Vancouver and Visas and Wearstler and Wanders

Can you believe it’s been three years since we first got our visas for the US?

When we first came out to Seattle we assumed that definitely be back in the UK before our visas ran out. But here we are three years later, happily settled and with no return to Europe in prospect, needing new visas.  You have to leave the country to get them renewed so we’ve driven 150 miles up the freeway to spend a few days in Vancouver. 

Here are a few pics from a gorgeous autumnal walk we went on yesterday in Stanley Park.

Seattle July '092

And here are a couple of links which might be of interest until I’m back properly in front of a computer (on Friday).

First up Alexandra from A Bit Late is not impressed with Kelly Wearstler’s beach house. While I don’t think I hate it as much as her previous effort (she appears to have given up raiding the British Museum) I’m not sure it has a huge amount to commend it.  I haven’t yet seen the Metropolitan Home feature though.

Also our friend Marcel Wanders has apparently designed a range of Christmas decorations for Target here in the US.  I had high hopes for these as he’s done good stuff before for Habitat in the UK but really, with the exception of the big red, white and silver column candles which I may have to acquire, he was phoning this in without even bothering to switch on the phone. BO-RING.



In which I rescue my poor bedraggled little saffron crocuses from a weekend of heavy rain and pick out the saffron stamens.  Take that $25 bottle of saffron from the supermarket!

I think I’ll make risotto.




I’ve not yet actually cooked with my home-grown saffron, so if we are all poisoned I’ll make sure someone lets you know…


My Nonna’s Lasagne – Parte Due

I bet all of you already know how to assemble a lasagne and this post will be a like teaching my nonna to suck eggs (ha ha!) but here it is for completeness’ sake.


First up, I always pre-cook the lasagne. I know you can get the ones which you just layer in with your sauces, but I personally can never get those to be quite the right consistency. Here are some lovely fresh lasagne sheets which have been dipped in boiling water until they’re the texture of slippery silk handkerchiefs. I was making a ton here, so I ended up layering the pasta sheets between clean tea towels (you can just see the bottom layer on the left).  By the way, this fabulous teatowel by Tikoli is available from mirrormirror.


Next, I spread a little of the meat ragu over the bottom of my roasting dish and then start layering. First a layer of pasta, then meat sauce, then bechamel and then a couple of handfuls of grated Parmesan cheese (yep, there is cheese in there somewhere). Rinse and repeat four or five times until you’ve used up all your pasta.

My final layer is usually mostly Bechamel, with a bit of meat sauce swirled in for colour and a couple more handfuls of Parmesan cheese.  I then bake in the oven for around an hour at 180 degrees Celsius/350 degrees Fahrenheit.


Serve with plenty of red wine and think of my grandma, who probably learned this from her grandma before her. I love the way that cooking provides such a connection with previous family generations. 


More Nice Mentions

My Charlotte Mann post continues to make the rounds, with mentions by her highness Not Martha, Urban Little House and Butterscotch Sundae. I reckon Charlotte owes me a small doodle by now.

The ever fabulous Shelterrific also picked up on the espaliered apples post.

If you’ve written a post linking either to this blog or the mirrormirror store and I haven’t mentioned you, please let me know.  I like to share the link love.


My Nonna’s Lasagne, Part I – A Tale of Two Sauces

My very first foodie memory comes from when I was about four years old and our Italian relatives were visiting us in London.


One rainy afternoon my nonna decided that she would make ravioli for us all from scratch.  I sat on a chair mesmerised while my nonna mixed dough on the chipped pale yellow formica table and then rolled it out by hand into a huge wafer-thin sheet that covered said table from corner to corner.  She then covered half the dough with little blobs of the filling she’d cooked up earlier and carefully folded the dough over the top. I helped her press the dough around the little blobs of filling and then watched as she cut out the individual ravioli with a little fluted wheel. And then she did the whole thing again (she was cooking for 8 I think) and then she made a sauce.

I remember being amazed that something she had spent all afternoon preparing was then gobbled up in ten minutes flat.  I also remember thinking that nothing I had ever eaten previously had ever tasted so good (thus setting me up for a lifetime of pasta overconsumption).

There is no way I could ever make my nonna’s ravioli, I just don’t have the skill and dexterity she had to roll out a sheet of pasta that thinly, but, via my mother, I have inherited her recipe for lasagne.

Making lasagne the Northern Italian way is a long and painstaking process and it is only cooked on very special occasions. I try and think of it as performance art or something and set aside two cooking sessions to prepare it – one for making the sauces and one for the assembly.

