Guardian Girl

Hot date cake

Posted in Brain & heart, Fashion, Recipes by guardiangirl on April 30, 2010

My goodness me, Mr Lepard was underestimating this cake when he said it was in the running as one of the best date cakes around. I’d nominate it as one of the best cakes full stop.

My enchantingly intuitive and crurally balletic friend Emily came over to share it with me and, although she described it as “very nice, comforting, warm and old-fashioned tasting”, she did leave the crust on the plate. The fact that there was a crust to leave may, I concede, be part of the reason it was discarded. I didn’t particularly go out of my way to weigh any of the ingredients at all, but I did use my lovely measuring jug and my keen eye for a teaspoon to make the mixture. I used the right sized tin for once but the cake only took 30 mins to bake, not an hour. Maybe I put in too much sugary stuff and not enough flour.

To ring the changes and wrestle a bit of profit from the conglomerates I had done my shopping at Mother Earth this time, and I couldn’t find any tamarind paste in the shop. But no matter – I had foreseen this eventuality and thought of the sort of substances I might use to replace it. I don’t know if you’ve tried it but there’s this delicious pure fruit spread stuff called Sunwheel that’s a bit like molasses, but made of just apples and pears. In my experience of tamarind paste, this Sunwheel thing isn’t completely different, and it did add to a nice, moist cake. The walnuts didn’t even sink! The icing was a disaster, of course, but I don’t mind that much. To me it seems entirely natural that I would be able to bake a tasty cake but get the icing wrong, in much the same way that I can choose myself a lovely frock but my accessories will always let the whole thing down. Details or something. But who wants to be good at icing, anyway? That’s just a rubbish skill. Be good at cakes.

Here it is:

Tamarind date cake

Other kind of date cake

Other kind of date cake

I was intending to do a home styling shoot last night but, what with running, bathing, entertaining and putting the recycling out – which somehow seems to take me hours – I never got round to it. The dahlias also remained in their packet due to the heavy rains my neighbourhood was experiencing at the appointed planting time.

Other updates: the final outfit of the week has me replicating this young lad’s vibe. I’m sure you’ll agree my success is uncanny.

Checks

Vexed

Vexed

I think that pretty much rounds off the week, other than to say that I have carried in my heart and mind Oliver Burkeman’s words, as always, to test out their life-changing abilities. This week’s column had quite a positive impact on my daily life, as it happens. This Column WIll Change Your Life is often among the pages to capture my imagination the most when I open the magazine on a Saturday, but it barely gets mentioned in my blog. I think that’s because I’m so utterly rubbish at writing about it. I just had to delete a whole paragraph I’d written about this week’s because it made me feel nauseous. I seem to go extra pompous sounding as soon as feelings are involved. I think I’ll try to work on this. In the meantime, I trust you’ll find my writing lovably imperfect.

Copy the little children

Posted in Fashion, Recipes, Uncategorized by guardiangirl on April 28, 2010

Last night’s dinner was supposed to be smoked duck with pak choi but, due to a late night at work and a lack of desire to jog further than necessary to reach a big supermarket, it became chicken with cabbage. Since there was no photo to copy anyway, this struck me as no great shame and I soon managed to get to sleep without having failure nightmares.

Today, however, things have taken a distinct turn for the worse. I am concerned about my fashion karma. Is there not something very wrong about copying the style of a four-year-old? It’s widely considered misguided to wear one’s hair in pigtails to the office, so going one step further and directly aping a toddler’s outfit – complete with pinafore, kiddy hairgrip and pull-on plimsolls – must be thought of as a full-blown mistake at best. Amazingly I’ve already received several compliments on my hair today – but haven’t quite been able to bring myself to reply, “Thanks, I got the idea off a baby I saw in a magazine.”

Stripes

Stripes

Cripes

Cripes

I think the conclusions for today ought to be promoted to the level of disclaimers.

First, I’d like to apologise to the model’s parents, who I’m sure aren’t reading this but who I imagine might find the above photographic episode rather chilling if they were.

Second, I’d like to apologise for still not being able to get left and right right, and for therefore scrunching up the wrong hand.

