Weekend Link Love

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Oh it’s been SO long since I did one of these.

The weather continues to be absolutely glorious in Seattle but we haven’t quite been making the most of it as both the Husband and the Minx have been down with gastric flu, while I’m just sitting here waiting to get it. Before that though it was a week of sunshine-y walks, beautiful sunsets, watermelon cocktails, paddleboarding (I’ve been taking lessons! I love it!), and delicious vegetables.

I’ve also been enjoying this lovely wire ‘bonjour’ from Anthropologie which I’ve hung in my bedroom on the wall next to my bed. It’s a bit pricey for a little thing, but it delights me every time I get up, so for me it’s worth it.  And I’ve been bowled over by my fabulous new Whitney English Day Designer planner August 2014 edition, which I’m sort of in love with. I feel like my life is going to be utterly and perfectly organised going forward, which is not too much to ask of a planner is it? (New January planners come out on August 15th and I’ll be writing a fuller review of mine before then so you can be perfectly organised too).

Here are some things I’ve noticed in my travels around the web this week.

Lakshmi at PureVege does the sort of food photography that makes my heart twist in envy and awe. Utter perfection.

As you know I’ve been doing a lot of travelling recently. Some of these fabulous travel tips could have come in very useful over the past few months.

My friend Melanie Biehle found these simple, graphic posters of cakes by UK branding agency Purpose. They make me want to make a Battenberg cake immediately (it was one of my favourite cakes as a child, and I miss them here in the US).

British author Zadie Smith gives us 10 truthful rules of writing.

Obviously I truly and desperately need a personalised rolling pin (don’t we all?)

And I am so, so, so, so, so, so, SO tempted to download the Kim Kardashian game that everyone is talking about. Have any of you tried it? How quickly will it rot my brain?

On the blog over the last week or so, I posted some more pics of Tuscany and a tribute to the chef I met there and a recipe for Mixed Fruit Clafoutis. Will try to up the bloggery over the next week or so.

How are you all enjoying your summers?

Sunset - Photography by www.paolathomas.com

(The sun did this last night, just before sunset. I’ve never seen anything quite like it).

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Tuscan Churches and a Personal Revelation

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

You would be hard pushed to find a less religious person than me but I do adore a good church.  Particularly a good European church where the very stone has been engraved by centuries if not millenia of stories and ghosts, joys and sufferings. Even the air seems full of other peoples’ memories somehow.

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

We were lucky enough on our Tuscan travels to visit a number of ancient churches and abbeys, whose spare, austere, stripped down beauty made a moving contrast to the overwhelming rococo splendours of those various cathedrals and duomos commissioned mainly to celebrate the wealth and prestige of that particular city’s inhabitants.

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I also had a bit of a revelation on this trip, one that hit me with an almost spiritual force, the discovery – thanks to Jamie Schler’s patient tutelage -  that I can write, that I might even be a good writer, but it’s so much easier for me to hide behind a rococo façade of sarcasm and terrible puns. I learned that I’m scared of seeming pretentious and inauthentic when I write, but that good writing involves writing from the heart and making oneself vulnerable and for me that is difficult in the extreme. I don’t consider myself to be particularly emotional, and find delving even a little deeper into my own thoughts and feelings – getting down to the soft person beneath the hard, snarky carapace – to be almost completely terrifying.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this newfound knowledge. It’s currently percolating around in my brain. But expect some attempts at some more ‘writerly’ writing on this blog in the future. And even saying that out loud scares the bejeebus out of me.

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

In the meantime, back to churches (this is all going to make sense soon I promise).

On our trip to the Renaissance town of Pienza we were given the task of thinking about a person, a colour, a sound, an emotion and a smell, and then for a quick fifteen minute assignment weaving them all into a small composition. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I chose to write about a church as they’re some of the places where, despite my lack of belief, I feel most emotionally responsive and vulnerable, yet also most comfortable and at peace.

