Archives for category: Cooking

The Metro tile: ubiquitous wall decor for any Scandi-chic kitchen, or retro bathroom, or pretty much any other style in between. This handy little brick-shaped slip of ceramic has stacked itself neatly into thousands of well-appointed homes, and love for its understated simplicity does not seem to be abating any time soon.

A few years ago, in the first forays, you mainly saw them bravely displayed with industrial rawness, alongside austere metalworks and stark monochromes.

From Remodelista blog, industrial style bathroom

From Remodelista blog, industrial style bathroom

Since then, we have softened and warmed their settings, with woods and colours, making the most of their unobtrusive blankness to provide a backdrop to a thousand different styles. Essentially, these are neutral, easy-to-clean brick walls. Familiar pattern, simple elegance.

It is natural, then, to declare that your splashback or bathroom scheme will be ‘metro tiles,’ but this is in fact still quite a long way from a decision. Thankfully I have stepped up to this job and done the research for you, so you can read this and simply go ahead and order.

If the bevelled edges of the original Paris Metro are still your dream, then take a look at Topps Tiles Metro White at £23 a box (covers a square metre) full of 20cm by 10cm tiles.

Topps Tiles White Metro, bevelled jewels in a kitchen

Topps Tiles White Metro, bevelled jewels in a kitchen

Or instead, if you visit the branch I do, you could pop next door to Al Murad. They come in at 20cm by 10cm and will set you back only £14.99 per metre. Choose between a plain and simple matte finish or a more reflective gloss.

Matte or gloss: choices abound

Matte or gloss: choices abound

Al Murad's version is comparable but competes on price

Al Murad’s version is comparable but wins on price

Online stores also offer cheaper versions (Tile HQ are selling at a price-busting £9.22 per metre at the moment…).

You may however have a desire for a flat and minimal effect, but keeping the brick design. Fired Earth have some inspirational examples of both the bevelled and the flat in their Retro Metro range. The flat are slightly smaller at 15cm by 7.5cm: the white is called South Kensington and demanding high-end prices at (a currently reduced) £63.73 per metre. The glaze is crackled and adds to a vintage vibe, and I have no doubt these would look stunning in most settings.

Fired Earth's wall-warming selection of seasonal colours

Fired Earth’s wall-warming selection of seasonal colours

This flatter version was the style of tiles my friend Emma wanted for her kitchen. After she described it to me, I found a useful picture on the front of my trusty Living Etc magazine which confirmed the overall look.

Metro-clad kitchen graces Living Etc's front cover

Metro-clad kitchen graces Living Etc’s front cover

I went searching and came up with Walls and Floors’ White Chapel Tiles at a cool £19.75 per metre. They are gloss and flat little tiles, simple and perfect to cover any wall.

Walls and Floors' White Chapel tile

Walls and Floors’ White Chapel tile

We appointed our builder and I chose the grout. The details on a little job like retiling make a huge difference. While tiles are for the most part good tempered and wipeable, the grainy material between is quite another story. Inevitably white turns to a brownish sludge at best, at worst becomes patched with orange or green.

What lovely white grout gleams from this photoshoot/ Original Source's Metro tiles set in pristine conditions

What lovely white grout gleams from this photoshoot/ Original Source’s Metro tiles set in pristine conditions

Most tile retailers offer a massive selection of antibacterial grouts and cleaning solutions, but in fact current trends work in our favour here. Grey is, as we’ve seen, most definitely colour of the moment, and between the tiles is no exception. The shade does define the tiles more, like a subtle web of pencil outlines, but where the little accidents of life occur — the blender rebels riotously over the walls, a kids’ biscuit-icing session goes off-piste, spatters of tomato paste make their livid way inexorably onto every surface you ever had — you have a forgiving base to which you can return with a wipe of a cloth. So BAL’s Micromax Smoke it was.

Save yourself a job: BAL grout in Smoke

Save yourself a job: BAL grout in Smoke

Emma’s kitchen was a little dark between cupboards before — you can just about see the moss-green tiling scheme in these pictures:

Before: Emma's greenish wals....

Before: Emma’s greenish walls…

But now the perky little metro tiles have been fitted, this space is bright and fresh.

