Soho Stationery Store

On Friday I popped into a shop I hadn’t visited before, the Soho Stationery Store. Nestled down a little alley just off Oxford Street, this independent business is an office supply and stationery business for commercial clients and individuals alike. Unusually for a commercial supplier, they have a shopfront which I’d strolled past before while it was closed, so I used half an hour before meeting friends for dinner to check it out.

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A Year of The London Parchment

A few weeks ago The London Parchment turned a year old. First and foremost thank you so much for sticking with me! I’d like to use this post to pick out a few brief thoughts I have of the year gone by and to revisit some of my favourite photographs. There are links dotted throughout for you to check out if you joined me somewhere throughout the last 12 months.

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Annie Leibovitz: Women

Nestled among the wharf buildings and imitation flats in Wapping is the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station where, until 7th February, you can find Annie Leibovitz’s Women exhibition.

I’d never been to Wapping and I really enjoyed discovering it. I loved the architecture, its quietness, position right on the river, busy pubs and narrow main street. Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is a fantastic space and seems to have undergone the same sort of renaissance as many other power stations and gas holder sites across London. It is the former home of the Wapping Project which showcased several fashion photography exhibitions and a restaurant space. This Annie Leibovitz exhibition marks its first major arts use since the Wapping Project recently vacated the building.

Wapping Hydraulic Power Station is undoubtedly a London gem. I pray that this building isn’t going to go the same way as Battersea or Lots Road. It is cavernous, clad in red brick and mud-spattered white tiles with elevated, huge windows. Metal remnants and piping of the original power station usages are littered among the rooms. My good friend and I went after work on a Friday and it was pleasingly dark inside, the exhibition lit by retro-style lamps and enormous screens scrolling Leibovitz’s work.

The focus of this exhibition feels like the screen images. There’s a fair amount of seating for people to linger and watch the scrolls of Leibovitz’s most famous and not-so-famous images. One of the most striking was of a young and stripped back Venus and Serena Williams in black and white. The seating is contained by three sets of screens and one wall of prints where you can spot Aung San Suu Kyi, Meryl Streep, Malala’s autograph and probably Leibovitz’s most well-known recent piece: Caitlyn Jenner. This exhibition reads like a “who’s who” of unbelievably famous women. But it also seemed clear to me why these women allow themselves to be photographed by Leibovitz. Not having seen much of her work before, I felt like she really gets the best out of her subject. They all look so confident, but vulnerable, and real.

The second room in the exhibition is in a smaller chamber with a long wooden table on top of which are many, many Annie Leibovitz coffee table books and other art compilations. Spindly chairs are scattered around to take a seat and flick through these publications under the glow of minimalist lamps. There’s also a couple of copies of ridiculously large photography books featuring Leibovitz’s fashion shoots. This room feels like it’s more about Leibovitz’s full spectrum of work including fashion photography and Rolling Stone work. One of the most obvious examples of this are that there are lots of accessible pictures of men rather than just women as the “Women” title of exhibition would seem to indicate. I didn’t much enjoy this room because it was very crowded with people rifling through books quite frantically. I’m not sure anyone I observed was really taking in any of the work, which felt like a shame.

Yes, for me, the best part of the exhibition is in the main room. I enjoyed the lull of watching the scrolling photographs and the opportunity to see Leibovitz’s work outside of portraiture. I also loved the airiness and expanse of the main room juxtaposed against the omnipresent photographs. At the back of the room is Leibovitz’s famous portrait of the Queen which is the only digital static image. It’s like she’s watching over us all as we admire the many other great and good women that Leibovitz has been lucky enough to work with.

I would really recommend that you spend an hour at this exhibition if you can. It’s difficult not to be impressed by the sheer power that Leibovitz clearly commands in this field and to appreciate the common thread that connects these immensely famous women. I didn’t find it informative, but I enjoyed seeing first-hand the images I’ve subconsciously drunk in through my exposure to the media and thinking about them in a new way, without the burden of surrounding words colouring my perception of the person in the photograph.

You can find more information about the exhibition here.

Review: Frankie Diary 2015

Happy New Year! I hope 2016 brings you good health and fortune, wherever you may be.

