All posts by mirandasnotebook

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of MaidaSunday Roast at The Hero of Maida

Two questions I get asked with increasing regularity are: ‘where should I go for Afternoon Tea in London?’ and ‘which is your favourite place for a Sunday roast dinner?’

Afternoon Tea and a proper English Sunday roast are two quintessentially British meals that are delicious, steeped in tradition and certainly shouldn’t be missed by anyone visiting the UK. To my mind, a highlight of the weekend is always a roast dinner, but I’ve mainly lived in apartments with tiny kitchens, so it’s not a meal I often cook myself. Over the years, then, I’ve enjoyed tracking down some of the very best Sunday roasts in London. Many of my favourite pubs in Hampstead do an excellent roast, but a few weeks ago, when my Dad was visiting, we went to a pub in Maida Vale that soared straight to the top of my list.

The Hero of Maida is a beautifully restored Victorian pub that opened earlier in the spring, and its menu is overseen by the chef Henry Harris (formerly of Racine). The pub is a short walk from Warwick Avenue tube station, located on a quiet street in the heart of Little Venice. A walk along the canal would be a great way to work off those Yorkshire puddings after your meal!

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Downstairs is the bustling bar – a stylish space with exposed brick accents, wooden floors and a gallery wall. We arrived on a hot day, so the large doors were thrown open to let in a refreshing breeze. As I’d booked a table in advance, we were seated in the dining room upstairs, which was quieter and air conditioned (much appreciated, as it was one of the warmest days of the year!).

We quenched our thirst with glasses of Pimms (Mum and me) and a beer (Dad) as we looked at the menu.

My Dad (who’s Canadian) makes a point of enjoying English sausages and beer whenever he’s in the UK, as he says they’re the very best! A Sunday roast is generally on his list too, so it was no surprise that all three of us ordered the Roast Beef.

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Oh my! Aside from my Mum’s cooking, this was definitely the best roast dinner I’ve ever had! Our beef was beautifully pink and succulent, and I loved that the sides arrived served in sharing platters, so we could all help ourselves, which made it feel more like a family meal at home. The gravy and horseradish sauce provisions were extremely plentiful, with extra jugs of gravy provided, and we all got a second serving of Yorkshire puddings (beautifully light, not in the least dry). We all enjoyed the selection of sides, which were very traditional: roast potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli cheese, cabbage and roasted root vegetables.

My Dad ordered a spectacular red wine, which paired perfectly with the meal, it’s full-bodied smoothness standing up robustly to the richness of our beef.  We raised a glass to our lovely long weekend together and my Mum’s return to good health.

Best Sunday Roasts in London | The Hero of Maida

Despite feeling rather on the stuffed side, none of us could resist a glance at the dessert menu. I gave way to temptation when ‘lemon posset and blueberry trifle’ caught my eye, Mum plumped for an Eton Mess (it’s hard to resist English strawberries this time of year!), and Dad chose two cheeses as a savoury end to his meal. Dessert was just as delectable as our mains, and we lingered over our plates as we finished the last of our wine and chatted.

Honestly, that’s a Sunday roast that’ll be hard to beat!

London Culture | Tartuffe Theatre Review, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Tartuffe Theatre Review

Please note: I was given tickets to Tartuffe in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Last Friday, I went to the Theatre Royal Haymarket to watch Tartuffe, a modern bilingual adaptation of Molière’s famous 17th Century satirical play. Directed by Gérald Garutti and adapted by Christopher Hampton, this version of Tartuffe is set in modern day California. A wealthy Frenchman, Orgon, moves to L.A. with his family and there falls under thrall of Tartuffe, a trickster who uses his dominant personality and professed Christian faith to exercise an alarming power over the bewitched Orgon. Although Orgon and his mother fall entirely under the spell of Tartuffe, the rest of Orgon’s family are dismayed and disgusted by the outsider, and they seek to unmask his true nature to Orgon.

Tartuffe boasts an impressive cast, and there were standout performances from Audrey Fleurot (Elmire) and Paul Anderson (Tartuffe). Audrey Fleurot plays Orgon’s beautiful, intelligent wife Elmire. It is only Elmire that proves a match for Tartuffe, as she uses her physical attractions to trick him into compromising himself and betraying his true character. Audrey Fleurot plays Elmire with a cool aloofness mixed with sly humour; the perfect temptress as she poses artfully in figure-hugging dresses. Anderson brings an edge of menace and narcissism to Tartuffe that belies his cheerful drawl and subdued clothing. He broods over the stage from a slightly raised cube, giving him an omniscient-like presence that is felt even before he first appears.

I thought the bilingual production was the most interesting aspect of this adaptation, although I sometimes found the subtitles distracting, as it was difficult to keep my eyes on both the subtitle screen and the actors. The characters (excepting Tartuffe, who speaks only English), constantly switch between French and English. Orgon’s daughter and son, part of the more Americanised younger generation, prefer speaking English, whereas their mother and father instinctively break into French. It is a further sign of Tartuffe’s hold over Orgon that he always addresses him in English.

The use of French pays homage to the play’s influence in French culture and allows bilingual viewers to appreciate Molière’s rhyming couplets. Language, fittingly, is at the heart of this play: it is Tartuffe’s smooth talking, his ability to disarm his enemies by putting forward persuasive arguments, that makes him so dangerous. This is a play in which language is rarely candid: people constantly say one thing yet mean another. No one better than Tartuffe understands the disingenuousness of people’s words; he cannot trust Elmire’s speeches, but insists she must physically prove to him her love. Ultimately, it is not a slip of the tongue that betrays Tartuffe’s hypocrisy, but his own bodily desires.

The famous final speech by the Officer, originally a suspiciously hyperbolic monologue in praise of King Louis XIV, has been changed to reflect Trumpian America. The speech is a fantastic example of subversive double entendre, drawing wry laughter from the audience.

An evening out seeing Tartuffe at the theatre would make a fantastic start to any weekend, especially if you’re a Francophile like me!

Tartuffe is showing until 28th July at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. You can buy tickets here.

 

Annabel Bird Shares Her Secret Seven London

Secret Seven London with Annabel Bird of Bleak House London, a luxury lifestyle brand

An Insider’s Guide to London

This post is part of my Secret Seven London series, where I ask my favourite London instagrammers to share their top seven London locations that are a little off the beaten track.

