Wednesday, 30 June 2010

(Early) Link of the month - Catalog Living

I know it's not July yet, but I just had to post this link of the month as I haven't laughed out loud like this at a website in some time. You know those overly styled images of 'beautiful homes', the likes of which you see in magazines like Elle Interiors? I'm talking giant glass vases of red apples, grandma´s antique jewellery hanging from a doorknob and artfully unmade beds. Catalog Living parodies the lives of the people who might live in those pictures. Check it out, and if you don't get it at first, take a closer look at the photos :-)

Enjoy x
P.s. Thanks Catherine for sending me this link!

Be a lady that lunches in Madrid

The good thing about going for an early evening aperitif in Madrid is the variety; one afternoon you might fancy cañas (tiny measures of ice-cold lager) at a bohemian terraza in the dishevelled yet increasingly on-the-up neighbourhood of Lavapies, another day it could be Mojitos in one of the over-crowded hippy-chic bars in La latina and sometimes (ok, very occasionally) you might just want to hang out in your local ‘old man bar’ – this Madrileño institution fascinated me for my first few months here; granite work tops, unflattering strip lighting, ensaladilla rusa (‘russian’ potato salad) cemented with dollops of mayonnaise, sculpted into domes and ornamented with olives and anchovies, slot machines, and of course, the ubiquitous old men, who line up at the bar downing black coffee laced with whisky, animatedly exchanging anecdotes or staring trance-like at the sports news on the flat screen TV. So '70s. Anyway, that was my poetic little bit about old men bars :-)

Sometimes however, you want something a bit different, you want to get out your best handbag and rub shoulders with groomed señoras with perfect helmet-hair and huge pearl earrings. You want to be a lady that lunches. Or at least a lady that drinks Martinis or enjoys her tea in fine bone china. Here are some suggestions for when a more pija ambience takes your fancy:

Living in London

I think I’ve blogged about this before. It’s a little ‘English’ tea place in the heart of Alonso Martínez (C/Santa Engracia 4). Decked out like Fortnum and Mason's and serving real Earl Grey from dainty silverware, it’s one of the few places in Madrid you can get a cream tea. I also recommend the bresaola and rocket finger sandwich. Has a little shop annexed to it selling such sundries as Walker’s crisps at extortionate prices, and a partner store a couple of doors down selling traditional English homewares – bearing in mind whoever owns this place must think Brits frolic about the house in chintz pinnies pruning our miniature rose bushes with William Morris stamped secateurs (Sp?). I love the sentiment however.

El Espejo

In the heart of museum-land on Paseo de Recoletos is the art deco pavillion El Espejo. I admit that I’ve only been for a Vermut on the terazza but I plan to go back and see what it’s like to eat inside. Even if you don’t want to eat here, its worth ordering something in the pavement cafe if only for the people watching and live piano music.


Maybe even a little posher than the above 2, after all we are ladies (and boys) that lunch :-) I ended up here completely by accident when meeting the friend of a friend. Established getting on for 100 years ago by an Irish emigree who complained that there was nowhere in Madrid where a lady could go unaccompanied for a cup of tea. Thanks to her, us ladies can do tea here (in company or otherwise). Great tea list, pastries, restaurant and delicatessen. Get to the tea room early to ensure you get a table.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Spanish fashion at Hazel

I've mentioned Hazel here before, which along with Hakei (and Zara of course!) is one of my favourite Spanish fashion brands. Anyway, I came across these photos in their online lookbook, and thought the clothes and in particular the accessories were so pretty with such attention to detail that I posted them here in case anyone doesn't know this shop!

I rate... Longchamp Le Pliage

I'm not a total bag junkie, but I do have quite a few of them - little satin clutches, roomy beige leather holdalls, white totes for summer and the odd black shopper for the weekend. One bag I'll always come back to is the Longchamp Le Pliage, I sometimes wonder if this little folding marvel is a bit tacky? A bit touristy? Typical duty-free shop fayre. But I can't help it, I love it! I especially love it because I'm incredibly lazy and in winter I carry the black one with brown trim as it means that whether I'm wearing black or brown shoes (my two mainstays for winter footwear) I don't need to change bags. Lazy me :-) Also, I love travel, and as it folds up tiny, you can easily take a couple of them in your suitcase. And now summer's here I need a new one in airy summer colours. Pink anyone? Though knowing my love of clean lines I'll end up with simple white...

