Friday, 29 June 2012

Book group

Last night I hosted book group. Normally a brisk monthly affair, this time it was somewhat delayed due to the 638 pages of tiny text contained within Kavalier & Clay. The book was my choice, recommended to me by a friend who said it was the best book she'd read in the past two years, if not ever. High praise indeed.

I enjoyed it insofar as it was beautifully written, the prose was peppered with some of the most evocative and elaborate metaphors I've ever come across. The pseudo-historical context reminded me a little of Memoirs of a Geisha, and there was something in the epic-ness of the story that made me think of His Dark Materials. I loved the descriptions of Manhattan in the 1930s and 40s, the fashion, music, and era-perfect dialogue were all so seductively drawn. I wasn't so keen on the subject matter - comic books are just not my thing - but it didn't matter so much, as the story itself was compelling and tragic. Such sadness was experienced by the characters, and I truly felt it.

Our book group consists of seven women from round our way, all strong and articulate and excellent company. One of the best things about the dynamics of these evenings is that we've somehow managed to create an environment whereby each of us can have a different view and feel completely happy and confident to express those differences. A rare thing indeed.

My book group ladies deserve special treats to go with the literary chat. Last night I made roasted butternut squash, cheddar and sage nibbles, strawberry and rose petal sandwiches, and chocolate macarons.

None of these recipes are my own invention and I can find no trace of them online. But the sandwiches are pretty straightforward so I'll give you a quick rundown here.

Strawberry and rose petal sandwiches
Spread slices of brioche loaf with clotted or whipped double cream. 
Mix a teaspoon of rosewater into some good strawberry jam and then spread this over the cream layer. 
Wash and top a few strawberries before slicing them thinly. 
Place a layer of strawberries over the jam on one side of the sandwich. 
Pull off the white heels of your rose petals (unsprayed, fragrant ones) and place the petals over the jam on the other side. 
Sandwich together, cut off the crusts and slice into three fingers. 
Dust with icing sugar and scatter with yet more rose petals.

Divine - these almost have the taste of a Victoria sandwich cake but take a fraction of the time. You really must try them.


Monday, 25 June 2012

Swimming in the rain

On Saturday, a friend and I spent the day at the Lido in Clifton - hands down, one of my very favourite places in Bristol (if not the world!). I remember going as a child, when it was the much more basic 'Clifton Open Air Pool' packed with families in the summer holidays, arm bands everywhere and certainly not the luxurious lido it is now. 

We went for the full day spa package which included a treatment, use of the pool, hot tub, steam room and sauna, plus breakfast, a two-course lunch in the restaurant, and complimentary soft drinks, tea and coffee all day.

Although we were only there for the day, I felt as though I'd been on holiday for a week. Hours spent reading in the hot tub, one of the best massages I've ever had followed by an hour drinking hibiscus and coconut tea in the tea room, a swim with the rain plopping into the (surprisingly warm) water, and finally getting out of that robe and into proper clothes again in the spa boudoir - I can think of no better way to spend the day.

The facilities are incredible, but what really makes it special is the truly wonderful food. Breakfast was granola with yoghurt and fruit, with a freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice. Lunch consisted of chargrilled asparagus with garlic breadcrumbs, parmesan and toasted hazelnuts, followed by falafel with carrot and caraway salad, flat bread and pomegranate seeds. Several almond presses were consumed as well - a sort of citrusy fizz with a fragrant nutty flavour. Just amazing.

Our package allowed us to stay til ten, so it seemed churlish not to order a glass of Prosecco and some tapas for supper - bread and oil, olives, tortilla, babaganoush, roasted beetroot with broad beans and capers, syrian lentils. All, quite frankly, bloody delicious. And for pudding, a salted butter caramel ice cream. Incredible.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Toast and escapology

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

Source: via Lottie on Pinterest

The Toast sale starts today at 9am - hooray! These are a few of my picks from their Summer collection. I wish I could snap it all up but I may have to treat myself to just one thing. Think my credit card might end up a bit bruised otherwise...