Third, I’d like to apologise deeply for having my shirt outside the pinafore instead of underneath. I had it on under the dress this morning and it was billowing out everywhere in a most ridiculous fashion. I knew it was a busy day at work today and I wanted to look vaguely credible when required.

With all that sorted, it only remains for me to report that today I clawed back the ground I lost yesterday and followed The Measure to the letter by buying a pair of Asos navy tailored shorts (only £25 and I need a pair that fit). They are meant for men and yet I bought them big because I find it humiliating when menswear is too small for me. This means I run some risk of looking like Uncle Buck in them, but that could potentially be no bad thing.

Now I get to think of it, I’m not sure if Uncle Buck ever wore shorts, but I’m pretty sure he went fishing. Also, I think it would categorically be a bad thing if I looked like Uncle Buck, but I don’t like deleting thoughts after I’ve gone to the trouble of typing them. That’s why I’m going to sign off now before things get out of hand.

Au revoir x

Unbold, unsmoked, untasselled

Posted in Fashion, Recipes, The Measure, Uncategorized by guardiangirl on April 27, 2010

Yesterday’s outfit was tempered for the office and then reconstructed when I got home and had access to my housemates’ wardrobes for photographic purposes. Strictly speaking this is cheating, as my rules are that I must wear my own clothes where possible, and that I must wear the outfits out and about like a brave person, not just piling them on for the photos and immediately casting them to a corner of Room 101 when the lens is put away. However on this occasion I knew my housemates to own the perfect garments for the job and there was no way I was going to tramp through a rainy day in Nin’s beloved Opening Ceremony wedges and Jess’s vintage Stephen Marks ikat jacket. Come to think of it I didn’t actually ask the girls if I could wear them for the photo either, but I know it’s OK. I really know it’s OK. If either of you is reading this, I hope it is OK.

The posing is very difficult when no one’s in, as the iPhone camera has no self-timer and using a reflection is tricky. The result is altogether buffoonish.

Tread lightly

Tread lightly

Unsightly

Unsightly

I worked late last night so dinner was actually cobbled together from the vastly expensive shop next to the office and eaten at my desk, meaning Hugh’s mackerel roll had to play the part of a bedtime snack instead. A rather indulgent snack, admittedly, and not home-smoked in the least. But why smoke it at home when Sainsbury’s had done such a great job of smoking it for me? It was their Taste the Difference kiln-smoked stuff, which I’d never tried before – unbelievable, I promise. I do seem to sound like a Sainsbury’s ad sometimes, which I’m not proud of at all, I can tell you.

Hot smoked mackerel sandwich

Hot smoked mackerel sandwich

McSmoked mackerel sandwich

McSmoked mackerel sandwich

And now I turn my attention to The Measure, whihc has already caused me untold heartache this week. And to think it’s only Tuesday.

For logistical purposes I tend to divide up the various tasks in The Measure and assign them to different days of the week, partly so that I have more chance of being able to achieve them, and partly to give myself an excuse for wriggling out of something if I don’t really want to do it. Saturday was a case in point. I YouTubed the band Hurts as suggested and found them to be pretty brilliant. Their song Wonderful Life is amazing and I can’t quite work out how they’d passed under my radar. The video did make me scoff a bit but black and white stuff usually does, especially if no one is smiling or moving, especially if there is a girl doing pretty dumb dance moves. They seem like funny chaps in their interviews anyway. After watching all this happily it dawned on me that The Measure hadn’t mentioned just their music, but their hair. By my rules, whatever The Measure says, I am supposed to copy. There was no escaping it – this meant going out and getting a crew cut.

Reader, I couldn’t do it. I simply didn’t have the gall. I’m not proud of my head shape at the best of times (too flat at the back, and other complaints no person other than my own self would bother to spend much time noticing), my jawline is not looking its best at the moment, what with still being less distinct than it once was after the previous run of baking adventures, and my skin, sadly, could never be described as ‘best’, ‘better’ or even ‘good’. It seems to me that these three things are the key deciders in whether a woman looks good with a crew cut.

