Welcome to the Ex-Official Blog of Writer, Presenter & Crafts Expert Momtaz Begum-Hossain which stopped being active on 31st August 2016.

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Tuesday 27 September 2011

Hmmm... can I smell candles?

I'm a candle hoarder. At the moment, I've got cupcake shaped designs, love hearts, gorgeous scented floating ones, wax filled rocks and glass tumblers.
My bedroom is filled with vanilla scented night lights...(vanilla and coconut are my two favourite whiffs but I haven't yet found the perfect coconut candle.)
I used to use floating candles in the bath until I realised I preferred splashing around with a rubber duck to laying flat to stop them from  toppling over, so now I've got chunky candles that I can place on the window sill inside glass fishbowls. The giant blue candle has a tale; I once desperately needed tiny shells for a craft project and hunted high, low and inbetween but couldn't find them anywhere so I had to buy this candle and chip the tiny shells out!
In my office/craft room, I've got night light jars lined along the the window frame, samples crafted at various workshops, which can be handily moved between rooms .....there's no garden to hang them in though : (
And these are my newest candles that I received in the post last week. Scented 'Indian Spice' candles by Kenneth Turner. With a name like that, they had a lot to live up to. So question is, were they warm and spicy enough?
I confess that I had never heard of Kenneth Turner before but it it turns out he is the candle supplier to the stars, with a Royal seal of approval and was the first fragrance company to receive the Royal Warrant (so now you know who is responsible for the smells inside Buckingham Palace!) He's also delivered candles to Giorgio Armani, Donatella Versace, Sting and Cher and most recently Fearne Cotton who's letter of appreciation appears on their blog. And now it was my turn to road test them. For someone who normally gets her candles from Poundland, these were quite a treat, as they cost £26 for three candles. I could smell the difference immediately. We're not talking synthetic air freshener here, but a complete mood enhancer that creates a calming atmosphere whatever time of day they are lit. On day one, I lit them in my bedroom while I was getting ready for bed, I didn't notice anything until I blew them out and then the room was filled with a gentle aromatic air that helped me happily nod off. The candle has top notes of Black Pepper (which doesn't sound appealing but when I recently tried a perfume blending class black pepper was one of my favourite scents...it smells nothing like the stuff you crush over pasta!), and Clove (making it the perfect Autumnal scent), and middle notes of Floral Cherry Blossom, Woody Amber and Sandlewood. The more I light them, the better they become. The scent builds up and lingers. You know when you step into someone's house for the first time and every one's has a certain smell? I'm pleased to say this is what my flat currently smells like....and will do for the 50 hours the candles will last. After that, I may need to buy some more!
There are seven scented candles in this range, others are Blue Tangerine (odd sounding!), Citrus Bergamia, Nature Nurture, White Flowers, Ocean and Original. Kenneth Turner also do lots of other lovely room fragrances including diffusers and sprays.  
The candles aren't as spicy as I expected, Indian Spice to me would have a stronger smell, but they are warming, calming and relaxing and worth it for a treat. I particularly recommend locking yourself away and lighting one while you indulge in your favourite 'me time' activity whether that's lying in the bath, doing a spot of sewing, or indeed blogging (all three are equally pleasurable in my world!)

Check out the candles for yourself (sadly without computer smelly vision) at www.kennethturner.com

Saturday 24 September 2011

Red Velvet Cake Recipe: Tried & Tested

When my gym buddy Ruby announced she was moving back to Hong Kong a Ruby Red leaving do was in order so I took it upon myself to organise the bash...held at Cafe Rouge of course. As well as imposing a strict 'you must wear red....even if it's just a coat of lippy' dress code (luckily my hair was all I needed so I wore my new green dress from Brick Lane Vintage market) and sprinkling shiny red hearts every where, it gave me the perfect excuse to finally try the Red Velvet cake recipe from The legendary Hummingbird Cook Book
Hummingbird Bakery are an American cup cake chain who pretty much revived the Cupcake obsession in the UK. These days you can't go anywhere without seeing a cupcake or some kind of cupcake memorabilia. (I remember the days when we called them fairy cakes and reserved them for children's birthday parties and school fetes.) I'm not much of a cupcake kind of girl. Give me a proper slice of sponge cut from a big round cake any day. One cupcake is never enough and 1/2 of it tends to be topping, so I took the Red Velvet cupcake recipe and converted it into a giant gateaux (the bakery sells both kinds.) 
Btw, just because I'm a crafter does not automatically make me a baker (these days there's so much pressure for crafty girls to be domestic goddesses and baking is on top of the list.) I rarely bake and even more rarely follow recipes. I'm a 'bung in anything and measure nothing' kind of chef but as I knew 20 people would be eating this creation and it was for a special occasion, I focused and tried my best to whip up something worthy of a place on the Hummingbird shelf. Try it for your self (recipe reproduced from the book):