Helen Levitt - Photoespaña

My friend Sophie is a great culture vulture, and thanks to her I've managed to see quite a few exhibitions in Madrid's annual photography season Photoespaña. I wanted to mention one of the shows here as I liked it so much - Helen Levitt's City Lyrics - a collection of her photos of New York from 1936-1993 with a special focus on the lives of ordinary people, in particular children, on the streets of the Big Apple. Moving and lovely stuff. Can be seen at the Museo Colecciones ICO (Near the Thyssen museum) until the end of August.

Photo above is from the collection, from ICO's website.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

New yoga blog

Just to let you know I've set up a new blog to document my first steps in yoga. I hope to be able to post there regularly on how that side of my life is getting on - from my experiences with slightly eccentric Hindu monks here in Madrid and the heated Vinyasa classes that almost made me faint, through to the yoga retreat I'm doing this summer in Bali and beyond. Check out The Yoga Diaries. :-)))

Friday, 25 June 2010

Spanish film night

Instead of watching the Spain-Chile World Cup match tonight I am sacreligiously considering giving it all up to curl up at home with a couple of DVDs. The reason? Yesterday I had a bit of an impromptu night out and let's just say I'm feeling a little worse for wear. What was meant to be quickly popping into the exhibition of a friend of a friend's comic drawings ended with a huge margarita in a bar whose name I can't rememember on c/Moratín. The excuse for such unsuitable behaviour on a school night is that I'm doing a guest post on someone else's blog on the best cocktails in Madrid and a friend had promised me the pisco sours in this unnamed bar were amazing. One problem, they had run out of pisco, so it's mexican cousin margarita had to stand in. More like kick in, I'm used to drinking margaritas in a martini-type glass, not from a bucket. Luckily my friends saw to it that I was home by 1a.m., but instead of sensibly going to bed I felt this was an appropriate time to watch an episode of desperate housewives and do a bit of writing. Anyway, it's now 3pm, I've just got home from work and needless to say the last thing I fancy is night of beer and football. Instead, I stopped by the fanastic cine de autor DVD rental place near my flat, Ficciones, and picked up a couple of Spanish films I've been meaning to see for ages: Isabel Coixet's Secret life of words and Almodovar's The bad education. I loved Coixet's My life without me (if you haven't seen it, please do, you will cry but in a good way) and I have to say 'Pedro' doesn't always float my boat so I'm hoping this movie will turn me round. I'll let you know :-)

Monday, 21 June 2010

The best interior design blogs in the world

Well, according to The Times anyway. Here is their list of their 50 of the world's best design blogs.  I haven't had the chance to peruse these yet - I'll do so at the weekend - though at a glance I can see some of my favourites are on there. About 2 years ago (before the 3rd time in 6 months that my kitchen had to be refitted due to structural problems) I used to be a huge interior design-boffin. After this, my interest strayed from such matters, but I don't know, lately I've been eyeing up cushions and sideboards in such way that makes me think I'm no longer on the rebound :-)

Saturday evening

I had a lovely evening on Saturday - dinner at a friend's house, delicious prawns, lots of laughs and dodgy music :-)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