London is full of beautiful destinations to explore, and I’m always so excited when I uncover a new gem, so I hope my readers will find this series as inspirational as I do! Get ready to fill your Little Black Book with some of London’s best kept secrets…

Annabel Bird’s Secret Seven London

Annabel Bird (@bleakhouse.london) with her dog, Edward

I’m so pleased that the lovely Annabel Bird has agreed to share her Secret Seven London with Miranda’s Notebook readers. Annabel is a fellow North-West London resident, and she lives in Primrose Hill with her family and beloved Welsh Terrier, Edward (who even has his own instagram account!).

Annabel is the founder of Bleak House London, a luxury online lifestyle shop that’s perfect for city-dwellers who love nothing better than planning weekend escapes to the country. Annabel handpicks and designs a range of good quality fashion and homeware products, as well as practical, but stylish accessories for your canine best friend.

Every month, Annabel and her husband send out their fantastic newsletter, The Red Book, which contains suggested walks and helpful tips for making the most of London and the surrounding countryside. You can subscribe to The Red Book here, and you can also read editions of The Red Book on Annabel’s online magazine-style blog.

I was so interested to read Annabel’s top seven London destinations, which are a brilliant mix of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and places to escape the cacophony of the city:

1/ Kenwood Ladies’ Pond, Hampstead Heath

I have been swimming at the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond in the summer for a long time, but last year I decided to swim through the winter. I’ve swam every week for a whole year now and it’s been one of the most magical, thrilling and challenging experiences of my life.

2/ The Everyman Cinema, Kings Cross

One of the reasons I love living in London is that it has the best of everything. Cinemas are no exception, and the recently opened Everyman at Kings Cross is the nicest cinema I’ve ever visited. Forget fold down-seats and buckets of Coca Cola, here you can snuggle up on a velvet sofa with your other half and drink prosecco to your heart’s content.

3/ Honey & Co, Fitzrovia

This cute little restaurant in Fitzrovia is great for us vegetarians. Sharing mezze and rose wine with a bunch of girlfriends is one of my favourite ways to while away a lunchtime.

4/ Padella, Borough Market

Borough Market is one of London’s oldest markets – it’s been there for more than a thousand years. The market is a gastronomic delight, and top of the tree for me is Padella: ridiculously cheap, ridiculously delicious, ridiculously busy. There is always a queue around the block to get a table, and I love that the restaurant shuts in the afternoon so the pasta can be made for the evening. You can’t get much fresher than that!

5/ Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

If I want a good walk and to feel like I’ve left London without actually quitting the city, I walk from Richmond to Petersham Nurseries for lunch. It’s the most beautiful garden centre you could imagine, and I am building up quite a collection of their wonderful Indian terracotta pots. Happily, the restaurant and the cafe are both dog friendly.

6/ Odette’s, Primrose Hill

Along with The Ivy, Odette’s is my favourite restaurant for those special occasion meals. It’s perfect for an anniversary, a birthday or sometimes just a random Thursday night when you need a bit of cheering up. This little Welsh outpost has the ideal mix of excellent food, great service and a lovely interior.

7/ Inner Temple Gardens

My husband works on Chancery Lane, and if I’m in town I’ll sometimes meet him for a low-key picnic in Temple Gardens. We grab a sandwich from Pret-a-Manger and sit under the beautiful trees and forget the 21st century exists.

~

keep up with Annabel’s website, bloginstagram and pinterest.

connect with me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

Note: all photographs excepting header image provided by Annabel Bird

You may also like to read my other Secret Seven London post with Talitha McQueen.

London Culture | Theatre Review of Consent by Nina Raine

consent by nina raine

Please note: I was given complimentary tickets for Consent in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

On the day Harvey Weinstein was arrested and charged with rape and several counts of sexual abuse, I sat in the Harold Pinter theatre waiting for the curtain to rise on Consent, a play by Nina Raine. Originally a sellout success at the National Theatre in 2017, Consent is now showing at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London’s West End. Since the play’s initial staging in 2017, it is not too dramatic to say that the world has changed, and Raine has reportedly been unsure of the play’s reception in today’s #MeToo era.

Consent is an intelligent, thought-provoking play with laugh-out loud witty dialogue; what makes it more provocative to today’s audience is the ambiguity Raine spins around her characters and their actions. She deliberately delves into the grey area that surrounds ‘he said / she said’ type accusations, casting the audience as judge and jury: who is to be believed? And does justice give way to whoever can spin the most convincing argument?

The play follows a group of upper middle-class barristers and their tangled love lives. At the start of the play, one of the barristers, Jake, is revealed as a serial cheater: his wife Rachel finds out, is devastated, and threatens divorce and sole custody of their child. This domestic upheaval triggers another in the lives of their friends, Kitty and Edward: old wounds resurface, and another marriage falls apart at the seams.

Whilst drama plays out in the barristers’ domestic lives, another takes centre stage in the courtroom: a woman attempts to get her assailant sentenced for rape, but her testimony is torn to shreds, leaving her distraught. Another, more murky, rape accusation is made later in the play, when Kitty accuses her husband of marital rape. Is she telling the truth, or is she motivated by a desire for revenge after his affair?

During the interval, as I leant back in my seat, I overheard a young woman chatting about one of the characters to a friend. ‘I just don’t understand,’ she said, a frown of bewilderment clear in her voice, ‘how there could be any sympathy for someone who cheats on his wife like that. Why would anyone take his side?’ She blatantly thought any signs of sympathy for a serial cheater were wholly unrealistic. Ironically, in the second half of the play, it is serial-cheater Jake who stands up for Kitty and condemns her husband’s actions: ‘if she said no, then it’s rape,’ he states unequivocally. Part of the strength of Consent lies in Raine’s ability to write complicated characters: no one is portrayed as either wholly bad, or wholly good, and sometimes unlikely alliances are formed. Rachel disagrees with Jake and sides with Edward, doubting that Kitty is speaking the full truth.

Indeed, no character in Consent is able to hold the moral high ground for long. In the play, both wives are unfaithful too, but they are motivated by revenge, wishing to wound their philandering husbands. By the end of the play, the women end up back with their spouses, having been begged for forgiveness.