It’s all very well bravely cutting off your hair for a blog and making it all into an interesting experiment. But what if you change your mind about the blog a few weeks later (as has been known to happen) and end up spending all summer in tears, and a wig, incapable of looking anyone in the eye, particularly members of the opposite sex, and dear God what if you are thirty now and are supposed to be becoming more confident in such situations.

So in the end I let the mental debate drag on until I could tell myself all the hairdressers would be shut and the day was over, meaning the task didn’t have to be done after all. My chest is constricting just thinking about it.

Today I am experiencing yet more heart freezing. The post office nearest my office, despite being in Primrose Hill, doesn’t stock French Vogue. However I managed to find the Measure-beloved curtain tassel-wearing Vogue interview on a website so I could see what I was aiming for. Fine, I thought, these tassels ain’t that crazy, they make kind of good accessories, I’ll go for it. So I logged on to the Guardian’s suggested source of such items, Pret a Vivre, selected the recommended tassels… and discovered that my order was going to come to £88 plus £12 for delivery. That’s £100 on tassels.

I have just spent 15 minutes grappling in genuine anguish over this matter. It might seem like a nobrainer but I promised myself this time I would give it a proper shot, keep the project entertaining, be subversive about it, play it unsafe. But I also promised myself that, as ever, I wouldn’t sacrifice my own physical health, financial stability or personal relationships in the process. It seems this is already proving an impossible combination. I looked at the tassels. I looked at the checkout total. I looked at the tassels. I looked at the checkout total. I decided I’d spend £100 on a nice bit of jewellery, at an enormous push, so why not on the tassels? I filled in my details. Then I thought of my mum reading this blog (as she often does, to keep up with my news) and I imagined her discovering I’d spent £100 on curtain tassles to put around my waist and neck, and in my mind’s eye I saw her shoulders sag under the weight of responsibility for having spawned this tortured beast and I heard her exclaim “Ohh, Jody!” with saintly exasperation. And I decided not to buy the curtain tassels.

My heartbeat has just about returned to normal.

Is this simple purchase anxiety? It might be, but there is definitely an extra level of torture added by the fact that I don’t even want the ridiculous curtain tassels anyway and I’m only even considering spending my money on such an absurd outlay because the Guardian told me so. But presumably there are legions of people out there who buy all sorts of things for exactly thast reason, although it might be Grazia or Glamour instead of The Guardian. To me it almost feels more guiltifying to buy something you like instantly. It seems too easy. Is this a wider psychological phenomenon or is it just me? I’m not sure.

Cripes almighty, I’m going to make a cup of tea.

And so, with tea drunk, here is today’s outfit, looking nothing like the picture. It is now very late and I must literally run home to cook a duck.

Floral dance

Floral dance

Awful stance

Awful stance

Conclusions:

  • It’s all just a blur of tassels and heartbreak and flaked mackerel and dramatic shadowy music videos and Oh! I am all a-faint.

Brow beeten

Posted in Recipes by guardiangirl on March 1, 2010

Dressing in unexpected ways can produce some real delights; new hairstyles and garment combinations I’d never have thought of myself. It can also produce disasters so heinous that I risk causing myself actual physical harm through delaying toilet visits, too self-conscious to leave my seat and trek past a room full of people in that day’s foolhardy get-up.

In fact the psychological damage has relatively little to do with the outfit itself and more to do with the fact that I don’t feel comfortable in it. Friday’s skirt, borrowed from my housemate Nin, no doubt makes her look like a ravishing Thomas Hardy heroine. It made me look like a market-ready swine trussed up in a hessian sack. The fact that I also got the shoes wrong and chose an unflattering top tipped me over the edge, I’m afraid. I managed to get over it while walking around the office during the day but, when it came to after-work drinks in the pub, my confidence totally failed me and I had to go home and sob without paying a visit my old workmate’s leaving drinks elsewhere (sorry Lucy).