El Horno

In my quest to find the right type of yoga for me and the right teacher, this weekend I did a Vinyasa yoga class at El Horno - quite a well-known dance studio in Tirso de Molina just 10 minutes from where I live. To the right is the photo of the school's patio. I had been here years back for a sevillanas class, but hadn't returned since, despite being told that the not-unattractive actor Hugo Silva goes there for capoeira. From what I'd read on the school's website I was completely unprepared for what Vinyasa yoga was. We went through what must be the most gruelling work out I've done in years, a flowing sequence of demanding postures and stretches, with highly controlled breathing all done in a heated room (as you can imagine, blowing hot air into a room in Madrid in June makes it pretty damn hot). On this occasion, El Horno certainly lived up to its meaning, the oven. I was by far the least stong and flexible in the class but felt good that I managed to stick with it for the hour and a half duration of the lesson - in which we all sweated, unnattractively, and profusely, literally buckets. Initially I was a bit worried about fainting from the heat, but thankfully that didn't happen! The class was more than my current class, but it was longer and the instruction was definitely superior - I liked the fact that the teacher - instead of just doing his own yoga moves - actually walked round the room, instructing, overseeing, and on ocassion, scolding! I felt great after the class, though one day later I hurt in places I didn't know existed. I'm considering going back for more punishment and I'm wondering if this type of yoga has the mental benefits of hatha? But then when I think of the great muscle tone some of the other girls in the class had (regardless of their shape or size) a shallow something inside me says 'the mind will wait, work that body!'

Mercado de Antón Martín

A secondary benefit of my new found decision to get up and exercising on Saturday mornings is that I can make it to the Mercado de Antón Martín on C/Santa Isabel before it shuts at 2. This large covered market is just 5 minutes from my house, but as it involves climbing a hill and getting dressed before midday on a Saturday I tend to give it a miss and end up buying food from expensive little corner shops or Carrefour - both of which sell the world's most flavourless fruit and vegetables. When I got there yesterday I could have kicked myself for not shopping there sooner - there was a great variety of stalls and the owners were invariable cheery and helpful. I homed in on a stand selling corn-fed chicken and free-range eggs from Galicia - I've since tried both - as scrambled eggs for breakfast and as pasta with chicken, lemon, and asparagus - delicious on both counbts. It's not all tradional Spanish fayre though, between the stalls of embutidos and tins of preserved fish I was really surprised to find a sushi kiosk right there in the middle of the market. I got there so early that Japanese girl who runs it was still setting up, but it looked great and really fresh, and I'll definitely be back to sample some. Perhaps I'll get some sushi in for this dinner party that I've been threatening to host for the past 6 months :-)

Thursday, 17 June 2010

G&Ts Bristol-style

Yesterday evening I met with a group of old friends for dinner at the Bristol Bar on c/Almirante 20 in Chueca, and as ever, when trying somewhere new, I like to give my opinion :-)

The decor in the Bristol is half English gentlemen’s club – half trendy Chueca and the clientele midweek is a smart after-work crowd. But perhaps the main reason to come is to sample one of the over 60 varieties of Gin on offer – perfect, if like me, your favourite tipple is a bit of ‘mother’s ruin’. As a Brit I have to say some of the props and references seemed a bit faux-posh and made me grin – the Churchill Lounge (pictured right, with portraits of said prime minister), the Upper Class Gin Club (puhleese!) and huge prints of Queen Victoria, the royal insignia and the Bristol Suspension Bridge. But then again, sometimes it’s nice to wallow in another nation's nostalgic view of what your country is like :-)

Back to last night. After a G&T – yes, I had a G&T before dinner, we sat down to eat. We started with some good foie gras with caramelised apple and melba toast, a couple of us followed this with bangers and mash and the others tried the Cajun swordfish, salmon fishcakes and club sandwich. The bangers and mash were ok, more than ok, but not amazing. We finished off with apple pie and custard – again perfectly acceptable but not-mind-blowing. Other Anglo Saxon influenced dishes on the menu are steak and Guinness pie, toad in the hole and fish and chips Refreshingly they had a good selection of international wines, so we went with a delicious South African red in honour of the World Cup. All in all a good evening and it was great to catch up with people . Would I go back? Maybe not for dinner but definitely for a drink and perhaps next time to sample their brunch and English breakfast. Chin chin.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

iPod shuffle = Cute...

...and the perfect running mate - clips on to your hoodie and weighs less than nothing. I even managed to get the last acid-green one in the shop :-)

Monday, 14 June 2010

Look in the mirror and what do I see?

