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Venetian Food and Dreams

5 Dec


Venice is a real special place to the Pick Me Up house and in Venezia: Food and Dreams, Tessa Kiros perfectly captures the magic and beauty of the city that we love. As well as featuring delicious cicchetti and trattoria-style recipes so typical of Venetian dining, the book is an open love letter to the city, splashed with memories and notes written by Kiros. The book is also stunningly beautiful – with gold-edged pages and foil detailed typography, and packed with rich photography of the food and scenery.

Along with Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook, this is my go-to Italian recipe book, not only for the recipes but for the memories it conjures of time spent in the city – evoking those evenings of aperol spritz, pizza in Campo Santa Margherita, and seafood by the lagoon. These books feed us week in week out, satisfying our appetites for food and dreams with staples such as polenta and sausages, crostini, risi e bisi, and any number of tasty risottos. We’re working up to sarde in saor.

Venetian cuisine really comes into it’s own when cooking for large amounts of people. For a recent dinner, held to celebrate the (alarmingly) five years since Grace and I were living in Venice, we cooked a family-style feast for our seven guests, with recipes taken from these favourite books. With prosecco, aperol spritz, homemade limoncello and tiramisu for dessert all taken care of by our Venetian friends, we concentrated on the savoury, serving a selection of anitipasti to start, followed by a deliciously slow-cooked chicken. The antipasti included crostini topped with rocket and walnut pesto and anchovy and chickpea, a platter of italian cured meats and caprese stacks of tomato, mozarella and bazil. The chicken, Kiros’ pollo con pomodoro in tecia, was slow cooked in a large dish with a stock made from blended tomatoes, celery, onion, wine, rosemary and parsley and served with a hearty helping of creamy polenta and roasted radicchio and red peppers laced with anchovy and capers. Va bene!

x Loulou


Train Reading

28 Nov

Today I spent 5 hours on trains and a lot of that time was devoted to Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Reading on train journeys in such a treat. As I’ve been travelling all over the place lately, I’ve worked my way through a tonne of the books I’ve been meaning to read, but there are always more waiting. I have ‘to-read’ lists and post-its all over the place! Here’s a selection from the list that I’d like to read by the end of the year (and a handy *hint, hint* Christmas list for anyone wondering what to get me). There are classics and New York Times bestsellers, recommendations from friends and Man Booker winners….

Beautiful Ruins – Jess Walter

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

NW – Zadie Smith

Dust – Hugh Howey

The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje

All Quiet on The Orient Express – Magnus Mills

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp – Eva Rice

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

Wish me luck!

X Loulou

Bookshelf Porn

6 Sep

Inspired by the incredible images on Bookshelf Porn, Grace rearranged some of Pick Me Up’s books.  A couple of us work in the industry and are very fortunate to have access to a stream of new free reading material.  The turnover in books is pretty high, as we all like passing on a good read or sending on to charity shops the titles that don’t quite make it in to the permanent collection.  What I find interesting is how much we all appreciate books as physical objects: not only do they give a room a comforting homely feel (and hours can be spent rainbowing them) but they bear physical traces of our lives – one very faded and slightly battered copy of One Day by David Nicholls has made it round a friendship group, has grains of sand from various beach holidays embedded in the spine and slightly crinkly patches toward the end where someone spilt a drink (definitely not tearstains).

I’ve spotted the book I’ll be reading next in this photo (if I can resist the overpowering urge to bathe in the nostalgia of rereading Harry Potter, that is)


The Novel Cure

23 Jul

Pick Me Up Blog - Novel Cure

I loved this idea at Latitude Festival this weekend – a bibliotherapy ambulance administering literary remedies for common ailments; the novel cure. Sign up for a consultation, share your ailment – stuck in a rut, heartbroken, stressed – and a book is suggested to help you on the road to recovery.

It got me thinking about which books have acted as a cure for me in the past. There are those which struck me in a particular way at a particular time, some so devastatingly sad that they trigger a ‘life’s not so bad after all’ reality check and then those so unashamedly uplifting that I turn to them again and again as pure escapism, a comfort blanket, a distraction.

The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
A psychological thriller to get wrapped up in. Tom Ripley is cold and calculating, yet endearing, and you end up willing him to succeed as he ends up in predicament after predicament, swapping comically between identities in a bid to survive at all costs. The description of 1950’s Italy is delicious.

Bridget Jones’ Diary, Helen Fielding
A huge cliche, but I don’t think there are many women of my generation for whom Bridget isn’t some kind of icon (dare I say role model?). Returning to read this book is like catching up with an old friend for a good, ridiculous gossip.

