About jennrowe

I am a cake baking accountant. Whilst I would love to make baking my job, accountancy pays the bills! So trying to spread the love of all things baked via my blog... Try some of the recipes, let me know how you get on, I'm going to get the world baking one person at a time!

Vindication

So you may (or may not) have noticed that everything has been a little bit quiet over here on Average Josephine. This has been for a number of reasons but not least because some lovely, lovely people told me that my blog meant that I was living in cloud cuckoo land.

Nice.

However, I found something today that made me think “hey, that’s pretty cool”. I’d been pointed towards a really horrendous article in the Guardian which I am going to blog about separately but I saw that their fifth most read article in the previous 24 hours was about how to bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Having already written on this topic myself, I went to have a look and one of the recipes that was discussed was Claire Clark’s utterly brilliant recipe that I had featured.

The thing that completely blew me away was that there was a link in the discussion about her recipe. A link to this blog. A link to an average Josephine on the Guardian website. A link to my tiny little blog on the website of a national broadsheet.

Oh. My. God.

So an average Josephine is back. And she’s going to be better than ever ;-)

Average Josephine x

Romeo and Juliet review 22 March 2012

Last night was the second of the Royal Ballet’s live broadcasts to 500 cinemas across the world, a performance of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet. The lead roles were being performed by Federico Bonelli and Lauren Cuthbertson and it was their first time performing this ballet together which seems to be largely due to Sergei Polunin’s shock departure at the end of January. That said, there have been 6 performances of Romeo and Juliet in the intervening period so to expect them to have had a trial run wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination. The fact that it makes a much better story if it’s the first time they’ve danced the ballet together could be classed as cynical but what can I say? When it comes to the Royal Ballet, I am very cynical.

This was only the fourth time I have ever seen the Royal Ballet and, to be honest, I went in not expecting to enjoy it in the least. The three previous performances (all seen live at great expense) have ranged from phenomenal to absolutely god-awful. The phenomenal was a triple bill starring Miyako Yoshida in the Firebird, Sylvie Guillem in the first revival of Marguerite and Armande since it was created for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev and Darcy Bussell in a wonderful ballet called The Concert which allowed Bussell’s comic timing to shine through. The god-awful was the Sleeping Beauty in 2004. The production was bad, a cherub needed shooting and the dancing was horrendous. For the country’s (allegedly) premier ballet company, it was embarrassing. In addition to that, having tried to watch Alice in Wonderland when it was screened shortly after its creation and having been unable to watch more than 20 minutes as the psychedelic sets made me motion sick in my sitting room, it all added up to a performance for which my hopes were not particularly high…

Luckily, by and large, my expectations were exceeded although given that I was expecting to hate every minute of it, that wasn’t difficult. The performance itself was good overall with Bonelli in particular giving a phenomenal performance as Romeo. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the best I’ve ever seen but I’d certainly rate it in my top five. Cuthbertson was, however, in my opinion, pretty average in the first act and whether this was due to nerves or just having difficulties getting into her character, I don’t know. I will say though that having found her rather bland in the first act, I was rather concerned about the third act given the dramatic requirements of the bedroom pas de deux and the crypt scene but my concerns were baseless.

She was amazing.

You really felt her pain and desperation and it was a truly stunning performance. I just wish she had channelled some of that into the first half of the production.

As for the remaining cast, special mentions must go to Alexander Campbell as Mercutio and Bennet Gartside who played Tybalt. Campbell is the only dancer whose style I am familiar with having previously danced with Birmingham Royal Ballet and Mercutio is a role which suits him down to the ground. Cheeky, fleet of foot and jumping all over the place, the choreography was made for him. The close ups also worked to Campbell’s advantage as one of the things which makes him a consummate actor is his face. He expresses emotion incredibly well and one of the joys of his recent trip back to Birmingham to star in Hobson’s Choice was watching him sitting still. Not because there was anything lacking in the dancing but because watching the discomfort and nerves of the character being played out on his face and in the tiny nervous twitches of his hands showed the class of the actor within the dancer. The only downside of the close-ups was the fact that you can lip-read certain words rather easily and when Mercutio was stabbed, I’m fairly sure he said something which definitely wasn’t in the original Shakespearean text…

Alexander Campbell and Gary Avis in Romeo and Juliet

My only wish is that I could afford to see him dance more often although Opera House ticket prices mean that I would need to re-mortgage my flat to make that a possibility. I also hope the Royal Ballet realise quite how good he is as, having seen him dance Romeo once, it would be criminal not to let him dance it again. As for Gartside, he had just about the right amount of menace and the interplay between him and Campbell was excellent.