Female forgiveness is a central theme to the play: Edward continually tells Kitty she must forgive him, begging her on his knees, suggesting there is no point to his remorse if forgiveness does not follow. Even the women’s seemingly unselfish forgiveness is questionable, however. Is their pardon freely given, or is their choice to give their marriage another chance born of necessity mixed with convenience? Consent illustrates how the law cannot be relied upon for justice for women. When Kitty seeks the advice of a lawyer over gaining custody of her child, she’s told that any accusation she makes of domestic abuse against herself by her husband will not be taken into account when the court considers custody matters. Her husband, however, plots accusations of mental instability, bringing up her post-natal depression to undermine her parental responisbility.

It is only the men in the play, too, that are shown as successful within their work. Edward and Jake engage in convoluted discussions at which the women roll their eyes or simply observe in silence. The men take over the stage with their linguistic fencing matches, studded with legalese, each clearly intoxicated by the sound of his own voice, and the power he has to win an argument. The women, in contrast, are either ineffectual or absent from their jobs: Kitty is on maternity leave, her friend Zara has trouble landing an acting role, and Rachel gets shushed when she tries to put forward her advice as a barrister. The lack of professional success in the women’s lives also raises the question of how much their ‘forgiveness’ is financially motivated. If they were able to easily support themselves and their children, would they be so willing to take back their erring partners?

In Consent, it is the women who are forced to compromise, whilst the men get away with their behaviour: lying, cheating, even rape. Edward does learn to say ‘I’m sorry,’ by the end (formerly he would only say ‘I apologise,’ thus admitting no personal guilt or liability), but by that point you’re definitely thinking ‘sorry’ doesn’t really cut it.

Consent is an exceptional play; it leaves you questioning your assumptions, probing your understanding of moral grey areas and asking yourself where you would fall on the sides of the arguments put forward. I would have appreciated a more empowering ending for Consent’s female leads, and I would love to see fewer plays about male barristers behaving badly, and more about female lawyers changing the world. It’s plays like Consent, however, that highlight the need for a fairer system in which women can navigate their own lives on an equal footing with men. Although Consent shows women accepting their lot rather than defying the status quo, it will hopefully inspire others to demand their right for freer choices and greater independence in the future.

You can book tickets for Consent here. The play runs until mid August.

 

Book Talk | Three Summer Reading Suggestions

Summer Reading Suggestions

For me, one of summer’s truest delights has always been the additional reading time. Nothing beats a seat in the shade with a tall glass of lemonade (or perhaps something a little stronger…) and a page-turning novel. When I was young, I took enormous pleasure in deciding what stack of books I’d read during my school-free days, and now I teach part-time I still get to take advantage of the summer holidays to knock off as many books from my TBR pile as possible.

Here are some recent reads of mine that I think would make excellent choices for the summer, whether you’re enjoying lazy evenings in the garden or need a good book for a plane.

1/ The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Described as ‘Sliding Doors set in a bookshop,’ this debut novel by Cynthia Swanson instantly caught my attention. The Bookseller is set in Denver in the 1960s and is told from the perspective of Kitty Miller, a 30-something spinster who runs a bookshop with her best friend from high-school. One night, Kitty goes to sleep and wakes up to find herself in an alternate reality, where she’s living the life she always thought she wanted: married to a caring husband with piercing blue eyes and the mother of three young children. Every time she goes to sleep, Kitty dreams about this new version of herself, who knows how to cook and buys much more expensive (if rather dull) clothes.

Kitty discovers that Lars, the man she married in her dream world, is the same man who stood her up on a blind date several years ago. In real life, she finds out that Lars had died suddenly before meeting her, and her dream life shows her the path she might have taken had he lived. Kitty gets more and more drawn into her imaginary world, only to discover that her seemingly perfect other life may be far less idyllic than first appears….

The Bookseller kept me gripped right to the end, and I enjoyed its satisfying plot twist. I loved the period details, especially the descriptions of the books Kitty enjoys reading and that she stocks in her shop. This book would make an excellent light, entertaining read for a long journey. I’ve now bought a copy of Cynthia Swanson’s recently published second novel, The Glass Forest, and can’t wait to read that too.

2/ An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

I talked about An American Marriage on a recent Tea & Tattle Podcast episode, and I highly recommend adding it to your summer reading pile. Jones’ novel describes what happens to a newly wed black American couple, after the husband is arrested and wrongfully imprisoned for rape.

An American Marriage is told from the perspective of three main narrators: husband and wife Roy and Celestial and Celestial’s best friend, Andre, who’s been in love with her for years. The triangular love plot lies at the heart of the story, which deftly examines the themes of racial prejudice, familial ties, professional and creative ambition and the societal expectations of women.

I loved Jones’ full-bodied, finely honed prose  and her tender understanding of people’s struggles, desires and failings. None of her characters are perfect, or indeed wholly likeable, which makes them all the more human and ultimately endearing. It’s easy to see why An American Marriage has been a firm favourite on the New York Times bestseller list, and it would make a great choice for your next holiday read.

3/ The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark apparently thought The Driver’s Seat her best novel, which made me very curious to read it. The book is extremely slim, so I was able to read almost all of it on a long-ish tube journey. The Driver’s Seat is a disturbing story about a character hellbent on one of the most self-destructive holidays ever imagined.

Having burst into a fit of hysteria at work, the book’s protagonist, Lise – neither young nor old, neither pretty nor plain – gets the afternoon off and goes shopping to prepare for her holiday in Italy (the destination is never specifically named, but it’s most likely Rome). She chooses an outfit of wildly clashing colours, the first of many insanity-tinged decisions she makes within the following few hours she remains alive….

In The Driver’s Seat, Muriel Spark inverts all the traditional elements of a murder mystery. The reader is aware almost from the beginning that Lise will be murdered, but Lise is no ordinary victim. It is hard, indeed, to attach the word ‘victim’ to Lise, and her engineering of events forces the reader to an uncomfortable consideration of the fine line between Lise’s complicity in her end and the horrific victimisation of her death. Reading this book feels rather like experiencing a psychedelic nightmare, but I can assure you it’s a story you’ll never forget.