Ingredients (1/2 these measurements to make a tray of 12 muffin sized cupcakes)
120g  unsalted butter
300g caster sugar
2 eggs
20g cocoa powder (Green &Blacks)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
240ml of buttermilk (stored in supermarkets near the single cream)
300g plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking powder
3 teaspoons of white wine vinegar (I left this out and it didn't matter!)
(Frosting and filling) 250g cream cheese (full fat Philadelphia)
500g icing sugar
100g unsalted butter
(Most important bit) 40ml red food colouring
This is what makes the cake red but remember you're competing against dark cocoa powder so you need the red to override the brown. Commonly found red food colouring in supermarkets won't work, you need to get a quality one from a cake decorating stockist. Hummingbird recommend Dr Oetkers and Nigella Lawson recommends Sugarflair in 'Christmas Red' which is a paste not a liquid. I went with that, which I bought from The Make Lounge Shop. One jar was the perfect quantity.
You also need 3x 20cm round tins, lined with greaseproof paper and to pre-heat your oven to Gas Mark 3, 170 degrees.
Beat the butter and sugar with a whisk on medium setting either using a hand held one like me, or inside a mixer/blender. The mixture should be light and fluffy. Slowly add the eggs, turn up the speed on the blender and make sure everything is well incorporated.

In a separate bowl mix the cocoa, red food colouring and vanilla to make a dark paste. Add it to the butter mixture and blend in. Turn the mixer down to a low speed and stir in 1/2 of the buttermilk. Add 1/2 the flour, beat again, then repeat adding the remaining buttermilk and flour. Turn the blender back to high and keep going until it's mass of smooth, creamy red mixture. Add the salt, baking powder and vinegar if using, beat well and then for extra measure beat for another two minutes. On a hand blender it takes its toll but it's worth it and I kept going until I was happy it was super smooth.
Split the mixture into your three tins, they should be 2/3s full (as should your cake cases if you are making cupcakes) and bake for 20-25 minutes. Don't open the oven too soon and don't leave them in too long. Insert a skewer and check the sponge on top bounces back when touched to know it's done. Leave to cool down. 

To make the cream cheese frosting, beat the sugar and butter together using a whisk, add the cream cheese in one go then beat it on a medium/high speed until the whole mixture is blended, light and fluffy...again this may take a good five minutes. (NB I am wearing my PJs in this pic, I have not started wearing animal print clothing!)

Spread the filling between the layers and on top, and if you like, over the edges but I decided against this. I finished with a sprinkling of edible glitter across the top.
I didn't get a chance to photograph the completed cake before it got cut but here's the slices as they were being handed out.
I was so happy the cake got polished off! Nothing fills a chef with more pride than knowing their hard work has been appreciated. And here's my Arches Leisure Centre gym crew ( a sample of them!) who did the chomping. Usually we only see eachother looking sweaty in trainers and sports gear (I hasten to add I do wear sequins at the gym but that's another post!) so it's really nice when we have our socials and get the opportunity to glam up. (Btw all those who didn't show up wearing red got made to wear sticky red gemstones.)
Cake verdict: The entire cake cost £10 and took about two hours to make. I remember the first time I tried red velvet in Hummingbird and it was the most divine cake I'd ever eaten. I never imagined I would one day be baking it myself. It's a very straight forward recipe, the topping is sweet but the filling isn't, making it a really good combo. I say give this recipe a go! Just don't burn your arm when you're taking it out of the oven, I now have to live with a 4cm long scar and it's not pretty so it's just as well the cake was!

