#Plasticfree Life

From my adventures trying to be plastic free I start thinking about what that means. Which plastics are "worst"? What make "good" alternatives? Liquids can be bought in glass bottles but glass is heavier to transport. Biodegradable plastics need to be buried, so they are better only if they are disposed of properly. You can go round and round trying to figure out what is best route.

Lungs of Dirt; found on the street of Christchurch, NZ

Lungs of Dirt; found on the street of Christchurch, NZ

My intention was to investigate some of these questions and then report back. The subject is huge of course, and many people have done far more research on this than me, so I decided it would be far better to share some of my favorite plastic-centric articles instead.

Mike Biddle "mines" landfill sites for plastics.

Plastics have great strengths, if we start valuing the material like we do glass, wood and stone:

Plastic packaging can extend the shelf life of food, and thus reduce waste. (Although that idea in itself weirds me out quite a lot)

Those biodegradable plastics may be worse than the real thing

This was a great little article in Time Out London last week about what happens to your recycling once it gets collected

#Plasticfreealice ended in January, but I've tried to take the changes I made with me. I'm now getting a weekly vegetable box, which is the bulk of my food shop, and reduces my waste a lot, plastic and otherwise. I've kept up buying as much as possible local and plastic free. I'm an awful long way from #plasticfree, but it's a whole lot better than 2014.

Bodies

Now the #thisgirlcan video has been doing the rounds for a while

Sport England released the TV advert to show a whole variety of women doing and enjoying sport in order in encourage others to do that same. Some far so girl power, right? Well some women objected to it, and the week it was released The Jeremy Vine Show on BBC Radio 2 did a lunchtime piece debating whether it was another form of sexualisation of women's bodies.

In the west we tend to look at our bodies as only a vehicle for our heads (to paraphrase Ken Robinson's excellent TED talk). Any bodily functions are seen as unpleasant and/or shameful. The only thing "pleasant" (ie. of pleasure) to do with bodies is sex.

So I get it. The leap is not far from celebration of bodies = sex. But it's a leap that unsettles me. Which is probably why I'm still thinking about it a month later.

I agree, the advert is a sexualisation of these women's bodies, but I don't think that that's wrong. Bodies are sexy. All bodies. I would say the problem here is not the objectification of women as sexual beings. We already are sexual beings. No amount of feminist protest, or advertising will change that either way. 

The problem is we run from our physicality. We emphasise the intellectual, and increasingly the digital, denying that we are merely a sentient bag of meat (too gross? Sorry). A body that can be hurt, and get sick, and die. That thought is scary and threatening. We deny our bodies in the hope that by doing so we will avoid our mortality. In fact we achieve the opposite. By denying our physicality, we deny the present. We put off the goal we want to tackle today in order to do it "tomorrow" (the mythical tomorrow rather the Wednesday that will follow this Tuesday). 

I think we need to get over ourselves! Bodies are the original machine for living in. They do amazing things, like walking and talking and seeing and hearing and thus playing and dancing, and yes even sex. You know that simple joy when your brain and body are doing things together? It brings a kind of peace that isn't found anywhere else. Mindfulness. Being Present. Whatever you want to call it. I get it in yoga (because it's hard to think about your Friday deadline while balancing on your hands with your legs wrapped around your elbows); I get it when I take myself off for a walk; hell, I get it when I do DIY. I need more of that in my life. We all need more of that. That feeling of synergy between brain and body, when you're feeling it, radiates. Other people can feel it. And that's really sexy.

Now there is the school of thought that says if you allow one level of sexist behavior it opens the door to the extremes of the spectrum, sexual violence. I am in no way qualified to talk on that. I understand the argument, but I don't see that denying the fact that we have bodies does anything to prevent those people who intend to use that fact against us. Doesn't shedding light on our relationship with bodies not reduce the areas of shadow in which malicious people can hide?

You should be relishing in your body. You should be using your body. Sure, it will wear out one day, but unlike a car or a jumper or a computer, using it usually extends the period of use. 

New Opportunities

I'm battling a cold today so I'll keep this brief (I have no excuse for radio silence for the past few days of "Daily Blogging February." Sometimes life off-line is just too good to put aside, and that's a really great thing).

Making a home is a task that is never finished. Partly because in between making it you have to live in it and so some weeks it's just about keeping your head above the laundry pile and not eating cold beans from a can (although I kinda prefer them cold to hot actually, but that's another thing altogether), but partly because once you do one thing it can throw something else that was previously "fine" or even "good" into "could be better" or "Oh, that doesn't work."

When I hung these pictures in the bedroom last week, I stood back to admire them, and my second thought was "Now, some shelves either side of the bed would look even better!" (my first thought being "Whoop! They look ace!"). It's true, it will bring a nice balance to the wall. I'm thinking two "floating" style shelves in black finish to either side of the bed, to line through with the bottom and the mid line of the pictures.

And it would free up my bedside table from the short list pile of what to read next. Or let me expand that short list. There can never be too much bookshelf space.

If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them
— John Waters

Microwave Kedgeree

This is not only one of my favourite microwave recipes but also one of my favourite recipes. This is a great mid-week dinner, really comforting and lots of secret veggies (adults need those too!). Easily eaten from a bowl with a spoon in front of the TV (we all do it) and great with some sliced banana or mango chutney on the side or some coriander on the top.