~

You can keep up with my book recommendations on my books-only Instagram account, @mirandasbookcase

Tea & Tattle Podcast: Skye McAlpine Discusses ‘A Table in Venice’

Listen to the latest Tea & Tattle Episode here or on iTunes.

Today on Tea & Tattle, I’m in conversation with the food writer Skye McAlpine, who recently published her first cookbook, A Table in Venice. Although originally from Britain, Skye’s parents moved to Venice when she was a young girl, and she now splits her time between London and Venice.

For years, Skye wrote about her love for Venetian home cooking and simple, fresh ingredients on her blog and instagram account, building a large audience of  followers who appreciate her delicious recipes and exquisite photography. 

‘A Table in Venice’ by Skye McAlpine

I’ve been a fan of Skye’s blog for many years, and I was so excited to get my copy of her cookbook. It doesn’t disappoint! A Table in Venice is a thing of beauty, with marbled end papers, pale pink pages and full-page photographs featuring the very best food and scenery Venice has to offer.

Skye McAlpine

In our chat together, Skye tells me why she thinks Venetian cuisine is Italy’s best kept secret, how to avoid the common tourist traps of Venice, her favourite morning ritual and so much more.

This is the perfect episode to get you in the mood for long summer evenings spent lingering over dinner tables in the garden, and it’ll definitely make you want to hop on a plane to sample some of those special brioche buns yourself!

Listen to learn more about Skye’s cookbook, A Table in Venice.

Talitha McQueen Shares Her Secret Seven London

Talitha McQueen's Secret Seven London

I’m so pleased to be starting a new series on Miranda’s Notebook, where I ask my favourite London instagrammers to share their top seven London locations that are a little off the beaten track.

London is full of beautiful destinations to explore, and I’m always so excited when I uncover a new gem, so I hope my readers will find this series as inspirational as I do! Get ready to fill your Little Black Book with some of London’s best kept secrets…

Talitha McQueen’s Secret Seven London

Talitha McQueen (@rubyandb)

I’m so delighted that my lovely friend Talitha is kicking off my Secret Seven London column with seven fantastic recommendations. I first met Talitha on a press trip to Paris, and I’ve followed her gorgeous instagram account ever since.

Talitha is an Australian turned Londoner, who loves capturing the city’s prettiest destinations, from old-fashioned shopping arcades to peaceful parks. Talitha is a mum of three, an incredible photographer and an inspirational business woman. She runs her successful Etsy shop, Ruby and B, where she sells prints and other products that feature her signature romantic shots of London, New York and Paris.

Talitha also writes a blog about her family life and London adventures, and she recently shared a fantastic guide to capturing wisteria in Kensington. You can follow along Talitha’s gorgeous wisteria shots and showcase your own using her #wisteriawanders hashtag.

Here are Talitha’s Secret Seven London Destinations:

1. The Wallace Collection

This museum isn’t a well known tourist spot, so it is often quiet and lovely to wander through. The Wallace Collection hosts an amazing assortment of art and ceramics, but I also go for the interiors and the stunning conservatory where you can enjoy tea and scones.

2. St Dunstan in the East

A few minutes walk from London Bridge are the ruins of this gorgeous church. I love the way nature is reclaiming the area, and it’s a stunning place in Autumn when the leaves are golden.

3. The Horniman Museum and Gardens

Located in Forest Hill, this fantastic museum has an aquarium and mini farm, so it’s great for children as well. I go for the stunning Victorian conservatory and the farmers’ market held most weekends.

4. Dulwich Picture Gallery and Dulwich Village

Dulwich Village is a delightful little area that has a wonderful gallery and a really beautiful park too.

5. Peckham Common

The Japanese Garden within Peckham Common is just stunning in Spring. Take a picnic and sit under the cherry blossoms. You may even spot some ducklings!

6. Nunhead Cemetery

This little known cemetery is a must visit if you’re a fan of gothic architecture. The gothic Anglican chapel is beautiful, and there are also spectacular views over London to St Paul’s Cathedral.

7. Columbia Road Flower Market

My absolute favourite way to spend a Sunday is at Columbia Road. Get there early to avoid the crowds and be sure to stop at Lily Vanilli for a cupcake.

~

keep up with Talitha’s website, shop, instagram, facebook, pinterest and twitter

connect with me on Instagram at @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

Note: all photographs excepting header image provided by Talitha McQueen

An Interview with Artist Yvonne Coomber (+ An Incredible Giveaway!)

yvonne coomber

An Exciting Art Collaboration

Listeners of Tea & Tattle Podcast may remember that earlier in the spring, the artist Yvonne  Coomber kindly let me pick out a print from her new collection as part of a collaboration with Miranda’s Notebook. I decided to send the print to my podcast co-host, Sophie, as a housewarming gift (I asked Sophie which print she’d like, and she chose this one, which was the one I would have selected for her myself – isn’t it lovely?).

Today, I’m so thrilled to say that Yvonne is giving away one of her new limited edition prints to a Miranda’s Notebook follower (you can enter the giveaway now through my instagram picture, or scroll to the bottom of this post for more details on how to win).

Yvonne Coomber’s Instagram Gathering

Pip Farm, the setting for Yvonne’s fabulous gathering.

Last week, I got the chance to meet Yvonne for the first time at a gathering she hosted near her hometown, Totnes. Yvonne brought together a group of floral loving instagrammers to celebrate her beautiful artwork in an idyllic stone farmhouse nestled deep in the Devonshire countryside. We chatted and laughed and photographed and feasted on cream teas and incredible spreads (whipped up by the fabulous Djamila Vogelsperger) for two days, and it was the most wonderful way to get to know a little more about Yvonne and her gorgeous art.

Pip Farm was filled with Yvonne’s prints, original paintings, cushions and lampshades, and jugs of flowers homegrown by the lovely Holly of Holly-Bee Flowers in Devon were placed on most available surfaces, so the farmhouse was filled with colour and life. It was hard to put my camera down!

An Artist Inspired by Flowers

I first came across Yvonne’s paintings when I stayed at the Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall, which showcased an impressive display of many of Yvonne’s artworks. Yvonne’s pieces are inspired by her love for nature, flowers and colour, so they certainly speak straight to my heart, and I was absolutely thrilled when I was asked to take part in Yvonne’s Instagram retreat.