Friday 23 September 2011

Bhangra For Beginners

I hate bhangra music. Show me a dancefloor playing a mash up of bollywood, drum & bass and early 90s indie and nothing will drag me away, but when a bhangra tune comes on I hide in the loos or join the drinks queue (a good opportunity since this is when most people are strutting their stuff.) Bhangra gets people moving…just not me. So when I heard about Rifco Arts latest production Britain’s Got Bhangra, I was half intrigued and half scared but decided to face my fears and go and see the musical theatre masterpiece, which when it first toured last year was a sell-out show that won numerous awards and tonnes of praise. Back for more, this second run of the ‘hit’ production claims to be even bigger and better with a slightly new cast, new numbers and an all singing, all dancing, shiny new set. And WOW. What a set.

I was astounded by it - it was just so beautiful. As it switched between the fields of the Punjab and the bustling markets of 1970s Southall, a temple, council house and even a scene set in heaven, the story instantly came alive and the music performed by the band housed inside a giant dhol drum at the back of the stage blended in perfectly. 
Before I go any further, I want to point out, I’m not one of those reviewers that tells you the plot – there’s no spoilers here. All I’m going to reveal is that the play is about a man who moves from the Punjab to London in search of a better life and bhangra music proves to be the answer. 

So bhangra…what is it? It’s music that originated in the Punjab, India with lyrics sung in Punjabi, but it’s made by British artists and has been for over 30 years. It’s a huge scene if you’re in to it but the average Brit has either never heard it or if they have, most probably only know Panjabi MC’s ‘Mundia To Bach Ke’, which samples the Knightrider theme tune. Though strangely I never succumbed to its ‘charm’, I’m clearly insane as it sold 10 million copies ...

It was a packed house at Watford Palace Theatre where I was watching BGB (and where Rifco Arts are the resident theatre company). I was surprised that the audience was so diverse, Asians were completely outnumbered by non-Asians. I couldn’t work out whether these people were simply Watford Palace regulars OR were they actually people who liked Bhangra even though they weren’t Punjabis?

Ten minutes into the production, any thoughts of analysing the audience and wondering if maybe I should have brought my ear plugs along vanished. I was well and truly hooked,  mesmerising by the set, rainbow coloured sparkly costumes and the tunes...oh my, what tunes!!! Was this really bhangra? Or was it bhangra that’s better than normal bhangra. You see for someone who hates bhangra I instantly fell in love with the music. It was upbeat, positive, catchy, fun…and as for the vocals. They were to die for.

The lead character is real life bhangra star Shin from one of the UK’s biggest bhangra bands, DCS. He has one of the most outstanding and versatile voices I’ve ever heard. It was like getting two shows for the price of one – you got to watch a brilliant piece of musical theatre AND a live concert from an incredible solo artist all in one night – amazing!

A word that could also be used to describe the cast of 11 who were all superb. Worthy of a mention is Michael Taibi…..a European gentleman who had the most authentic Asian accent; it was so spot on, (was he Punjabi in a previous life?) 

Natasha Jayetileke played record company owner Shinde…who hammed up playing a diva so well, her character was pure evil but her high powered ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude made her an inspiration.

Rakesh Boury was the super cute DJ Lovely, a local Southall lad and king of remixing, he was like every single rude boy stereotype rolled into one and perfected it down to a T.

And the lovable Jason Denton…, such an angelic voice, soulful, jazzy and very listenable.
Britain’s Got Bhangra (BGB) was not at all what I expected. I knew Rifco were an impressive and original company (they’ve been breaking Asian stereotypes and making diverse theatre shows for a decade) but there’s always that fear that this could be the show where it all goes downhill.
Thankfully I was proved wrong (soooooooooo wrong). BGB is complete theatre perfection, it’s everything you want from a night out. Just like a good book, it takes you on a complete journey where your emotions are tested and you develop genuine feelings for the characters. The show has everything; drama, romance, comedy, tears….several unexpected weepy moments as well as glitz, glamour, action filled choreography, a proper storyline and music that lifts your spirits (I know that sounds like a cliché but remember this is coming from an (ex-member) of the anti-bhangra camp.)
I wouldn’t say I’ve converted to bhangra but I feel so much more open to it. Maybe it’s not as bad as I think it is. Maybe next time I’m in a club and a bhangra tunes comes on I’ll reach for the lightbulb and hollar ‘balle balle’ to my friends. Who knows????
What I do know is that BGB is an excellent production, one that deserves international exposure as it has universal appeal. You don’t need to know anything about bhangra (or like it!) to enjoy this show. It’s sleek from start to finish - good old fashion family entertainment. I’m up for watching it again. Who’s joining me?
Britain's Got Bhangra is currently on tour in the UK until November 27th and will be playing in Dartford, Leicester, London, Windsor, Leeds, Oldham and Coventry. To find out where to book tickets visit www.rifcoarts.com
And if you fancy a sneaky peak, check out this medley from the original version of the show.
 All show photography was taken by David Fisher  (thanks!)

