Blossom Watch – Day 1


The immense cherry tree in our tiny backyard is one of the very last cherry trees to flower in Seattle and is currently absolutely PREGNANT with blossom buds (about three weeks earlier than normal), so I thought it might be fun to follow its progress in the days ahead.





I know I owe you guys lots and lots of updates – painting the living room, my weight loss (ha ha!), and the office tidy up. They’re on the way, but I need to take pictures and its very grey here as you can see.


Alice Waters’ Chicken Noodle Soup with Italian Additions


What with crumbles and pot roasts I appear to be on a bit of a traditional cooking kick a the moment. Part of it is because there’s a reason the old classics are classic – we’re talking seriously good food here – but it’s also because I’m increasingly realising what a pleasure it is to share great classic food with the Minx who is experiencing it for the first time. It makes me seriously happy to see her hoovering up things like homemade apple crumble with gusto.

Another of the Minx’s favourites is Chicken Noodle Soup. This has only entered my repertoire fairly recently, but we’ve been making it A LOT as it’s a very easy way to give a kid (and adults) a complete and tasty meal in a bowl, with plenty of leftovers for lunch and supper.




I use as my starting point Alice Waters’ recipe from The Art of Simple Food (one of the best cookbooks I’ve come across in America) which essentially makes the soup in two stages.

Firstly create an intensely-flavoured chicken broth by taking bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (or sometimes I use thighs) and simmering them for 45 mins in store-bought chicken broth (or stock-cube stock), with roughly sliced onions, roughly chopped carrots and a little roughly chopped parsnip. Alice Waters adds celery, I of course do not because cooked celery is the work of the devil. Instead, because I am Italian, I add some roughly chopped cloves of garlic and one or two squooshy old tomatoes from the depths of the fridge. 

If you want some more precise quantities then an adaptation of Waters’ recipe is here.  Though I seriously would encourage you to buy the book or just improvise using these instructions. I tend to guesstimate based on what I have to hand and how much I want to make.  All I would say is be measured in your use of parsnip.  Its subtle sweetness is a wonderful addition to the soup, but a little goes a long way.

When the broth has simmered for about 45 minutes, hoik out the meat and skim and strain the broth, discarding the vegetables. Remove the skin and bone from the meat and shred it into small pieces. Put it in a small bowl, cover with a couple of spoonfuls of broth and then cover the bowl. This way the meat remains moist, and yes, it does seem to make a difference.




About twenty minutes before you want to serve your soup, whizz up some more onion, carrot and parsnip in the food processor until finely chopped.  I do it in the processor, instead of dicing the vegetables by hand, because a) it’s easier  and b) it’s incredible how much vegetable matter the Minx will inhale if it’s chopped so finely she can’t see it. Again Alice Waters adds celery, I don’t but add garlic and go easy on the parsnip.

Simmer the broth with the fresh vegetables for about ten minutes and then add fettuccine or soup noodles and cook them until soft (Alice Waters cooks her noodles separately and then adds them at the end. I have no idea why you would want to do this). When the noodles are ready, stir in the reserved chicken and get ready for some serious comfort food.

Alice Waters suggest sprinkling with chopped dill to finish. I prefer some chopped Italian parsley,  some grated Parmesan cheese, and little freshly ground nutmeg, which seems to meld with the parsnip flavour to add an intriguing extra dimension to the dish.

How do you make chicken soup? I think it’s one of those dishes where there’s an infinite number of variations and you’ve probably all been making it longer than I have.


Go Love Your Room – New York Townhouse


The clocks going forward always leaves me feeling totally jetlagged – don’t these people realise how fragile my post-insomniac sleep patterns are? So let’s ease into the week gently with a great house from April’s Livingetc.

These crazy people apparently have seven kids. but they also have a design and property business and an amazing modern townhouse in New York.

I love how they’ve taken an ultra-modern, quite boxy building and filled it with a mixture of modern and vintage furniture and lots of colour against a monochrome backdrop.  Nothing new here, but it’s well done. I’m also spotting lots of familiar trends. Are you?




Numbers in decor are clearly a very big thing right now. I do think they make things look edgier somehow.