Serves 2


Ingredients

1 tbsp oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 fat clove of garlic, finely chopped

2 carrots, diced

1 tsp of Turmeric

2 tsp of curry powder

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)

100g rice (brown or white)

2 fillets of smoked mackerel (1 whole mackerel)

Frozen spinach

2 eggs

Optional extras:

Half a pepper, diced

Small can of sweetcorn, drained.


Put the oil and onion into a microwavable dish with a lid and microwave on high for 3min, string once in the middle.

Add the carrot and garlic (and pepper if using), microwave again for 3min, string once.

Add the spices, stir and microwave for another 2mins.

Add the rice, stir and microwave for 1min.

Add twice the volume of rice to water and microwave for 10min for white rice and 20min for brown rice.

Put some water on to boil, and boil two eggs to your liking. I go for 5mins from the fridge into boiling water for a just runny egg.

Remove the skin from the mackerel and flake into chunks, removing any bones you might find. Once the rice has finished, stir in the mackerel flakes and frozen spinach (and sweetcorn if you have it). Microwave for 5mins, string occasionally.

By the end of this the rice should have absorbed all the liquid and cooked, the spinach will be defrosted and the mackerel warmed through.

Serve with the peeled boiled eggs, quartered, laid on the top, and any sides garnishes and toppings you fancy!

Work in Progress January

So with the big push in December, most of the flat is looking pretty finished.

"Makers gonna Make" print by Jude Landry, moon prints by Print + Press

"Makers gonna Make" print by Jude Landry, moon prints by Print + Press

The problem with a project like this is the last 10% is the hardest.

Having been accustomed to living without a kitchen, eating dinner on your bed and having most of you possessions in storage, once you sort out those biggies the impetus to keep going wanes a little to say the least. There's no big ticket item that its going to make a great before and after shot that is so satisfying. Its lots of little things that cumulatively make everything come together. Its the hardest to quantfy and in some ways the most important.

Hand lettered prints by the lovely Jasmine Dowling, won through a competition on A Pair and a Spare

Hand lettered prints by the lovely Jasmine Dowling, won through a competition on A Pair and a Spare

I've been dealing with this in my characteristic fashion: make a massive list and then start with the least important item! Well not quite, but picture framing and hanging is one of those things that makes a big step towards a room feeling "done." Even when its not really.

So I guess there is still bang for your buck to be had in the last 10%.

Daily Blog February

Over the past few months I've found it hard to give this blog the time it deserves. I guess I just gets shoved down the list after the things that are screaming louder. It's important but not urgent.

Logic would suggest that doing something sporadically or weekly or monthly was easier than daily, but one of the best ways to address important, non-urgent activities is to schedule them more regularly rather than less. If you can think "I can do it tomorrow and still hit my once a week" then you continue to put it off and tomorrow quickly becomes never.

This is why I run about three times a year.

If you do something everyday it becomes habit, an expected part of one's routine. I mean routine in a good way, but then I love a good routine. Maybe ritual is a more enticing way of putting it!

So for the month of February I am going to post something here every day. (Yes, I know it's the third already, this demonstrates the first rule of daily blogging will be planning ahead!) Not necessarily a long piece, although hopefully there'll be a few of those, but something will go up here daily.

And by the end of the month, I hope that I'll have a good habit and another stone in my daily routine

Living #Plasticfree January

As I posted about last week, I've been trying to go plastic free in January as part of an action with #plasticfreealice. The transition was messy and not very pretty, but over the past couple of weeks I have started to properly get into the swing of avoiding plastic packaging. It's not bee perfect by any means, but these are a few things I've found to help:

This is a week's worth of plastic waste, some of it recyclable some of it not.  

This is a week's worth of plastic waste, some of it recyclable some of it not.  

Shop Local

The biggest source of plastic packaging for me is food packaging, and the best way to get plastic free food is to buy it the old fashioned way, from smaller suppliers that don't sell in plastic packaging. I have gone back to my local community market as they have great veggies, dairy, bread and dried goods all packaged in paper, metal and glass (rinse and return milk bottles!). And  they're totally happy for you to bring your own containers or not use any packaging at all. 

And it's made me enjoy my weekly food shop so much more! Making a special trip on a Saturday morning to go buy from the people who produce the food is so much nicer than trogging round a fluorescent lite supermarket on a weekday lunchtime which used to be my usual MO.

Give up Convenience

As most convenience food is packaged in plastic (crisps, chocolate, sandwiches, takeaways) I've stopped using it at all. Cutting back on plastic packaging keeps me away from the office tuck shop in a mid-afternoon sugar slump a whole lot better than because I "shouldn't" and it's probably done my body a world of good! Although I've realised that if I buy the "fancy" chocolate (the whole bars in flavours like sea salt, or toasted almond)or those seasonal egg shaped chocolates that have recently been in the news, it comes in foil and cardboard, so I can still get a treat if I need to

As for meals when I'm out and about it's simple a matter of sitting in rather than taking away. Much better for you to take a break from your day to sit down and eat properly than stuff a sandwich down in the car between meetings, although easier said than done.

Toothbrushes and contact lens solution are two things I haven't found a non-plastic replacement for. The Quality Street I can probably live without!

Toothbrushes and contact lens solution are two things I haven't found a non-plastic replacement for. The Quality Street I can probably live without!

Meat

I haven't figured out how to buy meat plastic free yet. Even small producers vacuum pack their product for easy transportation. As I had a certain amount in the freezer I haven't been buying more, but I don't have a plan for when that comes to an end. I generally eat a lot of vegetarian food anyway, but I don't want to go full time veggie necessarily (it's an ongoing debate I have with myself about ethics and environmental impact, which is really due another post in itself). I would still like the option to buy meat as I continue to try and avoid plastic in the future.