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Some thoughts: Liberty Book of Home Sewing

If I don't sew at least once a week I get sad. It's a bit like going to the gym. I hate the thought of getting ready and dragging myself down there but as soon as I'm working out I love it. With sewing I hate the pressures of keeping my sewing table clear and tidy and the fact the needle probably needs replacing or the tension is wrong yet once I've sat down, foot on the peddle, all my worries and stresses diminish. I'm no sewing domestic goddess though....I can sew and I know how to set up a machine and teach others how to use it but my skills are by no means advanced. My work is a bit wonky, the odd missed stitch, the wrong tension, seams that haven't been totally flattened by the iron.... but I'm happy if it joins, it doesn't need to be perfect. I prefer to be known as a Subversive Seamstress (I screen printed these patches to remind me that being a sewer doesn't mean you have to follow all the rules.)
I'm a crafter with a dedicated home studio but it's not one of those ones that could be photographed for a magazine. I don't have piles of neatly folded printed cottons in glass cabinets instead I have masses and masses of piled up fabric scraps, in all corners of the room - this one by the door, starts on the floor and each day looks more and more like a rubbish tip. But when you're so active your craft room really can't look pristine and tidy...
Then there's my stash of sewing porn. I hoard craft books to look at the pictures and get inspiration. I own hundreds of them (this is a sample of sewing ones). It's totally fantastical oogling, ooing and aahhing over beautiful things I would love to own but realistically will never have time to make. Of all craft books, sewing are among the most complicated because as much as I'm not one to follow rules if you're sewing something and the size goes wrong you've got a potential craft disaster on your hands (and believe me I've had plenty of those.) Finding a good sewing book is hard though. Some look stunning but are too complex, some look easy but the layout is unappealing and some are full of yummy gorgeous fabrics that you just know you'll never source. The newest and most anticipated sewing book of the year that is published next month is The Liberty Book of Home Sewing. Unbelievably (what took them so long????!!!!) It's the first ever sewing book from Liberty despite the fact Liberty Print fabric is legendary in fashion and textile circles.
The book has received lots of praise in the blogosphere, some which sound like they could be describing any craft book listing contents and projects. So there's no point in me adding to the list with an equally glowing/informative review. The reason anyone keeps a blog is to have an independent outlet to express their opinions. And one thing that is integral to my blog is being honest so even when I get sent freebies (like a review copy of this book) it's important I stay true to my principles. And the truth is this book is not what I expected.
I don't own any Liberty Print fabric (possibly because of the price tag) but my sister who is a huge fan used her stash to make me a business card holder for my birthday. Today she tweeted about how much she loves their new Hello Kitty range....yes even I was surprised they are selling that! Liberty Print is very traditional and in keeping with these values, the books feel equally traditional but in some respects a little too old fashioned for the current craft book climate. But before I go into that, here's the features I like about the book:
The fabric cover is stunning. The book is about using Liberty Print fabric so to be able to own a sample is very satisfying. It's a craft book first (I think!) to have a fabric cover and I'm sure it's going to start a trend.
The most fascinating section in the book is at the back where it lists different Liberty prints giving details of their history. I feel like it would have been a much stronger book if the focus was more about the fabric and 'how to sew' which to me is what the title suggests. But it actually has very little on 'sewing' and launches straight into projects and this is where I'm slightly disappointed. There are hundreds of sewing books on the market so it's going to be hard to maintain originality but I felt overall that the choice of projects in the book are stale......they are all things that I've seen before - cushion cover, blind, curtain, doorstop, noticeboard and even a corsage.......corsage???? They were popular a decade ago.
The books switches from 'simple' like the corsage, to the ridiculously hard. Quilting has its place in home sewing but it's a specialist craft in itself and it felt like it was just brushed over by sticking a quilt in the book.....which quite frankly is far too complicated to be dedicated just six pages.
Instructions for making projects are clear but they are illustrations. There's nothing wrong with this, but sewing is difficult and step-by-step photos on this occasion would have been stronger.
There's a small section on sewing techniques but it's soooooooo bland! Grey illustrations? Who decided on that? The part of the book that frustrates me the most however is that you're expected to make your own patterns. It wouldn't have been hard to enclose an envelope at the back which contained patterns you could cut up and start using straight away .....honestly? Does any crafter actually have the time to sit and make a pattern and then craft?
This is where I struggle with the book. It's like picking up an old vintage craft book (with its choice of fabric, projects and instructions) but at the same time it's trying to be modern. It will sell and be popular because of the Liberty brand but if it was just another sewing book with the projects it contains, it would be a flop. What would have been so much better is if there had been more original ideas, like this peacock pin cushion.
It's my favourite project in the book because it uses their iconic peacock print in a novel way. More unique ideas like this would have made it a much more original and memorable book to suit it's lovely cover. 

