Monday, 29 December 2008
Looking for some new gear to start the year? Forget the High Street sales and head to the flea market instead. It's so much more fun, and your chosen treasure will last a lifetime. Unsure of how to bag a bargain? Watch my one-stop guide to closing the deal - this time at the Barras Market in Glasgow.
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Sunday, 14 December 2008
Saturday, 6 December 2008
I write features for a fabulous magazine called SELVEDGE which is as far from the fusty world of old-style arts and crafts magazines as it's possible to get. Editor Polly Leonard started SELVEDGE five years ago, after a rather racy knitting feature for the in-house Embroiderers' Guild publication got her fired from her job. It was Polly's chance to start the magazine that she'd always wanted to read - a publication that weaves together the worlds of textiles, fashion, design and interiors and creates something fresh. It's more like a book than a magazine, with captivating photos and illustrations that keep you flicking through your back-issues long after you've filed your latest copy neatly on the shelf. When I first visited the Selvedge "office" I was amazed to find the staff sitting cosily around Polly's large dining room table, every inch of space crammed with computers, contributors' copy, and cups of coffee! Polly is the true woman at the helm - the magazine is self-funded and manages to hook both the experts in the field, as well as aspirational makers and dreamers. Each issue sells 25,000 copies - not bad for a bi-monthly niche publication. It's now celebrating it's fifth birthday - long may it continue to inspire and delight. HAPPY BIRTHDAY SELVEDGE!
OK - I've resisted so far - but now I'm adding my tips to all those others. Here are my top 10 for beating the credit crunch. Please feel free to send in your own!
JOIN THE LOCAL LIBRARY - no more paying for expensive books - they can usually order the title that you want if it's not on the shelves.
MAKE YOUR OWN CHRISTMAS GIFTS - this year I'm making candles in teacups, which will also come in useful when the lights go out!
SWAP HOLIDAYS - two months ago I swapped Italian language lessons in Rome for working as a gardener. Bargain holiday, new skill. Result.
POM POMS - cheap and cheerful way to brighten up your woollies.
ROAST CHICKEN - obviously not for vegetarians. Buy your chicken when the prices are reduced, roast it in the oven with a few herbs, potatoes, carrots and parsnips and it'll do for about 2 or 3 meals.
VEGGIE OPTION - onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumkin - salt, pepper, splash of oil - roast for 40 mins, eat with yoghurt and corriander. Tasty and under £2.
TAP WATER - we are lucky to have it. Let's drink it.
HOT WATER BOTTLES - Cosy and cheap - especially if you make a cover out of an old jumper! A purring cat can also help keep you warm and comforted.
MAGAZINE EXCHANGES - swap Vogue for Elle Deco, or Grazia for Living Etc. All the glossiness less expense.
GROW YOUR HAIR - make like Rapunzel and just let it go - no more expensive haircuts!
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Well I'm back home again in London. It feels strange being here after all my interesting experiences in Italy. It's nice and cosy sleeping in my own bed once more, and especially having my own pillow again! What is it that makes other pillows SOO uncomfortable! But even the pillow and my own little flat aren't making up for Roma quite yet. Anyway, I've been inspired to try a new version of the T-shirt Turban and the Jumper Hat for 2009. What do you think? I'm wearing mine all the time and it's getting lots of comments!
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Come on...you wouldn't expect me to come to Lucca and not check out the market scene now would you?! Every third Saturday of the month (FORTUNA!) there is a collectors' market in Lucca...and it's stuffed full of goodies. This is the place to go for large scale pieces, lighting, linen, and jewellery. I managed to nab some 50's plastic earrings (which I've started collecting) for 10 euros...ok, not cheap I know, but they are pretty unique. Prices are a little touristy here...but to be able to hunt for bargains in the sunshine on the 15th November, AND have a glass of wine in a charming terrace afterwards, now that's when I feel LUCKY.