And later on I'm off for a day at the spa. Looking forward to a (drizzly) swim, hot tub, sauna, steam room, massage, and lots of lovely food and drink. Plus reading and chatting and, mainly, a lot of relaxing. Have a great weekend, whatever you get up to!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Behind the scenes

Oyster & Pearl: Behind the scenes - food | home | family | life blog

In the interests of balanced reporting, I feel I should follow up my house tour post with the revelation that, from where I sit now, I can see an old desk piled high with magazines sitting, randomly, in the middle of the living room; a sideboard placed back-to-front and topped with an old tupperware, a buggy raincover, and two candlesticks; two seats from a Fiat Multipla; a landfill-worth of plastic toys; and a full laundry load of pants drying on the radiator.

Elsewhere in the house can I draw your attention to the crayon on the once-white walls, only up to a certain (nearly 2-year-old's) height? And there's the half-painted kitchen, four years on (we can only blame the kids indirectly for that one). The scene on the patio is no better... The sand table is grimy and water-logged, toys are scattered over the ground, those poor sunflowers have met a sorry demise.

So you see why I am an enthusiastic proponent of the closely cropped photograph. Despite the mess, there's always a pocket of prettiness to be found somewhere, if you look hard enough.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Notes on a solo expedition

Top: Emergency solo parenting kit; my dinner date; a watery commute
Middle: Souvenir snaps from Edinburgh
Bottom: Sleeping in the middle of the bed; welcome home!; a celebratory toast 

My husband is home from half a week away in Edinburgh, and I survived solo parenting. In fact, I feel triumphant as it was all pretty plain sailing (despite my horrible fears that it would all go to pot).

I loved the useful comments left on my last post about this, and here I pass on what I learned for anyone else going it alone, albeit temporarily.
:: I did a big supermarket shop in advance but didn't end up planning any meals - we seemed to manage ok :)
:: Sunday night was a high point - bags were packed, clothes laid out, packed lunch made and in the fridge, and I even laid the table for breakfast. This was managed once, but never again
:: Arthur and I went for dinner at Pizza Express together - a rare chance to chat and enjoy each other's  company, uninterrupted
:: Evenings alone can be really rather enjoyable, although they do not go on forever and I am not very good at making myself go to bed
:: Solo parenting works best on days when one is at work - then, the pressure points are just mornings and evenings, which can be (mostly) mollified with a bit of foresight and planning
:: ... except when the nursery calls with a suspected case of chicken pox - that's quite a large spanner (although not an accurate one in this case. Phew)
:: The last half day is the hardest, that last bath and bedtime - intolerable. Waiting, waiting, anticipating his return (all three of us).

I'm putting together another summer compilation, and there's a beautiful song on there by Lucinda Williams that kind of touched a nerve this week - it's about testing your relationship by putting a bit of distance between you in order to appreciate what it is that makes you work as a couple. Although we met aged 17 (that's eighteen years ago), I'd like to think we don't take each other for granted.

I've missed you BV - welcome home, my love ♥

Sunday, 17 June 2012

House tour

house midcentury furniture oysterpots oyster pearl bathroom living room kitchen sofa baileys vintage home victorian period

house midcentury furniture oysterpots oyster pearl bathroom living room kitchen sofa baileys vintage home victorian period

house midcentury furniture oysterpots oyster pearl bathroom living room kitchen sofa baileys vintage home victorian period

house midcentury furniture oysterpots oyster pearl bathroom living room kitchen sofa baileys vintage home victorian period

house midcentury furniture oysterpots oyster pearl bathroom living room kitchen sofa baileys vintage home victorian period

house midcentury furniture oysterpots oyster pearl bathroom living room kitchen sofa baileys vintage home victorian period

house midcentury furniture oysterpots oyster pearl bathroom living room kitchen sofa baileys vintage home victorian period

house midcentury furniture oysterpots oyster pearl bathroom living room kitchen sofa baileys vintage home victorian period

Six years ago today, we got the keys to our new house. I can't believe it's been six years - so much has happened in that time, the most important being the delivery of two tiny, spectacular people into our lives.

One of my favourite things about the blogs I read and love is seeing tours of houses, so in honour of the six year anniversary I thought I'd take advantage of the beautiful light this morning and snap a few corners of our home. I hope you like it.