Before I wrote this post I toyed with whether or not I really should say what I think. Maybe because I haven't been full of praise I won't be sent any more books to review and maybe I'll upset the author (I'd be upset if I read a review on a book I'd written that said it was unoriginal and boring) but I can't stand on the fence either and say 'yeah it's great go and buy it'. Some people love Liberty Fabric and will adore the book because of that, others may want a traditional sewing book (todays craft books are possibly too 'modern' for some tastes). My advice is have a look at it. You may find something in it that appeals to you. As for my copy,  it won't be one of those craft books I keep coming back to but luckily I know someone will would appreciate it and their birthday is coming up!

Liberty is a luxury London department store that opened in 1875 and fabric has always been one of it's key products.

Tuesday 13 September 2011

Opening Verdict: Westfield Stratford City

Best freebie: New Look
When Europe's biggest urban indoor shopping mall opens on your doorstep (well 20 minutes away) a girl can't just sit at home. She needs to be there to watch the ribbon being cut and so I headed out to discover the delights of the new Westfield in search of freebies and special offers. Starting with a free photo (more on that later!)
Worth queuing for: Hotel Chocolat
Most stores had opening offers for the first customers through the doors. Forever 21 gave away £50 in vouchers to the first 50 shoppers while Topshop were offering free leopard print manicures. Appealing yes, but I knew instantly where I'd be queuing. Hotel Chocolat is my favourite brand of chocolate so when I heard they were handing out goody bags I was so there!
 Inside was yummy scrummy choccy....all for me : ) Success!
Best technique to attract women
Semi naked men with six packs?....Now that's a way to get attention... except I didn't figure out what this store was, just that there were male models outside it!
Oddest use of space: Look Magazine
Look Magazine took over a shop space. Today from 10am-9pm only bloggers were allowed in. You also had to 'make an appointment' to go inside. This sounded intriguing like they were interested in meeting/talking to bloggers. When I went inside to 'book' they said ' Are you a blogger? Great. Here's four computers. Blog away.....' So basically it was just a room  of computers on which you could blog from. There were no free magazines or activities, they didn't even ask what blog I write : (
 Best windows
Other empty shop spaces were used more inventively with random window displays like these two. N.B. There's not a huge amount of empty spaces but some shops like book store Foyles aren't open yet).

Best customer service: Apple Store
The Apple Staff burst into applause; screaming, shouting, clapping and cheering at all customers as they entered; now that's a way to make a person feel special!
Beauty fan's idea of heaven: Lush
I'm a tester junkie, so imagine my delight at entering a new shop where all testers were fresh and untouched? Heaven! Lush also gave away free glittery juice, yes GLITTERY JUICE! An idea I am pinching from them!
Most intriguing shop name: Pulp
How a shop is allowed to be called Pulp is beyond me. It should be exclusively reserved for the band. I had never heard of it or been inside before. I discovered that it's full of band t-shirts....but no Pulp ones. More rockier stuff like Muse and Nirvana. They also had some bands doing in store performing live sets today and tomorrow - one for the alternative teens. Strangely I also spotted THREE, I kid you not, THREE types of Stone Roses t-shirts on sale....what yoof today wants one of those or is that to appeal to the older folk???!!!

