Friday 26 September 2014

Brit Decor: Bakes/ Italian Hot Choc

All Images / Mike Ahern

It's been one of 'those' weeks where crazy circumstances outside of my control have nudged my thoughts back to happier times in Rome. I think we call this 'escapism'?

Asides from possessing an inherent ability to dress themselves immaculately, there's one thing that Italian's always do so well; take time out. Work or no work, there's always time for a cappuccino or a sociable afternoon glass of wine. Sure we can grab a take-out coffee here in the UK but it in comparison it all seems so hurried. I need to take note.

So today I am rolling it back and taking time out to remember my recent trip whilst indulging on a devilishly rich cup of Italian hot chocolate - definitely not for the faint-hearted! It's actually a favourite afternoon tipple of mine at my local Italian deli, Roscoff's in Bath, but here I decided to make my own version.

Wherever you are in the world right now, I hope you make some time for a 'you' moment.

200g Good quality dark chocolate
100ml Single cream
2 tsp Icing sugar

How to make:
Place a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. Break the chocolate into pieces and place in the bowl along with the icing sugar and a drop of cream. Once the chocolate has melted and the icing sugar dissolved, add the remaining cream. Pour a small amount of the hot chocolate into a cup (I used espresso cups) and serve: Perfezioni!

Tip: for a super-rich dessert, pop a cup into the refrigerator to chill!

Friday 12 September 2014

Brit Decor: Spotlight/ Celina Mancurti

I am an unashamed lover of linen. This beautifully tactile material is no stranger to Brit Decor, last seen gracing the pages of the blog in my Linen Crush feature back in June. So imagine my delight when I had the chance to talk textiles with the very talented Celina Mancurti! 

The Argentinian textile designer is now based in the USA but still channels her proud heritage into her designs with a strong leaning towards organic fibres, handcrafted fabrics and sustainable designs. The result; an elegant collection of handprinted pure linen products. What do I like about this collection? In a nutshell, the sheer beauty of the natural fibres combined with energetic patterns - simple style with impact, which pretty much sums up the Brit Decor ethos too.

Naturally, I was intrigued to know more about the designer herself, so here's how our conversation unfolded...

What made you decide to start up your own business?

Ten years ago, I decided to leave my home and career in Buenos Aires to follow my husband to the United States.  I searched for jobs in the fashion industry but had no luck.  I eventually landed a job as an instructor of textile courses at a major university.  I enjoyed teaching and getting to know my students, but through it all, the dream stuck with me; I knew I had to pursue it.  During one of my trips back to Argentina, I packed a couple of flat screens and some buttons from my grandmother's sewing box to come back with me to the States.  When I returned, I bought a large wood board and following my passion for textiles, I began printing fabrics in my basement. 

During the 2008 holiday season, I printed my first tablecloth adorned with my grandmother's buttons and sent it to the lovely town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.  The feedback was positive and overwhelming!  In April 2009, I opened an Etsy™ shop with six tablecloths and walked into stores to seek opportunities to sell my linens.

Was it a tough thing to do at the time?

To be uprooted was life-changing; it was like starting my life from scratch. 

What advice would you give to other creatives who are thinking about setting up their own business?

It took many experiments and a lot of hard work to transform those six tablecloths into the business I have today; a fully handcrafted eco-friendly Table & Kitchen Linens collection, a hand-printed fabric line, and my latest project, the Wedding Collection.  To get to this point, I have learned to be patient as well as not to wait to have everything in place to move forward with a project or idea because there is always more to do, more to accomplish.

Please describe your workspace / studio

My workspace is where my visions became a reality.  Fittingly, the printing table is the centerpiece of the room.  The walls are filled with flat screens, squeegees, inks and linen rolls while my desk is stocked with draft designs, color samples and supplies that keep my inspired. 

(To find out more about Celina's workspace, check out this video by clicking here)

Why Linen?

I have been influenced by organic fibers and eco-friendly notions turning my vision toward a more sustainable product. I wanted to create simple and practical linens that would be in the families for generation to come…
Linen is one of the oldest textiles in the world. It is made from the fibers of the flax plant and flax is considered eco-friendly by nature thanks to its ecological essence. It is very absorbent and has exceptional durability and drape.

Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

I do not have a specific way and/or place to find inspiration. I get inspired by unexpected things like vintage stores, travels, food,  people in the street, a book, a blog, a draw from my kids, something that someone says, a movie….everything would be the starting point for a new idea!

Can you name three of your favorite pieces of work and explain why you chose them?

Love my dishtowels – why? They are simple and practical; they can be used as placemats, small tablecloths, you can wrap a gift and or just dry dishes!
Tablecloths & Napkins - I want my designs to move people to create special moments that would stay with them forever.  I want my creations to inspire them to wear an apron and cook for their loved ones and to set the table with a lovely linen and cloth napkins for your everyday meals.
Where NEXT? 