Tiny bits of plastic that I used never to notice, now every time I fill the dishwasher I think of the waste stream. Yes I know that makes me weird!

Tiny bits of plastic that I used never to notice, now every time I fill the dishwasher I think of the waste stream. Yes I know that makes me weird!

Residual Plastic

Despite avoiding buying plastic over this month I've still been producing plastic waste. I have a surprising amount of things in the house that I bought before this year that came with plastic packaging, so as they are opened and used I'm putting waste back into the system/recycling. I decided to collect it all over the past week or so, just to see what it actually looks like. It's really pretty eye opening. But not very pretty, much as I've tried to make an interesting still life out of these objects it's mostly just pictures of waste. If you want to see beautiful trash The Dainty Squid does a great job of making waste look awesome.

I think that the most interesting part of this process has actually been becoming aware of really how much of our lives are now plastic wrapped. It really is everywhere and it's very difficult to avoid, but can be hugely reduced with a little bit of thought. And if enough of us make those kind of changes . . . would you give up plastic? 

If you want to follow the efforts of Alice Oxford for Plastic Free January check out #plasticfreealice

Plastic Free January: Week 1

A couple of months back, an email dropped into my inbox from a couple of good friends saying they were arranging a forum event among a group of women to discuss leadership and to support and guide each other. Knowing the organisers I knew this was going to be awesome, "Yes, I am so into this!" was my response.

So on a cold Wednesday evening, I dashed into town after work to meet this awesome group of women and talk about what we felt about leaders, and leading, and where we thought needed leadership and what we as a group could bring to that.

The synthesis of these discussion was we pledged as a group to go (single use) plastic free for January. As a group we would experiment with altering our lifestyle to be less plastic dependent and discuss the ways we were doing that with the people in our lives, which for me includes discussing it with you! 

This is what my shopping looks like, plastic free

This is what my shopping looks like, plastic free

So for the past couple of weeks I have been trying to go plastic free. And mostly failing!  The first week was really hard and as is common with a paradigm shift (and beleive me that has been no less than that!), I've run though the classic stages of loss:

Denial and Isolation
New Years Day, and all I wanted was a Chinese take away. And I didn't want to drag the rest of my friends through some weird dance to find convenience food without plastic. So to avoid the feeling of isolation I decided that as it was the first day (and I was hungover, lets be honest) it didn't "count." With hindsight, we could have ordered pizza (cardboard boxes!)

Anger
[At the airport, no bottles over 100ml past security]
No time to sit in . . . Why can I not buy a drink that isn't in a plastic bottle? 
(because the animal skin sack fell out of favor in the UK some centuries ago)
Fine, I'll just buy some porridge in a paper pot, and not drink for the next 3 hours until I get home
(porridge is served with plastic lid and plastic spoon; porridge is like eating glue without an accompanying drink; dehydrated & hangry at 7am not pretty)
F*&%!

Bargaining
If somebody else buys it it doesn't count, right? (sent Mr. E to the shop)
If I already have the plastic wrapped item it doesn't count, right? (remaining Christmas chocolates)
If I buy tetrapack or plastic coated cardboard it doesn't count, right? (it probably does count, but a month without Ben & Jerry's?! Pfft!)

Depression
It's not possible. Everything has some part in plastic. How are we so dependent on this stuff?! We're royally screwed, as a species. We're going to drown in our own filth.

And finally: Acceptance
This is all about preparation and organisation, and I rock that stuff. OK I need: multiple canvas bags; water bottle; re-useable coffee cup; spork; . . . a bigger handbag?!
That and only buying the loose veggies in the supermarket. (Note to self: order veggie box delivery (no salad leaves))

Having come through the other side I'm beginning to see the light . . . but more about that next week.

If you'd like to know more about Alice and Plastic Free January, check out the links, or follow #plasticfreealice for more information.

Work in Progress December

Happy New Year all! I hope you had a wonderfully relaxing time off, enjoying good food and good times with the people you love. I certainly did. I completely checked out for a couple of weeks and it was great.

Now that I'm back in reality, it's time to set this year off with a little catch up. The end of last year was a mad dash to finish off the bulk of the work on the flat before I hit my first anniversary of home ownership and a wee housewarming/Christmas party I threw.

The living room is liveable! I even got my IKEA fabric Christmas tree up

The living room is liveable! I even got my IKEA fabric Christmas tree up

So the big things like the kitchen and painting the hall and moving furniture in are done. hey I even got some Christmas decorations up. The tree is IKEAs Vinter fabric, hemmed and hung on a 20mm dowel and some hooks, although the hat draped on the bookcase (Bruno Rainaldi's Sapiens) is more about running out of places to put things than a style choice of any kind!

Kitchen white and ply

I still have a 50-odd strong list of jobs to tackle this year, so don't you worry there's plenty more to see yet. Not to mention to tell you all the things that I did to get it where it currently stands.

The dining area: table by Ercol, green Polo chair by Robin Day and vintage knock off of Eero Saarinen Tulip chair.

The dining area: table by Ercol, green Polo chair by Robin Day and vintage knock off of Eero Saarinen Tulip chair.

Speaking of which, the fact that the flat is looking sort of complete has made me think about where this blog goes next . . . but that's probably a much meatier topic that I will get into at a later date. Safe to say, I'm not going anywhere (physically or digitally) for a while yet.