Gianluca also has visiting cooks joining him from time to time, and I was lucky enough to be at his school when Marisa came up from Naples to teach two days of Neapolitan cuisine. She was a joy - singing "O Sole Mio" and taking over the kitchen like a ten-pin bowler! Here is her authentic Neapolitan Rum Baba...my God, it tasted good!!
It's sometimes tricky knowing how to spend your time if you're travelling on your own, and after finishing gardening duties in Rome I wasn't quite sure what to do, as I still had some days free. So I decided to follow my instincts and e-mailed the address of a cookery school I'd seen recommended in The Guardian a couple of years ago to see if by any SLIM chance I might be able to go and cook for a few days near Lucca, a beautiful town in Tuscany that I've visited before. And so, as sometimes happens when you follow your gut, I found myself travelling North on a train to Lucca, booked in at the last moment to have some foodie fun. I was welcomed in the pouring rain by the smiling Irene - who held out a welcome umbrella. It wasn't long before I met chef Gianluca Pardini, who runs the grand-sounding International Academy of Italian Cusine in Lucca . But in spite of the grand name, I immediately felt at home here - everything was done to make this last-minute guest feel comfortable. Gianluca is a chef with an international reputation, and over the years, he has built up strong links with Japan where he once worked. Thus, my cooking classmates were from Japan and Korea, and a more charming bunch of people I couldn't imagine meeting. And so began my exploration of Italian food - lessons in Italian, translated into Japanese! A truly international, stimulating experience....but on top of this...the food the food the food!! With Gianluca's help and guidance we cooked a three course lunch, and a meal for the evening. He made it all seem do-able, and such fun too. He's a great teacher - warm, enthusiastic, ...and his passion for his native food really rubs off on you.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
I love a place where you can still buy an honest-to-goodness knitted or crocheted bed-jacket...you know, the sort of satin-trimmed thing you wear(or could wear) when you're propped up in bed reading! Rome is such place. There are lots of outlets specialising in nightwear. You can still go into a Roman shop today and confidently buy a matching set of nightie, dressing gown, bed-jacket and slippers...tissue-wrapped of course. No-one will think you've stepped out of another era. You can do this in the UK too I know, but only in very posh places. In Rome, this type of boutique is still on every high street. I had a crocheted bed-jacket when I was little, pale blue with a pom-pom draw-string at the neck, like a little cape. I find it strangely reassuring to know that bed-jackets are still out there. Maybe that's how men feel about traditional barbers shops...like this one I spotted down the road from the place I've been staying on Via Nomentana. Isn't it beautiful? I almost wish I had a moustache to trim!
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Here I am blogging in Piazza Navona! Of course it's typical that I only discovered Rome had got itself WI-FI on my last day living in the city. Various tourist hotspots have it, and it means that in fine weather you can happily chat, blog and e-mail to your friends all over the world. Of course you can also do it when the weather isn't so wonderful(as I'm demonstrating here!) I only discovered that Rome had this facility when I was up at the Villa Borghese and saw a signpost pointing me in the direction of the WI-FI area. The blurb is available at www.romawireless.com. It says you are entitled to one free hour per day, and that there is a password to log on. However, when I tried in Piazza Navona, no password was required. Either the rules have changed or I was surfing on someone elses space. I love the fact that you can log-on in these places. I did get some funny looks though. Some people thought I was a kind of techno-tramp and ran a mile when I asked them to take my photo. One kind person obliged though.
Monday, 10 November 2008
Napoli is a city that confuses and bemuses. It took me several false starts before I finally got my bearings. It can be grubby, grimy and get-on-down-dirty, or opulent, gem-like and full of immense beauty depending on your mood. I saw breath-taking palazzos like the 18th century Spinelli Palace hidden behind noisy, cramped streets where shopkeepers peddled their wares in bawdy fashion much as they would have done in Roman times. Washing flapped above my head like a pirate's flag, and I'd dive into churches to seek relief from the craziness outside. There were jewel box chapels, the walls covered in frescos, and kitsch shrines of gaudy plastic flowers to Our Lady. What a city!