By continuing to add unique designs to our collection, we hope to increase our customer base to include interior designers and wedding/event planners.

As a special limited offer for all of my Brit Decor friends, if you buy any products from Celina Mancurti quote BRITDECOR and you'll receive a whopping 20% discount. Offer closes 19th September 2014.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Brit Decor: Travels/ Rome

All Images / Copyright Mike Ahern

After my my long-awaited maiden trip to Venice last August, I realised that Italy had ashamedly been overlooked during my travels and urgently needed to be explored. Fast forward twelve months and last week I found myself touching down in Rome with @simonwatsonpt, and we were ready to explore this vibrant capital city!

The history and culture of this place is epic as it continues to reverberate throughout the city even today. At times my emotions on seeing some of the ancient sites such as the Pantheon (re-built in 126 AD) and Michelangelo's frescos at the Sistine Chapel, were almost overwhelming, whilst St Peter's Basilica literally took my breath away with it's awesome scale and beauty - that's the true power of art and architecture.

Wherever possible I found myself scrambling to the top of various vantage points in the city in an attempt to soak it all up, put the various landmarks into context and listen to the cosmopolitan hum all around me. One of my favourite parts of the day in Rome had to be the evenings when the intense heat of the day gave way to a cooler air and the cafes and restaurants came alive with laughter and music and, of course, the smell of freshly cooked Italiano cuisine - oh and Prosecco is definitely my new 'tipple' of choice!

Our apartment was set just a stone's throw away from the charming and bustling Piazza Navona with it's sculpted fountains, restaurants and a museum, which meant that I was able to drift off to sleep every night to the sound of people having fun - tourists and locals alike. We both loved the romance of the frescoed ceilings in the apartment and the classic shuttered windows, which looked out onto the scorched roof tiles in a sea of terracotta and burnt umber. And the central location meant that we were situated in the heart of the city with many of the famous sites within walking distance.

I also have to mention the Torre Argentina cat sanctuary set in amongst the ancient ruins of a temple  (where else in Rome?). Missing our own two cats at home in the UK we would try and include this cat playground in our schedule as much as possible, just to play 'spot the cat' and to say hello. My heart was completely stolen by a particular little waif (above), which is so typical of me.

Would I visit Rome again? Absolutely, there is still so much more to see and after hearing a guide describe the rare sight of snowflakes falling through the open roof in the Pantheon during Winter, I am determined to try and see this for myself some day. I hope you've enjoyed this trip too!

Thank you to @simonwatsonpt for being my very own Paparazzo for the week and more importantly, for being there and here.

Friday 5 September 2014

Brit Decor: Bakes/ Marble Circle Cake

All images / Mike Ahern

Brit Decor Bakes / Marble Circle Cake

I remain fixated on marble as it sweeps through the British high streets like a gust of, albeit stylish, Autumnal wind. The 'look' as we've already seen in my Heavenly Marble feature, is generally cool and sensual but this is not the case with my marble cake and it's warming free forming swirls of light and dark sponge. This is also a great example of how many trends don't just begin and end in one area of the creative world, they morph and evolve through fashion, interiors and food - Amen to that!

I actually put together this fashion conscious bake to celebrate my sister, her husband, my adorable two year old niece, and not forgetting Nellie the sheep dog, visiting the cottage last weekend. The sponge was light and springy to the touch (just how I like it) and the combination of the vanilla frosting fused with the dark chocolate chunks, really made it an indulgent treat. 

Here's how you can get a slice of the marble action too...

350g caster sugar 
350g unsalted butter (softened)
350g plain flour
6 eggs
2 tbs baking powder
3 tsp cocoa powder

200g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter (softened)
several drops of vanilla extract
30ml milk
50g dark chocolate

You'll also need a 25cm ring mould for the cake!

Preheat the oven to 170oC. Place the sugar and butter into a bowl and mix using an electric mixer, adding the eggs gradually. Then add the flour and baking powder to the mix until it's of a light and fluffy consistency. Carefully add the cocoa powder to the mixture and use a fork to swirl the cocoa into the mixture - you decide how much you want to mix but be careful of over mixing and losing the marble-effect. Place in the oven for approximately 35 minutes.

Once the cake has cooled, whisk together the icing sugar, vanilla extract, butter and milk to make the frosting. Then chop or crunch some dark chocolate pieces. Use a spoon or spatula to spread the frosting onto the top of the cake and finally, sprinkle the chocolate pieces over the top.

Wishing you all a huge dose of Friday love, all the way from Rome!
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