The Secret History, Donna Tartt
I think the first time I read this was just before I went off to university. I really enjoyed it. Not sure what that says about my expectations of uni, but I’ve loved this book ever since.

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
Magically nostalgic, this is an epic story of dysfunction and demise. I wish I’d had a teddy bear called Aloysius.

One Day, David Nicholls
Whatever you do, don’t watch the film. Anne Hathaway very nearly spoiled my reading of this book forever. Oh, Dex and Em, Em and Dex. My faded copy has been read and re-read, passed around to a dozen or more people and somehow made it back to me. Best consumed in one sitting, in one day.

x Loulou


14 Jul


Were it not for the fact that we were ravenously hungry and keen to get back out in the Sunday sun, I would have photographed the delicious broad bean, pea and new potato quesadillas that we rustled up this afternoon. A photograph from the recipe book, Thomasina Miers of Wahaca’s Mexican at Home, will have to suffice until next time…

To make, tortillas are half-filled with a cheesy mixture – onion, garlic, green chilli, crushed new potatoes, broad beans, peas, tarragon, mint, lime juice and feta – and then folded in half and fried or griddled until lightly toasted on the outside. To serve, the quesadilla’s are quartered and eaten with homemade salsa, guacamole and a green salad.

Ours were all the more tasty due to the proud inclusion of homegrown legumes.

x Loulou

Quentin Blake

28 Feb

On a recent day trip to Cambridge, I popped into the Fitzwilliam Museum to see their Quentin Blake exhibition. It included prints, sketches and etchings by the prolific illustrator, best known for his illustration of Roald Dahl’s children’s books. There were designs for hospital murals, French newspaper cartoons and materials from his studio, as well as children’s book covers, of course. My favourite was this series of prints celebrating 800 years of Cambridge University.

I love Blake’s scratchy style. Every illustration looks as though it was completed in seconds – a quick ink drawing here, a swish of watercolour there – and yet the way that personalities are rendered so instantly and recognisably from the smallest of stroke is phenomenal. Perhaps it’s because I was brought up on Blake (I went through a phase of reading and re-reading The Witches, Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on loop, and I’ll never forget my brother’s Mr Magnolia fancy dress costume for a book day at primary school), but even his most recent illustrations emanate a wonderful sense of warm familiarity. The original cover illustrations for Russell Hoban’s Rosie’s Magic Horse and On Angel Wings by Michael Morpurgo were also on display in the exhibition. It’s so cheering to think of generations of children discovering and enjoying Blake’s new and old illustrations.

x Loulou

Hey Girl,

14 Nov

So lately I’ve become pretty obsessed with Ryan Gosling. It started with finally getting round to watching Drive (hypnotic) and things got really serious when I came across Feminist Ryan Gosling and Ryan Gosling works in Publishing (because I do and he could).

And then this happened…

Colour Me Good Ryan Gosling, touted as ‘the cool colouring-book for good colourer-inners (and beginners).’

Now I don’t claim to be a good colourer-inner, which may be why my attempts so far could be described as minimalist at best…

Pick Me Up - Ryan Gosling

…but what I lack in colouring in skills, I make up for in fan girl enthusiasm.

Tell me again, which is cuter? Ryan Gosling or an actual gosling?

x Loulou

I Capture the Castle

12 Sep

Some books provide the same reassuring comfortable feeling as curling up in your childhood bed or putting on a favourite snuggly jumper. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is one such book for me. First encountered in my impressionable years I’d say it had a profound effect on my character but its legacy was also some romantic affectations (to this day I harbour aspirations to live in a tumble-down castle). Cassandra is one of the most charming narrators I’ve ever encountered and the lightness of touch with which Dodie Smith handles her coming of age belies the wisdom of many of her observations. The line about noble deeds and hot baths being the best cures for depression has lingered with me as has the idea of the importance of satisfying creative urges. I hold the eclectic yet entirely convincing cast of characters in great affection.

The film version is pretty good (with Bill Nighy, a Pick Me Up favourite, on incredible form as Mortmain) although nothing beats reading and re-reading it.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

25 Jun

As someone banned from buying biscuits (it’s for my own good – I can’t leave an opened packet until the entire army of biscuits has been vanquished), it is comforting to know that the buttery crunchy goodness of a chocolate chip cookie, or five, can be mine within 25 minutes. I used the indefatigable Mary Berry’s recipe (Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book) and added a dollop of nutella – what isn’t improved by a swirl of chocolatey nutty goodness? Luckily my feeder tendencies, and a sweet-toothed Pick Me Up household, saved me from scoffing the lot.


