On beauty


Fridays are for me the toughest day of the week to get through; my day starts way before I'm ready for it, I find myself flagging and seriously in need of a caffeine fix already at 11am, there's 10 minutes at best to grab a bite to eat so by the last class, my blood sugar levels are plummeting. Luckily, the final group are not beginners and tell interesting stories, like the time one of them offered car sharing services and a seat was rented for a pet rat that someone wanted to send to her sister. Another participant is rather eccentric and collects the kinds of things that you might typically make fun of like stamps, old phone books and cacti. Recently though, he took a trip to visit to Dresden and saw an exhibition called What is Beauty? Two anecdotes stuck in my mind; the first was about snakes which people typically perceive as ugly and are often terrfied of (well, I know I am). There was a video of a guy who wants to show others that they can also be beautiful by asking them to lie naked on a sofa while he holds one above you. Apparently, he's able to read the snake's expression and if it smiles, he places it on top of you so you can appreciate how wonderful they are.

My favourite story from the exhibition though involves a video of a French girl with a very big nose. Her biggest fear was that on a date, it would look ridiculous whenever she tried to drink wine which instantly reminded me of Cyrano de Bergerac or Steve Martin in Roxanne, the Hollywood remake. Then one day, she met a rich man who offered to buy her a nose job to cure her complex about herself. The surgeon offered her several models of new noses she could choose from but she found each of them far too small. The final step came when they photographed her and asked her which picture she liked the most. It turned out that the image she picked was the one with her real nose and from that moment, she accepted her face as it was.

Writing about beauty is by definition narcissistic and shallow but I think it's true to say that most of us think about it at some point in our lives. For me it has often been a difficult question. When I was a teenager, my brother had an extremely attractive girlfriend with glossy brown hair who always wore boots with heels so she wouldn't feel so small. I remember being mesmerised by her efforts to make herself look beautiful before they went out together. She arrived with a small suitcase packed with skincare, make-up, brushes and hair products and spent the next 1-2 hours transforming herself, although everyone, including myself, later felt that she looked better naturally. Nevertheless, something inside of me was fascinated by that process. I began buying women's magazines like Elle and scraped together my little money I received each week in order to save up for expensive cosmetics and skincare.

To be honest though, I didn't much like what I saw in the mirror. All the boys at school drooled over Jennifer Anniston in her underwear and told me I was strange looking. Back then, I had no confidence in myself and no idea how to dress. My hair was scraped back into an unflattering ponytail and from the age of 16 to 27, I only ever wore trousers and jeans because I was convinced I could never look good in a skirt (funnily now it's the opposite, I only ever wear skirts and dresses). I always wondered (and still wonder) what it must be like to be amazingly beautiful and walk into a room. Good looks are, after all, a powerful weapon, even if we like to say that brains win over them.

During my trip home to Derbyshire at Christmas, I came across some old photos of myself during my trips to Paris at the beginning of the new millenium. I couldn't say I was beautiful but I found I looked nice and regretted the fact that I was never aware of it back then. Being with stunning people still makes me insecure; I recently quit a step class, mainly because I was hopeless but also because I felt out of place next to those trendily dressed girls with perfect hair and opted instead for body combat classes where the girls are still good looking but rather tougher and less image obsessed. There are still days when I'd like to smash every mirror, especially when the eczema on my face flares up and people ask me what's wrong with my skin. Yet, I also refuse to be defined by that and hide myself away.

Graffiti in Friedrichshain in the east of Berlin

Would you like to stay here?

For Abbie who used to live next door to this shop, I couldn't pass by without feeling sad that you weren't there

Cupcake, where I went with D. last weekend.

Deutsches Historisches Museum

Near the beautiful opera house on Unter den Linden which I'm sad to learn will be closed for renovation work for the next three years.

Say cheese!

Recovering from the failure of the croquembouche, I returned to the kitchen defiantly. David Lebovitz's French tomato tart looked too good to resist. It was unbelievably simple, delicious and made me long for sun drenched days in the South of France.

I also always keep my promises so here's that crostata I told you about last time. I first thought about making it after seeing a picture of one of Luisa's that had me seriously drooling. As it was my first attempt, I used lattice strips that were rather too thick but it was still unbelievably tasty and so simple to make.

Apricot crostata from BBC food


100g sugar
100g unsalted butter
350g plain flour
2 large eggs
a pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 drops vanilla essence
300g good quality apricot jam (or feel free to use the jam of your choice, I'm also keen to try it again soon with lemon which won't surprise you!)
2 tbsp milk to glaze

1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, butter, eggs, salt, lemon zest, baking powder and vanilla essence until the dough forms a ball. Use some cold water to bind if it's too dry. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for around half an hour.
2. Grease a 25cm loose bottomed pie tin and pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
3. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface so it fits the pie tin and it about 5mm thick.
4. Wrap the pastry round a rolling pin and gently transfer it to the pie tin. Press it gently around the sides and trim off the excess with a sharp knife and put the extra pastry to one side.
5. Spread the jam out evenly over the pastry case.
6. Roll out the extra pastry and cut strips that fit over the top of the pie tin. Lay them over the jam in a lattice pattern and brush them with a little milk for approx 20-30 mins or until golden brown. Leave to cool before serving.


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