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

“I looked up at the stone walls of the cathedral – centuries old, they were a symphony of soft neutral colours – faded ochre stone, soft mushroom brown wood, the pale rose of ancient terracotta – which all combined to create that colour watercolourists know as raw Sienna, a colour which I finally found myself fully understanding, since these golden walls stood only a few kilometres from Siena itself.

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Outside a tall, spare, white-haired man, in a neatly pressed black suit and a white dog collar, walked from the church towards the other side of the piazza. He unfurled a gigantic handkerchief as white as his hair, blew his nose extravagantly and glared at me, as if daring me to whip out my camera. Then he proceeded with hurried steps to the raw Sienna building across the square, opened the antique wooden door and disappeared into the shadowy depths of what I assumed was his home.

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I, on the other hand, entered through the antique wooden door which led into the cathedral and was immediately assailed by the scent of old churches – that indescribably potent mixture of incense and beeswax, of flowers and damp, of the small homage of careful cleanliness and floral tributes, still somehow weighted with the dust of centuries.

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I’ve only ever smelled that smell in Europe, never in America, and at once I was overwhelmed with nostalgia for a world full of old things and history, for tradition and timelessness, for stories stretching back century after century, for the Old World, for my world, for home.”

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Tuscan Churches - photography by www.paolathomas.com

With many thanks to the Abbey of Sant’Anna in Camprena (location apparently for many scenes from the English Patient) ; the Abbey of Sant’Antimo; the Duomo di Sovana; the Church of Santa Maria, also in Sovana; Pienza Cathedral, the Church of San Francesco, also in Pienza for helping me illustrate this post.

Join me here for some Tuscan Street Photography.

I think I need a lie down after all that. I’m sure we’ll get back to our regularly scheduled snark very soon.

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Monday Link Love

Instagram April 2014  (4)

After a weekend of hot cross buns and Simnel cake, last week was a week of outdoor eating (yay! fabulous Seattle spring), shooting tacos (I had another photography job y’all!) and more lilac, blossom, rhubarb and daisies than you could shake a stick at (what does that even MEAN?).

I didn’t get to links over the weekend, so here are some to set you up on a Monday morning. Very photography-oriented this week I’m afraid.

These musical instruments photographed from the inside are quite magical. I hope an architect is inspired by them. I want to live in a violin.

Naomi Robinson from Bakers’ Royale is writing a series of posts on food photography. Part 1 is how to develop your style and Part 2 is on composition. More to come I believe. I love her stuff.  

Do happy people take happy photos? Twitter is giving a team a research grant to find out. I know my mood certainly affects my photography.

Here’s my pal Andrew Scrivani talking about how to market yourself as a photographer.

And finally some really inspirational food and travel photography portfolios from Jonothan Woodward, David Lazar and Gentl and Hyers.

 

Last week on the blog we talked about a really cool composting system and went to visit designer Michele Varian’s apartment. I am going to try and be a better blogger this week, though the temperature is apparently set to soar into the 80s, so don’t quote me on that. But we’ll start with a great recipe to come later today.

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Weekend Link Love

Double Rainbow Over Seattle - photography by www.paolathomas.com

It’s been a week of sunsets and showers, flowers and sunshine, hot cross buns and Cadbury’s Mini Eggs – and the most extraordinary rainbow that I think I’ve ever seen. And you really can’t get much better than that. (Also it’s astonishing what one can do nowadays with the pano feature on the iPhone).

InstagramApril2014

I will be spending the weekend baking a Simnel cake and hosting a traditional Easter Sunday lunch with lots of roast lamb for some British friends here.

Simnel Cake photography by www.paolathomas.com

If you want to do the same, my recipe for Simnel cake – the traditional English Easter cake – is here.

 

If you want to make dye eggs using natural dyes, my friends Leigh and Pamela had fun this week.

This his and hers food photography is insanely beautiful.

Saveur magazine came up with this list of the best food blogs around. I’m looking forward to looking and drooling.

Brene Brown and Chase Jarvis did an amazing interview about Unlocking Your Creativity  which is worth watching in its entirety.