Loving the floors, the rug by Paul Smith for the Rug Company and the artwork here.  Love the effect of the striped cushions juxtaposed with the ultra-feminine rug. The huge window apparently rolls onto the ceiling like a garage door, which must be so fabulously cool. I would be moving it up and down all day.

NOT much liking the colour scheme or the enormous Kelly green box the layout designers stuck on this. Much as I adore Livingetc as a magazine I do think their layout people could take lessons from Elle Decoration.



Love, love, LOVING, the Murano glass chandelier in the ultra-modern kitchen. I’m not normally a fan of kitsch chandeliers like this but in this context it is utterly PERFECT.




And haven’t we seen a Pearly Queen button picture in Livingetc before? I still want one rather desperately though.  I also have to wonder about all these British artefacts in a New York townhouse in a photospread aimed at the UK market.  Call me cynical, but is it possible that the rugs and artwork were all brought in by stylists? Surely not.




I adore this girl’s bedroom. How many years will I have to wait for the Minx to get over her horrendous Disney Princesses and Tinkerbell phase and be ready to appreciate something like this?  I cringe every time I walk into her room.



  Loving the his and hers desks here.




Can only assume that these guys have another large New York townhouse somewhere in which to house all the clutter that must surely come with seven (SEVEN!!!!) children.



Another Rug Company rug, this time by Diane von Furstenberg, and NO CLUTTER. Not even drawers by the bed.  Where on earth do they keep the KY Jelly?

Whilst peering at the above picture to look for KY Jelly, I noticed that the ‘7’ on the table by the bed is now backwards, which presumably means the photo has been flipped. It’s making my head hurt anyway.


Today I Am Mostly…


…admiring my new shoes.




Very happy with my new pink Birkies.  I have recently been shopping until I drop at RueLaLa, a invitation-only website featuring 2-day designer boutiques at private sale prices.

I haven’t been given anything to shill for these guys (unfortunately as they’re backrupting me) but they do have some great names on here – homewares and menswear as well as womenswear and accessories -  and the prices are amazing (I picked up a DwellStudio duvet set yesterday for $90).  The good news is that I’m inviting you lovely blog friends. 

Just click HERE, sign up and start shopping. The bad news is that you too will soon be bankrupt. The other bad news is that this appears to be US only for the time being.


Mad Men Barbies AND Furniture

Be still my beating heart. (And poor exhausted credit card).

It’s been announced that Mattel will be bringing out a range of four ‘Mad Men’ Barbie and Ken dolls to promote the show’s return in July.  Full details here and here. You just know these’ll be all over every blog by lunchtime.



If you do buy some, why not get them some furniture they’d really enjoy as well? Designer Maryann Roy builds one of a kind interior room sets for her collection of vintage Barbie dolls, which she also restores. Full details from her website here. All roomset images also from her website.







UPDATE:  They’ve just gone up for pre-order HERE.  I’ve just ordered a Joan to be mirrormirror’s new office manager.  Now I need to get her a suitable retro chair so she can sit on my desk.


Some Random Oscar Thoughts


Since I spent five hours sitting on my couch yesterday until my backside was literally numb, I might as well get a blog post out of it, so here are some random Oscar thoughts.

Best bits of the night were Kathryn Bigelow’s win for Best Director  – yet another big crack in the glass ceiling – and Meryl Streep proudly announcing that she was wearing Chris March. Yes, cuddly Chris March, my all-time favourite Project Runway alum. 


Mery Streep Oscars 3


She looked radiant and much better than she often does on the red carpet – the dress looked comfortable, age appropriate (take note James Cameron’s wife) and she looked like she was having a blast wearing it. And unlike many fair people she can really carry off white – it makes her flawless skin look like alabaster.

I thought it might be by him as it was reminiscent of the dress he designed for her for the Golden Globes, so I hope this is the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration for both of them.

Last night the over-40s really schooled the ingenue crowd in how to take the red carpet by storm.



Sparkly, glowy Helen Mirren once again made me proud to be British and was once again one of the best dressed of the night.   Demi Moore proved that Rachel Zoe really does know what she’s talking about, though I think that dress would have been nicer in a colour that didn’t so exactly match her own skintone.

Unfortunately SJP, having heard my comment last year that she was too old to dress like an ingenue, went completely the other way and decided to channel Nancy Reagan circa 1976 wth Barbra Streisand hair. 

