BIRTHDAY BREAKFAST IN LONDON, LOST IN LILY VANILLI’S LAND

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I started my tradition of Birthday Breakfasts over 10 years ago, when, being too busy to throw a big party, I thought It could be nice to start the day with a yummy breakfast surrounded by friends and loved ones… the tradition is based on the simple belief that nothing could go possibly wrong in a day built on such delicious and joyful foundations. So far my theory has proven 100% right!

So it goes that every year I start my birthday with the most amazing, often wonderfully random and yet perfect breakfast. Being on a warm African island in my bikini, or at the baker outside my office, the breakfasts are always unique and a first step on a path of love and discovery.

This year the birthday breakfast fairy brought me to find a little courtyard around the Columbia Flower Market in East London, where people flock by the thousands just to get a taste of Lily Jones‘ (aka Lily Vanilli) beautiful and delicious baking magic. Lily tip-toed her way in the cakes’ business a few years ago when, to make some extra bucks, she started selling her home-made cakes at Swanfield Market; she would pay 10£ for the pitch and go back home with 30-40£ earnings each week, until in 2009 a journalist from The Time wrote an article about her, and Lily Vanilli was born. Since then she has baked for the likes of Elton John, made a cake sculpture for V&A, created insect shaped candies for Alexander McQueen and the list could just keep on going. Every sunday Lily and her staff of 7 open their cake lab to the occasional Columbia Market’s visitors and tourists. It must be her way to inject good karma in this world, one tasty cake after another.

As far as my experience go, I have to admit, as I sat in the shop, it was not what I had expected to find. I was a bit put off by the amount of people crowding the place and the horrible paper cups, somehow I had imagined to get to a more private joint, with fine china tea-cups and grandmas’ type silver spoons to go with the freshly grinded coffies and fine teas. But As I gave a look at the Red Velvet Cake (my 1st birthday cake in a million years!), so luscious and beautiful, I understood that sometimes one should not pretend perfection in every detail, but just find that one fantabulous thing that would make the journey worthwhile. And – oh boy! – the Red Velvet sweetness of it, made it so worth it!

As a present to myself I bought the book Sweet Tooth where some of Lily’s recipes will be soon turned into Christmas presents to others…passing on the sweetness!

Big up for Lily Vanilli!

and now please meet Lily

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Marina is present. Ulay is with her.

ulay & marina meet after 26 years apart during her performance “The Artist is Present” at MOMA

And then, one morning, like any other morning, you wake up and browse through news updates on your FB feed. But this one morning, not like any other morning, you stumble upon Ulay & Marina meeting again, after 26 long years, and a warm tear flows out to mark your right cheek first and your left cheek next. Love is one word for it. But not enough telling to describe what we can only guess by watching at how loudly they speak to each other without telling a word nor making a sound… until they touch.

Fact is that, a few years back I met Ulay, it was a beautiful crazy afternoon in De Pijp in Amsterdam spent with great friends drinking and talking and laughing and wandering around all allies of life until night falls and becomes so deep that one can no longer hide behind social mannerism, but only show itself bare and simple. He was not with Marina Abramovic for a very long time already, but somehow she was present, in the back of a casual conversation, in a story about the past, in a lest blink of eyelashes. She was there. The good and the bad. With the solemnity of a lifetime that seemed gone and yet to go by.

I was and am not a fan of Abramovic the artist, but after that first meeting with Ulay I grew curious about both of them, their work as a couple, their life exposed to the Art World appetites, their public exposure during a 12 years relationship. I looked into it and concluded that none of them made anything nearly as good and strong since their last performance in 1988 that marked their breakup, on China’s Great Wall, when they both started walking from opposite points of the wall, just to meet in the middle after 2500km hiking and say “good-bye”. Well, looking at them today, with eyes filled with tears, I thought that the walk they took was perhaps way longer than they planned in 1988 and so much bigger than China’s Great Wall. Their long farewell lasted 26 long years, they said goodbye, but never left, never stopped the walk. And finally they have met. The artist has disappeared. True Art arises: Life. Ulay & Marina have finally met right in the middle… and it’s not a “good-bye”.

Ulay+Abramovic meet @ MOMA
watch carefully, it might move you to tears

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POWDER ROOM for all your retro-beauty parlor needs

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Back in 1961 the legendary Holly Golightly casually declares in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to take 50$ from her generous dates each time she goes to the Powder Room, today in 2012 at the POWDER ROOM on Columbia Road in London for that same price one might get treated to a “Jiffy Make-up” a “Speedy Hair Do”or a fast manicure. In the hands of pretty pin-up girls, stylishly dressed in pink & black uniforms, in a 40’s interior screaming retro-glam in every detail, the ladies fancying to pop in this charming little shop can have a complete make-over Hollywood classics style while sipping cocktails & tasting pretty puffy pastries. In the 1944 film by Vincent Sherman, Bette Davis firmly says in the words of Mrs. Skeffington  “A woman is beautiful if she sleeps 8 hours every night and goes to the Beauty Parlor every day…” well, next time I decide to follow that piece of advice I exactly know where I should go: 136 Columbia Road!

