Monthly Archives: October 2019

Reading Diary – September/October 2019

I never really feel guilty about staying indoors reading but it’s as if I have more of an excuse when the summer is over and the weather takes a turn for the worse. Autumn officially feels like the start of reading season.

I’m also excited about creepy reads for Halloween which will include H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.

Here’s what I’ve read over the last two months.

 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“Sometimes you need to scorch everything to the ground, and start over. After the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow. People are like that, too.”

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I’ve heard about this book time and time again and was in the rare mood for contemporary fiction. It’s about two families who live in the coveted Shaker Heights neighbourhood in Ohio. The privileged Richardsons have rented out an apartment to artist Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl. Peart makes friends with three of the Richardson children and the families become increasingly intertwined. Relations become tense for a number of reasons and then the whole situation and pace of the novel is ramped up by divisions over the adoption of an abandoned Chinese baby by a wealthy white couple. It’s not a spoiler to say this culminates in the black sheep of the Richardson family burning their house down (not a spoiler). It’s a book about mothers and daughters, coming-of-age and how the choices we make in life as a result of society’s values can lead to resentment later in life. 4/5

 

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Toikein

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

I enjoyed reading The Hobbit last year but had a false start with The Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve finally managed to get through all three books. I didn’t leave gaps in between once I heard that The Lord of the Rings is actually one book split into three volumes.

I liked the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring because it’s set in The Shire and I’m fond of the Hobbits and their Hobbit holes. Like them, I love my creature comforts. The problem came when they set off and it was an awful lot of describing their route traipsing across the countryside. I mean pages and pages. I found much of the first half of the book tedious and would have put it at 2 stars. I also admit to skipping through the verses of song unless it seemed they were integral to the plot (usually not). The second half picked up considerably though as they met new characters and visited more interesting places. By the end I was hooked to the point where I looked up a map of Middle Earth.   3.5/5.

The Two Towers (5/5) and The Return of the King (5/5) were both excellent with the adventure really taking off. I was totally taken with the love between Frodo and Sam. I didn’t know before starting, that it is, in part, a treatise against industrialisation but it’s very evident in the final section the novel which didn’t quit sit right. In any case that only dropped it down from a 6/5 to a 5/5.

From the first book I could see its huge influence on modern day fantasy writers like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin. Very happy I’ve finally read it.

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La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust Volume One by Philip Pullman

“He was liked when noticed, but not noticed much, and that did him no harm either.”

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I was dying to return to the world of my favourite trilogy His Dark Materials when the first volume of the second trilogy in the series was released in 2017. Sadly, La Belle Sauvage was slow to get going and I ended up putting it down only a little way in. Lyra is such a compelling character that having her present only as baby leaves a huge hole. What pushed me to pick it up again and finish it was the imminent release of Volume 2. Once I got into it, I enjoyed La Belle Sauvage but it felt more like a spin-off or a prequel to the rest of the series, which it is considering its set ten years before the start of His Dark Materials. It didn’t have quite the same feel of the original trilogy or the overarching mystery. It’s essentially a chase story as endearing eleven year-old Malcolm seeks to protect Lyra from the pursuers after a biblical-style flood. 3.75/5

 

The Secret Commonwealth, The Book of Dust Volume Two by Philip Pullman

“Has reason ever created a poem, or a symphony, or a painting? If rationality can’t see things like the secret commonwealth, it’s because rationality’s vision is limited … We need to imagine as well as measure …”

Lyra is now twenty years-old and man, is it good to catch up with her again. I wouldn’t say you absolutely must read La Belle Sauvage first (although it does fill in the background of a few characters, adding to the reading experience) but I would definitely recommend reading at least the last two chapters of The Amber Spyglass. We are plunged into a new intrigue but this one revolves around, guess what? Rose oil! Heartbreakingly, Lyra and Pan are estranged – showing the consequences of becoming a stranger to yourself. Other interesting themes of the book concern the demeaning of imagination and the manipulation of facts to serve an agenda (which feels very relevant in this ‘post-truth’ age). What did feel rather heavy-handed and jarring was the inclusion of a Syrian refugee crisis.  Another small criticism is that it was a tad too long and sprawling in scope. All the same, what am I going to do if I have to wait 2 YEARS for the conclusion? 4.75/5

On a side note, what frustrate me is that all these books are often categorised as ‘Children/Young Adult’ because they have a young protagonist. This might put adults off reading them. As I suspected, in an interview Philip Pullman said that he wrote them all with adults in mind. In both these recent books, aside from the ‘F-bomb’ being dropped a number of times, there are scenes of murder and sexual assault. In the first there is a character who is a paedophile and in the second there is a graphic suicide. Definitely not for younger readers.