Back to business. Every year for Christmas my boyfriend buys me a yearly diary / planner and unfortunately the ones I lust after tend to be difficult to source. 2015’s choice was the Frankie Diary, produced annually by Australia’s Frankie Magazine. He had it shipped all the way over from Australia and probably had to order it in October to make sure it arrived in time for Christmas, but arrive it did and I fell in love with it.

The Frankie Diary falls in the middle of being beautiful and functional. It’s a little larger than A5 size and bound in a dusky blue cloth linen with lovely organic texture. After using it for a whole year, I’ve compiled some thoughts on it.

The Upsides 

Good size and sturdy

Vital statistic time – as I’ve mentioned the diary is just over A5 which is a good handbag and desk size. It’s just over 2 centimetres thick and doesn’t gain much height over the course of a year through paper wear. Importantly the Frankie is solid enough to withstand a year of wear and tear without detracting too much from its look and feel, and in my case, spillages including orange juice and salad dressing!  You’re not going to have any paper tears, bending or rippling of paper. Also on a sidenote, although this was a gift, the Frankie Diary comes in at $26.95 (Australian) which is a very reasonable (and approximate) £13.50 without shipping charges.

Monthly views

I love the monthly view pages. They’re a big enough size to get quite a few words in and with a little creativity and time I customised some squares to make them stand out.

The monthly pages don’t have the rest of the diary’s paper designs meaning that there is quite a bit of blank space on the page. I love this because I can add little mementos from things I’ve done that month or use washi tapes to give the diary a scrapbook look. I went Christmas shopping with one of my best friends and found a photobooth in Selfridges where we got this sepia snap.

Beautifully designed with good quality paper

This diary really looks the part. It’s feminine and simple, and the Frankie illustrators have put thought into some of the diary’s elements, such as a full-sized envelope at the back to store all your loose scrap paper. The fonts are also beautiful and a lovely mixture of traditional typewriter style text and hand-lettered lower-case text. The paper quality is excellent; really silky and thick, and I’ve mostly used my Kaweco Sport and vintage Parker for the weekly entries, and a finer-nibbed Iconic Knock pen for the monthly calendar entries. Fountain pens work absolutely fine on this paper with minimal feathering. Here’s a close up of my writing with the Kaweco Sport using Diamine Claret.

And here’s an example of the back of a page that I’ve written on with Diamine Claret. On the third to bottom line you can see some slight bleedthrough.

I’ve even used a brush pen on the paper without any feathering. Apologies for the amateurness of the writing – this was before my brush lettering class and I was tinkering with a brush pen! This was with my Kuretake brush pen, which has a very wet ink, and as you can see there’s still no feathering.

The design of the diary is lovely too. I love all the different paper illustrations used from month to month. Here are some of my favourites:

The Downsides

It gets dirty! 

I appreciate that a diary showing its use is a big sign of love and in many other diaries it could even be an upside that it shows its wear. Sadly though the gold lettering on the front has faded over the year and the dusky blue has become a more grey, dark grey at the edges. It’s hard to keep it looking its finest for a year!

Weekly view to two pages makes the balance between a planner and a journal difficult 

Here’s an example of a week when I tried to journal instead of plan – this was during my holiday to Greece.

As you can see it’s a little cramped (although I could have used the notes section). Fine for the purpose of noting the bare bones of the day which I enjoy looking back on at a glance but the Frankie Diary definitely rests on the side of a planner rather than a journal or traditional diary. I haven’t rued this with the Frankie because it means I’ve had an opportunity to fill a plethora of notebooks and pocket notebooks this year with more elaborate thoughts and tested a few new brands in the process. Generally I spent the year carrying my Frankie and a notebook of some description around at all times. I can understand however why some users might want just one singular book that fulfils both purposes.

I also think that the Frankie designers have got around the diary’s potential lack of flexibility by its additions which include a budget planner, address page, tear-out “forget-me-not” lists, tear-out gift tags and tear-out list pages such as films to watch, places to visit, etc. I didn’t use any of these elements to any great extent which tells me that I’m not looking for an “organiser” type diary which acts as a tool to assist aspects of life such as personal finances or as an address book. To make these additions useful they’re probably needed in greater quantities (e.g. enough budget planner pages for once a month or similar) or the diary needs to be usable for a longer amount of time than a year – I didn’t see much point in noting addresses in this diary knowing I won’t be carrying it around with me next year and that I won’t be storing it next to the phone. Why are address books always stored next to the phone?! 