Here’s a little post on capturing authentic ‘moments’ with photography. I always think my photography is too contrived, so this is something I’m striving for.

And here’s an interesting piece on how Facebook manages its filtered feed, though not terribly helpful for those of us trying to get even a few organic viewers to our Facebook pages.

 

On the blog this week, we discussed New Trends in Kitchen Design, read Don Draper’s Tarot Cards and worked out how Mad Men is going to end, visited Bunny William’s amazing New York shop Treillage and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, and had a stressful time baking a Roller Skate Cake.

Hope you are all having a wonderful and relaxing weekend.

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The Roller Skate Cake

 

AKA my most stressful experience to date this year.

Roller Skate Cake - photography by www.paolathomas.com 

As you may remember we have a tradition of making crazy birthday cakes around these parts.

I believe it’s quite an English thing to do – I remember my mother and my friends’ mothers doing it for us when we were children – and it’s something I’ve always tried to do with the Minx.

She’s lucky in this regard that she doesn’t have brothers or sisters though, things would be far less elaborate if I had to do this more than once a year.

This year the Minx, who is now aged nine, had a very active say in the design.  The theme was rollerskates – as befitted a party at the rink -  though I wasn’t allowed just to use a skate shaped pan. The whole thing had to be as garish as possible, naturally, and since she had been very admiring of the cake I made for her friend we incorporated elements of that in the design too. 

Since neither she nor I are particularly fond of fondant icing either, making skates out of fondant wasn’t an option and we were both inspired when we found a cake online that had made use of roller skate sugar cookies, a decision that I may have regretted later. Let’s just say that when a grown up Minx is in therapy complaining about her childhood, I will point her in the direction of this blog post.

Roller Skate Cake - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I started off in my usual way by buying a rollerskate candy mould and using Wilton’s Candy Melts in white and pink. A little bit of judicious piping later and I had a collection of bespoke cake decorations. I can’t tell you how grateful I was to have these to hand later in the process.

Roller Skate Cake - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I also bought a roller skate cookie cutter and proceeded to make thirty roller skate cookies with the intention of using some to decorate the cake and handing the rest out at the party. The Joy of Baking’s trusty sugar cookie recipe was my guide and mentor here, though I was a bit worried as they looked a bit like trains initially.

I am not an experienced cookie baker so the whole family joined me in outlining, flooding and frosting the cookies. I hit upon the idea of using pink Wilton Candy Melts as wheels and an edible colouring pen for the laces otherwise I would be there icing them still. As it was I was totally OVER the whole project by the time these were done, but still had a whole cake to make and frost.

Roller Skate Cake - photography by www.paolathomas.com

The day before the party I started to make the cakes with the intention of having at least the crumb coat done the evening before. I again used the wonderful Mom’s Chocolate Cake recipe from the first Macrina Cookbook, since its moist, rich, chocolate-yness (helped by using the amazing Pernigotti cocoa powder from ChefShop) is adored by kids and adults alike and it is extremely forgiving of being shoved into a variety of different shaped pans. (One day I WILL write the recipe down here as I refer to it so often).

Unfortunately I made a big miscalculation in working out how much mixture I would need to make two tiers and by the evening I only had half the number of cakes you see here (the bottom big cake and the bottom small cake). So I was up late baking extra cakes to give the cake the required depth. I was SO starting to regret this endeavour by this stage.

Roller Skate Cake - photography by www.paolathomas.com

It was not until 9.30 am, with the party at lunchtime, that we finally got to the ‘crumb coat’ stage – a rough layer of buttercream that keeps all the crumbs at bay, holds the cakes together and after chilling, gives you a nice smooth surface for further decoration.

Roller Skate Cake - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Doing the different spotty icings as seen in my Easy Cake Decorating blogpost (still by far my most pinned post on Pinterest), is simple and hugely effective, but it is not a quick process as you are manipulating six or seven different bags of frosting and covering only a tiny part of the cake at a time.