After -- a light and bright space

…and after: a light and bright space

And in the evening cosy lighting

In the evening, cosy lighting

She was so happy with it that she styled a photoshoot in it for a new favourite range of homeware. Check it out on her blog here.

Meanwhile, on a roll, I have continued to clock how these little tiles are being used in new and exciting ways. I think my favourite variation on the theme so far has to be these marble brick tiles from Original Style. Stockists are dotted around the country and you’d need to contact them for prices, but what a great combination:

Delicately veined marble brick tiles give a translucent glow to this bathroom/ Original Style

Delicately veined marble brick tiles give a translucent glow to this bathroom/ Original Style Viano White Honed Bevel Marble

I suspect that the little brick tile is only just getting started. Materials and treatments will be expanded this year, and I can’t wait to find out how.

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There comes a time, and I’m not sure exactly at which point it is, when the suggestion of taking A Nice Walk or making a visit to a historical site becomes a really good idea, rather than a really annoying imposition on your play life. Possibly it’s when you are the suggester rather than the suggestee of the activity, and you are settling comfortably into at least your fourth decade.

I remember going to National Trust properties when I was little. I remember the untrodden lawns, the beautifully manicured gardens, and the grey-haired and sensibly-shod visitors wandering in them, the lavender-infused shop selling mainly fudge, the dangled possibility of an ice cream at the end, and most certainly a picnic with Bovril sandwiches. There were also woody wild areas to explore and the familiar unusual plants to rediscover just around the corner… maybe even a ‘climbing tree’.

Memories! We went here/ Watersmeet river gorge from the National Trust

Memories! We went here/ Watersmeet river gorge from the National Trust

Often we eschewed the house visit for fear of potential toddler malfunction, or, when we were older, in deference to the encroaching teenage boredom threshold. Most of the dingy exhibits were sequestered out of reach behind a rope barrier (and how tempting that rope was for us younger visitors, for swinging on or deftly looping around a sibling’s neck) and presided over by a stately and disapproving figure in the corner, who seemed to have a lot in common with Sam the Eagle from the Muppets.

The culture police have changed at the National Trust over the years/Sam the Eagle generally disapproves

The NT culture police have mellowed over the years/Sam the Eagle generally disapproves

In many ways, the National Trust has changed, and all to the good. Children are made so welcome now in the houses, and interaction with the objects in them is now actively encouraged. Where items need to be preserved, explanatory notes are placed next to them, showing the reasons for the Do Not Touch notice. The once frosty security guards have been replaced by a cosy army of grandparents, eager to chat and inspire.

So as parents, we didn’t baulk at the concept of taking our kids and another family into Lanhydrock House in Cornwall one rainy half term day. The children had a fantastic time looking for Halloween pumpkins but also following an easy-to-read guide as we toured the rooms, answering quizzes and imagining themselves as little lords and ladies from a bygone age.

But I didn’t bring you here only to muse upon middle-class family pursuits. I mentioned in my previous post that I found some treasure here. As our party swarmed ahead, I lingered in the kitchen, captivated by their collection of ‘Victorian mod cons’ and stylish work spaces. But mostly because these guys clearly had a big copper trend going on then too.

Trays to turreens: it's all made of copper

Trays to turreens: it’s all made of copper

copper kitchen lanhydrock

I could work with this. An inspiring kitchen

How many fry-ups? Pans hang on the wall.

How many fry-ups? Pans hang on the wall.

The willow pattern crockery is the height of Chinoiserie chic

The willow pattern crockery is the height of Chinese-style chic

Statement piece/ jelly mould

Statement piece: grand mould

Mrs Beeton recommends a jelly. Copper moulds for all kinds of fine foods

Mrs Beeton recommends a jelly. Copper moulds for all kinds of fine foods

Solution to easy-clean kitchenware: have staff

Solution to easy-clean kitchenware: have staff

Shining examples/ serve it all up with dainty blue Royal Doulton and beaten copper.

Serve it up with dainty blue Royal Doulton and beaten copper

This kitchen, set out ready for action, made me realise how similar our aesthetic tastes are currently with those of the big houses a century ago. The copper, the chinoiserie, even the light pink shade on the walls as a pastel backdrop, are all elements we might include in our modern interiors.

