Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Excellent Women: Vivian Maier

Have you heard of Vivian Maier? Until recently, hardly anyone had. If it hadn't been for a chance discovery, she may have been remembered only as a nanny by those who knew her personally. But during her career looking after children in Chicago and New York, she also pursued her personal hobby of street photography. She took over 100,000 photographs and hid them in storage lockers. Discovered all these years later, they've now earned her recognition as one of the 20th century's finest photographers.

She also loved taking photographs of herself, and has since been nicknamed the original 'selfie queen'.

An American of French and Austro-Hungarian origin, Vivian travelled between Europe and the United States before coming back to New York City in 1951, having picked up photography just two years earlier. By 1956 Vivian left the East Coast for Chicago, where she’d spend most of the rest of her life working as a caregiver. She carried on taking pictures right up until the 1990s.

Later in life, Vivian became quite poor and was ultimately saved by three of the children she had nannied earlier in her life. Fondly remembering Maier as a second mother, they pooled together to pay for an apartment for her. Unbeknownst to them, one of Vivian’s storage lockers was auctioned off due to delinquent payments - and in those storage lockers lay the massive hoard of negatives Maier secretly stashed throughout her lifetime.

Maier’s massive body of work would come to light when in 2007 her work was discovered at a local thrift auction house on Chicago’s Northwest Side. From there, it would eventually impact the world over and change the life of the man who championed her work and brought it to the public eye, John Maloof.

Our culture loves to idolise people - we're always tempted to put anyone with talent on a pedestal, especially if they come from a 'lost' age. Which is why the film Finding Vivian Maier is so unique - it attempts to discover who the real woman behind these incredible images was - even if the truth is not always what we'd expect.

Directed by John Maloof and Charlie Siskel, Maier’s strange and riveting life and art are revealed through never before seen photographs, films, and interviews with dozens who thought they knew her. But as Maloof meets people who knew Vivian, new questions arise about her life and work. The families who employed her as a nanny have mixed memories, and hint at her dark side. 

Finding Vivian Maier was released at UK cinemas last week- you can find tickets here.

Maier's life provides not only a fabulous insight into America in the second half of the 20th century, but also into the life of a woman who chose not to marry, have children, or seemingly even make any close friends. Much of her mystery is set to remain an enigma, but this film and her photographs provide a tantalising glimpse into a lost world.

Here's another of Vivian's haunting self-portraits. You can buy books on both her work as a street photographer and her pictures of herself on the Vivian Maier website.

Top Ten Barbecue Recipes

Phew! It's way too hot to have the oven on. Your choice is simple; eat cold food or cook outside. Assuming that you don't get caught in a sudden downpour which drenches the food and flames, a barbecue is a pretty delicious option. May we suggest you throw some of these recipes on the barbie?

Burgers. Every barbecue needs a few. We've got burgers to suit every taste! From smoky beef and Thai, to chicken and cheesy. You'll never need to look elsewhere for burgers again.

These sticky ribs are worth firing up the barbecue, even if they're the only thing you cook. Can't find ribs? I've used the same marinade for chicken drumsticks to wonderful effect, there really is no excuse not to try this.

Have you ever noticed how many foods on sticks you find at barbecues? Of course, it's the best way to avoid burning your fingers, just don't poke yourself in the nose while you eat. Gin and tonic lovers will go crazy for these gin-soaked chicken kebabs and vegetarians will love our halloumi skewers. I'd put the Quorn pieces in this barbecue hoisin Quorn recipe on skewers, too.

It's not a barbecue without potato salad. If you have some space on the grill for extra carbs, we've got three ways to barbecue potatoes. Actually, I'm often more excited about the sides than the meat on the barbecue. Case in point - Mexican corn on the cob. No barbecue should be without cucumber and red onion pickle (this comes with a warning: you will eat the whole jar in one sitting).

Don't forget dessert! The ol' banana-on-the-barbecue is a classic for good reason. Try this dairy free version. Not a banana-fan? Try mango skewers instead. See? Food on sticks are a barbecue staple!

Still hungry?! Check out more of our top ten recipe posts.

Spots and Stripes

Frances and I were having a chat the other day about prints, particularly spots and stripes. She's all about the stripes, I'm often head to toe in polka dots. The two patterns are retro classic and we can't get enough of them. Here are some gorgeous pieces in our favourite prints.

Purses at the ready, this lemon polka dot dress is just £36 from Love Miss Daisy. Listed just earlier today, it's 80s does 50s and it's just about perfect. Buttons down the back, pockets, sweetheart neckline. It's get everything. If it's still on sale after I've had my lunch, I'm buying it from under your noses.