For the next three days I have worn my own choice of clothes, probably no different to anyone else’s eye but much more favourable in my own fragile heart. I also excused myself from cooking duty on Saturday in order to go to Photographer Cari’s birthday meal. So it has been a rather unGuardianlike few days. The lack of Measure in this week’s bumper fashion issue enabled me to spend a bit of cash on a proper pair of trainers with shock absorption and anti-pronation support (if you’ve ever had a metatarsal stress fracture these words will hold some meaning), which will surely benefit my wellbeing far more than any posh handbag.

I did achieve one Guardian-related venture this weekend though: Yotam Ottolenghi’s candy beetroot with lentils and yuzu recipe. Only without the candy beetroot. And without the yuzu (no kidding).

Candy beetroot with lentils and yuzu

Candy beetroot with lentils and yuzu

Standard beetroot with lentils and you-must-be-freakin-kidding-me-mate

Standard beetroot with lentils and you-must-be-freakin-kidding-me-mate

Very defeatist – I was in town on Sunday seeing the beautiful Irving Penn exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery and I’m sure I could’ve tracked down some yuzu nearby, especially since Yotam had kindly explained all about the stuff. A cross between lime and mandarin sounds delicious but in the end it started pouring with rain, time was ticking and I decided to go for the lime substitute instead.

The salad was disappointing. I used extra beetroot and leaves to make it go a bit further and realised there was no maple syrup in the cupboard so used manuka honey instead. But even if I had got it right, I can’t imagine it being that much tastier. We ended up putting vinegar on it for a bit of kick. Maybe it was the prepacked beets that were the problem. Anyways Phoebe had been excited about this since she opened the mag on Saturday, and I’m afraid she left with her heart broken. If only I’d been less flippant about the yuzu!

Conclusion:

  • Rather than mooch around feeling sorry for myself all weekend, a short break seems to have been a far more sensible solution. Back to fashion dictation tomorrow.

Lazy Marmalade

Posted in Brain & heart, Fashion, Recipes by guardiangirl on February 25, 2010

Last night I arrived home to the not unpleasant task of baking Chelsea buns. They took a bit of time but I did try to be patient, which was made easier by the fact that there was plenty of leftover noodle soup to stave off my hunger.

I thought I already had vitamin C tablets and strong white flour at home, so didn’t buy any on the way home. Sadly I was wrong, so the buns had to be made with plain flour and no fizzy fluffening agent. That might explain why the finished buns had the collective mass of a black hole. Also, I took my usual ‘relaxed’ approach to measuring and rising times, which has now become such a feature of my cooking style that I rarely challenge it (much against this week’s advice from Oliver Burkeman, which I have otherwise been attempting to bear in mind.)

Despite their heaviness, the buns were tasty and a proper treat stolen warm from the oven. Housemate Nin has taken the rest of the batch – plus more leftover noodle soup – to her studio to feed her students with today, so the reviewing of Guardian-created foodstuffs has now opened up to include even more opinions. Their verdict on last week’s bean and cinnamon stew, incidentally, was unanimously positive. I suspect they might be less kind about the noodle dish (which had turned into a linguine dish, and very unsouplike at that), since it had become insipid and claggy by the time I revisited it last night. Most dishes are best served lukewarm, not least revenge, but this one lost its appeal as fast as it lost its temperature.

On another note I have cheered up slightly since reading this bleak NYT article on weight gain/sedentary lifestyles.

I’ve cheered up because without a broken foot I am back to my militant walking, running, stair-climbing, bag-carrying, fidgeting way of life, and this article says to me: “dahhrling, of course a broken foot and the subsequent three months of enforced sitting down are going to affect your lumpenness levels. Stop blaming the Guardian quite so damningly for introducing you to the joys of daily suet puddings. Just keep moving around and enjoy your life like a normalton again, please, with less of this monotonous whingeing about dresses not fitting.” May the glory of Chelsea buns be officially reinstated! Whoo-hoo!