Friday, 15 June 2012

Photo a day: Yellow, on a day I'm feeling blue

Photo a day: Yellow by oysterpots
I know it sounds a bit pathetic, but I'm dreading next week. My husband is going away with work for 4 days leaving me alone with the kids, and I can't say I'm looking forward to it much. Mornings are hard work at the best of times - getting everyone up, fed, dressed and to various locations with the correct bags/coats/packed lunches etc - without trying to do it all single-handed. Bedtimes can be pretty dire too.

A friend of mine has offered advice, learned the hard way. Her tips include getting a big supermarket shop done in advance, and planning your evenings and using the peace and quiet as an excuse to get stuff done. With that in mind, my plan for next week is as follows:
:: Plan all meals
:: Make packed lunches, lay out clothes, pack bags the night before
:: Enjoy the peace and use the evenings to relax and potter (nothing I like more than a good potter)
:: Forge ahead with my book group book
:: Get enough sleep so there's less chance of frazzled nerves during the day
:: But I'll more than likely spend hours noodling about on blogs and suchlike, without anyone to make me go to bed.

Have I missed anything? What do you do to make parenting solo more bearable?

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Public service announcement

I bought a dress. Ok, I hear you say, whatevs. But this here dress - Horsing Around from Great Plains - was a total bargain. £51 down to £13. ONE THREE. That's right. And I totally love it.

I am also happy to report that, after a 2 mile walk home field experiment, Saltwater sandals are as good in rain as they are in brine. On the other hand, I was so soggy there was nothing for it but a hot bath.

Photo a day: Time........... is running out

Photo a day: Time........... is running out. 560 pages to read in 15 days. by oysterpots
560 pages to read in 15 days. Oh heck.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Photo a day: Art

Photo a day: Art by oysterpots
Part of the Upfest legacy. I have mixed feelings about Upfest but there is no denying some of the works are pretty incredible.

Photo a day: From a low angle

Photo a day: From a low angle by oysterpots

Thank goodness for a bit of blue sky.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Photo a day: Door

Photo a day: Door by oysterpots

A new, old doorbell.

If you liked our Fleurs sign which was my photo a day the other week, we've got a few signy, typey things up on eBay at the moment including a French 'Bar' sign - take a look.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Crafternoons: Over-the-top cake decorating

Often, the idea of baking cakes with kids is a lot more satisfying than the reality. Many a time I've fantasised about rosy-cheeked kids enthusiastically stirring and sifting, wearing cute Cath Kidston aprons and being genuinely helpful. In practice, it's a job to keep ingredients in bowls, hands away from hot ovens, and the mixture gets EVERYWHERE.

This time, I decided to bake a tray of basic fairy cakes myself while the kids were with their dad at the park, leaving just the most fun part to the bairns - icing and decorating. We used a chocolate icing with every single pot of sprinkles and glitter I own, and the results were fairly spectacular. Completely over-the-top and gaudy - just how kids like it.

Unfortunately, someone could not resist meddling with the black glitter, resulting in an impromptu midday bath. He cried black, sparkly tears for days after this.


Photo a day: Best bit of my weekend

Shiny slider by oysterpots
A spontaneous, pre-bedtime play at the park.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Radio Is Playing Summer Hits

Illustration by Atherton Lin

I've recently discovered the brilliant music site 8tracks and have been listening to some great music. It's a site where people upload their compilations and you can browse and listen as you please. 

My first mix is one from a few summers back, inspired by the beautiful illustration above by Atherton Lin.

If you'd like to listen, then I've embedded the mix below. I'm starting to compile a Summer 2012 mix and I'm always on the look-out for new tunes. What are your favourite songs or bands at the moment?


Photo a day: My view today (and every other day)

Sometimes I get so tired of making food for small people. I know, I know, I should be feeding them what we eat, and that can be the case (mainly at weekends) but often the timings just don't stack up. My kids get hungry for lunch around 11.30am, and peckish for their tea at 4.30pm - these times are just not conducive to adult needs. And if I began making a meal for all of us to share it would eat into the time we have together pre/post afternoon naps. So many meals and sleeps to think about!

