Friday, 31 May 2013


When I was little I loved the Secret Seven books.  My sister was heavily into the Famous Five but I preferred the rough and tough (well, as rough and tough as Enid Blyton gets) edge to the Secret Seven.  It was set in more of a city / town landscape compared to the country setting of the Famous Five and the children went to day schools instead of boarding school.  I was desperate to be in the 'gang' and was delighted when we got a golden spaniel like Scamper.   Unfortunately Shane turned out to be the devil in dog form and after the third phone call from the police station who said he'd been picked up (again), was running up and down the corridors and could we come and get him please, my mum decided that a 6 year old, a baby and a tearaway dog were just too much all at one time, enough was enough and he had to be re-homed.  I wish I was joking but it was basically the dog or one of the kids.
He looks suspiciously angelic here.
Sorry, I went completely off topic there!  Anyway, one Secret Seven book I vividly remember reading involved Peter, Janet and Jack all sitting in their garden with Scamper puzzling over a case when Peter and Janet's mother brings them out a jug of home made lemonade.

I never had home made lemonade when I was little so this seemed like such a wondrous thing; I didn't even know you could get anything other than 7-Up or Sprite (both of which were banned in my house along with other fizzy drinks and therefore held a legendary status).

This weekend I finally satisfied the 20 year craving and made homemade lemonade.  I made a slightly more grown up version though as this was for a friends hen do.  One of the recent trends on Pinterest and food blogs has been Basil Lemon Cocktails or Basil Lemonade of some variety (either with gin, vodka or virgin) and as usual the glossy pictures of glass tumblers filled with homemade lemonade and topped off with sprigs of verdant green basil looked so tempting.
Secret Seven eat your heart out.

12 lemons, a whole bunch of basil and a fair amount of sugar later I had two jugs of homemade basil lemonade.
It went down an absolute storm with the chicks at the hen party.  It's sweet but not sickly and the basil is delicately infused through and really complements the lemon, adding interest to an otherwise standard lemonade.  I know that this sounds a bit daft but it tastes really 'grown up'.  It is also a fantastic thirst quencher and, with the amount of lemons in it, a good vitamin C hit.  We'll just ignore the sugar levels for the moment. 

I didn't get any pictures of the final product. I had made the syrup and squeezed the lemons the day before and left them in the fridge to chill, then about an hour before serving the lemonade mixed them together and transported them to the venue.  I then split the syrup mix into two jugs and topped both up with still water (sparkling here would be amazing).  Before I could reach for the camera most of the BasiLemonade had gone.

Never mind!  These recipes aren't for blogging purposes (although it is handy material) but for people to enjoy!  I will definitely be making this again.

Before I do I may invest in a lemon squeezer though...

Now to find the hot cocoa recipe from Go Ahead Secret Seven!

Recipe (makes enough for 15 people):

2 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
Big bunch of fresh basil
12 lemons
Basil and lemon to garnish

Mix the sugar, water and basil in a small saucepan and heat until all the sugar has dissolved.  Turn off the heat and let the basil steep in the syrup for as long as possible (I left it overnight).

Juice 12 lemons and refrigerate.

Mix the basil sugar syrup and lemon juice together when you are ready to serve and split between your serving jugs.

Top up with water (still or sparking, add vodka or gin for an extra kick).  Serve over ice and garnish with more basil and lemon slices.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

'Tis Pity She's A Whore

Got your attention?  Sorry, this isn't a rant.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  Today on the blog boys and girls we are going theatrical.

The Canterbury Players is delving deep into the realms of forbidding love and uncontrollable lust in their latest production; a re-telling of the John Fords' Late Renaissance play 'Tis Pity She's A Whore noted for its themes of love, marriage, murder, religious skepticism, greed and revenge.

There was something else as well, a minor uncontroversial detail for a 17th century play.  What on earth could it be?  Oh yes...

This revenge tragedy is infamous for its frank and no holds barred examination of the incestuous relationship between Giovanni and Annabella, the children of Florio, a well-to-do Italian gentleman.  So much controversy surrounds it that it was removed from a 1831 collection of Ford's plays and has frequently had its title changed to something far more innocuous.
Ford had a penchant for creating characters with strong emotions, unbridled appetites and powerful intellects which feed a whole rafter of selfish emotions.  The play is stuffed full of intrigue, deception, plots, arranged marriages and shifting alliances.  'Tis Pity critiques contemporary culture and morality as well as exploring twisted psychological reasoning.  Friend murders friend, eyes are put out for what they have witnessed, hearts are displayed on daggers like gruesome trophies, poison is drunk in the middle of a wedding and throughout it all very few characters demonstrate any moral strength of character.   
Come to think of it very few characters are still standing by the end of the second act!
In other words, it's great fun to put on.
I'm only involved peripherally in this production; I'm helping cast members source costumes (modern day mafia is the inspiration as the play is set in Parma in Italy) and also helping with some of the publicity.  I am really looking forward to seeing it being performed though and will be blogging later about the finished production.
So I'll leave you with these teasers from rehearsals last week.  They look a bit odd as some people are in costume, some aren't and some are in half a costume.  It is also clearly at that point where everyone is supposed to be off book but in reality that means a quick check of the next set of lines between scenes!  