Yvonne took us around her beautiful home on the outskirts of Totnes, as well as her gallery in the town’s centre, and we also got to see her incredible studio in the heart of the countryside. It was wonderful to see Yvonne’s original canvases up close, as she uses a lot of layered paint and thick strokes, and often a shimmering of glitter, that give her fields of wildflowers an incredible depth and vivacity.

An Interview With Yvonne Coomber

Yvonne Coomber in her studio

I managed to ask Yvonne a few questions about her artwork and creative process, and I was fascinated by her answers. I have a real soft spot for poppies too, so I was delighted when Yvonne mentioned them as her favourite flower!

MN: Would you tell me a little about yourself and your background? What inspired your love for art?

YC: My childhood was steeped in the psychedelia of the sixties and seventies; both fashion and culture were colourful and experimental with an inherent wildness. I think the influences of this period mixed with my rural upbringing between a farm in Berkshire and a cottage in Cork all contributed to my profound love of the untamed rainbow hues which are currently woven into each and every piece I create.

My father had a profound love of nature and my Irish mother has always tended a magnificent country garden. So as a girl my life was frequently saturated in flowers and beautiful places. In addition I have travelled widely in my life and the warmth and discovery of all of my journeys is ever present on my canvas. My five year training in Sussex provided me with an opportunity to master my painting practice.

MN: I love your beautiful florals and seaside landscapes. What do you find particularly inspiring about nature?

VC: I think the thing I find most inspiring about nature is its ability to constantly infuse beauty, whether that be on an uncultivated meadowland fizzing with rainbows of wildflowers in summertime, or a determined solitary flower pushing through gaps in concrete pavements. Also nature is deeply humbling with both its utter powerfulness and its silent peacefulness.

I also love nature as it constantly has the ability to reflect emotional landscapes. There is an unconditional quality in the natural world that allows me to simply be.

MN: We share a mutual passion for flowers, and I’m enjoying using the hashtag you started on Instagram (#wildforflowers). Do you have any favourite flowers to paint? I notice that the flowers in your work are generally always growing wild and free.

YC: I love the innocence, colour and easy harmony of wild meadowlands. The vast selection of native British flowers simply make my heart sing….from the white frothy foam of cow parsley through to the soft powder blue of harebells and the gently nodding purple spikes of foxgloves. The hedgerows and meadows of my home in the South Hams become a perfumed feast of ever-changing loveliness.

However, if asked to choose my favourite flower it would definitely be Poppies. My daughter is named after this fragile, strong crimson bloom and their easy bright beauty is almost always present in my work.

MN: You live in a beautiful part of Devon. What do you love best about your surrounding landscape?

YC: I love contrasts that exists here: the rugged coastline, the vast open moorlands and the kaleidoscopic tumbling hedgerows all deeply nourish my soul. My favourite place of all, however, is my studio which is nestled deep in Devon’s folds. Surrounded by woodland and flower speckled fields, to me it is paradise.

A cream tea in the garden just outside Yvonne’s studio – most definitely paradise!

MN: Would you describe your creative process? How do you go from a blank canvas to a finished artwork?

YC: The process before I even pick up a brush or mix oils is crucial to me. The dreaming of the painting is as important as the mark marking. My practice is a complete love affair and I bring all of me to the canvas. I pour both real and emotional landscapes onto the linen. It is a dance between intended and accidental marks with a desire to create beauty and joy. My practice feels a sacred place and the magic unfolds as I surrender to risk and the unknown. I am fascinated and enthralled by the process.

My work takes many months to create as it is a construction of many layers. The beginning is always quite ethereal and poetic and subsequently the marks become bolder and more defined. I use many different techniques and, like the nature that I paint, there is a harmony between order and chaos.

See Yvonne’s paintings and homeware products in her online shop.

MN: You have a flourishing business. What are your top tips for artists hoping to become commercially successful, as well as creatively fulfilled?

YC: I really do believe that following your heart unwaveringly has a force and power that allows magic to emerge. Believe in your dreams, because they are the gateways to success. That and a lot (!) of hard work. For anything to flourish you simply have to put the hours in with training, practice and dedication.

MN: I so appreciate the delight in colour that shines through your paintings. How do you use colour to communicate particular moods and emotions in your work?

YC: I work incredibly instinctively. I love how colours vibrate against one another and take on another unique quality because of the relationship created between them. The oils I use are my language and I communicate intuitively.

MN: Thank you so much for giving one of my readers the chance to win one of your gorgeous new prints. Would you tell me what inspired your latest collection, and do you have a particular favourite?

YC: My new collection is inspired by a deep desire to communicate happiness. I am aware that these are challenging times, and, whilst I acknowledge this, I also very consciously wanted to create work that celebrates love. I truly believe that love has the ability to transform everything both personally and globally. It is the key. This collection is drenched in love, and I have no favourite as they are all uniquely special.

Thank you so much again to Yvonne for taking the time to answer my questions! I was also so thrilled to receive my very own print,  one out of 10 special editions she did for everyone who came to the retreat in my (very large!) goodie bag. Isn’t it stunning? I love the vibrant colours and joyful strokes (I spy lots of poppies too!), which will always remind me of Yvonne’s incredibly kind, generous spirit and my fantastic stay in Devon.

~ Yvonne Coomber IG GIVEAWAY ~

I’m so delighted that one of my readers will get a chance to win a new unframed print by Yvonne Coomber. I’m hosting the giveaway through my Instagram account, so all you have to do is pop over to Instagram and:

1// Like this picture.

2// Comment by tagging a friend you think would love Yvonne’s work too.

3// Make sure you’re following both myself (@mirandasnotebook) and Yvonne (@yvonnecoomber).

PLEASE NOTE: The giveaway is for UK residents only, and the winner will get to pick any one of the prints marked NEW on Yvonne’s website (print will be given unframed).

The giveaway will END at 10pm (UK time) on Thursday 17th May, and I’ll announce the winner on Instagram on Friday 18th May.

Good luck! I can’t wait to see who the lucky winner is and which print they’ll choose.