Right now I'm just enjoying having too many choices for where to sit of an evening.

Work in Progress November

So this is WiP November, going out in December, and if I'm honest with you (and I do try to be) it's already wildly out of date. 

Kitchen units in process . . .

Kitchen units in process . . .

The past month I've been fully focussed on getting the flat wholly habitable. Not finished, because there are still doors to paint and curtains to make and pictures to hang and other bits and pieces. But all the rooms painted and furniture in and useable. 

And the floor waiting to be grouted (and cleaned for that matter!)

And the floor waiting to be grouted (and cleaned for that matter!)

In this final push everything else has taken a back seat. Including this blog. I've missed it, and I have recorded a load of things to show you later, but in November it was just one thing too much. 

Bedroom curtains are up and so is my 50p vintage lampshade

Bedroom curtains are up and so is my 50p vintage lampshade

But this was where I was about 3 weeks ago. Which is pretty far from the last time I shared an update. I'd finished off the tiling in the bathroom, on the splash back and the skirtings. The kitchen units had started going in, and there are now curtains in the bedroom which feels very grown up coming from the sheets of foam board I'd been using! 

Matching tiles skirtings in the bathroom

Matching tiles skirtings in the bathroom

And the splashback behind the sink is in too

And the splashback behind the sink is in too

Of course the upside in this post being delayed is you won't have to wait long for the next WiP; in a week or so I'll be sharing the flat in it's full Christmas regalia. There'll be furniture in the living room and everything!

Emotional Wabi-Sabi

This photo is of the clump of willows that stand in front of my flat. A couple of weeks back I was sitting in the bay window, taking a break from tiling the bathroom splash back, imagining two months time when I will be sitting on the sofa my mother is upholstering for me with a cup of coffee and the weekend papers.

The leaves have dropped on this willow already, but watching the leaves turn this year have made me think of marking future years in this way. I sat thinking "I can't imagine leaving here" while simultaneously knowing it will inevitably happen some day. Wabi-Sabi (the appreciation of the beauty of the ephemeral and imperfect) is an emotional experience as well as a physical one. 

Tutorial: How to Build Flatpack

The kitchen has been going in over the past few weeks, but before that could start there was an awful lot of flat pack to do. Now I quite enjoy building flat pack but plenty of people don't. Here are some tips to help make it less painful. I'm using an IKEA BEKVAM step stool as an example here, but the principals are the same with whatever you're building.

Lay out your fixings and count that they match the ones in the diagram

Lay out your fixings and count that they match the ones in the diagram

Firstly lay out all your pieces and count you fixings, organising them into little piles. Boring and a little OCD but it will help you immensely later on. Do the same with the pieces you're fitting together. Note differences in individual pieces, in this example the shorter edges on the cross pieces that gives the slant on the legs.

Layout the pieces ready to put them together

Layout the pieces ready to put them together

If your piece is solid wood may be worth going over everything with some fine sand paper to smooth out the edges and pre-drilled holes. Also if you're going to paint or varnish anything, this is the time to do it while everything can be laid flat.

Once your pieces are prepped and accounted for, read through the instructions once before starting. At least once. Running through the whole process helps to understand why some of the more counter intuitive steps are there, and will save you having to undo work from getting ahead of yourself.

Follow the steps! Sounds obvious but often people think they can bash on through and then find they've come a cropper.

Stage 3 as drawn . . .

Stage 3 as drawn . . .

Stage 3 as built!

Stage 3 as built!

If you lay you pieces out so they look like the diagrams it helps, but also bear in mind that it won't look exactly like the diagrams. Your subject to gravity in away that the illustrator of the instructions is not! If you find it helpful to relate the drawings to the reality you can prop pieces up while you put them together. This also helps keep both your hands free to deal with the fixings and tools.

Generally, if you have to force it you're doing it wrong! All (well most!) flatpack furniture is carefully designed to fit together well, so if its not working check its not operator error first. Having said this, the drawers for the kitchen we put together this weekend were an exception to this rule. Nothing would get the base piece in short of wailing on it with a rubber mallet!

Notice the detail drawings showing a loose fitting of the screws at this stage

Notice the detail drawings showing a loose fitting of the screws at this stage

Note when the instructions tell you something specific, like the fixings here not being tightened all the way. It will make subsequent steps harder for you if you don't follow these.

Take your time and soon you should have something that likes like the finished article!

Stand back and enjoy your handy work!

Behind the Scenes

There are these chain letter type blog posts that go around the internet and this one was started by April on her blog Blacksburg Belle back in September. I was nominated by my friend Georgie to answer the 15 questions about my blog/business (you can see her 15 answers here)  so here we go!

My current selection of souvenirs and inspiration

My current selection of souvenirs and inspiration

What’s your two to three sentence bio?
I'm an architect by profession, with a love if mid-twentieth century furniture and Scandinavian interiors. I have private clients outside of my day job, and I'm using my own apartment as a test bed for some of my design thoughts.

What’s your favourite part of your blog?
Creating content, documenting the process and my thoughts around my renovation project

What’s your least favourite part of your blog?
The tech stuff; I don't feel I've even touched the vast world of plugins and adaptations or stretched the capabilities of my site. In amongst doing the flat and having private clients, its something I've yet to get a handle on.

What are the top three tools you use the most in your work?
My macbook pro, my friend's Canon Rebel DSLR and Evernote

What business/blog goal would you love to reach before the end of the year?
My goal is to get some furniture into the living room! That’s not quite the same as finishing, there will still be plenty of things to do and add to, but getting to the stage where I can host people and have somewhere for them to sit will be a major landmark!