Enough of the excuses though. Today's photo a day subject is 'Your view today', and it struck me that I am often looking down at a colourful plastic plate piled high with food waiting to be devoured.

At the moment I'm reading one of those 'French kids are so much better than yours' books, and one of the very specific differences noted by the author is that French meals are similar quantities to ours, but that they come in the form of multiple, smaller, courses. This has the effect of keeping a child's interest and not intimidating them with piles of grub. Often they will begin with a vegetable course at the top - exactly when children are at their hungriest. Clever.

So I'm conducting a minor experiment along these lines to see whether my two will eat in a more hearty fashion. A typical meal might consist of a starter of crudites, veg, nibbly bits; a main course (smaller portion than you might normally provide); a cheese course, biscuits, sliced apple; and a decent pudding with fruit. I think it might be working...


Friday, 8 June 2012

Photo a day: Six o'clock

Photo a day: Six o'clock - windswept, broken blooms awaiting arrangement by oysterpots

Windswept, broken blooms awaiting arrangement


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Photo a day: Drink

  by oysterpots
Last night I went to the preview of the Jamaica Street Artists open studios weekend. Featuring some of the best work in the city, this fantastic weekend allows a glimpse into the world of Bristol art. Exciting stuff. I love the work of JSA artists Ant Garratt, Serena Curmi, Andrew Hood, Philip Munoz, and Anouk Mercier.

More Mercier by oysterpots

Anouk's work is hyper detailed drawings made in pencil, resulting in dream-like scenes of waterfalls, Bavarian landscapes and remote cabins. Beautiful.

Anouk Mercier work in progress by oysterpots

JSA open studios is on all weekend, culminating in a mini canvas auction on Sunday at 4pm. Well worth a visit - I might need to go back for more.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Photo a day: Hat

Photo a day: Hat by oysterpots

I confess: this wasn't my idea - it's been doing the rounds on Pinterest for a while, originally by Jordan at Oh Happy Day! I love it though - so simple and whimsical. And I love that those plastic toys that get under my feet can be made beautiful, funny, different.
My boys' birthdays are coming up next month so I've got parties on my mind. My Pinterest board dedicated to party ideas is coming on nicely - many of the pics are, serendipitously, animal related. Looks like it's going to be a zoological extravaganza for my baby bear when he turns 2.

:: If you're wondering why I have an elephant in leg warmers or a zebra in a woolly coat, these animals are left over from the art trail we did last month - read about it here ::

Snapshot: A Jubilant weekend

I have no truck with all this royal nonsense, I'm afraid. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad of the extra bank holiday. But you'd never see me waving a Union Jack flag or going to see a concert or watch a few boats go by (perhaps more fun in real life but both these events seemed completely underwhelming on screen, didn't they?). Having school-age children means you kinda have to get involved in every festival or celebration going, and Arthur's school asked the kids to come dressed in red, white and blue on the last day of term. The double-whammy weekend carried on in a jubilant fashion:

:: I couldn't resist a tongue-in-cheek nod to Her Maj with some fabulous tattoos by Lydia Leith (who also makes these jelly moulds)
:: ... and Arthur requested a red, white and blue manicure
:: Spent Monday with both sets of grandparents
:: Made gold play dough flecked with glitter and scented orange
:: Fixed spokey dokeys to Arthur's bike, before he and Ben went for a ride in the woods
:: Mooched around at Upfest, where we made crowns and giant paintings
:: Potted up a whole windowsill of herbs, inspired by Wednesday's WI talk from Lia Leendertz
:: Rediscovered one of our favourite YouTube clips: 'We're going on a bear hunt' read by Michael Rosen
:: ... and went on a bear hunt of our own in the woods
:: Had a night without the kids so we saw the new Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom, which I loved. Not as much as Rushmore or the Tenenbaums (my very favourite), but still proper Wes-love
:: And we resorted to rainy day wigwam action on more than one occasion. This rain...

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Photo a day: Sign

Sign - vintage French florist by oysterpots
This beautiful vintage French florist sign was picked up by my clever husband and has pride of place in our kitchen. You can't tell from this crop, but it's a whopper - about 150cm wide.

It's one of my favourite things we own.

Monday, 4 June 2012


One of those perfect days.
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