I was conflicted about the dress as I wanted so much to like it – it was unusual and different and pretty from the back – but in the end it was just too shapeless for her and it wasn’t really helped by the bits of tin foil stuck randomly all over it, nor by the enormous char sui bun made from mismatched hair pieces that she stuck on her head.

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J Lo’s dress has been getting a lot of inexplicable praise this morning.  Personally I thought it looked as if it had been put together in a Project Runway-esque challenge out of miles and miles of bubble wrap and staples, in order to hide the unfortunate stunted conjoined twin she has joined to her hip (I kept expecting to see a little face peeking out from under that side bustle). And isn’t it the convention that you go a little more understated if you’re only presenting?

She is, however, the only woman on the planet who can almost pull something like this off.  And she has the sparkliest eyes I’ve ever seen, as if they’ve been embedded with diamonds or something. If anyone knows the makeup trick she uses to achieve that then I’m all ears.

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Sandra Bullock (who gave a charming and touching speech and who this weekend also went in person to pick up her Razzie for worst actress – giving her thousands of kudos points in my eyes) decided to come dressed as an Oscar and looked better on the red carpet than she usually does.

Sandra Bullock 4     Sandra Bullock 3

Her hair is spectacularly glossy and shiny too, but if you’ve got big ears then the last thing you want to do is tuck your hair behind them and really show them off (take note also Kara DioGuardi and Ellen DeGeneres on American Idol, who have turned that show into a mesmerising big ear fest).  So I shall cross my fingers and pretend that Sandra pulled her hair into a simple updo and wiped that eyeball-searing gunk off her lips at the same time.

Speaking of unfortunate hair, I did tweet last night that it was a shame Mo’Nique was wearing a cauliflower on her head.

MoNique-2010-Oscars(1)I take that all back this morning as I learn that her electric blue dress and GARDENIA in her hair was her personal tribute to Hattie McDaniel, who also wore blue and gardenias as the first ever African-American winner of an Oscar back in 1939.  (She was apparently forced to sit alone at a table next to the kitchen during that Oscar awards ceremony. SO glad things have moved on a bit since then.)

Frankly I do think Hattie McDaniel (see her acceptance speech here) wore it better and Mo’Nique would have looked a lot less severe with looser hair.







Speaking of larger black ladies in blue. I adored Gabby Sidibe’s infectious exuberance and excitement at being a part of the whole shebang, but her dress was utterly ruined by sticking that cheap-looking applique right over her stomach. Proving once again that designers don’t have a clue how to dress anyone over a size 0. Her upper arms could have done with a tad more draping as well.

Oprah gave us all a lesson in how to be a ‘larger black lady in blue’ but I can’t find a decent picture of her anywhere.










As for real howlers, disappointingly there were no really bad dresses aside from Charlize.

Miley Cyrus – would someone get her off my screen PLEASE? – had me screaming at my television all night in an effort to get her to stop slouching. I think she was afraid that her boobs would just pop out if she pulled her shoulders back.  And visible tan lines is not a particularly classy look.









Vera Farmiga’s dress looked it was single-handedly doing one of those fan dances that strippers do and I kept on expecting a nude woman to jump out from behind it. The colour was absolutely glorious though.

Vera Farmiga 1 Vera Farmiga 3

Diane Kruger looked like she’d been through a shredder and was on the verge of being throttled by a boa constrictor. A traumatic evening.

Diane Kruger 3 Diane Kruger 5

Zoe Saldana looked like she was emerging from one of those retro three-dimensional fold out Christmas decoration thingies. I liked the top of the dress but all the can-can flounces were far too much.  This dress was one of the Minx’s favourites, and if you’re one of the Minx’s favourites then you know you’re indeed on shakey ground tastewise.

82nd Annual Academy Awards Arrivals pPCj3lP_BWUl 82nd Annual Academy Awards Arrivals QAqTv4ItZGLl


And finally dear old Kate Winslet. Why do you always have to dress like a dowager duchess?  I know you’re on a quest to be Britain’s next national treasure, but you’re still young.  Would it really kill you to have a little fun with your clothes? Another dress that looks like armour, another bad case of helmet hair. And this time it looked like you’ve been visiting Madonna’s colourist, and we all know that’s not a good thing.