This is not my desk, it's from the lovely people at Death To The Stock Photo

This is not my desk, it's from the lovely people at Death To The Stock Photo

Who are three creatives that inspire you?
Shauna Haider aka Nubby Twiglet, who has used her blog to establish her design brand and eventually launch her design studio. Plus her beautiful photographs and art direction make her blog a cut above.
Joy The Baker, was the very first blog I found and turned me into the blog fan-girl I am. I still love what she does, her photograph and her recipes!
Ivania Carpio of Love Aethetics for her laser focussed personal style. Not my style but I really admire her commitment to being her and the fact she has built her career off that starting point.

What do you listen to (if anything) while you work?
Podcasts of The Lively Show and Desert Island Disks, or BBC 6music

Morning person or night owl?
Neither! My peak hours are around 3pm-8pm. I suspect probably be a morning person if I had less screen time and artificial light. 

You know when somebody asks you a seemingly simple question and it causes an A-ha! moment? This was one of those questions: I've struggled with finding time to blog, but this made me realise I'm trying to do work on the blog after 9pm, ie. outside of my best hours. I've totally changed my schedule now: high cognative stuff (blogging and client work) straight after I get home from work, dinner and then vegging or menial but necessary stuff before bed. I'm still in the transition period of this new habit, but it's helping so much!

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Orkney

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, Orkney

How many employees do you have and what are the main things they do for you?
Its just me, although lots of friends and family have helped me on the flat, so by that means they’ve made a significant contribution to the blog content too!

What’s your favourite social media platform?
Instagram

What’s your least favourite social media platform?
LinkedIn.

What works best when it comes to marketing your blog?
Erm, maybe this is another thing I need to spend more time on?! I think because my subject is very visual it’s got to be Instagram sneak peaks.

What’s one thing about your blog that your readers probably don’t know?
It runs bout 2-3 weeks behind reality! At least! Plenty of time to edit it so it looks better than it is!

If your blog were a fashion accessory, what would it be?
Raw denim jeans; high quality, sustainably sourced, suits a whole variety of life stages.

What’s your top tip for someone who wants to do something similar to you?
Start! And invest in yourself and your education, whether that’s through traditional routes or e-courses, keeping your skill set moving is useful not just for having new skills but to be used to doing new things regularly.

The game now is to pass it on! I nominate: 

Verity at Rascal and Roses, because I'd love to know how she juggles a blog, a new business and a toddler with a baby on the way! (I think it's super powers!)

I'm also going to throw it out to my Blogcademy classmates, and see if they want to play.

Work in Progress September 2014

Recently I've been feeling that work on the flat has stagnated.

Bedroom door and wardrobe doors installed, all waiting on painting

Bedroom door and wardrobe doors installed, all waiting on painting

Firstly this is patently untrue. Lots of work has gone on in the flat, it's just mostly it's not been me doing it. I now have doors, and the electrics are finished, and I've even managed to fix a couple of odd holes and make some shelves (with E) and install a washing machine myself (with some help again).

New doors to the Smallest Utility Room in Oxfordshire

New doors to the Smallest Utility Room in Oxfordshire

Airing shelves built from the reclaimed timber from the old airing cupboard

Airing shelves built from the reclaimed timber from the old airing cupboard

Things have happened, but without the force of momentum of the first half of the year. This is because, well, life. Laundry and cooking and washing up, and then private clients and this blog and a summer of fabulous holidays and hen dos and visiting friends with new babies.

An IKEA hack of a GRUNDTAL rail fitted underneath the wash basin

An IKEA hack of a GRUNDTAL rail fitted underneath the wash basin

I love the WiP series (and you tell me you do too) because it's great to stop and take stock of how far I've come with this project (although you might enjoy it for the snoop more than anything!). Looking back over a month shows how far the flat has come and encourages me to not be so down on myself! That's true in life as much as it is for a project like this.

And I can't complain about lack of movement anymore: this weekend the kitchen install starts! Which means we spent last weekend building IKEA flatpack and that the living room is currently covered in units waiting to go into position. I'm so excited to see it go in! Although I'm more excited to soon not be washing up in the bathroom!

Half the units, placed vaguely in their intended positions; more just visible through the hall

Half the units, placed vaguely in their intended positions; more just visible through the hall

WiP October is going to be a big one!

City Guide: New Orleans

Although New York was the original draw for this trip we decided to add a second city while we were in the US. Its pretty impossible to be bored in NYC but a full two weeks sounded excessive. A friend suggested a side trip to New Orleans and it seemed a good contrast so we went ahead and booked.

I had a full wish list for New York, compiled of friends' recommendations and a few bits I gathered from bloggers I follow. Gala Darling's recent post and her 2009 one are both worth a look.

There are beads strewn everywhere, especially on the trees

There are beads strewn everywhere, especially on the trees

For NOLA I had not done my research and had no expectations. Maybe that's why I was so thoroughly swept off my feet by the place. Here is a breakdown of the places we ate, drank, danced and shopped and the places we ran out of time for.

Sylvain was so good we went twice: once for brunch, once for dinner (with cocktails). The lighting is low, the service is southern (warm and gracious) and the food is banging.

We stumbled across Kingfish looking for a place to while away a couple of hours with a few cocktails before our table came up at Sylvain and were so taken with the placed booked for dinner the next night. Lo-fi decadence and I loved their branding. If you want to try a Sazerac (rye, bourbon, a local spirit based on absinth and bitters) this the the place to do it.