In the introduction to the performance, Lady Deborah MacMillan described the pas de deux as being the jewels of the ballet and the surrounding work as being the filigree and the support for those jewels. In my opinion, whilst these four dancers were definitely the jewels, the supporting structure was a little tarnished. There were numerous timing issues that I noticed, the Mandolin dance was completely out of synch and the lead Mandolin dancer was very lucky to land one of his pirouettes anywhere other than his backside, it was that off-centre. Given that this ballet has been performed since January 10th, you would have thought that these issues might have been ironed out. The appearance was more of a second or third performance where rehearsal time has been very limited. I understand that due to the nature of the Royal Ballet’s performance schedule they cannot get into the rhythm of performances as many companies can but given that this was being broadcast to the world, I would have thought they might have spent some time polishing some of the rough edges.

I was overall impressed with the performance; the key players were brilliant but when you look at the detail you start to see the weaknesses. There is always such a focus on the principals and I think the highly hierarchical of the company means that the lower ranks start to suffer, something which has been confirmed by this performed. Hopefully this is something which Kevin O’Hare can rectify when he takes over at the end of this season.

Average Josephine x

Minimum wage

Every so often a company will hit the news because they have been using labour in India, China, Indonesia, the Philipines etc. and paying them a miniscule amount to create what we consider to be luxury goods. Nike, Gap, Zara and the Kardashians clothing line have all been accused of using what is considered to be slave or child labour to produce their clothing.

What I’m about to say does not excuse these practices but there exists in fashion a class of workers who aren’t paid at all. They’re here in the UK, they are paid nothing for working what are often long hours and the best many of them can expect at the end of it is a line on their CV and a reference.

They’re called interns.

please pay here interns

Interns are essentially unpaid labour; people who want to break into fashion or PR but don’t yet have the experience required to get a job (the age-old problem of you need experience to get a job but you can’t get experience without a job). There are some lovely people who do now pay their interns (well done Stella McCartney) and Red magazine’s annual win an internship competition offers £1000 to cover any travel and accommodation (not everyone lives in London) but the vast majority of intern positions are unpaid. This can be evidenced by the number of tweets that go out looking for interns stating that travel expenses will be paid.

Designers have argued that, despite HMRC’s plans to crack down on companies that use unpaid interns, this is the way the industry works. They did their time as interns and thus this generation should have to do the same as well. What they don’t appreciate is that this is illegal. There is a minimum wage in place to stop people being exploited like this and the fact that a multi-million pound industry is willing to sacrifice the rights of employees for a bigger profit margin shows that the beautiful fashion industry is really pretty ugly.

In addition the argument that if the fashion industry were to start paying their interns then the industry would collapse and companies would require major restructuring does call into question the business plan these companies have been built on. How can you call a business plan that requires people to work unpaid feasible? If that’s the only way a company can be profitable then it isn’t sustainable. It’s just plain bollocks.

So come on fashion and PR people, start paying your interns. It’s exploitation, plain and simple and last thing I heard, slave labour was abolished in this country a long time ago…

Do you think the practice of not paying interns should be allowed? Or is it just a case of paying your dues before you get to join a desirable profession?

As always, all comments are welcome and greatly appreciated!

Average Josephine x

Dirty laundry

I am not a great fan of airing dirty laundry in public. Says she with the blog where she grumbles at length… OK, slight oxymoron aside, there are some things that I don’t think need to be or, in fact, should be aired in the public domain and one of these things is a break up.

They’re horrible to go through and as much as you might want to spray your partner’s shortcomings all over the internet or whatever there is a greater dignity in silence. I say that as someone who went through a horrible, hideous break up, albeit a long time ago now, and there were a lot of times where I said things I shouldn’t and where I cringe now when I think of it.

