Sunday, February 28, 2010

life hacks - clothing

The internet is so educational! I've been rocking the folded looped scarf thing for a while now - it keeps your scarf nicely secured and your neck extra warm - but lately have been getting a bit bored with it. Also, the knot is quite bulky on the neck. So it was great to see on the wonderful Sartorialist site a new scarf knot, complete with instruction video, and I only had to watch it about 5 times before I could do it too (I'm severely challenged co-ordination wise):

The great thing about this knot is that it lies flat against your neck - it's far more elegant and much less bulky, but I imagine still as warm and your scarf won't unravel and fly away.

For some reason it reminded me of this classic Japanese video showing you how to fold a t-shirt in 2 seconds. So fantastic - it's turned me into a laundry ninja:

Birthday Cake: Chocolate Mint Cupcakes


The time of year to think about birthday cakes has rolled around again. I know cupcakes have been all the rage ever since Sarah Jessica Parker visited the Magnolia Bakery in NYC in an episode of Sex and the City almost ten years ago - cupcake boutique bakeries have been springing up in every major city the world over - so I though I'd better embrace this trend before it was over (bound to be any day soon now).

In my internet researches I had bookmarked this recipe for Chocolate Mint Cupcakes - it looked fairly straightforward yet utterly tempting so I thought I'd give it a bash. Chocolate and mint are two of my favourite things. And I love combining them.

Here are the ingredients. All impeccably free range, organic, fair trade etc etc etc. I decided to take Nigella's advice on using 00 grade flour and I think it did make a big difference.

Basically, you sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. In another bowl, you whisk the eggs, sugar and peppermint extract. Melt the chocolate, butter and mix with cocoa. Then combine all the ingredients and spoon into cupcake cases.

The cake dough seemed far more fudgy in texture than I'm used to (but tasted divine). It was difficult to get an even loading in the cases, so I left the blobs pretty au naturel. But they rose spectacularly well - I would class this as the best result I have had from this oven (for some reason i really battle with baking in my oven - roasting meats though it takes in its stride, so I don't quite understand the problem. It may well lie on the other side of the apron).



Cupcake display is crucial to achieve the right elegantly twee retro 50's teatime effect. Alas, storage considerations in Hedgie Towers preclude the use of a cake stand, but last winter I spotted a brilliantly improvised one in the windows of Zeitgeist on the Pavement, Clapham Old Town. You balance plates on wineglasses - and I have just the right decoratively shaped glasses! Hoorah!

I frosted the cakes with ordinary buttercream icing flavoured with peppermint extract. This was delicious. Prue Leith has a recipe for Crème au beurre meringue icing, where you beat egg whites with icing sugar over a simmering pan before adding soft butter and the flavourings. This icing gives a superlative result and if I made these again and I would try that.

I do recommend these cakes as they are easy, slightly unusual and very good. Lesley said they reminded her of eating an After Eight mint chocolate, so if you like those, you're bound to love these!

Last year's birthday cake: Chocolate Nemesis.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The PCC's Jan Moir FAIL

Jan Moir’s notorious Stephen Gately piece, published in the Daily Mail the day before his funeral, attracted 25,000 individual complaints from the public. Those complaints came in so fast they crashed the PCC website. Mainstream advertisers like Marks & Spencer demanded their ads were pulled from the article. Eventually the Mail pulled all advertising from the article.

Stephen Gately’s husband filed an official complaint as well. This was crucial, because despite the scale of public outrage, only those directly affected are allowed to make a complaint under PCC rules.

The PCC has now ruled that the article was just fine: within the standards we should expect of our free Press here in the UK.

Compare and contrast with the results of the public hysteria whipped up by the Daily Mail against the BBC, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand over the Andrew Sachs incident: a BBC executive was forced out, Brand resigned, Ross, the BBC's biggest star, was suspended without pay for three months and now his contract has not been renewed.

But Jan Moir and the Daily Mail have got off scott free. Depressingly, this means we can probably expect more of this genre of homophobic writing to emerge from the gutter press in the future, especially as the PCC seems to feel that they can say whatever they like as long as they avoid words like fag, queer, poof, bender etc.

PCC: "While many complainants considered that there was an underlying tone of negativity towards Mr Gately and the complainant on account of the fact that they were gay, it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article."

Yes, it is indeed true Ms Moir did not use the specific and traditional homophobic epithets in her article. What she did use was offensive innuendo ramped up to the maximum. It has been described as “dog whistle” journalism - but in this case it’s for dogs of a particularly deaf and stupid nature, in case they don’t quite get it:

“Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships.

Gay activists are always calling for tolerance and understanding about same-sex relationships, arguing that they are just the same as heterosexual marriages. Not everyone, they say, is like George Michael.

Of course, in many cases this may be true. Yet the recent death of Kevin McGee, the former husband of Little Britain star Matt Lucas, and now the dubious events of Gately's last night raise troubling questions about what happened.
It is important that the truth comes out about the exact circumstances of his strange and lonely death.

As a gay rights champion, I am sure he would want to set an example to any impressionable young men who may want to emulate what they might see as his glamorous routine.

For once again, under the carapace of glittering, hedonistic celebrity, the ooze of a very different and more dangerous lifestyle has seeped out for all to see.”

Even if one accepts the PCC’s highly restrictive definition of homophobic journalism, her factual inaccuracy is surely just grounds for complaint:

"Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this." (emphasis mine)

The Spanish coroner ruled that Gately died on the 10th October 2009 of natural causes, due to pulmonary oedema. Clearly Jan was highly inaccurate, not so, PCC?

PCC: Moir's claim that Gately's death had not been "natural", while controversial and speculative, "could not be established as accurate or otherwise".

I’m sorry, but in this ruling the PCC comes across as a Society for the Preservation and Justification of the Gutter Press.

Peter Tatchell has it absolutely right:
"If Jan Moir had made similar comments about a black or Jewish person, and disparaged their race and community, the PCC would have ruled against her.

"She may well have been arrested and charged with inciting racial hatred. Why is the PCC adopting double standards on homophobia?

"This ruling brings the PCC into disrepute. It's another nail in the coffin of this discredited, feeble institution. The PCC is past its sell-by date. It should be replaced by an independent statutory body with real power and principles."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Quote London

"The best seat in any theater in the world is the front seat on the upper deck of a London Omnibus."

- Henry James