The bar at Kingfish

The bar at Kingfish

Coop's Place

Coop's Place

If you want really authentic cajun cooking (and you do) Coop’s Place is great. It looks like an archetypal bar from ever american movie you’ve seen. In a really great way. We got a taster plate to share and our favourites were the Jambalya and the fried chicken. There are no reservations so be prepared to queue.

Central Grocery is the home of the original muffuletta, the pressed sandwich involving three meats, two kinds of cheese and pickled vegetable. They’re great and this is the place to get them. You can eat at the bar or take away.

French Quarter high rises!

French Quarter high rises!

Traditional French Quarter House

Traditional French Quarter House

Cafe du Monde barely needs an introduction: they serve beignets (french style donuts covered in powdered sugar) and coffee. I think if you ask nicely they’ll let you have tea or a soda, but it’s basically frowned upon. It is BUSY, but the turnover is high so you never need to wait for a table. The fact that it’s open 24 hours means you never NEED to wait for a table. And donuts at 5am is always possible; who wouldn’t want to go to a city where donuts are always possible! Oh and go to the bathroom while you’re there, not because they’re nice (they're not) but because you have to dip through the kitchen to get there so you get to see all the craziness.

Further east from Cafe du Monde is the French Market. It’s got a load of stalls selling produce and souvenirs, but it’s also got a load of little food places, and places that make fresh fruit daiquiris that are basically alcoholic smoothies. I can’t comment on most of the food options, but we fell on our feet at The Heart Cafe. They make amazing crab cakes (which they ship too!) which you can have over salad or in a Po’boy (that’s a french bread sandwich FYI), and great juices.

Street band on Frenchman Street

Street band on Frenchman Street

The French Market is at the end of Frenchman Street which has a load of music bars, so this is the place to head to at the end of the night for some live jazz (of all kinds) in the streets and in the bars. The Spotted Cat was one we went to a couple of times, and has the benefit of having no cover charge, just a 1 drink minimum.

SoBou is an abbreviation for South of Bourbon Street. It has great cocktails and an excellent happy hour: weekdays between 3pm and 6pm a selection of drinks, cocktails and bar snacks are $3-6. They also do 25¢ martinis between 12-3pm if you buy a main course (which is probably advisable for lunchtime drinking). The real gem here is Abigail who works the bar. And I mean works the bar. She had a load of great recommendations, and we wished we’d not left it to our last day to go here.

The New Orleans Historic Collection is a great overview of the history of the city. I had no idea the city was so old, French settlement having been initially made in 1718. This little museum gives a really great overview of the history of the city which took us around 1.5 hours. The tours come highly recommend, but we weren’t able to take these up as we were booked to go to:

The New Orleans School of Cooking for a cookery demonstration, which is the kind of touristy thing I don’t normally do, but it was so much fun! Anne cooked three courses for us, while talking us through variations on the recipe notes, and giving us a whistle stop tour through the history of the city through it’s food. Fascinating and tasty!

The Garden Quarter, where even the steps are planted . . .

The Garden Quarter, where even the steps are planted . . .

 . . . And all the houses look like Gone With the Wind

 . . . And all the houses look like Gone With the Wind

The food and the music and the hard drinking (New Orleanians love their cocktails!) were all what I expected. What I did not expect was the great shopping!

UAL is an outlet store for mid- and high-end brands. Requires some time to rummage through as there are no two pieces the same really (I sent E off to check out Meyer the Hatter and said I’d meet him in SoBou to avoid feeling time pressured!). I bought myself a little Stella McCartney (Stella in New Orleans seemed so appropriate) at 75% off.

Exodus Goods stock local designers limited run creations with a very Brooklyn/East London/insert-hip-place-here vibe. Great prints, progressive silhouettes and friendly staff. Great Insta account too!

Hemline has a great selection of what I can only describe as Southern Belle Rock Star Wife. And I mean that wholly as a great thing.

Meyer the Hatter is a shop that looks as if it hasn’t moved or changed for 50 years. A gentleman’s outfitters with a huge selection of hats and very reasonable prices.

We stayed in The Jazz Quarters, which was perfectly placed for the French Quarter just across the North Rampart, super comfortable and friendly. They do a great breakfast, which is included, but did mean that we missed out on the Eggs Cochon at The Ruby Slipper.

Our bedroom at The Jazz Quarters, we stayed in "Kermit" named after Kermit Ruffins

Our bedroom at The Jazz Quarters, we stayed in "Kermit" named after Kermit Ruffins

Only in NOLA

Only in NOLA

I confess we did the tourist thing and barely made it out of the French Quarter. There were so many good things to do and with limited time we decided to concentrate our efforts. We did catch the Charles Street street car out to the Garden District to have a wander and a look at Aubade Park, which was another nice (if still tourist classic) thing to do.

I'm moving here; not even joking.

I'm moving here; not even joking.

There were a load of places we didn’t get a chance to go to:
Marti’s, we popped in to check out the menu (go here for seafood!) they’ve retained the original bar with hex mosaic floor (be still my heart!) it looked classy but welcoming
Meaux Bar was just across the way from our guest house and we almost went on the first night; apparently we missed out!
Tonique - another great happy hour, so sorry we missed this
And although Bourbon Street is an acquired taste (it’s a bit Faliraki) apparently everybody should make at least one trip to The Tropical Isle for a Shark Attack, Abigail from SoBou assured it was quite the show.
I was also recommended Le Bon Temps Roule on a Thursday night, but we fly back to New York on Wednesday, so will have to pick that up on the next trip.