Books in the Park

23 Jun

Today Ellie and I were intending to while away some hours chatting and reading in a cafe (just the thing for a lazy Saturday) but a mysterious absence of rain meant we ended up in the park instead.

A sunny bench served as the perfect spot for…

Bright Young People is non-fiction that reads like a novel. The romps and jaunts of the glittering cast of Guinesses, Mitfords & Posonbys feel familiar as many have been immortalised in the fiction of the Jazz Age, albeit under different guises. D J Taylor’s fascinating chronicle of the 1920s pleasure-seekers looks beyond the baths & bottles parties and treasure hunts across London to the broken social bonds and spectre of war behind the gloss. I’d like to think that the Bright Young People with their partiality for theatricality and dressing up would approve that their exploits are inspiring a whole new generation of hipsters to don flapper finery, down cocktails and dance the night away in the rash of 1920s nights springing up across London – but probably they are far too busy carrying on the party to care…


Hilary Mantel’s Booker-winning novel Wolf Hall provoked some differences of opinion in the Pick Me Up household; we either loved it, hated it or couldn’t quite muster the enthusiasm to take it on. Being the one who loved it, and a fan of minutely (perhaps overly) detailed historical novels in general, I’m exploring some of Mantel’s other works. I’m finding A Place of Greater Safety engrossing but quite a mental challenge, probably because (despite having studied it) I’m a little shaky on the ins and outs of the French Revolution, which the novel describes. I was rather startled to discover that there were several key characters I’m sure I’d never heard of before. But if you’re a fan of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies you’ll probably like it as the technique is similar – a study of, and elaboration upon, the figures at the centre of a whirlwind of political history.

Grace x

An Ottoman Feast

19 Jun

Inspired by Silvena Rowe’s chilli-scented king prawn and feta guvech, our dinner tonight had more than a hint of the Eastern Mediterranean about it. Ellie gave me Rowe’s beautiful books, Orient Express and Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume, for my birthday last year and again and again, we’ve found ourselves reaching for them come dinner time. So far we’ve feasted on everything from Aleppo-style cumin scented baba ghanoush to pistachio yoghurt cake, sticky honey, pomegranate and Ottoman-spiced chicken wings to Mahluba rice with aubergines topped with feta, and the sweet potato houmous has become a staple at picnics, dinner parties and any other dining experience at which we can possibly justify its presence.

Not only have Rowe’s recipes encouraged us to be more adventurous with our flavours – using a plenitude of sumac, figs, pomegranate molasses, pistachios and orange blossom water – and pushed us to shop locally for spices and vegetables that are not available in the supermarkets but are abundant in our local shops, but I find her descriptions and stories of the east have a wonderful ability to distract my thoughts to a world of sweet pastries for breakfast, a drop of raki with lunch, and dry, hot sunshine all day. I often find myself dreaming of an Ottoman adventure – having always wanted to go to Istanbul, thanks to Rowe I can now add to the list Aleppo, Beirut, Tripoli and absolutely anywhere in Jordan.

x Loulou

Pretty Notebooks

8 Jun

The fresh blank pages of possibility of a pretty new notebook – waiting expectantly to be filled with grand schemes, great deeds or that novel supposedly in all of us…

…or maybe I’ll just doodle and write lists.

Inspiring selection at Liberty.


Salmon-Pink Geraniums

18 Apr

In Elizabeth Goudge’s children’s book The Little White Horse, salmon-pink geraniums are everywhere – crowding windowsills,  decorating kitchens, and in particular filling the character Loveday’s secret house carved into the rock. I absolutely love this book, and salmon-pink geraniums as a result. I have also learnt valuable lessons from the main character, Maria Merryweather, who takes moral strength from the hidden crystals sewn around the top of her boots, and the unseen violets inside her bonnet – ‘for Maria was one of your true aristocrats; the perfection of the hidden things was even more important to her than the outward show’.

This might be the root of my obsession with wearing matching underwear. It might also be possible that ‘beauty is only skin deep’ is the message I was supposed to have learnt (and have clearly breezed past)…

Grace x

Brutal Simplici-tea of Thought

10 Apr

Tea bags, that’s the answer. Just one example of how beautifully simple ideas have changed the world, from Brutal Simplicity of Thought by M&C Saatchi. This bold book shows that creativity does not have to be flamboyant or showy: ‘It’s easier to complicate than simplify’. Too true.

x Loulou

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