So by the time that part of the cake was completed we were really up against it time-wise.

I had intended to ice bigger colourful swirls on the bottom layer of the cake, but by that time the frosting was getting meltier and meltier and the swirls of icing were just dropping off the cake. With twenty-five minutes to go before we needed to be on the freeway to get to the skating rink, the bottom layer of the cake was a sorry disaster – half-frosted and sort of weeping misshapen blobs of icing. I wish now I’d taken a picture but photography was the furthest thing from my mind at that point.

The only thing left to do was to take my trusty offset spatula and quickly spread the melty frosting blobs into incoherent, messy but at least colourful swirls on the bottom layer of the cake and hope that the roller skate candies would cover things up a bit.

They did the job, the cake looked better than I could possibly have hoped and we were even able to chill it for 15 minutes before heading out the door.

Roller Skate Cake - photography by www.paolathomas.com

I myself had aged approximately a hundred years in the process but I suppose the joy on the faces of the Minx and her friends was worth it.

I suppose.

Roller Skate Cake - photography by www.paolathomas.com

Thank goodness I have about a year to recover. More of the Minx’s crazy cakes here (Tinkerbell), here (Cinderella), here (Nemo).

The Minx had her own stressful morning. We’d bought her a ‘9’ candle, which we together decorated with sequins to make it suitably garish and cake-appropriate. Unfortunately unbeknownst to me she put it on the radiator to ‘dry’ and couldn’t fathom out where it had disappeared to later. A valuable life-lesson learnt methinks.

Oh and apologies for all the crappy iPhone photos. I think you’ll understand why picking up my big girl camera was the furthest thing from my thoughts during this process.

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Skagit Valley Tulip Fest

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography by www.paolathomas.com

It’s the that time of year again where I bore you with photos from Skagit Valley Tulip Fest, about ninety minutes drive from Seattle. For those of you still in the depths of winter, I apologise.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

You’ve gotta love a road trip where you get to see this out of the car window.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

But unfortunately several thousand other people had the same idea.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

I even got to try out the pano feature on the iPhone for the very first time (no one can accuse me of being a gearhead) which was super duper impressive.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

After a glorious day we chased the sunset back to Everett, where we stopped off for fish and chips.

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Skagit Valley Tulip Fest - photography www.paolathomas.com

Not a bad day on the whole.

If you’re in Seattle the fields are at their absolute peak right now. I’ve never seen them so pretty. Previous dispatches from the tulips here, here and here.

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The Ending of Mad Men According to Don Draper’s Tarot Cards

 

One thing I bet you didn’t know about me is that I like to read Tarot cards. I’m very bad at it – I don’t have the cards memorised at all and have to look EVERYTHING up – but my brain enjoys making the various connections and drawing out the symbolism, so that a coherent story emerges.

Mad Men

It seems that Mad Men showrunner Matthew Weiner loves Tarot cards too. His production company logo is the The Sun card (an incredibly positive card all about getting your heart’s desire) and in Season Two, Don Draper/Dick Whitman’s friend Anna reads his cards. Here are some readings that were done at the time, but nobody seems to have thought to update them recently in the light of the intervening seasons.

Anyway given that Weiner has always said that he knows how the story is going to end, I’ve wondered for a long time if the outcome of the Mad Men story was revealed in the cards and I think that now might be the time to revisit that Tarot reading for spoilers.

Mad Men

My theory is that the four cards to the right of the reading (on the ‘Staff’ if you know Tarot) correspond to the last four seasons of the show.

Card 7 is the World, a card of great professional and personal success, fulfilment and  completion, and by the end of season 4 it looked liked Don might have achieved it all  – his own busy successful agency and a new blissful marriage to a hot young wife.

Card 8 is the 9 of Wands which is the card of creative tests and challenges – one person holding the fort against the world. Season 5 sees all of the characters, including the new agency, struggling for creative success as they are faced with challenge after challenge and by the end nobody has quite what they wished for.  