I discovered a much better alternative to the famous Porta Portese fleamarket in Rome(see earlier entry). It's this market on Piazza Flamino, near the Piazza del Popolo. It's open every Sunday, and as the name suggests - "Rigattieri Per Hobby" - it's largely made up of people wanting to sell things that are just cluttering up the place, or for those looking for a fun hobby and a bit of socialising. It's great of course if some Italian Countess decides to empty her attic! When I went I discoverd this gorgeous 50's umberella for 35 euros, 50's sunglass for 10 euros and a pair of art-deco wall lights for 30 euros(in fact I decided to buy them as a momento of Rome). WHY DIDN'T I BUY THE UMBRELLA TOO???? I KNOOOOOW!!!!! I'm asking myself that too! Of course what you find depends on the day - but as we all know - that's just the luck of the draw. Definitely to be visited if you like a rummage and you're in Rome.
Friday, 7 November 2008
I can't escape from hats..! They spring into my mind when I least expect it. This is of course what happened when I went to the Porta Portese flea-market in Rome last Sunday morning. It was heaving with people, and I had been warned to hold on tight to my purse as apparantly there are alot of pickpockets. As flea-markets go, I have to say this isn't one of the best. Yes, it's huge, but also a bit disappointing, as two thirds of the stalls offer new and fairly cheap goods. There are though a number of people selling second-hand clothes...not vintage, but the sort things you'd get in charity shops in the UK. But these sorts of goods are much cheaper at Porta Portese. You can pick up jumpers, dresses and the like for a couple of euros an item, and ties and scarves for one euro each. It's great if you want to recycle the stuff into other things. There are a few hit and miss vintage stalls. I found one woman selling a collection of fabulous 50's glasses - but they were pretty expensive - at between thirty and fifty euros a pair. This woman also had a big box of old hats, and I found one which I liked the look of for a mere three euros. So you do have to hunt around. The ties I bought aren't featured here, but my friend Meche on seeing my ties presented me with three of her own knitted ones, as if to say, OK MJ - get recycling. This is what I came up with.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
The bar around the corner from the language school here in Rome, is one of the most friendly places I've ever had the pleasure to eat at. A warm smile, fantastic coffee, a chat about football(in Italian of course), and the best panini I've had in Rome. There's a king of a burger that I've eaten here on the recommendation of the lovely guys in the photo. It's called una saleiccia di maiale and is basically a fantastically succulent pork sausage which is pressed with a fork into a type of pattie and served with lettuce and mustard. It's so tasty. Much better than a McDonalds. Grazie amici... you've become my local, and that's quite something for an English girl to admit!
I visited the Stadio dei Marmi on the recommendation of the Wallpaper guide to Rome. It suggests seeing it as an interesting contrast to the rich, wonderful Renaissance Art that surrounds you here. Mussolini had the stadium built as a monument to fascism. Sixty marble statues of men with perfectly toned and honed bodies surround the racetrack. Each statue represents an area of Italy. They were supposed to inspire the Italian youth to attain their physical peak, and also of course to symbolise what Mussoline saw as the power and potential of his fascist state. Whilst the message is chilling, the statues themselves are quite a sight! There's a real 1930's feel to them, forerunners of the Armani ads of today.
This cat comes to visit me most days as I sweep up leaves or water the flowers(not that I've had to do much watering lately, Rome has been very wet these last few days). Isn't he handsome? He's just(and I'm sure it's a he)such an ITALIAN cat - he knows that he's beautiful, and irresistible, and that you'll just want to reach out and stroke him. He probably still lives with his Mother too like most Italian men. I thought if I kissed him, he might turn into a Prince....but it didn't happen!
Well of course it belongs to the Torre Del Babele language school in Rome where I'm studying. But being able to exchange labour in the garden for language lessons in the school was the reason I came here. It's a good philosophy isn't it, swapping skills? It feels right somehow....gardening for Italian lessons, hats for vegetables, cakes for massage....can we not do this more often?