I made the Frankie diary more flexible for me by using good old post-it notes to add value. Something I do every month following a new year’s resolution a few years ago was to look up seasonal fruit and vegetables at the beginning of each month and try to use them in my cooking.

Final Thoughts

I can imagine that the Frankie format isn’t ideal for a person with a considerably more hectic lifestyle than myself, the week-to-two-pages view makes it difficult to draw out a daily schedule if there are several activities that make up a day. For me it works fine because my days consist of work + evening activity (usually singular!) or weekend plans involving daytime activity + night-time activity; noting this type of schedule doesn’t require much writing space.

It’s also not ideal for those among us who want to journal rather than plan or schedule. It will still meet the planning function for the year but you’ll need to either try out a more concise style of journaling (such as a “one-line journal” or gratitude journal) or consider what accompaniments will join your Frankie for the year.

I came very close to asking for another Frankie Diary for 2016 because I don’t mind having Frankie and a notebook and, well, it’s so pretty and user-friendly. It’s a beautifully designed companion to the year and its build quality is impeccable. You need a sturdy hardback to take a whole year’s of handling and rubbing along other things in a normal day’s handbag and apart from some discolouration and softening of the book’s edges, the Frankie has stood up to the challenge. I really appreciate the look and feel of the diary and I like the week-to-two-pages format so that I can see what my week looks like at a glance and look back on what my week consisted of. It’s also been great using a wide variety of writing tools as the paper generally stands up well to a variety of inks and fountain pen nib sizes.

The 2016 Frankie Diary looks like this:

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It looks like the words on the front cover are going to be more resilient than the gold lettering of 2015 which has faded considerably on my diary.

For me personally, although one of the Frankie Diary’s key selling points is that it is very pretty with unique paper designs and fonts inside, I think the key reason I didn’t ask for another Frankie Diary this year is because I’m looking for something to which I can add more of a personal touch with my own designs and fonts.

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So what diary did my boyfriend order for me for 2016? It could only be…

A Hobonichi Techo. I had been following fellow stationery bloggers’ Hobo journeys throughout 2015 and the clean look and flexibility of it appealed to me. Although you can buy the planners in the UK now from various sources, you can’t easily buy the range of Hobonichi produced accessories designed to work with the Techo. For this reason he ordered it from Japan with a lovely range of accessories including a cover, a cover-for-a-cover (which makes me chuckle), a frame stamp for the monthly calendar view and some thin 6mm washi tapes. I’m already showing my Hobo lots of love and will endeavour to post updates on my usage as I really enjoy reading other users’ experiences and examples. I’ll go into more reasons behind this choice and my initial impressions of the Hobo in another post soon.

Happy new year again all!

#yellowbluepink

[Full disclosure – expect a post with pictures that basically show, well, nothing! Apart from colour and the odd blurred object!]

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A few weekends ago I visited the Wellcome Collection’s #yellowbluepink installation, a temporary contemporary visual arts exhibit by Ann Veronica Janssens. The concept is simple: a gallery full of opaque coloured mist removes the most normalised method of perception (i.e. sight). In doing so the individual cannot perceive distance, depth or surfaces and is effectively isolated, relying mostly on their other senses to navigate around the gallery. It is partly an experiment with consciousness, too; I had to wait for approximately fifteen minutes and there are iPads with some interesting exercises to do with how perceptions can be distorted based on your dominant expectations.

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I found that much of the anticipation about this installation comes from the actual waiting itself! Secondly, the way in which staff facilitate entry into the gallery builds expectation, you’re put in an “isolation chamber” in between two doors to stop the coloured mist from escaping and you have to walk through some 70s style plastic door hangings to enter the gallery.