'Tis Pity will be showing at the Gulbenkian Theatre from the 19th - 21st June, 7.30pm.  If you are around, you really should come and see it!

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Skin like Cleopatra

Cleopatra had legendary skin.

Awful taste in men but legendary skin.  Smooth, clear and soft in a climate hot and arid and in times before cosmetic houses made big bucks from their lotions and potions.

One of her secrets?  Milk.  Asses milk to be exact but if you don't have a handy ass in the back garden cow's will do at a push.  It's apparently the lactic acid in milk that makes this simple face scrub so effective as it helps to remove old skin cells.  Buttermilk is supposed to be even better as it has a higher concentration of lactic acid in it.  Right now though the less buttermilk I have in my house the better as it is the primary ingredient in a number of baking recipes and I'm supposed to be being relatively good at the moment.

I digress.

My skin has been looking a little congested recently.  Nothing too serious but it could do with being fresher and the pores could do with being being a little clearer.  I've always suffered from blackheads in my T-Zone and like most people have found them to be stubborn little blighters that no amount of sticky strips and shop bought facial scrubs seem to shift.

Fed up with the sheer lack of results over the years I turned to my store cupboard after doing a bit of on-line research.
Nutmeg and milk.  Seriously?  It CANNOT be that simple.

Apparently it was.

I'm a little bit gobsmacked to be honest.  I mixed them together to create a thin paste, wet my face with a little water (skin should be clean to start with) and applied the mixture in gentle circular motions over my problem areas for about 5 minutes and then rinsed off.  The nutmeg is a natural exfoliant and has anti-inflammatory properties.  The difference is a bit jaw dropping.  All for about 1p (ish - I didn't actually sit down and work out how much powder and milk I used.  It was very, very cheap though).
You could mix it up further by adding cinnamon, honey, lemon, banana, papaya; there is a whole world of DIY home face treatments out there.  

There is an added bonus - or downside depending on how you look at it.

My face now smells like Christmas.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Wenches, Wine and Wimples

On Saturday night a group of us drove up to St Katherine's Dock in London to take a trip back in time to 1529.

The Medieval Banquet is certainly an experience!  We were there for a friends 30th birthday.  We arrived ridiculously early and holed up for cocktails in The Living Room next door to start with, after ogling the boats and privately owned yachts moored along the wharf.
While wandering along the dock we had an extensive debate about which boats we would own.  Merits that had to be weighed up included prettiness, scale, water-to-feet-dangling-distance and of course which ones had the best (ie. rudest) names. 

After a single round of drinks and paying the eye watering bill (seriously?  Gin doesn't increase that much in price between London and Kent!) we made our way back to the Medieval Banquet.  If we weren't sure we were in the right place before we were certain now as we followed knights, a couple of monks, some ladies in royal gowns, Robin Hood, a cardinal and oddly enough a batman.

I don't know why Batman was at a medieval banquet. 
We gave our booking reference and descended the staircase to the main hall underground.  Tapestries, candelabras, wrought iron chandeliers, bunting, swords, suits of armour, flagstone floors, pewter crockery and wenches running wild all helped to bring that 'ye olde worlde' feeling to life.  All that was missing was the old straw lining the floor and the pigs rooting in a corner while dogs gnawed on half chewed bones.
I have no idea what this place was before the banquet moved in but I would guess it used to be old underground store rooms running by the river.  Amazing atmosphere and absolutely huge. We were seated in the Tower.  Slightly ominous.
Birthday girl ran off to get her costume for the night and then ran off to get a cuddle from the king.  The rest of us were in layman's clothing.  It was so hot downstairs that the thought of wearing velvet made me a bit queasy. 
The place was full of large parties including a significant number of stag do's.  It gets loud and raucous.  Our waitress came to our table and delivered big jugs of ale and pitchers of wine and juice.  She also gave us our instructions for the night.  If we needed something we were to shout 'Wench!' as loudly as we could.  If we liked a performance we were to bang on the tables with our fists.  As I said,  it got noisy!
You could tell our table was less than comfortable with bellowing 'Wench' at some poor girl.  I think the best phrase that came out was 'umm...excuse me, Miss Wench, if it's not too much trouble could we get some more ale when you have a moment"! 

Once you were seated the entertainment started.  Between each course you had a series of singers, jugglers, acrobats and dancers.
We had Sir Edred (left) fighting for our tables honour (or lack thereof)!  I have absolutely no idea who won in the end but I do seem to remember the other knight being flat on his back more times than Sir Edred was so I'm claiming that as a Tower victory.
There was a large capoeira party in who decided before dessert that the medieval music wasn't really getting the party started.  The bongo drums came out, the chanting got going and before you could say 'off with their heads' the entire place had erupted into a full blown latina festival.  It did make you smile but had the unfortunate effect of delaying dessert.