 

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My Sister The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

“There is music blasting from Ayoola’s room, she’s listening to Whitney Housten’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody. It would be more appropriate to play Brymo or Lorde, something solemn or yearning, rather than the musical equivalent of a pack of M&Ms”

This book set in Lagos, Nigeria, has been everywhere lately and so when it came up for a pound, I bought it despite rarely, if ever, reading thrillers. That stunning cover art also helped tip the balance (the reflection in the lenses!). As you can tell from the title, this book is about two sisters. Korede, a nurse, is the older sister and narrator while Ayoola is as beautiful as she is self-obsessed not to mention psychopathic. After an abusive childhood Korede has taken on the role of her sister’s protector to heart. This extends to cleaning up and disposing of the bodies of the three boyfriends Ayoola has killed by the time the book opens. The situation escalates when the latest man to become enthralled by her is the kind-hearted doctor who is the object of Korede’s affection.

I was nervous going in because some have said this book has horror elements but there is very little gore and it’s not frightening. I’ve also seen it referred to as darkly comic but while I found it entertaining I only really found it funny at one point – but that’s a personal thing. It’s a fast-paced page-turner that you can devour in a day. I did. 4/5

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Have you read one of these or any other book you’d like to share? Do you find you read more in the autumn/fall?

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Recipes from the Cookie Kitchen – Even Better Than the Real Thing Vegan Fudgy Brownies

I sell more vegan brownies than I do the Classic Fudgy Brownies,  That is not because they are better, but because they are more hip.   Do not underestimate them though. They are just as good, and some say even better than the real thing.

As with the Fudgy Brownie recipe, this too is the exact recipe I use in my business. Follow the recipe to the letter.  Do not attempt to tweak it.  I did already.  These are as fudgy as brownies should be.  No cake-like brownies on my watch.

INGREDIENTS

Attention.  You will need a food processor or a blender.

90 grammes of SILKEN tofu.  I prefer what you get in the Asian stores, but you can buy it wherever so long as it is the silken kind.

1/2 cup of oil.  (about 120 ml)  I use rapeseed oil, but sunflower or peanut is fine. A tasteless oil is best.

1/4 cup non-dairy milk (about 60 ml)  Oat, soy, almond ….  Whatever.

1 cup of sugar (half soft brown and half white if you want)

1 cup of flour — about 160 grammes (I often use half spelt, and half wheat.  All spelt is too much!)

1/2 cup of the absolute best cocoa powder you can afford.  I use Valrhona.

2 teaspoons of vanilla

1 level tablespoon cornstarch.

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

METHOD – as ever, read this through several times before you start.

Line your 8 inch square brownie tin with greaseproof paper/baking parchment/backpapier – whatever you call it.

Have a mixing bowl ready for the brownie batter.

Preheat the oven to 325°f or 162°c (Well, 160°c is fine!)

As with all recipes, put the ingredients out and in front of you.  Double check.  It is the only way to prepare to bake.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, cornstarch and salt into a bowl.  Put it on the side.

Have the sugar ready of course.

Put the tofu, the nondairy milk, and the oil into a food blender/food processor.  Put it on high speed and whip the crap out of it, it will become smooth, and fairly thick and creamy.   Scrape the sides down as necessary.

Put this tofu mixture into the mixing bowl, add the sugar, and whisk with fervent zeal. Add the vanilla and stir in.

Add your flour mixture,  ideally sift it in, but you don’t have to.  Fold it into the wet ingredients, until it becomes smooth.  You need to maybe use a bit of oomph, it will be pretty thick.

Put the batter into the pan.  You can push it down and into the corners with the back of a spoon.  It will be too thick to spread out on its own.  It will spread out a little during baking so you don’t have to get too manic about spreading it out precisely.

I put pecan nuts on the top because they are so delicious and have a great crunch.  That is optional though and you do not have to do that.

Bake them for about 30 minutes.  Do not overbake.  You will see when they are set it is pretty obvious.

Let them cool.  Eat.  If there are any left over you can keep them in the fridge or just covered.  Depends if you like cold brownies or not.

CQ.  

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The above photos are all pics from me doubling the mass.  Just so you know.

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Eau de Minthé by Diptyque

By Portia

Hi there A Bottled Rose.

New Diptyque will often get me excited. They are some of the niche groundbreakers and almost all of their fragrances have a perfectly finished quality, that lovely smooth story that has enough twists to keep you interested but done with such aplomb that you miss it, unless you’re paying attention. They are practically mainstream nowadays and are in large department stores all over the world. Do they even have stand alone stores?