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I found the experience really enjoyable and fun, although I spent much less time in the gallery than I thought I would. Realistically my partner and I spent most of the time disappearing into the mist and reappearing from another direction, and getting worried that we were approaching walls. In all seriousness though there is a lot that is very interesting and creative about this art. Some questions I left with were to do with the actual colours themselves – unsurprisingly the gallery is mostly filled with yellow, blue and pink mists, but they are extremely well defined with very little mixing. Visibility between colours is also non-existent owing to the opaqueness of the mist, so in certain spaces of the room you’re unaware that there is any other colour but the one you’re experiencing.

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It’s strange also that voices are audible just as normal. Although the mist feels “heavy” around you, it doesn’t do anything to muffle or blur voices. This had the curious effect of making me whisper, partly because of the self-consciousness of not knowing who might be around you hearing how ridiculous you sound wondering if a wall is looming, and partly not wanting to disturb other peoples’ experience. The only niggle I have is that the room is, well, a room, with windows and strip lights and plug sockets et al. Up close you can still see all of these things and they shatter the illusion somewhat.

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I would recommend stopping by this installation if you can, although my advice to you would be to go early. As with all free things in London, there are a lot of other people competing for the space. We arrived first thing on Sunday when the Wellcome Collection opened at 11am and had a very short wait which was fine. Be warned, they don’t have Disney style queues ready for no reason; during our 10-15 minute wait the wait joining the queue escalated to an hour and a half. They limit the number of people in the room for good reason though, so be prepared to be patient if you can’t get there early. I’m not sure I’d make the pilgrimage to Euston on a weekend morning for this as a standalone event though, so join it up with a look around the Wellcome Collection’s other galleries and their great shop, and have a weekend walk around Bloomsbury. It’s open until the 3rd January 2016 and you can find out more about the installation here.

Autumn is Beautiful

Autumn in London has been ridiculously beautiful this year. I feel like I’ve never really opened my eyes and experienced autumn before! There has been a bit of rain during the working week but luckily the weekends have been mostly sunny and so, so colourful. Apparently today is the warmest November day on record. I can’t express just how lucky I feel to live a stone’s throw from Greenwich Park. It’s alive with red, gold, brown, russet, bronze, yellow, green and purple. Some people speak of October as a time of change when longing starts to set in for the summer gone by and for the sunshine of next year which feels very far away. October in itself though has been a joy to behold and, for me, has eclipsed the mostly humid, grey summer months we had in London. Here are a collection of my favourite autumn pictures so far (many include my shoes, and some are just favourites I’ve snapped during the month of October).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Serpentine Pavilion

Every summer the lawn outside the famous Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens is adorned by a piece of contemporary architecture known as the Serpentine Pavilion. It is described by the Serpentine Gallery as “an international site for architectural experimentation, presenting inspirational temporary structures by some of the world’s greatest architects”, and according to the website is one of the most visited architectural exhibitions worldwide. This year marks the 15th year of the Pavilion and, over the years, the lawn has been previously filled by architects such as Jean Nouvel, Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid. A duo called selgascano are 2015’s architects and are based in Madrid.

Every year the Pavilion brief is the same. It needs to use approximately 300 square metres of space, and should be a flexible, multi-purpose social space with a café. It also needs to be the designer’s first installation in the UK, hopefully to provide a highly-visible platform for their work.

Selgascano’s Pavilion is a series of polygonal structures encased by a translucent plastic (similar to that used at the Eden Project in Cornwall and Canary Wharf Crossrail station) and surrounded by coloured tapes. The steel structure supports the plastic which is stretched to create a series of interconnected “rooms” with a central space housing a pop-up Fortnum and Mason cafe.

There are several entrance and exit points and a corridor surrounding the central structure allows the individual to walk directly around the Pavilion and discover these windows and doors. The architects have indicated that they drew inspiration from London in their design, particularly from the Underground with its tunnels, access points and connectivity.

One of the Pavilion's open doors showing the external tapes and internal plastic walls with steel arch structures.
One of the Pavilion’s open doors showing the external tapes and internal plastic walls with steel arch structures.