I get grumpy when people keep dessert from me.

Overall the food and drink were ok - to be honest you don't really come here for a fine dining experience and with a good 200 odd people all being fed the same meal it was never going to be brilliant quality!

Soup first, (vegetable of some description, impossible to identify).  It was bought to the table in a cauldron.  You used a pewter ladle to serve yourselves and ripped great hunks of fresh baked bread to dunk in it.  If you still had soup in your bowl after the bread mopping you picked it up and drank the soup straight from the bowl.  No spoons allowed!
Next there was a cheese, cured meats, salad and pate platter.  Again you used your hand and dove in.  Pate was a little greasy and salty and needed more bread but the cheese and cured meats were nice!
Finally another cauldron arrived, this one full of roast chicken and roasted winter vegetables.  You did get cutlery this time!  Mr M bellowed for more chicken and it was bought to him in true Henry VIII style.

Dessert was an apple and cinnamon cross between a cake and a tart.   The lighting was really red all through dinner which made it a little hard to see what you were eating - this is also why the photo's with food in look so red!

Unlimited ale and wine was also included with our entry although again it's not the best quality ale and wine!  It did taste a little watered down (which would be authentic!). 
At £50 a head the experience is a little pricey - I think it is cheaper mid week and be prepared for a LOT of hen and stag parties at the weekend.  It is a giggle though and the entertainment and setting makes for a very different night out! 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Sally Henson Hard as Nails and Cuticle Remover

Ever since the Teechers set build over 2 months ago my nails have been absolutely ruined.  Weak, peeling and constantly snapping with the cuticules in a right state as well.
I am now getting desperate.

A friend recommended Sally Hansen Hard as Nails as a remedy.  It promises to strengthen nails and prevent peeling and splitting.  Three coats, twice a week should do the trick.
In addition my cuticles (always a problem area for me) have become really hard and painful.  I thought I would also give the Sally Hansen Gel Cuticle Remover a go as well.  It promises to soften and help gently shed excess cuticles.
Right now I am willing to try anything!
I'm therefore going to try it for the recommended month and then review progress to see if it has made any difference at all to the condition of my nails.  I'm always very dubious of anything that alleges to improve them as I know how weak they are and nothing in the past has really worked.

Let the trials begin!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Shoes of Prey

You know the feeling.  You have the perfect outfit and you need the perfect shoes to go with it.  You hit the highstreet, ready to see what goodies they have on offer.  6 hours later you are tired, grumpy, your feet hurt and you are still perfect shoe-less.

I don't think I will ever have that ordeal ever again.
I saw an advert on TV the other day promoting a website where you could design your own shoes.  As someone who loves her quirky and unusual shoes (Iron Fist and Irregular Choice are my two favourite brands) I thought that this would be right up my street.
I was wrong - this wouldn't just be up my street.  This was the kind of street I would quite happily build a home, get a cat, annoy the neighbours, attempt to make jam and kiss the kids goodbye as they left to go to school every day.
This was my dream home of the website world.
Founded by 3 friends in Sydney back in 2009 Shoes of Prey have been featured in Vogue and the hype seems totally justified to me.

I logged on, searched for the website, created a profile and got designing.
2 hours later I had 40 new shoe designs and one rather miffed husband who a) didn't have the computer and b) had a grand total of 0% of my attention.  Oops.
The only issue?  Around £100 a pair. Admittedly they do hand-make them to your exact design and to your shoe size (including one shoe bigger than the other if needed!) and deliver them 4-6 weeks later.  I wouldn't normally baulk at investing £100 in a decent pair of shoes.   My problem would be deciding which ones to invest in!
Anyone got a spare £4K lying around that they don't really need?  Wing it my way if so!
You get to select the type of shoe, heel shape, toe shape, heel height, straps, trimmings and details like bows or ruffles and then play with a selection of different colours and fabrics.
You can even select the sole and the lining!  The screen rotates your designs 360 degrees so you can check out your creation from every angle.
It is ridiculously easy to do and really rather moorish.  They don't just offer heels either, there are all sorts of design options for flats.
There are 'Inspiration' pages you can use if you are running low on ideas and the system saves every design you create.  
I could be lost for days here, just designing and tweaking and playing and then quietly grinding my teeth that I can't afford them all.
I was also really impressed by the fact they offer Vegan options for people who for whatever reason are not comfortable with animal skin
I think it was quite clear from my designs that there are certain styles and colour palettes that I am drawn towards!

These shoe boots were easily my favourite design and given the option would be the first ones I would order!

Oh and for you cynics out there, this is not a sponsored post but I sure as hell wouldn't mind it being one if Shoes of Prey want to comp me a pair! :)
I'm really intrigued as to what people think?  Is this something you would do?  What do you think of my designs and what would your dream shoe look like?