my DREAM job would be to own a store like this one

it sells plants, flowers, jams, homewares, every kind of gardening accoutrement, and it has a gorgeous tea shop - this is absolutely my idea of heaven on earth! i can dream....
the origin of coffee

with give gazillion types of coffee bean out there, it's hard to choose one. there's coffee for breakfast, coffee for afternoon tea-time, coffee for after dinner...and each one of these has a further level of interest - where was it grown? stress... there is too much choice sometimes.

i like a strong coffee with a good crema (the frothy stuff on top), despise "thin" or watery coffee, and even though it's very plebian, i prefer my strong coffee with hot milk and lots of sugar. it took me years to like the drink - the smell of percolating coffee would turn my stomach, but after getting into the workforce i realised that if i didn't drink it throughout the day, i would a) fall asleep b) miss out on much of the social goings on in the office environment. it is also a great drink to sup whilst having a cigarette break.

what do we drink at home? that depends. the search for great fresh coffee continues. for the timebeing we have settled on a WholeFoods whole bean called Espresso Bella Canta. i get refills every week - we have it with hot milk for breakfast and as an espresso for after dinner. The Illy beans were disappointing. Lavazza beans even more so. G is on a mission.

when he isn't home and i feel like a comfort drink, i make myself a mug of coffee with Nescafe instant coffee granules - 2 teaspoons of coffee, hot milk and lots of sugar. what a treat :-). i hide my jar of instant coffee otherwise it would go the way previous jars have gone - into the dustbin once G discovers them.

here is some background on where coffee came from (courtesy of The Telegraph)

Desert fruit

Every cup of coffee you drink owes its existence to a fruit that grew wild in the Yemeni desert. The Sufi mystics of Yemen were the first to roast and brew the seeds into a drink. It helped them stay awake during long hours of prayer. It spread to Ethiopia (where it was banned by the Ethiopian church) and then to the Arab world. Coffee houses called kaveh kanes (from where we get "coffee" and "café") sprang up on every corner. By the 15th century, Mecca was filled with men with mugs.

Coffee houses

The habit spread to the rest of Europe in the 17th century. One of the first coffee houses in England was opened in Oxford by Jacob, a Turkish Jew, in 1650. Its coffee was described as "a simple Innocent thing, incomparable good for those that are troubled with melancholy".

Coffee became popular with scholars as it sharpened the mind rather than dulled it like alcohol. Coffee houses became meeting places, debating chambers and even laboratories. Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley once dissected a dolphin on the table of a coffee house in London. Lloyd's of London and the Stock Exchange started life as coffee houses. But the craze had its detractors. The brewing of ale had long been the preserve of women, known as "brewsters" or "alewives". In 1674, a group of them – alarmed at falling trade in taverns – drew up the Women's Petition Against Coffee, claiming: "Coffee makes a man barren as the desert out of which this unlucky berry has been imported."


For centuries, Arabia controlled the coffee industry until (as legend has it) a pilgrim from Mecca smuggled beans back to India and began an agricultural revolution. The Dutch also managed to get a plant back to Amsterdam and to their colonies in Indonesia, so Europe soon had new cheaper sources for their beans. Coffee is now grown in more than 70 countries and is the second most commonly traded commodity in the world after oil.

Civet dung

The most expensive coffee in the world comes from the droppings of the Asian palm civet, a small catlike animal that loves to eat coffee cherries. The cherries only partially digest and the seeds are excreted intact. The droppings are washed and the beans, sold as Kopi Luwak, can cost hundreds of dollars per pound. The partial digestion process is supposed to add a wonderful musky flavour.

Does it wake you up?

Coffee does not make you alert. If you are a regular drinker of coffee, drinking it just eases the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. So, if you never drink coffee you're probably more alert than a regular drinker who has just knocked back a double espresso. The effects of caffeine usually last between two and three hours, although that can extend to four or five hours depending upon an individual's sensitivity and metabolism.