One things for sure, there will definitely be a next trip!

Thoughts On Friendship

To give and to receive is never a balanced transaction.

When we are a child we receive. Our parents clothe us, feed us, love and support us. We give them a wonky mug that we made in art class, that isn’t waterproof and becomes a pen pot.

When we are in a romantic relationship (or even an unromantic one) we dance the line of equal give and take (although rarely giving and taking the same things). We are building a life together, and that life is by negotiation, by committee and all the more precarious and precious for that.

Friendships are different. Friendships are particularly special. Friendships are fragile and thus easily (although hopefully not lightly) broken. The only bond (at least at the beginning) holding you together is “I like you.” Friendship is a lesson in giving without any expectation of receiving. To accept a person wholly for who they are is a wonderful thing to do and to have done to us. To give to someone solely because we want them to have whatever it is we are offering, without expectation of reciprocation, is a beautiful thing.

Giving without expectation of receiving is the hardest bit to get right; that’s why you have to start it early. It is friendships that prepare us to be parents. To learn to give with only the hope of a leaky mug in return.

Tutorial: Painting Crisp Lines at Colour Changes

As I shared in August's WiP post I painted the living room last month with a picture rail line. I was so pleased with how sharp the line turned out, so thought I'd share how I achieved that. It's actually quite easy, although there are a few steps. This method can be used to get a crisp line at the ceiling, edges of walls (for features) or if you're going to really go for it geometric patterns in paint.


You will need:

2 (or more) colours of paint

Pencil

Spirit level

Ruler or scrap timber (optional)

Tape measure

Chalk line

Masking tape

Brushes and rollers as preferred

Paint the first colour to the final finish coat (I did one "mist coat," a water thinned coat you put onto fresh plaster as the plaster wants to suck up all the moisture from the paint which makes it really hard to use, and one final coat of full thickness paint) , painting beyond the point where the colour will change. My marker was the head of the windows.

White paint is brought past the level of the windows to overlap with the area of the wall which will be grey

White paint is brought past the level of the windows to overlap with the area of the wall which will be grey

Mark the line you want to paint to. On the shorter lengths between the windows I used a spirit level and piece of timber to get a straight horizontal line and marked lightly in pencil.

A longer spirit level would be better (!) but a length of timber and small one does the job fine

A longer spirit level would be better (!) but a length of timber and small one does the job fine

On the long walls I used a tape measure to mark the correct height from the floor at each corner and a chalk line. This ingenious bit of kit allows you to get a straight line over a long distance. Hold either end at the marked heights (get an adult to help you!) with the string flat on the wall, and then ping the string with your finger to fire a line of chalk onto the wall. The chalk line I used was in blue and you can see the line it gives you below. Don't worry about the bright colour; it's either getting painted over or will wipe away with a soft cloth.

pencil line with masking tape on the right, chalk line on the right

pencil line with masking tape on the right, chalk line on the right

Masking tape along the lines you've marked. Don't worry about buying the fancy masking tape that claims not to bleed, there's no need to worry about that here and frankly I've never found one that really works. If you have a tip though I'd love to know. I would recommend doing continuous lengths of tape along walls if you can, it will give you a better finish.

Taped up and ready to go

Taped up and ready to go

You don't need fancy non-bleed tape because the next step is to paint over the edge of the tape with the base colour. This means that any bleed you get doesn't show because it's the same colour as the base. How clever is that!

Leave to dry completely.

The tape edge is painted over with the base colour; it's still wet here so you can see where I've been

The tape edge is painted over with the base colour; it's still wet here so you can see where I've been

Paint your first coat of colour. I always find that after the first coat you have to go round with the filler again. The paint shows up a whole load of imperfections that will have been missed the first time. Although there was plaster under the wallpaper I stripped, the age of it and the fact that I was doing the first painted finish meant there were plenty of marks needing filled. Sand back the filler ready for the final coat.

First coat (careful to colour in the lines!) and then the second filler

First coat (careful to colour in the lines!) and then the second filler

Do your second coat and leave to dry completely. Now for the fun bit! Peel of the masking tape, slowly and carefully to minimise the damage to the base coat.

Mid reveal!

Mid reveal!

Stand back and admire your work!

Crisp, clean lines and no bleeds.

Crisp, clean lines and no bleeds.

Microwave Cooking: Vegetarian Chilli

I moved into the flat just over two months ago. As I've said there is no kitchen yet, or none that is recognisable, but I do have a fridge with a small freezer compartment and a microwave. More recently I've also acquired a mini oven, but until then all my cooking was in the microwave.

I know that bar the cake-in-a-mug meme microwave cooking usually causes a shudder to run down anybody's spine, but I've honestly become a bit of a convert. Rice for example: the microwave method is so reliable and easy I don't think I will go back to cooking rice on the hob. 

My mother taught me to cook by technique: fry, sauté, braise, stew, reduction, bake, roast and so on; I still think of cooking in these terms and that's how I approached the microwave as a cooking tool. Now a microwave can't give you the crispy factor of a fry/bake/roast but the wet methods steam/sauté/boil/simmer are in reach. I have been using these methods to adapt things I would otherwise make in conventional ways for the microwave, and this is the first I'll share: vegetable chilli.