Marmalade Chelsea buns

Marmalade Chelsea buns

Badly made Chelsea buns

Badly made Chelsea buns

Say hello

Say hello

Say goodbye

Say goodbye

Conclusions:

  • I am verily not enjoying today’s outfit or its accompanying centre parting. I have put a grey blazer over the top for work, which helps a bit. It’s the kind of ensemble that just about works in front of the mirror if you ruffle up your hair, hold your head at a precise angle, suck in your tummy, adjust your blazer so it falls right, stand up tall and dim the lights. In all other conditions I suspect the positive points of the outfit fall away rapidly.
  • I promise that I’ll stop talking about the pastry/dress size correlation very soon. It has become a rather significant element of the experiment, and it is turning my blog into some sort of Rosemary Conley confessional booth. This was not my intention at all. But my intention was to be honest in my documentation of living the Guardian lifestyle, so I am caught in a trap. As traps go, however, it’s not exactly life threatening, so we’ll just breeze our way out of it elegantly.
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Jumping, fair trade

Posted in Fashion, Recipes, Uncategorized by guardiangirl on February 22, 2010

Steak salad, fairtrade cake, jumping in a pink minidress. That was the weekend for me. Wasn’t it for all Guardian readers?

Today I took the day off work and went to the Nicole Farhi show, being sure to take a packet of Mini Creme Eggs in my pocket (see this week’s Measure). I found it a curiously pleasing experience to eat chocolate while watching those coppices of bony thighs breeze by. It was like watching The Snowman in front of an open fire.

I also popped into Jigsaw and tried on the drape-front cardigan that gets the thumbs up this week. It was lovely and soft, a good colour and a great shape. But I still couldn’t make myself spend £79 on it.

Tonight, fried pineapple and ice cream. Happy times.

Mango, avocado and steak salad

Mangled avocado and steak salad

Shorts stuff

Warthog

Banana chocolate cake

Bedraggled chocolate cake

Conclusion:

• So far, the week is good and the food is great. The fashion, notsomuch.

Date night

Posted in Fashion, Recipes, Uncategorized by guardiangirl on February 19, 2010

Weirdly could find no figs in the supermarket, so Photographer Cari (remember? yay!) is sharing date cake with me instead. And taking my photo again, like the old days. Witness the return to form. On one side of the lens, anyway.

Grey

Blee

(Caption dedicated to Smash Hits readers of the ’80s).

Fig, wine and honey cake

Fug whine and hurry cake

Conclusion:

  • A pleasant cake, but was confused for bread more than once, sometimes by people who had a mouthful of it at the time.
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Primary instinct

Posted in Fashion, Interiors, Recipes by guardiangirl on February 17, 2010

I cooked Hugh’s cinnamon bean dish last night and am now, in line with his suggestion, enjoying the leftovers out of a tupperware tub the following day. It’s very nice actually, with a bit of yoghurt stirred in, but I don’t have a comparative photo to prove this fact.

However I decided it was high time for another home styling session, particularly given that I’ve just moved into a new place. My housemates may have wondered upon coming home last night why all the furniture had been slightly rearranged so it looks a bit less nice than before, but hopefully all the homemade meals will go some way towards making up for this indiscretion.

So, here’s the first in a new series of improved Space imitations. I’m not going to write damning captions because I love my new home and feel I ought to settle in for at least a week before I start to cuss it just for the sake of a cheap pun.

Hall

Hall

Sitting room

Our sitting room

Picture

Record

Candlestick

Lamp

Fashion update: this week’s first shoot has been very tricky. If it had just been jeans and t-shirts (when does that ever happen?) on a grubby model in front of a white wall, I might have been able to fit the odd snap around moving house, but painting my face with ice-creamed Kate Bush make-up, trying to squeeze into diaphanous dresses I probably don’t own, backcombing my hair, asking a friend to don a matching outfit and stand around next to me clutching flowers, getting someone else to photograph us… it just hasn’t been practical, as I imagine you can imagine.

BUT… today I am wearing not only blue tights in homage to the Guardian shoot but also the first pair of heels my feet have touched in three months! The left paw is officially better! I can’t describe to you my happiness as I clopped along the pavement swinging my bag this morning, just shy of six feet tall again, builders suddenly saying good morning and laying down their coats across puddles, bluebirds flittering at my shoulder… oh, the joy of heels! That is until I got to the train platform and realised my shoe had filled with blood. A few months of living in Converse and plimsolls has encouraged me to nudge towards the Mrs Twit in terms of my appearance. Overgrown. I need to cut my toenails if I’m to wear pointyish shoes with pleasure.

