Category Archives: Shopping

In search of decent kids’ books

I’m new to the world of children’s books – or rather, returning after a rather long absence – and I have been impressed by what is out there at the moment… and keen to find more.

I started off in true PFB (Perfect First Born) fashion by reading my son books that were a bit too old for him. But they seemed to ‘overstimulate’ him (squawking and jerking around; it’s easy to spot after a while but at first you think, oh dear, he’ll be on the Ritalin in a few years) so now we’ve gone back to baby books, ie. anything with flaps to look under, and I’m saving the other ones for when he’s a bit older.

He also loves a bit of poetry, I think because babies respond to rhythm, and that is what poetry is all about. Plus it’s meant to be read aloud, so is a good way to appreciate it properly and entertain your baby at the same time.

Here are some of the children’s books I’ve either discovered or rediscovered lately. I would love to hear any recommendations of good authors & books… Continue reading

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Ghormeh Sabzi from the Turkish Food Centre

If you happen to visit the Turkish Food Centre at Ridley Road market, and feel like Iran’s national dish for dinner, then pick up a couple of tins of Gormeh Sabzi. It costs £1.49, and is a mixture of herbs, oil, dried lime and kidney beans. This is the basis for a typical Persian dish that provides comfort and nourishment in the way of a bowl of really good spaghetti or a roast chicken. According to one article, it’s traditionally served when family members return home from a journey (proper Journeys, I would imagine, not just a package holiday in Lanzarote).

I was introduced to this dish by an Iranian family friend who now drives a taxi in Berlin and loves to cook. He assured me that although you can cook it from scratch, using fresh herbs, it’s also OK to use the tinned stuff. Here’s how you do it:

Once you’ve got your 2 tins from TFC (in the tinned tomato aisle up the back, near the baklava stall), cook an onion in some oil, then sprinkle over about a teaspoon of turmeric. Add about 500g of diced lamb (TFC also sells good-quality lamb, so you can buy it here, along with some yogurt (full fat, push the boat out and go for the 10% stuff), and a bag of basmati rice. Add water to cover the lamb and simmer for an hour or so, then open the tins of ghormeh sabzi and stir in. Season to taste (although it’s already pretty salty) and simmer for 20 mins or so while your rice cooks. Serve with rice and a dollop of yogurt.

It’s an odd sort of a flavour – sour limes, earthy herbs, sweet lamb, fragrant rice and tangy yogurt, but really, really good.

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Spring at the Columbia Road Flower Market

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Pages of Hackney

There’s something so exciting about opening the front door to an Amazon delivery (except when it’s not for you. One of the problems of being home full-time is that delivery people tend to ring every doorbell in a flat just to get that parcel out of their life. Back when I was pregnant and the size of a house I would open the window and yell down to them to find out who it was for. If it was for me or my middle neighbours, who I like (Hi, E!), I’d waddle down. If not, I’d tell them I had a bad leg. Right at the end I’d tell them I was in labour).

But there’s something even better about buying a book from a bookshop. I tend to do this more when it’s a gift for someone (and books are a great gift – small, enjoyable and easy to donate to Oxfam if you don’t like them). Plus, you can buy one on the way to seeing the person it’s for. Buying a book on Amazon for a gift is just that little bit too organised. Bugger, baby awake. To be continued.

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Market revival in Chatsworth Road this Sunday

For those who are finding Broadway Market a victim of its own success just lately – and I suspect the outraged blogger behind Hackney Hipster Hate would count himself a founding member of this group, you may like to check out the new market on Chatsworth Road in Clapton that is launching this Sunday (November 7).

Here’s the website:

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Our Patterned Hand, Broadway Market

Our Patterned Hand opened up on Broadway Market quite a while ago, but it was only recently that I ventured in with a bona-fide sewing expert, my mum. She arrived three weeks ago laden with a suitcase full of everything from bunny rugs to a crocheted red cardigan (all made by her), plus loads of other essentials such as an ear thermometer and a copy of Baby Love.

While here she’s trawled Oxford Street, with my dad as mule, for a moses basket, pram cocoon, baby bath, soft towels, face flannels and numerous other items I would otherwise have shopped for in a blind panic once on maternity leave (god, can it ever come fast enough?), popped over to Paris for a tres chic velvety grey babygro, and given my husband a pep talk on supporting a woman in labour (while he was, I might add, unwittingly wearing one of my maternity tops. He’s since been in a cold sweat at the thought of any of his colleagues noticing the tell-tale gathering up the sides).