~

Find Yvonne on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube

Check out Yvonne’s website at www.yvonnecoomber.com 

Yvonne is taking part in the Dulwich Open Studios in London this weekend (12th-13th May) and next (19th-20th May), so if you’re in the area, do pop along!

UK Travel | Soar Mill Cove Hotel, Devon

Soar Mill Cove Hotel

Soar Mill Cove Hotel

Last week, I started the long weekend early as I was invited to review the stunning Soar Mill Cove Hotel, a haven of luxury nestled in the South Hams, Devon. I took Mum with me to enjoy the sea air and a relaxing escape from London. We stayed for three days, exploring the beautiful countryside around the hotel and its nearest town, Salcombe, as well as getting plenty of R&R.

I had never been to Devon’s south coast before, and I was so impressed by its beautiful, rugged landscape. Spring was a perfect time to visit, as the apple trees were still in blossom, wisteria clambered over thatched country cottages, and blue tits were busy buildings nests in the nooks and crannies of the walls outside our hotel room. We were blessed with spectacular weather, and I got to dabble my toes in the sea, even though I couldn’t quite brave the cold waves for a swim!

A Family Run Business

A complimentary cream tea is offered to guests who book direct. We enjoyed ours in the lounge, looking out to the cove.

I was impressed by Soar Mill Cove Hotel even before my arrival in Devon, as I’d received such courteous and prompt emails from the reception team, arranging the details of my stay and booking my afternoon tea and spa appointments.

This warm hospitality was a key feature in making our stay at the hotel so special, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that Soar Mill Cove has been a family-run business for three generations. There is such a cosy, home-away-from-home feel to the place, and you’re made to feel welcome as soon you step across the threshold (even the friendly yellow Labrador behind the reception desk jumps up to say hello!).

Above photos: Soar Mill Cove Hotel Lounge

Although certainly luxurious, the hotel has a cosy,  unpretentious atmosphere, and it’s clearly a favourite amongst locals, as well as visitors from farther afield. Guests regularly return again and again for the tranquil, comfortable environment (one couple who was there at the same time as us apparently stay at the hotel three times a year!).

Soar Mill Cove Bolly Bar

Soar Mill Cove Hotel is both dog and child friendly, making it an ideal family destination, but it’s also a brilliant choice for a romantic escape or for some solitary relaxation. I thought it  the ideal atmosphere for a writing retreat, and once I finally get started on my novel, I would love to hole up at Soar Mill Cove for a week, writing in the mornings and heading out for refreshing walks in the afternoons. One can but dream!

Secluded Setting

Beyond the attentive service, it is of course the spectacular setting that draws so many loyal guests to Soar Mill Cove Hotel. Much of the surrounding landscape is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and the stretch of coastline is renowned for its breathtaking views. The South West Coast Path is on the hotel’s doorstep, and there are many stunning walks to be had. I enjoyed clambering up the cliff path to admire the views, as well as making my way down to the cove, a 10 minute walk from the hotel, which I was often lucky enough to have to myself.

I was awed by the clear blue waters and loved watching the beautiful sailing boats that regularly glided across the horizon, their white sails standing tall and proud against the forget-me-not blue skies.

The local wildlife is spectacular too, and I got very excited when I was told that a herd of deer usually grazed on the slopes of the valley and sometimes wandered down to the beach. I looked out eagerly for any sign of deer, camera in hand, but sadly the photography Gods weren’t smiling on me to quite that extent, and I only saw sheep and cows clustered on the hills (still very picturesque!).

On one walk, though, a single deer startled me by suddenly leaping out of a bush and springing away, quick as a flash, so at least I got to glimpse one, even if I wasn’t fast enough with my camera!

Our Twin Bed Cove View Room

I was so thrilled by our room, which had a private patio and spectacular views of the cove. Mum and I loved sitting outside, or in the armchairs just inside, drinking tea, chatting and admiring the sea, which seemed constantly to change colour.

The room was spacious and exceedingly comfortable. It was useful to have a big desk to sit at, as well as the ample armchairs, and there was plenty of closet space with a large wardrobe and chest of drawers. WiFi was offered free of charge throughout the hotel, although it worked best in the lounge. It was very pleasant to disconnect and simply ‘be’ during our holiday, though!

We very much appreciated the big bathroom, too, with its spacious tub and shower. Lovely Molton Brown products were provided, and I delighted in having a piping hot bubble bath after muddy walks in the evenings!

Afternoon Tea

The hotel offers a complimentary cream tea on arrival to guests who book direct through their website, which I thought was a lovely touch, and the homemade jams are to-die-for! We bought jars of jam (as well as mini bottles of homemade gin) as gifts for friends back in London. I’m looking forward to sharing them out soon!

On our second day, we decided to try the grander afternoon tea option, and I went for the Luxury Afternoon Tea, which came with a glass of champagne, whereas Mum chose the Salcombe Tea, which had a G&T made with gin from the local Salcombe Gin Distillery. Our teas were set up on one of the tables outside, so we could admire the view as we spread our clotted cream and tucked into crab sandwiches and dainty chocolate cakes. Everything was delicious, and I don’t think I’ve ever had afternoon tea in such lovely surroundings before!

Pre-Supper Walk in the Sunset

All the delicious food meant I was keen to get some exercise, and one evening before supper I climbed the hill to admire the glorious landscape, tinged golden and pink by the setting sun. It had been a bit overcast during the day, but in the evening the clouds cleared and the sun shone, promising a fine day to come.

It was a magical evening, and I felt a million miles from the minor worries and stresses of daily life in London.

The Hotel Restaurant

Both Mum and I looked forward to our supper at the hotel’s two AA Rosette restaurant, which is run by Head Chef Ian MacDonald. The restaurant menu features local specialities, such as Start Bay scallops and hand-picked Salcombe crab, and the majority of the seafood, fish and other fresh ingredients are sourced within a 9 mile radius of the hotel.

The restaurant space is light and airy, and we were pleased to get a table right by the window looking out to the cove. Mum and I decided to start with one each of the local specialities; dressed crab for Mum and scallops with slow cooked pork belly for me!

Both appetisers were fantastic; my scallops melted in the mouth, and I had a taste of the crab cocktail too, which was superb and incredibly fresh. Apparently, Salcombe crab is a little sweeter than other crab found along the south west coast in Dorset or Cornwall, and I highly recommend trying it if you’re ever in the area!

