Guardian Girl

Saturday 15 August

Posted in Fashion, First impressions, Recipes, The Measure by guardiangirl on August 17, 2009

First impressions:

Fashion

  • My lack of a large selection of gilets in differing fabrics is going to set me back a bit here – and finding grass long enough to stand in rather than on, let alone a wheatfield, is going to be quite a challenge in Hackney.
  • Plus another bunch of menswear that, when recreated with my own wardrobe, just means jeans and a shirt every day.

The Measure

  • I popped over to the home of my internet-connected friends to Google most of this stuff in order to gauge how attainable/affordable it was going to be. The French Connection blouse looks lovely and is even more affordable given that I get 50% discount there thanks to my wunder-0-chum Adam, but aside from that every single thing (trainers, jewellery, bag) costs way more than I could afford, even given my determination to follow this experiment faithfully. Disappointing. I wonder how much the average Guardian reader earns?

Recipes

Brain and heart

  • I’ve mostly been avoiding cataloging the more emotional side of the advice in the Weekend magazine because I intend this blog to be more of an experiment about the do-ability of cooking, dressing and shopping as the Guardian suggests than about my psychological welfare each week. After all, there’s narcissism and then there’s narcissism. There’s some very good advice in this bumper happiness issue, by the looks of things, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to use my blog as a gratitude diary. What happens on tour stays on tour (in this scenario the tour is my internal life, and be happy it’s staying that way, since my internal life would probably have at least one thing in common with Aerosmith’s Get a Grip tour of 1993-94).

Make-up

  • No Lauren Luke! I’m relieved to have a break from uploading four close-ups of my face shot in bad light, and it’ll be nice to wear make-up that goes with the clothes I’m in. Only it’s mostly menswear this week, so looks like I’ll be bare-faced this week.

So the outfit today was just shirt and jeans for me as I don’t have a wide range of trousers to get it right. The photo was a little tricky, but my friend Thomas managed to get a pretty good snap of me hanging backwards off a park bench in some undergrowth. You can’t really see the clothes but since they didn’t match very well anyway today, the photo is really just for keeping up appearances.

After summer

After summer

 

Dafter summer

Dafter summer

Dinner for the evening was a very nice chicken pie recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi standing in for Hugh FW. The logistics of shopping with friends on the way home from the pub meant we were limited to Tesco Metro’s selection of ingredients. I used curry paste instead of harissa, boned my own thighs (…), replaced the sour cream in the pastry with soured cream dip (which seemed to work well) and used lemon zest instead of preserved lemon. Because it was late and we were hungry, I skipped the stages that called for letting things cool down – never my strong point anyway. All in all it tasted good – although better cold for breakfast the next morning.
Chicken pie

Chicken pie

Don't judge a book by its cover

Don't judge a book by its cover

I can tell how successful a recipe was by how much I wish I still had a slice in my fridge when I upload the photo later. This one’s making me slaver.
Conclusions:
  • There’s not enough grass in London. Or wheatfields. Could Agnes Denes pay a visit? Perhaps I should’ve popped to Dalston Mill for a photoshoot.
  • There aren’t enough cooking ingredients in Tesco Metros. They’re for those times you just need beer and some filled pasta things aren’t they. Planning, planning, planning.

Wednesday 12 August

Posted in Fashion, Make-up, Recipes, The Measure by guardiangirl on August 13, 2009
Lady

Lady

 

...and the Tramp

...and the Tramp

First things first – sorry about the impenetrable block of text below. I’ve gone through putting returns in three times and it still doesn’t work, so will investigate further and sort it out soon.

On this day in history… a simple black dress, ballet pumps and an up-do. Mercy me.