Kate Winslet 1

One final note for the Oscar producers. The show itself was as lame as centipede that’s had all its legs cut off. Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin were utterly AWFUL. And I speak as someone who’s just started watching 30 Rock on DVD and has turned into a raving Alec Baldwin fan.

However, a star double-act was born before our very eyes. Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr. were hilarious while dishing out the award for Best Original Screenplay and should have been hired on the spot to present next year. I’d pay to watch that one.



Oh and one very last aside. Whatever happened to these two? Grizzly Adams and his partially melted blow-up doll.



A Right Charlize


Off to bed.  Where I shall be wondering why Charlize Theron thought it would be a good idea to wear giant unfurled violet condoms on her bosoms.

Maybe more Oscar thoughts tomorrow if the world and his wife hasn’t already said all there is to say (the perils of being based on the West Coast).  I’m @mirrormirrorxx on Twitter if you want to check out my prime time tweeting.


Blackberry & Apple Crumble


Aka the lazy girl’s pie.

I’m always a little surprised that America, with its obsession with apples and fruit pies of all kinds, seems to be unaware of the humble and quintessentially British fruit crumble. After all it hits exactly the same comfort eating spots that pie does, but is much, MUCH quicker and easier to make.




The Minx and I were casting about for something to bake yesterday evening when I remembered that I already had a bag of stewed apple and blackberry in the freezer, left over from a crumble session last autumn.

Crumble can be made with any sorts of stewed fruits though, either mixed with apples or on their own – plum, rhubarb, apricots, pears and raspberries – are all traditional British faves.

Essentially you need to chop the fruit up into small pieces, add a couple of spoonfuls of water, enough to stop the fruit sticking, and mix with couple of spoonfuls of sugar to taste, how much will depend on the tartness/sweetness/quantity of your fruit.  Then cook very gently until the fruit is very soft. Again then cooking time will depend on what fruits you’re using. I like to make a big batch and shove a couple of bags into the freezer.

If I’m just using apples, I like to add a little cinnamon and some raisins; chopped nuts of all types – walnuts, pecans, almonds are also delicious. I’ve also eaten the most incredible crumble which added small cubes of vanilla fudge to stewed apples.




As the Minx and I already had our stewed fruit to hand, all we needed to do was make the crumble topping. I’ve found that about 2 cups of flour to 3/4 cup chilled butter to 2/3 cup sugar works well.

When I say flour though, you can go a bit mad at this stage and experiment with other dried goods. Last night’s crumble was made with 1 cup of flour and half a cup each of ground almonds and rolled porridge oats. Other ground nuts would be good, wholewheat flour is a nice addition and I’ve even thrown it spoonfuls of muesli on occasion. Granola, chopped nuts, crushed cookies and other flours and grains would be interesting to try.  Likewise you can also experiment with different types of sugar – last night’s crumble was made with soft brown sugar instead of white.

When you’ve customised your crumble topping ingredients, chop the chilled butter into the flour  with a pair of kitchen scissors and start rubbing it in as if you were making pastry.  Stop when it reaches the consistency of large breadcrumbs and stir in the sugar. If you’ve experimented with oats or nuts you may need to add some flour to get it to the right consistency. Don’t worry though, quantities are extremely approximate and the important thing is to get the right breadcrumb consistency. Kids love making this by the way – they can literally be very hands on but it’s over before they can get bored.

And that’s all there is to it. Put your stewed fruit in an ovenproof dish, top with the crumble topping, press it down gently with a fork and bake for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees F/180 C.  When it comes out of the oven it won’t look much different, just a little more golden round the edges, but it will be firm and almost crunchy to the bite.

Serve warm or cold with ice cream, cream or, if you want to be really English, CUSTARD. Here are a few crumble ideas including a recipe for homemade custard (most English people would just use Bird’s custard powder or buy it ready made).


UPDATE:  It appears that there exists in America something called an Apple Crisp, and looking at recipes, it does seem very similar to apple crumble (though the fruit is cooked at the same time as the topping? – Must try this, seems like even less work.) I thought it seemed strange that there was no equivalent. Having said which I haven’t come across it in Seattle, and we gave some crumble to our babysitter last night and she’d never had anything like it.