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living in a city filled with little unexpected wonders

foto by Sergio Leone (used entirely without permission)

Here goes the first item in a short line of micro-blogging pieces. Sice January 1st I moved back to good old Firenze. I got tired by the mess south of Italy threw me into and decided to look for my own (temporary) piece of mind in a place I knew I loved and could fall in love again with. So I packed a rented car to the utmost limit and moved my life, once more, heading north. I moved in a amazing night of december, shortly before Christmas. Shooting stars led the way throughout the whole trip (about 30 we could count, all spinning in the direction we were heading to) and the moon, at one point, sat huge, yellow and majestic on a hill slightly on our right. At 3.30 am the trip ended on Piazzale Michelangelo. We got out of the car and looked at the city – graciously laying beneath us, filled with Christmas lights – in silence and wonder. Still till this day I keep on making little discoveries here in the city, that leave me with the same renewed feeling of wonder.

In this line, the other evening I discovered this beautiful place called BRAC (such a pity the women running it are humourless unfriendly creatures). I went there with my friend Pier Paolo Taddei of Avatar Architettura, with whom I share the space at gallerie/espace-extraordinaire 22a-22. We were looking for a quiet place to sip some drinks and talk new projects, so we landed in what I realised is a stylished bubble in the middle of town. ‘Brac’ is supposed to be a bookshop, but guess: books are the last thing you notice in there. After going past the un-smiling woman behind the bar, guardian of every misery known to mankind, we found refuge in the lovely little court separating the bar from the glass-walled restaurant in the back. We sat and sipped orange Spritz under a ceiling of deightful falling plastic strips (made by architects’ studio Deferrari+Modesti), visually separating us from the dedalus of windows and potentially complaining neighbours that, supposidely, were right above our heads. Silence and peace dawn upon our drinking and chatting, dimmed lights and papier-macheé ultra-colored art among garden furniture and plants served as backdrop to the unfolding power of new ideas, while people were having dinner in the bookshop, behind glass, like an extremely evolved kind of earth-floating fishes. And so it was that, while leaving this strangely charming place, I realised that sometimes going through a “door” it’s not the same as enetering any other one: each “door” in a city is a possible keeper of wonders, we just don’t know to start with which one will lead us to simple, undiscovered little pleasures. There are doors that you even do not notice you have passed, and doors that once passed you just know you will end up right in the middle of a marvellous parallel universe. BRAC is, without doubt one of such doors.

Brac is a contemporary art bookshop and exhibition space, Cafe & Kitchen
in via dei vagellai, 18r – Firenze, Italy

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Believing in Miracles (once again)

the shape of Miracles is red & marine blue

This is the answer “extraordinaire” Jamain Brigitha gave to my casual question on how to believe once again in miracles:

“admitting it’s not easy, sweetie… It’s a complex paradigm of being grateful for what is, knowing what you want – allowing your desires to be, and detaching yourself from the outcome and the “how”, serving others with your talents and love… (for the highest good of all concerned), having faith and believing in divine timing – letting God, The Universe or whatever great force you call it, to do the work, as this energy has been here for centuries and is much smarter than us mortal humans and immensely creative, beyond words…”

I believe this needed to be shared and the word to be spread.

Thanks my fantabulous friend!

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THINGS I MISS ABOUT NL episode 1: TAAI-TAAI PEPERNOTEN!

zwarte pieten bring pepernoten on bike

nos·tal·gia

[no-stal-juh, -jee-uh, nuh-]

–noun

1. a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’s life, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.

2. something that elicits or displays nostalgia.

“Nostalgia” is also described as the feeling of being homesick, which I reckon goes pretty close to what I felt this morning, when my friend Patricia Pulles posted the following message on FB:

” folklore olandese…l’arrivo di San Niccola sulla nave a vapore al porto di Harderwijk per la sua festa il 5 dicembre…”

and posted a lovely video to go with it.

Hard to say the way I felt. A mixture of echoed laughs came to my ear, the image of zwarte pieten flocking around the white bearded Sinterklaas and his white horse came to mind, the Bijenkorf shopping windows dressed up for the occasion, the letter-shaped chocolate, the surprises (pronounced suur-pree-zes), the “Sinterklaasgedichten” (funny little poems going with the presents/surprises) and the Pepernoten, the spicey cookies typical for this festivity!!!