Stronger than tea?

A cup of filter coffee contains about three times as much caffeine as a cup of tea, although dry tea leaves do contain a higher proportion of caffeine by weight than coffee beans. The higher the temperature of the water, the greater the caffeine extracted from beans or leaves. An average 30ml espresso contains about the same amount of caffeine as a 150ml cup of PG Tips. So a single-shot cappuccino or latte won't give you much more of a caffeine hit than a cuppa. A cup of instant coffee, on the other hand, contains only around half the caffeine of a filter coffee.
move over Ladurée, it's time for Pierre Hermé to reign over the maracon kingdom...

On rue Bonaparte, in the chic St Germain des Prés area of Paris, it is not uncommon to see a line of elegantly dressed ladies snaking from a tiny boutique up towards the fountains of Place Saint-Sulpice. But it’s not handbags or shoes they are queuing for. It’s macarons.
These chic little cakes are not to be confused with British-style coconut-laced macaroons. A pair of smooth almond meringues sandwiching a rich ganache, macarons are reassuringly expensive. Expect to pay nearly €2 (£1.80) for one hardly bigger than a button on a Dior jacket.
The owner of this macaron mecca is Pierre Hermé, enfant terrible of Parisian pâtisserie. Until Hermé opened in 1996, the old-school Ladurée bakery ruled the genre with its elegant creations in pale green boxes. Then Hermé blazed onto the scene with modern shops and wacky flavours like ispahan (rose, raspberry and lychee) and magnifique (wasabi with grapefruit).

The 48 year-old, the fourth generation of Alsace bakers and pastry chefs in his family, leads me up the narrowest of spiral staircases to his office above the shop.

Pride of place goes to a Japanese slot machine dispensing tiny models of his cakes to hang from your phone. His first shop was in Tokyo, where the residents are so crazy about his creations that there is even a range of Pierre Hermé-label mobile phones in macaron colours.

He shyly shows me his notebook of intricate sketches, including designs for a 10ft 6in (3.2m) wedding cake for a Dubai princess and bespoke flavours for private customers, as well as the cakes and macarons sold in the shop.

But is it possible to recreate these mini almond meringues at home? "Of course,’’ he says. ‘‘I baked them all with my stepdaughter Sarah who’s 12." Making them at home is not, however, something you can knock off in 10 minutes. The consistency must be right and the fluid mixture is tricky to pipe. But taking a tray of shiny macarons out of the oven is very satisfying. And there’s still two weeks to practise before Easter.

Pierre Hermé macarons are available at Selfridges Food Hall, Oxford Street, London W1 (; 0800 123400) : source of text here

...but of course they're only available in Paris, Tokyo or London -- why am I surprised?!! so not fair.

i finally did it. after weeks, okay months, of flor's constant barking in the garden that resulted in anonymous notes pinned to our front door and our blood pressure rising at least 100 points - i bought a no-bark collar. i did a lot of research, making sure that what i was buying wouldn't or couldn't harm the dog, but would get her to stop barking at every cyclist, dog or leaf that passed the house. indoors, she only barks when she gets desperate that the cat won't play with her or if a dog barks on the television. when she goes outdoors to play in the garden, it is a nightmare. one alternative is to never let her outside - not viable. i tried the spraying with water, shaking tins with coins inside, the harsh tone of voice - nothing worked.

i got an innotek collar via amazon. it wasn't expensive. day one - i put the collar on and she trotted off outside. two minutes later, i didn't hear her bark, instead i heard her shriek. i almost dropped my coffee. it wasn't pleasant. she didn't omit another bark for the following 24hours. the following afternoon she barked again - got zapped, checked her bum (she is a bit obsessed with this - any odd noise and her rear end is the first place she checks), and fled indoors to find me.