The main difference between this and lasagne I’ve had in the US is in the saucing.  Instead of ricotta, Northern Italians will generally make a bechamel (besciamella) sauce and instead of tomato sauce will use a thick meat ragu.  Here is my grandmother’s recipe. Quantities are unfortunately all rather approximate.


Finely chop a medium onion, a small carrot, a couple of garlic cloves and some parsley and sweat everything down in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil.  I like to add a couple of heaped tablespoons of chopped pancetta at this stage but that’s purely optional. 

Cook until the pancetta is crispy and the onions etc are soft and then add about 2 heaped teaspoons dried oregano and the minced beef (I use 1 pound for a smaller lasagne and 2 pounds for a big roasting dish size).

Brown the meat. Sadly I have experimented a lot with reduced fat mince and can only conclude that full-fat is much, much nicer and makes a more authentic sauce. If you want to make a lower-fat version bulk up the meat with finely chopped mushrooms which are not authentic but delicious – they do turn the sauce a slightly darker brown though.)

When the meat is brown add a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes (I sometimes push it all religiously through a mouli, but mostly I never bother), a couple of bayleaves, salt and pepper, and a slug of any wine you might have open in the fridge. if you’re using a lot of meat, add more tomatoes and wine. Sometimes I add a little sugar if the tomatoes seem to need it.  Bubble the sauce gently for as long as you possibly can, or at least about an hour and a half, with the lid on the pan but open a crack to let the steam escape. It is cooked when little pools of red fat (!!!) appear on the surface.


Make a plain roux-based white sauce with around 2 pints of milk – though obviously you need to adjust this according to the size of your lasagne.  The very best lasagnes all have plenty of creamy sauce though. At the end of cooking time, when the sauce should be the same consistency as thick cream, flavour it with salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg. That is all. Resist the temptation to add cheese at this stage.

Please do not look at my horrible backsplash and kitchen paint colour.  It will change one day, probably some time in the next millenium.

Megan Not Martha is having a more traditionally American lasagne moment over on her blog courtesy of her rather fabulous Baker’s Edge Lasagna Pan.

I can be very pedantic about lasagne (pronounced ‘lasagn-EH’).  It’s never called ‘lasagnA’ in Italy.  The name refers to the actual sheets of pasta and feminine nouns are pluralised with an ‘e’ in Italian.


Fancy Hotel of the Week – Mondrian Miami

I’ve never had much of a desire to go to Miami, but all that changed when I saw this hotel.  I totally adore the whimsy and wit of Marcel Wanders and his masterful use of shape and pattern, though the only thing I have that he’s designed are my gorgeous patterned storage boxes from Habitat.

The Mondrian Miami is still very ‘Miami’ with lots of shiny, lots of heavy columns and lots of huge curly chairs, but it does all look rather fun.


CfdfdaptureDesign details I love include the faces on the walls, the shiny white floors, the layered monochrome patterns, the indoor and outdoor chandeliers,  the strangely curving staircase and the funky modern chairs (not so keen on the faux French antique chairs, but I can see what he’s trying to do).



















The World of 100

Or if the world were a village of one hundred people.

Graphic designer Toby Ng has produced a set of 20 posters, each conveying a simple statistic about the state of the world.





Which I’m finding to be very thought-provoking as I sit at my spanking new computer on my overweight, college-educated butt…

See more stats and realise even more how lucky we all are here.



Or fences that grow apples.


Look what we’ve been picking recently!  Small, perfectly formed, and just the right size for the Minx’s lunchbox.

090I first got the idea to use espaliered apple trees as fences when we visited the tulip festival back in 2007 and they’d used them to fence in the car park.















Here are our two just planted espaliers to the left of the picture below back when the garden was new in August 2007.


That first year they sure did look pretty but the one apple they produced was eaten by our garden squirrel.



This year, however, look what we got.



The extremely cool thing about these espaliers – as you can just about see from the picture above -  is that each of the four branches has a different variety of apple on it.  The Gala and Granny Smith apples in the top picture both came off the same tree.


Cupcake Couture

Our old friends Trophy Cupcakes here in Seattle have been showing off their Halloween cupcake range.





They are fabulous and I’m particularly liking their couture outfits from Bella Cupcake Couture. Truly fashion at its finest.

Bella Cupcake Couture makes textile inspired cupcake wrappers which are fabulous for weddings, parties and other special occasions. Utterly sublime.