I have no white stockings with origami-like ruffles up the back, but can I be expected to? It’s another case of getting the details wrong, I’m afraid. I might soon resubtitle this project ‘My failure to succeed at becoming a Guardian cliche’, which, for a twenty-something, white, middle-class media professional, is really saying something about my ability to fail.
For all my recent bosating about getting better at doing my hair thanks to Priscilla Kwateng, today’s effort was a bit of a shocker. I pinned the plaits messily to my head so there were frizzy ends and kirby grips sticking out all over the place, and the top knot was more of a top tangle.
Before going home for the evening I had another little Measure mission to fulfil, which was buying the Dallas box set. Or one of them. I planned to find a burgundy silk blouse to really get into the spirit but the only one I found, in M&S, had no shoulder pads. That must be the first time I rejected a possible purchase on the basis that it didn’t have shoulder pads.
I found a kind-of wicked blouse in River Island with crazily big, frouffy shoulders and a nice print and shape, but it wasn’t very silky and or very burgundy – plus, after looking at my reflection for a while and hearing that American baseball game countdown music ringing in my ears,  I wasn’t sure if I was ready for such big shoulder puffs.
I was also haunted by a premonition (if that’s possible) of being sniggered at by my colleagues. I guess around Dalston no one would bat an eyelid but I like to be able to go to work dressed as myself, unedited in the main, and this top would have to get the red pencil. So I didn’t buy it. Incidentally I can’t find the blouse in question on the River Island website but the fact that they classify garments under the heading ‘bar tops’ says a lot about what’s wrong with a) River Island and b) bars.
I resisted another tempting purchase in HMV when I realised there are about eleven Dallas box sets, all at the bargain price of £12 each. I’m not even sure I like Dallas. Apart from some atavistic knowledge of Sue Ellen, who shot JR, the dream thing and the playground version of the theme song, I don’t actually have any familiarity with this programme. I might hate it, although it seems unlikely. So I was good, listened to my retail palpitations and just bought the one box for now.
I also bore in mind the impression it might make on visitors to my small flat when they walked in to discover that the only DVDs I owned consituted the entire history of Dallas, taking up half the sitting room. Bit weird, no?
The one remaining obstacle to success on this matter was that I didn’t have a DVD player or a laptop. I went to Argos and discovered you can get a portable player for £60, with the screen built in, so I bought it. This might sseem a bit financially irresponsible if considered in the context of needing to be able to watch Dallas to comply with The Measure, but I think it’s actually quite a wise purchase. At the moment I survive on a cultural diet of the Guardian (which already pulls more than its weight of influence on my life these days, that is quite clear), my record collection and Resonance FM.
These things are all fantastic in their own ways but they lend an austere atmosphere to my life compared to the days of old when I lived with two boys and got addicted to Dog the Bounty Hunter (purely my own doing). The addition of a film or two in the evenings would be nice, I admit, even if I won’t let a telly through the door.
So I took the DVD player home in the faith it’d add a little technological luxury to my life and baked mysefl a celebratory yoghurt pie.
So far I’ve found Yotam’s recipes to work pretty well even when followed lackadaisically, and this one certainly didn’t taste horrible. But there were a few things I did – or didn’t do – that marred the end result a bit.
First, I forgot to soak the vine leaves and thought it wouldn’t matter too much. But actually without blanching they were a little tough and very salty, as I used the ones in brine. I also missed the part about cutting off the tough bit at the stem, which is a shame as they made the pie difficult to slice – and chew. It was no real obstacle for me but I’m glad I wasn’t cooking for guests that night, as a slightly more fussy eater would have found this texture offputting.
The filling was nice, although a bit thick, I think because  I put too little yogurt in (ate the rest with honey while pie was in oven, surprise surprise). I couldn’t find all the herbs I needed in Sainsbury’s and the filling could have been seasoned better.
Also I topped the pie with a whole packet of dried breadcrumbs rather than only a tablespoon or two, because I thought they’d go off if I didn’t use them, and I don’t like to waste. I guess they would’ve frozen OK in retrospect, as bread does. I thought they’d go all crispy-gooey and lovely but the pie was altogether too dry and it just went very crumbly and sandy, really. Not great.
On the plus side, Yotam’s tabbouleh from last week, which I’d blasphemously made using couscous, made a pretty nice hot dish to go alongside the pie.
Pie

Pie

 

Dry

Dry

 

Mine actually looks kind of good in the comparison here, but only because I photographed my copy of the Weekend magazine so badly. I’m sure the favourable appearance wouldn’t stand up to a taste test.
And finally, this week’s Lauren Luke look.
I’ve really been enjoying this, actually. The photos don’t illustate what it actually looks like but I have some lovely purple Lancome eyeshadow and am finding for once that the primer Lauren suggests is really making a difference to how bright the colour looks and how long it stays on. I like wearing black eyeliner on just the lower lids – it makes me feel, if not look, a bit Bambi eyed. And the addition of some pink lipstick (in my case free lipgloss off the front of Zest magazine about five years ago) is making my face look like more of a sweet shop than a sweat shop for a change, rather than the usual pelted-by-tom-thumb-drops-travelling-at-high-speed look (see last week’s if you don’t know what I mean).
Violet

Violet

Violent

Violent

 

Special gratitude this week to Michelle, who did my photoshopping for me from all the way across the globe in Korea because my new design regular Jonny is poorly. AMAZing girl.
Conclusions:
  • Blanching vine leaves makes all the diffference, I imagine.
  • I’m getting a bit tired of the limited scope of the Sainsbury’s fresh herb selection. Isn’t everyone using them since Jamie Oliver started ripping them up and bunging them in everything? I’m sure they’d sell fine.
  • Experimentation with quantities isn’t always going to work – and with dry breadcrumb topping it didn’t.
  • River Island has the odd nice blouse. As always with that shop, though – stay away from naked flames.
  • Can’t wait to climb into bed early of an evening with that night’s recipe and a new episode of Dallas. Does this mean I’ve become old before my time? Undoubtably.