the downside to the collar is that she associates being alone outside with being zapped. for a few days i had to walk with her down the garden steps to accompany her to the loo. she started to pee indoors again (sigh), though after a couple of days she was mostly over that. she seems calmer in general. when she comes indoors the collar comes off right away. she still  barks at the television - two or three ooffs which is fine and normal. thankfully the constant barking has disappeared - and so have the anonymous notes. she can go outdoors for an afternoon without the collar, though the first few times she wore it but with the battery removed. i think with flor, the association with no barking isn't the collar, rather it's the terrace. i show her the collar and she sits waiting for me to put it on her. poor bugger.

fingers and paws crossed that this lasts. i know some people will think i am a bad dog owner, that i didn't try hard enough with the training, and a whole host of other criticisms. i know i did my best and tried every workable solution before getting the collar. she isn't unhappy or depressed. she is as she was before - bouncing with happiness and affection, just much more silently than before.
loup charmant -- i discovered this lovely site today

Loup Charmant's guiding principals are First, Do No Harm, and Second, Live in Beauty. In this vein, all Loup Charmant items are created in a proprietary soft and airy Indian Organic Cotton.

The PURE Collection is a jewel box sized collection of the wispiest white organic cotton in exquisite shapes meant to be mixed and layered from Summer throughout the year, while the launch of PURE COLOR expands the original clean palette of the PURE collection to include finely selected colors, many natural dyes of plant, vegetable, insect dyed in an upstate New York garden; dried in wind & sun.

stuffed squid followed by pears in caramelized honey

the stuffing comprised the squid tentacles and shrimp which were sauteed in oil with garlic and onions

mixed with breadcrumbs soaked in milk and an egg to bind everything together

the first set of squid were cooked over a low heat in a tomato sofrito for one hour. 
the second set were fried and then served with ink

the pears were cooked in champagne, sugar, vanilla and orange zest and reduced to a syrup. i added hot honey and a stick of butter, and served with whipped cream

chiquitin assisted with selecting the shrimp

this afternoon we had a flower arranging class at my house. it sounds very women's institute but was great fun. petal's edge from virginia came out to instruct - rebecca and her assistant mary. they arrived with bucketloads (literally) of fresh flowers - parrot tulips, regular tulips, stock, hypericum berries, roses (spray and stem), alstromeira, hydrangeas, aspidistra leaves, lisianthus, and wax flowers. it was a happy riot of pinks, purples, whites, creams and green. GORGEOUS. i was in heaven.

there were five of us there as students and we learnt a lot. everyone had a blast and took home a couple of arrangements each. it's a great idea for a girls' get-together.

tools of the trade

above: arranging a hand bouquet - so much harder than it looks!

one of the essential tips - strip all greenery away from the stems so it doesn't compete with the flowers for water
bear was most impressed with all of our arrangements

to brighten up the house

the bottom photo is of a branch of orange blossom that i cut from our back garden

change of a dress 

(and shoes, and coats, and everything else you can think of)

it's time to pack up the winter woollies and rediscover spring and summer garb. the former is being boxed up and racked ready to go to storage. the latter is waiting to be swapped in and hung in the wardrobes. i am quite sad to bid farewell to my winter clothing, and secretly dreading having to get used to wearing warm (scrap that - make it hot boiling unbearable heat) weather clothing for the next six months. i always have a predicament about what to wear - on my person as well as my feet. DC gets way too humid to wear most things comfortably....ugh!

and this is just one-tenth of our clothing that is being stored away!

back to baking

last night i made a valencia orange cake, but cheated. i used regular oranges. i baked it in a silicon mold - the second time i have used it, and the second time it didn't cook as well as i wanted. i think it is time to bid adieu and go back to regular baking pans. the recipe i used called for almond flour. the texture came out somewhat gritty - not sure if it's a winner...

i also made a carrot cake - healthy version, ie no frosted cream cheese on top. sigh. i used mazola vegetable oil - which left a sight aftertaste but definitely gave the perfect amount of moistness to the cake.


homemade pizzas by alidad

he used bread dough rather than the standard pizza dough recipe