Pulp stocked my favourite brand of hair dye....now you know my secret. Though I won't be buying future bottles from here, they retailed at £4.99 each, I pay £1.79 from a local afro hair shop!
Busiest moment: Ribbon cutting
Just after 11am the mall came to a stand still, no one could move. The reason? Mayor of London Boris was here to cut the ribbon (a moment I witnessed but just missed photographing : ( )....
Biggest celeb: Nicole Sherzinger
...then we were treated to four live songs by Nicole Sherzinger from The Pussycat Dolls. Yes she's utterly gorgeous and can dance but her songs are dreadful...her brand of pop is sooooo unlikable, and irritating. And her voice so grating....but what was most amusing was that despite the fact she 'talks' confidently when she's 'singing' she couldn't speak normally when she was supposed to be addressing the crowd:  'Wazzup Westfiiiieeeeld?' is hardly original and everything else she said was so mumbled. Stick with modelling. Seriously.
Worst backdrop: New Look
Alot of stores had live DJs, but New Look's made no effort what so ever. Check out that wall space. All he had up was an advert for how to book him for your wedding, talk about CHEAP!!!!!! Maybe it's because they put all their money into the free photobooth where my photos were taken at the start of this post?
There was a fabulously sparkly photobooth with added wind and lights to make you look like a celeb. You got to strike four poses, and could keep the snaps.
 Worst stock: Forever 21
Forever 21 is billed as the coolest fashion store of the times...a hip Californian chain that only arrived in Europe this year. It attracted the biggest crowds so of course I had to check it out. It was basically like H&M, affordable BUT the most hideous, unflattering, unfashionable clothes ever.....picking out which one to photograph was so tough, there was so much awful stuff, this combo made the 'what an 80s nightmare, it should never ever be worn by anyone' grade, hence the mention in my blog!
Yummiest thing: Great Eastern Market
As well as lots of decent places to eat there's also an alleyway of delicatessan type shops where you can sample unusual breads and snacks.
Biggest surprise: Greggs
The other day I had a builder working at my flat and the first thing he asked me was where is the nearest Greggs? For the uninitiated, Greggs is where you can pick up a tea and sausage roll on the move. Or in my usual case, a cup of Heinz Tomato soup and vegetable pastie on days I'm feeling in need of some thing 'cheap and trashy', certainly not how you would describe this branch. Talk about Gourmet Greggs, it even had seats!
Something for everyone?
This view fascinated me. On one level it's chocablock with suited and booted types at the champagne lounge and below it, a children's play area. It sums up Westfield perfectly. It really did feel like there is something for everyone here. I was very impressed with the clear, light, airy layout and variety of shops and services. Its location is appealing as are transport links - it's just so surreal to think it actually exists. It's far superior to the West London Westfield which is focused on strange designer shops no one needs to go to. Here it's more diverse and already I'm feeling there is no need to be swinging by Oxford Street anytime soon.
 Old Stratford

When I took these two photos I was standing in the middle.On one side is old Stratford and behind, the new one. It's so strange to see an area transform so much. The old centre is still there but houses pound shops and indoor fruit and veg markets but now there's another world, a few metres away. 
 New Stratford
 Thank you: HSBC
After a morning spent seduced by the shops (I also had a tasty lunch of an Ackee and Plantain Sandwich from Caribbean Scene who are a local restaurant who have set up a stall inside, and treating myself to a sit down massage which my shoulders were crying out for), it was time to head home. I spotted my bank in amongst the mall and as I went to pay in a cheque I was offered a free Krispy Kreme doughnut, just what I needed to lift up falling energy levels. Who would have thought a bank would be dishing out doughnuts? I think this makes me forgive them for the rubbish new internet banking system they've recently introduced. Maybe HSBC aren't that bad after all?
So anway, Westfield Statford City: The Verdict.....it's a Thumbs up from me! Well worth a visit if you're ever in these parts and want to do some high street shopping. No doubt I will be back soon : )