Tuesday 11 August

Posted in Fashion, The Measure by guardiangirl on August 12, 2009

My magnificent pal Adam had very thoughtfully brought some geeky spec frames with him when he visited me at the weekend, so that I might better replicate this look:

Glasses

Glasses

Farces

Farces

I don’t think I’ll rush out to buy a pair and you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t wear them at my desk – only in the bogs. I think prescription-free specs are just about acceptable but if they don’t even have plastic in them, let alone lenses, they ought to be attached to a fake ‘tache in a dressing-up box.

After work I went on a little Measure-fulfilling mission, which was fun and successful. This experiment hasn’t dictated that I buy too much stuff lately, apart from a million pounds-worth of cooking ingredients each week, so I didn’t feel too guilty. Plus these were actually quite reasonable suggestions – a useful jacket and a white dress to do some small justice to the Ibiza dream despite not having the time or cash to book a holiday. I visited no fewer than four Warehouse concessions before I found the right jacket in the Argyll St branch, but it is a nice blazer, although not especially flattering. Bit Poddington Peas if you know what I mean.

Then I popped to Topshop and found a white maternity dress  reduced to £12. I highly recommened maternity wear to anyone who doesn’t already have some in her wardrobe. It’s so roomy. Admittedly I do look quite pregnant in this dress and you can tell its intended use from the fact that the hem dips down at the front to take up the slack for the baby who’s meant to be there but, in my case, isn’t. It also has an elasticated panel in the front, come to think of it. Is it a bit Hand That Rocks the Cradle to wear a maternity dress when you’re not pregnant? Could it jinx my fertility forever? Never mind –  I’m as barren as a nine-bob bit anyway.

By the time I got home I was ready to fail at the last of Hugh’s fruity recipes. Lemon verbena syrup sounds delicious but I’ve yet to find it on sale in the shops near me and it was 9pm by the time I arrived home from town. As usual I paid homage to his ideas (just to keep up the momentum of the experiment really) by eating some cakes. Heh. Ummm..

Because my performance with the recipes has been unforgivably disappointing so far this week I offer a photo as a peace offering. It’s the back of the t-shirt of a man I was walking behind down Edgware Rd. The slogan is the catchiest thing since Yes We Can.

 

 

aMAZing
aMAZing

 

My second gift to you is a snippet of conversation I overheard as I stood next to a young couple looking at floral dresses in Warehouse. The girl motioned to a particular example and said: ‘How about that one?’

‘Nah,’ said her boyfriend. ‘It wouldn’t suit you. I tell you who wears that sort of stuff a lot and looks really good in it though, and that’s my ex, Lizzie.’

She smiled sweetly and asked ‘Oh, did she?’ as they walked off arm in arm. I hope she was planning to slip some arsenic into his tea later.

 

Conclusions:

  • No geek specs for me.
  • Thank goodness the week of fruit preserves is over, as these recipes almost made me give up the whole experiment. It’s disheartening to aspire to such a distilled mainstay of rural life when you have neither the time, the equipment nor the patience to yield results.
  • Next up is Yotam’s yoghurt pie, which I promise to cook to the very best of my ability.

Saturday 8 August

Posted in Fashion, First impressions, Make-up, Recipes, The Measure by guardiangirl on August 10, 2009

This week I was in good company for the grand moment of opening the Weekend magazine to see what magic was on its way – my friend Adam was up from Brighton for a few days. He’d already read the magazine that morning, lending the event even more ceremonial weight as he knew what was coming and I didn’t.

However the suspense was mainly in vain as this looked to be a pretty unremarkable issue.

So…First impressions

Fashion

Where’s the usual fashion story? There’s only All Ages to be seen this week. It’s quite a relief as these outfits tend to be much more wearable – not to mention the poses being infinitely more poseable. Plus it’s all black this week. What could be easier for the average girl? Adam had also very thoughtfully brought me a belt and geek-chic glasses frames so I could more accurately follow the fashions later this week… watch this space.