So when I read on Marie Claire’s website that Katy Perry was planning on making a tell-all biopic about her break-up with Russell Brand, my heart sank. As much as I hate to say it, it’s likely to get a decent audience because it’s a bit like car crash TV. There’s that morbid bit of you which just has to look. It’s like every time a magazine posts a tweet saying “Celeb shock split!” There’s a bit of you that wants to look.

Katy Perry and Russel Brand

But what is it actually going to achieve? Regardless of whose fault the split was, all it will do is encourage Perry to spend however long it takes to film focused on a relationship which is effectively dead and buried. And again, I’ve been there, I know the temptation is to rehash it and try to understand what went wrong and whose fault it was but sometimes you just have to accept that it didn’t work and move on.

Again, I don’t know either of them and, to be honest, I’m not exactly their biggest fans. I don’t like Perry’s music and I don’t think Brand is funny but I do think that they should be allowed to live their private lives in peace. Unfortunately with Perry now feeding the tabloid frenzy neither will be allowed to forget it and move on in a hurry.

There’s also the issue that making a film about yourself could be considered incredibly narcissistic but I don’t think that will come as a surprise to anyone…

Do you think that celebrities should be allowed a private life away from the media? Or do they invite speculation by choosing a life in the public eye? And do you think that Perry should be making a film about the break-up or is this one step too far?

Would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

Average Josephine x

A broken clock

I think I broke my mother’s heart today.

We’d gone out for a family lunch, me, my parents, brother, sister-in-law and my two nephews, B (2 ½) and R (4 months). R is normally the happiest baby in the world, perfectly satisfied in his car seat, but unfortunately at the moment we have a nasty case of teething. That plus a cold means he’s not a happy boy. As a result I spent a lot of time carrying him, having him perched on my lap and just having all round cuddles.

Oh the hardship…

I think the fact that I spent so much time with R and also drawing pictures with B gave my Mum the idea that more grandchildren were on the cards as it might indicate that at long last my biological clock might (finally) have started ticking…

Alas, my clock seems to be broken… Sorry Mum, but if I were you, I wouldn’t be counting on any more grandchildren.

broken biological clock

That might sound harsh but at 31 I’m not getting any younger and when you’re single without the slightest hint of any romantic prospects and no real desire to actually look for the so-called Mr. Right, it’s not so much being harsh as realistic. And whilst I could do it alone either via one-night stand or a sperm donor, having a baby is hard enough when there are two of you. I have nothing against single parents; I know a lot of them who do an amazing job. But being a single parent through death or separation is a totally different matter to setting out with the intention of being one.

But in addition to that I also have to consider my history with depression. I would be at high risk of both ante-natal and post-natal depression and I’m not sure I can knowingly do something that would put me at risk of feeling like that again. There is also the risk of any child of mine being more susceptible to this horrible illness than the child of someone who doesn’t have depression. Now whilst anyone can suffer from depression, but it’s more likely. I don’t judge anyone who has had depression who has then had children, I’m just saying that it’s not right for me.

Add to that there’s the small issue of I just don’t want to have them and you end up with a biological clock that just doesn’t tick. No Ally McBeal-style dancing babies for me. No ticking clocks. Just a quiet life.

And that doesn’t make me unhappy. It’s just the way it is. I think my Mum would prefer my biological clock would start ticking loudly but such is life.

Do you want or have children? Do you think that you can have a happy, fulfilled life without children?

Average Josephine x

Baked delights: brownie mug cake

It’s Sunday which in my world means it’s baking day. Or cake day. Or sod the diet day. You may pick whichever appeals to you best. Or, if all three apply to you then all I will say is you’re a person after my own heart!

But it has to be said that somedays I really can’t be bothered baking and really don’t want to be left with half a cake on Monday when the diet restarts for the 4,637th time (my sugar addiction tends to win over my will power). But cakes don’t normally come in single portions and those that don’t are very rarely gluten free (although it should be noted that Gü’s chocolate soufflés are gluten free and hit the mark rather well) so when I started hearing about mug cakes that could be baked in the microwaves, I started to get rather excited.

chocolate brownie mug cake

The first recipe I tried was the basic one and consisted of 4 tbsps flour, 2 tbsps cocoa, 2 tbsps sugar, 1 egg, 3 tbsps milk, 3 tbsps oil or melted butter plus an optional tbsp of chocolate chips. All these were mixed together into a batter in a large mug and then nuked in the microwave for 3 minutes on high.