Conclusions:

  • Cinnamon and beans make a good combo, and patience pays off when sweating onions (such a horrible phrase).
  • I heart high heels so heartily.
  • I tell you, it’s a new start. New(ish) job, new home, new heels, new razor, new running plan. By the start of the summer you won’t be able to tell the difference between me and the models in the Guardian. Just you wait! Then the blog will become pointless/have reached its apex, depending on your point of view, and I will move to LA to become a chef/interior designer/model/stylist/life coach/relationship expert/make-up artist. Perfectly true.
  • I spent my Measure money and half my food budget in Ikea on Monday. What can I say? I needed storage more than I needed the Smythson Daphne bag. Next week, next week…

A harried curry

Posted in Recipes by guardiangirl on February 15, 2010

Harried might be something of an exaggeration as I very much enjoyed padding around my much bigger, posher new kitchen making this Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe last night. But dinner was merely a comma between cleaning my old flat from top to toe and trying to unpack some of the thousand or so boxes of detritus that are presently making it impossible to move around my new bedroom. You don’t need to know the finer details of my life at this point – only that I am struggling through a house move with no cash card and no storage units. This is clouding my brain and making outfit/photo-copying very difficult. A sense of humour and a world of ridiculous poses are returning… but slowly.

Here’s last night’s curry. Simple and tasty but not mind-blowing.

Chickpea, potato and kale curry

Chickpea, potato and kale curry

Chickpea, potato and cabbage in a hurry

Chickpea, potato and cabbage in a hurry

Conclusions:

  • Whether it’s breaking a foot, running out of cash, getting poorly, going on holiday or moving house, there are definitely times when the Guardian lifestyle becomes reight challenging to recreate. This week is right up there at the top of the list. But I will continue to do my very, very (nearly) best to hit the mark.
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Baking for instant gratification #3,766

Posted in Fashion, Recipes, The Measure by guardiangirl on February 11, 2010

I liked the idea of Dan Lepard’s How to Bake recipe this week, being an enthusiastic fan of cider and bread. Unfortunately though, I insist on having dinner on the table within a few hours of buying the ingredients. When it comes to food preparation, I don’t do overnighters.

Instead of trying to change my ways and learn the indubitable joys of properly risen bread from an expert, I took the decision to make this cider loaf my own way – the instant gratification way. I was willing to suffer the consequences, which turned out to be fairly minimal. Luckily I have a deep appreciation for the sort of airless, dense baked goods that wouldn’t make it past the car park of a church fête, so opening the oven door to what looked and felt like a wheaten quern stone didn’t faze me in the slightest. Liv was over and she enjoyed it too, straight from the stove with melting butter and posh raspberry jam. The best bit was the base, which I’d left stuck to the bottom of the tin when cutting the top, softer bit into slices. I managed to jemmy the base off the tin in one piece with a knife and we ate it like a giant cookie. It was pretty rad.

NB I couldn’t find pure rye flour so I used a wholemeal multigrain seeded bonanza I found down J Sains.

Cider rye

Cider rye

Slightly wry

Slightly wry

I didn’t do a good job of this aesthetically speaking, but I did enjoy the eating. Bravo.

I also ought to address the matter of Topshop trophy jumpers. I am still living on cash because of a banking problem. I forgot to put money from my stash into my purse yesterday morning as I was in a rush to adorn my wrists with gold cuffs. I realised this at 5.30pm as I contemplated setting off to Topshop. No Eiffel Tower sweater. Not enormously disappointed. Ends.

And on to today’s outfit, about which I have no complaints. Miraculous!

Spring

Spring

has sprung

has sprung

I guess every photo’s going to be pretty much identical for the rest of the week.

Conclusions:

  • Today’s post was brought to you by the Society for the Preservation of Overlooked Tools.
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