A smiley girl, a stable girl (as in solid, not as in works with horses), and these days a bit of a stressed girl. I have a confession to make -yoga is stressing me out, Yes, yoga, my panacea, my antidote to anxiety :-) To be fair, I don't think it's really yoga that's winding me up. I think it's the pressure I feel to get to 3 classes a week on time (silly as that might sound), to go running, to do my best at work, to run a tight ship at home, to have a good social life, to be a good friend, to learn the basic rudiments of French, to read books that'll make me think and to try and keep the freelance work coming in yet not allow it to devour me. This is mostly self-induced pressure of course and the crazy thing is I felt less stressed when I was working 7 days a week just a month back - ironic!

I know it sounds like I'm being self-indulgent and whining about nothing - after all it's not like I have a load of kids to look after, and I realise I'm lucky to have '2 jobs' during a recession and be able to indulge in activities which improve my quality of life. However, it seems like my promise to self from a couple of weeks ago is becoming a bit of a ball and chain. And as for yoga, I'm finding the constant and slightly pressing invitations from the teacher to go to weekend yoga retreats with 'the group' or eat vegetarian food a little, well, tiresome. This will sound weird, but I also feel as if I'm supposed to be dating - even though I don't really want to and don't have time to. Neverthless, people who know me tell me I seem really happy and erm 'glowing' - their words, not mine I promise! (it's the Guerlain) So I guess I must be very good at giving the outside appearance of having an active and fulfilling life with none of the downsides.

It's not all bad of course, blogging is not remotely stressful. Over the past 2 years I have turned to 'here' again and again in moments of stress and strife, and I'm incredibly thankful to have this form of release :-) Anyway, onwards and upwards I say, I need to look for solutions to this percieved problem - perhaps I just ought to do less and do it well rather than trying to be superwoman. After all the only person I'm trying to prove stuff to here is me, and 'me' could sure do with being a bit more understanding!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Haircuts and movies

A couple of weeks back I blogged about the possibility of having movie nights with my film-buff pals C and J. Well, yesterday evening (before watching the UK-USA draw at a local bar) I went with them to see, À bout de souffle (Breathless in England/USA), a French film from the 60's, in the lovely cinema at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. My very crude summary would be that it's about a petty thief attempting to escape the law and his love affair with a cool Amercian girl who's studying at the Sorbonne. I have to say I wasn't blown away, but I did like the interaction between the impossibly cute protagonists - Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Selberg. It was also lovely to be able to recognise just a few phrases in French :-)

Throughout the movie Jean Selberg sports a gorgeous crop, something I could never get away with. I think there is a certain myth that to have such short hair and still look feminine you need to be very beautiful - I don't think this is stricty true - but I do think you need to have killer cheekbones and a sort of elfin look - neither of which is true in my case. But it did make me think, how lovely it would be never to have to blowdry again, to just wash and go, what freedom!

All this talk of hair is because I am thinking about getting a haircut, something which I often find to be totally traumatic - what if they cut it ALL off? Nothing too short, just a sort of long bob - a bit like what I have now, but shorter and with more shape and vavavoom :-) Below is some of my 'hairspiration':

Whilst we were at the Circulo, we also checked out an exhibition by Hungarian Bauhaus era photographer and artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which is certainly worth a look. However, as usual, my attention was captured by the banal rather any particular masterpiece - hence my snap of the cinematic toilet doors in the bellas artes cinema:

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Link of the month – tastespotting

Remember when recipe books used to be page upon page of text with the odd photo slotted in for interest (that photo was usually of something called ‘fisherman’s whatever’ and was displayed in an earthenware bowl, alongside a still life of root vegetables and perhaps a bottle of that Portuguese rosé in a basket and some sort of raffia mat beneath). How times have changed. Nowadays cookbooks are all about the photos – simple photos, white backgrounds, a splash of jus here, a torn basil leaf there. I guess cooking on the web has developed along the same lines – and if you’re a sucker for mouth watering snaps of food, if it’s the photo that encourages you to try a recipe, then I urge you to check out tastespotting. Tastespotting is simply a site where members submit photos (and more importantly the RECIPES) from foodie sites around the web. Great pictures and links that are constantly updated, prepare to feel very hungry. Roasted garbanzo beans (chickpeas) anyone? Or how about pea and herb stuffed naan?