It promised much but let’s just say it didn’t live up to expectations. When I say that, I mean it was edible but you’d be better off not bothering. I’m serious. Don’t bother.

So when I saw a recipe for brownie mug cake, I was a bit sceptical…

My scepticism was totally unwarranted  on this occasion because this stuff is like crack. It’s crack in squidgy chocolate cake form… Totally lethal when you nearly always have the ingredients in the house.

The recipe alleges that it serves 2 but I maintain that’s total rubbish. It feeds me and me alone. What can I say? I am a pig. Oink.

The recipe is ever so slightly more complicated than the previous one but the improvement is immeasurable and as the whole process still takes less than 10 minutes so it’s hardly an ordeal.

The ingredients are:

  • 2oz  dark chocolate chopped/broken into pieces
  • 2oz butter
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 egg

Place the chocolate and butter in a large mug and melt in the microwave. This will depend on how big your pieces of chocolate are so I’m not going to try and give you timings. What I will say is to keep an eye on it because chocolate burns and burnt chocolate is really not very nice.

Once everything is melted, mix in the sugar, flour and the egg until you get a nice smooth batter.  After then, put the mug in the microwave for a minute and a half. The cake will have risen up quite a bit and when you tilt it, it should come away from the side in a solid mass but should still look quite sticky. It’s really easy to over cook it and if you do it’s fine but not as good as when it’s all squidgy.

If desired you can tip it out onto a plate but I just dig in with a fork. It would probably be good with cream or vanilla ice cream but why dilute the chocolateyness?!

Enjoy and let me know how you get on.

Average Josephine x

oink

Laura Ashley: guilty pleasures

When I was little Laura Ashley was the height of decorating sophistication. I will point out that I grew up in the eighties when chintz was big.

Then came Ikea and their minimalist “chuck out your chintz” approach and Laura Ashley was very definitely passé. I still don’t entirely know how they survived those years. But then came along “shabby chic” and Laura Ashley found a new generation of devotees.

I had always written off Laura Ashley as being old-fashioned and more aimed at my mother’s generation but when I saw their teacup lamp being featured in various magazines I decided that maybe they’d moved on from the wallpaper I’d picked out when I was eight…

When I looked through their website I knew I was in trouble. Or rather, my bank balance was in trouble… I’ve written about one of their wallpapers before and there are many more that I would love to have on my walls if only my flat was bigger. But for me it’s the accessories that really hit the mark.

As I said, the teacup lamp really hit a chord with a lot of magazine editors and was one of those items that seemed to be everywhere. And I see why. It is very shabby chic. It ties in very well to the current trend of vintage styling and making over items to change their purpose. And whilst Laura Ashley no longer sells it, there are a number of other versions. Next have a version in their current catalogue and for the crafty ones among you, there is even a tutorial on how to make on on The Thriftress blog. This would also allow you to use patterned teacups or different colours to suit your decor.

laura ashley and next teacup lamps

There are so many other little gems dotted around the Laura Ashley website. Just in terms of accessories, there is a gorgeous set of owl bookends which would go brilliantly in my study. I love both the All A Flutter and Elvedon tea cups and the tea for one sets and with my tea addiction there is no such thing as having too many tea cups or teapots! The white multi-frame photo frame, designed to go on a mantelpiece, would look amazing anywhere, be it mantelpiece or shelf and I already have it earmarked for at least one friend’s birthday present.

laura ashley home accessories

The furniture is equally gorgeous and, whilst most of it is in the shabby chic style, there are some more modern gems in there such as the orange sofa below and the dark wood desk.

laura ashley furniture

Overall, I am having a bit of a love affair with Laura Ashley and there are another 2 reasons why, as if I needed any more. Firstly, they have 25% off everything on their site. Unfortunately that ends tomorrow (Sunday) night. Secondly they have a competition on their facebook page to win your dream upholstered chair. Considering it costs nothing to enter, why not give it a go?

So go on, take a look at Laura Ashley. I guarantee you’ll find something. Let me know your favourite piece in the comments section below.

Average Josephine x