Card 9 is the Wheel of Fortune – a neutral card suggesting that things go in cycles, what goes around comes around, what goes up must come down etc. Don has fallen to the very bottom of his wheel by the end of season 6 – the agency has been taken over, he is out of a job, his marriage to Megan is cold and empty, and his addiction to alcohol is more and more evident.  

The top card, in the space reserved in a reading for the final Outcome is the 8 of Wands. In this card past struggles have been overcome and it indicates opportunities, freedom and space to move forward and make progress with energy, focus and enthusiasm. It’s a card of accomplishment, getting things done and is very action-oriented. It can also indicate air travel or moving, and is a card of inspiration and excitement.

I do hope Don and Peggy and Joan (and also Ken, because I have always had a soft spot for him) have this card in their future.

I’m going to predict now that the last episode shows Don finally moving to California and starting up a thrusting new agency with Peggy, Joan and Ken by his side and with Megan hopefully having been eaten by coyotes.

What did you all think of the season opener? It truly was thoroughly depressing all round, with not even a glamorous 60s apartment to blog. Megan’s knotty pine eyrie nearly killed me.

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Weekend Link Love

instagramApril2014(1)

It’s been a week full of Spring here in Seattle, though looking back I have not been a very prolific Instagrammer. Been too busy trying to get my life back together after all my travels and birthday parties and cake baking. The good news is that I’ve pretty much finished unpacking, so I’m no longer tripping over suitcases in the middle of the night as I go to the bathroom. Go me!

Here for your weekend delectation and delight are some links that caught my fancy this week.

Ever fancied ghosting for a cookbook writer? This article shows you how famous celebrity chefs are able to carry on churning out cookbooks while they’re busy making their TV shows/ running their restaurants/sunning themselves in the South of France etc.

These thought-provoking photos by Dina Goldstein show the Disney Princesses as you’ve never quite seen them before.

If you still want to believe in fairytales, these incredible portraits by Alexia Sinclair might help.

Simi Jois from Turmeric ‘n Spice gives us a tutorial on how to paint background prop boards for food photography.

This post on focusing on the essentials of life really resonated with me.

And here on the blog I’ve actually been blogging! Truly it’s been an incredible week.

We’ve been discussing WTFery from Kim Kardashian and Anna Wintour, looking at images from the Food Markets of the Cote D’Azur, shopping ‘til we dropped on #BlogTourNYC at Michele Varian’s NYC Shop, taking a look round the Architectural Digest Home Design show, welcoming April and peeking into my first StitchFix box.

This weekend I’m going to be relaxing after my hard week of blogging and last weekend’s cake/party extravaganza. Next week on the blog I’ve got a gorgeous recipe to share with you, I’ll be revealing said cake extravaganza and there’ll be much more from #BlogTourNYC.

Have a good weekend! What are you chaps up to?

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Weekend Link Love

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It’s been a week of sunshine, showers, coming down to earth from #BlogTourNYC and a fabulous celebration of the Persian New Year, courtesy of my dear friend Nazila. Spring is a much more sensible time of year to think about renewal and reinvention it seems to me. I have made a few resolutions about blogging more frequently in any case.

In that spirit here are a few of my favourite tidbits from my Internet wanderings this week.

This gorgeous food video makes me want to take up videography and overdose on carbs.

These pics on the other hand make me wish I could draw.

This article about the effect of improving every single thing in your life by 1% really resonated.

Commenter Kristin kindly provided the following informative but truly disgusting article about New York’s roof top water tanks. Now I can never drink tap water in New York again.

madmenposter

And finally, it’s coming back! I saw this groovy poster in the New York subway and did a happy dance. Refresh your memory of the first six seasons in 2 minutes.

Update: Oh and Iris Apfel is having a sale.

It’s the Minx’s rollerskating birthday party this weekend. This bad mama couldn’t postpone things any longer after her January birthday. A cake is currently in the works, though there is more to do tomorrow morning before the party than I would ideally like. Pix next week.

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