Across the internet it’s been described as a psychedelic cocoon, an Instagrammer’s paradise, beautifully childish, a kind of amoeba whose four blobby pseudopodia reach out across the grass, an eye-catching bauble, and a big bag of fun. Having read these reviews before visiting the Pavilion, and now having visited, I tend to agree with all of these characterisations!

The most important part of the Pavilion’s design to me seems to be the interaction between the structure and light. Clearly colour has been used liberally to create an eye catching, bright and playful landmark, and this is very obvious from the outside. The interpretation of the Pavilion from the inside however is very reliant on light conditions and the perspective of light depending on which part of the structure you’re standing in; the vibrant tapes throw different hues onto the internal plastic structure and the reflective surfaces mean that the internal colour seems to morph as you move closer or further from the walls. The Pavilion also simultaneously seems to complement, and contrast against, the surrounding green environment. It sits glowing among the green.

Internally I spotted pinks, oranges, yellows, blues, greens and purples. There are doors and windows to the structure that let natural light in, and there doesn’t appear to be any artificial light to tamper with this effect. The white floor has a reflectivity of its own (and, although it is a little battered after a whole summer of use), is a welcome canvas against the vivid walls. On the outside the plastic moves whimsically with the wind, creating a liquid, globular effect.

I actually enjoyed the exterior of the Pavilion the most. The plastic’s reflectivity is most obvious on the outside where light abounds and the contrast against the bright tapes was more striking. The whole structure also seems much larger when you walk around it in its entirety.

Me and me. Some of the external Pavilion walls are highly reflective which creates a psychedelic effect.
Me and me. Some of the external Pavilion walls are highly reflective which creates a fun, psychedelic effect.

Dipping in and out of the corridor between outside and inside is fun too. A real childishness comes over me when I have the opportunity to play a bit of hide and seek or jump out and say boo. I think this was probably intentional by the architects as the whole structure seems to want to be utilised and explored.

The Pavilion isn’t given a budget by the Serpentine Gallery, but instead uses various sources of sponsorship and the sale of the eventual structure to fund its design and build. This year’s installation is going to become a performance space in Los Angeles and I think it really suits this function. The Pavilion is used for performance and events during the evenings in London and if I hadn’t have left it so late I would have loved to revisit and check out the effect of colour and light in the dark when the green-ness of Hyde Park isn’t all around. Its size means that any performance is going to be intimate and most likely quite organic and stripped back because there isn’t a whole load of space for props or staging. Acoustically, noise carries; the tinkles and chatter of a pop-up cafe is audible but doesn’t echo. When speaking out loud the absorption of sound makes it feel like there is a slight hush on your voice. Although part of the brief is for the Pavilion to host a cafe during the day, it does feel a little of a wasted opportunity the night-time cultural use doesn’t transcend into daylight hours.

Fortnum and Mason cafe occupying the central space within the Pavilion.
Fortnum and Mason cafe occupying the central space within the Pavilion.

Despite being colourful and appealing to my inner child, there isn’t anything comical about the Pavilion. It’s stylish, built at a human scale, and uplifting. It’s interesting and has a naturalness and simplicity about its design that makes the most of its surroundings using (what appear to be) cheap and accessible materials. There isn’t anything fundamentally groundbreaking or innovative about the design, and perhaps that makes it a little safe for selgascano’s first UK installation. I didn’t come away from the Pavilion feeling that I had experienced a unique and overly memorable piece of work, but it was certainly enjoyable, fun and a novel way to interact with colour, light and space as London’s autumn greyness starts to set in. I’ll be back next year.

 

Autumn Bake: Almond and Plum Crumble Cake

The flavours of autumn are everywhere. The colours are too. Look at these beautiful colours I found in Greenwich Park last weekend. The vibrancy and variety of hues is unbelievable and one of the great charms of autumn is that it seems so fleeting.

Suddenly all I want to cook with are pears, mushrooms, aubergines, beetroots… It’s so nice to start wrapping up (while it’s still light until seven-ish) and indulge in cosier tastes. I decided to get well into autumn baking with this almond and plum crumble cake. I baked it as a dessert for a family meal I hosted at my house in Greenwich. However, large slices found their way into my bag for work during the week and went down a treat with a green tea of an afternoon. I really enjoy baking with ground almonds and substituting part of the flour content in fruity cakes in particular. I think it works so well when baking with fruit because the ground almonds soak up some of the moisture that most baked fruits produce or the syrups that are sometimes used to pour over fruity cakes to penetrate the bake with its flavour (a la lemon drizzle). This cake has a subtle almond flavour which is lovely and sweet when paired with the tangy plums.