1 tbsp of oil of your choice

1 small onion, or two shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 pepper (I used half red, half yellow), cubed

1 tsp each: paprika (preferably smoked) and cumin (seeds or ground)

1/2 tsp chilli flakes, or more to taste

1 400g can each: chopped tomatoes, corn, mixed beans

Seasoning to taste

My microwave is a 850W model and I cook most of my microwave meals in a Bodum Hot Pot

  1. Put the oil onion and garlic into an oven proof dish, loosely cover and heat on full power for 3 minutes, stirring every minute or so. This is the equivalent of a sauté; high heat and regular stirring. I either time each 60sec blast or keep an eye on the timer and pull it our mid-way. The former allows you to wander away and do something else, because unlike regular cooking a microwave cuts out so nothing is going to get burnt if you do so.
  2. Add the pepper, stir and return for another 3 min stirring halfway.
  3. Add the spices, heat for another 2 min.
  4. Add the canned vegetables, season and stir. We now want to simmer the chilli to develop the spices, concentrate the flavours and thicken the texture. This is a bit fiddly in the microwave. I found the best method was to heat on high for 5min, stir and then allow it to sit for 5 min cooking in the residual heat. I repeated this 4 times. Alternatively you could cook for a more continuous period on reduced power, say 20min at 50% and see how that goes. By the end of the cooking you should have a pretty thick chilli, so if it needs to reduce further zap it a bit longer.
  5. Serve with any or all of the following: (microwave) rice; tortilla wraps; salad; avocado/guacamole; sour cream/yoghurt/riata; cheese.

Work in Progress August 2014

August seems to have slipped away from me. It's been a great month, but then it usually is because my birthday is in the middle of it. This year I had friends come down from Edinburgh to celebrate and we went out for dinner with my parents and some Oxford folks. Good food, good company and surprise presents. It was the best. 

I've been too busy living life off-line to be documenting it on line, and so WiP is a bit late this month. So in between birthday celebrations I've been painting. The living room is about 5m square (that's 16.5ft in old money) so it's quite a mammoth task to paint.

Now that the top of the bay and the kitchen window are in the same room I wanted to emphasise that fact that their heads are the same height, so I used it as a datum for a picture rail line for the painting. I wasn't sure how it was going to turn out, but I told myself "If I hate it I'll just paint in the top section." I love it. It's definitely staying. There'll be a tutorial coming soon on how I got the line so crisp if you want to do something similar.

The other thing I did was laid the lino in the two little cupboards. Now the reason I was doing that was to be prepared for the washing machine delivery. Which didn't happen. Twice. It turned into a bit of a saga, but I'm hoping for third time lucky!

The upside of course was I could kit out the smaller cupboard with racks and shelves and so on. I have space for my Dyson, and my cycling kit, and other stuff that doesn't need to be out and getting in the way of the working area of the living room. A small thing shouldn't make me so happy, but having somewhere to put things where they're out the way and hidden is so satisfying.

You've got to find pleasure in the small things in life, the everyday moments. If you can do that then happiness is so much more accessible. And for me that's what August has been all about.

 

My Favorite Weekday Breakfast: Raw Oat Pots

Last weekend I posted this picture on Instagram and shared it to facebook

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A couple of my friends accused me of being a Hipster (such a 2014/1954 insult!) I rebuffed with "Wait till you see my blog post on raw porridge in a jar! I'm not even joking."

I wasn't.

This is the breakfast I eat most weekdays. It's easy, the pots are prepped at least a night in advance and waiting for me in the morning, and it's reasonably nutritious being oats and raw and relatively low on sugar. I make up batches of three pots at a time, i.e. three days breakfasts as a solo-dweller. It would probably keep longer in the fridge, there isn't really much to go off, but much more than 5 days and I'd be wary.

I do hesitate to call it a recipe though. It's more guidelines, and so I don't offer up any quantities here. The method kind of sorts that out though, so you can't go far wrong.

You will need

Oats (I like the chunky kind as I think the texture is better)

Apple juice, preferably cloudy (local and single variety for full Hipster creds)

Dried fruit (optional, I use sultanas. Raisins or chopped apricots would also be good)

Standard size jam jars, approx. 400g (my preference is the wide necked type as they're easier to pour things into and clean up after)

Yoghurt to serve

Take your jars and put a large pinch/small handful/tablespoon of dried fruit in the bottom.

Jam jars
Raw Porridge

Fill the jar to half way with oats.

Top up with apple juice to come just over the top of the oats. I usually do half juice and half water because I find that sweet enough, but I eyeball it rather than measuring accurately or making up a mix specifically.

Put on the lids and pop in the fridge until morning. When you're ready for breakfast, pull out a jar, top with a few spoonfuls of natural yoghurt for added protein and creaminess, stir it all up (be sure to dig down to the bottom of those dried fruits) and tuck in. Coconut milk is a good with it too, which I used last week when I ran out of yoghurt, and gets you into the whole dairy-free and vegan area. A sprinkle of seeds or nuts would be a nice addition. Or some chopped fresh fruit. Or some chocolate chips. There's plenty of opportunity for customisation.

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I eat it straight out of the jar, because I'm lazy and it saves washing up, but you can decant it into a bowl if you're classier than me. You can also make it in a large bowl rather than pots if you're serving lots of people, same principal applies: as long as the oats are covered in liquid you'll be all good.

Of course, pots mean it's transportable, even on a bike, and desk compatible too for those who like to breakfast in work (which I have been known to do). I love pots, and if that makes me a hipster so be it!