Eau de Minthé by Diptyque 2019

Parfumo gives these featured accords:
Mint, Nutmeg, Rose, Patchouli

OOOOH Minty goodness, like a herbal mint tea with some spices giving it an added warmth. Yes, the opening zings and is very refreshing but eau de Minthé is not only a hot weather fragrance. It also works perfectly in the cool. The greenery is given sheer earthy warmth from the patchouli. Modern patchouli.

I recently bought some patchouli dark essential oil. We used to sell patchouli oil when I was a kid working in a barber/tobacconist. I never liked it then, it was too potent and real for me. I was only interested in Aramis, Ralph Lauren Polo and Safari at the time. Having the EO in adult life has opened my eyes to how patchouli was. I can’t think of a fragrance that smells like the real deal in modern times.

The rose mentioned in the notes is not the star of the show, hardly even a bit player. Every now and then it pokes its fruity rosiness out and is then subsumed. I’m getting a smell that seems like angelica, a wispy sharp green, bittersweet and full of the end of summer ripeness.

Eau de Minthé is nice, not usual and if I’m being honest i think I’d prefer it as a room spray. Maybe even a linen spray. I could easily imagine getting into a bed smelling like this and drifting off into sleep. So much so that it’s going to be my bedtime scent tonight.

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Are you a fan of mint in fine fragrance? Is there one you love?

Portia xx

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Filed under Perfume Reviews

A Visit to Grasse – Photo Essay

 

At the end of last month I flew out to Nice on the Cote d’Azur to join an exceptional friend of mine who was spending part of her vacation there. The weather was perfect, around the mid-twenties.

We rented a car to go to Grasse for the day, which was only about 45 minutes from Nice. We both expected it to be a small, rather quaint town but it is much more built up than that and the main street was quite grand. Grasse is considered the world’s capital of perfume and produces over two-thirds of France’s natural aromas (for perfume and food flavourings). There are about 30 local perfume producers.

The main street in Grasse.

We visited Molinard on the outskirts of Grasse which houses the old factory/museum, laboratory and shop. All the operating factories had to be moved to an industrial estate outside the town.

Molinard opened the very first factory in Grasse in 1849 and had 300 employees which was a huge number for the time. The company has stayed in the family for five generations and the current owner is the first woman during that time.

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Molinard House

It ddin’t seem like you needed to pre-book the free tour which seemed pretty informal (Galimard and Fragonard also do factory tours). That Sunday there were maybe ten of us including Canadians and Italians. Our tour guide, Paula, was a lovely lady though we raised our eyebrows at a couple of points. She told us that Molinard perfumes are made from all natural ingredients and that rose centifolia with its lemon and honey facets, only grows in Grasse.

The flowers for the perfumes can be obtained in Grasse but other ingredients come from across the globe.

The equipment used to be made out of copper but is now made of steel.

 

On weekdays two women make 600 soaps here by hand per day.

We tried their best selling Creme 24: a balm for face and body with a strong lemon scent which is intensely moisturising. Apparently they have tried to discontinue it a few times but its fans won’t let them.

Their most famous perfume Habanita (launched in 1921) happily still smells great and the only vetiver-heavy fragrance I really like.

While the production is now off-site, the lab where the perfumer composes fragrances is still at Molinard House.

A peek inside the modern perfume lab.

Some women in our group were greatly surprised to find out you shouldn’t keep bottles in your bathroom because of the three enemies of perfume: heat, light and humidity.

She went through the various concentrations.

You can take part in a perfume workshop here (prices from 189 euro) after which you come away with a bottle of your own custom fragrance. They can then send you re-fills anywhere in the world.

Of course the tour ended in the shop.

My friend bought a tube of the Crème 24 for her mother.

We nearly bought travel sprays of the original Habanita but managed to resist. It’s the kind of perfume I admire but never reach for.

We both bought a couple of the soaps.

From there we drove into the centre of Grasse to visit the International Museum of Perfumery which opened in 1989.

The International Museum of Perfumery

Floor plan

There were some interactive exhibits as well those in cases.

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It seemed to be a very old building that had been renovated.

The ‘greenhouse’ had perfume plants such as vetiver and patchouli.

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The outdoor garden had jasmine, geranium, labdanum, herbs and more.

Marie Antoinette’s modest travel case (one of two in existence).

My favourite bottle and perfume, Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit

Scented products including My Little Pony.

Finally, there was an extensive temporary exhibit about eau de cologne.

 

The museum’s gift shop was a treat. I picked up several gorgeous postcards and a Grasse tote bag, while my friend bought a pretty silk scarf.

It was a wonderful day and ticked another destination off my bucket list.

Have you been to Grasse? If not, would you like to go? Let me know in the comments and what you thought of the factory tour and perfume museum.

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