The cake batter is quite thick and needs spreading when you add it to your cake tin. I suppose this is to support the plums as this is a relatively long bake and sunken plums is not an option! Decorative eh?

The cake batter with plums arranged on top, before adding the crumble mixture. My advice is to stuff as many plums onto the top of the cake as you can as the whole effect of them is wonderful when baked - the purple colour is vibrant and the plums become soft and slightly sweeter during cooking - you definitely want a bit of plum in every mouthful.
The cake batter with plums arranged on top, before adding the crumble mixture. My advice is to stuff as many plums onto the top of the cake as you can as the whole effect of them is wonderful when baked – the purple colour is vibrant and the plums become soft and slightly sweeter during cooking – you definitely want a bit of plum in every mouthful.

I added extra brown demerara sugar to the crumble topping for extra crunch and caramelisation. Sometimes I’m a bit of a maverick with crumble and add all sorts to try and achieve crumble perfection: oats, honey, dried berries cut up finely, chopped brazil nuts… it’s all getting a bit granola isn’t it? The extra demerara was as far as I went with this one! Luckily I didn’t find there was any need to cover the cake with foil while it’s baking, even though it’s a long bake, to stop the crumble from colouring too quickly or getting burnt.

This bake doesn’t rise too much while cooking; it stands at about 6cm tall when baked and the crumble is about a half centimetre of this height. A fair amount of my previous baking experience has been layer cakes with inches of cream and frosting so setting it on my cake stand felt very strange! Where’s the rest of it, I thought. Nope, the beauty of this cake is in its autumnal rusticness and simplicity. I served it slightly warm with pouring cream or a dollop of custard (custard wins for me every day! Everyone else around me favours cream).

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 175 golden caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 22g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 85g sour cream
  • 6 plums, halved and stoned

For the crumble topping 

  • 50g ground almonds
  • 50g plain flour
  • 75g demerara sugar
  • 50g unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Line a 22cm springform round cake tin, as deep as you’ve got, with baking paper.
  2. Make the crumble topping first. Add all the crumble ingredients to a bowl and rub until it reaches your desired texture. It should look something like this:


  3. Now move onto the cake, which is really ridiculously easy. Add the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, ground almonds and soured cream into an electric mixer or big bowl. Sift in the baking powder and flour and beat with your mixer or hand-held electric whisk until smooth.
  4. Tip all of the mixture into your tin and level out with a palette knife.
  5. Arrange the halved plums (cut side up) over the cake mixture and push in so that only the top centimetre or so of the plum is visible above the cake. It should look something like my earlier picture.
  6. Then scatter the crumble on top as evenly as you can. It should look something like this:

    The crumble mixture on top of the cake batter and plums. The quantity of crumble produces a good half a centimetre of crunchiness. I found there was no need to cover the cake with foil at any point during the bake to stop the crumble getting too dark.

  7. Bake for 1 hour until all the usual signs of a baked cake are evident (skewer comes out clean, no wobble, no instant deflate, etc). It should look something like this:


  8. Cool in the tin and then tip out to cool fully. Cut into chunky slices and serve with cream or custard. I stored the cake in an airtight tin and it was still yummy for about 2 days. After that the plums were a little too soft for my liking so my partner and I ate all remaining cake for fear of wastage.
On baking the cake has this super mouth-watering hint of the lovely juices that the plums have released into the cake and crumble while baking.
On baking the cake has this super mouth-watering hint of the lovely juices that the plums have released into the cake and crumble while in the oven.

I can’t wait to get going with some more seasonal cooking. I picked up a handful of wild mushrooms from the nearby green grocer which I’m planning on having for brunch tomorrow: fried with some garlic, butter and parsley and served on toast with a poached egg. Actual heaven on a plate. Seasonal cooking can be every day too right?! Enjoy the cake!