Monday, 7 June 2010

The best bronzer

(In my humble opinion). I'm a bit of a bronzer junkie, nothing can quite give that sunkissed glow, other I've tried a whole load of them over the years from bargain Loreal to Bobbi Brown, but the one I swear by is Guerlain's Terracotta - I had heard so much about this almost mythical product that I thought it was sure to disappoint, but alas, the hype is true, it really is great. First it's super long-lasting (and makeup just drops off my face normally so that's saying something), the compact lasts for ages too -  which is just as well at that price, but I've had mine for over a year now with daily use and it still has quite a bit in it, I also love this product as it's really hard to overdo it - you can build it up layer by layer to create the effect you want, and lastly it has the perfect balance of matte and sparkly, i.e. not too sparkly for daytime and not muddy opaque either. On the downside, although hard to think of one, perhaps the compact could be a little more eye-catching, though personally I like the classic tortoiseshell look. In terms of colour, I'm quite dark and it works well on me, though they have 6 shades in the range so I'm sure there's something for everyone.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Bits of my weekend

The weekend started for me on Thursday when we had a day off for Corpus Christi - it was back to work for a half day on Friday but that doesn't really count. I've had a bit of everything so far this weekend, shopping, eating, relaxing and partying; I bought some cute black pumps in Nine West and stripey sailor top in Pimkie and now the sun's coming out I restocked on Clinique's City Block sheer SPF25 - there's probably better sun protection out there, but for me this product is the only one that's truly oil-free - the rest just make me break out (if you are pale skinned they have a factor 40 too, but it's too chalky for my skin tone).

After shopping there were tintos de verano (red wine and lemon spritzers) and delicious little bites of battered cod at Casa Labra, on C/Tetuan in Sol with my dear friends C and K - it can be almost impossible to get an outside seat at this old-school Madrileño institution, but we got there as it opened and grabbed a table on the pavement.

And on Friday was my friend A's birthday, 36, but I swear she doesn't look a day over 28. I got all dressed up for the occassion in my 'lucky' leopard print heels which are possibly the comfiest shoes I own. We used to work for the same company, and have both been through a whole lot of trials and tribulations over the past few years so it was good to see her back on her feet and celebrating. As a gift I got her some smellies from my lovely l'Occitane - by the way they have a new peony range for anyone who's interested. Anyway, what started out as food and a little singstar (or whatever it's called) contest at hers ended up being an all-nighter - out till 6am at a townie club I hadn't been to in years called, ahem, Torero (bullfighter). To give you an idea of how long it was since I'd been to this place - last time I was there I was wearing red and white from head to foot and was accompanied by a gaggle of long-haired gypsy men - we are talking a long time ago. Thankfully times and fashions have since changed. I admit to being more than a little tipsy and dancing the night away to the likes of Lady Gaga and Ke-dollarsign-ha.

Thankfully my energetic moves burnt off most of the G&Ts and after a good night's sleep, I woke up at midday feeling almost spritely. 2 episodes of Glee later (I admit to having a huge crush on Mr Schuster) I managed to pull myself off the sofa, get showered and head off to the Retiro park on my own to practice closeups of flowers with my new camera.... However, my picnic blanket and the cool grass underfoot were too tempting, and no sooner had I entered the park I bedded down with a cornetto and a book (Tony Robbins' Awaken the Giant within - don't ask - I have a strange penchant for burly Republican motivational speakers which I will explain in another post) and spent the next couple of hours chilling. To be fair I did walk around and try to get a snap or two, but realised that there are no flowers in Madrid in summer as they usually get sunburnt to death. So I took a photo of the fake flowers on my balcony - I worry about the neighbours realising they're not genuine so I cunningly mix them in with real greenery ;-) Why I care about what the neighbours think I really don't know.
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