Yesterday we visited Our Patterned Hand where she found some printed Indian fabric for a little dress for my niece and some rose pink velvet for something TBC – true seamstresses always have a stash of fabrics for things that are yet to be dreamed up. It’s a beautiful little shop, the owner has a keen eye for gorgeous fabrics and she only buys things in small quantities, so you don’t get that overflowing chaos of some fabric shops…. but it also means that if you see a fabric you love, buy it straight away as it won’t be there in a month or two. Canny marketing, but also good for shoppers as you know you’ll find something new every time you come in. The owner, Leanne Finn-Davies, has also just started sewing classes, so get in touch via the website or just drop in to see what’s coming up.

Thanks to The Women’s Room for these pictures – I will try and get my own soon.

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Helen Lang at Elphicks Shop, Columbia Road

Today being Sunday, I thought I’d post this interview with Helen Lang, one of the artists who sells work through Elphicks in Columbia Road. If you haven’t already been, or if you’re visiting London and looking for a gift or memento to take home, then this is a great place to find something unusual – she sells a range of her own and other artists’ illustrations, prints and artwork.

The flower market is on Sundays from 8am to 3pm, but many of the small independent shops are open at other times, too – Saturdays are a good day to visit as it’s much quieter.

Helen Lang, who has recently started selling her work there, talked to me:

When did you start drawing?
I know its sounds like a bit of a cliche but I have always drawn. Family photo albums are full of shots of me on a floor covered with paper, hundreds of pencils and a rainbow set of felt pens scattered about. My Dad was a litho printer and the summer holidays were filled with going to work with him and getting to draw on all the misprints. When i went to my mum’s work I would draw for all the girls in the office and I think if you go back to the canteen and open the cupboard there’s still a drawing I did of a flamingo for the tea lady.

How would you describe your style?
Wonderfully sophistaticated and beautifully quirky?! I’m not really sure how you would describe it as a style but my illustrations are very intricate and crisp, but essentially happy and colourful. My work has developed over the last two years and has become a lot more decorative and I’ve loved exploring the typographical possibilities in my artwork. Some imagery has a very romantic lilt with other work simply being created to celebrate fun and colour. Floral elements and natural forms are also very important in my work and the ability to incorporate lettering is key to my style.

I see that you’re originally from Devon… do you live in East London now, and if so, what are your top five places?
Yes, I have to confess I’m a janner from Devon! and although I don’t live in East London currently (I live in Tooting Broadway) I do love exploring the East End. My favourite places include Bistrotheque for its unique and hilarious nights (Lipsynchers and Bearlesque especially !!) I also love Spitalfields market which, although getting slightly touristy and very cleanly organised, is still a fabulous place to see an eclectic mix of fashion, design and interiors. I love the bagel shops at the end of Brick Lane and adore queuing late at night for two salt beef (no mustard please) bagels. Columbia Road market has also been a big love of mine and it’s wonderful to have my work selling in Elphicks. I can pop over to stock up with all kinds of brooms, lavenders, pansies and herbs for a tenner and then have a chat with Sharon who runs the gallery. It’s a wonderful environment.

Do you find living in London gives you more ideas/energy for your drawings?
Living in London doesn’t necessarily give you more ideas but it does have a wonderful sense of creativity and creative networks. I do feel that there is a passionate art scene in London and the East End really showcases this passion. I’m a member of the East End Arts Club run by the fabulous Helen Edwards and her briefs for shows give me a lot of flexibility and scope to generate fresh new work. I’m really excited by her shows and the gallery spaces she is able to exhibit in are superb too.
There is a real sense that anything goes in London and the market places and galleries are so much more open to seeing new artists work and ideas. I love the exhibitions and gatherings that allow people to network and collaborate and I think that’s where I get a lot of energy from.

Any tips for aspirants about making a career as an artist/illustrator?It looks like you’ve found a good balance of creative and commercial work….
It’s all about a good balance. You can be a hugely talented artist but if you don’t have the ability to make your work accessible to buyers then you’re stuffed. Promoting your work successfully and with a clear understanding of the marketplace you will be selling your work in is key. Pricing is also a big factor and being sensible with your attitude towards selling your work is key. One thing I have learnt is never undersell yourself but do be aware of what the competition is offering.

Find out more about Helen’s work at Wet Paint, or visit her Facebook page

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