The Measure

Wide, pale belts

No complaints – a nice Jigsaw belt by the looks of things, although doubtless not cheap.

Hiking…

…boots with heels? Insert retching noise here. I guess the ones in the picture aren’t that bad, maybe with pale-ish skinny jeans and a baggy vest or something. Oh, I dunno, I’m sure I’ll like them if I see them often enough, but whether these will ever make it to the high street is questionable.

The Rachel Zoe Project

I see, it’s a TV programme, which is why I knew nothing of it when it was mentioned before (no TV). While I think this woman is pretty and I sort of want to be her in the same unthinkingly ridiculous way I sort of want my bum to look how it did when I was seven years old, I fundamentally hate everything this woman stands for and think she usually looks like a doll in a dishcloth. I can’t imagine it being in any way healthy for me to watch this programme, so it’s a damn good job I don’t have a telly. And I think buying one for this purpose goes too much against my time-spending ethics. I’d far rather spend three hours baking the perfect meringue for my Cotswold Mess or chopping parsley into 3mm lengths than spend three hours sitting on my rump watching a shiny-haired vacuum in an off-the-shoulder dress parade up and down a shop floor, or whatever goes on in Rachel Zoe’s Polly Pocket world*.

*I’m sure she’s a really lovely person, though. I’m sure she is. Only slightly responsible for getting a generation of 14-year-olds hooked on laxatives. We all have our flaws, after all.

Brown legs in white dresses; sea views and bougainvillea

Enough! I used up all my holiday this year already so my forthcoming five-day break in Hamburg will have to do. But my god, those words, so evocative.

Dallas

I’ve only ever seen Dallas in 2-min clips on Youtube so I might actually break through the paper walls of my Amish lifestyle and buy a cheap DVD player with a screen inbuilt so I can watch this box-set in bed. Whoopeee – hairspray, lipstick, drama. Oh heck, maybe I should start watching Rachel Zoe after all.

Moaning

So from now on, each time someone asks me how I am, the answer has to be ‘AMAZING’. This will be interesting. I don’t mind losing a few pennies or my self-respect during the course of this experiment, but I hadn’t planned to lose all my friends…

“Overboard”

No worries  –  I don’t own no deck shoes.

Thigh boots. On men

Hooray for not having a penis – it would be impossible for me to get this one wrong.

Bulky rolled-up sleeves

Damn it. I have bulky rolled-up sleeves about 94% of the time as I’ve recently found myself to be  consistently too hot and inappropriately dressed. Anyway I like the Duran Duranity of rolled-up sleeves. But this Warehouse blazer sounds nice so I’m willing to buy it in and give it a go if the rest of the week is relatively cheap.

Lauren Luke’s purple eyes

Yay! Those readers of this blog who bought the paper itself will know that Lauren looked really pretty with her indigo peepers this week, and I already have a fair amount of midnight-purpley eye make-up that I love wearing. So this is the only make-up look so far other than the Dita von Teese one that I’d naturally choose for my face. Thank the lord, it’s going to be a good week on the cosmetics front if nothing else. And talking of nothing else…

Fruity little numbers

Hugh has aggravated me this week (boo hoo, I hear him sob) by spending far too much time boiling fruits and berries. I don’t like boiling fruit and berries for a long time! It makes me uneasy to leave an unwatched pot, plus it uses up lots of money on my pauper’s electricity meter. I predict from the off that I won’t be making proper preserves as they also involve sterilising jars and waiting months to eat things. If I can’t wait ten minutes for chocolate sauce to cool, do you think I can wait four months to taste a drop of homemade Ribena? Tsk.

The new vegetarian

Yum, yoghurt pie, mmmmmm.

Black olive gougeres

Looking like something I’d love to eat and hate to bake. Is that most things? Possibly, but I’ll give these a whirl. Maybe they’ll be one of those things that fall into the category apparently defined by souffles (Nigella says so), whereby they seem tricky and impressive yet are basic to do as long as you follow the… oh, wait, you have to follow the recipe. That is tricky.

Wine

Quite reasonable, cheapish and easy-to-get-hold-of suggestions here.

This column will change your life

Looks like another one where you read Oliver Burkeman’s article, think how very interesting it is, stare into space with a wry/wistful smile for a while and conclude that what you can best take away from it is to continue in exactly the same vein as you were before. The kind of advice I like, really. However I will try to put more into the practice the wisdom discussed here about the relative futility of turning over a new leaf – especially given that I am such an avid turner over of leaves I’m practically a strong breeze. Hmm, symbolic.

‘It was a bit of a pipe dream’

As interors features go, probably not much for me to do here but stand in a sleeping bag and have my photo taken.

