame – I think it’s always worthwhile to stop and think about the things in life that you’re thankful for, and who doesn’t love an excuse to dress up?! So in honour of this I’m channelling my inner Karen Brewer (because I learnt all about important American traditions by reading the Babysitters Club and Babysitters Little Sister) for today’s recipe, Pumpkinesque Pie.


*Image taken by Rebecca in Chelsea Market, New York, last October.

It’s pumpkinesque because it’s actually made out of butternut squash, although I thoroughly endorse listening to The Smashing Pumpkins while you make it. It will serve 8 people and it will fill your kitchen with the most delicious scent you may never buy a smelly candle ever again. And, if you read my last post about soup, you’ll know I like it when I can boast about ensure that I am getting my 5 fruit and veg per day, and this will count as one of them.

Ingredients:
1 unbaked and chilled 22 cm ready made pie crust (frankly I think life’s too short to make pastry from scratch. But I do have my nan’s amazing recipe somewhere and can dig it out if there’s an outcry!)
1 large butternut squash
3 free-range eggs
1 cup of medium brown sugar
3/4 cup evaporated milk or ½ a cup of semi-skimmed mixed with ¼ of a cup of single cream
3 teaspoons of allspice/ mixed spice/ cinnamon nutmeg mix
1 tablespoon or so grated fresh ginger (fresh ginger makes it SO GOOD but of course ground ginger does just as well, but you don’t need as much – maybe a teaspoon or two? And obvs if you are like my sister and don’t like ginger then don’t use it!)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons self-raising flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla essence


*Image Credits, both MarthaStewart.com

How to:

  • Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scrape the pith and seeds out with a spoon. Cook it the same way as outlined in my soup post or to speed things up a little, pop the squash, skin outwards, into a foil lined baking dish and add 1/2 cup or so of water to the pan. Cover loosely with foil and bake in a 200 degrees oven for about an hour, let it cool and then mash it or throw it in the blender.
  • Mix 1 1/2 cups of squash with the brown sugar in a bowl with handheld beaters (or with your Kitchenaid if you are lucky enough to have one! Jealous!) and then add the butter, spices, vanilla essence, salt, and flour along with the eggs one at a time, adding the milk/cream in gradually to keep the mixture moist and give it all a good whiz at the end so it’s smooth and thick.
  • Pour the filling into the pie crust and place on the centre of the oven. It will probably take about 50 minutes to bake, but check it after half an hour or so because you might want to cover the pastry to stop it burning. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until set. Check that it’s cooked by touching the filling, it should be firm but not rubbery – it’s actually pretty easy to tell when it’s done. Let it cool, and then you can serve it with a dusting of icing sugar or go mental with fake cream in a can tastefully pipe whipped cream or even cream cheese icing over it.

I would like to assure you that my pies have NEVER looked as good as Martha’s, but they do taste lovely.  I’d also like to add that I’m not  the kind of person who has a gorgeous shot of pumpkins she can use as a stock image, you know, just kicking around my house since I happy-snapped it in The Big Apple.  Luckily for me, that’s the way Rebecca rolls, otherwise you’d have a shot of something else pumpkin-y, like my face after a week of eating too many pies.

Happy Halloweek (halloween week) and I promise that if Rebecca lets me post on FF again there won’t be a pumpkin or butternut squash in sight, but… if you’re going to try this out, or you made some Florence-style soup last week, please send us some photos, reviews or reports via twitter or comment on these pretty multi-coloured pages.
Back to the editor’s box for me readers (it’s the best seat in the house!)

Gemma x

 

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