Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Christmas Beauty Stocking Fillers

Christmas is just around the corner so I thought I'd tell you about my favourite beauty fixes, which also double up as excellent stocking fillers for sisters, daughters and friends.

Butter Holiday Lips and Tips in Fiddlesticks 

I love this Butter lipgloss and nail varnish set in fuchsia glitter. The gloss goes on a sheer pretty colour, feels creamy and smells vanillary with absolutely no gloop. The polish is super glittery and as always with Butter formulated without the use of the harmful ingredients like Formaldehyde, Toluene, DBP or Parabens. It's £21 for the set, which you can get here.

Liz Earle Cleanse and Polish

Years ago, whenever I bunked off school, I'd watch a lot of QVC. Liz Earle would always have the 3pm slot and would buff and polish the epidermis of three smiley twenty-going-on-forty somethings until their complexions looked positively neonatal. I started using this cleanser a year ago and haven't looked back, it's amazing. Buy here from £12.75.

Origins Vitazing

Forget foundations, powders and bronzers. Read my review hereBuy here for £27.

Tigi Reborn Style Treats

 The Tigi styling range is based on the latest hyper-distillation technology to leave hair looking pretty damn great. My favourites from the range are the spray colour protect conditioning tonic and the restorative illuminoil. Use them before styling on wet hair to give it a lovely fragrance, heat protection and gorgeous shine. (Available in salons)

Peter Thomas Roth Clinical Peel & Reveal Dermal Exfoliator 

This is heavy duty stuff providing three levels of exfoliation (mechanical, acid and enzyme based). Yes it's slightly pricier, but use it twice a week and your skin will thank you. Buy here £39.50

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Village: Azerbaijan

The jeep navigates the terra incognita bumping furiously across potholed rocky terrain. We have just turned off the recently laid main road and onto a dusty track weaving through the fauna bright against the backdrop of bare lunar mountains. It's all a bit Wuthering Heights, no sign of Heathcliff though.  

Our destination is my grandparents' remote "dacha" (countryhouse) high up in a far flung mountainous village in Azerbaijan.

Astrahanovka is a small quaint town of about 200 families of mixed ethnicity. It was founded in the 1800s by the Molokans; Russian peasants who were sectarian Christians fleeing oppression in Tsarist Russia for their refusal to accept the traditional Orthodox Church.

Today many of the original families still live here, much in the way of their ancestors. No running water, patchy electricity and an agrarian subsistence economy. The winters are fierce and long, the snow so deep that they still travel by sleigh. They sow in the Spring and plough the harvest in the Summer. Fetch water from the well and eat fruit from the tree, everything makes the 2 minute journey from garden to table. There's no light pollution and the night-sky glistens with  millions of stars and burning constellations. 

About 30 years ago my grandparents fell in love with the town's wild bucolic beauty and growing up I spent every summer here. Ours was the only non-local family in the village but with such a small population we ended up knowing everyone and everything.

The locals are a colourful lot and so welcoming. Everyone keeps their gates open. When I visit I hop from house to house visiting the families and catching up on the gossip; they may be friendly but boy those tongues are sharp. 

The woman who lives three doors down has a son called Kenan, who I've known since he was a 6 year old squirt racing his horse bareback through the village. A bit of a trouble-maker, a bonafide bad boy, a hit with the ladies; every parent's worst nightmare, especially our gardener's... In a cruel twist of fate the gardener's beautiful daughter was 'bride-napped' by Kenan and they now live in unholy matrimony down the road. Bridenapping is an old custom of villages in the Causcaus mountains. It usually happens when the a girl's family are opposed to the union and the desperate groom (with a little help from friends & family) will steal her out from under their noses. It sounds bad- I know. But the reality is a more "wink-wink nudge-nudge" affair between the newlyweds. Anyway, our gardner was literally foaming at the mouth over lunch as he explained the black eye and the police caution that resulted from all these shenanigans- never a dull moment.

Autumn Orchard
Up you go..
Fruits of our labour
An apple a day...

Someone's cocky

Local feed

The gardener and his roaving eye


Pitt-stop for tea and ciggies

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Pink Skies and Couples: Baku

There is something in the air. Everywhere I go I am greeted by the sight of canoodling couples, handholders and coupled up cats. And of course I'll happily intrude upon these moments of intimacy in the name of a good shot..

Waiting for.....

Spot the odd one out..
Jealous stare

And if you're feeling lonely, there's always Noah's Ark

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Zafferano Baku, Review

In Azerbaijan we like our women va-va-voom with some cushion for the pushin’. My personal trainer is a case in point. Although a treadmill tyrant, he is militantly anti-waif; ribs, bones and angularity scare the bejesus out of him. Pretty typical for this part of the world. I guess it’s all down to the food and family-centric culture. Azeri cuisine is frightfully good and varied. It’s also very rich, so the only time it’s "no desert for me, thank you" is when I'm banking the calorie credit before a Baku holiday.

Baku is full of restaurants serving the most delicious regional and international cuisine but living in London I get my fill of tasty at the Zuma counter, French Brasseries and Italian delicatessens, so when in Baku I usually keep things local. But exceptions are there to be made.

There’s a new Italian in town, Zafferano. I must confess to a wee predilection for hearty Italian fare, fresh simple ingredients drizzled in olive oil prepared with √©lan, brio and panache and paired with a heady Amarone. If English isn’t your first language, you’re probably saying "Say watttt…" It’s certainly what my grandmother said as I was trying to explain why I was taking her to an Italian over a juicy kebab.

Explanations build expectations. I had explained that Zafferano was the best Italian she would ever eat, full well knowing her disdain for airplanes. As for me, well I would enjoy the food that much was certain but I wouldn’t be eating in a tavola calda beneath a starry Sicilian sky. In short, I didn’t expect to be dazzled, but do pardon the excessive blinking, for I’m still seeing stars!

Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App

We enjoyed the pescetarian options from the menu. For starters, Granma went for the Mare of marinated prawns, scallops and seabass; I chose the hulk of an octopus grilled with rucola, olives and onion confit. The octopus was divine with a tender juicy flesh that was cooked to perfection. It was also a bit of a monster, which impressed me, as I’m not a fan of the customary correlation between fine-dining and teeny tiny portions.

For the main, our lovely waiter Emin recommended the Seabass. I usually avoid Seabass, the dullsville preserve of the overly virtuous, but something about the sincerity of the recommendation made me think, what the heck lets go with it. And granma was having it. The branzino arrived in a lemon sauce with a side of grilled broccoli, tomatoes and a bed of mash. Good Cod. I’ve never tasted seabass quite like it and the accompaniment was exquisite.

For desert we shared the Tiramisu with Chocolate Coffee Sauce and the Cheese Cake with Strawberry Compote. The tiramisu was a good solid contender (I make a mean tiramisu, so am particularly finicky). The cheesecake was magnificent, exactly what one should taste like, rich creamy with a note of vanilla, a smooth comforting base and a slightly tart strawberry sauce.

Mamma mia! That was as molto gustoso as it gets and granny agreed, she was very impressed with the best Italian in Azerbaijan, if not the world.

Zafferano, Four Seasons Baku, 77/79 Neftchilar Avenue , +994 12 404 2424