 

So all in all, the conclusions are that the fashion and make-up will be much as I would usually go for, the cooking is largely going to irritate me and encourage me into improvisations so far from the original recipe as to be humorous, and I might get to buy a few nice bits of clothing. Pretty simple, pretty dull, pretty all right by me.

After first impressions had been harvested and shared with Adam, cider had been drunk and crosswords had been laboured over in the sunshine, we decided to get a few jobs out of the way so we could relax. The first tasks to tackle were a belt from Jigsaw, as seen in the Measure, above, and the commitment to start saying ‘AMAZING!’ whenever I’m asked how I am. I can tell you, as I’m writing this account on Monday, that it feels very much at odds with my character to gush in quite this way so early in a conversation, but the phrase sticks like mud on a wall or whatever the right phrase is. Adam and I ended up describing pretty much everything as AMAZING! all weekend, which was much less irritating for us than for anyone in our vicinity, expecially since the ‘joke’ increased in volume and horsiness as it did in frequency. My mum called up just now for our usual Monday chat and when she asked how I was, I told her I was ‘AMAAAAZING’ and she sounded so mum-pleased, which made me feel guilty as I don’t actually have much to report and am not particularly amazing after all.

But rewind to Saturday and the belt. We were in Dalston and Jigsaw was in Oxford Circus or Charing Cross. Neither shop was moving towards us at any great pace and we were unwilling to move towards the shops, so we went into an internet cafe and ordered a belt online instead. With P&P added I spent about 30-odd quid on this belt, and it was even in the sale, I think! I forget the original price. Nice, though. They only had a medium one left, which makes me nervous. Apparently the belt has been dispatched, so in a few days’ time we’ll discover whether it fits. I hope so.

I spent most of saturday in my weekend slobbing clothes but changed into the Guardian outfit ready to go out later. We decided I looked like Sharon out of EastEnders in this get-up. Witness:

Sloane Square

Sloane Square

Albert Square

Albert Square

We were planning to go out to meet my bro at a night at which this outfit would, I reckon, have been very poorly received. Perhaps even dangerously poorly received. Luckily (although sadly in terms of not seeing my brother), Adam and I decided to lie on the bed and ask each other questions  from my Brainbox quiz (recommended for ages 12-13) before we went out, which sent us to sleep, and the outfit never made it further than the corner shop to buy gin for that night’s recipe….

…which was blackcurrant liqueur. Adam, usually a confirmed follower of rules with exactitude, was having a mini-break in Reckless World, so we decided we’d simply empty a bottle of vodka, a bottle of red wine, some sugar and two jars of blueberry jam (high fruit content stuff, mind) into a massive pan and heat it up for a while. Then we poured it over gin and ice and got pretty drunk. It was delicious, but it was like drinking jam, I warn you, in case you should decide to do the same thing yourself.
Blackcurrant liqueur

Blackcurrant

Abhorrent

Abhorrent

Conclusions:
  • Bit of an unexciting but restful-looking week – or is it just that I’ve been doing this experiment more than a month now and it’s wearing a bit thin?
  • Black outfits are easy to copy.
  • Purple make-up wins easily against green or blue.
  • Liqueur is fun to make in terms of mixing, but the sieving and cooling and sterilising sound more like vet training vocab than cooking words to me. Stay out of my kitchen, vet training!

Fried halloumi with runner bean salad

Posted in Recipes by guardiangirl on July 23, 2009

Last night had to be the most successful evening of cooking so far. First of all the fried halloumi with runner bean salad turned out absolutely lovely. The ingredients were easy to find and not too expensive. I was able to follow each step faithfully rather than leaping up them two at a time, coat tails flying in the wind. There were no feelings of frustration or inadequacy. I love Rosie Sykes for this. I also defrosted and heated through my previous beetroot salad and raspberry tarts with great success, making a full-on Guardian meal of loveliness for my bezzer mate and I.

Fried halloumi with runner bean salad

Fried halloumi with runner bean salad

Fried halloumi with runner bean salad! Nailed it!

Fried halloumi with runner bean salad! Nailed it!

Conclusion:
  • I feel a bit like a school kid saying goodbye to a really lovely supply teacher. ‘Miss Sykes, why can’t you write recipes for the Guardian every week?’ (I know she used to. Maybe they could get her back if they offered her a payrise?)
  • The ingredients for this one managed to be tasty and unusual enough to warrant writing about, but not hard to find and not too pricey. Even though there was a fair amount of preparation involved, none of it was too fiddly or complicated