The aroma of anise and cinnamon coming out of each baker shop in town during this period use to dawn on me like a blessing; wrapped up in my coat, crossing town on my bike, the smell of fresh pepernoten hit me at each corner, and I could not help but stop for a moment to run in and buy kiloes of the delicious little cookies. I would happily live on pepernoten for weeks!
There are at least two variation of Pepernoten: the round stone-hard ones, which one can find also at Albert Hein (the dutch uber-supermarket); and those in the shape of little cubes, made by ducth bakers only during the Sinterklaas period, that is to say from now to the 6th of December. I personally prefer the latter, not only because of the home-made feel to it, but also because the flavour and the texture it’s very different, more interesting, kind of pleasently gummy and better spiced, where anise balances cinnamon in a much round and satisfying way.

delicious pepernoten

(little less)delicious pepernoten

As a matter of fact, my favourite pepernoten are made with a dough that is very similar to another lovely dutch cookie called Taai-Taai, which industrial version is shaped in the guise of a fat brown Sinterklaas and it is to find typically in every supermarket. Although at this time of the year one can also find them (along with all other kind of breads and pepernoten) every saturday at the Organic Farmers’ market on the Noordermarkt, or the “Hippie Market”, as my dear friend Debra Solomon of Culiblog likes to call it.

taai taai cookies (approved by Sint & Piet)

Baker's stand on the Noordermarkt

Being away from Amsterdam for a while now, I cannot help thinking that perhaps I will never stop missing all the wonderful little things my life revolved around in the city that fathered me for such a long time. Some of these things are hard or impossible to replicate now that I am in another time and another place, but others, such as the yammy little cubes called Pepernoten can be easily be made over and over and over. So here is the recipe, make & enjoy!

Ingredients Edit  href=

  • 200 grams self raising flour
  • pinch salt
  • 150 grams Dutch syrup (stroop) or honey
  • 2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • 1 tsp ground clove
  • 1 tsp ground coriander (seeds)
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ginger powder
  • pinch of ground anise seed

Directions

– Preheat the oven to 160 °C.

– Sift the flour with the salt and spices into a bowl. Make a hollow in the top of the mound and pour in the syrup.

– Mix everything from the centre and knead into thick dough. Place in the fridge for an hour.

– Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/2 cm, and make into small, marble-sized balls, or better little cubes.

– Grease a cookie sheet – or use a non-stick one – and put the ‘marbles/cubes’ on it. Press them down slightly. Put in the centre of the preheated oven and bake for 15 – 20 minutes, until done and golden brown. For the cube version, please note that the result should not be a hard little cookie, but a nice semi-soft gummy one.

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It’s not the Matrix, It ends like Blade Runner…It’s INCEPTION!

Finally I managed to see Inception the film of the century! (and considering we are only 10 years into it, the weight of this sentence takes a completely different meaning). Sat in a Florentine Cinema with my popcorn ready for action, I took off the newly bought baby-pink ballerinas, sank in the red velvet old fashioned chair and got in the best “now I’m ready to be blown away” impersonation of me.

Well, 10 minutes into the movie I was not blown away, impressed & pleased for sure, but not blown away. And I’ll try to explain why.

Something off-beat seemed to underlie the whole film, being that the flat casting choices or the stiffness of the costumes in the period scenes, perhaps some minor plot hick-ups and the fact that one can see some twist and turns totally coming or the overwhelming sense that the character were not developed to their full potential, but something did not quite match the greatness of such a majestic script. ‘Lost in details’ I would say.

Inception is not The Matrix. And it’s not Blade Runner. But it draws a lot from both. The question weather we are really free and inhabiting what we think is our “reality” from the former, and the ending from the latter (and boy that ending was crystal clear since the first appearance of that little metal throttle on screen!).

Aside from that, Inception is definitively a crowd-pleaser, none I know will ever be ready to tell that the film is less than amazing. And indeed it is.

Firstly, Chrstopher Nolan did a great job at finely weaving the special effects in the movie so that they won’t show how much fun CG department people had in making them; they are smashingly beautiful and yet they do not take over the whole film, as it does happen in most cases (remember The Hulk? or even better Avatar?).

And least, but not last: the writing is amazing, titanic, majestic.

It seems it took Nolan 10 years to do it, he started working on the script while working on Memento (also dealing with the labyrinths of human mind), brought the idea to Warnes Bros., but felt he needed more experience on big mainstream movies before measuring himself with Inception‘s multi-folded complexity. So, as it often happens, the project was put to temporary rest in some production drawer. Until someone decided it was time to dust the good old heist film reef to a new “printemps”. And indeed it was a good choice. As a matter of fact the boxoffice success of Nolan‘s Inception convinced Warnes Bros. to start production of Expulsion (to be released in 2013).

According to screenrant.com Expulsion tells the story of a small group of survivors, who must venture into space in search of a new home – after a terrorist attack completely destroys the Earth.” Brad Weston is set to produce, and bestselling sci-fi author Gregg Hurwitz penned the script.

The studio is also developing Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity, another heist film, with a lost-in-space, fighting-to-survive plot starring Robert Downey jr.

So, while the rave shaking the world now goes along the lines of “what Inception‘s ending means” and “will there be a sequel?” Christopher Nolan is right back on superheroes’ track and right in the middle of pre-production of both the new Batman film and Superman: man of steel, while the Studios are capitalising on Inception‘s success and surfing the heist wave to new and unexplored territories…we hope!

enjoy Inception trailer:

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