Being so close to the sea, we both decided to take advantage of the variety of local catches, and I ordered Hake with parmesan and herb crunch, spring onion creamed potatoes, rainbow chard and white wine butter sauce. It was delicious – I loved the tasty topping on the fish, and the sauce had a wonderful flavour. Mum went for a classic bouillabaisse, which she very much enjoyed too. Everything was washed down with glasses of prosecco to start, followed by a crisp and refreshing white wine.

I knew instantly what I wanted for pudding! Audrey Hepburn was apparently a fan of the hotel when it was first established, and she very much enjoyed the original Mrs Makepeace’s berry pavlova, pronouncing it ‘simply delightful’ (you can download the pavlova recipe here). Of course, I couldn’t resist ordering the pavlova myself, and entirely agreed with Audrey’s judgement! It was the perfect choice for a warm spring evening and a lovely end to my meal.  Mum went for a lemon posset with shortbread biscuits and polished off every bite!

Breakfast in Bed

Despite all the good eating the day before, we thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast the next morning. Guests may dine in the restaurant, or ask for breakfast in bed. I decided to order ours to the room, so we could enjoy a relaxed morning before heading into Salcombe. Mum and I both went for the Full Devonshire: sausages, bacon, tomato, mushrooms and eggs (scrambled for me, poached for Mum). I always think a poached egg is a good test for a restaurant, and Mum’s arrived still piping hot and perfectly cooked.

We also had some croissants, warm from the oven and beautifully buttery on the inside and flakey outside. Pots of tea, grapefruit and orange juice, and some more of that gorgeous jam and Devonshire butter completed our meal. I think it was the best breakfast I’ve ever had!

The Hotel Spa and Salt Water Pool

On our final morning at Soar Mill Cove Hotel, I’d booked a treatment at the Discovery Spa. As I felt my skin had been somewhat ravaged by the extremely cold start to spring we’d had in London, I thought a hydrating facial would be a good idea, so I’d booked the  Renewed Radiance Hydrating Mud Facial, which lasted an hour. It was utter bliss, and I felt a new woman after, with soft, glowing skin. Mum had booked a pedicure at the Spa and loved her treatment too. We both felt thoroughly pampered!

Another lovely feature of the hotel’s spa area was the saltwater pool, which is perfect for enjoying a swim when the sea is too cold.

Local Area

Salcombe, Devon

Besides enjoying the local scenery and country walks, there’s lots to do in the area surrounding the Soar Mill Cove Hotel. Later in the week, I’ll be writing up a proper post about Salcombe, a charming fishing town near the hotel, so do check back for that, but I also wanted to list a few other suggestions for outings in the area.

Overbeck’s is the former home of the scientist and inventor, Otto Overbeck, and is now a National Trust property. There are stunning subtropical gardens that offer dazzling views of the cliffs and sea.

Another National Trust Property, Coleton Fishacre, sounds lovely for those who enjoy pretty gardens and Arts & Crafts style.

The small seaside village of Hope Cove is meant to be well worth a visit for its charming setting, and The Winking Prawn is a restaurant overlooking the beach just outside of the centre of Salcombe that lots of people recommended.

~

Soar Mill Cove Hotel, Devon – www.soarmillcove.co.uk

Room rates at Soar Mill Cove Hotel are from £199 per night. This is based on double occupancy and includes breakfast. To book, please visit www.soarmillcove.co.uk, or call 01548 561566.

Note: My stay at The Soar Mill Cove Hotel was complimentary for the purpose of review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses ‘What She Ate’

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses 'What She Ate'

One of the non-fiction books I’ve most enjoyed lately is What She Ate by Laura Shapiro. As a journalist and culinary historian, Shapiro has long been fascinated by what a person’s appetite says about who they are.

What She Ate explores the food stories of six very different women: Dorothy Wordsworth, devoted sister to her famous brother, William; Rosa Lewis, who cooked for the most distinguished of Edwardian society; First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt; Hitler’s consort, Eva Braun; the British author Barbara Pym and Cosmopolitan editor (and chronic dieter) Helen Gurley Brown. These women were important influencers within the realms of literature, society or politics, but little else connects them, apart from a shared seat at a table. What She Ate highlights the complex relationship women have long held towards their meals, and shows that a person’s food story is rarely straightforward.

As someone with an eager interest in the domestic minutiae of people’s lives, I found What She Ate a compelling read and was delighted when Laura Shapiro agreed to answer some questions about her book.

Book Talk | Laura Shapiro Discusses What She AteLaura Shapiro, photographed by Ellen Warner

MN: Would you tell me a little about yourself and your own food story?

LS: My mother was a wonderful cook — she taught herself to cook after she got married, and became so good at it that eventually she started catering. My own cooking is much more haphazard, but what I did inherit was a fascination with food in all forms and at all times.

My favorite food memory from childhood is waking up early, the morning after my mother had catered a party, and going downstairs to find the refrigerator full of leftovers. She loved making hors d’oeuvres, so there were always lots of those packed up and put away — “party rye” with onion, mayonnaise and parmesan, little cream puffs filled with crabmeat, sauteed mushrooms on squares of toast — all cold, of course, and all so delicious. That is still my idea of a perfect breakfast, ideally eaten standing at the open door of the refrigerator in pajamas, picking out just what I wanted from each tidy package.

MN: In your book, you say ‘food talks’ and what a person does or doesn’t eat can say so much about them. In general, though, a person’s culinary history is largely ignored by biographers, even though all other aspects of famous people’s lives are examined under a microscope. Why do you think what people are cooking and eating so often gets left out of their personal histories?

LS: Traditionally, of course, food would not have been considered a dignified subject to include in the biography of a great man — and great men were the ones people wrote biographies about. Food had to do with the body, it came from women’s world or the world of servants, and it couldn’t possibly have any significance beyond nourishment.

And the second reason, which today would now be the first reason, is that there’s so little information out there. Until Instagram and food blogs came along, most people writing about their lives — writing diaries, letters and memoirs, that is — rarely mentioned what they were eating. So even if a historian or biographer is dying to know what someone ate, it’s going to be very hard to find out.