Oh how cute are these wedge sandals? Boden is knocking it out of the park this summer. £20 very, very well spent. Damn, I could spend a fortune in the Boden sale.

This striped coat is just verging on the right side of Beetlejuice. It's in the sale and £84.10 in the Boden sale. I heartily recommend accessorising it with a dalmatian. (Please can I borrow a dalmatian?)

Half polka dots, half pleaty-stripes. This is such a great skirt. It's £29 at Sugarhill Boutique. Swish about as much as you like. Even at the bus stop.

This might be a terrible photo of a gorgeous model, but cast your eye down and check out her brilliant scalloped shorts. Love them. I've been trying to get Frances into them all week. They're £21.

Nope, still not bored of this beautiful yellow sundress. It looks like a bag that you're pick 'n' mix comes in. It's £45 from Joy.

Oasis are very, very good at a bold stripe. And they're good at a midi length. Amazingly, this skirt is £35. It's been a long time since I thought Oasis was reasonably priced. All sizes left, but be quick.

I concede that going all out 50s polka dot can be a little too much, so Lindy Bop's navy halter dress is the perfect solution. It's just £29.99. The Audrey dress at the top of the page is also Lindy Bop and also £29.99.

"Would you like a flake with that?" This candy striped shirt is very ice cream seller in the 50s but styled with dark skinny jeans, red lippy and a beehive, it would look utterly gorgeous. It's £40 from 20th Century Foxy.

Now this is my favourite stripe skirt. The clashing flower print is fabulous. It's £45 and I will not be wearing it with any sort of crop top. Stop trying to make fetch happen, ASOS.

Sluttishly Sweet: Pickled Watermelon Rind

Pickled watermelon rind is one of those culinary curiosities that befuddles my brain thinking about how it came into existence. Who looked at a watermelon, ate all its sweet, juicy flesh, spat out the seeds and then thought, "Hmm, I think I might try pickling all these leftover bits"?

Whatever the answer - and there's some dispute about whether the first watermelon rind pickle was made in Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, or the Deep South - I am thankful to that experimental cook. These pickles are delicious - sweet, sour, and a little bit spicy. They taste like a warm, summery Christmas - surely the perfect flavour - and they're great with cold meats and cheese, and anything barbecued. I love mine with stilton or goat's cheese, or a lovely bit of prosciutto.

The pickling process spans a couple of days, but most of that is fridge time. It's not labour intensive at all, so next time you buy a watermelon, keep those rinds and give this recipe a go. It's important to note that these are not cupboard pickles - they're fridge pickles, and will last a maximum of 10 days in there. That's why I only made a small batch - although the recipe scales up if you fancy making more.

And if you need a something to sing while you pickle, I can highly recommend my reworking of Beyoncé's Drunk In Love:

"I've been pickling watermelon"

Na na na na etc.

Pickled Watermelon Rind (makes enough to fill one 500ml-capacity jar)
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Fridge time: 48 hours in total
Cooking time: 10 minutes + 1 hour countertop cooling time

You will need:
  • 400g watermelon rind, green skin removed with a peeler, and a sliver of pink flesh still intact. It should be cut into small chunks. For guidance, my whole melon weighed 3kg; the piece I used for this recipe weighed around 1kg, and that gave me 400g of rinds.
  • 2 level tbsp salt
  • 100ml distilled white vinegar
  • 100g sugar (granulated or caster)
  • ½ cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1 tsp pink peppercorns (optional)
  • 1 small dried red chilli (optional)
Make it!
  1. The watermelon rind pieces need to soak in salty water overnight, so put them in a bowl (not aluminium), then mix 350ml cold water with the salt and pour over the top. Cover, and leave in the fridge for 24 hours.
  2. Once that's done, drain the rinds and rinse them really well in a colander.  
  3. In a large saucepan, combine the rinds, vinegar, sugar, and 100ml water and simmer, stirring all the while, until the sugar dissolves. Add the star anise, cinnamon stick half, cloves, peppercorns and chilli and simmer for five more minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool for about an hour. Then use a slotted spoon to scoop the rinds and spices into a sterilised 500ml Kilner jar or similar, and pour over the liquid so that the rinds are completely covered. 
  5. Seal the jar and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating. Keep in the fridge for no more than 10 days. 
  • Play about with the spices and flavourings - ginger and lemon would be delicious instead of - or as well as - the above ingredients. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Design Porn: Sous Chef's Cute As Buttons Bento Boxes


KAWAII! *does that thing with the V-sign and massive smile, tries to look cute, fails*

Seriously though, can we have a word about these beautiful, fun bento boxes? I fell in love with them at Sous Chef's Christmas preview last week, but when I found you could get them online already well - Christmas bedamned, these require sharing.

