It’s cold outside and it’s pretty darned chilly inside. Here I am sitting at the kitchen table dressed like a yeti. My usual keep-warm winter garb involves thermal vest, padded waistcoat, shawl wrapped around legs, sheepskin boots and occasionally a hot water bottle stuffed inside my jumper - and then I’m just about okay temperature-wise. When things get really bad, the man sized wool djellaba gets thrown on top which makes me look like a kind of stout monkess althoughI have stopped this particular habit after getting rather startled looks from the neighbours when, barrel-like, I popped out with the rubbish. Switching the heating on full blast is not an option as that would fast track me back to bed and I don’t want to further line the pockets of the energy fat cats. So what to wear if you want to retain some level of sartorial dignity — just in case someone drops by or the neighbour is prowling outside your window? Onesies are definitely not the answer. Who in their right mind wants to wear a giant romper suit past their teenage years? Apart from looking like a Bridget Jones-style goon, it would definitely limit how many cups of tea you drink because of the hassle of going to the loo. What looks chic while adding a layer of warmth is a poncho. Channel Seventies icon Veruschka (pictured). At Net-a-Porter there are designs by Donna Karan and Lisa Maree and on the high street you can find versions at East, M&Co, Wallis and Zara until next season’s clothes start hitting the shop floor. Model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley has designed a pale grey cashmere poncho for her Rosie range at M&S that can be worn over knitwear or by itself as a sexy top. The great thing about a poncho is you can throw it on and you instantly look and feel pulled together - and it’s a great thing to have on standby if the doorbell goes and you’re unprepared. I suspect I will remain looking like a yeti but I guess it beats greeting the postman in a onesie.
Almost every town across the country now boasts a Café One, Café Nero, Costa Coffee or Pret a Manger. So just when you thought the powerful chains had taken over, what a relief to witness a new breed of independent cafés and restaurants opening up offering lovingly put together food in relaxed surroundings. There’s even a bit of a theme going on. Lloyd’s Kitchen in Exeter opened last year serving up nicely presented classics such as eggs benedict, butternut risotto, haddock fishcakes and crispy waffles all made with locally sourced ingredients. In Bruton, Matt’s Kitchen takes indecision out of ordering by offering a single dish of the day. Supper (mostly meat based with unusual veg combinations and very good value at around £12/per head), is cooked up in Matt’s own kitchen but only three evenings a week so those interested are advised to book. After setting up the successful award-winning Cafe Maitreya, chef Mark Evans recently launched Tierra Kitchen in Lyme Regis which produces innovative vegetarian dishes with a French, Spanish and North African influence. You can start with mezze or a Moorish fennel and saffron soup before moving on to wild mushroom, Camelot cheddar and hazelnut ravioli. It would be hard to resist the warm quince, almond and honey tart. Then you have Romy’s Kitchen in Thornbury, Gloucestershire serving delicious, freshly cooked Indian food and is the brainchild of Bengal-born Romy Gill, who uses locally sourced produce and homegrown vegetables. Her recipes are not the usual heavy, formulaic sauce-laden dishes we may be accustomed to in Indian restaurants but tasty, flavoursome food such as chilli paneer, spicy crab curry and hot Parsee chicken served with local ciders. At lunchtime she serves up crab cakes, samosas, special paneer rolls and thalis. The restaurant which opened last September also offers homemade chutneys and pickles as well as cookery courses. Meanwhile over in Bath, since opening a couple of years ago, Sam’s Kitchen has become a popular haunt. The idea behind the cafe/deli is to feel like you are eating or drinking in a friend’s farmhouse kitchen. Customers sit on vintage school chairs at mismatched tables. Go there in the morning and you can enjoy gooey pastries and cake with what’s being touted as the “best cup of coffee in Bath” made from freshly ground beans and at lunchtime you get to choose from hearty soups and beautiful wholesome mounds of salad. As one friend put it, it’s like a cranked up Cranks but more on the Ottolenghi tip. Go figure.
Clifton in Bristol is full of endless novelty gift shops selling embossed mugs, aprons, tea towels and repro plaques and all the kind of super mum Stepford wifey stuff you can clutter up your kitchen with and not mind (at all) if it gets chipped. The kind of Keep Calm reminders that make you want to….hurl something across the room. You get the picture. I wonder how they all manage to continue business as are clustered together and sell very similar items. Surely they can’t possibly survive on Christmas, birthday and Easter sales alone. I can’t help thinking someone would clean up opening an interiors shop that focused on beautiful, simple everyday pieces and avoided gimmicky homeware emblazoned with twee, and frankly tired, witticisms. Take me to Otomi any day where authenticity thrives. Tucked away in a Victorian arcade this little jewel of a shop selling all things colourful, kitsch and a tad spicy from Mexico. There are tiles and cushion covers, Day of the Dead nicho shrines and etched tin mirrors, maracas, Frida Kahlo pendants, boxes and bags and even beautiful decorative loos and sinks. There’s also a section devoted to food all in lovely packaging, from dried herbs, beans and chills to salsas and sweets. otomi.co.uk
Not one to embrace new technology with any immediacy, it has taken the good part of 7 years for me to realise there must be something positive about Twitter. At times it has seemed like one long extended self-promotional bragfest or a desperate drip feed of someone’s rather dull day. When it all first kicked off in 2006, I remember one follower/friend going into graphic detail about how many soldiers he was eating with his boiled egg and I would read his many mundane updates , aghast, with the bottom of my jaw resting on the table. He was a busy married with children so not sad and lonely as you might think. It caused a great deal of amusement and I would get regular texts from a friend saying: “Quick! Look! He has eaten 5 orange segments!” Bit mean of us I know but it was all ridiculously new and newly ridiculous. Do we really want to know the miniutae of someone’s daily life with all their absurd attention-seeking hashtags? I’ve noticed Boy George, who’s well over the 40,000 tweets mark, can’t stop himself from giving us a blow by blow bulletin. Example: “Melon, apple, pomegranate seeds and lime! Morning!” In the age of Big Brother living where nothing is private (or sacred) anymore, it gives you a real insight into somebody else’s life. Nosey parkers of the world unite. But just look at Jack Monroe, the 25 year old woman who as a result of blogging and tweeting her budget meals has over 31,000 followers and has pushed Jamie Oliver off his pedestal to become the new face of Sainsbury’s. It proves persistence pays off and you can get noticed for plugging away at something with passion. Having simply used it as a means to get music, I am now looking at it with fresh eyes. So many people in recent weeks have said how brilliant it is for business and for getting work, so for anyone who has something to sell it is worth a punt. What you become aware of is how many people there are out there doing so many different things and how much it opens up the world and its immediacy; nothing wings news around the world as quickly. Sure, you get a few stalkers and lurkers - my favourite follower of this kind is ‘Juicy Bottom’ who I can’t quite part with because of the name - but the other wannabe shadowy characters have been well and truly blocked. You can pick these ones out quite easily: they follow thousands and are followed by none.