MN: It was reading about Dorothy Wordsworth eating black pudding that first sparked your idea for ‘What She Ate.’ Would you explain why that particular meal interested you so much, and how you came to write your book?

LS: When I stumbled across the mention of black pudding in a biography of Dorothy Wordsworth, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew a little about her, and nothing in that picture even hinted that she would eat such a thing. Her social class, her own cooking as she described it in the Grasmere Journal, her history of colitis — black pudding for dinner would have been an affront to all of that. It was basically a sausage of blood and oatmeal, and although it had a longtime place on upper class breakfast tables, even that was starting to fade by the time this mention came along.

So I started to wonder, and I realized that if I could get a grip on this mystery, maybe I would learn something about Dorothy Wordsworth that I hadn’t known before. Maybe food would give me access to someone’s life in a new way.

MN: I loved a passage in your book when you wrote ‘our food stories…go straight to what’s neediest.’ You chose to examine women who in general had a complicated, and in some cases very insecure, relationship with food. How did you settle on which women to write about? Were you especially drawn towards food stories about women who saw food as troubling, more than delicious?

LS: So much of the food writing that’s appeared in the last ten or twenty years — popular writing, I mean, as opposed to scholarly — is about the same thing: Food is love. Food is emotional support. Food brings us together. Of course all those things are true — I’ve written them myself, many times — but I really wanted to get to something else in this book. I think all kinds of things happen at the dinner table, and plenty of them are not about food-brings-us-together. So I chose women with complicated, hard-to-decode relationships with food, women whose food stories lurked below the surface.

MN: Do you think men and women eat in a very different way? Would men’s food stories be largely different from women’s?

LS: I’m absolutely positive men’s stories would be different — but I have no evidence for it at all. I do think women have an immediate and instinctive relationship with food that comes from a billion years of physical nurturing of babies, so that’s one big difference between women and men, but I would never give myself the imaginative freedom to explore men’s food lives the way I’ve always explored women’s. For me, it would be like writing in a foreign language. There certainly are writers who can imagine other sexes — in fiction and in non-fiction — but for me it’s difficult.

MN: During the majority of the history you wrote about in ‘What She Ate’, a woman’s place was very much considered to be within the domestic sphere, and yet many of the women you wrote about wielded food as a weapon to gain power in worlds beyond their kitchen. I thought it was especially fascinating to read about Rosa Lewis’s incredible career. Would you tell me a little more about how food completely changed her life?

LS: Rosa Lewis was an amazing example of a woman who made food her career for a very specific reason that I don’t think had anything to do with food. She wanted to climb from working class to upper class, and she could see that in Victorian/Edwardian London, cooking would help her up the ladder.

What complicates the picture is that she didn’t really want to change who she was. What she wanted was to be accepted at the top of the ladder as exactly who she was — a former scullery maid named Rosa Lewis who could cook as well as Escoffier. And she succeeded, but only as long as she kept cooking. When she hung up her apron, after World War I, she lost her place on the ladder.

MN: Your book shows that there is a great deal of emotion – both positive and negative – attached to food, and yet Eleanor Roosevelt seemed most comfortable with food during her time at the White House when she could strip meal time from any emotive resonance and think of food as simply fuel for living. Why did she serve such dreadful food at the White House, and why did she seem to enjoy eating so much more later in life?

LS: Eleanor’s story is very much about her marriage to FDR. After his affair with Lucy Mercer, she was devastated, and from then on their marriage was basically a political partnership. She shared his ideals, but what she couldn’t bear was his luxury-loving side, the cocktails and fine meals and enjoyment of life that he had known while growing up and still relished when the workday was over. That was the side of FDR that gave rise to his flirtatious attentions to other women and of course the affair with Lucy Mercer. She didn’t want to feed that side of him — literally, I believe. So she made no effort to change the terrible food served by the mean-spirited housekeeper she had hired. But when she was out of the White House — travelling, or with her own friends, or pursuing her second career after FDR’s death — she was free to eat with pleasure.

MN: Two women in your book seemed to derive the most pleasure from food by simply not eating it at all. Would you tell me more about how a lack of food shaped the stories of Eva Braun and Helen Gurley Brown?

LS: These were, of course, the two dieters in the book. I hasten to add that they had nothing else in common, but they did share a fixation on staying slim. They felt very competitive with other women, and they desperately wanted to appeal to what neither of them knew yet to call the male gaze.

Helen Gurley Brown’s single-minded focus on eating as little as possible throughout life did quite a bit of damage to her readers, since she was promoting an ideal of the female body that was unnatural and essentially unattainable. Eva Braun’s effect on her moment in history was subtler but more terrible. Sitting at the table with Hitler and his entourage, she was so sweetly and stereotypically feminine that her presence created, in effect, a guilt-free zone for Hitler and his entourage.

MN: In terms of my own attitude towards food, I most identified with Barbara Pym. I liked the unpretentious, but still appreciative, approach she took towards food, both in her books and in real life. Would you tell me more about how the food she wrote about reflected the world around her?

LS: Barbara Pym had a wonderfully healthy relationship with food — she just loved it, and it caused her no problems whatever as far as I can see. When it was delicious, she enjoyed eating it, and when it was awful, she enjoyed thinking about it. When she started on her life as a novelist after World War II, a whole spectrum of food was spread out in front of her — tinned soups and flabby blancmange, and perfectly roasted duck with peas from the garden.

All of it went into the books, which is why it’s possible to read her novels as a revisionist history of British cooking after the war. Pym was no fantasy-writer: her novels emerged from the world around her, and if she saw plenty of good food along with the stereotypically awful food of that time, I think we can believe her.

MN: Finally, Laura, what’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects you’re working on that you’re able to share at the moment?

LS: I wish I knew! I’m in that nerve-wracking state of testing new ideas, discarding and revising and fiddling and re-discarding and re-revising.

MN: If people would like to keep up with your news, where can they find you online?

LS: My website is laurashapirowriter.com.

~

What She Ate by Laura Shapiro is available on Amazon and all good booksellers.

Find me on instagram: @mirandasnotebook and @mirandasbookcase

P.S. You may also be interested in my interview with Annie Gray on Queen Victoria’s life in food on Tea & Tattle Podcast.