I can’t pretend that all our boys leap up in eager anticipation every time we say we’re heading for a National Trust property. Sometimes it’s hard to tear themselves away from that six-hour game of Chelsea Monopoly, or the re-enactment of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. But by the time we’re there, and the valuable badge prizes are up for grabs, everyone is immersed, loving the challenge, learning without realising it, and continuing in the great family tradition. A copper-bottomed option for a good day out.

Inherent quality and beauty in interior design will always resurface, sometimes with new approaches and settings. The way we choose to spend and direct our time with family now draws on memories of that which was valuable in our own childhoods. What goes around comes around.

A WINDFALL! The heady excitement of the word and all the lovely surprises that might be contained in it! That is, if you are talking of the version that might gloriously occur when your annuity matures (I reveal my monopoly-inspired understanding of finance), or someone rich but distant dies and leaves you one.

However, strike these stirring notions from your mind, because what I really mean is this:

No, a windfall

No, this kind of windfall

Fruit that’s fallen from the tree. In our garden I suspect the wind was not so much to blame as a few heartily thumped footballs, but nevertheless they’ve taken the proactive route to harvesting by making their own way down.

These bruisers are not beautiful enough to merit a place in the fruit bowl: anyone who ever had children knows that “Just eat around it!” is a meaningless and limp plea on a par with “But spinach is a super-healthy food!” and “If you feel so angry you need to hit someone, try a pillow instead of your brother”. But we mustn’t waste, and I need to do something with them. So they, along with their plummy neighbours, have been the main focus of my attentions for the past month, a really demanding item on my To Do list with a finish-by date of yesterday and an accompanying crowd of fruit flies as incentive.

Lest we forget... there is peeling and stewing to be done

Lest we forget… there is peeling and stewing to be done

The plums came first, about a month ago, when we noticed that some of the branches had snapped off and the leaves had all turned brown. The fruit clustered like outsized bunches of grapes, and all seemed to ripen at exactly the same time. We sorted and sifted into Fruit Bowl and Other piles. The Fruit Bowl pile was fit for giving away to neighbours, and for health-bullying tactics at home. I overheard Tim pounce one morning on a house guest, “Ali! How many plums have you had today?” It was only eleven and she’d already had four. I needed to devise a plan of action before our friends started avoiding us.

Wary of potential maggotty surprises, I dutifully sliced and de-stoned the first few kilos of Other pile, stewed the fruit and started packing it all away in the freezer, for a day in the future where we might again actually welcome the prospect of plum crumble.

Amazingly, there were no internal grubs apparent, so the next step was jam. Having never attempted it before I had always backed away from the seeming-insurmountable challenge of sterilising jars. But by then Mum was staying with us, and so it turns out that sterilising jars actually just involves putting them in a low oven for 20 minutes. Buoyed up by the simplicity of it all, I decided to make my own once she’d gone. It really is incredibly easy!

My next set of jars came from The Mighty Pound just around the corner, a most amazing emporium filled with homewares like you wouldn’t believe, including duvets, drill bits, artificial flowers, suitcases and plastic chairs, pretty much none of it tasteful. But all very useful.

Off for a spell in the oven

Off for a spell in the oven

Then I cooked up the whole plums in a little water until soft, stirred in insane amounts of sugar (equal in weight to the plums) and boiled until it was all getting sticky.

The jars were ready and the jam had reached its crucial setting point, so I slopped it all into the pots. Little greaseproof hats topped them while they cooled, and then later in the evening I screwed on the lids.

Slapdash paper circles due to looming swimming lesson deadline

Slapdash paper circles due to looming swimming lesson deadline

Other recipes I made with the plums included Spiced Plum Cake for Tim’s birthday, Plum and Frangipane Tart, a Plum Fool, Plum Cobbler, Chinese Plum Sauce (featured in the background of my jar shot above), and Preserved Plums, which do look rather impressively gift-y. I might have made more of these, surely a Christmas present staple, but as dramatically as it all began, the tree was empty. Suddenly, it wasn’t all about plums any more.

We're not lookers, we're cookers

We’re not lookers, we’re cookers

It was apples. And we’re not finished yet.

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