We're massive fans of Sous Chef here at Sluttery. You can get every delicious ingredient under the sun, and fantastic kits. It's incredibly specialist. When I spoke to its founder, Nicola Lando, she said she'd initially been a bit worried that these boxes weren't serious enough. But that is precisely why they're wonderful: most bento boxes I've seen have been incredibly practical and MORTIFYINGLY dull.

Each of these cost £19.95 and would make a fantastic present to someone or, as with all Sluttery present ideas, to yourself. Did I mention how preposterously cute they are? I may be getting slightly hysterical over the whole thing.

Just pop a miso sachet in the top to add hot water to later, your stew or whatever in the middle, and rice or buns or other goodies in the bottom. Or whatever you like. If you are organised enough to make packed lunches, this here is your reward. And get yourself a pair of floral travel chopsticks while you're at it.

Now comes the tricky part: choosing your favourite.

The geisha boxes are like the most adorable Lego. Pick a colour! Purple geisha?

Or pink geisha?

This samurai warrior looks quite monumentally up to no good. Predictably, I love him.

How about the sumo warrior? So proud!

Sous Chef is foodie gift central - you can actually get lost looking through its pages - and these adorable, aspirational packed lunch boxes feature highly on my lists for friends in the future. Sorry Helen! Look away now! OH GOD IT'S TOO LATE.

Sluttery by Post: Peirene Press

Do you ever get book blindness? Sometimes nothing on my reading wishlist grabs me, or I'm still stuck in the world of another book and I can't pick up anything else for days. Instead I try reading five books at once. It's for this reason (and their gorgeous covers) that Peirene Press and their book subscription service appeals to me.

Peirene Press are a boutique publishing house with a focus on translating and publishing European literature. They never publish anything that's over 200 pages. They are experts in the interesting-sounding novella. I'm a huge fan of the short read at the moment, it's the perfect antidote for a book hangover. Under The Tripoli Sky, a coming of age story about a boy in Libya, sounds wonderful. The Blue Room sounds utterly chilling. Chasing the King of Hearts is a Polish bestseller about the Holocaust, I've never heard of it until today.

Their subscription options are varied. You get the new publications six weeks before they're released in book shops and available online. Now, they're a small publisher so don't expect to see loads of books each year – you get three brilliant new reads for £35 a year.

You can also play catch up with any of the series they've previously published. Buy all of the books for £96 or choose any of the bundles of three for £28 each. I'm so excited about Peirene Press, I like that they do something different and I can't wait to fill my bedside table with brilliant short reads.

Need more books to read? Check out our book subscription list.

Sluttishly Sweet: Cardamom Coffee Cakes

Here's one for wandering spirits: aromatic coffee and crushed cardamom seeds, sweet white chocolate and a hint of orange blossom... If you can't get away on holiday this summer, here's a trip to a souk in CAKE FORM.

Cardamom Coffee Cupcakes (makes 14-16, depending on cake cases)
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Baking time: 20-25 minutes

You will need:
For the cakes:
  • 200g butter, softened
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water (optional)
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 50g white chocolate, finely chopped
  • Splash of milk
For the topping:
  • 175g butter, softened
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp instant coffee / espresso powder
  • 50g white chocolate, finely grated
  • Sprinkling ground coffee, to decorate
Make it!
The cakes:
  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Lightly grease the paper cupcake cases and place in a cupcake tin.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat the eggs in one at a time, with a tablespoon of the flour to stop the mixture from splitting.
  4. Add the orange blossom water, if using and stir in.
  5. Place the cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar and bash until the seeds come out of the husks. Discard the husks then pound the seeds into a powder (or use a spice grinder for this).
  6. Stir into the cake mix, along with the white chocolate and the splash of milk.
  7. Sift the rest of flour into the mixture gradually, folding in gently with a metal spoon.
  8. Dollop into the paper cases, filling them 2/3 full.
  9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden and risen and a skewer comes out clean.
  10. Place on a wire rack to cool.
The topping:
  1. Place the butter in a large bowl and sift in the icing sugar. 
  2. Beat together until combined and fluffy.
  3. Dilute the coffee powder with about 50ml hot water to make very strong coffee: stir in to taste, 2 tbsps should do it.
  4. Cut a little inverted cone in the top of the cakes. Pipe onto the cakes or frost with a palette knife. 
  5. Sprinkle with grated white chocolate and a tiny pinch of ground coffee. 
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